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On the Road

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Name: Jack Neefus
Gender: Male
Hometown: Newark, NJ
Home country: US
Current location: Baltimore, MD
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 20,564

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Email: jneefus@gmail.com

Journal Archives

I Was Not Familiar With the Idea that Jesus Was Influenced by Hillel

I would think it comes from similarities between some of Hillel's writings and the Sermon on the Mount. (Unlike most people, I'm on the fence as to whether Jesus actually said the things in Matthew 4-6, since they resemble his later redactors more than the rest of the gospels and what we know of his life.)

The problem I have with seeing Hillel as an influence is social class and religious sect. As I understand it, Hillel was an upper-class liberal accomodationist with Rome. Not to criticize him -- a lot of the best Jewish thought has come out of similar backgrounds. But Jesus was on the lower level of society and the gospels contain a lot of veiled hatred of Rome delievered under the cover of criticism of the "Pharisees and Saducees." The high priest Ananus eventually had his brother James killed, so there was no love lost there at all.

At the same time, religious boundaries were sometimes permeable. Josephus, who was on the upper-class side of things and was eventually adopted by the Roman emperor Vespatian, writes about a purist teacher Banus (perhaps similar to John the Baptist) who he followed in his youth and retained a certain affection for. So perhaps it would work the other way as well. Religous tribes are strange things.

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I have to admit, though, I'm a little off center in historical Jesus studies. One of my big influences is Robert Eisenman, who is not well liked by the mainstream despite his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He understands Jesus in terms of James and his very purist Judaism. I also happen to think the Epistle of James is absolutely genuine, that scholars have very strange reasons for judging it a forgery and no real idea who else might have written it, and that James provides a tremendous amount of insight into the early Jesus movement. ("Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you....")

The other big influence is a Jewish gnostic group in Texas which is hilariously nonacademic but IMO has a very compelling view of the development of the New Testament and its relationship to gnosticism. They date the gospels extremely late and believe that Paul created his own spiritual version of Jesus, after which (this is key) spiritual or allegorical passages came to be viewed as physical history as they turned into orthodoxy.

Sorry to Miller Your Thread, Sarah,

I don't know what I was thinking in discussing the fragment.

I agree with you about how the virgin birth and similar stories developed. However, because so much of the material on Jesus' life comes from groups who simply made things up, it is usually difficult to know what traditions to give weight to. In particular, gnostic references to Mary Magdalene may be simply attempts to incorporate a wisdom figure into Christianity:

http://www.netplaces.com/gnostic-gospels/the-role-of-women-in-gnosticism/mary-magdalene-as-sophia.htm

The most interesting references are from the Gospel of Thomas. As you know, there is no consensus on whether Thomas is early and independent or 2nd-century and dependent on canonical material. If it's early and independent, that would give a lot of weight to the depiction of Mary Magdalene. If it's a late gnostic document, probably not so much.

Those strange variations of traditional gospel sayings and parables could be the original forms of those sayings. However, texual analysis suggests that when comparing two versions of a text, the stranger or more embarrasing one is usually preferred. This is based on the idea that it's more likely for a text to be made palatable to a mass audience ("So the last will be first, and the first will be last") rather than for a straightforward text to be made baffling ("For many of the first will be last, and will become a single one"). However, that principle may not hold if the provenance of Thomas was a gnostic group immersed in secrecy and symbolism -- they might have liked making things confusing to create a sense of mystery and give their own interpretation to intitiates.

Personally, I have gone both ways on this issue. While it's certainly intriguing to have a early document with a strikingly different depiction of Jesus, Thomas may turn out to not to as early as it might look. Furthermore, the existing text of Thomas might have been changed like the rest of the Bible, with some parts early and some parts late. It may not even have a consistent viewpoint.

The reference to James is especially intriguing, since James did become the leader of the movement after Jesus died:

Thomas 12. The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?"
Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."


On the other hand, James was a legal purist and the leader of what Paul called the circumcision party. If Thomas was written by a a follower of James, it's very odd that it also contains anti-circumcision sayings:

Thomas 53. His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision useful or not?"
He said to them, "If it were useful, their father would produce children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect."


So I think unfortunately that it's likely that Thomas is at least a heavily modified version of Jesus' sayings and may not represent a more original view of Jesus' words. That at least calls into question the material on Mary Magdalene.

Even if the Fragment is Genuine,

you can't really derive any useful historical information from a 3rd-century document like this.

Unlike a lot of people here, I absolutely think that Jesus existed. But the biographies in the Gospels are largely made up from existing stories. That's why people say Jesus was only a story based on Mithra, Dionysis, Appolinius, and other ancient religious figures. Even one of the eariest Church fathers, Justin Martyr, was shocked to learn of those parallels and opined that Satan must have inspired the earlier stories.

Jesus was seen mostly as a heavenly figure by Gnostics, who made up all kinds of stories about him. They were probably intended as symbolic. Even if they were intended as history, the writers would probably have had less material to work with than you and me.

The best indications that Jesus didn't have a wife are (1) that his brother James didn't and (2) that whenever the Gospels discuss Jesus and his relatives, every family member is mentioned except a wife. It is an argument from absence, but it is still striking.




Most Teabaggers and Fundamentalists are Zealots

who pursue their policies regardless of winning elections. Some may actually believe that a majority of people agree with them.

There are equivalent groups on the Democratic side, but they have very little power in the party. On the Republican side, they dominate.

A candidate with a stronger position in the GOP might have been able to take more independent positions and still keep his party's support. Romney was so universally disliked, and seems to have so few principles of his own, that he adopted as many right-wing positions as he could.

As long as the GOP wins elections or keeps them close, the social dynamic will compel them to keep moving further right until they start suffering catastrophic defeats. At that point the party will start to put winning first and become open to more moderate candidates.

If Obama blows out Romney in November, it could enable Chris Christie to win the next nomination and implement a less extreme platform. If the election is a cliffhanger, it may take another couple of elections cycles. But I suspect this is as far right as the Republican party can go without going the way of the Whigs.

Josephus writes that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70AD,

a Herodian named Saulus accompanied the Romans, cross-examining prisoners and negotiating on behalf of the Romans. Robert Eisenmann believes that this was Paul of Tarsus.

Relatives of Herod were a small group, much less those named Saulus who were cozy with the Romans. Paul's letters also appear to show increasing anger and alienation regarding the Jews, even if they contain some later emendations.

If Paul had been martyred, his martyrdom would have been memorialized like Peter, James, and many others. If Paul had been set free, that also would have been undoubtedly taken as a sign of God's providence -- it is also extremely likely that subsequent stories, letters, or sayings of Paul would exist after his release.

Paul becoming a Roman agent, however, would have been an embarrassment, and there tends to be a silence around embarrassing facts. For example, when Shabbatai Tzvi claimed to be the Jewish messiah in the 17th century and subsequently converted to Islam, his memory was all but buried.

It's unlikely that Paul's fate will ever be proven. This is the only version of events, however, that explains the silence.

The Way the Article Read,

it sounded like an attempt to drum up some kind of innocent "connection," but it looks like this news might have legs.

The big question is: at what point did Mitt or Tagg Romney know that the fund was a pyramid scheme, whether legal or illegal?

One would think that investing in a pyramid scheme is in itself incriminating, but this is not necessarily true. Early investors often make money on pyramid schemes. Some but not all are in on it beforehand. It would appear that Tagg Romney put in $10M and took out $11M (including the original principal) before the fund collapsed. This is not what one would expect from an accomplice in a scheme where $7B went missing. On the other hand, if it was a good long-term investment vehicle, why take the money out at all?

Stanford International Bank sounds like it might have worked the same as Bernie Madoff's fund, which reported high investments even though there were no actual investments -- Madoff simply wrote dividend checks off the principal. As far as I know, Madoff kept the illegality of his fund very close to the vest -- for example, there is debate about how much even his wife knew.

This particular article is not well written but there is ample room for questioning and investigation here. A lot more has to be established. Regardless of what happened, it is the kind of story that reinforces the view of Romney as a predatory capitalist.

Iceland Did it Right for Themselves,

but there is a reason that Krugman did not recommend this course for the US:

For the most part, Icelandís lesson is relevant to countries that experienced big capital inflows followed by a sudden stop ó that is, the European periphery, not the US or the UK.

What Iceland did allowed their own economy to avoid the worst of the recession, but with several caveats:

1) Unlike Greece and the other PIIGS, they had an independent currency which could be devalued. This was just as critical a part of their plan as repudiating the debt.

2) Unlike larger countries, the losses went predominantly overseas, meaning that to some extent they exported their problems. Otherwise, allowing banks to fail would have taken down business payroll accounts as well, and employees of those would have stopped receiving paychecks. That would have cause a crash worse than anything seen in the Europe or US.

3) This policy that can only be counted on once. Iceland can no longer rely on external financing.

4) They jury is still out -- almost literally -- on whether Iceland has permanently escaped the burden of its banks' foreign obligations. The EFTA has outstanding cases such as the one against Icebank that appear to reimpose some burdens on the Icelandic financial industry.

Krugman is not proposing that the entire financial industry of a country be allowed to collapse. Rather:

What it demonstrated was the usefulness of devaluation (and therefore of having your own currency), and the case for temporary capital controls in an emergency. Also the case for letting creditors of private banks gone wild eat the losses.

One Reason Some People Believe Global Warming Will Drive Humans to Extinction

is that like most groups involved in a contentious war of ideas, opinions that minimize or temper accepted wisdom tend to be frowned on. On the other hand, opinions that make more extreme projections or take accepted wisdom further tend to be welcomed, even when they are highly questionable.

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It may appear that even if extreme opinions are incorrect, they may still help uninvolved members of the public "wake up," or create a sense of urgency that will help the larger goals be achieved. These inferences, while true in some cases, have to be balanced against repercussions such as:

1) Opinions that are not well supported by fact tend to be used by the opposing side in damaging ways. Look at the predictions from the 1970s about the state of the world over the coming decades. They are routinely used by global warming deniers to cast doubt on global warming as a whole.

2) Incorrect projections can lead to bad policy. If the optimal policy involves long-term measures, overly aggressive projections can lead to less effective crash programs on the theory that the horizon is too short. It can be argued that Jimmy Carter's $88B energy plan, which contained provisions for breeder reactors and coal gassification, was affected by alarmist views of the future of oil production.

3) It can lead to the rejection of proposals that are not considered "pure" or draw some measure of support from the opposition. In the case of global warming, this appears to be particularly true for solutions involving some type of geoengineering.

4) While the pattern is universal, it is fundamentally the same group dynamic that has led the GOP to become so extreme. This should be a warning.

I Agree,

and the reason there this distinction exists is that abortion is being argued separately from the question of when the developing fetus becomes a human being and should have legal standing. The current standard
(end of the second trimester) was chosen based on a different criterion -- survivability outside the womb (at least according to 1970s medicine).

Whether a one-day-old infant is the product of rape or incest has no bearing on whether that infant should survive. Nor should it be a factor in the ninth month, where abortion should be undertaken only in order to save the mother. Or the eight month. For that matter, should a premature baby born in the 32nd week be treated differently from a fetus of the same age if it's still in the womb? They both have developed equally.

The anti-abortion people are giving the wrong answer to the question "when does a human life begin?" Saying it is at conception, or before the brain is developed enough for basic electrical activity, is absurd. The way to counter it and maintain a consistent position is by giving a substantive answer to that question.

Viewers Come to Movies Looking for Very Different Things

and bringing very different histories and tastes. Many bad reviews of good movies seem to be the result of one of the following:

1) People often have difficulty distinguishing a movie they just couldn't get into at the time, or a movie with themes and characters they can't relate to, from a bad movie. IMDB message boards are full of posts consisting of little more than "I fell asleep," "I walked out," or "this sucked."

I saw Blade Runner years after it came out on VHS, and simply couldn't get into it. Maybe the expectations were too high, or maybe its innovations had become commonplace by the 90's. But I would never call it a lousy movie.

2) Movies are often judged by what the viewer expects the film to do rather than what the director is trying to do, which may be quite different. Countless posts complain "what was the point of X" when X had a very clear point and was crucial to the storyline or understanding the characters.

This was responsible for a lot of the outrage over Drive, which was a wonderful example of breaking expectations and mixing genres and standard plots. Didn't follow the pattern of an action movie? No, it didn't, which made it more shocking and confusing when things went wrong and turned violent. Main character just stood there not saying anything? The director wanted the audience to be taken aback a little and to pay attention to other cues (plus it was consistent with the character). Why was that kiss in the elevator all gussied up with slow-mo and magical lighting? Because that was the culmination of the entire relationship -- the only moment that it could ever be consummated.

3) Much of the audience seems to miss character development unless it is spelled out or brought about by common devices like "facing your fears." Several IMDB posters on Moonrise Kingdom made comments to the effect that the plot went nowhere, whereas virtually every character underwent some sort of growth or transformation. It takes a special set of blinders to miss that in that large a cast.

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That's one reason IMO why older reviewers are sometimes kinder than newbies. Someone like Roger Ebert is open-minded enough and has been around a sufficiently long time that he can see better what was being attempted and can give credit even when the result was flawed, and why his reviews of a film like Snow White and the Hunter was much more positive than a lot of younger critics and message board posters.

Having said that, a lot of relatively simple, formulaic movies often receive high praise if they fall into certain genres or deal with certain themes. Million Dollar Baby was well crafted, but it never violated expectations, brought out surprising elements of the characters, or made the audience look or think deeply. For that reason, I didn't find it memorable, affecting, or thought-provoking in the least.

On the other hand, a movie like It's a Wonderful Life has some vocal detractors. It certainly contains some corny elements, a bizarre frame about angels, unecessary exposition, and caters to an 1940's small-town, middle-class sensibility. At the same time, it is one of the more subtle character studies of its era, all the more so because George Bailey is not a saint in the usual sense. It deals with odd themes that are hard to bring to life -- choosing responsibility over dreams and the importance of financial saving, building networks of friends, and affordable housing financed by involved, forgiving creditors. It's unique and deserves to be considered an all-time classic.




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