summer 2010 course at ucla: ‘mythology of otherworldly journeys’ with dr. robert cargill

UCLA Center for the Study of Religioni shall be teaching a course entitled ‘mythology of otherworld journeys‘ (religion 140) during the 2010 summer session block c at ucla. the 4-unit course is offered by ucla’s center for the study of religion, and will be offered tue and thu, 1:00 pm – 3:05 pm, from aug 2 through sept 10 in bunche 3156. the course will examine different myths of journeys to other worlds in various religious traditions. i am hoping to capture the class lectures and discussions and offer the course contents to the public via itunes u.

register today!

a one man ventriloquist: glenn beck’s misrepresentation of the dead sea scrolls

Glenn Beckyou have got to be absolutely kidding me.

joel mentioned it. jim brought it to my attention. and now i must vomit.

just when you thought glenn beck couldn’t get any stupider, this one-man intellectual gulf oil spill has spewed forth yet another gusher of sheer misinformation madness. my first inclination was to blow off mr. beck with a response in the form of a quote from the adam sandler cult classic, billy madison:

Mr. Madison Beck, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

however, because glenn beck chose to tread on the treacherous triumvirate of biblical studies, archaeology, and religion that is the dead sea scrolls, i feel compelled, nay, obligated in my role as a member of an apparent scholarly squad of biblical ‘discovery’ debunkers to respond.

first, let me assure you that i have no political or anti-conservative bent. i am a political moderate, with an appreciation of pundits on both sides. there are smart liberals and there are smart conservatives; glenn beck is neither. mr. beck is not as cunning as bill o’reilly, not as witty as keith olbermann, not as smart as rush limbaugh, and not as hot (intellectually) as rachel maddow. glenn beck lacks the political acumen of george will, the savvy of paul begala, the objective demeanor of juan williams, the strategic humor of james carville, the ingenuity of thomas friedman, the inquisitive journalistic tenacity of steve inskeep, the experience of david gergen, the brains of jeff greenfield, and the influence of matt drudge. rather, our friend mr. beck, apparently suffering from diarrhea of the mouth, is little more than an annoying sideshow – an overly dramatic, undereducated, sub-populist, train wreck, that makes the otherwise media-wise rupert murdoch look like a fool for signing him.

so what has mr. beck said that has so roused my intellectual ire? beck recently touched a nerve – a nerve i’ve sworn to defend – by pontificating upon the dead sea scrolls. beck, who apparently feels that his single theology class at yale before dropping out qualifies him to expound on the scrolls, recently made comments so utterly and fantastically false, that i dropped what i was doing and began to write this response.

in his amateurish attempt to imitate and channel the dilettantish ways of jim barfield, simcha jacobovichi, ron wyatt, noah’s ark ministries international, and vendyl jones, beck invoked the dead sea scrolls in a nonsensical rant that began with comparing children to empty clay pots and ended with the recitation of portions of the declaration of independence.

A Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrollslisten as beck speaks concerning things about which he knows nothing (beginning at the 0:36 second mark) and read along:

Beck: You know the… Dead Sea Scrolls. You know what they are? Stu, do you know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are? …

Stu: Well, of course I do.

Beck: No, come on. Most people don’t. I’m not…

Stu: I heard of them. I don’t really know.

Beck: You don’t really know, do you. You have no why they were there.

Stu: Nu uh.

Beck: Sarah, average person doesn’t know. Any idea? Take a guess on what, why the Dead Sea Scrolls are there, anything else.

Sarah: Something religious.

Beck: OK good. Even though I’ve explained this on this program a couple of times, I’m glad to see that, I’m glad to see that even the people that work with me everyday don’t even listen.

Stu: Well, there’s, we were actually talking about American Idol last night. The guy won! It was unbelievable.

Beck: All right. So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided he was going to uh… cobble together an army, um, he did the uh… Council of uh… Nicaea, right, Pat?

Pat: Yea.

Beck: Council of Nicaea. Um… and what they did is brought all of the religious figures, uhh, together, all the Christians and then they said, “Ok, let’s uh, put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it.” So they brought all their religious scripture together, and that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and… off with their head!” Well, that’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. The Dead Sea Scrolls are those scriptures that people had at the time that they said, “They are destroying all of this truth.” Whether it’s truth or not is, is up to the individual, but that… at that time those people thought that this was something that needed to be preserved and so they rolled up the scrolls and they put ’em in clay pots and they, they put ’em in the back of caves where no one could find them. They were hidden scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicaea and Constantine. That’s what those things are.

this is absolutely, fundamentally, unequivocally false! allow me to make two key points:

  • the dead sea scrolls were written between approximately 200 bce and 70 ce. the council of nicaea met in 325 ce. not even close.
  • there is nothing whatsoever christian about the dead sea scrolls. no portion of the new testament is represented in the scrolls.

i don’t know where to begin. arguing that the dead sea scrolls were hidden to hide them from the council of nicaea is like arguing that we won the war of independence over the british because of our advanced computer technology; the timing is off a couple of hundred years. perhaps glenn beck is confusing the dead sea scrolls with the nag hammadi library, a cache of early christian gnostic texts written in coptic dating to the third and fourth centuries ce and discovered in the upper egypt town of nag hammadi in 1945. but of course, facts are secondary in the mind of glenn beck. what really matters to the likes of beck is massaging and distorting these facts until they fit whatever preconceived argument he’s already formulated in his mind.

in this regard, the comments glenn beck made about the dead sea scrolls closely resemble the deteriorated state in which the dead sea scrolls were discovered: they came forth from the mouth of a dark, seemingly bottomless cave, covered in bat guano, and smelling like bullshit, which is exactly what glenn beck has offered up in his latest attempt to portray himself as a biblical historian. the difference, of course, between the dead sea scrolls and glenn beck is that the dead sea scrolls at least tried to keep their thoughts and ideas hidden away to themselves.

in attempting to discuss religion and the dead sea scrolls, glenn beck has achieved something astonishing. he is a one-man ventriloquist: his lips are moving, but he’s actually talking out of his ass.

lost finale makes lost fans more annoying than ever

i dedicate the following onion clip to james mcgrath. i simply cannot wait for the season finale. i’ve loved this show now for years, and i’m looking forward to a great ending.

a two-inch phallus makes robert drewes immortal

Drew's Phallus (Phallus drewesii)

A new species of fungus, phallus drewesii, or "Drewes’ Phallus," was recently named in honor of Dr. Robert Drewes of the California Academy of Sciences.

now this is a great story!

robert drewes, a herpetologist from the california academy of sciences, is being immortalized according to the scientific magazine mycologia. the fearless snake wrangler brought his colleague, san francisco state university mushroom expert dennis desjardin, on a trip to the island republic of são tomé and príncipe. during the expedition, desjardin recognized a previously unknown, two-inch long, phallic-looking fungus sprouting from a piece of wood as a new species. to thank drewes (and with drewes’ blessing), desjardin named the new species phallus drewesii (drewes’ phallus) in honor of his longtime friend.

a scientific american article by brendan borrell points out:

Stinkhorns like Phallus drewsii, are found mostly in the tropics and their characteristic shape helps them emit an odor of dung or carrion that attracts flies to disperse their spores. The stinkhorn was one of 225 fungus species that expedition scientists collected during two trips to the region.

drewes told the san jose mercury news:

“I am utterly delighted…The funny thing is that it is the second smallest known mushroom in this genus and it grows sideways, almost limp.”

there is nothing like a scientist with a great sense of humor and profound security in his sexuality. then again, the guy studies huge snakes for a living. i’m sure he’s heard the compensation jokes before.

congratulations to drs. drewes and desjardin on their respective accomplishments.

a great new book on the bronze age aegean edited by eric cline

The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, edited by Eric H. Cline

The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, edited by Eric H. Cline

the oxford handbook of the bronze age aegean, edited by friend and colleague eric h. cline, is now available for purchase. there is a great write-up on marsia sfakianou bealby’s challenging the past blog.

if you’re into the bronze age aegean, then this is the book for you.

the publisher’s description:

The Greek Bronze Age, roughly 3000 to 1000 BC, witnessed the flourishing of the Minoan and Mycenean civilizations, the earliest expansion of trade in the Aegean and wider Mediterranean Sea, the development of artistic techniques in a variety of media, and the evolution of early Greek religious practices and mythology. The period also witnessed a violent conflict in Asia Minor between warring peoples in the region, a conflict commonly believed to be the historical basis for Homer’s Trojan War. The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean provides a detailed survey of these fascinating aspects of the period, and many others, in sixty-six newly commissioned articles.

Divided into four sections, the handbook begins with Background and Definitions, which contains articles establishing the discipline in its historical, geographical, and chronological settings and in its relation to other disciplines. The second section, Chronology and Geography, contains articles examining the Bronze Age Aegean by chronological period (Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age). Each of the periods are further subdivided geographically, so that individual articles are concerned with Mainland Greece during the Early Bronze Age, Crete during the Early Bronze Age, the Cycladic Islands during the Early Bronze Age, and the same for the Middle Bronze Age, followed by the Late Bronze Age. The third section, Thematic and Specific Topics, includes articles examining thematic topics that cannot be done justice in a strictly chronological/geographical treatment, including religion, state and society, trade, warfare, pottery, writing, and burial customs, as well as specific events, such as the eruption of Santorini and the Trojan War. The fourth section, Specific Sites and Areas, contains articles examining the most important regions and sites in the Bronze Age Aegean, including Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Knossos, Kommos, Rhodes, the northern Aegean, and the Uluburun shipwreck, as well as adjacent areas such as the Levant, Egypt, and the western Mediterranean.

Containing new work by an international team of experts, The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean represents the most comprehensive, authoritative, and up-to-date single-volume survey of the field. It will be indispensable for scholars and advanced students alike.

how not to be a christian

i agree with jim and scott: there is something fundamentally wrong with what is happening to christianity today. there is a way to educate the public about christianity, but this is not it. lost is any critical understanding, lost is any theological depth, and lost is any real knowledge of the core message. christianity is being packaged, branded, marketed, and sold as the latest form of reality tv. gone is the commitment. gone is the authenticity. gone is any call to service. much of today’s christianinity and nearly all of christian broadcasting is just idiots trying to use what is popular to make christinos (christians in name only).

there are two problems with this form of christianity: it’s defunct and it sucks. it lacks any depth and meaning, and it’s a third-rate imitation of everything it is attempting to emulate.

the style of christianity portrayed below is the justin bieber of christianity: fake, fake, fake, studio-produced, cookie cutter, bubble gum and lifestyle christianity. it’s contrived, it’s for-profit, it’s shallow, and it’s designed to target a fickle audience that will quickly turn its attention toward the next pop trend as soon as something else becomes cool.

god help us all.

n is for numismatist

today in class, i completely walked into one. we were discussing the bar-kokhba rebellion’s numismatic record when it happened. watch.

thought for the day: on the tension between experience and innovation

Old vs. Newi give tremendous respect and deference to individuals with experience and longevity in a particular discipline. those who do things for a long time are, on average, far better equipped and knowledgeable about a particular subject than those who are newcomers to a particular discipline. as a scholar, i respect experience and precedent.

that said, just because someone has been doing something or arguing the same thing for a very long time doesn’t make that person’s technique or theory correct. tradition is not truth, and ‘proof’ is never the last word, it is only the best word thus far.

i am always surprised to hear that classic line, ‘i’ve been doing this since before you were born.’ such a comment is the banter of the uneducated. claiming that experience trumps all new research is a desperate grasp at authority, and reeks of pride disguising insecurity.

the last time i heard the line ‘i’ve been doing this since before you were born’ was in my blue collar home town of fresno, ca, where two shop workers were arguing over the proper way to change the oil. it is not an effective line because it betrays the possibility that someone has been doing or thinking about something incorrectly for a long, long time.

if an established technique or theory is correct, it will easily withstand new and innovative approaches. if it is not, it will gradually erode and be replaced by the new theory or the more efficient technique. simply arguing that the way we’ve always done or understood something is better because those doing or thinking it have done so ‘since before you were born’ may be worthy of acknowledgment, but certainly does not make it the best.

have a nice day.

jesus christ: mixed martial arts superstar??

MMA Jesusyou have absolutely got to be kidding me.

the daily show has done a great segment on how some ministries are using smackdown style evangelism to spread the word.

a couple of deranged pastors in the south are using mixed martial arts and feats of strength to evangelize people. john renken of clarksville, tennessee runs ‘xtreme ministries,’ which teaches mixed martial arts as a form of evangelism. likewise, todd keene of dallas, texas runs the ‘power team,’ which does feats of strength to impress people for jesus.

i shake my head.

in fact, is it possible to laugh at (and not with) people while shaking my head?? seriously. how stupid can some people be? wait, don’t answer that.

the only religion that should use feats of strength is festivus. that’s it. the rest is adulterating and packaging xnty just to be cool. look, if you like to do something like boxing of football, great. and if you want to thank god for your ability to catch a ball in the end zone, wonderful. but don’t build a ministry around doing things that openly contradict the principle message of a particular faith. (that goes for you ‘gospel of wealth’ and tv evangelists as well!) you don’t kick people in the head for the glory of god! xnty is not a contact sport, it should be focused on service to those in need. it’s not a freakin’ side show!

again, the answer to dwindling numbers in the pews is not to fundamentally change the core of the faith or to employ big time wrestling tactics in worship. how about give them something worthwhile? or is that too hard for people these days?

what’s next, pimp my gospel?

[ht: jim west]

you must buy this book: ‘soundings in kings: perspectives and methods in contemporary scholarship’

Soundings in Kings: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship

'Soundings in Kings: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship' by Klaus-Peter Adam and Mark Leuchter

you must buy this book, especially if you study the books of kings!
soundings in kings: perspectives and methods in contemporary scholarship‘ is the latest offering edited by klaus-peter adam and my colleague mark leuchter. if you don’t buy this book, god will exact punishment upon you like he does the chicago cubs.

from the publisher (fortress press):

The reigning assumptions in 1970s and 1980s scholarship on 1 and 2 Kings, and indeed on all of the Deuteronomistic history, have come under serious question. How can differing views of that history be reconciled? What sources were available to the authors? Should we call them “authors”? How well do the Books of Kings fit into the larger history of which they are a part; just who composed that history, toward what end, and in what context? How do the assumptions of contemporary interpreters influence the answers we give to those questions? In Soundings in Kings, international scholars pursue these and related questions by examining 1 and 2 Kings as an independent work, identifying new methods and models for envisioning the social location of the authors (or redactors) of Kings, the nature of the intended audience or audiences, and the political and rhetorical implications of its construction. Soundings in Kings demonstrates the role of Kings as a cornerstone work within the Hebrew Bible, a crossroads between prophecy, poetry, wisdom, ancestral and national narrative, and ritual instruction.

you can preview the book on google books here:

ISBN: 9780800697167
Release Date: Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Format: Paperback 224 pages 6 x 9 inche

go on, buy it!

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