Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Christ Conspiracy: An Index to the Review

Since the review of The Christ Conspiracy reached spectacular lengths, a post that indexes the articles seems called for. Short summaries of the problems identified in each instalment follows. This post should be seen as an appendix to the conclusion. Due to the proliferation of posts dealing with chapters 20, 23 and 24, and their close relationship, there are multiple separate entries for these.

The problems encountered in this chapter do not really relate all that closely to the thesis itself, but do showcase that Murdock plays fast and loose with the truth.
A couple of really fudgy claims, based on a sequence of sources misunderstanding and exaggerating each other's claims. Unreliable sources in general. However, the chapter itself does not contribute much to the conclusion of the book. The general claim that is made could be made with credible sources – Murdock has just chosen to use shoddy sources and shoddy claims to prop up a reasonable claim.
Some fallacies along the lines of the etymological fallacy, and a particularly strange logical fallacy – viz. the idea that someone acting illogically is evidence of his non-existence. She also claims that 'pious fraud' was coined to describe Christian practices, when the phrase in fact pre-dates Christianity by several decades.
Protestant slander of a pope taken seriously. Saman and Maga? Sources please.  Pure speculation about the role of gnostics. Speculation about the 'malodorous chrism' as a term for sperm. A fabrication about the contents of the Nag Hammadi library.
A mistaken reference (demonstrating that Murdock has not verified the veracity of the sources of her source). Unreliable numismatic third-hand evidence. Shoddy referencing.
Misunderstands the Documentary Hypothesis. The orthodox dating of Pharaohs is off. A naive understanding of translation is evident. Ignorance of Hebrew phonemes makes for the amusing thought that the tetragrammaton contains the name of Eve. Acharya thinks that the use of the designation "Askhenazi" for eastern European Jews is evidence that early Judaism was greatly influenced by Aryans. Mr. Spock's (!) Vulcan Salute is presented as evidence that the Jewish God is a volcano God. Silly attempts to identify "Israel" as "Isis-Ra-El". Some more bullshit linguistics.
A genuinely sub-par understanding of what allegory is, as well as mischaracterizing the Hebrew grammatical gender as a system of allegory.
Identifies the Book of Jasher referred to in the Bible as the medieval Book of Jasher.
Reads Amos' harangue against the worshippers of the God Kaiwan as though this was admission that Kaiwan is part of Biblical theology. Without any supporting evidence, she equates Kaiwan and El. This is followed what looks suspiciously much like Acharya admitting to believing in astrology - her definition of astrology is very positive and downright naive.

This is followed by use of an unreliable source (Pike). It is claimed that toponomies in the Bible are widely astrological - a claim that rests on such a weak foundation that it's in fact laughable. (From an unreliable source, again). Strong pareidolia (since there's seven stars in the Pleiades, all sevens in Judaism much represent the Pleiades).

Also, the book of Job is a freemasonic ritual manual (as in, that's its origins)
The seven archangels are the seven hathors. Angels are the angles of the zodiac. Murdock thinks metaphor is what you get when you read literally.
Jesus being aware of crosses as an execution method is taken as evidence that he must be invented.  A few severely misleading pieces of reasoning regarding etymologies (hell, pesach), and other bad linguistics. Generally some of the reasoning indicates that Murdock thinks English designations are magical lenses into the past of a number of concepts. Bad dating of the Talmud. Claims which were not supported by their source whatsoever (i.e. Barbara Walker claiming that various things derive from Egyptian prayers to Osiris.)
A treasure trove of bad linguistics.
An instance of the linguistic fallacy of very short words (John - Aan), as well as an unsubstantiated and somewhat suspicious assertion.

A seriously debunked dating of the Dendera temple. Atlantean racial theories pop up - i.e. the fact that the author of Revelations mentions a 'man' as one out of four symbols is seen as evidence that the author of Revelations believed in Theosophist racial theories (i.e. Adam is The Atlantean). There's a distinct lack of argumentation beyond assertions.
Murdock subscribes naively to idealizing descriptions of the Essenes. She rejects the DSS as having anything to do with them, and thus basically ends up having next to no evidence regarding their beliefs. Nevertheless, she dares make several sweeping statements as to what these beliefs were. Her argument in general is unclear.
Chapter 20:
Pt 1 Various shenanigans with regards to trying to show that Christianity is older than the mainstream assessment has it. Here we find Taylor describing the early church in terms that would need some backing up – but as usual, no evidence is given, just assertion. It is also worth noting that Murdock uses motifs from the NT as historical evidence in the most contorted fashion. Polycarp is quote-mined. Some quite vacuous statements about the Essenes are made, including unsourced speculation reported as fact, bad etymologies, as well as directly contradicting the previous chapter regarding the relationship of Essenism and Christianity.
Pt 2 Eusebius' Interpretatio Christiana: did Eusebius claim that the Therapeutan monks were Christian before Christianity? A most precious thing emerges: the quote-mined quote-mine! Does allegorical reading imply gnosticism?
Pt 3 Irrelevant twaddle based on the previous identification of Christianity with the Therapeutans (given that all evidence in favour of such an identification given thus far is mistaken). Murdock thinks 'therapeut' and 'doctor of the law' are etymologically connected. Murdock relies on Epiphanius' knowledge of Hebrew, which is more or less proven to be sub par. (Bad referencing practices, again.) Undue reliance on Higgins.
Pt 4 Murdock cites Geza Vermes, but gets Vermes's claim wrong. A somewhat misleading description of Jewish lending practices. Murdock focuses on the most anti-gentile intertestamental Jewish literature to paint an exaggeratedly hateful picture of Judaism.
Pt 5 Murdock's ignorance of the Talmud is coupled with her insistence on thinking that she knows something about it.

Chapter 23:
Pt 1 Some rather weak reasoning with regards to where western culture originated.
Pt 2 Murdock reports a quote-mine by Jochmans as a prima facie quote, in an attempt to make it seem like the Great Pyramid at some point has been covered by the sea. Some fairly bad arguments (Byblos being an Egyptian colony being presented as evidence for the Bible being an Egyptian book ...) Papyri allegedly five to ten thousand  years of age are alluded to. A claim with no support or evidence presented at all, regarding 'Logia Iesou'. Some quotes that essentially consist of nothing but a nested quote, along the line of Murdock quoting Jackson quoting Kuhn, making looking the original source up tedious and fucking well frustrating.
Pt 3 Misrepresentation of the Aryan Invasion Theory with regards to Indian archaeology and linguistics. Reliance on Hindu religious material for claims of really far back history (on the order of tens of thousand years ago). Not enough sources given to be able to assess the value of the presented claims. Murdock presents an argument that makes her claims regarding prehistory unfalsifiable. Value-judgments regarding rishi-culture and later brahmanic culture that rest on no ground whatsoever. Shitty historical linguistics: Murdock misrepresents the state of Indo-European linguistics as well as downright pulls the wool over our eyes with regards to the Nostratic theory. 
Pt 4 Mentions some Egyptian depiction of a fish trap as evidence of Sumerians being closely related to some North Europeans (but does not tell us anything about this depiction, so we cannot verify this claim). Conflates the Sumerians with Aryan invaders – something not even her source for this madcap claim actually does. Weird ideas about Semitic languages having gone into "permanent eclipse" are quoted. Iranians are mistaken for proto-Greeks and proto-Romans. Really weird arguments presented to show that the Hebrews were Indo-European (or at least a significant portion of them). Murdock mistakes 'levitical' and 'levirate' when reading her source (which got it right) and uses this conflation to present the idea that Levites were Indo-European (for the record, levirate and levitical are highly unrelated terms). Weird and unsourced claims about levirate marriages.
 Pt 5 Unsubstantiated ideas about Abraham's origin are restated. Some pretty bad etymologies presented, of which my favourite is Jessulmer as the origin of the name Jerusalem - which simply cannot hold, since Jessulmer is named for a medieval king. Also, false claims about words in Sanskrit. No references for claims about Jerusalem's origin in Egyptian religion, although pretty fat claims are made. A conspiracy theory regarding the Rosetta stone sneaks in. Some very out there claims about the origins of various British things, such as the word Britain and the druids. Finally, Murdock ascribes some credibility to notions that western culture has its origin on Ireland. A nationalistic creed that probably makes some irish people very happy, but c'mon, not an evidence-based claim in any sense whatsoever.
 Pt 6. Here, full-on delusionality is evident: Pygmies at the root of all culture! A lot of evidence alluded to, none actually given. Bad understanding of the theory of evolution. . 

Chapter 24:
Pt 1 Bad understanding of evolutionary theory. Bad logic.
Pt 2 Shoddy linguistics, shoddy referencing, shoddily unclear claims, chains of sources getting things more wrong during each step, reliance on religiously mislead 19th-century scholars who tried finding the lost tribes of Israel in the Americas, claims about the Chimalpopoca manuscript that are wrong. These fabrications are used to bolster the notion that the Biblical creation myth was present in the Americas. Lots of unsupported assertions.
Pt 3 Shoddy linguistics regarding languages of America and India.
Pt 4 Unreliable sources (James Churchward). Lots of assertions without any evidence. Bad linguistics. Appealing to previous bad linguistics as though it were evidence.
Pt 5 Pyramids. In this part, Murdock quotes UFOlogists and new age kooks. Murdock accepts the Ica stones as genuine. Murdock accepts exaggerated claims about the 'precision' of the Costa Rican stone spheres as accurate without thinking about the methodology of measuring such stones
Pt 6 Giants. Ancient Maps. Saturn having been a 'pole star'. Murdock relies on sources that think writing goes back 150 000 years. Murdock also seems to believe that the original religion of humanity must have been objectively good in some sense ­ - which is a weird idea.
My Conclusion
Pretty much what the title says, my summary and the conclusion I drew from reading The Christ Conspiracy, evaluating its arguments, checking its sources, evaluating the sources, etc.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

On Historical Linguistics: Part 2

The model I presented in the previous post only presents a way of structuring the findings once we have them. The next question then is what changes are the most useful ones to trace?

People like to think that similarities in vocabulary are a reliable indicator - this is probably why the belief that English descends from Latin is quite popular, even to the extent that ignorant teachers tell their pupils this as a fact. The problems with just looking at individual words is that words are borrowed quite freely from one language to another (or, well, at least it seems this is the case in Eurasia - for some reason, South American native langauges seem to have had more free exchange of grammar for whatever reason).

Another type of similarity is typological similarity. Typology is the study of the "properties" of languages, things like "what order do subject, verb and object come in", "does the language predominantly use suffixes, prefixes or neither", "does the language have prepositions or postpositions", and a lot of similar stuff. But here we have a rather interesting problem.

For some reason, various features tend to cluster together: it's not unusual for languages with this or that feature also to have these particular other features - and it seems this follows from some property of our brains or as some consequence of something more subtle about language itself.

Thus, even languages that recently have changed in certain ways, and where we can know contact with a language that already had a certain property is not the cause for the change, we can see that the other features often tend to hobble along in the same direction. Of course, language contact can make this even more powerful – unrelated languages can acquire features by influence, one from another. In fact, large areas of such belts of influence have been identified, and are called 'sprachbunds' or 'convergence areas'. So we find that from the perspective of historical linguistics, the fact that some pair of languages do a lot of things in similar ways (suffixes, SOV, postpositions, ... or whatever other bundle of features you can imagine) does not necessarily tell us anything about whether they are related or not.

However, one type of change is very amenable to a hierarchical analysis - sound changes. Over time, languages have sound changes happening to them. These can sort of be expressed as "search-and-replace". We represent the language in a textual form. (Note: we are of course rather used to this nowadays, given that we have literacy and all, but even a few centuries ago this was not a very common skill. Language is primarily spoken, and representing it as text when dealing with the history of spoken languages does kind of deserve mention of this fact.) We can then, for instance, do a sound change along the lines of this:
t → th
d → t
A word such as tin would come out as thin. Now, in case th did not exist in the language previously, the language has not lost any phonological distinctions - all words that previously were distinct still are distinct. But let's imagine another change:
t → t
d → t
This change removes a distinction, and thus we lose some "knowledge" about how the language was previously - after this, we cannot tell by just looking at a word whether it previously had a t or a d where there now is a t.

There also are conditional changes. These are basically changes that consist of rules where one sound is changed depending on sounds nearby, e.g.
k → t͡ʃ, / _e, _i
This would replace k with t͡ʃ when followed by e or i, a sound change that has happened in many languages worldwide. Essentially, though, such changes can be written like this instead, to remove the need for the notation with / _e, _i:
ke → t͡ʃe
ki → t͡ʃi 
Notice, however, that the k → t͡ʃ, / _e, _i notation is more succinct, and we also are less likely by accident to forget some particular instance. In fact, the change there could possibly be expressed even more powerfully as k → t͡ʃ, / _V, when V is a front vowel.
Other contextual things that may be of relevance are whether a sound is in word-initial or word-final position, whether it's before or after or even in the same syllable as the word stress, whether it's in such a position with regards to some weaker stresses of the same word, etc. To make the notation able to deal with such, symbols for stresses of different types is all it takes. Similar additions coding for whatever feature we need to trace should be easy to add as well. The notation that expresses contexts with / [surrounding sound]_[surrounding sound] is more compact than writing out every single substitution separately, but I am not going for a full Historical Linguistics 101 course here, so I will not regale you with such details.

A good principle:  
i) shared innovations indicate closer relationships
ii) shared retentions do not indicate anything very interesting with regards to distance
Why would this be the case? There are lots of possible changes - a shared change is thus somewhat a priori unlikely. Anytime some part of a language has not been hit by a change we will have a retention, though, so retentions by their nature will occur a lot more often than shared innovations.

Although I previously mentioned that the lexicon is somewhat unreliable, an analogy based on the lexicon might be better. Let us imagine we have a small island on which there are two languages. We do not know whether these first entered the island, and then diverged, or diverged and only then entered the island. We find that there's an animal on the island that does not exist elsewhere. It also turns out that they have very similar words for it, words that do not exist in any of the related languages outside of the island. How likely is it that they both came up with the same word independently? Fairly unlikely.

If they have different words, this does not necessarily tell us anything at all. One - or even both - of the languages might have come up with new words more recently. If they have the same word, we need to account for that: either, one of the languages has borrowed it from the other after arriving on the island separately from the other group (who borrowed from whom does not necessarily tell us who were there first, however!), or they arrived as one language that only more recently has differentiated into two.

However, one thing that would more clearly suggest that they did not arrive together is if one of the languages shared a lot of innovations with some language (or group of languages) outside of the island, and the other didn't - or even better if it shared innovations with another group of languages altogether. The likelihood that all of these groups started diverging from a shared origin at the same time, and some of the groups in isolation from the others had done the same innovations is very low.

A language probably goes through far fewer sound changes than lexical changes - by an order of magnitude, at the very least - through any time span. Sound changes are further not really "loaned" after the fact - they tend to spread through a speaker community - and sometimes beyond it - but there isn't really any way in which they could be loaned. Words are loaned, not processes that happened in the past. A process that is going on can spill over, a process that has already happened is not relevant any longer.

Some changes seem to be fairly common cross-linguistically. We can observe, for instance, that historical *k has become t͡ʃ in certain very similar positions in English and Swedish as spoken in Finland. We know Swedish as spoken in Finland is closer related to Swedish as spoken in Sweden than it is to English, however. The same change has happened in a lot of languages, but Swedish and English are similar enough that one might find the shared change somewhat significant. It's not significant, really – Swedish as spoken in Finland and English don't have any particular affinities. However, such common changes might seem to undermine our use of sound change and shared innovation. There is a solution, however!

The order in which changes have happened may leave traces that make it possible to resolve what the order was. Languages in which a series of early changes have happened in the same order  from some ancestral form (after which more divergent changes have happened) are thus very likely to be more closely related than languages in which no such shared order exists.

An example might be helpful here. Let us imagine a language L and a sound change, lets call it A, where a final syllable having /i/ as its vowel causes the vowel of the previous syllable to become fronted, so e.g. /kaki/ → /keki/. (/a u o/ are 'back vowels' and /i e/ are front vowels; why they're called that can be learned from books on phonology, and I will not get into it. Suffice to say, this has to do with articulatory features of the vowels). Another change I already mentioned has k turn into t͡ʃ before front vowels, let's call it B.

If A  happens before B, /kaki/ will end up as /t͡ʃet͡ʃi/, but if Bhappens before A,we get /ket͡ʃi/. We might find that some related language K has /kaki/ or /keki/ or /keke/ or whatever for a similar meaning, and we can posit with great likelihood that the original form was something like *kaki. However, our hunch would be better supported if we found many words where L's /t͡ʃ/ corresponds to K's /k/. If we were to find that a lot of words in L had t͡ʃ where K had k, and likewise a lot of words have k in both of the languages, we need to account for that - and an ordered pair of sound changes in one of them is a realistic and simple way of doing that. The fewer the sound changes we need to posit to explain it, however, the better we're doing (due to Occam's razor - don't posit a hundred changes when two suffice, etc).

If ten sound changes has happened, there's factorial of ten orders they could have happened in. That's a whopping 362880 different possible orders, each order roughly equally likely. (Well, some changes may depend on a previous change, reducing the number of possible orders a bit, but still.) The likelihood of two languages sharing ten sound changes in the same order without being in close contact is thus pretty low. (A further caveat, however: sometimes, sound changes do not have effects that make it possible to decide which out of two or even three changes happened first).

So, now that we have considered the benefits of the shared sound change as our measure of similarity, we will go on to try and see where this leads us.