Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Historians And Scientists Shouldn't Be In Conflict

Some languages don't even make a distinction between the two. In German, for example, history is one of the Wissenschaften, one of the sciences. But back here in the English-speaking world, there is this tension between the sciences and the humanities. I don't know whether this tension flares up and then cools down again from time to time, or whether I've just been more aware of it at some times than at others.

The tension which is making me tense at the moment is between some New Atheists who are also scientists on the one hand, and anyone with a passing familiarity with ancient history on the other. The main bone of contention is Jesus and his historicity, and a prime example of the problem has popped up in the work of Michael Paulkovich, which I have discussed in 2 previous blog posts, here and here. Paulkovich is presenting a thesis which wouldn't get a passing grade from any competent high-school history teacher: that 126 ancient writers, who should've been expected to mention Jesus if he existed, do not mention him. More than 1/3 of those 126 people actually left no writing behind. Although Aulus Gellius and Dio Cassius are often very useful to historians in that they quote or mention so many other writers whose works have vanished, if a chapter in Gellius quotes 10 writers, a serious writer counts that as the writing of 1 writer, Gellius, not 11, 10 plus Gellius.

And I'm giving Paulkovich the benefit of the doubt in assuming he knows Gellius or Dio from a hole in the ground, because, although more than a few of the 126 names are known to us today only via those two authors, most of the 126 who are known to us as authors would've had no reason whatsoever to mention Jesus: they're physicians or geographers or poets whose subject matter happened centuries BC or epigrammatists or grammarians, or what remains of their writing is a few lines with no connection to anything east of Athens... In short, the list of 126 names is a really spectacular mess, and you don't have to be an expert in ancient history to suspect that it is.

If the 126 names were in a random reader's comment on the Internet, it'd be bad enough, but too common to warrant my going on about it for several blog posts. But Paulkovich published this mess in Free Inquiry, where prominent scientists like Richard Dawkins -- who's absolutely brilliant when the subject is biology, in case you hadn't heard -- have been published lately, but not, one suspects, respectable historians. "Free" here apparently means "free from fact-checking" on historical subjects, although the New Atheists are always, quite rightly, pointing out the benefits of things like peer review in the natural sciences.

Are they aware that peer review is also in place in disciplines such as history, even when the historical subject is Jeebus? If they're aware that such historiographical peer-review exists, they're sure not acting like it. They're definitely not interested in benefiting from it.

They don't want to learn about ancient history. And yet they feel perfectly well-qualified to discuss it. And so we get things like this list of 126 names, and Dawkins' description of the authors of the Old Testament as "Bronze-age goat herders" (they're referred to as "goatherds," Richard, you simp), and Dawkins making all sorts of ignorant statements about 1 billion Muslims as if all 1 billion were the same in any way, without having felt any need to have read the Koran first, and apparently without feeling any embarrassment over saying publicly that he has no plans either to read the Koran or to stop making blanket condemnations of billions of individuals.

I don't know how widespread this gulf of historical ignorance is. I can only hope that the ignorance on historical topics of New Atheists like these is so obvious that most of the general public who hear Dawkins & Co shooting their mouths off will be able to spot it without my help, and draw appropriate conclusions about New Atheism, and rags like Free Inquiry..

If they're not able, well then, that's what I'm here for. And you, too, if you've been able to follow me this far.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

126 Writers Who, According To Michael Paulkovich, Should Have Mentioned Jesus If Jesus Existed

Here we go, here's Paulkovich's list, reproduced as he gave it, complete with quirky renderings such as "Cassius Deo" rather than the more familiar "Deo Cassius," and "Halicarnassensis Dionysus II" rather than "Dionysus of Halicarnassus."

Aelius Theon, Albinus, Alcinous, Ammonius of Athens, Alexander of Aegae, Antipater of Thessalonica, Antonius Polemo, Apollonius Dyscolus, Apollonius of Tyana, Appian, Archigenes, Aretaeus, Arrian, Asclepiades of Prusa, Asconius, Aspasius, Atilicinus, Attalus, Bassus of Corinth, C Cassius Longinus, Calvisius Taurus of Berytus, Cassius Deo, Chaeremon of Alexandria, Claudius Agathemerus, Claudius Ptolomaeus, Cleopatra the Physician, Cluvius Rufus, Cn Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, Cornelius Celsus, Columella, Cornutus, D Haterius Agrippa, D Valerius Asiaticus, Damis, Demetrius, Demonox, Demosthenes Philalethes, Dion of Prusa, Domitius Afer, Epictetus, Erotianus, Euphrates of Tyre, Fabius Rusticus, Favorinus, Flaccus, Florus, Fronto, Gellius, Gordius of Tyana, Gnaeus Domitius, Halicarnassensis Dionysus II, Heron of Alexandria, Josephus, Justus of Tiberius, Juvenal, Lesbonax of Mytilene, Lucanus, Lucian, Lysimachus, M Antonius Pallas, M Vinicius, Macro, Mam Aemilius Scaurus, Marcellus Sidetes, Martial, Maximus Tyrius, Moderatus of Gades, Musonius, Nicarchus, Nicomachus Gerasenus, Onasandros, P Clodius Thrasea Paetus, Palaemon, Pamphila, Pausanius, Pedacus Dioscorides, Persius/Perseus, Petronius, Phaedrus, Phillipus of Theesalonica, Philo of Alexandria, Phlegon of Tralles, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Plotinus, Plutarch, Pompeius Saturninus, Pomponius Mela, Pomponius Secundus, Potamon of Mytilene, Ptolomy of Mauretania, Q Curtius Rufus, Quintilian, Rubellius Plautus, Rufus the Ephesian, Saleius Bassus, Scopelian the Sophist, Scribonius, Seneca the Elder, Seneca the Younger, Sex Afranius Burrus, Sex Julius Frontinus, Servilius Damocratus, Silius Italicus, Soranus, Soterides of Epidaurus, Sotian, Statius the Elder, Statius the Younger, Suetonius, Sulpicia, T Aristo, T Statilius Crito, Tacitus, Thallus, Theon of Smyrna, Thrasyllus of Mendes, Ti Claudius Pasion, Ti Julius alexander, Tiberius, Valerius Flaccus, Valerius Maximus, Vardanes I, Vellius Paterculus, Verginius Flavius and Vindex.

Okay. Let's start with those on the list who, contrary to Paulkovich's assertions, actually do mention Jesus or Christians: Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and Tacitus. There is of course a passage in the manuscripts of Josephus, which praises Jesus to the point of calling him god-like, which is now generally agreed to be an interpolation. Some scholars, apologists, mostly, agree that it is an interpolation but insist -- unconvincingly, in my opinion -- that the original narrative still mentioned Jesus at that point. Be that as it may, Jesus is mentioned in another passage in Josephus having to do with his brother James. Some say that the passage in Tacitus describing Nero's cruel treatment of Christians actually has to do with followers of Chrestus, not Christus. I maintain that "Chrestus" is simply a misspelling. 4 who mention Jesus or Christians, that leaves 122 names on Paulkovich's list.

Next are the 47 people whose writings Paulkovich cannot have studied, as he claimed, because none of their writings survive: Albinus (assuming Paulkovich is referring to the Albinus who was procurator of Judea in Nero's reign), Ammonius, Alexander of Aegae, Apollonius of Tyana, Attalus, Bassus of Corinth, Chaeremon of Alexandria, Claudius Agathemerus, Cleopatra the Physician, Cluvius Rufus, Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, Didius Haterius Agrippa, Damis, Demetrius the Cynic, Demosthenes Philalethes, Domitius Afer, Epictetus, Fabius Rusticus, Favorinus, Gnaeus Domitius Afer, Justus of Tiberias, Pallas, Marcus Vinicius, Mamercus Aemilius Scaurus, Moderatus of Gades, Thrasea, Palaemon, Pamphile of Epidaurus, Pompeius Saturninus, Pomponius Secundus, Rubellius Plautus, Saleius Bassus, Scopelian, Scribonius, Sextus Afranius Burrus, Servilius Damocrates, Soteridas, Sotion, Statius the Elder, Aristo, Crito, Thrasyllus of Mendes, Tiberius Claudius Pasion, Tiberius Julius Alexander, Tiberius, Vardanes I, Lucius Verginius Rufus and Vindex. That leaves 74.

Aelius Theon is known only as the author of exercises for orators. Alcinous wrote a manuel of Platonic philosopher for teachers. Lesbonax died before Jesus, if he lived, was full grown. All of the several Lysimachus' died before Jesus would've been born, as did both Scribonius', father and son. Silius Italicus is known for a poem about the 2nd Punic war, Valerius Flaccus for Jason and the Argonauts. Flaccus is Valerius Flaccus. From Sulpicia, 2 lines of erotic verse survive. Soranus was a gynacologist. Archigenes, Arataeus, Pedanius, Celsus and Rufus were also physicians. Frontinus wrote one famous book about aqueducts and another about military strategy. Florus wrote an epitome of Livy. We're down to 57 names on Paulkovich's list. Only 2 funeral orations survive from Polemon. 4 books by Apollonius Dyscolus survive, 1 each on syntax, adjectives, conjunctions and pronouns.

Ptolomy is that extremely famous mathematician and astronomer whose authority on one point Copernicus overturned. Why does Paulkovich consider him to have been an historian? Your guess is as good as mine. Columella wrote on agriculture, Cornutus on Greek mythology, D Valerius Asiaticus wrote a letter to the police about a stolen pig, Erotianus wrote a book which leaves it unclear whether he was a physician who loved polished grammar or a grammarian who greatly admired Hippocrates. 50. That leaves 4 epigrammatists, 4 mathematicians, 2 more geographers, 9 people I've never heard of (Typos by Paulkovich?), and 31 more people who might have written a total of 5 pages between them about the entire history of Judea and Galilee, 5 pages which very suspiciously contain no mention of Jesus!

And many non-Christian writers before AD 300, Paulkovich's cut-off point, who do mention Jesus or Christians, who are not on his list.

As an atheist, I long for a much better class of atheists, atheists writing about history who are not historically illiterate.

Monday, September 29, 2014

An Open Letter To Michael Paulkovich And Free Inquiry

It seems that your article in Free Inquiry is open to subscribers only. But I can see the header on the Free Inquiry website:

If the story of Jesus were true, ancient writers should have commented on it—yet 126 (and counting) who might have done so, did not.

And I would just love to see a list of those 126 (or more) writers. You see, I've been studying ancient history and literature for a long, long time, and had been under the impression that the number was more like 0. You obviously have a huge brain and know many things which I do not. I've found some of the 126 on a website which quotes you as having said "in a recent interview,"

"Emperor Titus, Cassius Dio, Maximus, Moeragenes, Lucian, Soterichus Oasites, Euphrates, Marcus Aurelius, or Damis of Hierapolis. It seems none of these writers from first to third century ever heard of Jesus, global miracles and alleged worldwide fame be damned"

Great, I finally found the names of some of the 126 (or more) writers whose failure to mention Jesus is downright strange. Okay then, let's take a look at those 9:

Titus. Okay, good: Titus was actually in Judea, he led Roman troops against the Jewish uprising, which he successfully crushed in AD 70. Is it strange that we kind find no mention of Jesus in his writings? Well, no. Because, you see, none of Titus' writings are known to us. Which means that what's strange here -- in my humble opinion -- is that you're talking about examining his writings. Very strange. The primary sources of information about Titus are Josephus (who mentions Jesus), Tacitus (who mentions Christians), Suetonius (ditto), and the 2nd name someone claims you listed off in an interview,

Cassius Dio. Actually, I've almost heard him referred to as Dio Cassius, but why rag on that and imply that you got all this off the back of some cereal box? Let's just call him Dio for the sake of brevity. (And so that people who are familiar with his work, if any such are reading along, will know what we're talking about.) Dio writes a couple of lines about Titus and the Jewish War, in which he makes no mentions of any Jews alive at that time, let alone decades before during the supposed time of Jesus, or Pontius Pilate either. In fact the only near-contemporary mentions of Pilate known before the 20th century, when an inscription was found which seems to have been made by him, are in the New Testament, and the Jewish authors Josephus (mentions Jesus) and Philo, and Tecitus (mentions Christians). But yeah, it's strange that Dio doesn't mention this one particular Jewish preacher who had 12 whole followers.

Maximus. There's a 2nd-century Athenian philosopher named Maximus. Show me he had ever heard of Judea or Galilee, and then we can talk about why it would be strange for him not to have written about Jesus. The other people I've heard about named Maximus are even more ridiculous in this discussion. (Do you mean the general and gladiator Maximus, who killed Commodus? You know that Maximus is entirely fictional, right?)

Moeragenes. Never heard of him.

Lucian. Now here we have an ancient author from whom an unusually-large volume has survived. The closest any of his works come to Jerusalem or Nazareth is that Adversus Indoctum mocks a Syrian book-collector. What the fuck, Michael? (What the fuck, Free Inquiry? You don't have any fact-checkers?)

Soterichus Oasites. A Soterichus who lived around AD 300 wrote poems about Alexander the Great and Dionysus. Hm, yeah, very strange that he didn't toss any mention of Jesus into those.

Euphrates. That's a river, not a writer.

Marcus Aurelius. He was relatively friendly toward Jews. This may be the strongest straw you have to grasp at. (Why should the religious be the only ones who can grasp at straws and take rhetorical short-cuts?)

Damis of Hierapolis. A Damis was a pupil of Apollonius of Tyana. None of this Damis' work has survived, and none of this Apollonius' either, but Apollonius has sometimes been compared to Jesus so I can see how you got confused.

I'm not a Christian, I'm not picking on you for theological reasons. I'm an atheist, and I'm far from certain that Jesus existed, and I think it's shameful the way that the vast majority of mainstream Biblical scholars avoid any suggestion that there could ever be any reasonable doubt that Jesus existed, and I'm picking on you because I take history seriously, and I've read some ancient literature untranslated, and I don't go around talking out of my ass like you do, and it's embarrassing that some people think of me in the same breath as clowns like you, because of my doubts about whether Jesus existed and the way the academics treat the subject and therefore frame the discussion.

PS, 29. September, 3:50 PM: I found the list! Of all 126, or is it more by now? 3/4 of the way to the bottom of the linked page: The Silent Historians, he calls them. Stayed tuned, readers. This is gonna be fun.

The Sky May Actually Not Be Falling

In a piece for the New York Times, Jonathan Weisman fears that the House may lurch even further to the Right in November:

"In districts where generally mild-mannered Republicans are exiting, their likely replacements may [bla bla bla doom, gloom, conventional 'wisdom,' bla bla bla]"

Weisman gives no consideration to the possibility that people who voted for those relatively centrist Republicans will vote against the extremist yahoos who beat the incumbents in the primaries, or simply not vote.

And it seems that just about every single "pundit" in Washington assumes that Democratic turnout will be low. "Well, Democratic turnout is ALWAYS low in the mid-terms." Well, before 2009 an African-American had never been President. Before 2011 no-one who occupied a seat in Congress ever said some of the stupid things Tea Partiers say. (Maybe if you go back to the 1830's or so.) Things CHANGE. A lot of the people who voted Democratic in 2012 were first-time voters. It makes no sense to simply assume that they will tend to sit out the mid-terms as Democratic voters have in the past.

Nor does it make sense to assume that a significant number of Democratic voters who've sat out previous mid-terms have not noticed the Republican extremists and become alarmed and politicized.

I'll tell you one thing which has happened over and over in previous elections and could happen again in November: a great many Washington political "wizards" could be proven completely wrong. Remember all the "geniuses" who were convinced that the race between Obama and Romney would be close, and that the Republicans would make huge gains in both houses of Congress in 2012? (Just in case you didn't notice: in 2012 the Democrats gained 2 seats in the Senate and 8 in the House. And the election between Obama and Romney wasn't close. Just the same way that the Earth wasn't destroyed the way that a lot of idiots said that a Mayan calendar said it would be.)

Get out and vote Democrat, and send all these scary rightwing yahoos home.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Paul Simon: Still Music 9, Personality 2 (PS: The 2nd Guitarist's Name Is MARK STEWART!)

Like many other people, I'm sure, I'm wondering who that very talented musician was, playing guitar and singing backup vocals on "Here Comes The Sun" alongside that DICK Paul Simon on Conan last night. I'm wondering because Simon didn't say his name on the air. I was hoping that after the song Simon would point to him and say his name. Paul barely looked at him after the song, distracted as he was soaking up the crowd's applause with that Yes-you're correct-to-adore-me look on his face. He handed his guitar off to the other guy like he was handing it to an underappreciated roadie, and head to the dais, alone, to talk to Conan.



PS, 28. September 2014: His name is MARK STEWART! Many thanks to NORA GRIFFIN for commenting and providing Mark's name and a link to this Web page where you can read some info about Mark and see a picture of him taken WITH THE LIGHTS ON!

Conan mentioned that "Here Comes The Sun" is a wonderful song, and Paul replied, "Yeah, wish I'd written it, heh heh." The same way that early in 1976, accepting the Grammy for Best Album for

Still Crazy After All These Years, the first words out of his mouth were "I'd like to thank Stevie Wonder for not making an album last year and giving someone else a chance." Heh heh. Yes, how good that poor hardworking Paul Simon, who until then had only won 11 Grammies and sold tens if not hundreds of millions of records, was finally given a chance.

Maybe that musician on Conan last night now appreciates how Art Garfunkel felt:

partially obscured by Paul Simon.

Because it's not just as if Paul Simon acted as if he was the only one who'd just played "Here Comes The Sun." That was a dick move, but it wasn't all that unusual, unfortunately. Headliners very often diss talented backup musicians. The fact that the 2nd musician on stage wasn't even lit brightly enough that viewers could see his face and possibly recognize him, but rather was only a dim silhouette playing fantastic guitar and singing nice back-up vocals -- THAT took us into that very special and bizarre world, Paul Simon's world, where the rest of us are basically just using his oxygen and getting in his way.

(Somewhat like the world of billionairess Arianna Huffington, who, when it was pointed out that people who contribute articles to her website are unpaid, replied derisively that they're just plugging their books and that she was offering them free publicity, the ungrateful little worms. Well, Arianna, people who contribute to the New Yorker are also just plugging their books, and yet they still get paid, as do contributors to every single other publication or website which turns a profit of which I've ever heard, as well as some which lose money.)

When Still Crazy After All These Years was released -- great album, by the way -- Simon complained that "only a handful" of pop musicians were "doing anything good." Well, first of all, Paul, and most importantly, fuck you and your great big giant swelled head and ALL of your opinions, and secondly, did he at least mention any of the handful who had earned his mighty praise? No, cause ya see, it really wasn't about them, it was about how the world disappoints and betrays Paul Simon. (And he is, in fact, unfortunately STILL crazy. It's not cute, Paul! The self-centeredness and the egotism are not appealing! You want to see egotism, gaze in awe at Simon's official webiste ) In that same interview he gave Bob Dylan a partial pass, he acknowledged that Dylan was almost making good pop music: "[...]then I look at his lyrics and I realize he's valid."

He's VALID? Who talks like that? If classical-music critics do, then I'm glad I mostly ignore them and just listen to the actual classical music.

I'm done. Paul Simon is still a great musician, nobody can deny that.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tour de France / Death Race 2000

Idiotic spectators impeding the riders have always been a problem at the Tour de France. The attitude of these idiots generally seems to be: Look at me! Look at me! when naturally nobody is there to look at them, it's about the riders. In case this Look at me! - attitude might have been hard to perceive, many of these idiots make it more obvious by waving enormous flags in the riders' faces and/or by dressing up in grotesque costumes.

And of course by standing or running in the middle of the course during a bicycle race, which is what brought me here today. I'm not the first to suggest that these jokers should be kept from the race course. These days the final 2 kilometers or so of each stage tend to feature barricades on both sides of the course -- but the idiots lean way over the barricades into the paths of the riders, and still wave those huge flags in the riders' faces, and sometimes go over or around the barricades and into the race course. You really need 2 rows of barricades, far enough apart that it's impossible to reach the mightiest giant flag over the outer barricade, and then over the inner barricade, and into the face of someone working very hard at something he has trained very hard his whole life to do, and is doing it for great stakes and, sorry, you idiot, doesn't want to look at you or your flag or your costume right now.

Having stay-off-the-course-you-idiots laws, and enforcing them strictly, also might improve race conditions, but they would also cause a huge uproar. Idiots would rise up in indignant solidarity. French idiots would claim that the standing-or-running-in-the-middle-of-the-course-thing is a French thing which I do not understand because I'm a crude fat American pig who only loves cheeseburgers, and that it has to do with freedom and the Bastille and that the riders love it.

I'm sure that most French people are not idiots and are embarrassed by the idiots impeding the Tour de France riders, and doubly so by the French idiots who impede riders and claim it is a French thing. And of course it is by no means a French thing: idiots flock to the Tour de France from all over the world in order to get in the way and force people to look at them. (Maybe idiots, generally speaking, feel neglected and ignored. Hm.)

And this year, I gather, a bad situation has become worse because of fans leaping into the course in order to take selfies with the riders.

I don't think that selfies are entirely useless. I believe that, just like leisure suits beginning in the 1970's and mullets in the 80's, selfies will aid future historians in determining who the real idiots of our era were.

But in the meantime riders have been colliding with fans in the Tour de France since its inception, and the collisions have grown in numbers over the decades, and now there's these Tour de France selfies, and so, with apologies to those future historians, I propose that the Tour de France be combined with aspects of Death Race 2000,

a 1975 Roger Croman movie starring David Carradine and Mary Woronov, about a cross-country auto race in which the drivers are awarded points for hitting pedestrians. Not to be confused with 2008's Death Race

with Jason Statham and Joan Allen, not a bad movie, but significantly different than the original in that its race is held inside a prison, and the deaths are those of the racers as they destroy each other for the delight of a sadistic pay-per-view audience and the profit of Allen, the yummy, evil warden. I'm inspired here by the pedestrian kills of the 1975 flick. In this improved version of the Tour de France, riders would be awarded points for colliding with fans. These points would amount to time being subtracted from their Tour totals, bringing them closer to victory. So and so many points would be awarded for striking a fan, so many for seriously injuring a fan, so many for killing one outright, so many for striking a fan waving an enormous fan, so many for one in costume, so many for one attempting to take a selfie and so forth, you get the idea.

I submit that these rule changes would greatly alter the nature of the Tour. It's also possible -- very unlikely, of course, but possible -- that they would cause some idiots somewhere to stop and think about who they are and what they do. And wouldn't that be a miracle.