Monday, September 05, 2011

The End of Christianity? Contra Avalos

Hector Avalos: "The End of Biblical Studies" (II)

Like most sinners, I sometimes think the world revolves around me. Occasionally phenomena in the world seem almost to encourage the delusion.

The past week, I've been writing a chapter for our upcoming anthology, Faith Seeking Understanding, entitled "The Fingerprints of Jesus." My argument is that human nature and the gospels are such, that simple, uneducated people often come to know the "historical Jesus" better than eminent scholars who in theory have spent their entire lives trying to track him down. In part, the chapter is a condensed version of my earlier book, Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could.

No sooner outlined, than one of the best examples of scholarly miopia in reading the Gospels falls into my lap -- Hector Avalos' "The End of Biblical Studies," which constitutes chapter 4 of John Loftus' The End of Christianity. I know theologically that the world is not my oyster, and actually I don't much like oysters, but in this chapter, one finds a baroque pearl of great price.

Not that Avalos' chapter is weak in the secondary traits of effective argumentation. It's well-written, covers a multitude of subject areas with apparent competence, does not hit below the belt as often as some of his other writings (but sometimes it does, see below), and is copiously and informatively footnoted.  He even cracks a decent joke ("Biblical archeology lies in ruins.")

Nevertheless, to say Avalos misses the target, is like saying Douglas Corrigan landed at the wrong airport (in Ireland, rather than Long Beach, California!)

(Reader be warned: the two of us have a bit of "history."  See first posts in this blog. I'll try to be fair, though.) 

Avalos and The Bad Book

In a sense, the purpose of this chapter is to make a recommendation, rather than advance an historical argument. The historical premise on which that recommendation is based, is that several kinds of "biblical studies" have "failed," proven vacuous, misleading, or a waste of time. We should, therefore, choose between the following options, of which Avalos favors the third:

"1. Eliminate biblical studies completely from the modern world."

2. "Retain biblical studies as is, but admit that it is a religionist enterprise." (Note: Could we also elimitate words like "religionist?" --DM.)

3. "Retain biblical studies, but redefine its purpose so that it is tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world."

Why should the influence of the Bible be "completely eliminated?" Because, of course, that influence is pernicious, vile, evil, harmful, and nugatory. This is a persistent sub-theme of the chapter:

" . . . dependence on a text brought untold misery and stood as an obstacle to human progress." (110)

"Origen, the famous church father, is reported to have castrated himself in light of this verse." (113)

"Such efforts only expose the fact that scholars themselves know that 'the Bible' is a violent document that must be sanitized to keep it alive." (114)

"The Bible also has been detrimental to human beings. For every page of Hamlet that we might enjoy innocently, there is a passage of the Bible that prompted someone to kill another human being." (125)

(A strange comparison. Hamlet can be printed on 50 pages, all of which no doubt one can enjoy, let us say innocently. So is Avalos claiming that 50 out of, say, 1000 pages in the Bible have prompted killing? I suppose that's possible -- billions of people have read the thing -- but it's a rather roundabout way of making a point.  Could one also say the same, percentage-wise, about the US Constitution?)

"Why do we need an ancient book that endorses everything from genocide to slavery to be a prime authority on our public or private morality?" (128)

"Modern human beings have existed for tens of thousands of years without the Bible, and they don't seem to have been the worse for it." (128)

And one loud, last blast for the road:

"Total abolition of biblical authority becomes a moral obligation and a key to this world's survival. The letter can kill. That is why the only mission of biblical studies should be to end biblical studies as we know them." (129)

So the Bible brings "untold misery:" blocked progress, encouraged murder and self-castration, "endorsed" slavery, and apparently done the world no good at all.  In fact, the Bible threatens "this world's" very survival.

Perhaps I overlooked it, but I noticed no hint in this chapter of any other source of evil in life besides the Bible (lust?  greed?  whirlpools?  angry moose?).  I also found no hint that the Bible has ever done anyone any good. 

So the problem, in Avalos' view, is not that people study the Bible, but that anyone does so except between the crosshairs of a high-powered rifle.  Who would have thought Robert Funk should stand accused of reading the Bible with insufficient fear and loathing?

What's Wrong with Biblical Studies?

Avalos does, however, offer a litany of specific criticisms of six forms of biblical study: translation, textual criticism, archeology, the search for the historical Jesus, literary criticism, and biblical theology.

Avalos' discussion of biblical translation is the most unfair.  He seems to want to smear Bible tranlators as broadly as possible, but leave the boundaries of his critique fuzzy enough so as to plausibly deny injustice:

"Indeed, the Bible is such a foreign text that translators and scholars become assistants to the reader . . . But even more surprising is the assumption that the relevance of the Bible is best maintained by using translation to hide and distort the original meaning of the text in order to provide the illusion that the information and values conveyed by biblical authors are compatible with those of the modern world."

"In short, Bible translations 'lie' to keep the Bible alive." (emphasis added)

That's a serious charge.  As with his condemnation of the Bible, Avalos does not place clear boundaries around his allegation -- "some" translations, "Dr. So n So" -- no, the reader is encouraged to generalize, though also without clearly being told, "All translators" or "most translators" are guilty. 

Avalos does provide a few examples, but they seem far too weak to justify the word "dishonesty," which Avalos also uses, let alone "lie." 

For instance, Dr. Avalos disputes how the New American Bible renders Deuteronomy 32: 8-9 in English.  Even in his accusation, however, Avalos is forced to pull his punches: "probably," "so some scholars have argued that . . . " "probably,""appears to be."  In other words, he implicitly admits that his own interpretation of the passage is not that straightforward, but can reasonably be disputed. 

Translation is difficult, an art not a science.  Why question a fellow scholar's honesty, even accuse him of "lying," for offering a plausible but somewhat different interpretation of a Hebrew phrase?  And then extend the smear by implication to all his colleagues? 

It's not as if Avalos' own exegesis is impeccable.  In The Christian Delusion, Avalos offered a grossly misreading rendering of the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:

"That Christian communist system also results in the killing of a married couple (Acts 5:1-11) that reneged on their promise to surrender their property.  Thus, the principle of killing those who did not conform to collectivation of property is already a biblical one." (Christian Delusion, 369)

In debate afterwards, I cited the original wording, numerous commentators, and translations in several languages, to show that Avalos' read of this passage (which he expanded on in discussion) was grossly misleading.  Avalos basically just ignored all contrary scholarship on the passage, or dismissed serious and even unbelieving scholars as apologists.  Nor did he admit how misleading his representation of it had been.  (Though his colleague Ed Babinski was honest enough to do so.) 

Was Avalos a "liar?"  I didn't call him that, though his abuse of that passage seems far more blatant than anything he cites by other scholars. 

Avalos vs. the Jesus Seminar

Some of Avalos' criticism of biblical studies suggests that he may have given up convincing those outside of his own skeptical choir. 

The longest section here is on the "unhistorical Jesus," in which he takes on, of all opponents, the Jesus Seminar: 

"The Jesus Seminar has predetermined what Jesus or the early church thought, and then they have simply selected those verses that accord with what the Jesus Seminar thinks that Jesus thought.  So despite no supernaturalism in their assumptions, the members of the Jesus Seminar are no different from fundamentalists who pick and choose texts to bolster their image of Jesus." (122)

As author of a book rebutting the Jesus Seminar, I'm sympathetic to Avalos' point, in this case.  For one thing, not only is there "no supernaturalism in their assumptions," but key Jesus Seminar scholars make anti-supernaturalism itself an assumption: no miracles allowed, end of story. 

But Avalos is being unfair even to the Jesus Seminar.  Funk, Borg, King, and Crossan are smart, educated scholars, and deal with concrete historical texts: they do not (often) just make stuff up out of thin air.  While the Seminar as a whole shares the faults of a committee, and the faults of radical skeptics, the individual works of these writers often deal in an interesting way with compelling bits of historical data, which Avalos glosses over, with the abolitionist arrogance of a Karl Marx, ready to end whole fields of study with a few glib "zingers."  (In fact, come to think of it, Marx' followers sometimes did burn the Bible.  Avalos' goal is similiar, though his own efforts do not have the laudible side-effect of warming anyone on a cold night.)

"New Gospels for Sale!"      

But even while he dismisses NT scholars "left and right," skeptic and Christian, in the most sweeping terms, I see little sign that Avalos is ready to do the serious work of figuring out the 1st Century himself.  He is, for example, at least as naive (or disenguous -- here the question really does arise) about fake "Gospels" as the Jesus Seminar scholars he criticizes:

"But there's more to consider, because the existence of other Gospels changes everything.  Charles W. Hedrick, who discovered a 'lost Gospel,' placed the number of Gospels at thirty-four in 2002.  According to him, we have four canonical Gospels, four complete noncanonical Gospels, seven fragmentary Gospels, four Gospels known only from early quotations, two hypothetical Gospels (Q and the Signs Gospels), and thirteen known only by a name mentioned in some ancient source."

Avalos goes on to ape the standard line that we can no longer "privilege" the canonical Gospels as the "earliest or best sources for depicting early Christianity."

This is sheer poppycock.  As I show in The Truth About Jesus and the 'Lost Gospels,' there ARE no other extant Gospels, besides the canonical four. 

Other books are called "Gospels," but that is just (now and then) a marketting ploy.  No other extant text can be plausibly called a "gospel" either etymologically, or by analogy to the four in the Bible.  (Which is the primary literary definition in most dictionaries.)  None of them.  The canonical Gospels stand out from the field in so many ways, it is ludicrous, and highly misleading, to pretend that any other discovered text belongs to the same genre. 

I go into particular detail on Thomas, which is the skeptics' favorite, a pathetic admission of failure in and of itself. 

I challenge anyone to rebut my arguments. 

Not only are none of these texts "Gospels." As I show, not even fans of the Gnostic texts, like Elaine Pagels or Karen King, or even the Jesus Seminar itself, really believe any of them, not even Thomas, is on the same level as an "early and best source" for the life of Jesus, as the real gospels.

The quotes and facts are all there.  Again, I defy anyone to justify these sloppy and misleading claims about other "gospels," and their supposed value for reconstructing the life of Jesus.   

Will the Bible Destroy the World?

Despite his learning and talent as a teacher, Hector Avalos runs the risk of making himself into a caricature of the village atheist. 

Throughout this chapter, we are told of the evils the Bible encourages.  Rather than acknowledging that it can also inspire good, Avalos folds a big tarp over any benefits the world might have also derived from the Good Book:

"Modern humans have existed for tens of thousands of years without the Bible, and they don't seem to have been the worse for it."

Is that so?  Are girls sold into prostitution, or burnt alive after their husbands died, or whose feet are crushed at age 6, none the worse for those customs?  If not, then how is it that people inspired by this evil book, have in fact began reform movements that ended foot-binding, human sacrifice, widow-burning, and slavery around the world?  How many tens of thousands of hospitals and schools have been founded by zealous Christians who thought they were following the example of Jesus?  Why was it that most of the founders of modern science were so entranced by this book?  Why did Francis Bacon and John Locke quote it, when instituting reforms that have benefited the whole world? 

Pardon while I gape in disbelief at Avalos' refusal to recognize vast historical facts. 

I argued, in a series of seven recent posts last month, more-or-less beginning here, that the Gospel has liberated billions of women.

The Bible doesn't matter, in a positive way?

It mattered to Mosab Hassan Yousee, the son of one of the founders of the terrorist organization Hamas:

"When I got to the Sermon on the Mount, I thought, Wow, this guy Jesus is really impressive! . . . Every verse seemed to touch a deep wound in my life . . . Then I read this: 'You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy."  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.' (Mt. 5: 43-45) . . .  Never before had I heard anything like things, but I knew that this was the message I had been searching for all my life.”

"Blow out the candles,
the sun has risen!"
It mattered to Yuan Zhiming, one of the leaders of the Democracy Movement in China, who writes how his "eyes filled with tears," reading the words of Jesus. 

It mattered to Lin Yutang, one of the greatest writers in 20th Century China, who after surveying the world of Chinese, European, and Indian thought, wrote of Jesus:

"Blow out the candles, the sun has risen." 

It mattered to the great reformers of India, one of whom (Ram Mohan Roy), wrote a book of Jesus' sayings, entitled "The Principles of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness."

But what do they know?  Hector Avalos has been given a pony, and is determined to look all the way up its rear end. 

And all he sees there, is darkness, the apocalyptic end of the world. 

I find a verse in this allegedly antiquated, venile text that seems, somehow, to matter more and more as I delve into the New Atheism:

"Where is the wise man?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" 


Anonymous said...

David, in (1) under "Avalos and the Bad Book" you wrote "students" instead of "studies" (although if biblical studies are eliminated perhaps the biblical students would be eliminated too).

Brian Barrington said...

The Bible is a great book. Attacking the Bible itself makes Avalos sound like an ignorant, uncultured fool.

Mosab Hassan Yousee was right to be impressed by the Sermon on the Mount – if Christians focused more on this Sermon, which is the heart of Jesus’ teaching, and less on distractions like the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, then Christianity would be a better religion. But Mosab Hassan Yousee does not appear to have read very widely, since he says of Jesus’ moral injunctions “Never before had I heard anything like these things”.

Why not? Buddha advocated the “Eternal Rule” - “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” According to Buddha we should “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering.”

When Mahavira, the Jain, was asked: “Which is the greatest religion?” he replied: “Nonviolence is the greatest religion.” According to Mahavira “Desistance from sin makes one entirely happy.” How can we desist from sin? “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being."

Confucius said: "How can a person be considered wise if he is not benevolent towards others?" What is a benevolent person? “The benevolent observe the following rule: What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”

How can you get others to love me and to respect you? According to Confucius’ student Mencius: “It is really very simple. He who loves others is constantly loved by them. He who respects others is constantly respected by them.”

According to Epicurus: “It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living justly. And it is impossible to justly without living a pleasant life.” When asked what justice is Epicurus replied: “: “Justice is an agreement not to harm or be harmed.” He continues: “Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship, and if one is not JUST it is not possible to have friendship. Moreover, it is impossible for a man who is secretly unjust to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for until his death he is never sure that he will not be detected. Thus, the just man is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost disturbance.”

All of these people lived long before Jesus.

Moreover, if Mosab Hassan Yousee had studied Islam carefully, it seems astonishing that he could say “Never before had I heard anything like these things”. According to Muhammad: “Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully”. Also “All actions are built on intentions, and every man will be rewarded or punished according to his intentions. The only thing that is truly good is the good intention”. “Kindness is the mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith.” Further: “Do not turn away a poor man even if all you can give is half a date. If you love the poor and bring them near you then God will love you.” How do you get to heaven? According to Muhammad: “The person who looks after an orphan and provides for him, will be in Paradise”

Before Muhammad died, he appointed Abu to continue his teaching. When Abu was asked: “How can I protect myself from evil?” he replied: “Be good to others, that will protect you against evil.”

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I agree your approach is much more reasonable than that of Hector Avalos, who seems to have a need to denigrate other scholars, to build himself up. I thought it was just Christians, but when he goes after Funk, Borg, Crossn & Co, the tendency appears more deep-seated than that. Same with the Bible.

You'll find few bigger Anglo fans of Confucius than myself, and there's a lot of wonderful stuff in Mencius, Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi, Epictetus, the Dharmapadda that I think you're quoting, and the Upanishads. (You know what I think of Mohammed, who made a lot more orphans than he looked after, and stole a wife from his own son-in-law, among others.) I even have some respect for Epicurus (though read Solzhentisyn's First Circle some time, if you haven't, and see the interesting limits placed on his teachings at the end of that book.)

But having read most of that stuff too, I still think Mosab went to the right grocer.

The point here, however, is something that we can probably agree on: if Avalos were to attack Confucius or Mencius the way he attacks the NT, I would also find that stupid and obnoxious.

David B Marshall said...

Anon: Heh! Heck of a Freudian slip. Thanks for catching it.

shane said...

Hi David, I am a frequent poster on Debunking Christianity, I followed your link here from the last comment you left, I wanted to see what your blog was all about.

At the top of this page you say that uneducted people seem to come to know the historical Jesus better than some scholars do?

Well, did it ever occur to you that those lay persons who just read the bible, and believe in it are just simply taking it at it's word????
Sure, anyone can come to know the Jesus of the gospels just by reading them, but scholars actually do the work of trying to discover Jesus from a historical frame!
They actually do the work of finding out evidence that the bible "is" a reliable historical account. So far the historical inaccuracies and "lack" of corroboration for the gospels is not in its favor?

David B Marshall said...

Hi, Shane. Yes, of course that's the conventional wisdom that I am tweaking; that's precisely where the irony lies. Also, I added the word "often:" I'm not claiming that the uneduted ALWAYS do better. And I back up my arguments with scholarship, with which I am, yes, quite familiar. You should read the book.

shane said...


Ya, all im saying is that you opr I could read the Koran and suppose we know the historical Mohammed, or read the gnostic gospels and suppose we know the historical Jesus. But we would both agree that neither are completely (if at all) true!

You also commented on how Avalos only pointed certian "evils" out in the bible and did not bother to mention how it can also inspire good. yes....many good deeds have been done in the name of christianity in modern times. But compare that to the amount of war,suffering,genocide,slavery, superstitious fear, and oppression that book brought for centuries.... and its little recompanse?

Does reform movements that end foot-binding make up for hundreds of women being burned alive or hung? Where was god on that one?

Do the tens of thousands of hospitals founded by christians make up for the tens of thousands of women and children murdered during 500 years of crusades?

You comment on his view as though he made no justified claims The history of christianity can testify for him?

David B Marshall said...

Shane: I don't want to sound snobbish. But you should work either on your self-expression, or your humility. The symbol "LOL" is not impressive, coming at the end of a post full of mispelled words, bad grammar, and intimations of historical ignorance. To be frank, it just makes you sound like an impudent punk. That might pass muster on John's site, but it won't impress anyone here.

"War, suffering, genocide, slavery, superstition, fear and oppression" are the normal condition of humanity, from which the Gospel helped raise us. Aside from the history of that liberation, you might also read a little background anthropology, and get a better feel for what is normal, and what is exceptional.

Please then read, if not a couple of my own or other good books on the impact of Christianity, my series on how Christ has liberated women around the world.

In short, yes, the impact of the Gospel has been much more for the good than for evil. Though honest scholars will take both into account.

shane said...

My goal wasn't to impress you my friend. You can insult my spelling and grammer all you want, and call me a punk even though im 30 years old, and married with three children, but that doesn't change the facts?
I was a christian for a long time and I deeply believed in "God's word". I took the scriptures very seriously. I have read the bible many times over so you dont impress me either.

If the gospel helped raise us from war, suffering, genocide....? Then maybe you can tell me where the crusaders and inquisitioners got their motivation from? What caused the Popes to want to take over the holy land? Christianity spread through conquest for most of its earlier history. (feel free to correct anything I say that you think is historically wrong).

No David, people liberated women around the world. People who believe in a more positive and democratic gospel message. Are you going to try and tell me that the scriptures advocate liberation for women?....
I dont need to read about the impact of christianity on the world David, I got my share of that when I believed it. But now I no longer turn a blind eye to the other side of the ledger.

Edwardtbabinski said...

David, you wrote, "(Though his colleague Ed Babinski was honest enough to do so.)"

Am I Hector's colleague? Our essays appear in the some book, and we both contributed posts to the Debunking Christianity blog. But we don't teach at the same college, in fact I don't teach at all, I work in a university library. Neither have Hector and I collaborated on anything.

That aside, I agree with Hector that the type of system in which everyone holds their wealth in common is "communistic." I also agree with Hector that the couple were killed in the story in Acts for telling a lie about having shared "all they had" with the Christian "commune" in which they live.

Neither did Hector necessarily need to specify how the couple died since the story does. It says they died after Peter delivered to them a strong message after which the husband instantly died. And then the wife comes in and Peter says she's going to be taken out too, and "wham," she'd dead. It's a story that is probably apocryphal, but those who read it back then probably took it seriously enough to fear what might happen to them if they did hold money back from the "Christian group" to which they belonged, or if they lied about saying they had "given all." One could therefore legitimately say that the same TACTIC was employed in Acts as much later in communism, i.e., inducing fear for the sake of the collective.

In the NT there's also a story in all three synoptics about Jesus asking a rich young man to give away all he had to the poor (and then he would have treasure in heaven). But the rich young man goes away sad, unable to do so. And the message is about how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. The lesson seems to be to give all to the poor, or later in Acts, to give all to the Christian community. Or you risk God's judgment.

Paul himself believed that God was making many Christians ill and killing some ("many of you are ill and some have fallen asleep" 1 Cor) because they were mis-celebrating the Lord's Supper and He was "judging" their behavior. Kind of like a parallel to OT stories in which God killed his own chosen people in various ways. In a NT story involving Peter in Acts and in Paul's 1 Cor letter, God is depicted once again as still sending illnesses and even killing members of his newly chosen people, Christians.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Secondly, The story in Acts as well as the one in the Gospels, though probably of use to the early church in making believers feel trepidation, and gaining for the church a healthy share of contributions, was also probably apocryphal, not a historical tale at all. See:

“Divine Judgment against Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11): A Stock Scene of Perjury and Death” JBL 130, no. 2 (2011): 351–369 by J. Albert Harrill

This exegetical study remaps the interpretation of Acts 5:1–11 beyond the search for biblical antecedents and toward stock scenes of divine judgment for the crime of perjury in Luke’s Greco-Roman culture. In Mediterranean and Near Eastern antiquity, the destruction of a paradigmatic object typically sealed the oaths, vows, and other pacts used in everyday life, such as business and commercial transactions.

The verbal formulas in oath ceremonies included a self-curse for dishonesty and perjury (e.g., “May I die . . .”). Many ancient works questioned, however, the value of such self-imprecations, especially when impious characters with a habit of forswearing were proverbial. The comedy of the stage perjurer explored this question in stock scenes to great dramatic effect.

From the perspective of Luke’s narrative, the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira are not tragic. Rather, the scene encourages the audience to have confidence that the church (ἡ ἐκκλησία) is blameless of impiety (ἀσέβεια) and that promises about its deity are true. The positive resolution thus matches the form or structure of a comedy. The author of Luke-Acts engages the notions of ritual and religious identity in his contemporary culture. He distinguishes the piety of his early Christian heroes by the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, who scorn the keeping of oaths that God demands.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira begins with a utopian scene of the earliest believers sharing all goods in common. A Levite named Joseph (alias Barnabas) sells his field and lays all the proceeds at the feet of the apostles for distribution to the community’s needy (Acts 4:32–37). Ananias then, “with the consent of his wife Sapphira,” sells a piece of property and appears to follow suit. Ananias, however, lays “only a part” of the sale’s proceeds before the apostles (5:1–2). The apostle Peter berates Ananias for “lying not to humans but to the Holy Spirit” (5:3), and Sapphira for “putting the Spirit of the Lord to the test” (5:9). Upon hearing the apostle’s rebuke, Ananias and Sapphira each die in turn, suddenly and on the spot. The story ends with “great fear” (φόβος μέγας) seizing “all who heard these things” and especially the whole “church”—the first occurrence of ἐκκλησία in the narrative (5:11).

The story’s apparent moral injustice has long offended biblical interpreters. In the third century, a Greek “philosopher,” most likely Porphyry, condemned Peter’s rebuke as hypocritical and irrational: the apostle, who perjured himself by denying Jesus three times (Luke 22:31–34, 54–62), ritually murders the couple for doing a much lesser sin, if indeed the couple’s action was a sin.1 More recent commentators have shared Porphyry’s shock at the story and its theological implications.2 To resolve the story’s apparent moral injustice, scholars have proposed various exegetical solutions: [INSTEAD, THE AUTHOR OF THIS PAPER SUGGESTS ITS SIMPLY A STOCK SCENE]

Neat free article.

David B Marshall said...

Ed: Hector's telling of the story was deeply misleading. He obviously wanted to make the episode sound as similiar to Stalin's purges as possible, so he tip-toed around the fact that no human being raised a hand against anyone in Acts 5. If you read what Avalos said and don't know the story, you'd get the strong impression the disciples killed the couple. And it's obvious Avalos was avoiding the most natural language so as to leave that impression.

Calling the (partial) sharing of goods, mentioned in that one passage, "communistic" looks to me like equivocation. Communism in the modern world, means Marxism-Leninism, and Avalos' goal is to make the early Christians sound as Stalinist as possible. But there is no force employed to seize goods, no hint of revolution, in fact private property is almost always assumed in Acts. The use of "communistic" is, here, tendentious.

Read Acts, and the NT in general, for affirmations of private property, and you find them all over the place. Taking one verse out of context, blatantly misreading it as Hector did, in order to make the early Christians sound like totalitarianists, is not kosher exegesis, and you know it. Not a single scholar I consulted agreed with Hector's read of that passage, and I consulted quite a few.

But I understand the need you may feel to "circle the wagons:" I felt a little reluctant to cite your comment, for that reason.

David B Marshall said...

As for the historicity of the story, it doesn't sound to me as if there are any real reasons to doubt that it happened. "This was a common motif" is not an historical argument: often motifs can be found in both fiction and non-fiction, for example the stealing of a piece of fruit.

Luke generally seems to be a pretty reliable historian. What he says about known historical figures and places usually turns out to be true. And he must have known Peter personally. The story is obviously unusual in the NT, and not of central importance, but I see no reason to toss it. As for morality, God gives life and death to thousands every day, and I'm not sure we're in a position to evaluate that morally, still less about people we've never met.

Good to hear from you, BTW. What part of the country are you in?