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World History Archives - Page 2 of 2 - varnamvarnam | Page 2
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Tag Archives | World History

Jesus, Interrupted

In his book, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why ,” Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at UNC, Chappel Hill, argued that the Bible was mistranslated by scribes during translation. The fact that Bible was not the word of God, but a human creation had huge ramifications for his faith; he left it. Besides this books, Ehrman, a former evangelical, is also known for his various debates on topics like Did the Bible misquote Jesus? or Is the Resurrection of Christ Provable?

Now he has a new book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible in which he talks about what happened before the scribes got the texts which they mistranslated.

It seems Ehrman’s main aim is to introduce biblical scholarship to a popular audience so as to reveal that fundamentalist biblicism doesn’t make sense. This argument will appear to theological liberals (and some moderates) and to the broad secular audience that is fascinated by religion. Few can explain biblical scholarship to a broad audience as effectively as Bart Ehrman does. But marketing makes all the difference. As scholars, Allison and Ehrman are reaching mostly the same conclusions with nearly identical methodologies. Yet consider Ehrman’s dust cover: “Jesus, Paul, Matthew, and John all expressed fundamentally different religions.” [Jesus, Research, and Faith: Bart Ehrman and Dale Allison]

Here is another review

I highly recommend Ehrman’s book as a readable overview presenting information about the Bible and early Christianity that ought by now to be common knowledge. The reason it is not probably is due largely to the belief that such critical study of the Bible it antithetical to the Christian faith, and that the appropriate Christian stance is to affirm the Bible’s inerrancy rather than allow one’s view of the Bible and other matters to be shaped by the Bible’s actual contents. [Review of Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted]

This book is currently ranked 11th in the New York Times best seller list.

See Also: Transcripts of Erhman’s recent debates .

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The Imaginary Essenes?

The History Channel documentary on the Lost Years of Jesus mentioned a possibility that the concept of baptism came to Jesus when he and John the Baptist lived among the Essenes and that later the Essenes moved to Qumran in the West Bank from Jerusalem due to the fear of Romans. The documentary also suggested a theory that Jesus was a revolutionary fighting the Romans and those activities have been left out of the Bible since it would be difficult to circulate such a document while being governed by the Romans due to which there is no mention of what he did between the ages of 12 and 30.

We know that the Essenes consisting of about 75 men, moved to Qumran, a desolate desert site, sometime between 130 and 100 B.C to escape Roman persecution. It is believed that they lived in a monastery, whose ruins are present even now, and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, the only surviving texts of the Hebrew Bible written before 100 AD.[The Virtual Qumran | varnam]

According to John Marco Allergro, a Biblical scholar, who had access to the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus was a “personification of the Messianic expectations of the members of an extremist Jewish sect of Qumran in the first century of Christianity.”The Essenes, besides sharing a messianic belief, lived in a community embracing poverty and abstinence from worldly pleasures.

So far so good.

Now according to one Biblical scholar, the Essenes never existed: they were fabricated by the 1st century historian Flavius Josephus.

Elior contends that Josephus, a former Jewish priest who wrote his history while being held captive in Rome, “wanted to explain to the Romans that the Jews weren’t all losers and traitors, that there were many exceptional Jews of religious devotion and heroism. You might say it was the first rebuttal to anti-Semitic literature.”

As Elior explains, the Essenes make no mention of themselves in the 900 scrolls found by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947 in the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. “Sixty years of research have been wasted trying to find the Essenes in the scrolls,” Elior tells TIME. “But they didn’t exist. This is legend on a legend.” [Scholar Claims Dead Sea Scrolls ‘Authors’ Never Existed – TIME]

So if Essenes did not write the DSS, then who did it? According to Elior, it was written by Sadducees, a sect descending from the high priest Zadok. Another scholar, Norman Golb, too has claimed that the DSS were not written by the Essenes. He also claimed that other scholars are trying to silence him.

Instead of an imaginary group called Essenses, a priestly class wrote it. So what’s the big deal you may wonder. The problem is with the behavior of the group: while Jews are asked to “go forth and multiply”, this group violated that by remaining celibate. This contrarian behavior, by thousands, never found any mention in Jewish texts of that period.

Then it was pointed out that Philo of Alexandria who lived a generation before Josephus and Pliny the Elder, who was a contemporary, too wrote about Essenes. Elior responded.

Are any Essenes mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls? The answer is: no.
Are any Essenes mentioned in this name in contemporary literature written in the Land of Israel (other then Josephus/philo/pliny written elsewhere) such as the Apocrypha, sages, or the New Testament? The answer is: no.

Is it reasonable to assume that thousands of people had lived as celibates in the Land of Israel for many generations, as the well-known Greek and Latin sources suggest, while no reference to this prohibited existence, which contradicts the first biblical law of “be fruitful and multiply”, will be found in any Hebrew or Aramaic text?

Is it possible that thousands of people had lived in communities of communal residence and communal money with no private property and not a word will be found about it in any Hebrew source? [Rachel Elior Responds to Her Critics]

A new book – Memory and Oblivion – coming out next month, will give more details than what can be gathered from the press reports.

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Flood Myths Revisited

The Atra-Hasis and Matsya Purana have something in common: flood stories which destroy mankind and one among the men, favored by the gods, becomes the progenitor of mankind. The floods mentioned in the epics are of gargantuan scale, capable of wiping off all life forms. According to the Atra-Hasis, the flood lasted for seven days; I am not sure about Matsya Purana.

Ten thousand years back when the glaciers melted and the sea levels rose, various neolithic settlements must have got wiped off. Are the flood myths an accurate depiction of those events or an exaggeration?

It was known previously that the rise in sea level created a connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Before this the Black Sea was a fresh water lake. It was also believed that the Black Sea rose 150 to 195 feet, submerged human settlements, and drove the ancient farmers out.

New evidence — based on carbon dating mollusk fossils — suggest that the Black Sea rose only 15 to 30 feet. It also suggests that the land that was submerged was less: 2,000 square kilometers, not 70,000 square kilometers as believed.

“So if this is true, it means that the magnitude of the Black Sea flood was 5 or 10 meters but not 50 to 60 meters,” said Giosan. “Still, having flooded the Black Sea by 5 meters can have important effects, for example, drowning of the Danube Delta and putting an area of 2,000 square kilometers of prime agricultural land underwater. This has important implications for the archaeology and anthropology of southern Europe, as well as on our understanding of how the unique environment of the Black Sea formed.” [Danube Delta Holds Answers to ‘Noah’s Flood’ Debate ]

See: Multimedia presentation

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Noisy Epics

The other day Amit at Digital Inspiration had a post about iSerenity, which “offers a relaxing web-based environment with soothing sounds and images designed to reduce stress and calm nerves.” If this site was available to ancient Babylonians and Sumerians, Western civilization would have got different myths.

The Babylonian epic Enuma Elis describes the reason for a major conflict – noise. Apsu, one of the primeval gods cannot sleep since his offsprings are making noise. So he has a simple solution: kill his noisy offsprings. The dossier containing this plan gets leaked and one of the offsprings, Ea, comes up with a brilliant solution: kill the person who is complaining. The offsprings win and Apsu gets killed.

Before the Enuma Elis, the Sumerians had a epic called Atra-Hasis. In this epic, the gods want to destroy humans because they have become noisy and the gods can’t get sleep. They try various tricks – plague, famine, and, drought; nothing works. The gods then take the draconian step of unleashing a flood. Again the dossier containing the plan gets leaked to Atra-Hasis by one of the gods, Enki. Thus Atra-Hasis builds a boat, carries animals and survives the flood which lasted seven days.

The Enuma Elis are Atra Hasis are important for their creation myths as well. In Enuma Elis, the creation of humans is a minor plot device. They were created by one of the gods, Marduk, to free gods from hard labor and this was the final act of creation. Atra-Hasis too explains how humans were created – from clay and wisdom. All these literary tropes, including that of a man surving the flood, were adopted by later near east religions.

References: MMW2 (Lecture 3), Enuma Elis , Atra-Hasis, Creation Stories of the Middle East By Ewa Wasilewska

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Making of the Modern World

They have not discovered audio editing yet. Each lecture begins with three minutes of silence. At the end there are ten minutes of silence. Still UCSD Prof. Matthew Herbst’s lecture series MMW4 (New Ideas/Clash of Cultures) is the best history podcast I have listened so far.

These lectures are part of the Making of the Modern World Program at the Roosevelt College.

It is designed to encourage thinking historically, comparatively, and in an interdisciplinary way about the Western and non-Western cultures studied in the course sequence. Disciplinary perspectives include those from literature, history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, political science, and the fine arts. Students examine and interpret primary documents and artifacts from diverse eras and cultures, and enhance their understanding with information gained from secondary sources. [Roosevelt College]

While most beginners in history start with the usual Western Civilization till 1500 course, which ignores India, China and the Muslim world, the MMW series is quite comprehensive. This particular one, going on in the Fall session, examines the world from 1200 to 1750 covering the Mongols, Mamluks, Mughal Empire, Ottomans, Saffavids, the Western explorers and China.

His lecture on the Mughal Empire would give a heart attack to some “eminent” Indian historians. After talking about Akbar, he contrasts him with Aurangzeb and explains how he destroyed the temple at Varanasi and built a mosque in place. Following this he explains the rise of Shivaji.

But that is not why MMW4 is great. His style of teaching history is exceptional. He does not read out the text book, but tells it like a story. At each point, he asks questions like why is this important or why a certain decision was taken instead of another? As you think, various patterns emerge and expands your mind.

The course is going on right now in San Diego and it is available for download or listening online. The UCSD folks have not discovered storage unlike the UC Berkeley folks and so the course will be deleted as soon as the Fall quarter ends. (mid December).

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