michigan state university

Imagine if you actually met Jesus (Christ).

I’m not talking about the “Second Coming” or whatever, I mean what if you got transported back in time 2000 years ago and met Jesus of Nazareth. What would you see?

Studying the history of early Christianity really makes me appreciate how little we know about ancient history. Sure there’s some records here and there, but we’re really riding blind.

Imagine if historians 3000 years from now just have Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, this blog, and the ruins of Las Vegas to go on while studying our era. That would leave them with a pretty odd view. But that’s essentially what we’re going by when evaluating ancient times.

Every famous person from back then, like Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, was probably half a foot shorter than you imagine and you could have easily kicked their ass. What I am saying is that I can stomp the shit out of a Spartan. 300 was just a movie, a shitty one at that. I am taller, got more muscle, and when I’m when I’m trying to quit nicotine I can take anybody. ANYBODY.

i dont care what ppl think of me

Show me somebody that has said that (the title of this post) and I’ll show you a liar.

Everyone cares about others think about them. If you don’t, then you’re a legit sociopath.

In fact, concern for what other people think is the cornerstone of civilization. We wear the clothes we wear because of this. Observe and obey laws. We have fucking language because of this!

But people say these things because they want to shield off their empathy, and by wearing the “i dont care what people think” badge, they believe they’re fooling you. Yet clearly they do care, because they tell you all the time. Obviously they want you to think something about them.

Unfortunately the human psyche just can’t shut off its concern for others, and the ego can’t lock out its concern for what others think of it. Our whole sense of self is based upon our relations to others.

Of course I’m not saying that we should be paralyzed by fear over other’s opinions. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be “I am who I am”, and coming to terms with the fact that it’s impossible to please everybody.

I think that’s a more honest assessment.

last temptation of Christ: a deeper revolution

The Last Temptation of Christ unsurprisingly stuck with me. Usually when I complete a novel, I think “hmm, that was nice” and I move on to the next thing. But Kazantzakis’s interpretation of “the Greatest Story Ever Told” is rewarding and leaves a lot to think about, especially if you’re obsessed with early Christian history.

I mean, obviously it’s not historically accurate. That’s not the point. The point is that the book brings these familiar characters to life. Jesus begins the book as a sickly carpenter before transforming into the messianic figure we’ve come to know and love. However, his humanity is emphasized. At times, Jesus comes across as a jerk with megalomaniac fantasies. This helps contextualize Jesus the man and the era he lived in.

This is best demonstrated by his relationship with Judas Iscariot. Judas is a true revolutionary with a hatred for the Romans and is often frustrated by Jesus and his message of love. Jesus feels that Judas’s revolutionary ideals don’t go far enough: the concerns for the body are temporary, Jesus wants to bring salvation to the world…Jew and gentile alike.

The various characters are often puzzled by this. This universalism is too lofty, too radical to ever be realized.

And this sort of remains true today. I’ve expressed my admiration for John Dominic Crossan views: Jesus was responding to the imperial authority of the Romans. Jesus and his followers might not thought of it in that way, but that was effectively what he was doing. I don’t think enough scholars, both Christian and secular, stop to appreciate this. Not even Bart Ehrman.

I think this is best demonstrated by the cross as the official symbol of Christianity. Jesus unquestionably died by crucifixion, perhaps the most ruthless form of punishment by the Romans. And none of the early Christian apologists deny that it happened. Stop and think about that: their very leader got “owned” by the Romans. In fact, it HAD to have happened so that he could be resurrected. So Christians took this event and chalked it up as a win for their beliefs, and a loss for the ruthless rule of the Romans.

Scholars often wonder how Paul was able to convince so many pagans to convert to Christianity (or, to be more historically accurate, his form of Christian Judaism, as Paul still thought of himself as a Jew), well maybe here’s an answer: Roman rule under the Pax Romana pissed off enough people that when they heard of a man who was resurrected after a crucifixion, conversion was a way to subtly stick it to the Romans. This could be why Paul put so much emphasis on death and resurrection in his theology.

Yes, I know there are plenty of problems with this theory, chief among these is how little the Romans are criticized in the New Testament. In fact, the Gospels explicitly blame the Jews for Jesus’s death and not the Romans, even though the Romans certainly DID execute Jesus. My response to this is that you don’t have to spend more than two minutes following populist/leftist politics before realizing that they hate each other more than they hate their opposition. It is my opinion (maybe more on that at another time) that this is fundamentally rooted in these kinds of movements. Even though the Romans were THE existential threat to life in the Mediterranean world, it would have been mainstream Judaism that were the primary theological/ideological opponents of early Christianity…even if the Jews were as much under the thumb of Roman rule as they were. This is heresy in the world of radical movements, what leftists might call “class traitors” today, and it wouldn’t take much for Christian writers to switch out Romans for the Jews in regards to who was guilty for Jesus’s death.

It is this narcissism of small differences that plague radical movements, religious and political alike, and I doubt early Christianity was any different. (See Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

It is difficult to tell if the real Jesus actually preached this message of universalism, or a peaceful coexistence of all people under one God. Crossan might, but it’s more likely this was extracted by later thinkers and is now considered the ethical message of Christianity IF people could move past their short-sightedness (maybe not under “one god”, but you get the idea).

Anyways, I’ve spent too much time on this post, forgot where I was going. The end.

what is truth?

Obviously I’m going through a Bart D Ehrman phase. It’s not because I agree with him most of the time or that I find him a master debater (sorry, had to say it). It’s because he’s the only public intellectual that I can think of at the top of my head that has a genuine passion for teaching.

Because Ehrman’s area of expertise is the Bible, specifically the New Testament and early Christianity, people naturally have strong opinions about the subject. Some people, specifically atheists but a few Christians aren’t exempt, like to use this subject as a way to “trigger” their opponents.

This is a fad on YouTube. The “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW), or guys that found fame on the internet during the “alt-Right” hay day (people like Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, etc.) perfected the science of “triggering” (also known as “owning the libs”) and many online personalities have attempted to emulate it, including leftists with varying degrees of success. It’s a way of weaponizing information.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to discussions on the Bible, religion, and politics, but even movies and fucking geography!

Because “owning the line” is currency on YouTube, this has led to many quaks pretending to be experts littering the platform and distracting us away from those trying to present information in good faith.

Just because an opinion triggers someone, that doesn’t give it more credence. But that appears to be sound logic in some circles. Even if the opinion is true, if presented in a way that’s designed to give offense, that doesn’t make the one with the opinion more noble or virtuous…it makes you an asshole.

Thankfully my man Ehrman avoids that.

pee pee poo poo

The YouTube algorithm sucks sometimes. When you search certain people, you can’t rid their videos from your recommendations.

Bart D Ehrman, the distinguished James Gray professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one such person. Not that I hate Ehrman, quite the contrary. The man knows the Bible better than anyone. But I don’t find the subject of “God’s existence” to be particularly interesting.

Nevertheless, I watched him debate this with a professional snake oil salesman named Kyle Butt. The subject they were specifically debating was “God and suffering”. Ehrman’s fans swear up and down that he won the debate, but no one “wins” a debate. Everyone loses (and, sorry to say Christians, but agnostics/atheists have the much easier argument).

But I’m always intrigued by how the “problem of morality” gets tossed around like a hot potato in a debate. Maybe I’ve spent too much time of Twitter and Reddit forums, but it feels that in our political climate that all sides wish to enter into a “post moral” phase where one can gain points by accusing their opponent of “moralizing”. However, I have never once found this to be convincing.

Mostly because it makes no fucking sense. Even if we move past “good and evil”, new social mores become established which sets up a whole other paradigm of morality.

When viewed in this political climate, the Ehrman/Butt debate seems outdated (it took place in 2014). Butt believed that there are objective platonic forms of morality established by God of the Bible, while Ehrman simply took a sublime, “know right/wrong when I see it” approach. Naturally, I agreed with Ehrman (even though I didn’t find it philosophically consistent).

But I think what Ehrman was trying (or should have) focused on was the power of empathy in understanding the conditions of our fellow humans. From my understanding, empathy is a real scientifically falsifiable phenomenon that everyone (except psychopaths) feels. HOWEVER, the power of ideology does everything it can to undermine this.

Ideology can take many forms, from personal, to political, to religious.

In my view, individualist ideology, propagated by consumer culture, is the most prevalent. In fact, it even lays the foundation for current political/religious ideologies. When viewed in this light, it makes sense why online atheists and the Christian Right are suddenly bedfellows: Christians can rest easy knowing that God is invested in their individual lives, and the fate and suffering of everyone else is in His hands. And atheists become unburdened in believing that there’s a moralistic force binding the universe together, and can instead focus on their own truths.

Either way, they don’t have to show concern over the suffering of their fellow humans.

I guess that’s another reason why everyone wants to jump on the “post moral” train.

was Jesus an ascetic?

I don’t know man, I wasn’t there.

I’ll say this though: Jesus at least dabbled in asceticism. Any hard evidence for this? No. And none will ever turn up. BUT the two earliest accounts of Jesus’s life, the Gospel of Mark and the hypothetical “Q source” (which survives in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew) mention Jesus turning to the wilderness after his baptism from John the Baptist.

John the Baptist’s existence can be independently confirmed by Josephus, a first century Jewish historian. This is partly why it is universally agreed upon that the baptism of Jesus by John is a real historical event. The other reason why historians believe this is due to the criterion of embarrassment, which simply means that Jesus’s associations with John the Baptist would have been well known enough that it had to of been accounted for by early Christian writers, despite Jesus’s superiority to John.

It’s difficult to establish any degree of certainty from this period. Was John the Baptist an ascetic? It certainly appears that he had those tendencies from the surviving texts. It’s has even been suggested that he was an Essene, a “semi-ascetic” Jewish sect from the first century. Could Jesus have been a follower of John? We know that they met at least once, and the Gospels (whatever their historical worth) say that Jesus immediately did something ascetic-like after that meeting.

I like questions like these because it helps contextualize this era. I personally think that Jesus did ascetic-like things and might’ve ran with a few ascetic groups. But I don’t think he thought of himself ascetic or even monastic. Like I said, the historical information contained in the Gospels are dubious and hard facts will likely never appear, but I think it’s important to look at the language of the Gospels.

Mark and the “Q” source (or possible sources) seem to address a rural audience, meaning that Jesus likely focused his mission on the poor or “working class”. There are obvious problems with this assumption, the main one being that the entire New Testament is written in Koine Greek while the poor in Galilee and Judea, including Jesus, spoke Aramaic (plus the Gospels are written 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus). How much of Jesus’s message was changed between his death and the written accounts is impossible to determine. Despite these problems though, I do think that Mark and Q are more than likely correct in Jesus’s focus.

So as I’ve said before, I think that Jesus was a religious-populist figure, and as we often find in populist movements, leaders often take a “postmodern” turn by becoming (as Apostle Paul later found out) “all things to all people”. This is why so many people can have so many different interpretations on what happened.

im stupid

I don’t always agree with Bart Ehrman.

He’s an excellent biblical scholar, but a little too conservative for my tastes as a historian. This occurred to me while I was watching him get ambushed by both Christians and atheists during a Zoom call.

If I’m correct in my understanding…and remember I’m a dumbass…then Ehrman’s argument regarding our access to the original intentions of the New Testament texts are completely lost. We cannot know what “Mark”, for example, originally wrote. Not only would this be true for all biblical texts, but virtually ALL ancient texts as well.

In my view, this is an extreme form of skepticism which throws our understanding of history out the window. The entire historical record would be in jeopardy, a point which Ehrman himself seemingly concedes (unless, of course, the record can be confirmed by other sources i.e. archeological, DNA, etc.)

I guess this sounds extreme-having to take the accuracy of ancient historical accounts basically on faith (especially when they sound plausible, but lack supporting evidence)-but what other option do we have until the facts prove otherwise?

I suppose this line of reasoning is how Ehrman can reconcile his certainty that Jesus existed with his extreme skepticism of the historical accuracy of the Gospels.

lost in the supermarket

“Ever wanted to do more?” some commercial by a for-profit university asked me.

Actually, I’ve always wanted to do LESS.

I can’t even watch ASMR without some jackass telling me that I’ve got 40lbs of excess shit in my bowels. Is that something I should be worried about? I already spend enough of my life on a toilet.

“Wanna invest in crypto?”

No thanks. Sports betting seems like a lot cooler way to lose money.

“Use my promo code to get one month free at Manscaped.com!”

Since when did men start shaving their balls?

Do people actually find this shit revolutionary or liberating? Any limp dick bastard with enough cash and a camera can convince enough people that some halfassed product manufactured from a sweatshop in Juarez is worth your hard earned money.

So why don’t you try sending some of that money my way?

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