My Supposed Anti-Catholicism, Again

 

A group of Oxford undergraduates gathered for high tea in their traditional academic robes?

 

Owing to two recent posts on this blog — here and then, subsequently, here — I’ve been accused (both in the comments following those entries and, much more vigorously, elsewhere) of being “anti-Catholic.”

 

My crime?  I quoted a passage from the nineteenth-century Oxford scholar Edwin Hatch that contrasted the manifestly Hellenistic-philosophical coloration of the Nicene Creed with the (to me and to him) plainly much less Hellenistic-philosophical content of the Sermon on the Mount.  And, in the two sentences or so of my own that I appended to the quoted passage, I seemed to approve of what Professor Hatch had written.

 

I was, frankly, astonished to be labeled an “anti-Catholic” on this very flimsy basis — though I was entirely unsurprised when I saw certain others enthusiastically echoing and amplifying the charge at a place where I’m regularly described as a racist, a liar, a homophobe, a slanderer, a ticking time bomb, a religious bigot, a voyeur, a fascist, and an anti-Semite.  After all, as Mrs. Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  Neither Professor Hatch’s comment nor my brief subsequent remarks had even mentioned Catholicism, and, anyhow, the Nicene Creed was just as highly venerated in Professor Hatch’s Anglican communion as it was in Roman Catholicism.  So why in the world, I wondered, did his comment, and my use of it, somehow become specifically “anti-Catholic”?

 

Apparently, simply opining that Christianity as a whole became more Hellenized between the first half of the first century and the first half of the fourth is somehow “anti-Catholic.”  At a minimum, according to the saner and more cogent comments of two or three critics on this blog, it’s ignorant and out of fashion and academically inept and ideologically suspect and I should be embarrassed.  Jesus himself was quite Hellenized, it seems, as was just about everybody in Palestine, including and perhaps especially the original Jewish Christian converts.

 

So I was relieved today, while leafing idly through the latest issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, to see an advertisement for the new “Antioch Bible,”  a multivolume English translation from the Syriac Peshitta.

 

Syriac, you will recall, is essentially the Christian form of Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus and the first Christian disciples spoke.  Thus, there’s some legitimate reason to hope that, in studying the Syriac Bible and early Syriac Christianity, one might be able to get as close as possible, at least in certain respects, to the Christianity taught by the Savior himself and professed by his earliest followers.

 

The advertisement features an endorsement from Sebastian Brock, of the University of Oxford, who is, by widespread general consent, the foremost authority on Syriac Christianity in the English-speaking world.  (I’ve had a tiny bit of oblique contact with Dr. Brock myself, as evidenced by this book, and I can testify from personal experience that his name is a potent talisman when negotiating for access to Syriac manuscripts at the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome.)  Here is what Dr. Brock has to say:

 

“[East Syriac Christianity] offers us a largely unhellenized form of Christianity that is deeply Biblical in character and quite different from the Christianity of the Greek- and Latin-speaking world of the Mediterranean littoral.”

 

Now, how to take that?  Since, according to my critics, Jesus and the first disciples were heavily Hellenized, Sebastian Brock may believe that the Syriac form of Christianity somehow apostatized by abandoning all or most of the faith’s original Greek-philosophical elements while, by contrast,  those original Hellenistic concepts were faithfully retained at the Council of Nicaea.

 

Or perhaps Sebastian Brock is just an ignorant anti-Catholic hack like me and Edwin Hatch?  (In that case, what on earth was the prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library thinking?)

 

Maybe it’s an Oxford thing.

 

Perhaps I’ll find out next month.  I’m going to be going through Oxford two or three times in July, including a little fireside with the Latter-day Saint students there.  Perhaps anti-Catholic bigotry is so pervasive in Oxford that I’ll fit right in!

 

 

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  • Stephen Smoot

    Of course Jesus was an über-Hellenized, Platonic philosopher.

    That’s why he gave such detailed discourses on how his nature with the Father is “homoousios”, as opposed to “homoiousios”.

    Any Sunday School reader of the Bible knows that.

    Get with the program Dr. P!

    • DanielPeterson

      “Blessed are the Athanasians,” said Jesus in the final and most important beatitude (as recorded in Matthew 5:49), “for they neither confuse the persons nor divide the substance of the homoousian Trinity.”

      • Stephen Smoot

        More blatant anti-Catholic jokes from the bigot Dan Peterson. Will it never end!?

        (I also find it highly ironic that the message board currently defaming you is outraged over your alleged anti-Catholicism, but in turn seems to have no problem posting the most blatantly anti-Mormon schlock currently found on the Internet. You gotta love it.)

        • DanielPeterson

          Starts with an “h.” Ends in “y.”

          Hint: It’s not “honesty.”

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

    Dan, I am very sorry that you seem to have massively misunderstood and persist in mischaracterizing my arguments.

    In any case, your claim here only further reveals your failure to understand early Christianity, and I am afraid you have begun to embarrass yourself.

    “Thus, there’s some legitimate reason to hope that, in studying the Syriac Bible and early Syriac Christianity, one might be able to get as close as possible, at least in certain respects, to the Christianity taught by the Savior himself and professed by his earliest followers.”

    The advertised volume in question is an English translation of a the Syriac Peshitta, which is a translation of the Hebrew Bible (and even the LXX) and Greek New Testaments in the late second and early third centuries, at the very earliest. That is to say, they appear at best 100+ years after the writing of the NT in Greek, and far longer than that after Jesus’s death.

    The translation itself, and Syriac Christianity, flourished largely outside of the Roman empire, which would perhaps account for Brock’s assessment, but this says nothing about the period or even region we were discussing in the previous threads. Brock’s (brief) statement about Syriac Christianity is both highly contestable in the form in which it appears (what does he mean by Hellenized and what does he mean by “Biblical”?), but also is not at all a claim about Jesus or first century Judaism in Palestine. Instead, he is talking about texts mostly from 4th-7th century Christians who are living outside of Roman and Byzantine control.

    There is, unfortunately, no legitimate reason for your hope, and pinning your argument on a quotation from an advertisement is a lapse in judgment.

    • Darren

      “Dan, I am very sorry that you seem to have massively misunderstood and persist in mischaracterizing my arguments.

      In any case, your claim here only further reveals your failure to understand early Christianity, and I am afraid you have begun to embarrass yourself.”

      What did Jesus teach that was Hellenized? By that I mean had a Hellenistic origin?

      • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

        “What did Jesus teach that was Hellenized? By that I mean had a Hellenistic origin?”

        The question itself has problems by assuming there is a clearly identifiable “origin” to certain ideas, not to mention the problem of knowing what Jesus actually taught (I prefer to stick to how his disciples portrayed him), but I get your gist. In any case, here are a few ideas that scholars see arising in Second Temple Palestinian Judaism during the Hellenistic period that Jesus also taught:

        Personal eschatology, individual piety, ethics, the use of the synagogue, prayer outside the temple, rules for traveling disciples, among many, many others.

        The Athens vs. Jerusalem, Hellenism vs. true Christianity dichotomy no longer works. That doesn’t mean there were no differences between different classes, cultures, and regions, only that the kind of stark dichotomy Hatch puts forth is not really tenable. Instead, we need a much more nuanced attention to the complexities of culture in this period, and 19th century frameworks do not offer that to us. That is all I have been trying to say.

        • Lucy Mcgee

          What I’ve always found interesting is that without the tragic destruction of Jerusalem, Rome might never have taken its place within the story of Western Christianity. Christianity could have just as easily spread strongly east to become the religion of Baghdad rather than Rome.

          It is odd that Rome, now the center of the largest branch of the Christian faith, is the capital of the empire which killed Jesus.

        • Darren

          “Personal eschatology, individual piety, ethics, the use of the synagogue, prayer outside the temple, rules for traveling disciples, among many, many others.”

          The only thing I am familiar with on a scholarly level which involves any warping Judaic eschatology of the Second Temple Period is from Margaret Barker who argues that Elohim and YHWH were conflated from two beings into one. But she further argues that Christians understood Christ teachings as He being YHWH and the father being Elohim. That the first century Jews who accepted Christ as YHWH are those who believed in the First Temple worship traditions and I also believe she argued that they realized that Jesus’ teachings were restoring temple worship as they should be. I’ve no idea how Jesus’ teachings, nor those of His Apostles were of Greek Hellenistic origins. This includes everything in your list beyond eschatology, which, as noted, was not Hellenized by Jesus nor the Apostles.

          • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

            Darren, it is fine that you don’t know that much about the ancient world. It is not a requirement. Barker is not particularly interested in the question we are discussing, and in any case offers some rather idiosyncratic theories on ancient Judaism. I am not going to explain all of these terms to your right now, but I have tried to explain some of what some of the contemporary treatment of the Sermon on the Mount and Hellenism (admittedly all too briefly) here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2013/06/hellenism-and-the-sermon-on-the-mount/

          • DanielPeterson

            Incidentally, I’ve read through your blog entry. I have no problem with anything you say there.

            The flurry here was much ado about nothing.

          • Darren

            I do appreciate you linking to your Patheos blog post regarding the Sermon on the Mount and Hellenization of ancient Palestinian doctrines. On your post you typed the following:

            “The sayings on anxiety (Matt 6:25-34) belong to a broad concern in Hellenistic-era literature with the topic. In pre-Hellenistic Israelite literature, there is no concept of anxiety. Hellenistic texts often reflected on providence in relationship to this problem of the human condition. In Hellenistic Jewish and non-Jewish texts on anxiety, the themes and responses are similar.”

            If I’m not mistaken, your proposition is that during the Second Temple, post exilic Judaism, Hellenism was adopted into Judaic religious teachings and continued into Christianity. Like others here, I’ve no doubt there was an influence but I do disagree its influence was as widespread as you say.

            With that said, Mathew 6:25 speaks of the Greek anxiety in that believers are to cast all their worries upon The Lord who will provide all their needs. You say that in pre-Hellenistic Israel there was no ‘concept of anxiety’. My question is if the Mathew concept of anxiety is not similar to YHWH providing manna from heaven during the Jewish exile from Egypt? And if you can kindly refrain from your condescending tone of “it’s fine that you don’t know much (which is similar to “you don’t know what you’re talking about”) in this dialogue, I’d truly appreciate it. Thank you in advance.

          • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

            Darren, I appreciate the sincere question, but you have not been a particularly pleasant conversation partner to me, and your attempts to contradict or talk down to me about things which you seem to know little about has not warranted me taking you seriously. In any case, I apologize for me remarks and hope that we can have a productive exchange. Since we are talking about my post, which at this point is a threadjack, would you mind posing your question there?

          • Darren

            My main concern is with this thread, not a write up you made regarding this thread. Did you not provide your link at least in part to answer my question about what ancient Palestinian doctrines were taught by Jesus that were Hellenistic in origin? I’m fine with moving the focus from Jesus to his Apostles and by doing so you wrote a post on your own Patheos website in direct response to the general thread by Daniel Peterson regarding Peterson’s usage of the Sermon on the Mount to demonstrate the non-Hellenistic nature of Israelite / Christian doctrine. The first thing which came from your keyboard was that Peterson’s citation came from an anti-Catholic bigot of sorts and as I recall you went so far as to imply that Peterson had lowered his integrity by citing such a person. “And why exactly is the former president of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology reproducing and endorsing this kind of stuff?” ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2013/06/what-has-athens-to-do-with-jerusalem.html#comment-928299000)

            From there we’ve walked through a couple of threads and ended up here. Since my question has very much to do with this thread I’d prefer it stays here and if you can answer it here, I’d appreciate it. If you don’t that’s your choice and frankly fine by me. It won’t necessarily be ” the end of it” with me but it’s up to you to choose ho to best proceed.

          • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

            I have no interest in interacting with you anymore. If you have disagreements with my argument, take it up with Dan, who agrees with me. All the best.

          • Darren

            I don’t necessarily disagree witj you but it does seem that the Lord providing manna from heaven is of the same concept of casting one’s worries and concerns upon the Lord who will provide for tjeir needs. I’d love you insight on the matter but if you don’t impart any than that’s your choice.

            Take care, TT.

    • DanielPeterson

      I’m afraid, TT, that YOU’RE the one who hasn’t understood MY position.

      I already knew the facts that you share in your post above, and they have no bearing whatever on my position.

      • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

        Simply asserting I have misunderstood your claim that non-Hellenized Syriac Christianity from the 3rd c. and later offers us evidence into what Jesus really thought does not make it so.

    • Anyotheruser

      “Brock’s (brief) statement about Syriac Christianity is both highly contestable in the form in which it appears (what does he mean by Hellenized and what does he mean by “Biblical”?)”

      Contestable, perhaps, but a mainstream position in biblical studies, which rather undermines the efforts of some commentators who appear to claim that there is some sort of overwhelming consensus (when there is nothing near such) on the influence of hellenistic philosophy on the teachings of Jesus & the New Testament.

      • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

        Anyotheruser, I am sorry, but if you think that Brock is talking about the NT, he is not.

        • Anyotheruser

          I know Brock is not speaking directly of the NT – but It would be difficult indeed for Syriac Christianity to be as “a largely unhellenized form of Christianity that is deeply Biblical in character and quite different from the Christianity of the Greek- and Latin-speaking world of the Mediterranean littoral” if the NT were as deeply hellenistic as some (particularly in the comments on the posts here) have claimed, particularly when they try and represent that as some sort of universal consensus which doesn’t actually exist.

          • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

            “I know Brock is not speaking directly of the NT”

            Then why did you say his quote has anything to do with the question of Jesus and the NT, let alone a “mainstream” view about the NT?

            I suppose that the claim that East Syriac Christians of the 4th-7th centuries were Hellenized would be the case if our standard for being Hellenized were anyone who uses the NT. Not knowing exactly what period or texts Brock is speaking of makes it difficult to know how he is using the terms. In any case, East Syriac Christianity is quite far removed from the NT context (which is, you may recall, what we are discussing). Given that Peterson draws conclusions about 1st c. Palestine from a different language, different time, and different region, I object to his argument that Brock offers evidence about the question of Hellenistic contexts related to the NT. I am not sure this decontextualized and undefined quotation in an ad has anything at all to offer this discussion.

            I would also say that Brock’s quote is contestable insofar as major Syriac authors like Ephrem, Jacob of Nisibis (who was at Nicaea!), and Aphraates, let alone earlier figures like Tatian are pretty clearly in direct conversation with Hellenistic culture and philosophy. We need not mention the flourishing of Nestorianism and Monophystisim in the East to also suggest that the Syriac/Hellenism divide is also pretty weak. But again, not knowing exactly how Brock is using his terms or what texts and figures he is referring to makes it difficult to decipher.

          • Anyotheruser

            “Then why did you say his quote has anything to do with the question of Jesus and the NT, let alone a “mainstream” view about the NT?”

            Because the very notion of an “unhellenized” (not dehellenized, for want of a better term) certainly implies that there was a process of hellenization (or deeper hellenization, if one prefers) that Christianity went through after its origin. That directly contradicts the claims some were making relative to early Christianity in earlier posts, and especially the notion that there is a particular universal consensus on the issue. That relates to other claims such as those relative to the Gospel of John too.

            “East Syriac Christianity is quite far removed from the NT context (which is, you may recall, what we are discussing).”

            Syriac Christianity (since when did this get limited to *East* Syriac Christianity?) is arguably nearer in language and region to Jesus and the early disciples, given the common belief that they spoke in Palestinian Aramaic (a different dialect, but *not* a different language). One could perhaps go Bultmann, and argue that the NT writings don’t reflect that context but rather a Hellenistic Christianity, but that’s a different argument and one I think is very flawed (reference again to the rediscovered Jewishness of things like John). Nor is Dan Peterson alone in claiming that understanding early Syriac Christianity can aid in understanding early Christianity – since the publishers of said translation (from an academic press), make the same sorts of claims: “This sociolinguistic connection with the Semitic world gives new insights into the words of the Bible (see the Matthew example below) currently undisclosed by Western languages.” http://www.gorgiaspress.com/bookshop/t-antiochbible.aspx . This certainly undermines the notion that this is some sort of psuedo-scholarly fringe opinion (as in your comment suggesting that this post be deleted!)

            “I would also say that Brock’s quote is contestable”

            I didn’t say otherwise. What I was arguing against was the notion that it represented some sort of fringe freak opinion, unspeakable in academia.

            “But again, not knowing exactly how Brock is using his terms or what texts and figures he is referring to makes it difficult to decipher.”

            That’s true for the most part. But it does seem difficult to square with some of the blancket assertions as regards to Hellenism and early Christianity that some have advanced.

          • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

            “Because the very notion of an “unhellenized” (not dehellenized, for want of a better term) certainly implies that there was a process of hellenization (or deeper hellenization, if one prefers) that Christianity went through after its origin.”

            No, it does not. Brock is not making any claim whatsoever to the “origins” of Christianity, but rather a late development of Christianity in territories and languages a century and a half or more after the “origins” of Christianity. He is making a statement about a particular kind of Christianity in a particular kind of place, nothing more.

            “since when did this get limited to *East* Syriac Christianity?”

            Since that is what the Brock quote provided by Peterson says.

            “arguably nearer in language and region to Jesus and the early disciples, given the common belief that they spoke in Palestinian Aramaic (a different dialect, but *not* a different language).”

            This is only an “arguable” point if you have no idea what you are talking about.

            Okay, with some sleuthing on google scholar I have been able to find the full context of the Brock quote that Peterson provides. It offers a much more limited claim. Here is the full quote:

            “The earilest major authors we know, Aphrahat and Ephrem, both of the fourth century, are little affected by Greek culture, and offer us a largely unhellenized form of Christianity that is deeply Biblical in character and quite different from the Christianity of the Greek- and Latin-speaking world of the Mediterranean littoral. From the fifth to the seventh centuries, however, Syriac-speaking Christianity underwent a process of ever increasing Hellenization, with the result that no subsequent writers entirely escape from the influence of Greek culture in some form or another.”

            First, it is clear that Brock is making a very limited claim about two particular 4th c. Syrian Christians, not anything at all about any period before that, let alone Jesus. He does suggest that this material may be of use to learn more about “primitive Christianity,” but offers no evidence of what this would look like. Unsurprisingly, Syriac scholars have not made any convincing claims that 4th c. translations of Greek texts into Syriac and Syriac Christians offer some unobstructed window into Jesus.

            Second, it is still not entirely clear what Brock means when he says that Ephrem and Aphraate are “unhellenized.” Certainly, he does not mean that these authors do not engage in Greek philosophy (Ephrem most certainly does). Nor, could he mean that these authors reject Nicaea (Ephrem’s teacher was a signatory to Nicaea). Aphraate the Persian is admittedly less explicitly philosophical, but this hardly tells us much about Jesus, or even Jesus’s region. Nevertheless, Aphraate is working with Logos theology and explicitly working on similar kinds of Christological issues that other 4th c. Christians are dealing with. Further, he is closely interpreting Paul and the Gospels, which are both certainly Hellenistic texts. The very genre of commentary and homily are Hellenistic. Brock must have a much more limited claim in mind than saying there was some absolute division between Greek and Syriac culture, and certainly cannot be making a claim about direct access to a pre-Hellenistic original Christianity.

          • Anyotheruser

            “”since when did this get limited to *East* Syriac Christianity?”

            Since that is what the Brock quote provided by Peterson says.”

            The link I referenced says “[early Syriac Christianity]” As it turns out, the two names in the full quote are representatives from both Western and Eastern Syriac Christianity – I presume the confusion comes from East being applied to all Syriac Christianity.

            “This is only an “arguable” point if you have no idea what you are talking about.”

            Are you arguing against Palestinian Aramaic being the language of the early disciples? Or that Syriac is not a close relative (closer than Greek), and that examination of Syriac sources including Old Syriac biblical texts can reveal interesting possibilities re: the Gospels (as claimed by Georgias Press).

            “Unsurprisingly, Syriac scholars have not made any convincing claims that 4th c. translations of Greek texts into Syriac and Syriac Christians offer some unobstructed window into Jesus.”

            “Brock must have a much more limited claim in mind than saying there was some absolute division between Greek and Syriac culture, and certainly cannot be making a claim about direct access to a pre-Hellenistic original Christianity.”

            I don’t recall claiming that Syriac offers an unobstructed window into Jesus, or that there was an absolute division between Syriac and Greek culture either. The argument was entirely about degrees, in the same way that Milton Friedman undoubtedly existed in a world shaped by Marxist ideas and engaged with them, but can’t automatically be called a Marxist as a result. But if you’re not getting hung up on the subject of degrees, I’m left wondering what the whole discussion was actually about.

          • DanielPeterson

            Anyotheruser: “if you’re not getting hung up on the subject of degrees, I’m left wondering what the whole discussion was actually about.”

            Thank you!

          • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

            Perhaps I should clarify a few things.

            “if you’re not getting hung up on the subject of degrees, I’m left wondering what the whole discussion was actually about.”

            What I mean to say is that “degrees” is a rather silly way to measure cultural influence. It assumes two things. First, that there is some set of pure “Greek,” or “Jewish,” or “Christian” features that are identifiable essences. This is the very thing I have been arguing against, and fails to account for Hellenism as a diverse phenomenon.

            Second, it assumes that we can somehow measure “Hellenism” and quantify it. A degree is a unit of measurement, and I am not sure that one can measure culture in units. (It is a bit like trying to quantify how British America is.) Rather, I prefer to think in terms of cultural hybridity, negotiation, creativity another other frameworks that have come to replace older, static notions of culture. Such an approach moves away from seeking to quantify how much or how little Hellenism one detects, to instead seeing how cultures interact. I suspect that Peterson would probably agree with this framing.

            When I say I am not going to get hung up on it, I mean I am not going to nitpick now about the impoverished framework that Peterson offers, and instead take my small victory of Peterson conceding that the absolute distinction that Hatch draws between true Christianity and Hellenism, Athens and Jerusalem, is wrong. I don’t particularly agree with how he comes to that conclusion via the route of “degrees,” but as I say I am not going to get hung up on that.

          • DanielPeterson

            I presume neither of those two silly things, and need neither of them for my position to make sense.

  • Darren

    “Owing to two recent posts on this blog — here and then, subsequently, here — I’ve been accused (both in the comments following those entries and, much more vigorously, elsewhere) of being “anti-Catholic.”

    My crime? I quoted a passage from the nineteenth-century Oxford scholar Edwin Hatch that contrasted the manifestly Hellenistic-philosophical coloration of the Nicene Creed with the (to me and to him) plainly much less Hellenistic-philosophical content of the Sermon on the Mount. And, in the two sentences or so of my own that I appended to the quoted passage, I seemed to approve of what Professor Hatch had written.”

    I’m glad you are taking the stupidity of labeling you “anti-Catholic in stride. Trailer Trash (“TT” below) and all the others who call you such simply want to shut you up. It’s a classic liberal reaction: call your opponents racist, hater, bigot, or whatever demeaning words of social sensitivity they can think of. The goal is to shut up the opponent, not engage him. I’m glad you harnessed what they throw at you and speak louder about it precisely the reaction needed to prevent the. From “winning”.

    • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

      Darren, if you think two follow up posts about a non-existent accusation that Dan is “anti-Catholic” from me (or any other imaginary name calling from me) constitutes taking something “in stride,” I think you do not understand the meaning of the term. Speaking louder is certainly something Dan is doing, and no one expects to shut him up. Rather, my only interest is in the frameworks we offer for thinking about early Christianity. Hatch’s is not a good one.

      • DanielPeterson

        There were accusations on this blog that Hatch was an anti-Catholic and that my use of Hatch was anti-Catholic. Whether they specifically came from TT (aka Trailer Trash) or not is of no particular interest to me; I never specifically charged TT (formerly Trailer Trash) with the accusation.

        In any event, the accusation was being made much more vociferously elsewhere, though I notice that, within the past few hours, the title of one thread dedicated to assaulting me for this latest crime of mine has been silently changed. It no longer refers to my “anti-Catholic post” (a scurrilous and dishonest description) but, instead, to my “anti-Trinitarian post.” (“Well,” as used to be said “DUH.” Is anybody who knows anything about Mormonism actually shocked that I’ve been outed as not being a mainstream Nicene Trinitarian?) I was, frankly, surprised by this baby step in the direction of integrity. Knowing the place all too well, though, I’m sadly confident that it will pass.

      • Darren

        You meant precisely that: Dan’s an anti-Catholic for using an anti-Catholic theologian’s words. Dan made no anti-Catholic comment but since his citation of Edwin Hatch was made, and Edwin Hatch was, according to your words, anti-Catholic, Dan Peterson is anti-Catholic. Your approach to labeling Peterson follows a line of guilt by association. You structured your accusation as to not make it directly but it was definitely done to connotate anti-Catholicism coming from Dan.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

    Dan, I know that this is a relatively obscure post, but it strikes me that your misstatement that Syriac Christianity offers us evidence about the historical Jesus and 1st century Christianity may put you in jeopardy with genuine Syriac scholars you may want to work with for METI. It seems that such a misstatement may negatively affect those Syriac scholars under your employ by stigmatizing METI. If you want to delete this post, I won’t hold it against you. Preserving the good work you’ve done with METI seems more important that a silly internet argument that resulted in a scholarly misstep here.

    • DanielPeterson

      Your solicitude is appreciated, but misguided.

      I don’t back away from what I actually claimed, but what I claimed isn’t what you and several others have claimed that I claimed.

      I’m as careful as anybody about the proposition that later (Eastern) Syriac Christianity provides us a glimpse of the historical Jesus and first-century Christianity — both for historical reasons (it’s late, it’s geographically remote, nothing human remains unchanged, etc.) and for specifically Mormon dogmatic ones (to the extent that my faith is correct and authentic to the teachings of Jesus, those elements of Eastern Syriac Christianity that disagree with my faith cannot be). Since I’m committed to the idea of an apostasy, I’m unlikely to see Eastern Syriac Christianity (or any other post-apostolic form of Christianity) as identical with the original Jesus Movement, simpliciter.

      You seem to me to have oversimplified and caricatured my position. On one level, of course, that’s not your fault. My original post, which first drew your attention, featured the quotation from Hatch and then — what? — perhaps two sentences from me. Not exactly a subtly nuanced academic treatise. On the other hand, it’s very much your fault, because you attributed things to me, and continue to attribute things to me, that I’ve never said and don’t believe.

      I’ve never said, for example, that first-century Palestine was hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world. I’m well aware of Alexander’s conquests. I’m fully aware of the fact that they extended far beyond the coast of the eastern Mediterranean and that they permanently marked not only the eastern Mediterranean basin but a great deal of territory even further eastward. I know about the Bamiyan Buddhas all the way out in Afghanistan, done in the Greco-Buddhist Gandhara style. I’m aware of the fact that the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids was provoked by Hellenistic Seleucid innovations connected with, among other things, the gymnasium. I know quite a bit about the Septuagint — I have two copies of it sitting on the shelf not more than four or five feet from me right now — and I realize that New Testament authors (notably Paul) used it rather than the Hebrew Bible. And so on and so forth.

      Still, along the spectrum of modes of influence, between zero impact and identity, there are surely an almost infinite number of intermediate positions, including incidental borrowings and, yes, resistance. (The Red Sox, playing against the Yankees, are influenced by the Yankees at every point. But they remain quite distinct.) Thus, for example, it may well be that the Qur’anic Arabic term “siraat” (in “al-siraat al-mustaqiim,” “the straight path”) reflects at least indirect awareness of the system of Roman roads and derives from the Latin “via strata” or “paved road.” The seventh-century Arabian Peninsula didn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. But it would be foolish to leap from that fact to the conclusion that the Qur’an is a Hellenized Greco-Roman text, that Muhammad was a Hellenized thinker of late antiquity, or that early seventh-century Mecca participated in anything like the same general culture as contemporary Athens or Alexandria.

      You seem to me, frankly, to be — in the words of one typically Hellenistic thinker (Seneca, perhaps, or Cicero? Epicurus?) — “straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel.”

      Edwin Hatch’s simple point that there is a very obvious difference between the Sermon on the Mount and the Nicene Creed seems to me beyond reasonable dispute. It’s pretty much the same distinction that one can see between, say, the Qur’an and al-Farabi’s “al-Madina al-Fadila.” They’re related, obviously. The latter grows out of the former. But not solely out of the former. Greek philosophy of a very recognizable kind (in this case, Neoplatonism) has entered into al-Farabi, but was scarcely in evidence in the Qur’an.

      My little citation of Sebastian Brock was intended to make what I still regard as an obvious point that is beyond reasonable dispute: The Sermon on the Mount was not influenced by Greek philosophy in anything like the way the Nicene Creed was.

      You, or somebody, alluded to John Dominic Crossan’s proposal of Jesus as an ethical sage in the broad tradition of the Cynics. I’m not alone in being unconvinced by the idea. I lean, rather, to the position advanced by the very recently deceased Geza Vermes, author of, among very many other things, “Jesus the Jew.” A nice little book on Jesus’ cultural background as a Torah-observant Jew (and a non-Cynic) is Craig Evans’s recent “Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence.”

      Dr. Brock sees a form of Syriac Christianity as largely un-Hellenized. My question is how, in your view, such an un-Hellenized form of Christianity came to exist. My reading of the situation faces little if any difficulty from Dr. Brock’s apparent position. As I see it, a quite un-Hellenic Christianity spread both east and west from Palestine. Over time, it was altered by its new environments. In the Mediterranean basin, one of the chief ambient elements was Hellenistic thought, and the influence of such thought soon becomes pronounced in such thinkers as Justin Martyr and (much more prominently) in Origen and Clement and (to take it to the extreme) Pseudo-Dionysius and even Synesius of Cyrene. Going the other direction, though, Christianity heads into an area that hadn’t been Hellenized in the same way, and, although it too morphs, eastern Christianity morphs in a different manner. It remains relatively unaffected by Hellenism, simply because Hellenism, while it had washed over the area (remember the Bamiyan Buddhas and the Gandhara style), hadn’t penetrated it to the same extent. (Thanks, to Alexander, Greek was spoken in the major cities like Alexandria and Antioch, but it hadn’t permeated the hinterlands, which continue to speak Syriac and Coptic and Middle Persian — and to write in those languages and to read them — until well beyond the Arab conquest in the mid-600s and later.)

      Your apparent insistence that Christianity was equally Hellenized in the first century and the fourth century, and that that Hellenism ineradicably appears in its canonical texts (e.g., in the Sermon on the Mount), seems to me difficult to reconcile with Brock’s claim. It appears to require you to explain how Brock’s later Eastern Syriac Christianity lost that native-Christian Hellenism to some considerable extent if not entirely, and became un-Hellenized. Or you must insist that Brock is wrong.

      Alternatively, if you acknowledge that the degree of Hellenization differs between the Sermon on the Mount and the Nicene Creed, you’ve just conceded my point.

      Which, in my view, would be very wise, since it seems incontrovertible.

      • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

        “if you acknowledge that the degree of Hellenization differs between the Sermon on the Mount and the Nicene Creed, you’ve just conceded my point.”

        I am not going to get hung up on the question of “degrees” as if there were some quantifiability here. Basically, since this is the point that has never been in dispute (I conceded it long ago), I have no problem with conceding it again.

        The question has always been about what one concludes from this difference. After all, the Nicene Creed is different from lots of other early Christian teachings, and the Sermon on the Mount is different from lots of early Christian teachings (it says nothing about the atonement, resurrection, etc). The difference between two things is simply a fact. What is important is the interpretation of the difference, and this is where I have focused my concern.

        The contrast between the two is ultimately entirely arbitrary, as it the pointing out of their differences. Paul disagrees with John who disagrees with James, etc. The Jesus of Mark is different from the Jesus of John. So what? The question is what conclusions does one draw from these differences. As you posed the question, I objected to the framework that Hatch offers for this arbitrary contrasting: Does Athens have anything to do with Jerusalem? Does Hellenism (including Hellenistic philosophical ethics) inform Jesus, even in the Sermon on the Mount?

        If one follows Hatch, the answer to these questions is no. I object to Hatch’s interpretation on this point.

        If one follows the newly nuanced Peterson, the answer is yes. In which case, you have just conceded my point.

        I am glad that we can agree on this fundamental issue and I appreciate your sincere engagement on the question. The rest is getting lost down the rabbit hole.

        • DanielPeterson

          TT: “I am not going to get hung up on the question of ‘degrees.’”

          But that is, and always was, precisely my point.

          • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/ TT

            Whatever you think the antecedent to “that” is (I am really at a loss), is not really my concern anymore. The past is the past. We have eeked out a basic point of agreement that Hatch’s framework for interpreting the meaning of the difference between the SoM and Nicaea requires a greater degree of nuance than “Athens vs. Jerusalem.” I am fine with that minimal agreement. Again, thank you.

          • DanielPeterson

            Those two sentences should, I realize, have featured hundreds of words of nuancing.

  • Jeffrey Thayne

    Dr. Peterson,

    If you are anti-Catholic for quoting Edwin Hatch and describing the influence of Greek philosophy on early Christianity, then so is Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who did that precise thing (in General Conference, no less). He quoted Edwin Hatch, and a number of other scholars, and argued that it was attempts to reconcile Christian doctrine with prevailing tenets of Greek philosophy that contributed to the loss of many plain and precious truths of the Gospel. Here’s the link: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1993/10/from-the-beginning?lang=eng

    Elder Dallin H. Oaks also did the same thing:

    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1995/04/apostasy-and-restoration?lang=eng

    • DanielPeterson

      And, shockingly, I’m a believing Latter-day Saint who agrees with Elders Maxwell and Oaks. Something, apparently, that I’ve tried to conceal heretofore on this blog.

      Thank you for supplying these two links.

    • Walter Davis

      I don’t recall that Elder Maxwell was a historian of early Christianity. It is possible that he was simply mistaken. I don’t think the fact that he was an apostle sanctifies historical errors.

      • DanielPeterson

        Nor do I. Happily, though, these weren’t historical errors.

        • Walter Davis

          So they were assertions of a doctrinal nature?

          • DanielPeterson

            Nope.

          • Jeffrey Thayne

            I love this. If they aren’t historical errors, they must be doctrinal. Seriously? lol

            I have found no reason to believe that Elder Maxwell and Elder Oaks were wrong about the Hellenic influences on early Christianity. I think it’s plain as day that revealed truth is often watered down and distorted when interfaced with the prevailing philosophies of any generation.

  • RaymondSwenson

    When my freshman honors course in humanities at the University if Utah covered Aristotle’s concept of God, it was pretty obvious that he was the source of certain parts of the Nicene Creed, not the Bible. (My professor was NOT Mormon, was an avowed atheist). Most of the Catholic discussions I have read since then acknowledge the neo-platonic terminology but think there was nothing wrong in “Christianizing” that language to express concepts not fully represented in the language of the New Testament.

  • Kristian Heal

    I have nothing to share on the rather obvious point that the sermon on the mount is different from the Nicean Creed–a point that in and of itself is no more meaningful than observing that the King Follett discourse is different from Elder Eyring’s talk at the funeral of sister Monson.

    What adds meaning to such statements is the accompanying scholarly analysis. This seems to me to be the issue at stake. TT seems to be acting on the reasonable assumption that DCP is a scholar, and he therefore expects a more nuanced presentation of things – but apparently a scholar is only a scholar when he is acting as a scholar, and DCP is rarely acting as a scholar when performing on Patheos. It seems to be rather more stream of consciousness–and since unfiltered DCP is often good for a laugh, occasionally insightful, and every now and then rude, wrong or worse, he manages to maintain quite the following. To which I say, more power to you DCP!

    THE SYRIAC STUFF: Just a few notes on the Syriac quotation above. As has already been noted the quotation in the Antioch Bible ad is incorrect–and I have to say that the fact that an ad was the source of this quotation should have been fair warning that non-scholarly activity was in progress. Anyway, the quotation should begin [Early], rather than [East]. The passage is taken from Sebastian Brock, An Introduction to Syriac Studies (Gorgias Press, 2006, p. 7). The original manifestation of this introduction (published in 1980) can be found on the METI website: http://meti.byu.edu/Brock_Introduction.pdf (page 5).

    Notice that Brock moved from “essentially unhellenized” to “largely unhellenized” between the 1980 and 2006 publications. Note also, that the specific context is the fourth century worlds of Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) and Aphrahat the Persian Sage (fl. 336-345 A.D.) Aphrahat lived in the Sassanian Empire, while Ephrem lived in Nisibis (to 363) and then Edessa, both on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. Ironically (for DCP) Ephrem was a fierce defender of the Nicene Christianity against the various heretical groups of his day (see articles by Sidney Griffith on this subject). Though largely unhellenized in his mode of discourse the recent study by Ute Possekel (Evidence of Greek Philosophical Concepts in the Writings of Ephrem the Syrian) shows how Hellenistic thought saturated the thought and conceptual categories of those even the fringes of the empire, and non-Greek speaking to boot.

    Thus, although this quotation from Sebastian Brock (when taken out of context) makes for good advertising copy (at least for the uninformed), it needs setting in context if it is to mustered in scholarly discourse.

    • DanielPeterson

      None of which really affects the simple little point from Hatch that I was echoing, and that I continue to affirm.

      Forest and trees, and all that.

    • Walter Davis

      So, I am left wondering where this unhellenized Christianity is to be found. Wasn’t hellenic influence pervasive in the eastern Mediterranean from the late fourth century B.C. on?

      • Kristian Heal

        Some people have looked to the so called Jewish Christianity studied by Cardinal Danielou. Others have looked at the earliest strata of Christian literature in Greek, the so called Apostolic Fathers. Others look East to the Syriac tradition (Aphrahat, the Odes of Solomon, Jacob of Sarugh, the non-polemical parts of Ephrem each offer a glimpse at an iteration of the Christian message that is primarily biblical in orientation). I also think that the so called apocryphal and pseudepigraphical texts offer an interesting window onto early Christianity. Of course, all of these texts needs to be studied carefully with the help of the best available scholarship.

        • Walter Davis

          I appreciate the information. I think that, after several centuries of interactions between Greeks and Jews in Palestine, the prospects of an unhellenic Christianity were unlikely. I understand that the influence would have been uneven, but it was there in myriad forms, direct and indirect. Furthermore, the ability to recover precisely what happened on the ground in the company of Jesus is limited by the evidence and the evidence is not all that good. The evidence we do have in the Gospels and Pauline epistles is full of Greek influence. Hellenic influence is even present in the pseudepigrapha. What makes the alleged existence of unhellenic Christianity important? It rather seems to me almost akin to arguing for uncanaanite Judaism.

          • DanielPeterson

            I’ve never said — I’ve explicitly denied — that there was an absolutely pristine early Christianity that had never had any encounter whatever with Hellenism. My position doesn’t require that. It’s a straw man.

          • Walter Davis

            I don’t see the need to carry on as though this were a hostile debate. You brought up Brock’s statement, and I was puzzled by the idea of an unhellenic Christianity. I am glad to find that you don’t believe that there was a Christianity that was free of certain prevalent environmental influences. This has not always been perfectly clear in the conversation. I appreciate the clarification, and I see no need to treat my interaction as a deliberate misrepresentation of your position, which it is not.

          • DanielPeterson

            It may not have been a deliberate misrepresentation of my position — I don’t know you, and have no way of judging — but it has always been a misrepresentation.

      • DanielPeterson

        Pervasive, but far from uniform. That’s why, for example, Alexandria (a Hellenistic foundation altogether) was Greek-speaking while the Egyptian hinterlands were . . . well, Egyptian-speaking. But, of course, their form of Egyptian — Coptic — came eventually to be written in Greek letters. So it was Hellenized, too. But, of course, they were MODIFIED Greek letters. So they were different. And Coptic, despite the presence of Greek loan words, is fundamentally unrelated to Greek. (It’s not even Indo-European.)

        So, yes, there was Greek influence even in the hinterlands, but there were also large cultural differences between, say, a monastery in the vicinity of Nag Hammadi and the Library of Alexandria. And the Greek influence in the hinterlands was probably mostly confined to the literate and even intellectual classes. The peasants and craftsman of Upper Egypt were probably even more unintegrated into Hellenistic culture than they are into the culture of London, Paris, and New York today. (I speak from considerable experience with regard to “modern” Upper Egypt.)

        To say that the entire region was “Hellenized” is to overlook some very crucial details, and to take an extremely unsophisticated view of the situation — which is, ironically, the very offense of which I’ve been (unjustly) accused in the matter at hand.

  • DanielPeterson

    LOL.

  • David Olsen

    It’s not your supposed anti-Catholocism that we so hate about you, dear Dan, it’s your overt racism and your not-quite-as-smart-as-you-think-you-are ways you think you’re hiding it. Clever little Dan! Such a smart little man! You–old, white, fat, male, Mormon, narrow-minded, conservative, spiteful, vindictive, rude, judgmental, misogynist, homophobic, racist piece of shit. May you rot in your nonexistent Mormon hell.

    • DanielPeterson

      I could delete this, but I think that would serve Mr. Olsen’s interests and I see no reason why I should do that.

  • Shelama

    In all of this high-minded, intellectual, scholarly discourse it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that pretty much the only ways that virtually anybody enters into Christianity in the first place is either thru childhood brainwashing or else in a state of rather profound ignorance of the Bible itself.

    Consider Dan Peterson and Stephen Smoot, for instance. Consider every Mormon GA who’s ever lived. Probably every Pope in history, too.

    Find one legitimate exception and it proves the rule. Find a small handful and it’s damnation by faint praise. It is so obviously and overwhelmingly true that the only necessary and meaningful answer by the believer is, “Yes, that’s true, but so what?”

    Why is it that serious, honest, critical study of the Bible so heavily prejudices a non-believer against converting to Christianity, from converting from Unbelief to Belief? (On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for such study to lead a person out of Christianity, including Mormonism.)

    Why is it that Mormon missionary emphasis has been shifted to the developing world where pretty profound ignorance of the Bible is endemic? (And this is true in places already Christian, where people entered their own brand of Christianity either thru that same childhood brainwashing or else that same ignorance of the Bible.)

    The reason is obvious: the Bible itself. How can anyone expect to convert an educated, honest, serious adult capable of critical thought that Genesis, let alone the whole Bible, is the word of a god and reliable history?

    • DanielPeterson

      Why is it that some skeptics, despite the title, are so dogmatically sure of themselves?

      • Shelama

        Of course, an alternative response would have been to actually dispute or refute the falsifiable. At least a simple denial.

        Something , anything, that reflected a little thought rather than just a vapid knee-jerk.

        But there’s an even better question you could have asked, Dan: …why is it that the scholarly apologetics of FAIR and BYU-Neal Maxwell, et.al., are persuasive pretty much ONLY for those who already believe? (Or, among the very few missionary contacts who even avail themselves in the first place, for a smaller handful who already have some degree of emotional and psychological investment?)

        But in all of that and in exactly the same way, Mormon apologetics are much like Christian-Bible apologetics. It’s rather interesting, actually, that since Mormon scholars add virtually nothing to that enterprise, the Mormons are stuck using the same Bible apologetics that the Evangelists do at the same time they rather gloat at having beaten the Evangelists in their apologetics war. Mormons are simply stuck with Bible apologetics that are little better than Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel. C.S. Lewis, perhaps, but even that’s severely lacking.

        Go ahead, Dan tell us: …in the entire faculty of BYU and BYU-Neal Maxwell, in all of FAIR, or among all the Mormon GA’s in history, how many people entered into Christian belief based on the conclusions of serious, honest, critical Bible study? Or even with such study?

        How many of them, for one tiny instance, came to a conclusion about the authorship of Torah (and on thru the Deuteronomist) based on critical study of the various documentary hypotheses? Or the historicity of Genesis based on critical study?

        The reality is that the existence and continuation of Mormonism ultimately reduces to the need for childhood brainwashing, ignorance of the Bible, and the interpretation of common, routine religious experience as a ghost bearing gifts.

        “Yes, that’s obviously true, but so what?”


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