Pathetic Piety and Protected Privilege

Back in early December, the Member of Parliament for Lethbridge, Conservatively Rootin’, Tootin’, Shootin’, Jim Hillyer, published his monthly column in the Lethbridge Herald (Column now available at

His latest misfire is now posted on his own website.


Jim Hillyer (Right) and P.M. Steven Harper (further to the Right).
Photo stolen from Hiller’s website.
Notice how even Harper doesn’t want to sit too close to him.

It was a stupid column, quite representative of its author with his almost completely shot-off foot, which is often in his mouth. Basically, Hillyer was trying to use our freedom of religion to affirm obligations to preserve Christian privilege (Mr. Hillyer is a Mormon).

He writes:

Freedom of  Religion does not mean that public spaces and public discourse must be free from religious expression. We should not, in the name of tolerance become completely intolerant of public worship in any form.

The difference, of course, is between public worship and  worship on behalf of their body politic by those who confuse their elected office with the right to choose for the electorate what or who should be worshipped, or that there is something worth worshipping.

He quotes a Sikh MP (Nina Grewal, Vancouver) who told Parliament about the “forces of political correctness” and said that:

 To embrace a diverse, secular, multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society, there is no need to preclude the celebration of Christmas. Rather than diluting the traditions, they should be celebrated, whether they are Vaisakhi, Diwali, Chinese New Year, Eid, Hanukkah or Christmas.

Sure, how about a public self-flegellation on Parliament Hill next Ashura. Or, in respect to those with ancient Aztec heritage, a few human sacrifices. Ah, but I forget. All religion is good (at least up to the point where you then affirm that your religion is best, or normative).


 Take Christianity for example:

A religious group practicing justice, apparently…

A religious group practicing justice, apparently…

Finally, justice catches up with the heretic, William Tyndale.

Finally, justice catches up with the heretic, William Tyndale.

Hillyer then celebrates religion’s impact on “civil virtue”, which he then defines as

the Christian values of responsibility and accountability, of loving your neighbour as yourself, of stewardship, of self control, and whatever the word would be to describe the opposite of the sense of entitlement that seems to be creeping into the public mindset more and more.

Hillyer also makes the completely asinine claim that the name of our fair country, “Dominion of Canada” implies that this is a Christian country. He is probably thinking of “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth (Psalm 72:8)”. But isn’t the dominion a democracy? Isn’t it supposed to be “WE shall have dominion”?


Now, Canada is not a republic. It should be, but not in that sort of way. But I digress…

Our honorable MP also complains of the “tyranny of tolerance” whatever the hell that is. Anyway, the Lethbridge District Skeptics, a motley group of folks who don’t collectively drink enough, wrote a response after wrangling over the wording for a few days and it finally got published. Here are some excerpts.

Mr. Hillyer fails to understand that our federal government should not be involved in encouraging religion. What he calls the “tyranny of tolerance” asks only that the privileged recognize theirs is not the only faith and respect the inclusive nature of Canadian society.

There is no evidence that “dominion” was used by the founders of Canada to mean “Godly kingdom,” and to suggest otherwise is historical revisionism.

Separation of church and state “doesn’t mean the elimination of church.” Neither does it mean the encouragement of the church by the state. It means that no flavour of religion has a role in governance by the state. This protects the religious as well as the non-religious…

(Signed by 11 people, including myself and the Real Mrs. Dr. Jim).

Folks that want to read or comment on the letter can do so on the Herald’s websiteHeck, you can comment here, too.

Note how in the quotes above Hillyer switches from “freedom of (any) religion” to affirming Christian privilege. At one point he refers to Ghandi’s peaceful resistance to Britain to demonstrate that virtue can be found in other religions, saying

Acknowledging this historic fact in no way offends my Christian sensibilities nor does it insinuate that non-Hindu values are inferior or that only Hinduism is capable of uniting a society to help bring about a better world.

My, isn’t that gracious of him? He’s not offended.  But just to prove to his Mormon/Christian readers that his tolerance is not tyrannical, he then is quick to point out that this does not challenge non-Hindu legitimacy. Of course, one of the major principles of the imperialism Ghandi was resisting was the “bettering” of the world through the invasion, coercion, exploitation and religious conversion of non-Christian nations, efforts that lead to tremendous hardship, injustice, torture, etc. etc. (all for the heathens’ own good, you understand). Indeed, both the LDS (i.e., the Mormons, not the Lethbridge District Skeptics 😉 ) and hundreds of “mainstream” Christian sects stil devote a tremendous effort at proselytizing not only Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, etc. BUT EACH OTHER!

The “tyranny of tolerance” is merely the pathetic rhetoric of appropriating the “other” to uphold the privilege of the powerful.

Protestant triumphalist tradition falls victim to tyranny of tolerance
Photo from

Sometimes tradition has to change.

Dominated Native students of the "Dominion" of Canada in a residential school, learning Christian tolerance of others.

Dominated Native students of the “Dominion” of Canada in a residential school, learning Christian tolerance of others.



God Hates Chipmunks?

Stolen from James McGrath who stole it from some other guy.

Ok, it gets a little preachy at the end, but the very end is still pretty darn good


Christmas shopping surprise! It’s all done, and now for the Lamentations

I’ve been a good boy this year! All of my Christmas shopping arrived on Friday all at once and I never ordered ANY of it!

I got my copy of a volume I contributed to last year!

Remembering and Forgetting in Early Second Temple Judah

Ed. by Ehud Ben Zvi and Christoph Levin

This volume collects revised versions of essays from a 2011 workshop held in Munich onRemembering and Forgetting in Early Second Temple Judah . The authors of the essays address these issues from both general methodological perspectives and through case studies emerging out or associated with a wide range of texts from the prophetic literature, the Pentateuch, the historical books, Psalms and Lamentations. All these texts share one main feature: they shape memories of the past (or future) and involve forgetting.

Contributors: Bob Becking, Ehud Ben Zvi, Kåre Berge, Diana Edelman, Christina Ehring, Judith Gärtner, Friedhelm Hartenstein, Michael Hundley, Jörg Jeremias, Sonya Kostamo, Francis Landy, Christoph Levin, James Linville, Zhenhua Meng, Bill Morrow, Reinhard Müller, Urmas Nõmmik, Juha Pakkala, Hermann-Josef Stipp





Now, I’m not giving this away but the publisher, Mohr Siebeck, bless their souls, included TWENTY FIVE OFFPRINTS of my essay!
YES! Christmas shopping is DONE, DONE, DONE! Muwahahahaha!

My papers first page or so:

 Lest we Forget our Sins: Lamentations, Exilicism and the Sanctification of Disjunction


George Santayana is remembered for saying that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I would offer my own little twist. Those who do remember the past are doomed to repeat it and recreate it in a myriad of ways through stories, myths, rituals, and art, sometimes in traditional ways and sometimes with great innovation. Memory is subjective and the same event or idea may be remembered in different ways at different times, in association with a variety of other memories. As Francis Landy has reminded us elsewhere in this volume, social memory is made up of the individual memories of the people within a society. My contribution is to think around the edges of Lamentation in terms of the interplay between personal and socially transmitted memories of the fall of Jerusalem and to explore the notion of exilicism – a term I coined for better or worse in my doctoral work on the book of Kings. I concluded that Kings was a Persian-era text best characterized as exilicist in perspective as opposed to exilic in date. I find the typical historical periodization based on the Exile ill conceived since we cannot find a definite end to the exile that all ancient Jews would have recognized, a recognition that would have influenced the content of their writing. As is well known, some Jewish writings from the second century BCE, including Daniel and Enoch, construed the state of the Jewish people as remaining in exile up to the contemporary period. This is so despite the facts that Jerusalem had for centuries a functioning temple cult and, according to the ideology in some now-biblical books, was populated by a community that was restored from their exilic state.

Barefoot and Nerdy

Found this on I Can has Cheeseburger. I’m not a gamer, but I think this is pretty true of some aspects of the secular movement too, so I thought I would share. It’s also reflective of some attitudes in the Bible-blogging sphere. And politics. And… In fact, it’s reflective of a lot of the modern world.


A (P)Salm: Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

First, we need some music!

I haven’t been blogging as much as I would have liked since I’ve been so busy with the end of term and two conferences: the AAR/SBL in late November in Chicago and Eschaton 2012 in Ottawa over the first weekend in December. But now that I am desperately seeking distractions from marking (darn you, diligent students!) I thought I would address some of the aftermath of the SBL.

In particular, I’d like to thank the folks who commented on my paper on  “The Royal Scam: Josiah, Joseph Smith and Believing One’s own Pious Fraud” and especially Diana Edelman, the respondent for the Metacriticizing Biblical Scholarship session. I don’t think the paper is really publishable, but it was fun, and I hope I raised a few questions. The session also featured papers by Kurt Noll, Robert Price, and Rene Salm.

Salm posted about one of my papers on his blog, Mythicist Papers, and his comments do require a response from yours truly, even after a few weeks. They were quoted on Neil Godfrey’s blog, Vridar.

Salm came to his own session on Pious Frauds just barely in time for his Nazareth paper, and so he missed all three of the previous papers including mine on Josiah and Joseph Smith. It seems as if he planned on that). He did come for the second Metacommentating Biblical Criticism session on the Sunday in which I presented another paper: On the Fairytales of Bronze Age Goat-Herders. Ancient Israel as the New Atheists’ Foil.  Salm commented on it thusly:

 Among the others (besides myself) who presented in the Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship unit was James Linville (Univ. of Lethbrige, Canada). I missed his first paper but the second, on Sunday, was a rousing broadside entitled “On the fairytales of Bronze Age goat-herders: Ancient Israel as the New Atheists’ foil.” Linville is not one to pull punches. He described ancient Israel as “rude, crude, ignorant, misogynist, unjust, and unpleasant—everything we don’t like.” Turning to the contemporary scene (BAR should have been listening), he observed that religion in North America is ultimately consumer driven, that the media overlooks secular scholars in the field, that archaeological discoveries cater to religious conservatives (“nutcases”), that the SBL “does the Church’s work,” and that further separation between secular and religious scholarship is needed. Here here!

I don’t really see much of my paper in most of that description of it.  The most accurate are my purported claims that

” SBL “does the Church’s work,” and that further separation between secular and religious scholarship is needed.” 

On the one hand, Salm is quite right about my views concerning the need for further separation. I mentioned a number of other people who think so too, including Jacques Berlinerblau, Michael Fox, Hector Avalos, and Phillip Davies. This is not controversial. I also mentioned that I have critiqued the SBL for doing the Church’s work by having various overtly churchy sessions on its program in years past. Here is what my paper actually said:

I’ve joined in the fray and complained on my blog about the SBL doing the Church’s work with such program units as “Homiletics and Biblical Studies.” I claimed that, “there is no more reason for the SBL to help improve Christian preaching than there is for the American Academy of Religion to suggest ways the ancient Mayans might have made bloodier human sacrifices.”  (You can see my views on these earlier blog posts, Here, and Here).

On the other hand, here is something else I said:

I agree with Michael Fox that there is a sharp distinction between secular academic and confessional biblical research and that the former may contribute to the latter but not vice versa.  But as Fox observes, secular does not mean “atheistic” or that believers cannot do secular work by bracketing out their own beliefs. I think that most of the work done in the SBL is oriented towards the secular side of things, and that much of this work is done by confessing Jews and Christians (see: Michael V. Fox, ” Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View,” SBL Forum , n.p. [Feb 2006]).

I hope this casts a different light on my presentation. A good part of it was attempting to undermine the sharp “Us” vs. “Them” attitude that marks a lot of modern discourse about religion. Indeed, one of my paper’s primary points was to critique the New Atheist movement’s caricature of the Bible as the fairy tales of Bronze Age Goat Herders that I characterized as a symptom of the “Bronze Age Goat Herders Syndrome”.  Here is what Salm said I said and what I really said.
 Salm: “He described ancient Israel as “rude, crude, ignorant, misogynist, unjust, and unpleasant—everything we don’t like.”
I did not and I really don’t know who this “we” is Salm is talking about, but there is more wrong than that:
ME:           The [Goat Herders] syndrome is a frame of mind in which the Bible, the god it purports to describe, its writers, and indeed, the entire ancient Israelite and Judean society, represent almost everything that an ideal atheistic world would not be: rude, crude, ignorant (perhaps willfully so), superstitious, fear-ridden, violent, racist, xenophobic, clannish, homophobic, misogynistic, unjust, and generally unpleasant: and often, but not always, rural, as opposed to the more urban and urbane atmosphere of the atheists’ utopia…On some levels the syndrome serves a myth-creating function. It informs and shapes how many atheists portray the development of religious behavior as a kind of primordial “Fall.” As Dawkins would have it, religion is a byproduct of otherwise helpful evolutionary adaptations: it is not an adaptation in itself. It is a “misfiring,” and a “virus of the mind” that infects generation after generation. The Fall into a religious dark ages finds its remedy in the heroic, emancipatory struggles of scientists, rationalists and free thinkers; a mythic battle that must be refought as chaos reasserts itself in the guise of a resurgent fundamentalism, a situation that all believers, including moderates and liberals, enable.
Salm had me say something exactly opposite to what I was really talking about! I spent a good part of my talk critiquing Dawkins’ handling of some key biblical passages, even as I was calling on secular scholars not to shy away from adding their voices to the overall discourses over secularism in popular discourse. Thus, even while joining the “New Atheists” in critiquing religious privilege we have to find a way to correct the wildly inaccurate and dehumanizing portrayal of the Bible and ancient societies that seems so central to some of the New Atheists discourses.
Salm:  “Turning to the contemporary scene (BAR, [Biblical Archaeology Review] should have been listening), he observed that religion in North America is ultimately consumer driven”
 ME:         ” It [Goat Herders Syndrome] depends on the Secularization Theory: that is, that with the spread of Enlightenment rationalism, growing scientific literacy, and increased standard of living, people would slough off religion as redundant. But the modern era has seen not so much the failure of religion but the development of new consumer driven and anti-modernistic modes.”
Again, I think Salm entirely missed my point. I was talking about the rise of  “do-it-yourself” religions and spirituality, and neo-conservative strands that discount modern intellectualism. These provide a major counter-example to the Secularization Theory. That was my point, not that all modern religion is consumer based and hence evidence against the integrity of Herschel Shanks and BAR. Now, perhaps Mr. Shanks is simply after cash and does not care if he misrepresents the ancient world or sells unprovenanced antiquities or whatever. But you can’t get to that accusation fairly from what I said in Chicago. But damn, its worth a cat…
Salm: “that the media overlooks secular scholars in the field”

Now this is more or less but not entirely accurate.

ME: As many scholars have noted, when the press needs an expert opinion on the Bible or ancient Israel they often don’t recognize that there is a difference between the secular and the confessional biblical scholar, or that secular scholarship even exists.

“Often don’t recognize” is not a blanket accusation. I also said that secular approaches to the Bible have some common ground with the atheist activists.

ME:    ” Of course, there is some overlap between the kind of secular world the New Atheists value and the intellectual space in which secular biblical criticism takes place.  As is well known, Syro-Palestinian archaeologists and historians frequently bewail the sensationalism of media reports about new discoveries that cater to religious conservatives  and those to whom we give the academically useful, if still poorly theorized, label, “religious nut-case”.

Again, I am not implying that ALL media reports have a pro-religion bias. Also note that my joking reference to “nutcases” is in addition to religious conservatives. Here is how Salm represented that:

Salm:  ” that archaeological discoveries cater to religious conservatives (“nutcases”)”

 The “nutcase” clause (which I ad-libbed a little from my original text) marked a different set of people from religious conservatives, and I had in mind seekers of Noah’s Ark, Atlantis, UFOs, etc. It was also a bit of joke pointed at scholars who employ the term as if it had some kind of agreed upon meaning when it is really a subjective term.

Most importantly, I did not want to imply that the situation with the media was a lost cause, or that nothing was being done except my (and Salm’s) bitching about it.  I did, however, indicate that scholarship needs to make its reasoned, secular approach to the Bible and ancient Israel accessible to religions’ sharpest detractors:

Me: I would propose today that secular scholarship should be publicized not only as an alternative to theological claims but also as a vaccination against the Goat Herders Syndrome. Efforts to popularize the results of academic research into ancient Israel and the Bible, such as Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s BBC television series, The Bible’s Buried Secret and NOVA’s similarly named broadcast, are to be celebrated. The SBL’s “Bible Odyssey Program” also looks promising and is certainly a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the popular critics of the Bible and Bible based religions will employ it.

Anyway, I hope I have cleared some of this up. I realize that it is often hard to remember just what someone else said, but this does seem to be a case of Salm hearing what he wanted to hear.

How Dachshunds almost went extinct

A giggle for my Mary…

Click and vote for the little puppies!

Reflections on the Lake of Fire at the End of the World: Eschaton 2012


But I get to go home and see my Mary! HORRAY!

I wrote this sitting on the plane coming back from Eschaton 2012. I’m at Chili’s Grill at the Calgary Airport now, waiting for my connection.S0, some reflections on the event and I’m posting a few pictures from my PowerPoint presentation just for laughs and giggles.

The first job is to thank everyone associated with Eschaton and CFI Ottawa, it was great time, and I met some very interesting and intelligent folk. Particular mention must be made of Marlowe Filippov, Seanna Watson and Evan Frank. Also very grateful to Ania Bula driving me to the airport at 5:45 am.


It was quite an honour to be on the bill as Eugenie Scott and the closet cat-lover PZ Myers. Myers did not attend my presentation, which is just as well, as I made this in his honour:

There were a number of good sessions. Mine was the first of the day and ran at the same time as Eugenie Scott’s so we didn’t get much of an audience. Steven Tomlins spoke right before me on Saturday morning. Steve is  PhD candidate at the U of Ottawa and he did a very good job explaining Religious Studies to the crowd. His own research is on atheist communities and so I feel very well ethnologized. I also owe Steven an apology because I got all muddled and paranoid that my PowerPoint presentation would not work, while another fellow was worried about the projector switching off (we had a hassle getting it to talk to my Mac). He went to adjust the machine while Steven was talking, and I touched the mac to make sure hadn’t died and on went my looping introduction… Very bad form.


Steven and I were also on a panel with an ex-Anglican minister, Eric MacDonald who is now an activist for assisted suicide, and Vickie Garrison, a mother of many who escaped the evangelical Christian “Quiverful” movement and now helps other women do the same. The panel was labeled “Scholarship vs. Faith” but none of us really had a clear idea of what we should be doing. Anyway, Steven and I raised a hackle or two and we had some disagreements with Eric MacDonald and some audience members about what religion really is. Poor Vickie was kind left out of the picture.


I felt kind of bad for Vicky. Here she was, a recovering victim of grotesque patriarchal privilege  and she gets put on a panel with 3 guys who get into an debate about how to conceptualize religion and she really doesn’t have a horse in the race.  Her own presentation about the Quiverful movement and the work she does was fascinating, and it really did open my eyes about how abusive that whole movement is: the wrecked health of these women who have to keep pushing out the babies, the shame if they don’t push out enough babies, (think of the LAUNDRY cause by various pushing outs of babies)! the homeschooling chores, and, of course, the poverty. Vicky left when she realized the effect of this on her kids.

Alas. According to Dawkins’ anthropological studies of religion amount to a catalogue of “human gullibility”. But as I’ve said elsewhere, a history of democracy, advertising, or college students’ mating rituals can do the same.

I’m sorry to have missed Ian Cromwell’s (Crommunist Manifesto) presentation on “Discussing race and racism in the zombie apocalypse” but I did see him on a panel on Godless Ethics and Godless Communities with Chris DiCarlo (, author of How to be a Really Good Pain in the Ass), Udo Schuklenk, and Hank Fox.

As we know, today’s unbelievers would never vilify Muslims and Arabs, or boast of shrugging off old “religious” stereotypes while verbally assaulting and threatening atheist women who call attention to sexism in the atheist community… That was sarcasm…

There was a session on Islam that was pretty good. Anila Ashgar from McGill University surveyed some of her research into teaching Evolution in Muslim communities. I thought this was really interesting. As in Christianity, there is a debate as whether Islam is compatible with Evolution. She showed a list of over sixty institutions in predominantly Muslim countries in which Evolution is taught as the ONLY explanation for speciation, although in very many cases there is also a recognition of Allah’s role in creating the system. In some instances textbooks include Qur’an passages that are interpreted in a way to show that evolution is an Islamic principle. It was a great presentation that really undermined the Western atheist stereotype of Islam as utter opposed to science and education. Heina Badabhoy (one of the Skepchic bloggers) is an ex-Muslin and her story of her leaving the faith and her family’s reactions was fascinating.

The unpleasantness and contradictions found in the Bible’s portrayals of Yahweh reflect one peoples’ handling of the contradictions of life that are still with us. Are we fooling ourselves if we think that the Israelites were utterly unlike us? Moreover, the folks who put the now biblical literature together probably never herded a goat in their lives. They were scribes, the egghead scholars of the day, writing elitist literature for an elitist audience. What Terry Pratchett says of Priests also goes for these Temple Scribes: “Many feel they are called to the priesthood, but what they really hear is an inner voice saying, ‘It’s indoor work with no heavy lifting.’”

I had a nice little chat with Eugenie Scott who is one of the most pleasant people on the planet. Had a little chat with PZ Myers about his coming to Lethbridge. Hopefully schedules etc. will work out. His own keynote address at the Ottawa Museum of Nature (which is a fantastic place) was fun: “Chance in Evolution” and educational.

It was nice to meet Veronica Abbas who blogs at Canadian and to hear about her attempt to get the Scarborough city council to drop its “invitiation” to recite the Lord’s Prayer before meetings.  I also met Dan Mayo, her lawyer, who does that kind of thing. They are seeking an injunction and the decision should be made sometime in January.

I also  met Jack Laughlin from the University of Sudbury, another Religious Studies geek, and we drank way too much at the reception, which we closed down ca. 1:00 AM. We then found a bar, which we closed down about 2 hours later. Basically Jack was haranguing a fellow from Toronto on the nature of religion. I forget this fellow’s name but he was cheery enough.


All in all, it was a great time. Very glad I went.

All the talks I believe will be up on the Internets at some point, I think. “Atheist TV” filmed them all.

Alive and Well at the End of World! (Turn left at the end of your tether…)

I finally made it to Ottawa and Eschaton 2012! HORRAY!


NOV. 30-DEC 2

My paper:

Reclaiming the Fairy Tales of Bronze-Age Goat-Herders:
On the Virtues of Giving the Devil His Due.

It was a frustrating trip. Had to leave (many things undone) and get to the airport after my last Thursday class, not time to go home and say goodbye to my lovely Mary. Air Canada decided that my little bag had to be checked which was a bummer.

The flight to Calgary was fine, but when I got there my Ottawa flight, which was supposed to leave only about 50 minutes later, was already  marked as being 40 minutes late, so I sat. And sat, An hour after the scheduled time we boarded, and sat there for 30-40 minutes while they fussed with an electrical problem. They then declared that the thing was broken.

So I suddenly remembered I have to phone the number Evan Frank in Ottawa gave me, since there was supposed to be someone to pick me up at the airport (my plane was supposed to get in just before midnight anyway). After a bit of a muddle with poor Seanna Watson whose number it actually was, and then playing phone tag with Evan (who is a travel agent) I found out that Air Canada was bringing in a new plane and that it would leave at 9:50. I found that out from a guy in Ottawa before Air Canada told us anything! Evan also contacted the hotel and I just got in the door and the desk clerk said “Ah, you must be Mr Linville. You finally made it.”

So at around 11:30 we started boarding the damn thing but then had to wait ages for it to be de-iced. The first 30-40 minutes of the ride was pretty bumpy.

After that all went smoothly. Got to Ottawa alive and healthy but very tired, and made it to the hotel about 5:30 (3:30 Lethbridge time). The Hotel is right close buy the Rideau Canal and is a wonderfully clean place so now I’m all cheery!

 So a GREAT thanks for Evan and Seann, for being such great hosts and remaining cheery though out my troubles (haven’t actually met them yet)  I’m really looking forward to this!


Here is a preview of my presentation which will deal a little with some ancient scribes:


SBL Aftermath

Well, I lived and made it home safe and sound.

My two papers went well, even though I left home with them both being about 40% too long. Here is a tip:


Both papers were for the new “Metacriticizing Biblical Scholarship” section, which I now find myself to be co-chair (with Rebecca Raphael). Rebecca presided over our first session in Chicago, after Stephanie Louise Fisher had to cancel (oh glum…). The first paper was “The Royal Scam: Josiah, Joseph Smith and Believing One’s Own Pious Fraud.”  Diana Edelman was a kind and merciful respondent. It ended up being about Josiah, the law book that was completely by accident found in his temple, and Joseph Smith and his forgery, the totally legitimate Book of Mormon. There was also a bit about “Fakelore” (i.e., invented heritage of “ancient” tradition and another bit about fraud being the modus 0perandi of religion, which I kind of qualified a little.

I might try to get the paper published (after some needed revision and expansion), so I won’t post it here, but here is the opening epigram and a couple of excerpts:

“Oh look, I found a book telling me not to bear false witness”  (2 Kgs 22:8 Revised Wiseguy Version)

Although it is employed in many apparently secular classrooms, Barry Bandstra’s Reading the Old Testament is not shy of analyzing the biblical material from expressly religious categories. Bandstra writes:

The critical issues of precisely when and where the book was written should not overshadow the overall impression that the book embodies a genuine testimony of Mosaic faith. Admittedly, the seventh-century BCE writer shaped that testimony, being sensitive to the issues of faith and life in the Judah of his time. Nonetheless, he felt he was presenting the essential thrust of Moses’ message. While shaping the words he put in Moses’ mouth, he certainly felt he was representing the Mosaic tradition faithfully. (4th edn. p. 183).

This is astounding. What is a “genuine testimony” as opposed to a false one? Can we tell the difference? Even if we agree that the story’s author genuinely thought he was representing the authentic mosaic tradition, it is a different thing entirely to say that the book achieves this goal without supposing we can sit in judgment on the authenticity of that! There is a tendency for biblical scholars to actually like the Bible for a variety of reasons—usually religious ones—and so the expression “genuine testimony” carries its own legitimizing implications. As a thought experiment to dismantle that, let’s take the example of an obviously forged book I think we can all agree is despicable in its intent and horrific in its implications: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here the malicious forgery and plagiarism are obvious. Yet, were Sergei Nilus and the others involved in its production and expansion into countless versions not “true believers” in the wickedness and machinations of Jews? Does their “genuine faith” in the myth of a Jewish conspiracy legitimize or excuse their actions, or make the accusation of forgery and deceit irrelevant?   Certainly not.


 Richard Bushman comments that newer historians of LDS history survey Smith’s miracle reports but tend not to not pass judgment. Bushman says that he was unwilling to follow the path of the “skeptical historian [who] has to make up a story with no factual support” in producing his own biography of Smith. He avoids the problem of the miracles by writing from the point of view of the participants and their experiences: which seem to me to be merely retelling a story with no factual support. Bushman writes, “If Smith was a charlatan, everyone who followed him was deluded—including myself and my Mormon friends.” Philip Barlow maintains that Smith’s writings reveal him to be “a man of genuine religious convictions.”  Well, so be it. 100,000 Elvis fans can be wrong, as can 12 million Mormons, one billion Muslims, two billion Christians and seven billion humans of all sorts of different persuasions. Belief is not evidence and neither is belief in other people’s belief. It is properly the subject, and not the premise, of critical scholarship of religion.

 My other paper, “On the Fairytales of Bronze Age Goat Herders: Ancient Israel as the New Atheists’ Foil” was lots of fun, and Mark S. Smith, the respondent, thought so too. Again, some tweaking here and there is needed. The paper simply asked what secular biblical critics should do about the New Atheists’ portrayal of ancient Israel and the origins of the Bible, which is, for the sake of the fight with religious conservatives, is quite inaccurate. I complained about the “Bronze Age Goat Herders Syndrome” that really goes beyond casting the Bible’s creators as a kind of immoral unsophisticated straw men and polarizes humanity into the “religious” and “reasonable”.

On the other hand I argued that biblical scholars should speak out for accuracy but not to the point of turning away from the skeptical, secular activists as they are actually getting an audience and challenging the privilege religion enjoys. I also argued that what is at stake is the further diminution of the humanities and social sciences as the New Atheist discourses tend to champion science over most other disciplines. That leaves so much of the human experience unexplained in any kind of real sense.  One snippet:

Of course, there is some overlap between the kind of secular world the New Atheists value and the intellectual space in which secular biblical criticism takes place. As is well known, Syro-Palestinian archaeologists and historians frequently bewail the sensationalism of media reports about new discoveries that cater to religious conservatives and those to whom we give the academically useful, if still poorly theorized, label, “religious nut-case”.

 Our discipline has pronounced political implication. The purely academic scholarly wrangling over how the Bible’s origins has been misappropriated into the intractable Israeli/Palestinian situation. As Davies and other so-called “minimalists” have found out, to attach the biblical mythology of Israel is to attract accusations of anti-Semitism while a number of Palestinian leaders say that “Historical Israel” never existed. Then there is the political wrangling over science and religion; evolution vs. creationists waging their own mythic battle with the demonic forces of a bibleless and godless society. Various moralists affirm the Bible as the one true basis for a just society. As many scholars have noted, when the press needs an expert opinion on the Bible or ancient Israel they often don’t recognize that there is a difference between the secular and the confessional biblical scholar, or that secular scholarship even exists.

NOV. 30-DEC 2

On Dec 1. I will be presenting that paper’s companion piece at Eschaton 2012 in Ottawa, “Reclaiming the Fairy Tales of Bronze Age Goat Herders: On the Virtues of the Giving the Devil His Dues” arguing that secularists should pay attention to more modern biblical scholarship and to pay a little more attention to the actual origins of the Bible. They will end up with a stronger case for secularism, and find that in some ways, the problems faced by the writers of the Bible in dealing with an often cruel, unfair world were not unlike our own. I hope I don’t get burned at the stake…


I am very, very hungover.

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