Read - Finished Reading: Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles Over Authentication by Bart D. Ehrman (Great Courses)
In the first centuries after Christ, there was no "official" New Testament. Instead, early Christians read and fervently followed a wide variety of Scriptures—many more than we have today.
Relying on these writings, Christians held beliefs that today would be considered bizarre. Some believed that there were two, 12, or as many as 30 gods. Some thought that a malicious deity, rather than the true God, created the world. Some maintained that Christ's death and resurrection had nothing to do with salvation while others insisted that Christ never really died at all.
What did these "other" Scriptures say? Do they exist today? How could such outlandish ideas ever be considered Christian? If such beliefs were once common, why do they no longer exist?
Rating: 4
Listened to audiobook version primarily via Libby

Brief review:

Clear concise story with some excellent history and comparison of early Christianities. Unstated, but there are lots of parallels to the diversity of beliefs in Christianity today. There are lots of interesting things within the “lost” sects which still lived on through cultural spread despite the disappearance of the original groups.

Read - Reading: Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles Over Authentication by Bart D. Ehrman (The Great Courses)
Lecture 24: Early Christian Creeds
The final lecture considers the formation of the Christian creeds: statements of faith to determine what was true (orthodox) and what was false (heretical). The well-known creeds of the 4th century, such as the Nicene Creed, developed from earlier formulations known as the "Rule of Faith," and from confessions by converts before baptism.
All that work to create coherent creeds in the 2nd-4th century and yet we again have a crazy diversity centuries later.

Theory on Cultural Changes with Respect to Mnemonics and the Ten Commandments in Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and specifically within Judaism

And God spoke:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, or in the waters below.
–Exodus 20:1-4

I have a hypothesis that the admonition in the ten commandments to have no other gods nor to worship idols was the result of a power struggle among early peoples on the border of nomadic lives and settling down into agricultural lifeways. These peoples may likely have been associating their memories not only to standing stones, portable items (the Ark of the Covenant as an example which was historically said to be carried into war), or small idols and graven images.

By removing peoples’ valuable cultural and societal memories over several generations, a ruling priestly class, particularly in a society with not evenly distributed writing and literacy, would have been more easily able to aggregate power within the culture to itself. From a cultural perspective it would also have put an extreme emphasis on writing, literacy, and learning with them. Is this part of an explanation for why Jewish culture still has such an emphasis on these tools thousands of years later?

This obviously needs to be thought out further with supporting evidence from the historical and archaeological record, but on first blush, I feel like the evidence for this hypothesis generally exists.

If I’m right, then these few sentences have had a far more dramatic influence on Western and even human culture than we have previously thought.

Featured Image: The Crusader Bible, MS M.638, fol. 39v, Paris, France, ca. 1244–1254, 390 x 300 mm, via the Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased by J.P. Morgan (1867–1943) in 1916
David’s Greatest Triumph, The Ark Enshrined in Jerusalem, David Blesses Israel
Old Testament Miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions
David retrieves the Ark of the Covenant from Obed-Edom’s house, and a jubilant celebration ensues as the triumphant king, playing upon his harp, leads it into Jerusalem. Once the Ark has come six paces into the city, a sacrifice is made of an ox and a ram. No one is more overjoyed than the king himself, who dances and leaps before the procession. David’s wild behavior embarrasses Michal, who points accusingly at him from her window. But the king is unconcerned, wishing only to give thanks and humble himself before God. (2 Kings 6:12–16)

Liked a tweet by ntnsndr (Twitter)

A Short Essay on the Relationship of STEM and Racist Ideas

I’ve seen many tweets today with the hashtag #shutdownSTEM. Some of them included some people asking why such a thing would be necessary. What does STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have to do with racism they ask? 

I find myself seeing some immediate and excellent historical examples in Dr. Ibram X. Kendi‘s book Stamped from the Beginning. In chapter nine of the book he discusses the variety and flavors of racism espoused by Thomas Jefferson in his book Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), which would become the most  consumed American nonfiction book until well into the mid-nineteenth century.

Shortly afterward Samuel Stanhope Smith countered portions of Jefferson’s racist ideas in the 1787 annual oration to the august American Philosophical Society. This annual lecture was already one of the most heralded scholarly lectures in America and was attended by the wealthy and elite leaders and thinkers in the country. The lecture would be published as the influential Essay on the Causes of Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species

While Smith used the lecture to attack the abhorrent racist idea of polygenesis, he did espouse a wide array of other racist tropes including assimilationist climate theory. Dr. Kendi specifically notes that he may have picked up this idea from James Bowdoin’s opening oration of the newly established American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston on May 4, 1780.
 
To quote Dr. Kendi:
 

Samuel Stanhope Smith joined those preeminent intellectuals in Boston’s American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Philadelphia’s American Philosophical Society in attacking polygenesists, in reviving climate theory in America. His scholarly defense of scripture was quickly printed in Philadelphia, in London, and in Lord Kames’s back-yard, Edinburgh. By the time he sat down in Princeton’s presidential chair in 1795, he had amassed an international scholarly reputation.

So in just a few pages Kendi lays out some serious evidence of the direct spread of a wide variety of racist ideas by not only by the academic elite, but the leaders of multiple influential universities and scientific and philosophical institutions in America. The reverberating echos of these wrongs are still haunting us today. They still need to be addressed and righted. We need to use our moral alembic and distill these racist ideas out of science in America.

Lest one wonder about the influence of Samuel Stanhope Smith’s essay, I’ll note that Noah Webster cited Smith directly in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary in the definition of philosophy. The citation was from  Smith’s second edition of his Essay on the Causes of Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species (1810). The quote as given: “True religion, and true philosophy must ultimately arrive at the same principle.”

We’re obviously still seeking both true religion and true philosophy.

While you’re thinking about #shutdownSTEM on June 10th and long thereafter, I recommend you spend some time sitting with the ideas that have been handed down to us and question them closely, for this is what science and philosophy are all about. If you find you can’t do that hard work–and it is hard, then perhaps read a bit of Dr. Kendi’s excellent and ardent text Stamped from the Beginning.

Read Donatism (Wikipedia)
Donatism (Latin: Donatismus, Greek: Δονατισμός Donatismós) was a heresy leading to schism in the Church of Carthage from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be faultless for their ministry to be effective and their prayers and sacraments to be valid. Donatism had its roots in the long-established Christian community of the Roman Africa province (now Algeria and Tunisia) in the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian. Named after the Berber Christian bishop Donatus Magnus, Donatism flourished during the fourth and fifth centuries.
Watched How a Bible prophecy shapes Trump's foreign policy from Vox | YouTube

For an influential group of American Christians, support for Israel -- and hatred of Iran -- are based in a biblical prophecy.

When President Trump authorized the drone strike that killed the powerful Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, he wasn't just flexing America's muscle in the Middle East.

He was also acting on the advice of a politically powerful group of evangelical Christians who believe that the US and Israel are part of the Bible's plan to bring about the second coming of Jesus.

Once considered a fringe element of the religious right, evangelical Christian Zionists are playing an increasingly visible role in Republican politics. Today, unprecedented access to the Trump administration has given them an opportunity to reshape the Middle East.

Additional reading:
https://newrepublic.com/article/156166/pence-pompeo-evanglicals-war-iran-christian-zionism

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/05/14/half-of-evangelicals-support-israel-because-they-believe-it-is-important-for-fulfilling-end-times-prophecy/

https://www.vox.com/2018/11/5/18059454/trump-white-evangelicals-christian-nationalism-john-fea

A previous version of this video misstated, at 1:40, the percentage of Americans who are Christian but neither Evangelical nor Catholic. The error has been corrected.

The headline on this piece has also been updated. Previous headline: How the Bible shapes Trump's foreign policy

There’s religion, and then there’s just crazy pants.
Read - Finished Reading: How Saint George’s Dragon Got Its Wings (JSTOR Daily)
The lack of living dragons has never stopped people from drawing them. The trends for dragon design tend to organize along East-West lines: dragons in Asia are snakelike, wingless and benevolent, while European dragons are menacing winged lizards. When an artist situated right between Asia and Europ...
Listened to Hurtling Toward Catastrophe from On the Media | WNYC Studios

A vehicle burns at Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad on Friday. The Pentagon said the U.S. operation killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force.

After the US military assassinated an Iranian military general, war propaganda kicked into overdrive. On this week’s On the Media, how news consumers can cut through the misleading claims and dangerous frames. Plus, how Generation Z is interpreting the geopolitical crisis through memes. And, how apocalyptic thinking is a near-constant through history. 

1. Nathan Robinson [@NathanJRobinson], editor of Current Affairs, on the most suspect tropes in war coverage. Listen.

2. Lee Fang [@lhfang], investigative journalist at The Intercept, on the pundits with unacknowledged conflicts of interest. Listen.

3. Ian Bogost [@ibogost], contributing writer at The Atlantic, on memes. Listen.

4. Dan Carlin [@HardcoreHistory], host of "Hardcore History," on apocalyptic moments throughout human history. Listen.

Brooke Gladstone speaking with Ian Bogost [@ibogost], contributing writer at The Atlantic, on #​WorldWar3 memes:

34:29 IB: That’s the pattern that we will see recur. Not necessarily with respect to warfare.  But whatever the next thing is. And there certainly will be a next thing.
34:37 BG: You wrote that the end of the world could be a “dark but deviously appealing fantasy”, and you were talking about your own experience as a GenX-er during the cold war. What seems soothing about the apocalypse back then?
34:54 IB: The idea that you live at the end of history is incredibly comforting. Even if you don’t know everything that happened in the past. There will be none who follow you. You’ve seen it all either personally or historically. You haven’t missed anything in the project that is human kind.
35:12 BG: That’s FOMO taken to the n-degree, isn’t it?
35:15 IB: Right, I mean the fear of annihilation is a particularly piquant version of the fear of death. It’s about not seeing what comes next for your progeny–for humanity at large. It makes sense to me that there would be some comfort even if it’s a perverse comfort in everyone being together at the end.

Sounds exactly like the same sort of historical apocalyptic “Repent now for the end is at hand” sort of philosophy that a 30 year old Jesus was espousing two millennia ago. And look what happened to that idea. 

Makes me wonder who the Paul of Tarses TikTok is going to be for the next two millennia?

Watched "Explained" Cults from Netflix
With LaKeith Stanfield, Catherine Oxenberg, Laura Johnston Kohl, Janja Lalich. How do cults lure people in and exert control? Learn a cult's telltale signs, and how loneliness and life online makes indoctrination easier than ever.
A fascinating short take on cults with some relatively recent history within the United States. It’s interesting to think about how the definition and details presented here relate to how our current US president has turned the Republican Party into a cult.

I haven’t heard it in a while, but Reza Aslan mentions the old saw “cult + time = religion” in here.

Watched Born Again (2007) from Netflix

Born and raised in an Evangelical Christian family, director Markie Hancock struggled through her childhood to find the line between her family and her religion, between her duties to God and Jesus and her responsibilities to her parents and herself. Fervent in her beliefs, she thought she would pursue a religious calling until the true nature of her sexuality and her need to express her own doubts brought her into a final confrontation with her upbringing. This is the story of that confrontation and what was won and what was lost.

movie poster for Born Again featuring a black and white photo of a prototypical white family from the 60's in front of a christmas tree

I’m glad this exists, but would not watch it again.

It is interesting to note that this was made in 2007 and presaged the political turmoil of the 2016 election. It also goes a long way to explore some of the political divisions within the country during the decade or more after it was made.

Rating: ★★½