Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An update

I'm working on chapter 8, which turns out to be a greater project than any of the earlier chapters of her book. I am reading Gnuse's No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel, Finkelstein/Silberman The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts to get an idea what archaeologists think happened in the relevant time period. Apparently, there are some disagreements among archaeologists, but I find Finkelstein's and Silberman's arguments quite compelling. Alas, my survey of the literature suggests even today there are some authorities working in the field of biblical archaeology that are way too much influenced by their religious beliefs and too little influenced by actual evidence.
I am also reading Eugene A. Nida's Toward a Science of Translating, and some stray papers on related topics, as Acharya S takes a very naive view of translation in this chapter, one that requires a detailed and robust rebuttal.

As a little anecdote about Chapter 8, this needs retelling: I typed a copy of it as a text file - so that I easily could copy-paste bits of it into the post. As it happens, I sent this text to a friend as well, in case he had anything constructive to say. What I had not told him - I figured it was obvious - was that I had left out the footnote numbers, simply because repetitive typing of Roman numerals would be too tedious.
He sent a commented file back, in which he criticized the lack of sources for about 20 claims. I got all apologetic for Acharya, as this kind of gave me bad conscience: it was my fault, not hers, that he got this impression of her work.

I decided to compile a list of the relevant references, and it turns out only a few of them had references, and many of those were to hacks such as Higgins and Hazelrigg, and the others were Barbara Walker - but rather speculative stuff by Walker at that. Still, more than a two-thirds majority of the things he figured should have sources are missing in the text, and the rest almost all have sources that are not really reliable. I find the coincidence a bit surprising though: would this experiment be repeatable? Is it possible that for statements that really should be sourced, there's a more than chance likelihood that a reader will identify that as a statement in need of a source if all the source references were stripped from the text?

Meanwhile, I am thinking a bit about what next to write a detailed criticism of once I'm done with Acharya S's books. Here are some options I came up with:

  • The Skeptic's Annotated Bible
Generally, it is a great work. However, I believe the Bible has enough errors as it is, without us skeptics having to misrepresent bits of it that aren't erroneous as though they were. A full listing of such false errors would be useful, and I think the SAB should take them into account. It is also interesting to try and tease out the irrational bits in their approach to the Bible itself. At times, it is as though they really do not even give a go at understanding what the text is saying - which, surprisingly enough occasionally justifies the christian apologetic contention that they are taking things out of context. This happens seldom enough, but it still bothers me. 
  • Something by Deepak Chopra
Why not. It could be wonderfully easy to write. On the other hand, too easy?
  • Ancient Aliens
The best debunking I have seen this far takes a strange turn at the end and accepts the Deluge as historically true. On the other hand, I realize there is a lot of stuff there that I simply have no access to sources about. Finally, the format is less easy to work with - they do not provide sources so it is impossible to check whether they present what the sources say accurately, it is a TV show instead of static text - making rereading a sentence much more of a hassle, and finally, it is qualitatively far shoddier than Acharya's work. I like Childress' weird intonation patterns though. As I am not confident enough about my English pronunciation, I would not go and edit videos with my own comments over it either. 
  • Sven Reichmann
Sven Reichmann is a Christian commentator on politics, end-times scenarios and so on, who is fairly popular among Swedish-speaking Christians in Finland. He probably has some notoriety in Sweden as well. Alas, he is of little interest outside those very small circles, probably. A split-off blog in Swedish could maybe be justified. I know for certain that he is selective in what facts he chooses to present.
  • Some major Christian apologetics site?
  • William Lane Craig
In a way, a detailed and well-researched rebuttal of WLC's talking points would be very valuable to have in one place. I am not convinced WLC will be affected by it though, as I believe his intentions are not to convert people, but to make unbelievers seem unreasonable to those who already believe as he does.

  • Messianic Jewish selective quoting from Midrashim and other related material
This would be intriguing and require quite detailed study of midrashes in hebrew and aramaic, and thus be a fascinatingly demanding study (for little practical benefit, except probably making me pretty good at hebrew or aramaic after a while). One particular author who has authored a bunch of stuff along these lines is Risto Santala, whose books are widely available in Finland.
  • The Dilling Exhibit
A quote-mining operation of the Talmud made by an antisemite. I am inclined to think this is the best option - all it takes is actually reading what the relevant context of the Talmud does say. Problem: the relevant context in Talmudic writing can be rather large and complex. Advantage: forces me to learn how to read the Talmud. Makes me have to formalize and express the lines of thought taking place in the relevant passages. Might be very interesting, and I think this will be the next project I will go for.

Other suggestions are welcome.

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