SocraticGadfly: Why aren't "we" Mardukites or Baalists instead of Jews or Christians?

August 15, 2015

Why aren't "we" Mardukites or Baalists instead of Jews or Christians?

I'm none of the four, of course, but, per this post from his new blog by philosopher friend Dan Kaufman, it's a legitimate question.

Here's an edited version of my comment on there to both Dan and Peter Smith, a former secularist now Catholic, who, after his conversion has become quite ardent in his Catholicism. As you can see on this blog post, his ardency is against Protestants, as well as against atheists, all of whom he has repeatedly stereotyped on Massimo Pigliucci's Scientia Salon as New Atheists. (As a sidebar, to be honest, I question Massimo using him as an editor for book reviews, because of this and other things, but, it's Massimo's place, not mine.)

Dan asked, rhetorically, what justification was there for Christianity if one got rid of (western) Christianity's idea of original sin, and the need for a substitutory atonement for that by a "divine man."

First, the Eastern Orthodox tradition disagrees with both Catholicism and Protestantism, and doesn't believe in original sin the way either of them do, because it rejects Augustine on this issue. It does believe, though, in an idea of "ancestral sin."

That said, as I told Dan in a follow-up, one can reject original sin, and even Orthodoxy's idea of ancestral guilt, and still see the need for Jesus, if one believes in the need for sacrificial expiation. One simply believes that Temple sacrifices, or the scapegoat of Leviticus, weren't enough.

That gets to the big issue: Supersessionism. Starting with Paul in the book of Romans, then amplified more after the Bar Kochba revolt in the second century CE, and culminating after the legalization, then establishment of Christianity, the idea is that Christianity essentially replaced Judaism, a new covenant, or new testament. Some evangelicals today try to soft-pedal that, especially many who like waving the "Judeo-Christian" fig leaf in the US that Dan rightly decries, claiming Israel is our best ally, etc., all while looking for that magical red heifer.

I, as part of my journey to secularism, of course rejected original sin, even before completing that journey. I also rejected the idea that a god would be so angry that he'd kill his own son, who later Christian theologians say is part of himself, for a sacrifice for original sin, let alone just for actual original sin.

Of course, many more liberal Christians don't stop to ask Dan's (and my) rhetorical question about "Why Jesus."

That said, this is part of why I didn't stop at liberal versions of Christianity when moving away from the conservative wing of Lutheranism.

As for Peter ... even if he  and other more modern, theoretically more modern Xns, interpret Genesis that way, Paul did not. Aquinas did not. Augustine did not. So, per Dan:
A. Why is your version correct?
B. If it is correct, why is something more "liberal" than it, like Geza Vermes' Jesus as Jewish faith healer (or Crossan's Jesus as Jewish Cynic) not even more correct yet?

That said, as a former Protestant, I can wrong-foot Catholics on issues of narrow selectivity. I won't go into details, speaking of mountains of writing, but I can. (This is a bit off topic, but Peter explicitly used the phrase "narrow selectivity" for Protestants. On things like an unmarried priesthood, an all-male priesthood, and claiming that birth control kills life, no, Peter, your church has plenty of narrow selectivity.)

But, back to my header, and a rhetorical question of my own.

That said, since the B'reshit (Genesis) story itself comes from earlier myth, why Judaism, Dan?

Why aren't we all Mardukites, per Enuma Elish, or whatever term you would use? Per the Elijah cycle of stories in 1 Kings, Ba'alism might be better term yet.

Dan puts it off, saying that he is a non-proselytizer.

The reality, though, is that Judaism, via its pre-Ezra Israelitism roots, was also supersessionist. (It's only proper, academically, to use "Judaism" to talk about the religion after Judahites from the "southern kingdom" returned from their exile in Babylon, and Ezra knocked four strands of writing and tradition, plus editing, into the five books of the Torah.) Israelite religion replaced a polytheism of sorts of the Canaanites with first a henotheism (arguably Ba'alism was the same), then a monotheism, mainly in the southern kingdom of Judah. (I'm not getting into a discussion of some historical details, such as whether David and Solomon existed or not, and how much land any putative united kingdom controlled.)

As many a "good" secularist — especially of New Atheist stripe — knows, with the Amalekites, Israelitism even had its own small-h holocaust. (Should we small-h it?)

It's very arguable that Israelitism is supersessionist, and that it presented itself as such. I mean, that's the whole theme, the whole core theme, of the entire Elijah cycle, at least as edited today. Per my reply to his comment, is this exactly the same as Christian supersessionism? No. Is it entirely different? Also, no.

I'm not here to proselytize Dan out of his modern liberal secular Judaism. However, I do invite him, and others, to look at its own history of supersessionism. That plus a bit of luck against the decaying, semi-collapsing empire of Antiochus IV, i.e., Antiochus Epiphanes, still echo around the Middle East today.

Beyond that, his Judaism is too narrow. Yes, he's a professional philosopher and I'm not, but I once was on track to being a professional theologian and he wasn't.

First, Judaism of the era of Jesus can't be limited to the Tanakh. On the one hand, you have the Sadducees, who accepted only the Torah, not the whole Tanakh. On the other, you have the folks at Qumran, accepting all sorts of extrabiblical literature, a fair chunk of which at least somewhat parallels later Xn beliefs.

As for the idea that Christians "misquote," many people still assume the text of the Tanakh was more static at this time than in actuality. Fair parts of Joshua and Judges, and smaller parts of 1-IV Kingdoms (1-2 Samuel/1-2 Kings) are different in Qumran texts, or other non-Masoretic ones, by a non-insignificant degree, than in the Masoretic version. The Septuagint of Jeremiah is 1/8 shorter than the Masoretic version, and in drastically different order. (It's a different order that reflects the normal order of other prophetic books, though.) And, that too is partially reflected at Qumran. The text of other books, cited in targums at Qumran, also differs from the Masoretic text.

These last two issues get to a bigger point. Judaism of circa 0 BCE/0 CE was far more varied and dynamic than something we might call "proto-rabbinic Judaism."

Meanwhile, back to supersessionism.

Religions have long claimed to be replacing others. Arguably, Protestantism, within Christianity, has a supersessionist angle toward Catholicism. Atheism of the Gnu Atheism stripe has the same toward religion in general.

As for Peter, beyond his thinking that Catholicism's shit doesn't stink, compared to Protestantism, and that all atheists are New Atheists? He seems to think that Christianity has unique moral insights.

Well, no.

The Torah scribe cited Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself," as one half of the fulfillment of the Torah. Jesus, of course, responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, which seems to have its general ideas translate today, though some details are still problematic and situational.


Yahweh himself showed Jonah that Ninevites, and by extension, Assyrians in general, were his neighbors.

As for the Golden Rule? The so-called Silver Rule, that says, "Do NOT do to your neighbor what you do NOT want done to yourself," is both morally superior in that it doesn't presume to know what's best for our neighbor, and is older.

Within Judaism, Hillel uttered it a century before Jesus. Beyond Judaism, Confucius said it 400 years before Hillel.

This is nothing personal against Peter. It's just that he is a known example of an enthusiastic convert to a non-fundamentalist type of Christianity who thinks he has all the bases covered. (That said, Peter never responded to any of my comments over there. I'm not at all shocked.)

Ditto, my noting that Israelitism is supersessionist is nothing personal against Dan. Jews theologically liberal (or nonobservant), moderate, and conservative alike abound who likely have never even thought about this.

Nor is this personal against New Atheists, who are also, of course, supersessionist and often vocally so.


Daniel A. Kaufman said...

As I said to you in our discussion over at Apophenia, you are not using "supersessionism" in the same way that I am using it -- or the way in which it is commonly used to describe Christianity's attitude towards Judaism.

Christianity claims to be the fulfillment of *Judaism's* prophecies, eschatologies, etc. Judaism does not claim the same, with regard to, say, ancient Sumerian religion.

So, I'm afraid I really don't find this reply convincing at all.

Gadfly said...

I can halfway buy that. That said, to extend my argument, as Israelite Yahwism grew as a henotheistic religion, it probably did so in part by indicating Yahweh was the "true Baal" or whatever.

On the Enumu Elish, although prophecies were not involved, theodicy WAS. The Genesis account reinterprets it, Gilgamesh, etc., in light of a new theodicy. Therefore, even on your definition, which is the more traditional one academically, I'll still argue that Yahwism/Israelitism was half as supersessionist as Christianity.

And, going to a later era, of proto-Judaism, the Maccabean era shows that it's not quite true that Judaism is not an evangelistic religion. (It should also be noted that Jews gained converts from both Christians and Arabs in medieval Spain, among other spaces; even if not explicitly evangelizing, Spanish Judaism wasn't positively dissuading would-be converts, either.)