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Friday, October 28, 2005

JSHJ: Resurrection

I've just received my offprints and the latest issue of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (3.2, June 2005) focused on the issue of resurrection and particular Wright's big book on the subject. I thought it would just be the 4 responses to Wright from the BNTC with Wright in turn repsonding but Robert Webb and JSHJ have gone much further than that to my pleasant surprise. It is a whole themed issue with a few more articles well worth noting. Here are the contributions:

Dale C. Allison, Jr, 'Explaining the Resurrection: Conflicting Convictions'

Gary R. Habermas, 'Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?'

David J. Bryan, 'The Jewish Background to The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright'

James G. Crossley, 'Against the Historical Plausibility of the Empty Tomb Story and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: A Response to N. T. Wright'

Michael Goulder, 'Jesus' Resurrection and Christian Origins'

Larry W. Hurtado, 'Jesus' Resurrection in the Early Christian Texts: An Engagement with N. T. Wright'

N. T. Wright, 'Resurrecting Old Arguments: Responding to Four Essays'

Craig A. Evans, 'Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus'

JSHJ have got opinion from right across the spectrum here. Fans of Wright and enemies of my position will be happy to note Wright's ferocious response to me. I'm probably (probably) not going to respond much on this blog to Wright's comments as I 'm pretty sure I'll be putting them in print (in paper form as opposed to blog). If anyone else thinks Wright has failed to answer my questions and is not convincing then feel free to leave any comments you so wish. And anyone who thinks I am unconvincing etc. on past form I'm sure you won't need any prompting in comment leaving. Incidentally, the Dale Allison article critically reviews all the articles in the journal. More on all this once I've properly read through the lot. But 8 articles on resurrection including contributions from two major recent authors on the subject sounds pretty good to me. I'm sure Loren at least will enjoy (?) this lot.

Also, the web version of JSHJ isn't up yet but presumably will be shortly.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Christian identity: Jewish?

Rafael, followed by a couple of others, discusses the issue of the NT being Jewish and what it might mean, something we have both discussed recently off blog. But one thing is pretty clear, namely that Christianity does one day become a gentile religion on the whole, at least in the sense that its members no longer think of themselves as Jewish and most outsiders do not think of Christians as Jewish. One of the problems here is using the NT writers too much rather than thinkning about Christiainity as a movement. If we did then it is easy to think of Christianity as very Jewish because most (all?) NT writers had some clear claim to a Jewish backgound (e.g. ethnicity) and not quite come to terms with the issue that most Christians in history do not identify themselves as Jewish. If we start thinking more in terms of audience and participants then we might start thinking about more and more gentile converts, many of whom would have cared less about Sabbath, food laws or a whole host of practices that people identified as specifically 'Jewish'. Of course, redefining various practices is crucial but when this is done with gentiles in mind too then we start getting on the way to a religion which does not appear to be Jewish. Jews can react against their tradition, abandon this or that practice but may still think of themselves as Jewish and people may define them as Jewish but when gentiles start doing this then things start shifting that bit further.

Rosa Parks and Christian Ethics

As many have now mentioned, Rosa Parks the civil rights campaigner who refused to give up her seat for a white man has died. Let's not forget that it wasn't just some simple act of a woman simply tired with all the racism but that she certainly had her moments as radical social thinker and doer.

On Parableman these comments are made:
I just have one question. I know she's an icon, and she's really respected for standing up for something that really was a good cause, but can a Christian really condone what she did? I can't see how. God can use immoral acts for his will. This certainly isn't as bad as some of the horrendous acts God has chosen to work through for good. I just can't see how it can be morally justified given what the Bible says about how we should relate governments that persecute Christians. How should it be any different for governments that allow people to mistreat whole ethnic groups? Jesus even says to give someone your shirt if they ask for your coat and to go an extra mile when a soldier asks you to carry his gear for a mile. So why can it be morally justified to refuse to give someone your seat when he asks, given a Christian ethic? That's something I've never understood about Christians' support of this woman's actions. It seems to me to be contrary to the direct teaching of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the general thrust of Christian ethics.

Ok, fair enough. if the odd verse from the Bible is taken then this indeed would not match up to thse verses (although her activism throughout her life might match up to other parts no doubt). But if the above approach is taken would it not suggest that it is limited to say the least in terms of constructing ethical practice for today? Indeed why should we listen to an ancient book and expect it to answer questions for today? Can people not possibly think for themselves without resorting to an ancient book to somehow apply to the modern day? Why bother?

This reminded me of that entertaining discussion on Intelligent Design, Creation and other related things raging on Benjamin Myers' blog between Benjamin and Ken Ristau. Assuming that you are a believer it seems that if you severely limit yourself if you stick with biblical statements. Put another way what do you do with passages such as Romans 1.26-32: do all those people (including disobedient to parents, boastful, gays [probably], sexual perversion) really deserve to die? Or is it really right that God should destroy those nations in Deut. 7.1-2? And the rest. If it says God is creator then it says these things too. Are all of equal relevance? It seems if Christianty wants to say something useful it may in fact need to rely on theological thinking (no certainty there I know)?

Saddam's Trial

I've been looking at the right wing sites and blogs (via Solomonia - where else?) on Saddam's trial. There is some unease at Amnesty's and Human Rights Watch's concern for a fair trial (is an unfair trial expected?). What struck me was that on all the sites/blogs I read there was no mention of Rumsfeld's very famous meetings with Saddam and the US very famously selling of weapons to the known murderous US backed tyrant Saddam. I wonder if this could be behind some unease at a fair trial? Perhaps more might mentioned if the trail is 'too fair'???

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More on el-Haj

There are more attacks on el-Haj from the right at Solomonia here and here and an earlier one here. Keith Whitelam is mentioned in passing on one of them. I wondered how long that would take.

There are futher points made here also in the archives with a dig at the aforementioned in the comments.

Note the right wing book links whilst there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

War against Iran?

With the recent controversy over Iran and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty the question of yet another war war has arisen. It has been denied by the UK and US govts but on past history why believe such a denial? Anyway, Dan Plesch in today's Guardian suggests that war with Iran might be a plausible scenario in the not-too-distant future. It's worth reading as it shows, I think, the possibility. It is also a warning against those who think the US can't or won't do it. Naturally if it does go ahead we can expect the usual pieties and lies from the US an UK as they continue to support all sorts of dictators and allow the selling of arms to all sorts of blacklisted countries. It would made the position of the UK interesting. While political support in the US for such an attack is certainly still possible, it is much less likely in the UK. It would be interesting to see how New Labour could (a) say 'no' to the US and (b) convince the British public. I might have added (c) persuade the Labour back benches but as too many of them have proven to be a load of gutless cowards when opposing things like the Iraq war in the name of party unity over morality then they'll come round. So what I am on about? If US says 'jump', the British public oppose it (along with the vast majority of the public in Europe, including Rumsfeld's New Europe), and New Labour decide they'll do it, what's the difference with the Iraq war?

Friday, October 14, 2005

New Bond

The new James Bond has been unveiled and it's Daniel Craig. I've no idea what he's like but the Bond films have a firm place in my heart and I like to think of myself as a leading expert on the Bond films (ask me, I'll tell you). The Guardian reports an interesting quote:

Director Martin Campbell said the next film would be "definitely darker, more character, less gadgets".

I hope so. They were getting too silly. The last one had arguably the best first half (when captured as a political prisoner) and the worst second half (ice palace and all that stuff) of a Bond film. Anyway Daniel Craig is going to have his work cut out if he's going to come close to Pierce Brosnan and, of course, good old Roger Moore.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New blog

Sheffield's takeoever of the blogging world continues. Here's a new one from Matthew Hazell.

Nadia Abu El-Haj according to Hugh Fitzgerald

Here's a nasty little review where I learned next to nothing about what Nadia Abu El-Haj had to say and a lot about Hugh Fitzgerald. Jim West has also made good comments on this review.

There is a complete lack of engagement with Nadia Abu El-Haj's book despite the usual high minded rhetoric of the reviewer. This is a scholarly trick still widespread. Some of us have been victims of condescension and evidence-free criticisms but this is off the scale.

But look at the utter hypocrisy here. First look how bad the enemy is in comparison with the goodies:

For the past, like the present, is merely a cruel and daring fiction foisted on the world at the expense of Palestinians, a social construction, as the orotund phrase has it. Ignoring or destroying whatever got in their way, Jewish archaeologists have been relentless in their pursuit of the Jewish past to claim the land and its history for modern Israel, and of course to dispossess Palestinians and their “claim” to the past.

But El-Haj, it seems, is not really an archeologist. There is not the slightest evidence that she has ever seen the work of Israeli archeologists, ever visited a dig, ever studied the history of the development of Israeli archeology, ever inquired as to how Israeli archeologists choose the sites they do choose for digs (do they get instructions from the Jewish Agency? The ZOA? The Mossad?). She appears not to have any record of the kinds of artifacts the Israeli archeologists, often working with Western, non-Israeli and non-Jewish colleagues, have discovered, catalogued, and meticulously studied.

Shabby or pseudo or nonexistent scholarship disguises a naked political assault. Israel is guilty. Its crime: daring to dig, under the soil of Israel, on land where Jews lived from perhaps 1000 BCE until this very day. And built temples, and wrote on pottery and left scrolls on parchment, and fashioned menorahs, and cups for drinking, and dishes for eating – in short, a rich variety of artifacts for uses sacred and profane. But to demonstrate a connection between Jews past and Jews present is unacceptable, an abuse of archaeology, serving the cause of a “construct,” a Western imperial falsehood. That is, a Jewish state.

Is it surprising, is it illegitimate, is it deplorable, that in once again having a restored Jewish state, that the Jews of Israel should not have dug into the earth, not attempted to study the past, including – and this must be emphasized for it is left entirely out of El-Haj’s account – artifacts from every period, and not only artifacts of the Jewish past? Israeli archeologists have, often with foreign colleagues, discovered Roman coins and mosaic floors and temples, have uncovered Byzantine artifacts, and those of the Islamic conquest, both of the Arab period, and of the period of Ottoman rule. Many of the Islamic artifacts have, in fact, been meticulously and scrupulously catalogued, studied, and preserved – all serious students know about the Islamic Museum in Jerusalem and its exceptional collection. Does Nadia El-Haj? El-Haj seems to think that the study of the Jewish past by Israeli archeologists, observing the highest professional standards, known for the meticulousness, is an outrageous political act, an act of “Jewish settler-colonial nation state-building” (that phrase itself deserves analysis, for the hysterical confusion of its English).

El-Haj’s political fulminations may attempt to hide behind the rhetoric of “scholarship.” Is there a single example of attempts by Israeli archeologists to either hide the past, or destroy the past, or to create a false past? If so, she has failed to mention it in her book – which, by the way, relies entirely on quite recent, English-language publications, as critical reviewers noted. And since she is a Palestinian nationalist, how does her charge sheet compare with the treatment toward ancient sites by the Palestinian Arabs and by the Arabs more generally?

So those horrible Arab, Muslims, Palestinians, and so on are all nothing like the honorouble dignified types Fitzgerald idolises. And of course there is no ideology, pseudo-scholarship in Fitzgerald's lofty existence:

As is well known, in Islam there has been an almost total indifference to the non-Islamic or pre-Islamic world. Many of the artifacts of that world have been destroyed over 1350 years of Muslim conquest and subjugation of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists. In India, the Muslim conquerors destroyed as much of the Buddhist and Hindu heritage as they could, sometimes in order to quarry the stone, sometimes to destroy statuary. The Indian historian K.S. Lal has provided a meticulous list of tens of thousands of identified Hindu temples destroyed by the Muslim invaders, for example. The recent destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was not an aberration; those Buddhas were virtually the last remnants of the Greco-Buddhist civilization that Afghanistan had once possessed.

The systematic assault by the Palestinian Arabs on all sorts of significant sites, some of them regarded as holy, was on display again in 2002, when the systematic and complete destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus (that destruction can be seen on-line), took place. This was no aberration. Even El-Haj had to mention the matter in her book (knowing that if she omitted it altogether, reviewers might notice), but she justified it as the uncharacteristic, but understandable reaction of desperate people, brought to the end of their collective tether by the diabolical behavior of the Israelis.

In Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood even muttered about destroying the Pyramids, but cooler heads prevailed. It was not out of Egyptian nationalism, save among the Copts and a small sliver of the Egyptian elite, nor out of any respect for the pre-Islamic past, but rather the fact that too many Egyptians depend for their livelihood on tourist dollars, that managed to prevent attacks. Similarly, the tourist attraction of Petra seems safe, precisely because it is a money-maker, not out of some deep conviction that these Roman-era ruins are otherwise of note.

In Iraq, the old Sunni elites, trained by Gertrude Bell and others, did acquire a certain taste for preserving the pre-Islamic artifacts, and that seems to be the one exception – and an exception only among a very small sliver of Iraqi society – to the general indifference to any artifacts except those representing the time of Islam, not that of the pre-Islamic Jahiliyya.

Indeed, many Muslims oppose even Muslim sites which would distract from worship of Allah. When the Wahhabi under Abdul Aziz ibn Saud conquered Mecca, they razed to the ground virtually every old building then standing. An old Ottoman fort was one of the few buildings spared. In 2002, overnight, that Ottoman fort was also destroyed.

That is the usual anti-Muslim racism that has become all too common. As it has been documented by scholars of Islam and journalists and others, and as is pretty well known, Muslims and Arabs have contributed massively to civilisation and preserved and retained all sorts from the ancient world. If Fitzgerald doesn't know this is is rich commenting on the work of another as he does. If he does know this then he is deliberately omitting important facts which again says something significant about his comments on the work of another. Who is the pseudo-scholar?

This reflects a trend among scholars of a certain persuasion to make out that they have some kind of fidelity to the facts, have an old-fashioned and proper attitude towards history untainted by ideology (!!!!). This all sounds wonderful in the abstract but Fitzgerald's ranting on Islam and Arabs shows he is exactly like his constructed enemies: omits what some might seem as important facts and ideologically driven by certain Western and anti-Arab/Muslim ideals.

And then this:

That such a book was written, and published, is a disgrace. That its author was, at a time when hundreds or indeed thousands of worthy graduate students in this and related fields cannot find employment, was given a job at Columbia, is deplorable.

I suspect many people might think similar things about Fitzgerald and his article. Besides, if it was a disgrace and should not have been published, what should have happened to the book and what should happen to El-Haj?

Hugh Fitzgerald wrote this piece for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, which is designed to critique and improve Middle East Studies at North American colleges and universities.

In that case he's failed miserably.

Friday, October 07, 2005

God told Bush to go war?

Here's the latest news reported on the Guardian website:

White House denies Bush God claims

James Sturcke
Friday October 7, 2005

A senior White House official has denied that the US president, George Bush, said God ordered him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

A spokesman for Mr Bush, Scott McClellan, said the claims, to be broadcast in a TV documentary later this month, were "absurd".

In the BBC film, a former Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, says that Mr Bush told a Palestinian delegation in 2003 that God spoke to him and said: "George, go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan" and also "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq".

During a White House press briefing, Mr McClellan said: "No, that's absurd. He's never made such comments."

Mr McClellan admitted he was not at the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in June 2003 when Mr Bush supposedly revealed the extent of his religious fervour.

However, he said he had checked into the claims and "I stand by what I just said".

Asked if Mr Bush had ever mentioned that God had ordered him into Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr McClellan said: "No, and I've been in many meetings with him and never heard such a thing."

The claims are due to be broadcast in a three-part BBC documentary which analyses attempts to bring peace to the Middle East.

Mr Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister in 2003, claims Mr Bush told him and other delegates that he was spoken to by God over his plans for war.

He told the film-makers: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq... And I did.

"'And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East. And by God I'm gonna do it.'"

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who attended the June 2003 meeting as well, also appears on the documentary series to recount how Mr Bush told him: "I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state."

Mr Bush, who became a born-again Christian at 40, is one of the most overtly religious leaders to occupy the White House, a fact that brings him much support in middle America.

"History is littered with examples of people doing the most bizarre and sometimes wicked things on this basis," said Andrew Blackstock, director of the British-based Christian Socialist Movement. "If Bush really wants to obey God during his time as president he should start with what is blindingly obvious from the Bible rather than perceived supernatural messages.

"That would lead him to the rather less glamorous business of prioritising the needs of the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalised in his own country and abroad.

"When we see more policies reflecting that, it might be easier to believe he has God on his side. And more likely that God might speak to him."

The TV series, which starts on Monday, charts recent attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, from the former US president Bill Clinton's peace talks in 1999-2000, to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this year. It seeks to uncover what happened behind closed doors by speaking to presidents and prime ministers, along with their generals and ministers, the BBC said.

Of course God didn't really tell him to go and lead such things. The Project for the New American Century did.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mark Curtis and British Foreign Policy

Mark Curtis, along with Robert Fisk in particular, has proven to be one of the most important writers on British foreign policy since World War II. He has published detailed and empirically grounded work on the culpablilty of British governments (inluding the Wilson/Labour administration's action in the Vietnam conflict) and a whole host of western backed atrocities which are usually deliberately forgotten or attributed to the Cold war period only as if this all stopped by the 90s (the latter is a deliberate lie used by among others the government minister John Reid who knows otherwise). Curtis has also written in today's Guardian, nicely summarising some of his work on Vietnam and Indonesia. He also concludes:

British ministers were complicit in the deaths of millions of people in Vietnam and Indonesia 40 years ago, as they are now with perhaps more than 100,000 in Iraq. In Iraq and Indonesia, these policies have rebounded on us, in the form of anti-western terrorism. Until secretive and unaccountable policy-making is democratised, disastrous foreign policies will continue to be conducted in our name, and our leaders will continue to get away with murder.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


In fear of prolonging what Jim West calls the Sheffield wars, my heart told me it was only right to respond to Rafael on the issue of over-exaggeration. Here's what soft Rafael says:

I tire of people using the phrase 'over-exaggeration', and especially the implication that precisely over-exaggeration is bad. 'Oh sure', you might say, 'exaggerate all you want; we all do that. But whoa . . . you better not over-exaggerate! That's just wrong!'

Now I'm no pedant so he's what I think. No, better, here's what someone else thinks. Didn't someone important once say something like don't look at what is said but how it is said or something bright like that? In other words precise analysis of the variety Rafael endorses is missing the point. Look at how 'over-exaggeration' is used. It's an everyday rhetorical technique which does not in practice most of the time mean exaggeration is bad enough but don't go exaggerating. I wouldn't want to accuse Rafael of removing the language of the people and imposing his preferred use from upon high but...

Normally I ignore personal rants but seeing as ths was Rafael's and seeing as he has tried to bully a poor defenceless type like me then it was only fair.

Just where did the bodily raised Jesus go?

I've never though properly about this before so I'm asking an open question here and it's not baiting or anything like that. Just curious about the explanation and there's enough theology types out there to help. If Jesus was bodily raised as Wright argues where did the body go? If at the Ascension he went off to heaven where is that precisely? If Wright-type arguments are made historically he would have to have gone somewhere like heaven presumably. This raises the next point: if this is historically accurate where is this place where the bodily raised Jesus went and could be be seen with a powerful telescope? And so on and so on. Now I am aware that the more Bultmannian minded scholar has no problems here and I suspect I may have missed the point entirely but if the argument of bodily resurrection is going to be made historically then what about part 2 as it were?