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David Ker

I like the fact that NT is clarifying his quest even if I think he's on a runaway train and the bridge is out.

By the way, lots of good writing in your post.


NT is a nice addition to the biblical blogosphere. It's about time, however, that his questions be taken seriously.

N. T. Wrong


You rather too readily link my judgment of the 'wrongnesses' of Judaism to my opinion of the government of Israel's politics. While I have made a half dozen posts on Modern Israel, it's hardly one of my central concerns, let alone what you label with the 'A-word' ("agenda"). My central 'agenda' is undoubtedly biblical interpretation. I find the reception of biblical interpretation to be fascinating, including to a small extent the way that nineteenth-century dispensationalism managed to convince powerful people to create a 'nation' out of a wide variety of peoples who claimed a certain ethnic and religious identity, and managed to 'uncreate' another nation in the process. That's a phenomenal testimony to the power of religious ideas. But while I take an interest in modern Israel because of my interest in biblical studies (the precise reverse of what you implied), I haven't got anything particularly against the Israeli government that I haven't got against any other group of thugs. Governments are dangerous.

'Parasitic'. Well, I can only agree with you that worldviews are 'parastic', which more precisely means that they are all formed entirely by a vast intertextual web of meaning-making, only partially traceable by us. But, unusually, you seem to imply that this universal phenomenon of parasitism has 'bad' connotations. And more unusually, you've exempted ancient Judaism from this parasitism. And much, much more unusually, you've exempted Judaism's most obvious parasite, Christianity. If I understand you right, you're treating Judaism as the Immaculate Conception and Christianity as the Virgin Birth.

But, getting back to your... agenda, before I get carried away with analogies. You have dismissed the post-Christian 'secular' worldview on the very basis which underlies every other worldview. But, to have made a successful argument, you needed to distinguish them. These worldviews don't drop out of the sky, you know - well, that's what post-Enlightenment gains in knowledge have shown us (whatever their shortfalls). So, no matter what its genealogy, post-Christian secularism is an 'alternative'. Actually, it's more than that - precisely because of its genealogy in the Christian West, post-Christian secularism is a genuine 'alternative'. I agree with Zizek that atheism is a legacy worth fighting for - and that we should "restore the dignity of atheism, one of Europe's greatest legacies and perhaps our only chance for peace." The atheist aesthetic provides the greatest vision for a moral world. It is the only vision in which ethical behaviour is pursued chinnam, "for no reason". (Nb. I'm not an atheist.)

Adorno and Horkheimer. I loved Dialectic of Enlightenment, a great read. It's true what they say - the foible of the Enlightenment is that it failed to be enlightened about enlightenment. Their call is for a greater depth of enlightenment. And less Christmas shopping. I quite agree.

John Gray. Another one of my favourites! If you read John Gray's 'Black Mass', you'll see that he mentions that the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic legacy is itself 'parasitic' (your term, not his) on Zoroastrianism and Persian thought. Utopia may be a modernist dream, but its roots are in the dark side of the Zoroastrian-Judaistic-Christian trajectory of (parasitic) worldviews. Also, the nihilism of Gray's Straw Dogs dovetails nicely with Zizek's ethical prescription.

But, I note that I'm less into forming alternative worldviews than in trying to point out some of the violence inherent in existing ones. I'll stick to continual criticism of the text, including of course its reception. Texts need criticising, bringing out their strengths and weaknesses, their possibilities for oppression and for good. That is anything but the uncritical acceptance of a system which proclaims it as utopia, as the best possible system on earth. Anything but the hegemonic totalitarian neo-imperalism that proclaims that modernist Christianity both has no precedent and allows for no alternative.


Since most of our Zoroastrian texts post-date Judeo-Christian ones, especially regarding the "christ like" elements of a ninth century attempt to syncretize and "steal sheep", so to speak, you might want to be more careful about using the [sensational rather than substantial] claims that Judaism and Christianity borrowed from Zoroastrianism and Persian religions, rather than the reverse; the documentation is older among the Judeo-Christian groups, not the other way around; but of course it's more PC in an academic environments hell-bent on antagonizing "western" heritage as the scum of the earth's history to ignore details like that and make elaborate mazes of information that takes utterly too long to sift through and evaluate this stuff: it sure was a pain in my butt.

As for Atheism, I seem to remember societies historically regarding that as their greatest threat: even the hell of established religions throughout history provided more support (despite the pretense of societies and jack-whatevers) and stability (intrasocietally, not necessarily intersocietally) than atheism (which neither makes moral demands to cohere societies within, nor urge them not to fight between themselves), a philosophy that's caused more upheaval and violence done to humanity in so short a period as the past few centuries in the name of "utopia"; unless you're Catholic, Mormon, or possibly E. Orthodox (though less likely with that one), [true] Christians don't look for a Utopia here, but love their neighbors, persevere in upright and good works, and await a heavenly one with their Lord; atheism justifies anything in the pursuit of utopia, and tell a man to pursue morality "for no reason at all", at least most men, and they will laugh at you like an idiot, and then perhaps rob and murder you: they do so even when they're given reasons (go preachers!).


N. T.,

Thank you for an engaging response to my post. I like the fact that you are well-read in a way that few biblical scholars are. It's a pleasure to converse with you for that reason, and because you are a practitioner of that branch of biblical scholarship which dares to engage in Sachkritik. You are convinced that the Bible, and Judaism and Christianity, gets some very basic things wrong. I am not so convinced, but I enjoy the discussion. It keeps me going better than a double espresso.

I was right about your stance. You are, as you say, mostly about pointing out the violence inherent in existing world-views, not about constructing an alternative to them. You have no alternative to offer. You seem to suggest that atheism provides one, though there is something about the shape of life which prevents you from being an atheist. It would be fun to hear you explain why you are not an atheist.

You are, so far as I can tell, a post-Christian, a gadfly buzzing around Christianity's rear end. And that of Judaism. It's a stinky job, but someone has to do it.

On the other hand, it might be a waste of your talent. The more radical critique of someone like Nietzsche is more compelling. He stares right into the face and bosom of Christianity, and dares to hate what he sees with all his guts.

On the other hand, you seem to self-identify as a modernist Christian, which means you wish to offer a critique from the inside. Given the depth of your broadsides, the fact might be taken as a sign of insufficient moral seriousness on your part. It's a question I have.

At a very high level of abstraction, world-views are to some degree always and everywhere parasites attached to other world-views. Vice-versa, they are, always and everywhere, hosts to which other world-views are attached. But the host-parasite analogy no longer clarifies much of anything at that level.

I stand by my claim - which I will now develop further - that the Enlightenment, secularism, and modernity are parasites attached to, not the carcass of Judeo-Christianity, but to a great lumbering beast that hardly notices that there are mice running down its back proudly proclaiming that they are headed in the opposition direction.

It must be annoying to ride a beast so inattentive to its mouse-sized stowaways.

Do you really believe the analogy is reversible? Do you think that Judaism and Christianity are, no less than the other way around, stowaway mice on the lumbering beast of modernism?

Perhaps you do. Perhaps, at least, you want it to be that way.

In addition, is it necessary, in order to be a self-respecting modernist, to claim that modernism represents the latest iteration of a red thread, the red thread, that runs through all of history?

Just questions I have. I wonder how self-important modernists need to feel to make it worth their while.

I do not think that the Judeo-Christian apocalyptic legacy is 'parasitic' on Zoroastrianism and Persian thought. I've dealt with aspects of the question elsewhere: the specific content of Jewish and Christian apocalypses (Isaiah 65-66; parts of Daniel; 1 Enoch, Jubilees, Revelation, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch; etc.) represents an adaptation of concepts from the environment (not specifically to Zoroastrianism, so far as I know) in ways consistent with the internal logic of Judaism and Christianity, respectively. See my:

"The Summing Up of History in 2 Baruch," Jewish Quarterly Review 89 (1998) 45-79

"Resurrection in Daniel and Other Writings at Qumran," in The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception. Volume Two (John J. Collins, Peter W. Flint, eds., Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 83/2, Leiden: Brill, 2001) 395-420.

If you haven't already, you might want to look at Momigliano's work on the concept of history in Daniel.

"Early Christianity" (the varieties found in the NT and in orthodoxy thereafter) and "early Judaism" (the Judaism of the Talmuds), of course, are organic to the heritage of "earlier" Judaism (including that reflected in the Hebrew Bible). They are offspring thereof. The relationship is much stronger than that of parasite to host.

For the rest, I love the rhetoric: the "hegemonic totalitarian neo-imperialism" of which institutional and movement Christianity and Judaism would be guilty, because those of us who are participants in both and not "post" in the slightest with respect to institution or movement, except to the modernist movement, continue to sally forth almost as if the modernist challenge came and went already.

But now I'm going overboard. I enjoy discussing the modernist challenge to traditional faith. I would also enjoy taking up Daniel and Revelation and what it meant to write, as it were, science fiction in antiquity. It seems to me you broached the subject once, as if Porphyry had been onto something. I think, rather, he misidentified the real issues. No less than modernists do today.

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