Three Skeptics Write Lousy Bible Scholarship

On April 25, 2017, in GNU/Linux, Religion, by prosario2000

Note:  I’m NOT a Bible nor a New Testament scholar, just a philosopher who has an amateurish interest on the New Testament. For the longest time I was Catholic, but, as many of you know, I declared myself a Religious Naturalist a few years ago, and committed myself to skepticism and Science (meaning both Natural and Social Sciences, which includes History).  I think that New Testament scholars can respond a lot better than I will about this subject, but my complain is as a member of the skeptical movement.

I wanted to write something different in my personal blog regarding stuff that have nothing to do with the historicity of Jesus. Yet again, as a member of the skeptical movement, I’m often frustrated when prominent figures in the skeptical movement succumb into old fashioned mythicist views on Jesus. These are the article of psychologist Valerie Tarico, David Fitzgerald, and that of the neurologist Steve Novella. I have to say that I’m a big fan of Novella, and I never miss Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, which is my all-time favorite podcast. In many ways, I consider him a role-model of how to be a genuine skeptic.

Before I begin my arguments, may I remind you that with the exception of Robert Price and Richard Carrier, and perhaps a few more, there is no one else in academia who supports this view regardless of whether they are Christian or not, whether they are believers or not. YES, I do recognize that the discipline of New Testament scholarship is overrun by Christian scholars.  There is no question about it, and in many ways is a problem. But let me give you a better picture of the state of affairs:

  1. A portion of scholars are fundamentalists … but this is a minority group and generally they do not engage in more serious scholarly material. Often, their production is directed at reconfirming their own faith, and that is not doing history.
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  2. Another portion of Bible scholars are pretty conservative, who want to promote a maximalist view of the historicity of Jesus (that is, most of what we see in the New Testament actually happened or is close to what actually happened, and that the claims of the NT are mostly reliable). These are not fundamentalists, and do serious work, but often they engage in apologetics. In this group, we could include Simon Gathercole, Craig A. Evans, Michael F. Bird, Bruce Chilton, Dan Wallace, among many others. I want to point out that, despite the fact that I’m not close to this particular group of scholars, that does not mean that their work should be dismissed for being religious, Christian, or conservative. Hence, I agree with Novella regarding his concerns about Gathercole’s responses as apologetic. Yet Gathercole’s, nor Evans’, nor Wallace’s work can thrown down the toilet. We should note that all of them have made very valuable contributions to the field.
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  3. Another portion of them is more moderate and/or minimalistic:  they consider that our sources are basically flawed, that a lot of the content needs to be qualified taking into account, which include: the almost 500,000 variants we find in our manuscripts (remember that about 80 to 90% of those variants don’t matter at all for scholars), the Christian interpolations we find in the manuscripts, the diverse traditions we find all over the New Testament, the unreliability of eye-witness reports, theological biases, literary constructs, etc., etc., etc.  In this group you may find a LOT of people: John P. Meier (whose multivolume work A Marginal Jew should be considered a must read if you want to at least deal with the subject in a scholarly manner), Raymond Brown (whose introductory work on the New Testament and his colossal work on John’s Gospel is a must read for scholars), John Dominic Crossan, Joachim Gnilka, Joseph Fitzmyer, Bruce Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, James McGrath, Antonio Piñero, Fernando Bermejo, Eldon Jay Epp, Harry Y. Gamble, Günter Bornkamm, R. J. Hoffmann, John S. Kloppenborg, Wayne A. Meeks, Gerd Thiessen, Jonathan L. Reed (his archaeological work is medular for any study on Galilee along with Mark Chancey’s), Mark Goodacre, Jürgen Becker, E. P. Sanders, Maurice Casey, and so on. This group constitutes the majority of Bible scholars.  Some are Christians, others are theists of another sort, and others are agnostics and atheists. All I can assure you is that as a norm they do not compromise their research due to their own personal religious or non-religious beliefs. Take for instance, Catholic priest Raymond Brown: he wrote a very explosive book called The Community of the Beloved Disciple, which is one of the best studies on the ecclessiological history of the congregation which originated the Gospel of John.  Yet, despite the Catholic Church’s and other denominations’ disdain for that book, today it is widely regarded as one of the most important contributions to New Testament scholarship.  Why was it controversial?  I’ll leave it to your reading.  You don’t want me to spoil the fun, do you?!  We can hold the same opinion about Catholic priest, John P. Meier’s work, whose content does not exactly endorse the perpetual virginity of Mary or the infancy narratives.
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  4. Then there is a minute insignificant sector of Bible scholarship:  mythicists. Contrary to what people hold, there are some versions of mythicism that should be regarded as a trying to engage in serious debates with other scholars. The problem is that after more than a hundred years, none of their theories pan out. Of those in the field who have the actual degree in New Testament specialty there is only one (that I know of): Robert Price. If we extend it to the field of Ancient History and Classics, I know of only one more: Richard Carrier.  I know that there are six or seven more academics that endorse this position (because Carrier mentioned this number in one of videos, but not their names).  Given that they have been unable to convince more people in the academy about it, nor want to limit themselves to struggle for their position academically, they also seek cheerleaders in the skeptical movement.  So, they treat skeptics the same way Creationists do, or partisans for Intelligent Design do, or climate change denialists do, or anti-GMO activists treat the rest of the public.

See?  Yes!  I went there! Furthermore, most of these pro-mythicist statements come from some of the most brilliant defenders of the Natural Sciences, but they know next to nothing about how History as a field proceeds (especially when it comes to Ancient History, and particularly New Testament scholarship). Both of the articles in question are great examples of this.

Let’s take a look at both of the articles, but I confess I won’t be as exhaustive as I want to.

Tarico’s and Fitzgerald’s Article

In her small article published by Raw Story, titled “Evidence for Jesus Is Weaker than You Might Think“, the psychologist Valerie Tarico and David Fitzgerald (a writer… but not a New Testament scholar either) try to show what the title of the article proposes to do.

The article begins with what I call the Thomas Jefferson-scissors methodology to find the historical Jesus, which is complete non-sense. WHO today proceeds this way? No one. Not ONE scholar does this, and whoever tries to do so would looked down upon by the rest of the scholarly community. If everyone is clear that this method doesn’t quite work, what is it doing in this article?  AAAAAH, because Jefferson was intelligent, and this is an example of an intelligent person trying to separate fact from fiction in the Gospels. The problem is that Jefferson was no historian, did not have the level of sophistication developed by historians in general or New Testament scholars in particular: he had no knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the archaeological discoveries in Palestine/Israel, or the new most rigorous qualifications of current documentation carried out by serious philologists and specialists.

Of course, this small anecdote is a rhetorical (not actual rigorous) preamble to then say:

In the two centuries that have passed since Jefferson began clipping, scores of biblical historians—including modern scholars armed with the tools of archeology {sic.}, anthropology and linguistics— have tried repeatedly to identify the “historical Jesus” and have failed. The more scholars study Jesus, the more confused and uncertain our knowledge has become. Currently, we have a plethora of contradictory versions of Jesus—an itinerant preacher, a zealot, an apocalyptic prophet, an Essene heretic, a Roman sympathizer, and many more —each with a different scholar to confidently tout theirs as the only real one. Instead of a convergent view of early Christianity and its founder, we are faced instead with a cacophony of conflicting opinions. This is precisely what happens when people faced with ambiguous and contradictory information cannot bring themselves to say, we don’t know.

Every time I see this argument (and believe me, I have heard it too many times, even from people who should know better), I wonder if someone is joking, or if they are willingly ignorant of the discussions in the field. Actually, the situation is the reverse. We know today more about the historical Jesus than in the past, and ever since the early twentieth century, scholars all over the spectrum have converged in general terms on the profile of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet or as an apocalypticist, who was very close to a pharisaic way of thinking. Virtually all of our early independent sources agree: Mark, Q, M, L, and Paul’s genuine letters.

Why is he not an “Essene heretic”? Precisely because he did not share an Essene way of thinking, his focus was more pharisaic. Why wasn’t he “a zealot”? Because despite indications of a bit of the use of arms by Jesus’ disciples in the Gospels, his real plan consisted in expecting the Son of Man to arrive on Earth to judge individuals and nations. A similar view was held by Jesus’ teacher John the Baptist, and was held by the Early Church (in its case, the resurrected Jesus would be the Son of Man). “A Roman sympathizer”? Really?! A Roman sympathizer? You mean like an apocalypticist attacking the Temple where the Sadducees, the Roman allies, dominated? And what do you do with the Roman crucifixion of someone who preached about the termination of the current order (i.e. of Roman domination?) in order to establish Yahweh’s Kingdom?  I mean, one who would pretend to be “King of the Jews” would actually be historically crucified by a Roman prefect … no questions asked!

Since the times of Albert Schweizer (1906) until today, the historical theory that Jesus was an apocalypticist has dominated the field, and it is still the current state of affairs. Other alternatives are extremely rare and considered fringe by historians and New Testament scholars. To argue that the studies of the historical Jesus is a mess because of diversity of opinions without evaluating the consensus areas and their quality, it would be like me saying that Neo-Darwinian evolution “is a mess” because there are now people who hold gene-centered selection (digital Darwinism), or group selection, or a mix of both, or a more preponderance of endosymbiosis, and many other areas that are currently genuine mysteries for evolutionary biologists. I’m not kidding! Partisans for Intelligent Design have made a field day out of these differences.  In the end, their arguments are bogus, because Darwinian evolution is nowhere near being a failure. In the same way, Tarico’s and Fitzgerald’s statements are non-sense.

But this is not all. It goes on saying that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses, and that they copied from one another this way:

While the four gospels were traditionally held to be four independent accounts, textual analysis suggests that they all actually are adaptations of the earliest gospel, Mark. Each has been edited and expanded upon, repeatedly, by unknown editors. It is worth noting that Mark features the most fallible, human, no-frills Jesus—and, more importantly, may be an allegory.

They omit the fact that the very same “objective scholars” that Tarico and Fitzgerald talk about, do not have Mark’s Gospel as the only independent source.  Those very same scholars (with very few exceptions, such as Casey or Goodacre) hold that there was a lost document or a “source” called “Q” which provided a set of independent traditions of Jesus’ sayings.  There are also traditions that only appear in Matthew’s Gospel which scholars call “M”, traditions that only appear in Luke’s Gospel which scholars call “L”, separate early traditions in the Gospel of John, and the traditions found in Paul’s genuine epistles. There is even one more source that sometimes scholars use which appear in the Gospel of Thomas. Both John and Thomas are the most unreliable traditions. I’m not saying that all of these early sources are unproblematic. Quite the contrary, there is a lot to say about all of them, and even with the consensus, there is serious scholarship that questions Q’s existence. Yet, describing Mark as the sole root tradition is misleading.

Another problem is, again, that our authors have no idea how much of the scholarly discussions is evolving.  For example, Josep Rius-Camps has published a work where, using the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Bezae, he has been able to identify various layers (or stages) of redaction of the Gospel of Mark. He hypothesizes that the first stage originated probably in Palestine (in Jerusalem), so it may contain eye-witness reports from some of its earlier members. Of course, I concede that eye-witness reports are notoriously unreliable and cognitive science has given us plenty of reasons to doubt it. Yet, if he persuades scholars with his theory, we are in a much better position to determine (depending on the stage) which words or deeds of Jesus are more likely to be historical than not. I’m not trying to say that Rius-Camps is correct, he has been criticized. All I’m saying is that Tarico and Fitzgerald are basically presenting a gross caricature of a very serious field, whose process is actually progressing as historiographical methodologies and criteria are refined.  And again, all of these advances point at the historicity of Jesus: an apocalyptic prophet of next-to pharisaic way of thinking who died crucified.

The Gospels are not corroborated by outside historians. Despite generations of apologists insisting Jesus is vouched for by plenty of historical sources like Tacitus or Suetonius, none of these hold up to close inspection. The most commonly-cited of these is the Testimonium Flavianum, a disputed passage in the writings of ancient historian Flavius Josephus, written around the years 93/94, generations after the presumed time of Jesus. Today historians overwhelmingly recognize this odd Jesus passage is a forgery. (For one reason, no one but the suspected forger ever quotes it – for 500 years!) But Christian apologists are loathe to give it up, and supporters now argue it is only a partial forgery.

And yet, they neglect to say that virtually almost all historians agree that the textus receptus has at its core, real information on Jesus of Nazareth. Why is that? Because even if you do the mere exercise of excising the questionable phrases of the text, you end up with something that resembles both in content and style what Josephus would have said. I’ll strike the content that has been questioned by virtually all scholars (source of translation):

And there is about this time Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed it is necessary to say that he is a man]; for he was a doer of miraculous works, a teacher of men who receive true things with pleasure, and many Jews, and also many of the Greek element, he led to himself; [this man was the Christ]. And, when on the accusation of the first men among us Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease;[for he appeared to them on the third day living again, the divine prophets having said both these things and myriads of other wonders concerning him]. And even until now the tribe of Christians, named from this man, has not been lacking.

Of course, the issue is more complicated. Why? Because we have an Arab version (Agapius’ Arabic Testimonium) of the text which also contains information on Jesus and can give us a bit more of reliable information. As it turns out, it includes information about Jesus’ resurrection and messianship… but in a very interesting, non-believing, way:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders (my emphasis).

This also sounds like what Josephus might have said. The originality of the text is ardently being debated now among scholars (very few actually proposing that the whole passage is a fake). Personally, I lean more towards Fernando Bermejo’s view about the textus receptus (but this is my own non-specialist subjective opinion, and I may be wrong), who hypothesizes that the original text had negative connotations towards Jesus. This could explain why Origen (before Eusebius of Cesarea) stated that Josephus did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. It would also explain so many years of silence both before and after Eusebius (the “suspected forger”). Besides, this text is also assumed when Josephus tells us about the death of James, Jesus’ brother.  Many have called attention to the fact that Josephus did not appreciate Jesus being called the Messiah (talking about James the brother of Jesus, the “so-called” Messiah).

There is also a Syriac version of the text and a Slavonic one, the former, similar to the textus receptus in many aspects, the latter an extremely extended version.  Yet, what is peculiar about all of these texts is that they all appear in exactly the same place. That is, most historians think that most probably there was an original text where Josephus clearly talks about Jesus of Nazareth. For these and many other reasons, it is very rare to find a scholars who doubt that there was no original unbelieving text behind the textus receptus of the Testimonium Flavianum.

Our authors proceed:

Either way, as New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman points out, the Testimonium Flavanium merely repeats common Christian beliefs of the late first century, and even if it was 100% genuine would provide no evidence about where those beliefs came from. This same applies to other secular references to Jesus–they definitely attest to the existence of Christians and recount Christian beliefs at the time, but offer no independent record of a historical Jesus.

In sum, while well-established historic figures like Alexander the Great are supported by multiple lines of evidence, in the case of Jesus we have only one line of evidence: the writings of believers involved in spreading the fledgling religion.

I agree. Yet, this confounds the issue.  If the issue is: “is there any external attestation to Jesus historicity by historians?”, supposing that the Testimonium Flavianum is 100% genuine, then yes there is.  This is the point that is missed:  most of what is attested from Antiquity by professional historians come from earlier writings or traditions. They are not from the original sources of information themselves. Yes, Alexander is greatly attested because of the huge impact he left on society, and historians wrote about him, the same can be said of Julius Caesar.  Yet, if we had no Gospels with us, and we only had the Testimonium Flavianum at our disposal, chances are that historians would take this as historical information, given that there are lots of historical people Josephus mentions of which we have no external validation anywhere else from the first century. Most probably too, current historians would have thought (as many think now) that there were traditions and writings from which Josephus is basing his information from. If they intend to argue external attestation as understood in these restrictive terms as a absolute requirement for historicity, then we would throw a lot of Ancient characters we consider historical down the drain since we have no original writings of their own, but are totally based on what has been said written about them, sometimes in mystified forms: Thales of Miletus, Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Spartacus, Heraclitus, Apolonius of Tiana, etc.

Points 4 and 5 I want to dismiss as being entirely irrelevant to the subject:

4. Early Christian scriptures weren’t the same as ours….

5. Christian martyrs are not proof (if they even were real).

Agreed on both counts…  and they are irrelevant. There are documents considered sacred scripture, but which are forgeries or offer nothing to our subject at hand, and documents that were not included in the canon, but which could tell us something historically (for example, the Didaché’s portrayal of the Eucharist could tell us about the original sense of the Last Supper).  About Christian martyrs not being proof of Jesus’ historicity, I totally subscribe to Candida Moss’ superb scholarship on the matter (Ancient Christian Martyrdom, The Other Christs, The Myth of Persecution)… and it is irrelevant regarding our subject. Yes, I know that in both cases they are trying to respond to usual Christian argument that the Apostles would lose their lives for “the truth”. Still, their argument and the response is irrelevant to the issue we are discussing.

Finally, point 6 I feel is a caricature of the discussion:

No other way to explain the existence of Christianity?

If someone holds this as a scholarly view, then I agree that it must be challenged. Strictly speaking, there are many other ways to explain the existence of Christianity, and several mythicist hypotheses could explain it.  Yet, the problem is not one of possibility of explanation, but of complication and special pleading. For example, it is more complicated to explain why does Paul call James “the brother of Jesus” (in the mythicist sense) while not calling Peter with that name; or why he makes a semantic distinction between “brother of the Lord” (as in James and at least one other) and “brothers in Christ” (i.e. baptized). To claim that specifically James “being the brother of Jesus”  does not actually mean he was his sibling when everything seems to point that he did (especially when the Gospels actually attest to this, and mentions the names of Jesus’ brothers) is a case of special pleading.

Yes, bigfoot did not exist, but Baal Shem Tov did; and in Puerto Rico, Elenita de Jesús (who claimed to be the Virgin Mary, whose incredible legends were forged around her for years) did indeed exist. And yes, it is harder to explain the emergence of Christianity (especially the earliest traditions about Jesus and the Gospel narratives) without a historical Jesus. Ockam’s Razor anyone?! If you include some of the theories as outlandish as to claim, contrary to all available evidence, that Jesus began as a celestial being who was historicized, to then being mystified once more, or that Paul’s genuine letters were being written in the second century …  these hypotheses add even far more difficulties, and create far more problems than they historically can solve!

About Novella’s Statements

As I already said, I completely agree with Novella’s skepticism regarding Gathercole’s apologetics. Yet, I can agree with Gathercole that no one close (both in place and time) of Jesus’ time doubted that Jesus existed. I want to focus a bit more on this.  How do I know that there was no claim that Jesus didn’t exist if the documents of that time of Palestine and nearby are lacking?  Simple … reading the Gospels.  From a literary point of view, the Gospels are not just stories that some people wrote out of the blue. But they are responses to what people were saying about Jesus or Christianity in general. For instance, ever since Wilhelm Wrede’s work on the Gospel of Mark, we notice a literary motif regarding Jesus messianship:  absolutely no one heard Jesus publicly say that he was the Messiah. Yet, Christians were claiming he was. How does Mark explain this? By stating that Jesus ordered people to shut up and say nothing about it. Hence, it was not Jesus, but other people who said it. Other factors come into play: How does Jesus, being the Messiah, accept being baptized by John if his baptism was for sinners?  Mark’s answer: actually the baptism was carried out as a form of “anointment” as Messiah, Son of God (only Jesus sees the Holy Spirit and hears the words). Historically, though, this is doubtful … most probably Jesus was baptized because he considered himself a sinner, hence becoming the disciple of the apocalypticist John the Baptist. Matthew deals with it adding an odd response by Jesus saying that it was “God’s Will” (so to speak).  Luke deals with it by making John arrested before Jesus’ baptism. John’s Gospel deals with it by eliminating the whole baptism scene altogether.

In the Gospels we find all sorts of signs of struggling with other groups.  John’s Gospel for instance, argues against “the Jews” (called sons of the Devil – 8:44) because they refused to recognize Jesus’ messianship; they argue against the followers of John the Baptist, given that THEY were arguing that their master was the messiah (e.g. 1:6-8,15; 2:19-23);  they argue against other Christians regarding Jesus’ own identity ; about the interpretation of the Eucharist, etc. This is just an example. Yet, nowhere in the Gospels, nor in Paul’s letters, nor in the Pseudo-Pauline epistles, or the universal epistles, is there any hint that they had to deal with the argument that Jesus didn’t exist. On the contrary, it seems that Christians and non-Christian opponents pretty much agreed he existed. The disputes usually centered on who he was, what he said, and what should be interpreted from his words and deeds (as remembered).

I think this alone is strong evidence that he most probably existed. Novella quotes several passages we have criticized above as showing that the evidence for Jesus is “extremely thin”. Still, he goes even further saying:

Another compelling argument that Tarico touches upon but others have more fully developed is that Christian mythology did not emerge from nowhere. The basic elements of the myth all existed for centuries in that part of the world. As I discussed previously, prior myths differed in exact details, but the main themes were all present. Horus and Mithras, for example, were also miraculously conceived or born, were half god- half man, and were saviors who had to make an extreme sacrifice.

I couldn’t believe that I was reading this argument which has been discredited by scholars.  The stories being said about Mithras came from the Roman version of the religion, and it evolved since the end of the first century well into the fourth. Horus was conceived magically, yes….  but Isis was not a virgin in the moment of conception. And even if she was considered virgin, Egyptian mythology did not focus on that at all … in fact, it is never mentioned as something believers should focus on. Neither Horus nor Mithras died or suffered for “anyone’s sins” as a form of salvation, and any ritual pertaining to blood spill for purification appeared much later.  For goodness’ sake … he knows this! Novella wants to advocate for extremely general vague pattern of heroes who save humanity, yet this position is unscientific. I could use that same pattern and go to any mythological group anywhere in the world and I could find it.  What could make the discussion on the subject are precisely the specific detailed patterns that we can legitimately adscribe as being borrowed or assumed in some ways by Christianity or by Paganism.

And what about the possible influence of Christianity in Pagan religions? Pagans in general and mystery followers in particular were far more synchretic than Judaism and Christianity were at the time. I want to state for the record that I do believe that there was some Pagan influence on primitive Christianity, especially through Judeo-Hellenistic thinking!  But it puzzles me that most skeptics don’t consider the possibility of cases where the causal arrow seems to go the other way, given that Pagans were highly synchretic.

NOTE: The reasons why in Matthew and Luke presented Jesus as being born of a virgin are very well understood. The Gospel of Matthew wanted to focus on Jesus being the Messiah because he fulfilled all of the prophecies written about him. Since his Greek version of Isaiah said that Emmanuel would be born from a virgin, then Jesus mother had to be a virgin.  In Luke’s case, there are signs that he originally intended to begin with chapter 3. Yet, apparently, he decided to include the infancy narratives later in chapters 1 and 2. In his case, the reason why Jesus had to be born of a virgin is totally different from Matthew’s. For Luke, Jesus was the Son of God, because He was literally his Father, that His spirit would cover and impregnate Mary. The literary structures of both stories are solely based on the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint) and has next to nothing to do with any mystery religion or with Pagan sources.

Novella further states:

Another analogy might be the Arthurian legend. King Arthur probably did not exist, and the level of evidence for him is about the same as for the historical Jesus. Again, the main difference being that the main canon of the King Arthur legend was presented as fiction, not as a gospel of faith.

Really? Can he point at a letter from someone who actually met King Arthur’s brother, much like Paul met Jesus’ brother, James? Can he point out traditions about Arthur that are three to four decades from the supposed events, instead of centuries old?

I won’t ponder further about the specifics of this discussion, because I made my point. Yet, there is one more issue I wish to discuss. Novella states:

In the end we are left with, I think, two main conclusions. The first is that we simply do not know if Jesus was an actual person who existed. The evidence for a historical Jesus is thin, but there is no specific evidence refuting his existence.

The second conclusion, however, is that it doesn’t really matter. Even if a prophet named Jesus lived at that time and some of Christian mythology is based on his life, the core of Christian mythology is not. As Tarico argues, any actual history is muddled by mythology.

First, mythology is present in all of Ancient History, in all of medieval history, and in all modern history. From fantastic claims regarding emperors, to the lives of Alaric the Goth, Vlad the Impaler, or Francis of Assissi, to figures like George Washington, Paul Revere, or Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr. Historians must do the very hard job of disentangling the historical from the mythological in every case. In the university where I work, I’m surrounded by historians, and they are dedicated to do this for the history of Puerto Rico with every single research. Bible scholars are doing no different from your average historian.  So, being “muddled by mythology” is very a poor excuse to reject Jesus’ historicity.

Secondly, YES!  It DOES matter! But in a different sense!  … Maybe knowing about the particulars of the Big Bang or the question of whether quarks are simple or composed may have no impact in every day life. Knowledge regarding these specific issues, I bet, will not make in my life any difference whatsoever.  How does knowing about the first second of the Big Bang contribute one inch of wealth to a Puerto Rican inserted into the economic chaos he or she lives in?  I bet none.

And yet …  these issues ARE important! Their value is of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  It has to do with asking questions regarding what was our real past: how did the universe come to be? How did things evolve? How did I end up here sitting in a Starbucks with my Caffé Latte writing this post?  Part of that Grand Narrative (Big History, The Great Story) is filled by History.  Christianity has touched everyone’s lives for better or worse, and we deserve to know how it originated.

Bible scholarship is a legitimate branch of history, and as such, it should be respected. As in the case of Medicine, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and so on, historians like the ones I’ve mentioned has inherited the wisdom of previous historians and scholars.

I admire Novella’s work in neurology and his amazing defense Science-based Medicine, and admire Gorski’s remarkable work, DeGrasse Tyson’s, and many more. I also admire the tough, slow and painstaking job that scholars in general have to go through to give us the very best high quality historical narrative they have to offer.

I remember when I used to believe in plasma cosmology and dismissed the Big Bang as another form of creationism. Yet, there was this one time when I went to a bookstore and opened a Physics book, and I told myself: “Pedro, if you don’t understand these equations, you have no business in telling physicists that they are wrong.” Guess what? As a good skeptic, I corrected myself, and decided to trust the best minds in the field, and that they were going to give humanity the best astrophysical theory they could offer regarding the Big Bang. I did the same in the case of GMOs. It’s intellectually humble to do that.  In the same way, all I ask from skeptics (especially those in the Natural Sciences) is to at least trust a great deal of the very best and brilliant New Testament scholars in the field, and know that if they do not accept mythicism, is probably because some of what they propose makes no historical sense, as has been shown again and again in and out of academic circles. That it is because maybe they are wrong. That to notice why they are wrong, you really have to be trained in the field in order to address the technicalities involved. That if  they are right, we must ask mythicists to fight their fight in the academy and peer-review … not in the public sphere where non-specialists prevail (even in skeptical circles).

Please, note that I’m not saying that historians should not be questioned, but if their statements are rejected, that person should actually learn the field and do the proper research to substantiate his or her position, and do what is necessary to form a consensus. Skeptics ask the same in the case of scientists. Like them, historians are not infallible, and it may well be that in fifty years, some form of mythicism will become a respected proposal. Maybe in twenty years, the view that the entirety of the Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery will become the consensus. Yet, these battles must be fought in the academy!

Doing otherwise, is to behave exactly like Creationists, proponents of Intelligent Design, anti-vaccine propagandists, climate-change denialists, anti-GMO activists, etc.

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Comment on the Ehrman vs. Price Debate

On March 27, 2017, in History, Religion, by prosario2000

Let me begin with a disclaimer:

I am not a Bible scholar, which means that everything I say here should be taken with a grain of salt. It also means that if any New Testament genuine authority on the matter criticizes my position, and that criticism agrees with the consensus, the weight of the argument of that scholar should be taken as greater than my position. I do not claim to be an authority of that which I am not. I’ve been instructed in Philosophy of Science and Epistemology, not Bible scholarship.

Having said that, let’s proceed with my comments regarding the Bart D. Ehrman vs. Robert Price debate on whether Jesus existed or not. For those who wish to see it in its entirety, here is the video:

Initially, I planned to write a review. Yet, some New Testament (NT scholars) have made some reviews and commented on it. I recommend looking at James McGrath’s review (including some audio comments).

So, I will limit myself to talk about some impressions I had about it, and comment on some of the arguments presented. I say in advance, that despite very few disagreements, I’ve been and am on Ehrman’s historicist side of the discussion. Robert Price is the only NT scholar I know who holds on to mythicism. If we broaden the realm of qualified scholars of Antiquity in general, the only other person who qualifies is Richard Carrier. Virtually no one else who have the expertise in NT scholarship or Antiquity shares the mythicist view. Watching the debate my historicist convictions were reinforced, and some of the reasons will be explained below.

To be honest, I thought that Ehrman was going to make a tad worse job and Price a better one (don’t know why I believed this, maybe a pessimistic mood I’ve had in general for the last few months). Yet, to my surprise, Ehrman made Price’s failure to account for mythicist views far more transparent than I expected, and Price’s position seemed very weak.

In fact, I think that in the case of Price, I should feel far more disappointed. As part of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), I am a bit puzzled at the fact that so much forum is being given to Price regarding this issue, given that for (whatever reason) he also supports the most science-denialist, anti-reason, pro-fundamentalist, war-mongering, presidential candidate Donald Trump; and Price also subscribes to Right-Wing conspiracy theories, among them those having to do with climate change, which he qualifies as a hoax. As with the case of mythicism, I don’t cease to be skeptical of certain skeptics.  Don’t get me wrong. A skeptic may legitimately be liberal, conservative, or neither. Yet, I’m clueless as to how some people who say that struggle for truth, reason, and science would choose to vote for Trump … but that’s besides the discussion!

Despite what I just said, I can say some positive things about Price. First, he is far more civil debating than Richard Carrier, for whom anyone who disagrees with him or has not read his book, or a liar, an incompetent, an ignorant, or an idiot. Second, I think that he is being honest and sincere with his answers, even when he is trying to stretch some of his arguments. If I say that he uses a sort of “sleight of hand”, I don’t want to be understood as saying “he is trying to deceive his listeners …”, but rather that he may be unaware that his arguments are misleading.

Having said that, let’s comment!

General Impressions

One of the things I loved about the debate was that Ehrman mentioned most of the elements that convince me about Jesus’ existence. He was right on target when he elaborated more on the positive aspects of the proposals than the negative ones. The latter consists merely on the fact that certainly Nazareth existed and that this is no longer debated in Bible scholarship. The archaeological evidence shows exactly what scholars predicted for years, that Nazareth was a bit more than a hamlet of few rural houses. He also stated that the fact that the Gospels are modeled according to literary patterns does not automatically mean that Jesus didn’t exist, and he gives several examples of historical figures whose lives were adapted to literary patterns. Examples of the positive evidence he mentioned are:

  • When we consider first century Palestinian Jews, Jesus is best attested after Josephus, the latter who wrote several books. When we go to external sources, Jesus is better attested than Josephus, in the case of the latter, no one else in the first century refers to Josephus. In contrast, Jesus referred to by Paul in his letters, Josephus himself, Mark, Q, M, and L.
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  • That we can find passages in the Gospels that seem to make better sense in Aramaic than Greek as a way to establish a better probability of pointing at a passage as possibly coming from Jesus.
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  • Paul’s seven undisputed letters contain historical references about Jesus:  a teacher who was born of a woman, a Jew, a teacher, who carried out the Last Supper, and was crucified under political authorities, that he had twelve disciples, that he had brothers (and mentions James), that Cephas (Peter) was Jesus’ disciple, etc.
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  • That Jesus actually had a brother, meaning a family brother, not in the sense of being a “brother in Christ”.
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  • That it would be non-sense to suppose that some Jews were willing to make up a crucified Messiah. The only thing that explains the reason for such doctrine is because Jesus was factually crucified by Romans. As expected, Jews ridiculed that Christian idea (and Paul complains about it).

These are not the only arguments for Jesus’ existence but shows why (with only two exceptions) no historian of Antiquity in every reputable institution in the Western world doubts that Jesus existed.

Then Price argued many of his points. Yet, I find that much of his arguments suffered from different slights of hands that seem as if all relevant points had been addressed for mythicism, when in reality they were not.  I will only show two or three cases to illustrate the problem, and why non-experts (especially those who have an ideological beef with mythicism) might have had the impression that the debate was won by Price, or that at least that it was a draw. Reality is that at least at the level of solid arguments Ehrman won the debate.  These problems of Price’s line of thinking were far more transparent in the Q&A section.

Here are some of Price’s arguments that exemplify some of the problems of his whole exposition.

1. Making an analogy between Matthew and Josephus

The problem of the Testimonium Flavianum is one of the most heated regarding the historicist v. mythicist tension. The reason is that in the pertinent section we are talking about, in the textus receptus, Josephus seems to be talking like a Christian when he gives some information about Jesus.  The whole traditional passage says:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Of course, no one doubts that it is inconceivable that Josephus wrote the sections we have placed in bold.  Yet, scholars have discovered that if we remove these passages, we achieve a set of sentences more like what Josephus would have said. The text in question would appear more like this:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

The issue is a lot more complicated than this, and personally, I lean more towards Fernando Bermejo’s views, who favors a construction of the Testimonium in a way that is unfavorable to Jesus. Yet, for the sake of the argument, let’s stay with this simplification of the issue.

Price compares this to the Gospel of Matthew, whose author reproduced some of Mark’s stories redacting some of the content to suit his Christology. For instance, Jesus got angry at a person with skin illness who wanted to be healed by him (Mark 1:40-45). Yet, in Matthew’s version of events, he eliminates the inconvenient anger from the story (Matt. 8:1-4). Isn’t what scholars doing with the Testimonium what Luke actually carried out? Ehrman apparently didn’t have the time to respond to this particular argument, but the clear answer to it is “No”, it is not the same. Why?

During his exposition of his objection, Price skips a criterion used my scholars in order to accept the tentative historical core of the passage, namely, if the style of the resulting text (after the redaction) coheres with the rest of Josephus’ style and arguments. The answer is a resounding YES!  Furthermore, aspects of the core passage also appears in Syriac and Arab versions of the text, in a way that we can reconstruct something very close to what Josephus actually said. As a matter of fact, if the passage weren’t there, we could not explain Josephus’ later reference to Jesus when talking about the execution of his brother, James. Matthew took out all material regarding Jesus’ anger for Christological reasons, wanting to make the text coherent with his Christological views. In Josephus’ case, scholars want to redact the pertinent clearly Christian texts given that Josephus did not convert to Christianity, and given that the rest of the passage is fully consistent with Josephus ideas and style…. in other words, the passage agrees with the text itself!

I won’t go to the issue of whether Eusebius actually created interpolations in the texts. It is enough to say that many scholars believe that the interpolations were created before him. So it is not a case, as Price seems to imply, that scholars are adapting the text itself arbitrarily like many other non-experts who want to allege interpolation at the slightest hint of the passages not fitting their theological views.

2. Jesus Christ and Clark Kent-Superman

Am I the only one to notice that this analogy is bogus? Neither Clark Kent nor Superman existed, they both form part of one and the same story line. Its origins are completely known as being pure fiction by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. As a Naturalist, I can agree that the strict verbatim versions of Jesus in the Gospels are purely fictional, but their stories point at the fact that the historical substratum is not. Superman is a hero as twentieth and twenty-first century people expect a hero to be, Jesus was not the sort of heroic Messiah that Jews expected in the first century. That’s the point!  Jesus belonged to a historical scenario where he was not the only prophet, Messianic pretender, or king wannabe.

There were many of them, and Josephus tells us a lot about these apocalyptic prophets that sprung from Egypt to Samaria, to Galilee itself, all of them preaching the soon to end Roman regime and the arrival of the Messiah or similar Messianic figures. The apocalyptic literature from the time, both inside Palestinian territory (e.g. the Dead Sea Scrolls) and in the diaspora (the Syllibine Oracles, Paul’s own letters) reveal this nicely. Yet, there is no Metropolis, there is no Zod, there is no Lex Luthor, no Krypton, no Daily Planet, etc. There were no superhero-kind beings in recent centuries similar to Superman: no Wonder Woman, no Green Lantern, nothing!

No Superman fits in any historical context, nor texts, nor movies (Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman were such messes that made no sense!) Yet, Jesus’ views and deeds can be partially rescued from the layers of fiction that were elaborated above him and would be in full agreement in his proper historical context.

3. Luke trying to Make Up Paper Trail

One of the arguments used by Price is his reference to some scholarly allegations that M and L have some traditions that seem to go back to Jesus himself. He says that when Luke claimed to be based on earlier sources, it seems that he was making it up in the text. In some cases, scholars would agree with him (for example, when in the infancy narratives, he seems to imply that he obtained information from Jesus’ mother, Mary; Luke 2:19, 51). Yet, in other cases it seems that he is actually using some genuine sources. For example, he uses Q in a way that seems to resemble better the original attainable text that appears in modified form in Matthew’s Gospel: for example, some passages where Jesus talks about the Son of Man, where Matthew changes the text to refer unequivocally to Jesus (Luke (Q) 12:8-9; Matt. 10:32-33); or the shortest form of the Lord’s Prayer, which appears with added verses in Matthew (Luke (Q) 11:2-4; Matt. 6:9-13), and so on. Some material in L also quotes original traditions: for example, some passages where Jesus predicts the arrival of the Son of Man (Lc. 21:34-36). In the Acts of the Apostles, with all of its huge historical problems, we can find early traditions that seem to go back to the earliest forms of exalted Christology (e.g. Acts 5:30-31; 13:32-33). No one is arguing that “all” of L goes back to Jesus, but there is no question that at least some of it seem to do it.

4. Jesus’ Sayings in John

Price says that Jesus’ sayings in John seem to have been mostly made up, and that Maurice Casey says that none seem to go back to Jesus. This is true.  Scholars accept this fact in general terms. Hence, they use the Synoptics because they are better sources. This is a non-issue that only serves as a filler against historicism, but really contributes nothing to the debate.

The Q & A Section

In the Q & A section, it is obvious from Ehrman’s questions that Price has conveniently chosen the more doubtful and less plausible interpretations of ancient texts in order to win mythicist arguments: his reading on Trypho v. Justin dialogue, the fact that it is highly improbable that early Christians held the crucifixion of Christ in the sublunar heavens by demons (which Price openly admits is purely speculative), that Mark seems to know about Zoroastrianism, that Gnostic beliefs as pre-Christian, that Andronicus and Junia were Paul’s family, that Paul did not write Galatians, etc.

It also shows that Price freely ignores the consensus when it pleases him: he freely believes that Mark is later than current consensus. Why?  His answer: “Because you never know why there is a consensus?” WHAT?!  But most of what Ehrman says, with few exceptions (such as his view of the empty tomb, or that for Paul, Jesus was an angel), actually expresses mostly scholarly consensus and the reasons behind such consensus!

Now, I want to be clear that I don’t mind if a scholarly authority such as Price differs from scholarly consensus. Maurice Casey, Dominic Crossan, and Mark Goodacre are great scholars with very unorthodox views  that challenge the current consensus on different subjects. Yet, I have never heard any of them say: “The consensus means nothing to me”! In fact, perhaps there is a consensus because other scholars may be right about being skeptical to such unorthodox views. It is not exactly that the consensus is adopted dogmatically by people with low IQs, you know! For example, there are valid reasons why the consensus formed since the times of Albert Schweizer that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, and has not adopted, let’s say, Crossan’s view of Jesus as something like a Cynic sage; one of the reasons for such rejection is that Cynicism stopped being fashionable long before Jesus.

That the word “Pharisee” alluded to “Persian” beliefs?  The etimology of the word has been very clear for scholars. But I guess, that doesn’t matter to him either.

Conclusions

It seems to me that from a scholarly standpoint, Price seems to use the most implausible interpretations of the texts, sometimes seeking refuge on the fact that “x” or “y” scholar said this or that, not even bothering to qualify the assertions in light of the response of other scholars to such claims. Ehrman is more on target providing reasons for Jesus’ existence that seem to be far more plausible, consistent with the reality of Palestine and the diaspora (in Paul’s case) than Price’s view. Virtually all of the key arguments that are the pillars of Price’s views are pure fringe. Given this fact, I’m clueless when I try to understand how can skeptics who uphold scientific consensus have such a hard time supporting NT scholarly consensus: that Jesus actually existed!

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I didn’t think to write a second part of this article, but there is an issue with mythicists in general that really upsets me, and it has to do with their criticism of the criteria of embarrassment and dissimilarity as possible pointers toward Jesus’ historicity.

The argument in general as advocated by Robert Price and Richard Carrier, among others, goes like this (and I hope not to misrepresent their positions):

The arguments from embarrassment and dissimilarity are seriously flawed, because if the Gospel writers were “embarrassed” by the information they were sharing or told something that contradicted their narrative, they would not have included it in the text. Actually, if it was included, it is because it proves a point that the Gospel writer is trying to make.

Here is a fuller description of this rejection. I disagree with this statement, but to illustrate my point, I want to show how it is used, not only in New Testament criticism, but in actual historiographical labor regarding other historical subjects.
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Eusebius and an Angry Constantine Not Caring about Christ

Constantine

Emperor Constantine

It is known and very well established by scholars that Eusebius of Caesarea is not exactly the best reliable source in the universe if you want to know anything about the actual history of Christianity or what happened during the Emperor Constantine’s reign. Recently, Donald Robertson wrote an excellent article on how Eusebius seems to have made up the persecution against Christians supposedly engaged by Marcus Aurelius. The statement agrees fully with what scholars have found about stories of martyrdom in early Christianity, and which have been publicized by Candida Moss’ excellent book, The Myth of Persecution. In his article, Robertson quotes Eusebius himself when he states in one of his writings:

“That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.”

Jakob Buckhardt, the nineteenth century historian of Antiquity, is famous for characterizing Eusebius as a compulsive liar, needless to say that for him, the description of Eusebius as “historian” does not fit well, but rather “propagandist”.

Therefore, if you want to read a book such as Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, we should expect more propaganda than and actual systematic objective narrative. For instance, most people think that Constantine’s apparition of the Cross in the heavens as told by that book is historical, and that it was the point where he converted to Christianity. Yet, when we go to the Arch of Constantine, which commemorates his victory in the Battle of  Milvian Bridge, there is no sign of Christ anywhere, nor of the Labarum, nor the chi-rho symbol that supposedly he saw with the Labarum, nor do his soldiers appear with it inscribed in their shields. We see evidence, though, of an homage to Sol Invictus. Needless to say that Constantine used Sol Invictus’ symbolism everywhere, from his statue, to coins, to legislation, etc. In fact, no one else knows Eusebius’ account of his conversion (notoriously different from Lactantius), and he says that Constantine told him the story in secret and under oath (!) (see Book 1, ch. 28). Yes we agree that the chi-rho sign was distinctive of Constantine’s reign and we have evidence for it (and the use of the Labarum), but is it clear that it is a Christian symbol? Some scholars dispute it, given that the earliest account of an actual vision apparently as told publicly by Constantine himself, occurred in 310 CE, where the Sol Invictus and the goddess Victory handed him a military standard with the description of a symbol that is suspiciously similar to the chi-rho sign. Of course, nobody was able to ask Constantine about any of the claims of the apparition of the Cross, given that when Eusebius’ book was written, the “sole eye-witness who swore this under oath to him and no one else” was dead.

Yet, not everything that Eusebius wrote about Constantine is a lie. Some of the facts he tells us did happen, perhaps not in the way he portrays it. Besides, there are many aspects where Eusebius seems to be surprisingly honest. For instance, when he reproduces Constantine’s own letters and official documents. How do we know that he didn’t distort them? Mainly because of … the criteria of embarrassment and dissimilarity. AS in the case of the Gospels, these letters actually served Eusebius to make an immediate point in his narrative, BUT by using this information, he reveals Constantine’s true attitudes towards Christianity that do not serve the author on other grounds.

If Eusebius’ writings are apologetic to the core, then we must ask, what was the purpose of his Life of Constantine? Apparently, from reading the text, and what we know about his exaggerated claims and omission of information, we can infer that Eusebius wanted to show Constantine as a Christian model, following the archetypal path of Biblical figures such as Moses and David. That is what we see page after page of Eusebius accounts. There is no question about it in the realm of scholarly Antiquity. Yet, in order to tell us about the Council of Niscea, and Constantine’s role in it, he has to tell us about Alexander and Arius’ dispute about the nature of Christ: Was Christ a lower divinity in the same nature as the Father, but not God Himself? Or was He as God as God the Father, coeternal and cosubstantial?

For Constantine, this was not a trivial matter, but not because he was bothered subjectively regarding this Christian conviction. He was worried because the dispute was generating a level of conflict that literally was tearing apart his Empire, the one he fought so hard for so many years to unify. Eusebius tells us that when he knew about this dispute, he was deeply saddened by it. In order to find unity among Christians, he wrote a letter calling Arius and Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria, to peace. Because the letter itself could not resolve this dispute, Constantine called for a Council to decide this debate once after all. In this sense, the letter served Eusebius’ point, that Constantine cared for the peace and unity of Christians (a real Peacemaker with a capital “P”), especially by calling for a Council that decided what was the Truth (with a capital “T”).

Yet, if we read the letter itself, we can see Constantine’s true attitude towards the whole subject. His motives were political, not doctrinal in any sense. He couldn’t care less about whether Arius or Alexander was right. He wanted a unified Empire. This is transparent in the letter. Here are some observations about it (if you want to read the letter in its entirety, see Book II, chs. 64-72). From the letter we get that Constantine condemns Arius and Alexander, both, for disputing about a subject he describes with these words:

  • “… having made a careful inquiry into the origin and foundation of these differences, I find the cause to be of a truly insignificant character, and quite unworthy of such fierce contention” (ch. 68, my emphasis)
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  • “I should say, that you [Alexander] asked them something connected with an unprofitable question, then you, Arius, inconsiderately insisted on what ought never to have been conceived at all, or if conceived, should have been buried in profound silence” (ch. 69, my emphasis).
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  • “For those points of discussion which are enjoined by the authority of no law, but rather suggested by the contentious spirit which is fostered by misused leisure, even though they may be intended merely as an intellectual exercise, ought certainly to be confined to the region of our own thoughts, and not hastily produced in the popular assemblies, nor unadvisedly entrusted to the general ear. For how very few are there able either accurately to comprehend, or adequately to explain subjects so sublime and abstruse in their nature?” (ibid., my emphasis).
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  • “For as long as you continue to contend about these small and very insignificant questions, it is not fitting that so large a portion of God’s people should be under the direction of your judgment, since you are thus divided between yourselves. I believe it indeed to be not merely unbecoming, but positively evil, that such should be the case.” (ch. 71, my emphasis)
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  • “But let us still more thoughtfully and with closer attention examine what I have said, and see whether it be right that, on the ground of some trifling and foolish verbal difference between ourselves, brethren should assume towards each other the attitude of enemies, and the august meeting of the Synod be rent by profane disunion, because of you who wrangle together on points so trivial and altogether unessential? This is vulgar, and rather characteristic of childish ignorance, than consistent with the wisdom of priests and men of sense.” (ibid., my emphasis)
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  • “And this I say without in any way desiring to force you to entire unity of judgment in regard to this truly idle question, whatever its real nature may be. For the dignity of your synod may be preserved, and the communion of your whole body maintained unbroken, however wide a difference may exist among you as to unimportant matters” (ibid., my emphasis)
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  • “For while the people of God, whose fellow-servant I am, are thus divided among themselves by an unreasonable and pernicious spirit of contention, how is it possible that I shall be able to maintain tranquility of mind?” (ch. 72, my emphasis)

And HERE is where the criterion of embarrassment (and also dissimilarity) kicks in!

Does this letter serve Eusebius? Again, yes, it does!  Read in its totality, it serves to point out how much of a peacemaker he was towards Christians, and how concerned he was for “true peace” within the one true Catholic Church.

Yet, it also contains elements that do not favor the main thesis of his book! How likely is it, that Eusebius would make up a letter that has so much unflattering things to say about both sides of the discussion (including the “orthodox” side represented by Alexander)? There is next to no chance, since we know that Eusebius is notorious for distorting facts to his brand of Christianity. How likely is it that Eusebius would make Constantine regard the issue as “unimportant”, “a trivial and foolish verbal difference”, “positively evil”, and so on? Minute, almost non-existent. Yet, these elements are there for one reason… and one reason only: because historically, Constantine did write the letter, and because he did not care about Christology. This is the criterion of embarrassment in action! This is why it is useful in the field of history.

We are still left with a question. Why couldn’t he just forge the letter? For one simple reason: that he is still living in a time where Constantine just died, but his advisers, his friends, his militia, his scribes, Arian friends of the Emperor (like Eusebius of Nicomedia), and so on, were still living. He would have been caught with the forgery if that happened.

In general, it is unlikely that Eusebius could have made up material that would be contrary to his intent of presenting Constantine as a devout Christian, and in such “embarrassing” levels.  Yet, he still used the letter, because despite of some of its content, it “proves” that Constantine was a Peacemaker.

Is this criterion a sort of the criterion of dissimilarity? Yes. And all of the above shows that these criteria are useful in History as a discipline.
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The Criteria of Embarrassment and Dissimilarity in New Testament Scholarship

How does this apply to the New Testament? In our previous post, we saw that Jesus’ baptism was an inconvenient factor for all of the Gospels’ authors. They are not properly speaking “embarrassed” on the whole of the story, in the sense that it deals with how Jesus was actually declared Son of God at the moment of his baptism. As a matter of fact, the whole episode in the Synoptic reads like a prophet anointing a new king (just like Samuel anointed David). This is emphasized apparently in Luke, in whose original text (or at least according to some scholars) the Holy Spirit appears pronouncing the verses of Psalm 2, regarding the king being begotten as the Son of God (Ps. 2:7; Lk. 3:22).

John the Baptist

John the Baptist

But still, any attentive reader should feel nagged by the premise of John’s baptism:  this is a baptism of confession and repentance of sins!  That’s why people were being baptized by him. Why did Jesus go there? Why not just begin his ministry separately from John the Baptist. The historical answer is that Jesus began as John’s disciple. In order to eliminate the inconvenience of this undeniable fact, the Gospel writers (specifically Mark’s Gospel) changed the meaning of his baptism: Jesus’ is not a baptism of confession and repentance of sins; in this particular case, it was an “anointing” by a known prophet. Then, according to Mark, Jesus had a vision and knew that he was the Son of God … even though he never said that publicly!

An this fact is another inconvenience. What is the evidence that Jesus was the Son of God? The problem, Mark would say, is that when he was recognized as the Son of God by demons or others, he ordered them to shut up; but his disciples were supposed to know, yet never understood him.  There is no debate among scholars that this claim, as absurd as it sounds, is the literary motif of that Gospel.  Don’t believe me?  Read that Gospel from beginning to end! That’s the whole idea! Even after his resurrection, the women never told the disciples about those news (remember that the Gospel actually ends in Mark 16:8, the rest of the verses were a later addition).

Why? Again, Mark wanted to explain why Jesus historically never appeared to have called himself Son of God in public, and wanted to explain away why the Messiah, who knew since his baptism that He was the Son of God, never revealed it publicly: because he either shut people up about it, or he was misunderstood by his disciples.

If we go to the other synoptic Gospels, we find another inconvenience for both of their authors. This time, their common source, the Q text, tells us about John’s reaction when he heard the news about Jesus’ activity. According to Q (or at least what it supposedly should have said, Q is a hypothetical document):

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me’ (Lk. 7:18-23; Mt. 11:2-6).

Of course, this served both Matthew and Luke regarding their immediate point: to confirm the authors’ conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the miracles that he carried out proved without a doubt that he was “the one who is to come”. Yet, now a question nags: “But, wait a second! According to Matthew, John actually did know that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt. 3:14)! And in Luke, even when John didn’t baptize Jesus, he was a close relative of his and should have known all of the fantastic stuff that happened to Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, and his mother Elisabeth, and he must have known that Jesus was the Messiah, right? (Lk. 1-2)”  If you follow both Gospels, John should have known better than to ask that inconvenient question, and yet, historically speaking, John seems not to have known that Jesus was “the one to come”. Still with that problematic issue, both Gospel writers used it to prove their immediate point, that Jesus’ activity did show that he was the Messiah, and THAT was included in Jesus’ reply to John. This is the reason why scholars think that most probably this event of John sending his disciples to ask Jesus actually took place.

Now, why didn’t any of the Gospel writers follow the path of the Gospel of John, of omitting (or even denying) that Jesus was baptized? Very simple!  Because Mark’s account, which is the basis for both Matthew’s and Luke’s, apparently collected  early traditions among Christians. Besides, through critical scholarly analyses, we know that during the first century, John the Baptist also had disciples, and his sect gradually became confrontational with Christians. This can be shown in John’s Gospel, when (apparently responding to this sect) states clearly that John was not the Light, but he was a “witness to the Light” (John 1:6-8). Also, it was widely known at the time, that the custom of Baptism in Christianity had its roots from John’s activity as a baptizer. The author of the Gospel of John is far enough from that historical moment in order to omit (or deny?) that Jesus was ever baptized by John. Not so in the case of the earlier Gospels, whose writing took place when a wide variety of people, including Christians, did know that Jesus was baptized by John. Besides, the Gospels reflect an admiration for John that was shared by all Christians … they just think that Jesus was greater than John.

Note: If you want to read how can scholars have an idea of the disputes between Christians and the followers of John the Baptist, read Raymond Brown’s book, The Community of the Beloved Disciple.

So, they didn’t change the fact of the event initially, but rather changed the meaning of the event. This was at the beginning, but as I showed in my previous post, at least from a literary point of view, the first account of Jesus’ baptism shows him being baptized by John; in the second account (Matthews’) we see a bit of an effort of the Gospel writer to explain this fact; then in the third account (Luke’s) Jesus’ baptism is dissociated from John; until finally (in John’s Gospel0, Jesus was not baptized by John, nor baptized at all.

Everything in all four Gospels points at some level of “embarrassment” regarding these issues. The only explanation for why they initially had to tell the story, is because historically Jesus was baptized by John, and everyone knew that. If THAT is the case, then Jesus is not a fictional or mythical character of a story, and most probably (to the point of almost absolute certainty) he truly existed.
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The Limits of the Criterion of Embarrassment

Is this criterion infallible? Absolutely not. There are cases where it fails, and mythicists are right that it can fail often. Yet they forget some important factors:

  1. To discard this criterion because it fails sometimes does not mean that it will fail all of the time. We can see in this article at least four cases where it clearly shows that it does help us obtain some historical information: 1. that Jesus was baptized, 2. that he never claimed to be the Son of God, 3.that John didn’t know about Jesus being “the one to come”, and 4. that Constantine wrote a very unflattering letter to Christians and didn’t care about Christology.
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  2. They give the public the impression that these limits are not being discussed among New Testament scholars.

Regarding this second point, this is simply untrue. The limits of the criteria of embarrassment and dissimilarity are widely discussed by scholars in the field and are very well known (see here, here, here and here). However, we have several good news:

  • Although these criteria have a subjective degree that it cannot be denied, their discussion with scholars who hold very different points of view on the matter help refine their methodological use, given that they cannot be mechanically applied to everything (e.g. to Jesus’ cry of Psalm 22 on the Cross).
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  • These discussions also help combining these criteria with several others (criteria of coherence, consistency, social and cultural context, literary style and message, etc.)
  • Mythicists often complain against these criteria saying that many ancient writings contradict themselves. Yet, what they miss is that often these contradictions are examined by critical scholars and historians in order to explain them. When it is a appropriate, guess which two criteria (among many others) do they have in mind when they examine them?

In all this discussion, let’s remember that not only the NT reconstruction of the “historical Jesus”, but also all of the History is this incredibly difficult process of arming a coherent jigsaw puzzle that takes the bits and pieces left to us from the past (documents, archaeological discoveries, etc.) and reconstruct the past into the best picture we are able to. This is the reason why people often we see historians “revising” history. This is not because there was an original infallible picture of what happened in the past, and then those “damned liberal” historians want to distort it … History is rather an ongoing process of refining its methods, reevaluating the evidence, and refining their historical theories using criteria (all of themfallible) to formulate the best theoretical picture we have of what actually happened in the past.

Like the natural sciences, this happens frequently. Unlike the natural sciences, this is not an exact hard discipline like Physics. Finding an accurate picture of the past is a lot harder and includes a lot of things that Physics doesn’t have to deal with: for example, cognitive science, sociology, economics, political science, and so on.

So, if anything, we have shown once again the validity of the arguments of embarrassment and dissimilarity, and saw how they point at the fact of an actual historical Jesus.

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Like ghosts that constantly come back to haunt the public’s intellect, so does mythicism show up its infamous presence again and again, especially during the Christmas season and Lent.  There are two camps in this realm, one which is made up of non-experts who have absolutely no authority in the area, and will claim that Jesus’ life is crafted after Horus, who was crucified died and resurrected, as well as Krishna, Mithra, Buddha, and so on. Of course, any historian with the most basic knowledge of Antiquity can dismiss all of these claims as totally untrue.

Yet, there is another sector of mythicism that is more respectable and is being held by authoritative historians and scholars, such as is the well known cases of Robert Price and Richard Carrier. Of the two of them, Price is the only one with a Ph.D. in New Testament scholarship, Carrier is an expert in general Antiquity, not Bible scholarship.  This doesn’t mean that these are the only two academics who hold a mythicist view. For instance, there is also Raphael Lataster, who wrote an article for the Washington Post about two years ago regarding his view that Jesus didn’t exist. I will use this article to show why this academic mythicist view is simply wrong. Of course, I cannot respond to all of their claims, but I will give enough in this post to show why this is an extremely minor view held by academics, and why the overwhelming majority of specialists in the area reject it.

Before I begin, I want to accept that Lataster’s is an article with a limited space to argue his position with all due nuance. I will try my best not to take him out of context. I’m also aware that he is unable to respond to all of the objections presented against this mythicist view.

Oh! And another thing. I am not a Bible scholar with a degree in the field. This means that you should take my assertions with care, and talk to an actual professional Bible scholar about the issue. All I can promise you here is that my statements will abide as best as possible by the best Bible scholarship that I know.

What I Agree with Mythicists

Surprisingly enough, there are areas where, from a historical standpoint I can agree with mythicists. From a methodological naturalistic point of view assumed by history, it is very unlikely that there was a virgin birth, or that someone ascended “to the heavens” defying the laws of gravity. Most probably there were no miraculous healings in the strictest sense of the word, and most probably Lazarus didn’t rise from the dead. So, from a historiographical standpoint, I agree that there was no Jesus who was miraculously conceived, carried out miracles, died, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, etc.  A lot of this is a product of fantasy.

I also agree with one very important point brought constantly by mythicists.  There is no smoking gun that proves without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus existed. If you want to argue that there is no archaeological discovery of the first century that talks about Jesus, or that there is no text written by him, or that the information that we have from them is contradictory, written decades, even centuries later, etc., I would be forced to agree.

My Disagreement

Yet, as historians of Antiquity know very well, if these variables were the sole determinants of the existence of an ancient person, we would have to wipe out almost all of the information that we have gathered from Antiquity, and stay with a minutia of what we do have evidence for. We would have to erase from history, Thales of Miletus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Apolonius of Tiana, Spartacus, etc. Your 20 volumes of an encyclopedia of history would be reduced to a 20 pages pamphlet (I’m exaggerating, but you get the point), because besides claims made by documents, we have next to no evidence of a lot of claims that they make. History is not an exact science like Physics, and it can only suppose provisionally what documents can tell us after they have been rigorously qualified by the available evidence using the best methods that historians have available.

One of the things that most people don’t know, and mythicist continually exploit this ignorance, is that virtually all ancient documents do have agendas. None of them are neutral. Do you think that Julius Caesar was “100% objective” regarding his recount of his conquest of Gaul? No, many of his claims have been found to be false! Do you think that Josephus was “100% objective” with no agendas tied to the Roman Empire?  That Aristotle was “100%  objective”, especially with his tendency to demean other philosophers to make himself look greater? That Herodotus was “100% objective”? NO!  None of these authors were “agenda-free” historians or thinkers!  If this is the case … what does it mean when mythicist claim that you should never believe ANY information provided by Paul’s letters or the Gospels, because they have agendas?! If every historian behaved this way, we would know next to nothing about history. Of course, an “agenda” is something to keep in mind, but it does not discredit historical claims automatically.

Whether there was a historical Jesus beneath this fiction, I agree with the overwhelming consensus among scholars of Antiquity and the New Testament:  YES! Most probably a historical Jesus did indeed exist in the past.

Mythicists often argue that the reason why such consensus exists is because most of them are believers. Yet, this is overly simplistic, given that a lot of the most renowned scholars had trouble with their respective churches for holding such controversial use. The classic case of Rudolf Bultmann should be recalled, since he held in the nineteenth century that most of what the Gospel say didn’t happen. The Catholic priest, Raymond Brown, who has become a must-read for every New Testament scholar today, had huge problems with the Vatican due to inconvenient scholarship regarding his scholarly stance on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as well as controversial statements regarding John’s Gospel (see his Community of the Beloved Disciple as an example). The priest John Meier has often differed scholarly from the dogmatic positions of Roman Catholicism (e.g., he holds from a scholarly view that Jesus had brothers and sisters who were the sons of Joseph and Maryagainst the Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary).

Yet, briefly, for the sake of argument, let’s take believers out of the equation. The vast majority of non-believers in the field also hold that Jesus did indeed exist. In this case, mythicists argue that the problem is that the minds of these scholars have been manipulated and conditioned (they were brainwashed?) by previous Christian scholars. Yet, this claim has no more credibility than the allegation from the political Right-Wing that the anthropogenic view of climate change is held by most scientists as part of a conspiracy by the U.N. and Al Gore to take away the sovereignty of the countries of the world and steer them towards socialism; or the political Left claims that most scientists favor GMOs because they have been bought by Monsanto. It basically supposes that Bible scholars who agree with Jesus’ existence have no actual agency of their own, despite the fact that virtually all of them have studied Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, have had historiographical education and instruction, and more often than not they learn to defy convention.

So, it is not surprising what Lataster says in his article:

Numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called “Historical Jesus” – and most of them are, as biblical scholar J.D. Crossan puts it, “an academic embarrassment.” From Crossan’s view of Jesus as the wise sage, to Robert Eisenman’s Jesus the revolutionary, and Bart Ehrman’s apocalyptic prophet, about the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus’ historical existence. But can even that be questioned?

And yet, of all of these listed above, Ehrman’s views corresponds better to the consensus, and most scholars reject Crossan and Eisenman’s views, even though these are still in debate. This is an idea defended by the some of the most hard core scholars such as John P. Meier, E. P. Sanders, Paula Fredriksen, Gerd Lüdemann, Antonio Piñero, among others. The reason why scholars gravitate towards the view that Jesus is an apocalyptic prophet is due to the whole primitive Christian movement was apocalypticist (as we shall see), and this can be inferred from Paul’s authentic letters as well from the Synoptic Gospels (the most primitive documents on Jesus we have). Yet, Jesus did not carry out any revolution nor was he thinking about an armed revolt. The most common view today is that Jesus was awaiting the Son of Man, who would dispense justice and place him as king of Israel with all twelve tribes ruled by the twelve Apostles (Mt. 19:28). Eisenman’s effort to present this “revolutionary Jesus” is based solely on his reading of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls which he holds some are Christian documents (especially the Habakkuk peshercarbon-14 put that matter to rest for good, as well as analyses made by the vast majority of experts in these ancient documents). Also his exotic views on James and Paul are not embraced by almost anyone in the field. Regarding Jesus as a sage, scholars have realized that Jesus’ wise views can only be understood within an apocalypticist context and framework, so, again, it is more reasonable to suppose that he was an apocalypticist prophet.

So, the situation is much less “embarrassing” than Lataster wants us to believe. Pointing out the discrepancy among three scholars hardly constitutes a case against Jesus’ existence.

The Early Sources

Lataster tells us:

The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.

This is a non-sequitur. Even if the Gospel authors fail to name themselves, that by itself does not mean that they are not using earlier sources and traditions. Quite the opposite, all of the analysis made by scholars in the twentieth century have identified in the four Gospels many early sources that form the basis of their writings.

Also the fact that they want to promote Christianity doesn’t mean either that Jesus didn’t exist, or that the traditions lack any validity. At best, this argument is a red-herring, and tells us nothing about Jesus’ historicity or lack of it. Julius Caesar was heavily promoted by a lot of the literature of his time, including his own. They all present, strictly speaking, a fictional Caesar reconstructed as a form of propaganda in his favor. Does that mean that he didn’t exist? Through Virgil, we learn that Caesar Augustus is divine because he was a descendant of the hero Aeneas, who had Venus as his mother. Does that mean that Augustus didn’t exist? A divinized Jesus is nothing strange in Antiquity, and follows the tendency of turning eminent historical  people in his time to become divine. Bart Ehrman wrote an excellent book about this subject.

Even though we have no smoking gun-proof of Jesus’s existence, the question historians ask is where does the evidence tends to point at? Towards his existence or non-existence?

Criteria for Historicity

This is perhaps the weakest argument from mythicists.  The criteria of embarrassment, multiple attestation, and others are not perfect, yet they are not exactly useless either. It is overly simplistic to see one case where these don’t work, and then throw them to the waste basket. Each of these criteria has its own limitations, sometimes they need to be combined in order to work, in other cases they are not enough to decide whether a passage reflects history or not.

Yet, they are important and still extremely useful. Lataster discusses the three. I don’t have time to discuss all of them, but I will respond to this one to show how short-sighted are his (and other mythicists’) views on this subject. He says:

The methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious. The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose.

And yet, anyone who has taken into consideration literary analysis of the Gospels and letters in the New Testament, can identify pretty accurately, regardless the anonymity of the authors, what he thinks, what he believes, what his public is, what is the literary message of the writing, and so on. Whoever establishes this as a problem simply does not know how to read a text. From the context itself we can know what the author is embarrassed about. I can use lots of examples, but for the sake of argument, I’ll use one particular case: Jesus’ baptism. All I require my reader to do is to actually read the passages I’m going to discuss in their New Testament (Don’t take my word for it!  Read them yourselves!)

We know today (and few academics challenge this view) that the Gospels were written between 68 and 100 CE in this order: Mark (68-70 CE), Matthew (80-90 CE), Luke (80-90 CE), John (90-100 CE). This is provisionally accepted by virtually all Bible scholars. So, regarding Jesus’ baptism, we see a gradual effort to distance him from John the Baptist’s ministry, and at the end negate the event of his baptism.

Let’s look at the passages carefully:

  • Mark 1:1-15 – Let’s note that this is our earliest Gospel, and says nothing about Jesus’ miraculous birth, nor early life in either Bethlehem or Nazareth. It limits the information to the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth, and that’s it!  But that’s not the actual beginning of the story. It begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, and establishes the reason why he was baptizing. He was inviting people to confess their sins and submerge them in water as a sign of being cleansed of the dirt of sin. It is a sign of conversion from a sinful life (Mark 1:1-4). Then Jesus appears, gets baptized, and sees the heavens open up with the Holy Spirit declaring him Son of God (Mark 1:11). After that, we are told that Jesus spent time in the desert, and only began his ministry after John was arrested (Mark 1:14). The whole episode feels rushed: Why did Jesus baptize? We are never told. Did Jesus become the Son of God after “repenting from his sins” or did he do it for any other reason? We are never told. Why did he spend time in the desert? We are not told. Why did he begin his ministry after John’s arrest? We are never told. It is as if the Gospel writer wanted to skip all of this information related to John the Baptist to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
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  • Matthew 3:1-16 – This story assumes the framework established by Mark, but apparently includes material that presumably comes from the text that scholars call Q. Yet, there is another difference between Mark’s and Matthew’s account: John stops Jesus briefly to ask him why is he going to be baptized, if John himself should be baptized by Jesus. After that, Jesus gives John a non-answer: “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15)  That’s it! Again, no explanation whatsoever.  It is as if the author of this Gospel was trying to explain away the reason why Jesus was baptized by John. Unfortunately, Jesus’ answer doesn’t explain anything, except to say that it is God’s will.
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  • Luke 3:1-22 – The story presented here is more curious than the preceding ones. Here, we find the same Markan framework, it includes Q material, plus more statements from John the Baptist. Yet, something curious happens. Question to you: In this Gospel, is Jesus baptized by John? Pay attention to the text! In vv. 19-20, we find that John was arrested and imprisoned. THEN, Jesus appears baptized! (vv. 21-22)  What?!  Who baptized Jesus? Was it John the Baptist before being arrested? We don’t know. The text says that he was already baptized and that when he was praying, he saw the Holy Spirit descend declaring him Son of God.
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  • John 1:19-34 – Of all of the Gospels, this one is the most interesting!  Why?  Well, I’m going to ask you a question: “Was Jesus baptized (by John or ANYONE)?”  Feel free to roam around the passage or the whole Gospel. Your answer is negative. There is NO story at all about Jesus being baptized! And as specialists of John’s Gospel will tell you, usually when a text is notoriously silent when it should not be, usually that’s the author negating the event. (For example: Jesus goes through no agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and totally refuses to ask God to avoid his suffering. John 12:27; 18:1-12). As a matter of fact, in the Gospel of John’s version the story of John the Baptist, it is not Jesus, but John who sees the Holy Spirit revealing Jesus as the Son of God. It is as if, Jesus already knew he was the Son of God anyway. Why need the baptism? (John 1:33-34)

So here’s the scenario. Mark is extremely brief about the John the Baptist’s activities and tells us nothing about why Jesus went to be baptized (in the context where baptism clearly implies repentance from sin). In Matthew, there is an “attempt to explain” how the sinless and righteous Jesus needed to be baptized by John, although it doesn’t give us much to go on. In Luke, the author purposely dissociates Jesus’ baptism from John’s activities; it is as if Jesus’ baptism is different from the rest of the baptized. Finally, the Gospel of John, the last of the Gospels to be written in the first century, completely denies that Jesus was baptized by John.

That gives us a pattern, which can only be explained by the criterion of embarrassment. No historian today doubts the historicity of John the Baptist, since Josephus gives us clear testimony that he existed and tells us about his activities in many ways that are clearly not based on the Gospels (which means that the story was not created or interpolated by Christian hands). The Synoptics show John as being an apocalypticist typical of the era, calling for conversion, for the one to come (the Son of Man?) is close.

What explains these New Testament passages?  Why is there a pattern towards a gradual dissociation of Jesus from John? The reason is historically simple. Here it is:

Historically, Jesus went to John to repent from his sins to confess them and be baptized. He became John’s disciple. We don’t know if historically he went through the desert. What is clear from Mark (our earliest Gospel) is that once John was arrested, Jesus decided to begin his ministry by preaching an apocalypticist message (Mark 1:14-15), which basically said that the time for God’s Kingdom was very close and that the Son of Man was going to appear soon to judge the living and the dead, that the Messiah was going to rule this Kingdom. It is important to note that when John the Baptist heard about Jesus’ deeds in jail, he was particularly skeptical about it, another embarrassing fact revealed by the Gospels and based on Q (Matthew 11:2-3; Luke 7:18-19).

After Jesus died and his disciples began to proclaim his resurrection and that he was the Son of God, they had a problem! They were saying that the Messiah and Son of God … was baptized by John!!! He was baptized because he repented, because he wanted to be John’s disciple.  That seems embarrassing! Jesus, not John, was the Messiah. So our earliest Gospel only dwells just a bit on the story, and apologetically implies that Jesus was chosen Son of God after he was cleansed of his sins. Matthew went a bit further, and implied that Jesus was already sinless and righteous, but because “God wills it”, he chose to be baptized by John. Luke went further still and dissociated Jesus’ baptism from John’s. And John’s Gospel, the last of the Gospels, represents the culmination of all of this process: John did not baptize Jesus.

Now, we have two ways of looking at this: either Jesus existed and what is stated above is true, or Jesus did not exist, so, we are left wondering why the earliest portrayal of Jesus includes a story that reflects a notorious embarrassment for all four Gospels,  If Jesus existed, the explanation is pretty simple: Jesus’ baptism was an undeniable fact known to everyone in the movement, including to followers of John the Baptist. Each of the authors had to explain or negate in some way what actually happened. This information was very inconvenient for Christians.

So, if Jesus existing gives us the simplest and most plausible explanation for these attitudes regarding Jesus’ baptism in the Gospels, (voilà!) the criterion of embarrassment pointed out an actual historical event that apparently did take place: Jesus’ baptism.

Lataster’s view that this story was included in the Gospel because it was “convenient” for the authors or their churches does not even begin to make sense of the data we have just discussed. You will really have to do mental gymnastics in order to “save the mythicist theory” to then explain these attitudes reflected in the Gospels.

Paul’s Jesus:  The “Heavenly Christ Crucified by Spirits”?

One of the unresolved issues in New Testament scholarship is the attitude of indifference by Paul of Tarsus regarding the life and deeds of Jesus. I provide my reasons for this in my book Pablo el Emisario, although I don’t claim to have hit the jackpot regarding this matter: basically that his letters were not gospels or expositors of Jesus’ biography, but arguments to address very specific problems of the Christian communities in gentility. Yet, even when I accept that this is not wholly satisfactory, it would be misleading to then to take this factor and pretend that for Paul Jesus was a celestial being with no past presence on Earth, or that the crucifixion took place “in the heavens” (sublunar realm to be more exact) and was “carried out by demons”.

Quite the opposite, Paul does remind us about Jesus’ humanity. He was actually born from a woman under the dominion of the Torah, the Law (Galatians 4:4). According to Paul, where did the Torah rule? In the sublunar regions of the heavens?  No!  It ruled right here on Earth, particularly on the Jewish people. In other words, Jesus was born a Jew according to the flesh (that is, in a physical body), an idea he states clearly in his letters (Rom. 9:1-5). From this theological framework, we can understand perfectly Paul’s view on the soteriological dimension of Jesus’ crucifixion. Basically, Jesus was ruled under the Torah and was crucified, making himself damnable under the Torah — just like all gentiles are—, so that Jesus would assume the sins of the gentiles, and finally defeat death with his resurrection (Gal. 3:13-14; 1 Cor. 5:20-21; Rom. 5:20-21; 6:1-14). In other words, contrary to what Lataster and other mythicist claim, Paul did believe that Jesus existed as a historical and physical Jew born of a woman who was actually crucified on Earth. His theology would be incomprehensible if he believed otherwise.

He also states very clearly, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus had brothers, and one of them was called Jacob, who was the head of the Christian community in Jerusalem, and whom he met personally (Gal. 1:19; 1 Corinthians 9:5-6). This agrees perfectly with the list of names and references to Jesus’ own brothers and sisters in the Gospels and other writings (Mark 6:3; Jude 1). May I remind you, that in the earliest Gospel, there is no miraculous birth story, and portrays his relationship with his family as less than ideal (they believed that he was out of his mind), not a celestial status by any means, and completely consistent with his apocalypticist views (Mark 3:20-21,31-35; Luke 14:26). Paul didn’t tell us anything miraculous about his birth either, and by the adoption of the Greek word “adelphos“, he did believe that James and Jesus were brothers from the same mother and father.

But what about the passage mentioned by Lataster about Jesus being killed by demons (1 Cor. 2:6-10)? Actually, this issue is debated. Some scholars think that these powers are demons (spiritual powers). Other scholars think they refer to earthly powers (political powers). In my view, they are both. The problem is that he misses one basic fact about Paul … he was also an apocalypticist. Even when you can point out Hellenistic influence in his thinking (since he was formed in a Judeo-Hellenistic environment as most scholars agree), he was nonetheless an apocalypticist, just like all Christians at the time. You can see evidence of this in his genuine letters (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:28; 1 Cor. 7:25-35; 15:1-53). For apocalypticists, there is  an interplay between spiritual and earthly powers, all of them are acting simultaneously as forces of good or evil, forces of light and darkness. Those who believe are the sons of light, and those who disbelieve are in darkness. This is exactly what Paul believed (e.g. 1 Thes. 5:5-8; Rom. 13:12-13). Hence, what does 1 Cor. 2:6-10 tell us in this context? Very simple, that the spiritual powers acting in the world (through political and religious forces) led to Jesus’ crucifixion.  That they did not know that he was the Messiah and Son of God , so they crucified him.

If we add up all of the passages we have thus considered, one thing is clear: Paul did believe that the crucifixion took place here on Earth, not in the sublunar heavens … period!

About Carrier’s Views about a Gradual Descent from the Celestial Christ an Earthly Jesus

Richard Carrier and two or three other people hold that Jesus was originally conceived in Christianity as being a celestial being (an angel and Logos) to an Earthly Jesus who walked on Earth.

Yet, this is not the case. Carrier’s argument rests on his belief that Paul conceived Christ as a sort of Logos as held by Judeo-Hellenistic philosophies of the time. Only then he gradually started being portrayed as having walked this Earth (the “historization” of Jesus). With the exception of an extremely reduced number of academics, no New Testament scholar buys this for a second.

First, he mentions that for Philo of Alexandria, whose philosophy was written before Paul’s Letters and the Gospels, the Logos was called “Jesus” (“Joshua” to be more precise).  This claim has been refuted again and again by experts and knowledgeable non-experts alike, and they never cease to call Carrier’s position a big stretch, because he ignores on purpose the meaning of Philo’s text in order to make it fit his mythicist views.

But let’s go even further. The earliest writings we have of Christianity are Paul’s genuine letters. This is taken by mythicists to mean that Paul’s writings, which according to them present a “celestial Christ” and Logos, are the earliest form of Christology in early Christianity. They forget, for instance, that there are some traditions that Paul quotes in his letter that are even earlier, and whose content Paul didn’t share. For example, in his letter to the Romans, he is writing to a church established apparently by a Palestinian branch of Christianity, probably associated with the Church in Jerusalem. Paul has not visited this Church, but plans to do so after going to Jerusalem. In order to do that, the purpose of this letter is to gain its sympathy and explain his novel theological views about Christ. For this reason, he quotes the following creed:

… the gospel concerning [God’s] Son,

who was descended
from David
according to the flesh

and was declared to be
the Son of God [in power]
by the Spirit of Holiness

by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:3-4)

Due to literary criteria, some scholars have pointed out that this is an ancient creed of Aramaic origin (it contains Aramaisms such as the unusual “Spirit of holiness”, instead of Paul’s usual term “Holy Spirit”) in a poetic style where ideas from some verses match with others. The only element that does not fit the scheme is the term “in power” placed there by Paul in order to make it agree better with his incarnational Christology (Philippians 2:5b-11).

This creed was most probably of Palestinian origin, due to both the Aramaisms and the circumstances of the community Paul is addressing in this letter. Note that according to it Jesus became Son of God, not before his birth, not at the moment of his baptism, but at the time of his resurrection.  This is consistent with the primitive belief that we find in our earliest Gospel (Mark) where Jesus refused to call himself Son of God in public, which is “Mark’s” way of explaining away why Jesus never called himself  “Son of God” during his ministry (another historical revelation from embarrassment). The creed quoted by Paul is also preserved and repeated in another different way in the book of Acts (Acts 13:32-33).

What do these small creeds mean?  Simple, mythicists are purposely ignoring that there are even more primitive traditions in Paul’s writings: ones where Jesus was an earthly man who was to be the Messiah, and only became Son of God after his resurrection. The incarnational Christology held by Paul and others was elaborated later by Judeo-Hellenistic Jews, and which Paul adopted (as the Judeo-Hellenistic Jew that he was).  This is not explained by Carrier’s model.

As a matter of fact, for New Testament scholars in general, the tendency is exactly the opposite than pointed out by Carrier:

  1.  The initial Palestinian Christology preached a Jesus who was earthly, died crucified, and became Son of God when he resurrected; then a variety of Christologies branched, such as …
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  2. The adoptionists who believed that Jesus became the Son of God at the moment of his baptism (as we saw in Mark)
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  3. Incarnational which made Jesus Son of God because of the intervention of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:20b-23; Lc. 1:31-35)
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  4. Or that he was a pre-existent divine creature or angel who incarnated and was Son of God from the beginning (Philippians 2:5b-11)
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  5. Or that Jesus was a pre-existent Divine Wisdom, also God’s prime creature (Colossians 1:15-16).
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  6. Or that he was the divine Logos, sharing oneness in divinity with God (John 1).

If you look at the whole process, the texts where Christ is clearly identified as God’s celestial Wisdom or Logos are later Christologies: Colossians was not written by Paul, and it is dated approximately to 70 to 80 CE. John’s Gospel was written from 90 to 100 CE.

The same can be said about the Gospels: the most “human” Jesus appears in Mark, the earliest Gospel; the most celestial and deified Jesus as the Logos appears in John our latest Gospel.

In short, Carrier has zero evidence that the belief in Jesus began as a divine Logos and ended up historicized.  The tendency is the opposite: the belief in Jesus began as a flesh-and-blood historical actual Jesus on Earth who was born from of a woman and died on the cross, who was later divinized in different ways by Christians as time went by.

Conclusion

All of this has been shown again and again by scholars. The mythicists are the ones who refuse to see that the best explanation for all of the documents we have of Christianity is that Jesus existed. In order to save their theory, they need to either distort the original meaning of the documents or ignore clear evidence that place this content in a particular literary context.

I end up with Bart Ehrman’s own statements about mythicism. Please, pay attention to his words.

Comentario en cuanto a estas elecciones

On November 6, 2016, in Politics, Puerto Rico, by prosario2000

Uno de los pensadores que discuto en mi curso de Ética es a Adam Smith y las ideas generales de La riqueza de las naciones. De acuerdo con este distinguido moralista, la amplitud de la división de trabajo depende exclusivamente de un solo factor … el tamaño del mercado. Le digo a mis estudiantes que cualquier candidato o candidata a la gobernación que pretenda “crear empleos”, tiene que proveer también un programa de cómo aumentar el tamaño del nuestro mercado, especialmente en un mundo globalizado y de bloques económicos creados por diversos tratados comerciales internacionales. Les he dicho a mis estudiantes que si su candidato o candidata no provee mecanismos para insertarnos en el mercado mundial, miente cuando dice que creará empleos.

El problema de la mayoría de los candidatos a la gobernación es que en su mayoría no tienen idea alguna de cómo hacer esto:

* Ricardo Rosselló no tiene plan alguno de *cómo* insertarse en el mercado mundial para exportar nuestros productos, vender nuestros servicios y atraer capital de inversión (el que no me crea, busquen su programa de gobierno … no hay ninguno, y el que lo encuentre en línea, por favor me avisa). Lo mejor que he encontrado son los famosos 22 puntos del programa de Rosselló y no dice nada al respecto. Su candidata a Comisionada Residente está súper comprometida con mantener vigente la ley de cabotaje, algo que nos impide tener acceso efectivo al mercado estadounidense dentro de una realidad en que la mayoría de los países de Latinoamérica y otros tienen libre acceso a un costo mucho más barato.

* Bernier ha sido Secretario de Estado y sé que ha hecho lo indecible para que nuestros productos y servicios tengan acceso a varios sectores del mercado mundial. Sin embargo, el programa del PPD nos deja en el limbo en cuanto a cómo hacerlo más efectivamente, ya que eso implicaría discutir el escabroso tema del estatus. Aun cuando el coloniaje se muestra en todo su esplendor, Bernier se mantiene en la tradicional ambivalencia característica de los candidatos del pasado. Los soberanistas en el PPD todavía tienen problemas para hacer que su partido se decida por algún mecanismo funcional para resolver el problema del estatus.

* Manuel Cidre ha dejado el tema del estatus como uno puramente secundario y, en ocasiones, irrelevante ante los problemas internos del país. Habla de negociar con otros países con un tono de hombre de negocios, pero no nos dice absolutamente nada de cómo persuadir a dichas naciones a que inviertan en Puerto Rico dentro del contexto de los tratados de libre comercio a nivel internacional, de los cuales no participamos.

* Alexandra Lúgaro quiere que Puerto Rico avance y tiene en general buenas ideas. Sin embargo, rehúsa tratar con el tema del estatus como un genuino problema, sino que funciona bajo el marco de que “Puerto Rico tiene que prosperar antes de ser estado o independiente”. El problema, una vez más, es que puede desear todas las medidas internas para mejorar la situación de nuestro archipiélago borinqueño, pero sin no tratar directamente el problema del estatus conllevará una seria dificultad a la hora de ampliar nuestro mercado. Solicitar la derogación de la ley de cabotaje no será suficiente, ya que varios gobernadores y legislaturas lo han hecho (a veces unánimemente) sin resultado alguno. Sí le doy el mérito a Lúgaro de que podemos utilizar la Internet y la tecnología como mecanismos para acceder efectivamente a otros mercados (utiliza sabiamente el ejemplo de Eslovenia, si mi memoria no me falla). Ella ha hecho su propuesta del canabis un solo componente de estímulo económico, pero no *el* estímulo económico de Puerto Rico (como ha dicho la prensa). Todo esto es bueno, pero insuficiente.

* El PIP y el PPT son los únicos partidos que quieren enfrentarse directamente al tema. En el caso del PIP, está claro que la independencia permitiría acceso a esos mercados y hace su propuesta de asamblea de estatus. Aunque el PPT no tiene una posición oficial a favor de un estatus particular, sí reconoce oficialmente el coloniaje en Puerto Rico y recomienda la asamblea constitucional de estatus propuesto por el Colegio de Abogados.

La adquisición de mayores poderes para Puerto Rico es la única manera en que podemos entrar en acuerdos en un mercado del cual todos los días estamos más aislados. Pueden tomarse medidas locales temporales para estimular la economía, pero si no aumenta nuestro mercado, podemos olvidarnos de cualquier tipo de recuperación o desarrollo económico.

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Series: 1

In our first article in our series, we saw that there are some questions regarding the story of the Eucharist as it has come down to us. We have seen that most probably the original meal that Jesus carried out in the Last Supper was a kiddush, a ceremonial meal that Jesus would have interpreted as being the last one before the definitive establishment of the Kingdom of Yahweh on Earth.

We have seen that Acts of the Apostles and the Didaché talk about this ceremony, where the wine is presented first, and without any reference to an atoning sacrifice or a vicarian death of Jesus. Yet, in this section, I will argue that the author of the Gospel of Luke holds the very same tradition of the kiddush, not the Pauline one. This might seem a bit strange, given that Luke seems to be a fan of Paul. Yet, as I will argue (some time in my life), Luke agrees less with the historical Paul than with his reconstructed version of the eminent Apostle. Yet, note that it makes perfect sense when the celebration of a kiddush by the first Christians and their activities in the Temple agree with Acts‘ version of events. There, we don’t see any vicarian vision of the Eucharist, but only of a ceremony. Both books were written by the same author (we’ll call him “Luke”, although it is most probably not his name).

For such a purpose, I will set aside Antonio Piñero’s analysis for the moment, and embrace the analysis of the Last Supper in Luke made by Bart D. Ehrman in his famous book The Orthodox Corruption of Christianity.
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Luke’s Passage and Signs of Interpolation

Bart Ehrman, Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bart Ehrman, Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One of the passages explored by Ehrman in his book is the one on the Last Supper in Luke, where there are elements which he considers have been added by later Christian scribes in order to harmonize the passage with the other versions of the Gospels (Mark’s and Matthew’s). He also thinks that the scribe were holding “anti-Docetic” views, but I will not discuss that conviction in this blog post.

Here is the passage as it has come down to us in our versions of the Gospel of Luke:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body [which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.] But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined but woe to the one by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:14-23).

As we pointed out, it seems as if Jesus presented the cup of wine twice. The passage in brackets and bold is the one under our scrutiny.

Contrary to practically all of the ancient manuscripts that we have, only very few of them appear with the shorter text, i.e. the text without the bracketed section (D a d ff2 i l syh). Ehrman points out that there are some of its aspects that are not Lukan in character: for instance saying “for you”, “remembrance”, or “new covenant”, three terms that only appear here and never elsewhere in Luke or Acts. The reason should be obvious for anyone who is acquainted with both books, and that is that their author does not portray Jesus’ death as an atonement for sins. In fact, he changes Mark’s texts where this theology appears. For Luke, Jesus’ death was a miscarriage of justice, and the death of an innocent who was vindicated at the moment of the resurrection (Acts 2:22-36; 3:12-16; 14:8-12; 7:51-56; 13:26-41). For example, when Jesus dies on the cross, this happens:

Now when a centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39).

Luke’s Gospel says:

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly, this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47).

Another example:  In Mark, we find the following passage:

You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).

In Luke we find the following:

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one serves… (Luke 22:24-27).

Where is the reference to “giving his life as a ransom”? It is totally absent! Luke omitted the last part of the Markan passage.

In Acts, Luke quotes the Isaiah prophecy of the Suffering Servant, yet he is careful to choose which passages he quotes. For example, in Acts 8, an eunuch is trying to find the meaning of this passage of the Suffering Servant:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth (Is. 53:7-8a; Acts. 8:32-33).

Philip explains that it refers to Jesus. Yet, the author of Acts uses this passage to insist on the fact that Jesus is an innocent victim, and omits any reference to the Suffering Servant as atoning for sins (Is. 53:5,8b,10).

What does all of this mean? That, for all practical purposes Luke refuses to subscribe to the idea of Jesus either an atoning of sins or offering his life for others.

Given this scenario, what is more likely: that he changed all of the passages where Mark alludes to an atoning death of Jesus except this fragment of the text of the Last Supper, or that he also corrected Mark’s version and omitted the presentation of the wine as a new Covenant of Jesus’ blood, and that some other scribe added to the main text?  I think that the latter option seems to be most probable.

I think that the case presented by Ehrman is very strong.

Not only that, but I want to argue that Luke (whoever he was) chose to “correct” the Markan text in a very specific way: by making it fit the ceremonial form of the kiddush. He did this by making Jesus bless the wine first and the bread later. As a result, here we have Luke‘s original text:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body; but see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined but woe to the one by whom he is betrayed!”

And this is perfectly consistent with what we find in Acts 2:43-47, where Christians were celebrating a Eucharist that omitted all reference to an atoning or vicarian view.

Why did he adopt the kiddush variant of the Last Supper? My hypothesis: It is most probably because Luke’s church belonged to a tradition that practiced it, much like in the case of the churches that produced the Didaché. This tradition met its dead end when the process of institutionalization ended up adopting Paul’s, Mark‘s and Matthew‘s versions of the Last Supper.

Again, this reinforces the conviction that most probably the original story of the Last Supper was most probably a story of a farewell kiddush ceremony, and that the Gospel writers Mark and Matthew were most probably directly or indirectly influenced by Paul’s version of that event.
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Reference

Ehrman, Bart D. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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Puerto Rico - Lares

Últimamente, me he quedado confundido ante la cantidad de gente que está planteando que no se ha hecho al pueblo propuesta de cómo sería la economía bajo el estatus de independencia. Ayer específicamente, me sorprendí cuando escuché a un comediante e ingeniero químico independentista (¡independentista!) decir que el independentismo necesita plantearle al pueblo un plan económico viable para los puertorriqueños.

¡¿De verdad?! Espero que mis lectores perdonen mi incredulidad, pero me fastidia que hayan gente que se llame “independentista” que diga en público que hace falta proveer un modelo económico viable de una República de Puerto Rico. Yo entiendo que un estadolibrista o un estadoísta lo cuestione, ¿pero un independentista? ¿En serio? Quiero decir que a lo sumo, lo que hace falta es mayor exposición al pueblo de las propuestas del independentismo, pero YA existe un modelo económico viable para la independencia.
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Las primeras propuestas económicas concretas 

La Independencia de Puerto RicoiComo mis lectores sabrán, he sido crítico de ciertas decisiones recientes del PIP, especialmente en relación con ciertas posiciones anticientíficas que ha adoptado en el área agrícola y alimentaria. Sin embargo, tengo que confesar que si de algo hay que quitarse el sombrero y reconocer es la excelentísima labor que ese partido llevó a cabo en el caso del proceso plebiscitario del Proyecto Johnston de 1989 a 1991. Antes de ese proyecto, la mejor propuesta del independentismo se había presentado en el libro del Lic. Rubén Berríos Martínez, La independencia de Puerto Rico: Razón y lucha. En esa obra, Berríos incluía varios artículos en torno a los falsos temores a la independencia: pérdida dramática en fondos federales, pérdida del acceso al mercado estadounidense, la salida de la inversión de corporaciones foráneas en Puerto Rico, entre otros. En aquel momento (1983), cuando lo más que había de “libre mercado” en el Caribe era la Iniciativa de la Cuenca del Caribe (o Plan Caribe) diseñada por el Presidente Ronald Reagan y otros tipos de acuerdos. Berríos afirmaba que no habría pérdida alguna de acceso al mercado norteamericano ni se tendría que ir la inversión estadounidense, que habría unos acuerdos amistosos con los Estados Unidos mientras que una República de Puerto Rico podría abrirse a establecer relaciones comerciales con otros países del mundo mucho más fácilmente.

Durante 1989 y 1991 se confirmó todo lo dicho por Berríos en su texto y más. Entre los logros conseguidos en aquella época están los siguientes:

  1. Los puertorriqueños continuarían recibiendo los fondos de sus derechos adquiridos (Seguro Social, veteranos, pensiones federales, etc.) bajo la independencia. Estos fondos constituyen del 60 al 70% de las transferencias federales a Puerto Rico. Para aquellos que estén cotizando para Seguro Social, el gobierno federal y el gobierno de la República de Puerto Rico estarían forjando un seguro social nuestro con las aportaciones que ya han hecho los trabajadores puertorriqueños por años. Este proceso de transición duraría aproximadamente 5 años.
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  2. Las transferencias otorgadas por el gobierno federal (e.g. PAN, Plan WIC, Plan 8, etc.) se recibirían en bloque por la misma cantidad que al inicio de la transición durante un periodo de 9 a 10 años, sujeto a renegociación posterior.
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  3. Las corporaciones estadounidenses podrían continuar invirtiendo en Puerto Rico bajo la Sección 901 del Código de Rentas Federal. El gobierno de la República podría utilizar la disposición del “crédito por contribuciones foráneas” e incentivar más la inversión foránea estadounidense en Puerto Rico. Simultáneamente, no habría impedimento alguno para forjar un programa de incentivos industriales para atraer capital de docenas de países alrededor del mundo. La capacidad de establecer tratados contributivos bajo la independencia posibilitaría esto.
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  4. Puerto Rico continuaría teniendo libre acceso al mercado estadounidense vía el Plan Caribe.
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  5. Aquellos nacidos con la ciudadanía estadounidense podrían retenerla, algo que fomentaría el libre tránsito entre ambas naciones y, por ende, el flujo de capital entre Puerto Rico y Estados Unidos. Además, aquellos que sean ciudadanos puertorriqueños (pero no ciudadanos estadounidenses) podrían gozar del libre tránsito a los Estados Unidos por un periodo de 30 años.
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  6. La continuación del uso del dólar estadounidense como moneda oficial de la república si así lo desea, con o sin una moneda nacional.

Lo único que en aquel momento se le había denegado a la opción de independencia era la eventual desmilitarización de Puerto Rico. Es interesante señalar que solamente a la independencia se le trató de manera tan favorable. Sin embargo, las opciones del Estado Libre Asociado y la estadidad salieron trasquiladas del proceso, ya que irónicamente (con todo y el plan de transición de nueve a diez años) la independencia se tornó en la alternativa menos costosa para los Estados Unidos. En resumen, lo menos que quería Estados Unidos era un “ELA mejorado” con mayor dependencia o una estadidad. Para mayor información, léase el libro de Rubén Berríos, Puerto Rico: Nacionalidad y plebiscito (1991).

Desde entonces, las relaciones globales de Estados Unidos a nivel mundial cambiaban dramáticamente. Ya no existía la Unión Soviética, se había implementado el Tratado de Libre Comercio de Norteamérica (NAFTA por sus siglas en inglés) y se tenía pensada la implementación del Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas (ALCA). Gradualmente, junto a la Unión Europea y Asia, el mundo se fue abriendo cada vez más a mayor interdependencia económica. Emergieron claramente Singapur, Taiwán, Hong Kong y Corea del Sur como los llamados “Tigres de Asia”. Singapur e Irlanda se convirtieron competidores de Puerto Rico, no solo porque muchas de las subsidiarias estadounidenses que estaban aquí bajo la Sección 936 se mudaron a esos países, sino porque habían superado por mucho el PDB per cápita de Puerto Rico. India y China se fueron convirtiendo gradualmente en las potencias económicas que hoy conocemos, entre muchas otras cosas.

Durante esta transformación del panorama mundial, en 1997 se radicó el famoso Proyecto Young, época en la que no solamente se podría hablar de una independencia sin pérdida al acceso al mercado estadounidense, sino que era perfectamente posible hablar de establecer diversos tratados, algunos de libre comercio, con los demás países del mundo. República Dominicana formaba parte del Convenio de Lomé (desde 1984) con los países de la Unión Europea y más tarde formó parte del CAFTA+RD. Ahora no habría que apelar al Plan Caribe, sino que se hacía cada vez más implausible la idea de que Puerto Rico fuera a perder acceso al mercado estadounidense en un mundo altamente globalizado e interdependiente.

El PIP presentó una nueva definición de independencia ante el Congreso para su inclusión en el Proyecto Young (en mi opinión, la mejor definición de independencia que se ha propuesto). Allí se afirmaba que los ciudadanos puertorriqueños (con o sin ciudadanía estadounidense) podrían gozar de libre tránsito a los Estados Unidos indefinidamente, como si no hubiera frontera de aduana entre Puerto Rico y Estados Unidos, lo cual permitiría libre flujo de capital entre ambos países y, a la vez, la posibilidad de visitar a familiares en Estados Unidos sin problema alguno. Se reafirmó a su vez la continuidad de los derechos adquiridos y la creación de medidas de transición a la independencia para el desfase de las transferencias otorgadas. Puerto Rico tendría libre acceso al mercado estadounidense mientras que tendría la facultad de acordar tratados con otros países y formar parte de bloques económicos. Bajo estas condiciones, la inversión de capital en Puerto Rico y la venta de bienes y servicios en Puerto Rico compensaría las transferencias otorgadas, posibilitando mayor número de empleos y políticas de estado beneficio para desempleados y necesitados.
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¿Me perdí en algún sitio?

En cuanto a las medidas de transición económica ya están más que claras, en gran medida gracias al PIP. Otras dimensiones de la independencia inevitablemente dependen de nosotros. El PIP ha propuesto un programa económico consistente con la social democracia: un sistema estado benefactor fundamentado en el capitalismo y libre mercado, pero regulado y con los servicios esenciales en manos del estado (seguro universal de salud, electricidad, acueductos, internet); además de la implementación de políticas de negociación colectiva, cuidado del medio ambiente, etc. Para mí, este es el modelo más viable que podría adoptar una República de Puerto Rico junto a un proceso de transición, pero es una apreciación personal.

Sería sumamente deshonesto decir que una vez implementada la independencia, entonces todo va a ser, como diríamos en español, “peaches and creme“. Sin embargo, es en este asunto que se presenta el problema principal de toda discusión de estatus: la independencia es un estatus que, en el contexto global actual, abre un abanico de posibilidades en cuanto a la adopción de medidas e instrumentos jurídicos locales e  internacionales para forjar un Puerto Rico próspero. Singapur lo pudo hacer y su despegue económico comenzó al copiarse de nuestro modelo de atracción de capital; ahora se mantiene sumamente próspero gracias a que utiliza todas las herramientas que su condición de independencia le otorga.

NOTA: … Y por favor, no me digan el repetido mantra de que Singapur llegó a la prosperidad con un sistema autoritario. Esa no fue la clave de su bonanza económica, sino más bien las medidas que tomó para lidiar con un problema étnico-religioso del que esta nación formaba parte en el contexto asiático. Además, han habido muchos países del mundo donde hay sistemas represivos y dejan mucho que desear económicamente. Puerto Rico puede ser próspero y democrático en el contexto caribeño. Países como República Dominicana, Barbados, Bahamas, Costa Rica, entre otros están mostrando este punto todos los días.

Puerto Rico tiene la infraestructura, la mano de obra adiestrada, el ambiente jurídico, preparación profesional, alfabetismo, entre otros factores para atraer inversiones de todas partes del mundo. Además, hay una gran cantidad de empresas a las que se les haría mucho más fácil su ofrecimiento de servicios. Con la derogación de la Ley de Cabotaje, sería muchísimo más fácil importar y exportar mercancías a precios que abaratarían el costo de vida de los puertorriqueños y nuestras empresas podrían competir mejor con otros países que ya tienen acceso al mercado estadounidense. Con el control de una moneda propia podemos adoptar medidas fiscales más convenientes a nuestra realidad o podríamos adoptar el dólar estadounidense como moneda oficial para propósitos de facilitar el comercio con los Estados Unidos.
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Y las demás opciones de estatus, ¿qué?…

Frecuentemente al independentismo se le pregunta constantemente y con una amnesia impresionante cuál sería el modelo económico bajo la independencia, pero, ¿y qué hay de las otras opciones de estatus? El ELA como está ya no sirve. El único modelo económico que se ha propuesto consiste en variaciones de lo que fue la Sección 936 (la 30A, la 956, la 933A, las zonas empresariales, etc.) y muchos todavía no se han dado cuenta que esa puerta ya está cerrada. Nos la cerró el Congreso de los Estados Unidos y el mercado global. El Congreso también le ha cerrado las puertas a lo “actual, pero mejorado”.

Lo que le queda a los estadolibristas es el llamado “ELA soberano”, que tiene tres problemas con su propuesta:

  • El principio de delegación es todavía impreciso. No se entiende exactamente qué se le delegaría a los Estados Unidos a cambio de transferencias de fondos federales o programas federales como los que tienen las Islas Palau y las Marshall. ¿Se delegaría la defensa? Además objetar a esta medida como independentista, el interés de Estados Unidos por fomentar su presencia militar en Puerto Rico parece ser casi ninguna a la luz de los avances tecnológicos de la armada estadounidense.
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  • En algunos casos, el plan de transición es impreciso. Una de las propuestas más concisas hechas por algunos soberanistas sugiere una transición de 60 años (¡mucho más que los que solicitamos los independentistas!)
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  • El asunto de la ciudadanía estadounidense por el que abogan es un problema serio dentro de la jurisprudencia estadounidense, especialmente si el nuevo ELA es “soberano”.

En cuanto a la estadidad, no tiene mucho que ofrecer que no sea mayor dependencia. La defensa de los estadoístas en general se reduce a tres:

  1. Las empresas estadounidenses en Puerto Rico invertirían mejor con un Estado de Puerto Rico ya que estaríamos asegurados por una jurisprudencia federal; dichas corporaciones mejor familiarizadas con las leyes estadounidenses que de cualquier otra en el mundo. El problema con este argumento es que está hartamente refutado con el fenómeno de la globalización. El capital no tiene patria e invertirá en aquel país  que le ofrezca los mejores incentivos. Esto explica el cierre de industrias manufactureras en Estados Unidos y su apertura en otras partes del mundo. Pregúntenle a Detroit al respecto.
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  2. Si Puerto Rico forma parte del Senado y la Cámara de Representantes, tendrá mayor acceso al presupuesto federal que 24 o 25 estados de la Unión; esto pondrá a nuestra disposición fondos de inversión para la infraestructura, la educación, entre otros. El problema con ese argumento es que rebota en contra de la opción de la estadidad a la hora de defenderla en el Congreso de Estados Unidos. No hay manera alguna que esos 24 o 25 estados de la Unión voten a favor de la estadidad para Puerto Rico, una cosa que conllevaría necesariamente perder su acceso al presupuesto.
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  3. Más fondos federales de transferencias otorgadas con tan solo el 30% de la población pagando impuestos federales. Una vez más, nos encontramos el problema del “rebote contra la estadidad” a la hora de defender este punto en el Congreso de Estados Unidos. No hay manera alguna que podamos defender $15 a $20 mil millones en fondos federales a un Estado de Puerto Rico y que solamente el 30% de los que trabajan paguen impuestos. Estados Unidos no llegó a ser una gran potencia económica mundial haciendo malos negocios.

La resistencia de Estados Unidos al mejoramiento del ELA es palpable estos días y la estadidad está más lejos que nunca. Parece que el Congreso nos deja a nuestra disposición estatus de soberanía, en la que es mucho más fácil para Puerto Rico adoptar aquellos modelos económicos de su conveniencia. Para mí, el mejor estatus de soberanía propia y plena que es económicamente viable es la independencia.

En vez de tener un caso de amnesia y preguntar repetidas veces cuál es el modelo viable de la independencia, los independentistas deberíamos hacer tres cosas:

  • Empaparnos del modelo o modelos viables de independencia lo más que podamos. Ya esto se ha laborado profundamente y el trabajo está hecho. Ahora es el momento que debemos darlo a conocer a un público que sufre de una amnesia a conveniencia ideológica en cuanto a este tema.
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  • Defender la independencia como opción en todos los foros políticos donde se discuta el tema del estatus.
  • En vez de preguntarnos a nosotros mismos cuál es el modelo económico de la independencia (¡el trabajo está hecho!), los independentistas debemos interrogar a las otras opciones de estatus: ¿qué tienen ellas que ofrecer?

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PD: Definición de “Independencia” defendida por el PIP para el Proyecto Young (1997)

La siguiente definición de independencia fue aceptada en ese momento para ser integrada al Proyecto Young sin objeción alguna de los congresistas estadounidenses:

  1. Puerto Rico es una república soberana, que en su libre ejercicio de su derecho inalienable a la independencia y libre autodeterminación, tiene completa autoridad sobre su propio territorio y población, bajo una constitución democráticamente adoptada por el Pueblo de Puerto Rico, que proveería el establecimiento de una forma republicana de gobierno y una amplia protección de derechos humanos, sujeto solo a la aprobación del Pueblo de Puerto Rico.
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  2. La República de Puerto Rico se convertirá en miembro de la comunidad de naciones, en igualdad de condiciones, investida con todos los derechos y prerrogativas que han sido reconocidos por el Derecho Internacional a los estados independientes y que incluye el poder de establecer sus propias políticas fiscales, monetarias, migratorias y de comercio internacional, el derecho a establecer tratados incluyendo económicos, tarifarios, a establecer relaciones con otras naciones y participar en organizaciones internacionales.
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  3. Los puertorriqueños serán ciudadanos de la República de Puerto Rico.
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  4. Los Estados Unidos concederá a los individuos de Puerto Ricos sus derechos adquiridos en virtud de servicios rendidos o contribuciones hechas a los Estados Unidos.
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  5. El futuro de las relaciones entre Puerto Rico y los Estados Unidos será definido por un Tratado de Amistad y Cooperación en relación con los asuntos de interés mutuo en conformidad con sus respectivos procesos constitucionales y a través del cual el Congreso expresaría su apoyo a los siguientes principios: un periodo de transición económica, incluyendo un Fondo de Desarrollo financiado con las contribuciones anuales basadas en la cantidad actual de gastos del gobierno federal en Puerto Rico; un libre comercio entre ambas naciones; un libre tránsito de ciudadanos puertorriqueños y ciudadanos de Estados Unidos entre ambas naciones; y la completa desmilitarización de Puerto Rico.
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Partes: 1, 2

March Against Myths

¿Cuándo sabes que tu adversario ha perdido un debate? En el noventa y tanto porciento de las veces, cuando no tiene más remedio que insultarte, porque le has ganado todas sus aserciones confrontándolas con evidencia y racionalidad. Por tanto, tiene que inventarse que “te has vendido a alguien o algo” o que eres ingenuo y una herramienta útil de __________ (llene el blanco: el imperio, las corporaciones, el nuevo orden mundial, los Illuminati, los extraterrestres … etc.)

Parece que ese es el tipo de alegaciones con el que me estoy encontrando en esta etapa del debate, algo que da mucha pena cuando se mira el estado de la izquierda política en Puerto Rico en este momento.

Comentario en Facebook

Esta fue mi contestación:

______________, lo único que busco es evidencia científica de lo alegado, porque para mí es un asunto serio. Si Monsanto existe o deja de existir me importa poco.

Sin embargo, lo que sí me entristece es que los agricultores que están sufriendo sequía por el calentamiento global no puedan sembrar cultivos resistentes a sequía. Me da mucha pena con los celiacos que nunca tendrán acceso a productos con trigo genéticamente modificado para que no produzca gluten. Realmente me quedo un poco perplejo cuando muchos se oponen a la papa Innate de Simplot, genéticamente modificada para que no produzca acrilamida, un probable carcinógeno. Esto reduciría considerablemente la incidencia de cáncer a nivel mundial. Además, esa papa no se vuelve marrón después de una lesión, lo que reduce la probabilidad de desperdicio innecesario de alimentos en los supermercados.

Finalmente, me escandalizo cuando grupos se oponen a la yuca transgénica doradael plátano y el guineo dorado en África y el arroz dorado en Asia. Todos estos cultivos son sumamente baratos y accesibles a sus respectivas poblaciones, pero tienen escaso valor nutritivo. Como resultado, se da una enorme incidencia de ceguera y muertes por falta de vitamina A. La yuca, el plátano y el arroz dorado contienen un antecedente de la vitamina A, el beta-caroteno, que podría prevenir la ceguera y la muerte de más de un millón de personas en el mundo. Todos estos alimentos se han mostrado como seguros en el laboratorio. Por cierto, ninguno es producto de Monsanto.

En cuanto al planeta, ya tenemos el arroz que reduce considerablemente la emisión de metano (un gas de efecto de hibernadero peor que el bióxido de carbono) al medio ambiente. Se quiere prevenir el cultivo de transgénicos que no necesitan insecticida, o que son resistentes a bacterias o a virus (algo que también afecta a los agricultores más pobres del mundo). Cada fumigación representa una fuerte emisión de bióxido de carbono al ambiente. Ahora que estamos hablando del agua, hay cultivos genéticamente modificados para aumentar su eficiencia en la absorción de agua y nutrientes, por lo que requerirían considerablemente menos agua y nitrógeno en la actividad agrícola. Esto evitaría el enorme problema de las “zonas muertas” que han aparecido en el Golfo de México y en otras partes del mundo.

Lo único que ha prevenido que todas estas maravillas lleguen al mercado y, muy especialmente, a los más pobres del mundo son los opositores a los OGMs a nivel mundial. Cuando los científicos solicitan evidencia a los activistas, me responden como usted me ha respondido en este momento: diciendo la palabra “Monsanto”, aun cuando no tenga nada que ver. Aparentemente, la palabra “Monsanto” es suficiente para terminar una conversación sobre cosas que son urgentes en el mundo.

Lo único que deseo es evidencia fuerte de las mejores autoridades. Tengo que confesar que desde hace unos años hasta ahora he encontrado escasísimas muestras de que los OGMs “amenazan a la humanidad”. Cuando me di cuenta de ello, cambié mi posición de antiOGMs a proOGMs . Todo lo que me han podido mostrar el movimiento antitransgénicos son documentales (cuya selección de lo que muestran es altamente selectiva) y pobrísimos estudios en revistas académicas de baja calidad o revistas fraudulentas. Para mí el movimiento antitransgénico en la izquierda es el espejo de lo que ocurre en la derecha en cuanto al tema del cambio climático. Por ahora, mi posición proOGM es la de la inmensa mayoría de los científicos e instituciones científicas de buena reputación a nivel mundial: los OGMs no representan por ahora ninguna amenaza a la salud de nadie y pueden ayudar a solucionar muchos de los problemas más urgentes del mundo.

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March Against Myths

Ayer continuaron mis aventuras con algunos antitransgénicos y antiMonsanto que me dieron la impresión de que pensaban que yo era un “agente del gobierno” y de Monsanto. Los que me conocen saben que ese pensamiento es nada más lejos de la verdad.

Sin embargo, a mis planteamientos de ayer, alguien cuyo nombre no voy a mencionar, contestó de la siguiente manera:

Posteo en Facebook

A su planteamiento, le respondí lo siguiente:

Hola ___________. Espero que esté pasando un buen día.

Seguí su consejo de buscar en Neurology Today en torno al tema. Quiero aclarar que Neurology Today no es propiamente una revista académica arbitrada, sino una revista de divulgación. La American Academy of Neurology tiene una revista académica arbitrada llamada Neurology.

Fui directamente a la página de Neurology Today para investigar la información a la que usted se refiere. La página de la revista se encuentra en: http://journals.lww.com/neurotodayonline/pages/default.aspx

Cuando usé su buscador, no pude encontrar absolutamente nada usando el término “glyphosate” ni tampoco el de “Roundup” (sí aparecieron dos artículos en que utilizaban el término “roundup” en un sentido distinto al del herbicida de Monsanto). Fue y busqué en PubMed bajo “glyphosate alzheimer’s” … tampoco encontré nada.

Busqué también por buen tiempo en Google sin encontrar nada. Lo más cercano fue un artículo medio paranoico de “Veterans Today“.

Debido a que no he encontrado la información, le pregunto a usted si me puede indicar dónde puedo encontrar el artículo de Neurology Today que vincula el glifosato con la enfermedad del Alzheimer’s.

Hasta ahora, donde único he escuchado esa vinculación en una revista académica fue en un artículo publicado por Stephanie Seneff en la revista Entropy (http://www.mdpi.com/journal/entropy). Esta revista es publicada por MDPI, considerada otra publicadora predadora (¡otra vez!) y muchos científicos la consideran fraudulenta. De hecho, se supone que la revista Entropy sea de física, pero el trabajo de Seneff fue en toxicología (¡¿?!). El escrito de ella se encuentra aquí: http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416

El artículo se ha tomado como referente imprescindible del movimiento antitransgénico porque acusa al glifosato de casi todo: Alzheimer, autismo, anorexia, depresión, cáncer, diabetes, etc. etc. etc. Seneff utilizó modelos matemáticos y algorítmicos hipotéticos, pero nunca hizo experimentos para corroborar su información. En algunos casos, también cayó en el serio problema de confundir correlación con causación. Mientras los antitransgénicos celebraban este malísimo estudio, la comunidad científica lo rechazó por completo.

Es más, el estudio era TAN malo, que una periodista antiMonsanto escribió un artículo en el Huffington Post para condenarlo. Aquí está: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tamar-haspel/condemning-monsanto-with-_b_3162694.html

Fuera de esto, no he visto ninguna evidencia entre la correlación entre el glifosato y el Alzheimer. No es un asunto de si uno está o no a favor de una empresa, sino exclusivamente de lo que nos ofrece la evidencia científica.


Una vez terminada la respuesta, decidí buscar otra vez y encontré alguna información. Le escribí de nuevo:

Hola _____________. Hice una segunda búsqueda en PubMed bajo “glyphosate alzheimer’s” y encontré un solo artículo al respecto … cuya autora es Stephanie Seneff y compañía. El artículo es esencialmente el mismo publicado por Entropy, pero esta vez publicado por una revista llamada Surgical Neurology International. Esta revista es predadora y seriamente cuestionada, ya que parece ser más política y conspiratoria que una revista de artículos genuinamente científicos. Véase al respecto la sección de comentarios en esta página: https://scholarlyoa.com/2015/01/15/strange-new-oa-publisher-launches-with-42-journals/.


A la hora que escribo esto (11:08pm), nadie ha respondido. Yo lo voy a dejar ahí por hoy y no seguiré comentando en la página del Prof. Bernabe. Sin embargo, ya he dejado evidencia suficiente de que la marcha antiMonsanto no tiene sentido alguno, al menos desde el punto de vista científico.

 

March Against Myths

No es secreto que a pesar de que me dejé de considerar de izquierda, simpatizo más con el Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP) y con el Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT). Sin embargo, ayer vi lo siguiente en Facebook.

Propaganda PPT - Marcha Contra Monsanto

Como pueden imaginar, me quedé sorprendido por una asociación tan cuestionable entre Monsanto y la carencia de agua potable. Con mucho respeto, le dejé saber al Dr. Rafael Bernabe en su página de Facebook que si va a “exponer” los venenos de Monsanto, que más le valiera tener evidencia buena al respecto, porque —como he argumentado nuelemil veces— el movimiento irracional antitransgénico está repleto de estudios malísimos, extremadamente pobres y comprometidos con cierto sector industrial (usualmente la industria orgánica). Es bien interesante ver cómo muchos que apoyan al PPT reaccionaron adversamente a la imagen colocada por el Prof. Bernabe en su cuenta.

Sin embargo, una persona quiso argumentar a su favor y posteó como reacción a mi planteamiento este artículo  como evidencia de que el glifosato es altamente tóxico.

Killing Machine Article

Entonces me puse mentalmente mi sombrero de profesor …  pues soy profesor, ¡qué rayos! Lo que me gusta es enseñar. Como diría un muy buen amigo mío: “I’m a professor, damn it!!!!” Y le dediqué en dos comentarios en Facebook la siguiente respuesta (he omitido el nombre de ella):

Muy estimada _________:

Le agradezco muchísimo, pero MUCHÍSIMO que haya posteado exactamente ese ejemplo. Muestra exactamente TODAS las preocupaciones a las que me referí en mi intervención anterior.

En el artículo que usted posteó se enlazan tres artículos que muestran que el nivel del consumo del glifosato es relativamente alto, y que hay muestras de presencia en la orina, en la leche materna y que afecta los glóbulos rojos. Omitiré los enlaces de autoreferencia al website (una malísima costumbre de reportaje de ciencias).

Veamos lo que los tres artículos a los que el reportaje hace referencia:
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1

El primero que deseo destacar y que es más fácil de problematizar es el llamado “Detection of Glyphosate Residues in Animals and Humans” publicado por la Environmental & Analytical Toxicology. Cuando vi el título de esta revista, me sonó bien familiar. Cuando vi el URL y me di cuenta de dónde procedía, no pude sino sonreír. Esta revista procede de OMICS Publications (http://www.omicsonline.org/), una editorial con una ESPANTOSA reputación. ¿Se acuerda que en mi intervención anterior mencioné el problema de las revistas predadoras? ¡¡¡Esta es una de las PEORES!!!

¿Qué es una revista predadora? En términos sencillos, es una revista que un autor paga para publicar su artículo y que, en general, tiene pobres prácticas de arbitraje o ninguno en absoluto. Una muy buena parte de estas revistas se destacan por prácticas comerciales fraudulentas. Para una descripción más completa vea: https://scholarlyoa.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/criteria-2015.pdf. No me extenderé mi discusión sobre OMICS excepto para señalar que si usted quiere averiguar el nefasto historial, puede ir a Wikipedia, que menciona varios de los escándalos más notables (y esos son solo la punta del témpano): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OMICS_Publishing_Group. Es decir, no confío en NADA publicado por OMICS.
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2

Vayamos al siguiente caso, el estudio titulado: “Determination of Glyphosate residues in human urine samples from 18 European countries“, auspiciado por el grupo Amigos de la Tierra (específicamente, su rama alemana: BUND). De entrada hay que indicar que en el estudio no se hace aserción alguna en torno a conflictos de intereses, ya que AdT está ideológicamente comprometido por ser un movimiento antiOGM.

El laboratorio que trabajó las muestras fue el Laboratorio Médico de Brehmen, bajo la supervisión del director de estudios, el Dr. Hans-Wolfgang Hope. Es de notar que este señor fue uno de los autores del artículo publicado en OMICS. En otras palabras, es un médico que publicó en una revista de mala reputación y eso inmediatamente es razón para sospechar.

En el estudio de AdT, el laboratorio mide las muestras de orina obtenidas de voluntarios en 18 países de Europa se registra la presencia de glifosato. En otras palabras, en el caso de la orina, muestra que el glifosato que es consumido vía los alimentos en Europa es efectivamente excretado por el cuerpo humano … algo en el que todos los expertos en el glifosato coinciden. ¿Qué de nuevo trajo esto a la mesa de la discusión científica? Absolutamente nada. Lo que SÍ hubiera sido interesante es cuánto del glifosato consumido compara con el excretado (para saber si efectivamente el cuerpo absorbe el glifosato). Para nuestra desgracia, el estudio no nos dice nada al respecto. Otro asunto que no aclara es cuánto el nivel obtenido por orina compara con la dosis de toxicidad del glifosato (aproximadamente 140,000 mg/kg para una persona de peso corporal de 154lb.) y el límite de dosis estipulado por la EFSA (0.1 mg/kg). TODAS las cifras del glifosato que aparecen en el estudio están MUY por debajo de ese número (nota que todas las cifras están en MICROgramos por Litro, no MILIgramos por kg; en el caso del agua, 1 L (1 dm³), es casi igual a una masa de 1 kg). ¡Claro! No hacen esas medidas comparativas que he señalado porque obviamente el nivel de toxicidad del glifosato consumido [parecería] extremadamente insignificante. ¡Esa información no le convendría mucho a Amigos de la Tierra!

En otras palabras, Amigos de la Tierra y compañía gastaron dinero para absolutamente NADA en el orden científico, aunque sí para asustar a medio mundo con el glifosato. Un estudio como este no pasa de ser una excelente manipulación mediática que desea espantar al público cuando explota su desconocimiento en toxicología.
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3

En cuanto a la leche materna — Por mucho que citen estos estudios individuales y preliminares, estos han sido refutados por metaanálisis hechos en torno al tema. Recuerdo que los metaanálisis son los estudios MÁS SÓLIDOS de las ciencias. En NINGUNO de ellos se evidencia la detección de presencia de glifosato en la leche humana. Me remito a estos estudios:

*Glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid are not detectable in human milk — este artículo tiene a tres autores que trabajaron para Monsanto, así que no puede considerarse totalmente independiente. Este artículo es de libre acceso: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/03/30/ajcn.115.126854.abstract. Este estudio también hace análisis de orina y corrobora exactamente el hecho de que el glifosato no es absorbido por el cuerpo, sino excretado. Este estudio ha sido muy bien recibido por la comunidad científica en general, ya que la metodología ha sido examinada y propiamente validada por un laboratorio de reputación, independiente de Monsanto (Covance Labs): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4743594/. Véase también: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150723133120.htm.

*Determination of Glyphosate Levels in Breast Milk Samples from Germany by LC-MS/MS and GC-MS/MS (este artículo es genuinamente *independiente* de intereses industriales), también es de libre acceso: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.jafc.5b05852.

*Analysis of Glyphosate and Aminomethylphosphonic Acid in Nutritional Ingredients and Milk by Derivatization with Fluorenylmethyloxycarbonyl Chloride and Liquid Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry — http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jafc.5b04453. Este es un estudio de los laboratorios Abbott, cuyos intereses son independientes de Monsanto ni tiene vela en el asunto del glifosato.

En otras palabras, estudios de la industria y los independientes apuntan exactamente al mismo resultado. Así que a pesar de los alegatos de Moms Across America, los estudios que citan están BIEN refutados por evidencia sólida. Además de que ni hace falta corregir disparates del susodicho “estudio” de esa organización al decir que el “glifosato se asemeja a los PCBs”. Es interesante que el llamado “estudio” de esa organización vea con beneplácito al Dr. Don Huber, alguien que por más de 10 años ha alegado que tiene un patógeno producido por OGMs y el glifosato, pero que no ha querido someterlo al examen de la comunidad científica. A estas alturas, ningún científico le cree ese cuento. Eso revela el total desconocimiento de las ciencias por parte de Moms Across America y los “aliados” con los que cuenta el movimiento antitransgénico.

Finalmente, en cuanto al estudio “The effect of metabolites and impurities of glyphosate on human erythrocytes (in vitro)“, tengo que rascarme la cabeza y preguntarme si la gente está bromeando cuando lo cita. Sí, el glifosato afecta a los glóbulos rojos cuando se aplica EN GRANDES CONCENTRACIONES (lea el estudio). De acuerdo con los mismos estudios de los antitransgénicos, las concentraciones de glifosato son minúsculas. Por lo tanto, NO afectarían en lo absoluto a los glóbulos rojos. A fin de cuentas, el glifosato está brevemente en la sangre termina siempre en los riñones y en nuestro excremento donde después es expulsado del cuerpo.

Así pues, el reportaje de Natural Society, que tiene intereses económicos a favor de la industria orgánica y cuya atemorización de la sociedad le resulta en enormes ganancias (véase la tiendita: https://shop.naturalsociety.com/), sencillamente muestra una ignorancia generalizada en torno al tema del glifosato y de los transgénicos en general.

Así que, perdóneme, pero sencillamente este reportaje malísimo no me convence.

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