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Spitting into the Hurricane as Your Clothes Get Blown Off

Skeptic X Gets Winded by Preterism

James Patrick Holding

We waited almost 5 weeks beyond a promised deadline, but eventually, I noted that the buzzards were circling the mailbox, and sure enough, there it was, the issue of that Skeptical publication in which Skeptic X gives us all his skinny on preterism in response to our item on the Olivet Discourse. I purposely challenged Skeptic X on this one some time back, first because it was just too easy, knowing how his comprehension of Biblical scholarship approached that of a box of rocks, when he opened that cavern he calls a mouth and dissed preterism, to say, "Oh yeah? Put your money where your mouth is, and don't miss any change!" Second, because I think it will serve as a perfect example of how Skeptic X the fundaliteralist gets himself gigged by what Wright calls "the folly of trying to fit the hurricane of first-century Jewish theology into the bottle of late-modern western categories." Skeptic X is standing out in this hurricane; his clothes blew off hours ago, his hair is all missing, his glasses are now in Yokohama, and he's still trying to spit hard enough so that the gob won't go backwards and dribble into his ear. Seeing this happen was worth the time.

It's worth beginning with some comments Skeptic X burbles out in an article that was actually mostly about how the paper-rag ed. of TSR is going the way of the dodo -- further, that is -- to be replaced by the sterling aluminum can of the online version. Feeling pretty put on, Skeptic X took the chance to waste paper and render thousands of small, furry animals homeless with a bit of well-poisoning. To begin, he describes preterism as the belief that "Jesus returned rather inconspicuously in 70 AD..." Inconspicuously? Skeptic X must miss it when that phalanx of Hell's Angels drives through his living room every morning. The 70 "return" ("advent" would be a better word) was vastly conspicuous, involving the destruction of a people (nearly) and a nation, the end of the "age of the law" by Christian understanding, and the ushering in of the age of the Messiah. Skeptic X must be some kind of anti-Semite if he brays off the events of 70 as "inconspicuous". (He's actually probably confused about what preterism teaches, and with a heretical variation of it; see below.) And speaking of cheap smears, he offers one on Gary DeMar as a "preterist with ties to Reconstructionism" which Skeptic X says is a movement that want to return us all to biblical principles like "execution by stoning for violations of Mosaic laws." To Skeptic X the Smearician, this "speaks volumes about the kind of mindset that [Holding] relies on to try to make another goofy religious belief sound respectable." Of course this comes from a guy who thinks I wanted him to pay for 90% of my website and spreads misinformation about me being "laid off," so I wouldn't take for granted that he got any of his readings right and is reporting them accurately here, either. Skeptic X also knows we'll nail his shimmying hiney for such a ridiculous genetic fallacy, so he cautiously and hurriedly adds that this "doesn't disprove [DeMar's] preterist beliefs [yet I will bring it up anyway for effect]" and snidely tacks on that use of DeMar is like "quoting the National Enquirer to try to prove that alien beings are visiting the earth in UFOs." Ha ha! You can tell when Skeptic X has his back against the wall and his hackles raised. It's times like that when he scratches for any loose association he can. DeMar's "ties with" Reconstructionism are about the same as Skeptic X's "ties with" C. Dennis McKinsey, in that both promulgate biblical errancy. If I work hard enough I can prove that Skeptic X has "ties to" the Skinheads because one of his third cousins once shook hands with someone who, in a crowd, inadvertently brushed against Tom Metzger. Try wiping the tar off of THAT brush.

At any rate, to the main article, and as a maintenance note, Skeptic X says he has more to come online. We'll see how many eons that takes to put together.

Skeptic X's initial response takes up 5 printed pages, and 7 of these are taken up with wasted blather, which is substantially less than usual. It seems the enforced discipline of the printed page makes it hard for Skeptic X to use his favorite weapon, but don't worry, Skeptic X fans, he manages to use a few of his popgun tactics nonetheless. The first attempt at actual argument comes when Skeptic X strains like a constipated elephant to push the word oikoumene into meaning the whole danged world, not just the Roman Empire. I really enjoy when Skeptic X does goofy things like this and can only use a lexicon (his 1960 AG with the dinosaur prints still in it) and Bible translations (any of the 7,745,938 he normally uses) to support himself, though these actually flummox his case rather than help it. After that he strains and whines a bit more to make passages with oikoumene in them come out worldly. For example, take this crackpot stretching of Luke 4:5:

And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.

Gasping for some air, Skeptic X says meekly, "Most of the Roman empire lay to the west of this region, so if Jesus was able to see all the kingdoms of the world, how likely is it that Luke meant that the devil had shown to Jesus only the kingdoms that lay to the west of his mountain but not those to the east of it?" How likely? With the oik- word, 100% likely, Skeptic X. Just to blow this little parade off the street, let's talk to some real experts, not some cornpone ex-Church of Christ preacher with a heavy book in his hand, to find out how the ancients used the oik- word. Skeptic X's band likes encyclopedias, so let's start with this one:

The ancient Roman view was of a spherical world, the inhabited region of which (the oikoumene) was surrounded by oceans, and this world centered around the Mediterranean. It was bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the mouth of the Ganges River. The southern extent of the African continent and the northern expanses of the land masses of Europe and Asia were vastly underestimated.

Oops! It seems these guys don't know about oikoumene meaning the whole danged planet. They say it means the inhabited region, and only goes as far as the Ganges -- which is as far as Alex the Great went. Forget China and the Congo. Now let's see what some scholar Skeptic X don't know better than says in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review:

Among the older geographical tradition, D. stresses the role that periploi played as source material for Strabo and discusses the meaning the word oikoumene had in this tradition (pp. 43-45): while in Homer, the idea of the whole oikoumenebeing one island in the Ocean prevailed, to Strabo as to earlier geographers the term applies only to the known world. Thus, not only can there be peoples living outside the oikoumene, but the oikoumene itself can be extended--a merit attributed to Alexander and, most of all, to the Roman empire.

Dang. We're still not globular. In fact we're explicitly NOT globular. Let's see if this commentary on Strabo the geographer does Skeptic X any service:

...Strabo accepted the traditional description of the Earth as divided into five zones with the oikoumene, or inhabited part, represented as a parallelogram spread over eight lines of latitude and seven meridians of longitude.

That's a tar-nation shame, ain't it? I checked a print copy of Strabo, and what do you know, it had a map showing that the "inhabited earth" according to the S-man was just from Spain to India. That's it. Just one more, from here:

The importance of Parthia was simple: Rome could not claim to be master of the oikoumene (or civilised world) until her empire embraced the Hellenised areas of Iran and Northern India, thus encompassing all the lands that had been ruled by Alexander the Great.

That sure as hoo-neck don't sound like the whole globe to me. Now of course Skeptic X has by now gotten his shorts in a sweat by saying, "Yeah, but see! It's still more than the Roman Empire. You forgot Iran, India, and all that stuff to the east!" No sweat. We got traditions of Thomas preaching as far as India, and even if they are false, if Christianity made it all the way to Rome by 40, a trip to India by 70 is peas of cake. I can take the expansion if needed; Skeptic X is still on the rocks, though, because it's still a lot less real estate than Skeptic X needs it to be. LOTS less. And beyond that still, what little frame of ref we have shows that when the NT writers thought of the oik- word, they meant just Rome's Empire. Skeptic X doesn't comment on the cite of Luke's taxation passage, or the famine of Claudius, no doubt because he knows it sets him sailing with a hole in his oars, but too bad, Skeptic X -- you can't squeeze a whole global revolution out of an oikoumene.

And if Skeptic X wants more to gum on, here's some thoughts. Try the Strong's entry for oik:

625. oikoumene, oy-kou-men'-ay; fem. part. pres. pass. of G3611 (as noun, by impl. of G1093); land, i.e. the (terrene part of the) globe; spec. the Roman empire:--earth, world.

More, though. The thing that really upsets Skeptic X's apple cart amd even takes his lexicon and translations from his poor, trembling hands, is seen in the entry about Strabo. Skeptic X laughingly thinks that because AG and his two trans say "the inhabited earth" they say the word can mean to include Australia, the Americas, and Tristan da Cuhna, too. No, X. Bad dog. The lexicons may think this (though the 2000 BAGD also says that the word can mean the Roman Empire, as do Thayer's and Liddell-Scott), but check Strabo: People DID live outside what was called "the inhabited earth." It's also a fluid little booger, that can be extended. So yes, Hebrews 1:1-6 says that Jesus was brought into the inhabited world, and that meant the Empire at least and maybe those little stretches to the east -- it is an anthro-centric designation, and it's a delicious irony that a provincialist like you misses it. Rev. 3:10 says that trial was coming on the inhabited world (i.e., Rome, or at best for you, as far as India) -- and that last one, by the way, tears your attempt as well to make ge into a global commodity. More there in a moment. And YES, that means that Paul DID have in mind in Romans 10:18 just the Empire, and maybe even as far as India, in spite of whatever Ps. 19:1-4 may have had in mind. If Ps. 19 did have a global aspirations in view, it makes no difference. In fact Skeptic X shows off his wound where he gigs himself when he stops to comment on how Paul here gives an "excellent example of how New Testament writers twisted and distorted the Old Testament scriptures to make them fit into whatever doctrinal views they were trying to prove..." On the contrary. This is an excellent example of how Skeptic X the provincialist hasn't grown past the fundaliteralism he inherited from the Church of Christ, and which he supplemented with equally contextually-uneducated bean tossers like Thomas Paine. What Skeptic X blaps out to be "distortion" is actually accepted and normal Jewish exegetical procedure for the period. We've referred Skeptic X to Glenn Miller's item on this subject, but it didn't make an impact in that brick he calls a head, so we'll show how it relates to this example.

Jewish exegesis of this period had four general methods: literalist, midrashic, pesher, and allegorical. Skeptic X and the Church of Christ only recognize one -- the first, and Skeptic X will allow the fourth to keep from looking foolish when it suits his purposes. It is the second that has relevance here, as Miller notes, quoting Longenecker:

The central concept in rabbinic exegesis, and presumably that of earlier Pharisees as well, was "midrash." The word comes from the verb darash (to resort to, seek; figuratively, to read repeatedly, study, interpret), and strictly denotes an interpretive exposition however derived and irrespective of the type of material under consideration. In the Mishnah, the Palestinian Gemaras, and the earlier Midrashim the verb peshat and derash are used in roughly synonymous fashion, for the earlier rabbis (the Tannaim) did not see any difference between their literal interpretations and their more elaborate exegetical treatment. Only among the Amoraite rabbis, sometime in the fourth century C.E were literalist exegesis and midrash exegesis consciously differentiated. But while not recognized as such until later, midrashic exegesis can be seen in retrospect to have differed from literalist exegesis among the Pharisaic teachers of the New Testament period.
Midrashic exegesis ostensibly takes its point of departure from the biblical text itself (though psychologically it may have been motivated by other factors) and seeks to explicate the hidden meanings contained therein by means of agreed-upon hermeneutical rules (e.g., Rabbi Hillel's seven Middoth; Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha's later set of thirteen; Rabbi Eliezer ben Jose ha-Galili's thirty-two). The purpose of midrash exegesis is to contemporize the revelation of God given earlier for the people of God living later in a different situation. What results may be characterized by the maxim: "That has relevance for This"--that is, what is written in Scripture has relevance for our present situation. In so doing, early Judaism developed what George Foote Moore once aptly defined as "an atomistic exegesis, which interprets sentences, clauses, phrases, and even single words, independently of the context or the historical occasion, as divine oracles; combines them with other similar detached utterances; and makes large use of analogy of expression often by purely verbal association" (Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 1.248).

Romans 10:14-18 is precisely an example of this. Skeptic X shoots himself in both feet on this one with his crass and childish hyperliteralism, and the whole oikoumene has fallen on his head.

Banging his head against oikoumene takes up one whole page; another page or so is spent trying to stretch ge into a whole world. Unlike the oik- word, this indeed CAN be taken as meaning the whole magilla, but it also clearly is flexible enough to include smaller areas of land.

Skeptic X thinks he has found the magic poof for this one in that "qualifiers were almost always used with ge to indicate when it was being used in its limited sense of land within a region" (i.e., "land of Egypt"). By extension he apparently thinks that when there is no such delimitation, we are allowed to assume the whole planet is in view, though he isn't quite dumb enough to say it outright and even qualifies his "always" with "almost" just in case someone finds a cite to blow him off the surface. One of the cites he barks out as a "whole earth" is Luke 23:44. He doesn't say much here, referring readers to an earlier article, but he's already given himself a hermeneutical hernia. If a delimiter is required, then in Rom. 10:14-18 Paul has given his delimiter -- the oikoumene. Scratch that one off the list. Luke 23:44 doesn't have a delimiter, but excuse me, Skeptic X, can we open the dimension box for a moment? The darkness, whatever it was, was an airborne phenomenon. It was unlikely to have been constrained by geographical considerations. It could hardly have been whipping a map out to say, "I only want to be over Judea, so I have to stop at this border." So excuse me, Skeptic X, but how on ge is Luke going to be able to say "over the land of..." anything? Unless the darkness matched or had a reasonably close match to a specific socio-political border, and/or unless Luke was able to hire a satellite to check it out or go around asking everyone in the Empire, "Hey, psst, did you see it that day and did it match your borders?", no such delimit as "land of Egypt" is possible or practicable. Nice try. The descriptor and the data fits a darkness that was over a very limited area, with no connection to political borders, and indeed far smaller than the political borders of Judea.

Where X specifically wants to bap ge into the whole earth, though, is in Matthew 24:29-30. He loads up the places where Matt uses ge for the whole earth, and thinks this magically poofs 24:29-30 into line. It doesn't. The delimiter is given by the use of the word tribes, which we showed to be a reference to Israel's tribes. We said of this:

...Matthew uses "tribes" elsewhere only of Israel [19:18], and the word is used in the Septuagint to refer to them; and "earth" is ge, or land, can mean a limited area or the entire globe; in context, and in the light of the use of "tribes," as well as the allusion to Zech 12:10 ["And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him"] it most likely means Jerusalem or Judaea only...

Skeptic X has almost zip to say about this at first; the best he can do here and on Rev. 1:7 (which contextually limits "every eye" to the "tribes" referred to) as a parallel is barble about "ambiguity" in the passages and the inability of the Holy Spirit to inspire clarity to the extent necessary to cover his miseducation. (I plan on marketing a bumper sticker real soon that says, "It's not that it's confusing. It's just that you're stupid.") A little later he does try to fumble his way past the meaning of "tribes" first by doing his usual childish fuss about a typo (it is Matthew 19:28, and remember, Skeptic X, we're still waiting for an explanation of that "90% of your website" gaffe that makes any typo look like perfection in comparison) and then barking that the 24:29-30 one doesn't say specifically the tribes of Israel. He then hypocritically bellows about making words mean what we want them to mean, but 'scuse me, Skeptic X, without the delimiter you do exactly the same, and this one against all evidence we have (Matthew's use of the word previously; the LXX use of the word, which X doesn't mention, nor the Zech. 12:10 allusion -- to this we can also note the use of the word for Israeli tribes in Luke 2:36, Acts 13:21, Rom. 1:11, Phil. 3:5, Heb. 7:13-14, James 1:1, and all through Revelation, not ONCE used of Gentiles -- who were designated with the word ethnos), so that a "local" view has a distinct and unchallenged advantage the "universal" view doesn't. Bad boy, X.

Now we get to the part where Skeptic X gets to wave around his crass hyperliteralism, which is the part I was especially looking forward to. My notations that neither Isaiah nor any other OT prophet thought literal stars were going to fall, but were using apocalyptic imagery to relate socio-political events, is blattered off as a case of "trying to prove biblical inerrancy by assuming biblical inerrancy." If that's the case then one wonders about "non-inerrantist" liberal-moderate scholars like G. B. Caird who thought the same, describing such passages as "prophetic hyperbole" which used terms of cosmic collapse to describe God's judgment on nations. No doubt rather than actually rebutting them of socio-anthropological and linguistic grounds, Skeptic X would humph back that such scholars were "thinking like inerrantists." No, Skeptic X, we don't need a stance of inerrancy to win or interpret this one. All that's needed is the non-provincialist attitude you lack as a crass hyperliteralist with a CoC backbone. We've gigged Skeptic X before for this sort of temporal and cultural bigotry; so that he's forced to say something on a subject he avoided years ago, let's bring it all back in, with some editing and with some extra comments in brackets:

For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices...[Jer. 7:22]

By X's line of thinking, Jeremiah 7:22 "stands in flagrant contradiction of what the last four books of the Pentateuch say" with their many commands of offerings and sacrifices. Presumably we are to think that Jeremiah represents some "anti-cultus" faction that denies the Mosaic heritage -- some would say, that he is speaking against a recent forgery of Deuteronomy "discovered" in the Temple.

The simple answer to this notes that this is rather the use of hyperbole to effect a point. The purpose of this phrase is to show the relative importance of sacrifices, etc. in terms of inward attitudes. Indeed, were this not so, we would be constrained to ask how such an obvious “condemnation” of the sacrifices survived the so-called “cutting,” since the very priests that X accuses of creating the sacrificial law for their own benefit were the ones who made the “cuttings” in the first place! But history knows of no such opposition to the sacrificial system in Israel; while the temple machinery was often corrupt (as in the time of Annas), there is no indication at all that the actual sacrificial practice was disdained.

Skeptics like X, however, will have none of this. For the, the text must be read "plainly" and to them, "plainly" this means Jeremiah was indisposed to the Pentateuch. But as usual, X and his ilk are thinking out of their time. Let's offer some background.

ANE culture, including that of the Semites, was generally pre-literate and grounded in oral transmission. Correspondingly, the use of idiom and strong, colorful expression was much more common than it is in our own modern society, especially within the context of teaching or the transmission of important messages. When Zedekiah the son of Chenannah, the false prophet, presented to Ahab two horns of iron he had made, and said that with these Ahab would gore the Syrians (1 Kings 22:11), this was more than just a comedic, Gallagher-type prop being used, or some primitive type of show and tell; it was a recognized means of communication. [Presumably Skeptic X would tell us that that Zedekiah actually envisioned Ahab going out and goring Syrians with these horns. We anticipate his response, and Hyper the Literalist will be ready with comments.] Likewise, Ezekiel lying on his side to symbolize Jewish punishment, and Jesus' "cleansing" of the temple. Actions and verbiage that we would consider excessive, overly demonstrative, and unnecessary for transmitting a message were essential and/or expected for ANE communication processes. Today this is preserved in the extensive use of gesticulations in some Eastern cultures, and even a few Western ones (the Italian culture for example).

(This was for several reasons - among them that these tactics encouraged memorization of the message in a social situation where few had the resources or the knowledge to just pull out a scroll and read the material again, and where there were no video cameras to record something that might need to be preserved for later.)

Relevant to our topic at hand, our point is that Jeremiah (as well as other Biblical writers - cf. Amos 5:21-5, Micah 6:1-8, Is. 1:10-17) here employs a type of idiom designed to grab the attention of his hearers and cause his message to be noticed and remembered. Within context, Jeremiah, standing upon the steps of the Temple (7:1-2a), announces the need for reform of behavior (3) and advises against seeking refuge in the mere presence of the Temple (cf. the triple cry, 7:4 -another example of a memory-enhancing and attention-getting technique). The people assumed that simply having the Temple around protected them - as though a modern person assumed that nothing bad could happen to them inside a church! In a sense the people attributed to the Temple and the sacrifices a sort of magical power to keep enemies at bay. Jeremiah's message negates this idea: How can the people sin and think that they will still be protected (9-11) the example of Israel, which thought it had similar protection, is called upon. (12-15)

Jeremiah cites the continuing sin of the people (16-20), and then sarcastically tells the people to continue violating prescribed sacrificial ritual. (21) Finally, in our verse (22), a rhetorical negation is used to bring attention to the fact that internal posture is more important than external ritual. By expressing the matter in terms of a negation, the hearer/reader is first shocked, then realizes from the admonitions following what the actual point is: As it is expressed in 1 Samuel 15:22 --

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

This sort of outrageous, rhetorical teaching technique was quite common to Semitic and ANE culture. Hence, we have Jesus' parables, with outrageous images of a beam in the eye and a Pharisee swallowing a camel; hence, similar language in Rabbinic works of the period; hence, the majestic and excessive language describing the military prowess of the Egyptian and Babylonian armies in their respective cuneiform texts; and so on, throughout the literature of the ANE. These were powerful tools of communication for the Semites - and no less so for their neighbors, their contemporaries, and for other pre-literate societies from the Hutu in Africa to the Maori of New Zealand.

This understood, X's many remarks on Semitic context (it "amounts to nothing more than another biblicist trying to tell us that the Bible doesn't really mean what it plainly says") are nothing again but chauvinistic nonsense. Of course it "does not mean" what it "says" - any more than saying "I have ants in my pants" means that our dungarees are infested with Formicida. We use the idiom stated in order to more colorfully express a concept: In this case, "I am nervous/unsettled." (Of course, following X's logic, one cannot blame a person who, hearing the idiom in question, tackles the speaker and sprays Raid down their trousers - after all, they "plainly said" that they had ants in their pants!) Our own idioms are relatively colorless and trite in comparison to those used in ANE and other oral cultures, but we still use them for basically the same reason, and there is no reason why we should not take their usage in the Bible under consideration.

Now to the hard data concerning this verse. Bright [Brig. Jer, 57] speaks for the overwhelming majority of commentators (conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike) when he writes of Jer. 7:22--

It is unlikely, however, that it is to be taken either as a categorical rejection of the sacrificial system as such, or as a statement that there was no sacrifice in the wilderness.

The point, he continues, is rather that "God's essential demands did not concern ritual matters, but the keeping of the Covenant stipulations." For this view, see also Alle.Jer, 64-5; Clem.Jer, 46-7; Huey.JerLam, 109; Thomp.Jer, 287-8.

The negation idiom emerges from the Hebrew word lo, which transliterates as "not." On this matter, the principal study has been done by Whitney [Whit.Jer 7:22, 152], who describes the usage of lo in Jer. 7:22 as "a form hyperbolic verbal irony intended to intensify the contrast between what is present in the mind of the audience and what ought to be present." Whitney shows this idiomatic usage of lo elsewhere in the OT: Gen. 45:7-8, Ex. 16:8, 1 Sam. 8:7, 1 Sam. 20:14-15, Job 2:10, Jer. 16:14-15, Ezek. 16:47 and Hos. 6:6. His conclusion agrees with that of Feinberg [Fein. CommJer, 75]:

...The negative in Hebrew often supplies the lack of the comparative - i.e., without excluding the thing denied, the statement implies only the prior importance of the things set in contrast to it.

Likewise, Laymon [Laym. IntB, 380]:

Hebrew idiom allows the denial of one thing in order to assert another, and the intention here is not wholly to deny but only to relegate to second place.

We therefore conclude with these scholars that Jer. 7:22 is in no way at odds with the Pentateuch. X's case for disharmony is based upon his inability and/or refusal to grasp the passage in its socio-linguistic context, and it therefore fails to hold up under scrutiny.

A few points in closing. There is another incongruity if we take X's side: In synagogue services, Jeremiah 7:22 was read at the conclusion of the reading of Lev. 6-8. [Fein.CommJer, 75] If Jeremiah 7:22 were indeed a flat condemnation of sacrifices, then how is it possible that it was attached to the end of a Jewish liturgy that gave instructions for such sacrifices? The only good answer is that it was interpreted idiomatically, and if this is how the Jews interpreted it, we should either defer to them - or else provide much, much better arguments as a counter!

Second, and along the same lines, I pointed out that history knows of no outright rejection of the sacrificial system. X responds by asserting our passage and similar ones as proof (which we have seen, they are not), and then remarks, "I think that this is called the argument from silence." However, a silence this significant is no fallacy to argue about at all. X's interpretation would require something tantamount to a Congressman standing on the steps of the Capitol, in full hearing of his peers, saying that the Founders did not write the Constitution; and then, his words being incorporated into the Federalist Papers as authoritative! The sort of rejection X suggests would have resulted in an enormous split in Judaism that would have left reverberations even unto this day, or at the very least would have left significant textual-polemical or archaeological evidence. Unless X can provide an argument better informed by socio-religious data, he cannot be given any credence here for doing more than spouting off an uninformed, "hot off the grill" opinion of his own design.

Third, there is more to X's chauvinism. Once again remarking upon the "Semitic mindset," he writes:

...we have to wonder about the intelligence of a deity who would reveal his word in a way that could be understood by only a tribe of desert nomads who had 'Semitic minds,' and the rest of the world would just have to wonder what he meant.

Scraping the mud from this crass display of chauvinism, we have these observations:

  • Re: "only a tribe of desert nomads" and "the rest of the world" - here again X displays his abundant ignorance of basic anthropology and sociology. This sort of thinking and language I have described was also familiar to other ANE cultures: The Babylonians, the Assyrians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, etc. would have understood quite clearly the point being made once informed of the particulars. Furthermore, generally speaking, negation idioms have a rich history in oral cultures around the world. Socrates was known for a sarcastic type of irony that employed negation idioms. Even today, we use forms of negation idioms, generally in the same sarcastic manner as in the OT. (An example: Someone observing heavy rain and saying, "What nice weather we're having!")
  • Re: An "intelligent deity" - if X wishes to blame anyone here, he needs to look in the mirror. It is precisely his sort of arrogant chauvinism that is responsible for cross-cultural breakdowns in communication, misunderstandings, and armed conflict.

Let us put it plainly: The Semites were here before we were, and the message was first imputed to THEM. It was critical for them, as the initial recipients, to get the message clearly, and our own arrogant presumption did not require God to wait several hundred years for Western civilization to pop up so that His message could be imputed in more "sensible" or "clear" terms. We have only ourselves to blame if we find the message of the Bible "unclear": It is we who made our language less colorful and less idiomatic than Hebrew. It is we who choose to look down on other cultures and pronounce them inferior, rather than trying to understand them.

X, then, merely continues along the same lines. Thus if X X or any other skeptic) wishes to engage in fruitful exchange on these topics and be taken seriously beyond a tiny circle of like-minded, closed-minded sycophants, then they need to do more than just read the English text and announce their inexpert opinion. They must rather come to the texts on their own terms. Skeptics who refuse to do this show themselves to be no different than the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who persists even today in the belief that "n-ggers" should sit in the back of the bus where they belong, or the Nation of Islam fanatic who denigrates "crackers" and "rednecks."

Skeptic X has never grown past this bigoted attitude. Saying nothing about the evidence for such symbols being used in the Biblical text, his sole justification for arguing that Isaiah, et al must have thought that these astral events would literally occur (and pay attention, X, I didn't quote MacArthur as "proof" but as a lesser example of the sort of hyper-literalism you are also victim to, and also try to explain your way out of) is a diatribe on how those stupid ancients thought that stars really were little cinders that could fall to the ground. Why this doesn't mean such events must be interpreted literally even so isn't explained. It's manifest that it is also possible to really and actually get ants in our pants - ask anyone who sat in the wrong place at a picnic - but I don't see Skeptic X hoisting cans of Raid all over the place and spraying nervous people with them.

When it gets down it, it might be added that the Discourse does not even contain anything that could be called scientifically erroneous (for it does NOT say the stars will fall TO EARTH, and that meteorites were called "stars" is irrelevant, for the word "star" did not mean "an enormous, flaming ball of gas; see also, X X"), so even on the surface Skeptic X's answer is nothing more than an "Oh, yeah?" that proves zippo. But if X wants to play the Literalist Lout, we'll play right along and nab him for it...

Oh, boy. We seem to have a call from Hyper the Literalist. Where are you today, Hyper?

"Hey, Holding. I'm at the C. Dennis McKinsey School of Ping-Pong. Great place. Can I say something?"

You know you can, Hyper.

"Well, it's another one of those things where X shows he's losing it when it comes to biblical errancy. In the biblicist's hip pocket, as usual. Can you quote, um, Daniel 8:20-21?

Sure. "The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king." Okay, what's the point?

"The point, Holding, is that this is just ridiculous. Daniel is saying here that animals ran these kingdoms. Why X missed this one I can't say, but I'd guess it means he's missing his vitamins."

Um -- well, Hyper, I think X would say that that is obviously figurative. After all, animals can't really rule a country, so-

"Hogwash! The ancients were stupid, you know that, and there's proof that they thought animals could hold political office. The Emperor Caligula once had his favorite horse elected to the Roman Senate. Yeah, he was nuts, of course, but so was Daniel and Jesus. And if the Bible says snakes and donkeys can talk, they sure could run for political office. X is just too ignorant to keep the torch alive. So bottom line, Daniel obviously meant that animals would literally rule the kingdoms. There's no way around it."

Um, thank you, Hyper, please say hi to Dennis for us. At any rate, it comes down to that X thinks the language of stars and stripes was meant literally rather than as apocalyptic imagery. Well, excuse me for coming to the defense of those dumb ancients Skeptic X says he's smarter than (though I bet none of them ever would have read what I wrote as "pay for 90% of my website") but do you suppose that the Jews didn't look back on these oracles against Babylon, etc. and say, "Huh, that's funny. The sun didn't go black when Babylon fell." No, actually, they wouldn't, because unlike Skeptic X the Fundaliteralist they knew it was symbolic language. They knew people had been metaphorically compared to stars, as in the cites we gave as parallels and which Skeptic X ignored (see also Is. 14:12, and Hag. 2:6 for more such imagery). They knew they weren't to take this as literal just as Ahab knew he wasn't supposed to take Zedekiah's horns and go out goring people. Skeptic X will bark back, "Yeah, but to go out and take the horns like that would be actually impossible. There would be a good reason to see that as symbolic." And we have "good reason" to see it as symbolic as well:

  • No one, obviously, looked back on these prophecies, and said, "Hey, the moon didn't turn bloody that day Babylon went kaput!" It's especially a goofy assumption for McLiteralist Skeptic X to make since by this reckoning such events would have happened some 4-5 times in literal history, and no one, especially the Jews who should have been having to deal with the failure of such literal predictions over and over again, ever saw a need to explain the failure. But of course Skeptic X is always ready to hypothesize stupidity in others when convenient, so no doubt he doesn't see this as a problem.

    As a matter of course, even liberal Biblical scholars recognize that such rampant stupidity is unlikely, and their usual tack is to say that the mundane parts of Isaiah's Babylon prophecy (for example) were what Isaiah or some other person only wrote, and the apocalyptic imagery was inserted by a later redactor who thought these things would literally happen. Caird [114] noted the insanity of such a position by those infected with "pedantic literalism" [like Skeptic X] for like most charges of incongruous editing, this still forces us to "reckon with the editor who saw nothing incongruous in bringing them together. The application of surgery to a biblical text is more often than not an admission on the part of the surgeon that he has failed to comprehend it as it stands." Caird could just as well have been giving Skeptic X his vitamins.

  • The Jews (and other oral cultures) USED symbolic imagery to express literal ideas, and had a specific genre (apocalyptic) within which it was used. In contrast Skeptic X is a low-context hyperliteralist in a logocentric culture, separated by thousands of years. Why believe him to begin with when he thinks it should be taken "literally"? Caird notes that passages like Is. 11:1-9 and 66:22-24 (which use such language in a positive vein) match the same sort of language used aming Eastern people even today. We have an example of this which we recently used as part of a tongue-in-cheek Skeptical quiz:

    1. You walk into the home of a friend in the Ancient Near East. He says, "You have extremely honored me by coming into my abode. I am not worthy of it. This house is yours; you may burn it if you wish. My children are also at your disposal; I would sacrifice them all for your pleasure." What do you do?
      1. Burn down his house and kill his children, just like the man says.
      2. Call the police and the mental hospital to pick up this obviously sick man.
      3. Run screaming from the house.
      4. Reply, "I am unworthy of your honor and of being a guest in your home."

    By Skeptic X's fundaliteralist reading, we would have to pick either A, B or C, because it is "clear" that such events can be fulfilled literally. Wiser and better read scholars like Caird note that the language of hyperbole is no different than a passage from Vergil's Fourth Ecologue, which speaks of "summers of snakeless meadow, unlaborious earth and oarless sea" as expected benefits of the imperial rule of Augustus. According to Skeptic X the Fundaliteralist, then, Vergil thinks that Augustus was going to go on a nationwide snake extermination campaign, spread a lot of fertilizer to make agriculture easier, and invent the boat motor. This is the absurdity we are reduced to if we insist upon reading ancient hyperbole with pedantic literalism.

  • An important point which Skeptic X slides right over is the observation of Caird that the advice given doesn't make a lot of sense if this is an "end of the world" scenario, but makes perfect sense if it is a matter of a real military and political upheaval. Skeptic X must be the guy who told Wile E. Coyote that those little parasols would protect him from falling boulders.
  • Now let's stress a point to force Skeptic X to get consistent. The oracles we listed as examples are clustered around and printed with other language that Skeptic X would be dread embarrassed to take as literal, even if we hit him with a McKinsey ugly stick:
    Is. 13:6-9 Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt: And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
    Is. 34:6-10 The sword of the LORD is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, and with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams: for the LORD hath a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
    Ezek. 32:3-5 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will therefore spread out my net over thee with a company of many people; and they shall bring thee up in my net. Then will I leave thee upon the land, I will cast thee forth upon the open field, and will cause all the fowls of the heaven to remain upon thee, and I will fill the beasts of the whole earth with thee. And I will lay thy flesh upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with thy height.

    Each of these passages are in oracles that mix language that not even a McLiterlist could take literally with language that represents literal events and can be taken literally to some extent. The burden is then on a Skeptic X to show why the specific passages at issue warrant a literal interpretation, and his biases are not a sufficient answer. (And we DID explain what these meant, despite Skeptic X's missing it, so he can go back and read it again.) He cannot bellow about "consistency" when the language of the oracles is mixed. He has a lot more work to do before he can even step on that magic carpet.

Skeptic X tries to salvage some decency out of his embarrassing hyperliteralism by asking snidely, if this was just apocalyptic imagery, then what was the darkness at the crucifixion? It was recorded, Skeptic X, in a narrative format; these oracles were recorded in a poetic format. That makes it prima facie inarguable that they were intended to be read metaphorically unless it was clear they were meant to be taken literally (and even the "literal" elements can be assumed to have hyperbolic elements, when we get down to it), and applying his literalist biases isn't going to make the case.

Skeptic X finally blows his nose by spending the last 1 1/2 pages on a diversion in context. My entire essay is about the Olivet Discourse, but because it seems he can't explain away 90% of my article so easily, Skeptic X drags in and burps about 2 Peter 3:1-12, managing to fill almost a whole column with the cite itself to cover his incompetence at actually addressing the issues at hand. Despite Skeptic X's blather, it isn't at all hard to "explain away" but since he knows he needs to fill more space and create more diversions, Skeptic X makes sure to add some other unrelated blatter on the date and authorship of 2 Peter (which he can bang, along with his head, against this). When we actually get back from La La Land and into eschatology again where we were supposed to be, he wants to first bark about the seeming "excuse" Pete is making for a late parousia. Skeptic X needs to check this site before running his gator, because we address that very point elsewhere: this fits in nicely with Jewish scoffers in the 50s and early 60s, within the predicted "generation," figuring that with the Romans still wagging their tails even as Jewish nationalism gets ardent, there isn't much to worry about where Jesus' predictions were concerned. As for the "thousand years" part being some remote way to excuse a delay, it's just more fundaliteralist fudging -- we answered this elsewhere as well, though maybe too late for Skeptic X to notice even if he was awake at the time. We quoted an anti-preterist site as saying:

This is unbelievable given that Preterists insist at the time this epistle was written the second coming was only a few years away. How could Peter not have known this? Why does he not remind his audience that the second coming of Christ was about to occur? Why does he not remind the believers that Jesus said he would come within their lifetimes? Why instead does he speak of God's patience, God's timing, and thousands of years being as a day to the Lord?

And we noted that DeMar has answered the careless use of this verse. Just like Skeptic X, dispensationalists never use this verse anywhere else - does this mean Jesus' three days in the tomb lasted 3000 years? Of course not. The point is that for God, time is meaningless (note: not a day "is" a thousand years, but "is AS"), but it isn't for US. Peter is saying, God doesn't care about your mockeries, because as far as He is concerned, time is meaningless and the parousia is set in stone and has already happened. Ps. 90:4 is alluded to here, and says, "For a thousand years in thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night." That is the point of 2 Peter 3:8 - it is not a way of excusing away the lateness of the parousia, and fits perfectly with the idea of mockers saying not that it didn't happen, but that it wouldn't. Skeptic X fails the reading test yet again.

Finally Skeptic X plays the same harp over the latter part of the passage which uses apocalyptic imagery. No, he says, this has to be literal, and you are just making excuses. He tries to make his usual silk purse out of the sow's ear of 2 Peter 3:4 and 11, which says, "And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation," and, "...Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness..." I suppose Mr. Pedantic Literalist also thinks that when Mark says Jesus explained "all things" (Mark 4:34) to his disciples that included the mating habits of sea slugs. I suppose he also thinks that when Paul speaks of people who eat "all things" (Rom. 14:2) he means to include rocks and dirt. The problem as well again is that Skeptic X still thinks that preterism argues that the "coming" in 70 was "inconspicuous." It argues no such thing; Skeptic X is confused, most likely with a heretical form of preterism that argues that the resurrection of the dead only also happened in 70 but was inconspicuous. Both forms of preterism actually say that the advent (not "return", which is not what parousia means) of the kingdom of God was visibly and with painful obviousness shown with the destruction of the religious and political framework of the Jewish nation. If Skeptic X can't even get the position right, why is he worth listening to when he critiques it?

Finally Skeptic X thinks he has a quick-draw card from 2 Peter because Peter draws an analogy to the Flood, which, he blubbers, he supposes we think was a literal event, so how can we say the melting mountains aren't? This is actually just another case of Skeptic X being analogically impaired. Peter's analogy draws solely upon the human reaction to the Flood; it says zip about how they compare in terms of expression. Keep in mind that the Flood was not the "end of an age" and was not ever described using apocalyptic imagery as the destruction of Babylon, etc. was, and that again, these OT oracles freely mixed literal and figurative images, so that one can't merely argue "guilt by association" to make the fire part out as literal as the Flood part. Fire was regularly used in imagery in the Bible (i.e., Matt. 3:10-12) even when used in illustrations that could reflect literal happenings. As he often does, Skeptic X compares apples with oranges and ends up with both stuck in his ears. The language is no more literal than when we speak of events as "earth-shattering".

Skeptic X closes his "hard copy" response with the remark that he wants "specific answers" as to what happened in 70 to fulfill these prophecies, and snorts, "we are not at all interested in what preterists like Gary DeMar may think." Well, that's just too bad. We gave specific answers, and Skeptic X ignored them; and I may as well say I am "not at all interested in what atheists like Skeptic X may think" in reply. It would be nice if I could end all "arguments" that irresponsibly, but Skeptic X has now got himself locked in, pressed and with nowhere to hide. Continue here.

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