A Response to J.P. Holding, a.k.a. Robert Turkel, on Hitler’s Christianity
A little over a week ago I posted a review of Holding’s latest book: Hitler’s Christianity. After reading his response I found a few things amusing. First, his incessant use of immature personal attacks; second, his lack of a response to my central argument about his book being one long logical fallacy; and three, his very poor responses to my arguments. I also see why he got his nickname: Robert “No Links” Turkel, because he didn’t bother to link to my review where people can see what I actually say, rather than his sometimes inaccurate interpretations. If you have learned about my review after reading J.P. Holding’s blog, I would strongly urge you to read my original review.
Holding begins with the following, a small helping of pointless insults:
A particularly ignorant character styled “Arizona Atheist” (AA) has issued a critique of Hitler’s Christianity (HC), particularly chapters 1, 11, and 12. Since the material in HC is overwhelmingly above his head, this is not surprising. It is also no surprise that he decides to use a shortcut of deeming the whole of the work “one large fallacy” of “No True Scotsman” – though I addressed this very foolish charge in Chapter 12. He does deign to touch on that chapter, which we will get to.
Other than his insults, he claims I didn’t bother with the other chapters in his book because it was all so much “above my head” that I didn’t want to read his arguments. Actually, I addressed this in my introduction and he could not be more wrong about my motivations. I said: “Unlike many of my chapter-by-chapter refutations I don’t believe it’s necessary to respond to each chapter. I think the first, eleventh, and twelfth chapters will be sufficient enough. It is in the first chapter that Holding presents his main argument that Hitler wasn’t…. well, a true Christian, and chapter eleven is his attempt to argue that there is no such thing as anti-Semitism in the New Testament. In the final chapter Holding responds to a few criticisms against his central thesis. After reading the book in its entirety I believe these three chapters lay out his main argument. The others are less important.”
See. That wasn’t so hard was it? My goal with my response was to tackle his main arguments, which I felt were best represented in the chapters I responded to. Of course, his readers would have easily known this, had he actually linked to my review.
His first issue is in how I define “cult” and he remarks that:
Given this definition I think it is safe to say that any and all religions would fall under this category since every single religion is a branch of an earlier one. Given the work of Bart Ehrman and the vast numbers of “Christianities” that flourished within the first hundred years of Christianity, I could say the say the same thing about the so-called “orthodox” position.
Well, guess what…he’s right. That’s the point. As one of his oblivious commenters notes, Christianity started as a cult of Judaism, which is why it was rejected, ultimately, as not being Judaism, by Jews. The Jews did consider Christianity false, and in their view, it would have fit our definition of cult. So by his own retort, Jews of the era, as well as eventually the Romans, were committing a “No True Scotsman” fallacy by designating Christianity to not be Judaism. The end result as well is that AA has just given us the result that Christianity is indeed still Judaism, and so Judaism is responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust. Isn’t poorly applied logic wonderful? (By the way, I thrashed Ehrman on this issue years ago.)
It’s funny, isn’t it, when someone would rather avoid directly responding to an argument, and resorts to some absurd rhetorical flourish? It’s just too bad that this one was more illogical than most. I agreed with his definition of a cult (why he claimed this is an “issue” I bring up is beyond me), and countered that even his version of Christianity would fall under the definition of a cult, making his argument moot. Holding’s argument that we should blame the Holocaust on Judaism is about as logical as blaming the Model-T Ford for modern day car accidents. Just as Christianity is a descendant of Judaism, the modern automobile is a direct descendant of the Model-T Ford, but we would not blame the Model-T Ford for modern day accidents. It’s an entirely different car, just as Christianity is different from its Jewish beginnings. We must place the blame on the modern day makers of cars, just as we must blame the ideology that was most prevalent and cited by those committing the atrocities. Yes, logic is wonderful – when you employ it correctly, but that is the key that Holding couldn’t seem to find.
Regarding his link to his alleged take-down of Bart Ehrman, I didn’t see anything of value. He simply insists that Ehrman didn’t bother to address the question of which Christianity is the true faith. But that’s precisely the point of his book! We cannot know which Christianity is the “true” religion since each sect had texts that backed up their particular beliefs. It would be impossible to know which version is true because there was not a set orthodoxy laid down until centuries later. Holding asserts in his post about Ehrman that “pre-NT Jewish Wisdom theology” [...] backs up the Niceans,” but not a single source is cited for this claim.
AA also tries to confuse the issue by making very silly claims about how hard it allegedly is to decide what Jesus actually taught, but these are all issues I cover in other places, like Trusting the New Testament and varied articles I have written over the years, so to put the matter mildly, he is wasting the time of all but the most misinformed reader. The bottom line: No, it is not “impossible” or even hard to “pin down an accurate accounting of Jesus’ teachings” – not unless one is remarkably ignorant of available scholarship on the matter, and arbitrarily raises the bar of evidence beyond what is acceptable, such that we can’t be sure of anything written in any history whatsoever. As it is, AA seems to think a reference to Raphael “The Scholarly Disaster” Lataster is sufficient support for such a wide-ranging blanket assertion; whereas I have consulted a wide variety of scholars and sources over the years in support of the opposite view, having dealt with sources ranging from the Jesus Seminar on one end of the ideological spectrum to a host of Third Quest scholars on the other. These are works that AA has no greater mental acumen than to sit on them at the dinner table.
It seems clear that Holding has missed the point I was making when I mentioned the many contradictory passages supposedly spoken by Jesus. Holding’s definition of Christianity is a religion that “would be in accord with the teachings of the historic Jesus within his first century historical context.” Therefore, if I can show that we cannot even determine what Jesus’ true teachings are about morality and other issues, then how can we determine what the “true” form of Christianity is, based upon Jesus’ teachings, as Holding defines Christianity? This was not an attempt to “confuse” the issue. It was an attempt to shed light on it and demonstrate Holding’s flawed methodology. And rather than cite any evidence for his claims, I think it’s rather pathetic how he wants me to buy his book in order for me to see his counter-argument. He says he’s written on this subject on his website but it would have been nice to get some links. Or at least one actual counter-argument in the response itself.
While doing some research and browsing Holding’s website during the writing of my review of Hitler’s Christianity, this “review” (in name only) of Raphael Lataster’s book There Was No Jesus, There Is No God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism was just as poor as his “review” of Ehrman’s work. Many of Holding’s claims are answered in the book itself, which Holding ignores, and most of his critiques miss the point of the book. The book is a breakdown of the current scholarship on the issue of Jesus’ historicity, which Holding didn’t even begin to respond to. I welcome anyone to read the book and read Holding’s response. It’s quite entertaining.
He also notes:
Yes, removing the entire Old Testament is certainly unusual for a sect of Christianity, but its not as if there isn’t a precedent for this. Prior to the rise of Nazism there existed a form of Protestantism that was very anti-Semitic and rejected the Old Testament.
Yes, precisely. I noted this very point in the book. It was the movement that was the precursor of Positive Christianity. It, too, by that very account, failed to qualify as a Christian movement. Other than this, AA flummoxes about with vague blather about disagreements over the canon, but this too is material I have covered before in other places (like TNT), and beyond this, none of the examples given are as radical as the case of Positive Christianity, which rejected as much as 80-90% of the total Bible. So we are left to ask: How much of the Bible must a group reject in order for AA to admit they are not Christian? Judaism only rejects about 40% of the total number of books in the Bible, and 15-20% of the Bible by total content. That’s less than the Positive Christians. So are Jews actually Christians? But how can that be since by AA”s logic, Christians are still actually Jews? This is the sort of loop you get stuck in when you don’t use objective criteria because you are too intent on proving a predetermined point.
My point was that even other sects of Christianity removed most portions of the bible, demonstrating that this act is not as unusual as Holding makes it appear because other sects of Christianity have done the same thing.
Once again he cites his book, which I presume he wants me to buy so I can read his counter-argument. I think that’s pretty lazy, to be honest. Why not at the very least insert a summary of your argument – something?
He also ignores the fact that he provides no such “objective criteria” in the entire book.
On the matter of works and salvation, AA claims I am “butting heads with many Christians with his interpretations of scripture here” but he doesn’t say which ones or why their arguments are better. But these are again matters I have addressed in detail elsewhere (such as in my work on
Semitic Totality) so the real problem as usual is AA’s lack of awareness, not the quality of my argument.
Holding accuses me of a “lack of awareness,” but he seemed to be completely unaware of the several biblical citations I quoted showing that works are just as important as right belief when it comes to salvation. Either that, or he just didn’t want his readers to see the numerous quotes backing up this view, which contradict him. I also pointed out the fact how the Nazi’s Positive Christianity shared this biblical concept. Even in the link to Holding’s response, he fails to deal with the many verses I quoted, including 2 Peter 1:5-11 and James 2:26. All Holding is doing is cherry-picking the verses that appear to him to support his case, ignoring many contradicting passages, and only making an attempt to deal with some of the least troublesome passages for his view.
A rather naïve comment follows in which AA supposes that Goebbels’ praise for the Sermon on the Mount somehow means he had “right belief” concerning it. AA is missing what I said about the difference between matters of action and matters of doctrine. The SoM has no doctrine. So of course Goebbels could readily accept it as a Positive Christian. But for all of that, that no more makes him Christian than someone like Gandhi who also admired the SoM.
How could I have “missed” what he said about “matters of doctrine” when I directly responded to him? Anyhow, I was trying to show how in many places the Nazis did follow the bible and its teachings, and followed many of the teachings that even Christians today would consider orthodox, or key teachings of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount does contain many central teachings of Jesus, so Holding’s argument doesn’t make much sense.
AA’s babbling rejoinder that we cannot know whether German persons’ theological beliefs were corrupted to the point that they were no longer Christians ignores the fact that I made this point quite clear in my text. As I said, it is not possible to compose spiritual profiles for millions of individual Germans at this date. So in the end, both sides of this debate cannot fulfill any burden of absolute proof. The most we can do is as I did, which is explain factors that might have affected individual Germans. AA’s job is now to explain either 1) why those factors are of no relevance in determining the potential spiritual state of individual Germans; or 2) come up with factors of his own that negate the factors I presented. As such is clearly over his head to do, his simple-minded resort is to simply bleat, “No True Scotsman” fallacy again. But again, this is merely a cheap shortcut. We would like to know just how far, then, in AA’s view, someone would have to go in order to NOT be a Christian. I dealt in specifics. AA does no more than mindlessly bleat, “How do we know? How do we know?” Well, if it’s so hard to know, then our agnosticism should also extend to Hitler and all the Nazi leaders, shouldn’t it?
Citing fallacies is no “short cut.” Fallacies are exactly that, and when they are employed, they should rightfully be pointed out. But more to the point, Holding is right to argue that it would be impossible to determine what millions of individuals believed, but that sure didn’t stop him from surmising that Germans’ Christianity was “marred and corrupted” by the Nazi’s Positive Christianity. Having read this, I rightfully pointed out how 1) Holding, as he said, cannot possibly know what millions of individuals believed, and 2) This is another “No True Scotsman” fallacy because he argues that it is questionable how much “authentic Christian faith existed” among these millions of German Christians.
Holding demands I respond more fully to his argument, but by definition, fallacies are… well, fallacies; errors in reasoning, that do not demand a response. All that is needed is to point out the existence of the fallacy. Even if I were to respond, as Holding admits, this is all speculation so we’d both be speculating and I see no point in speculation. I’d rather deal with the facts: things Holding does a pretty decent job of avoiding.
As for his last statement, “Well, if it’s so hard to know, then our agnosticism should also extend to Hitler and all the Nazi leaders, shouldn’t it?” No! The reason ought to be clear. The Nazis left historians more than enough information to assess their religious beliefs. As a matter of fact, I’d agree with most of what Holding said in the book about the Nazi’s beliefs. I simply disagree with his conclusion, because it is illogical, and I wrote the review to point out my disagreements.
We now turn to my chapter on the alleged anti-Semitism of the NT. AA does correctly note that one of my points is that “ Hitler’s anti-Semitic views couldn’t have come from the bible since the bible doesn’t contain the ‘racial’ version of anti-Semitism.” He alleges “two problems” which only demonstrate further his inability to think clearly.
The “racial version” of anti-Semitism is not a “later development.” The concept of race is one that not new. In fact, the concept of race can be found in the bible.
This is a remarkably asinine comment. Of course the concept of “race” is in the Bible. That is not the point. The point is that prejudice based on race is not found in the Bible. Nor is it even found in the ancient world at all, as demonstrated ably by classical scholar Frank Snowden is his book Before Color Prejudice.
On the contrary, “prejudice” based racism is what I was referring to. Any other reading doesn’t seem to make much since, because that was the subject under discussion, so I am dumbfounded why Holding believed I was was referring simply to race and not prejudice. Aside from this blunder, the fact is that there does exist a prejudice based racial dislike of other groups in the bible. First, we must define what race is. Benjamin Isaac writes that the “essence of racism is that it regards individuals as superior or inferior because they are believed to share imagined physical, mental, and moral attributes with the group to which they are deemed to belong, and it is assumed that they cannot change these traits individually.”  Given this definition, it is more than apparent that prejudice-based racism (happy now?) is in the bible. Here are a few examples:
I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac. (Genesis 24:3-4, NIV)
We will not give our daughters in marriage to the foreign population or take their daughters for our sons. (Nehemiah 10:30, NEB)
Aside from the need to maintain genealogical purity in the bible, one can also find examples of discrimination based upon certain physical characteristics, which is surely a form of racism. For example, in 2 Samuel 8-2 we read: “David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the Moabites became subject to David and brought him tribute.” Susan Niditch, author of War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence, remarks about this passage, that it seems “as if David were employing genetic selection to weaken Moabite stock.” 
These passages demonstrate that one can easily find in the bible examples of individuals and groups depicting others as inferior based upon physical attributes, which is the underlying feature of racism.
Rather than demonstrating my “inability to think clearly,” (something Holding has yet to demonstrate) my intention was to demonstrate a link between the bible and Nazism because I believed that this is so obvious that racism is in the bible, I did not believe it necessary to cite these sorts of passages, but here are clear cases of prejudice-based racism in the bible. One also cannot forget the wiping out of entire ethnic groups is also a good indicator of this fact (Numbers 31:1-18, among other passages). As far as racism in antiquity, I’d recommend Holding read Benjamin Isaac’s The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (2004) because racism did exist in the ancient world. Likely one of the earliest examples of what we would call racism today can be found in a book by Hippocrates titled On Airs, Waters, and Places wherein the following passage can be found, which “may well be the earliest occurrence of this kind of stereotype about color and character.”
Those who live in a region which is mountainous, rough, high, and well-watered, where the changes of the seasons show marked differences, are likely to be tall, well suited for endurance and courage, and such natures are likely to possess quite a lot of wilderness and ferocity. Those who inhabit low-lying regions, that are grassy, marshy, and have more hot than cool winds, and where there is hot water, those will be neither tall nor well-shaped, but tend to be stocky, fleshy, and dark-haired; they themselves are dark rather than blonde, more susceptible to phlegm than to bile. Similarly, courage and endurance are not by nature part of their character, but the imposition of law may produce them artificially. 
Isaac goes on to write how in this passage “Climate, geography and institutions all go together in producing peoples of uniformly good or bad character. Another feature worth observing is that skin and hair color are part of the package.” Now, what did Holding say about a supposed lack of racial prejudice in the ancient world? And Isaac presents many more examples. His book is meticulously researched and I think it turns these outdated views about race in the ancient world on their head.
AA rather idiotically supposes that because the modern Nazi ideologue “Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels wrote an entire book using the bible to justify his racism,” that this somehow makes the case that the Bible does support racism. Really? Somehow it never occurs to AA that von Liebenfels had no idea what he was talking about. He should have gotten a clue by his own recognition that von Liebenfels argued that “intercourse between the first humans and animals were responsible for the Fall.” Really? Somehow I missed that in Genesis, but I suppose AA thinks that this is a respectable exegesis since he uses it as his prime example of von Liebenfels’ expertise.
I suppose he also thinks it a good argument by von Liebenfels that he “noted that people who were hated by the Hebrews were described in animalistic terms in the Bible. For example, Esau is described as being hairy in Genesis 27:11…” Wow. I’m impressed by von Liebenfels’ scholarsahip, aren’t you? I suppose the great scholars of our day need to just shut up. The bottom line is that one can only read “racism” into the Bible by way of ridiculous readings like the ones von Liebenfels performed. For AA to think that these constitute reasonable examples in favor of his case only demonstrates either his desperation or his monumental ignorance. Or perhaps both.
I have already provided more proof for my position that the bible does contain racism; the favoring of other groups, due to physical differences. I am impressed by Holding’s counter-arguments on this point about how Nazis utilized the bible to justify their racism: “Somehow it never occurs to AA that von Liebenfels had no idea what he was talking about.” Obviously, I am being sarcastic. Merely disparaging someone is not a very impressive counter-argument, particularly when some of their views are based on fact, which is my point about “others” in the ancient world being demeaned by accusations of animalistic traits. Lanz clearly had a lot of knowledge about the bible, and despite the fact that many of his views are… well, just plain weird, this demonstrates the religiously-based ideology of the Nazis, which is why I cited it. Besides, had Holding done more reading himself, he would have known that Lanz’s views are not without precedent. It is common knowledge that in Islam there is a “tradition that God turned the Jews into apes because of idolatry. This idea can be found in Sura 2:65: “Those amongst you who transgressed in the manner of the Sabbath; We said to them ‘Be ye apes’.” 
The same may likewise be said regarding Hitler’s possible manipulation of Lev. 17:11-14. I challenge AA to find a single Old Testament scholar who thinks that what he offers would be a valid exegesis of that passage. Race is not mentioned at all in it. So likewise Hans Schemm’s beliefs can only be created out of whole cloth in terms of being justified by the Bible. Does AA think there are no contextual or exegetical controls to speak of? Does he really think the author of e.g., Genesis and Leviticus would have accepted the attributed beliefs of Schemm, Hitler, and von Liebenfels as faithful renderings of their texts? Is he really that ignorant?
Judging from the previous texts describing genocide of the Midianites I referenced in Numbers 31:1-18, and the actions of David in 2 Samuel 8-2 when he employs a kind of “genetic selection” based on physical features to choose which Moabites would live or die. Yes, it seems more than obvious that there are parallels between several stories in the bible and the Holocaust, and that the Nazis would approve. Given the fact that similar acts occurred in the ancient world, it would not be surprising if the ancients, had they traveled forward in time and witnessed the Holocaust, did approve of the Nazi’s actions.
Holding misread me. Hitler did not cite this quote. I merely tried to show that there are biblical passages that correspond to many of Hitler’s beliefs. Holding is correct about one thing, though: Leviticus 17:11-14 is not referring to race specifically, but blood purity. What did Hitler say again? Allow me to quote him from my review:
Race, however does not lie in the language but exclusively in the blood, which no one knows better than the Jew, who attached very little importance to the preservation of his language, but all importance to keeping his blood pure.
Let is compare Hitler’s statement to Leviticus 17:11-14:
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”
“‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.” (NIV) [emphasis mine]
The similarities should be clear. For Hitler, race is the essence of a person and he believed that this lied directly in the blood. Likewise, these passages in Leviticus bare a striking resemblance to Hitler’s views about how the essence of a person (to Hitler, race was the most important aspect of a person) resides in the blood, which is why god commanded the Israelites not to eat the blood of any creature. The issue I was discussing was blood purity and the similarities between the bible and Hitler’s beliefs about blood. Like the other passages I’ve cited, my point was to demonstrate a direct link between the bible and Hitler’s beliefs. Holding offered not one reason why this comparison doesn’t hold (other than relying on the fallacy of “Appeal to Authority,” who he refuses to cite). Aside from these blunders, Holding provides no response to the quote by Hans Schemm, describing the explicitly religious origins of their beliefs about keeping race pure.
AA fails to grasp my point when I refer to John’s use of “Jews” in terms of a “rivalry of geography.” First of all, I related this in terms of “Judeans” vs Galileeans and Samaritans, not Romans and Greeks, as AA poses the question. Second, I gave the necessary evidence in the references appended in my note; specifically, in Defending the Resurrection, where also I answered the responses on Carrier on this matter. AA needs to keep up with the times if he wants to be a credible public commentator.
On the contrary I did understand Holding’s argument. He was trying to show that the book of John, rather than disparaging Jews based upon their religion (which would be anti-Semitic, which he wants to deny in the bible) he claims the Jews are hated because of their geography, or where they are from. Here is the quote in full from Hitler’s Christianity so I can demonstrate Holding’s disingenuous ploy to play the “strawman” card when I did no such thing. Holding wrote on Location: 2873-2883:
”The Jews”. Another broad case of perceived anti-Semitism is found particularly in the Gospel of John and his designation of opponents of Jesus as “the Jews” (John 5:16, 7:1, 10:31). Critics assume that it is justified to append these references with a contemptuous sneer, as might have been done by an agent of the Gestapo. Literally, however, the word used by John, and throughout the New Testament, is not “Jews” but rather, Judeans – meaning, someone who is native to the land of Judaea, the Roman province at the time of Jesus. In John especially, this word should be understood in contrast to references to persons from Galilee and Samaria (cf. 4:39, 4:45), who, from a religious perspective, also considered themselves to be religiously Jewish. When John refers to Jesus confronting “the Judeeans,” this reflects a rivalry of geography, not religion. (emphasis mine)
It should be clear what Holding is arguing. I placed in bold font the essence of Holding’s argument. Anti-Semitism refers to the “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” However, if Holding can somehow demonstrate that Jews were not disliked due to their religion (“When John refers to Jesus confronting “the Judeeans,” this reflects a rivalry of geography, not religion.”) he can distance these passages in John from their obvious anti-Semitic meanings.
I countered by arguing that Holding’s argument about geography being a factor in hating Jews is suspect because Jews hail from Judaea and, as I demonstrated, other people also hailed from Judaea, such as various Greeks or Romans, but they were not despised. Therefore, there must be another reason, other than their place of origin, in this case, Judaea, why the Jews are hated. This reason is obviously their religion, thus an example of anti-Semitism. Had he spent more time paying closer attention, and a lot less time trying to come up with insults and put-downs, perhaps he might have understood this the first time and I could have avoided having to spell it out yet again.
In terms of the other passages cited, AA does not even try to respond, merely either describing my views (rather inadequately at that) or denying my argument without providing any contrary arguments or evidence. The closest he comes is this comment on Revelation’s “synagogue of Satan” reference:
Clearly, when taken in context, it appears that the author is referring to Jews as a whole, since it was believed that their synagogue was blasphemous. What? Did he only intend for the local synagogue to be the work of the devil?
Um, yes. AA’s analogy to the Mormon church and its “teachings” doesn’t work, because what John condemns here isn’t the “teachings” of the group in question. What he condemns if their false self-identification as Jews (“the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan”). Moreover, it is clear that this is an issue that ONLY the people of Smyrna and Philadelphia are aware of. There were also Jews in the other cities John addressed, so there is zero warrant to expand this reading to “Jews as whole.”
Holding’s current argument bares no relationship to the one presented in his book. He wrote,
Revelation 3:9. In this verse, John refers to the “synagogue of Satan,” which some take as a broad reference to Jews as a whole; however, there is nothing to suggest that John had anything in mind larger than a local group. At the same time, we might consider that Jesus himself addressed Peter, his lead disciple, as “Satan,” after Peter had said something disagreeable. Although this is strong language to our ears, it would have been nothing particularly extraordinary in this more ancient setting and context. In particular, Abraham Rihnaby, author of The Syrian Christ, shows that such strong language served as a sort of “release” or steam valve which allowed free expression of emotion, and thereby permitted the avoidance of graver consequences, such as physical confrontation.
This is the entirety of Holding’s attempt to distance this passage in Revelation from anti-Semitism. I did not distort his argument at all, as should be perfectly clear. He argued that 1) John was only referring to “local” Jews and not to Jews as a whole; and 2) He tried to demonstrate (quote poorly) that this vile language was really no big deal in the ancient world so we shouldn’t get so hung up on it. How this second argument demonstrates a lack of anti-Semitism is beyond me. Assuming Holding’s facts are true, this does nothing to show that this passage isn’t anti-Semitic, only this isn’t the worst thing that could be said about Jews, so we should just ignore it.
Now, having laid out Holding’s argument and my reply, after doing more digging, it does appear that John was referring to local Jews, though, how this fact diminishes its anti-Jewish statement is less clear. Raymond E. Brown writes in his Introduction to the Gospel of John that “John can be be described as anti-Jewish in a qualified sense when through Jesus’ words it attacks those whom it calls ‘the Jews,’ from whom the (Johannine) disciples of Jesus differ religiously, if not necessarily ethnically or geographically.”
Regarding his comment that “AA does not even try to respond, merely either describing my views.” This is entirely inaccurate. In fact, I addressed each and every passage Holding cites. Had he linked to my review, his readers would have known this. In regards to some passages, such as one by Paul, I responded with:
The first biblical passage he cites is 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. Here, he does not try to deny Paul’s clear anti-semitic language, but tries to distance him from them. He argues that “Paul had reason to be angry at the Jewish establishment,” and his statements were made in exasperation due to a hectic situation. (L:2836)
What more is there to say? Rather than even trying to demonstrate that this passage is not anti-Semitic, he says that Paul is merely angry at the Jews over some transgression and that Paul has used such language in the past to show disapproval. This argument is silly since Paul is clearly blaming Jews for the death of Jesus when he writes, “You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone [.]”
Go read my review and look at Holding’s book. I did address each passage that Holding disputes. In a few cases I gave only a brief response because a careful reading of the passage showed that Holding’s counter-argument made no sense and did nothing to diminish the anti-Semitic statements. One example was 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, but Holding claims – very much misleading his readers – that I do not address many of the passages.
AA expresses confusion over my reading of Acts 2:36 because he thinks it contradicts what he thinks is a “central doctrine of Christianity is that Adam’s sin lives on through generation after generation, and this is why Jesus’ sacrifice was needed to ‘save’ humanity.” Well, isn’t that too bad that he’s so ill-informed. It’s not a central doctrine. In fact I am in line with one of the largest Christian group on this subject, the Orthodox Church. If AA wants to know more he’ll just have to read (and refute) my material on original sin. AA will just have to learn that what he was fed during his narrow fundamentalist upbringing wasn’t the universal reality.
Holding has just touched upon the central point of my entire post. What orthodoxy? By what criteria does he ignore all of the passages in the bible that speak of original sin? And how does he know that his denomination holds the correct view? He simply asserts these things without reason and insults you if you don’t accept it! Completely absurd. Even his so-called justification for it on his website makes no sense. He writes,
In other words, Adam’s sin, and the resultant punishment of spiritual and eventually physical death, was a pattern-connection that was established and set the legal precedent for death to be inflicted as the penalty for all sins.
A loose parallel may be found in the incidence some years ago of the crime of carjacking. There was no specific definition of, or remedy for, this crime when it first became popular. When it became more popular, it was defined out as a specific crime (where before, prosecutors had to select from and cobble together charges from existing laws) and given a specific punishment.
The analogy breaks down because there was no previous sin with the original sin, but the point to be drawn is that Adam’s sin and punishment was an original example as well as a case of original sin. We pay for, and are punished because of, Adam’s sin, only in the same sense that present-day carjackers experience their specific punishment because of a precedent set by their criminal forebears, which engendered a more specific legal reaction.
Of course none of this affects such conclusions as are reached in our item on total depravity or in any way suggests that things are any easier for the human race in terms of a judgment basis. It merely means that one popular objection — itself based on a popular, but not precisely correct, understanding of this passage — is of no relevance. We are not paying for, and being punished for, Adam’s sin, in a way that is unfair to us.
Essentially, Holding objects to the doctrine of original sin because it is “unfair.” Wow. What an argument. And this still does not explain why his rejection of original sin is justified by any “objective criteria.” For all of his banter about “objective criteria” he sure doesn’t seem to practice what he preaches.
In terms of Matt. 27:25, AA disclaims my connection to the Talmud since they “do not depict the same situation.” He fails to note that this connection was made by a reputable scholar, Sloyan. Not that it matters. The “situation” is utterly irrelevant. The point is that the phrase is used to indicate innocence. We may use the phrase, “I plead guilty” in a courtroom, or we may use it when someone accuses us of taking the last cantaloupe at the market. In both cases we mean we did indeed perform the accused wrong. By AA’s logic, that can’t be right because we’re in different situations.
Here, Holding excludes the other half of my argument and the reason why I said what I did. I wrote:
After reading the cited passage in the Talmud, it and Matthew do not depict the same situation. The text in Matthew 27:23 depicts the Jews as saying, “Crucify him!” when Pilate asks them what he is to do. When taken in context this interpretation does not stand up. The biblical text could not be more clear since the Jews ordered Pilate to crucify Jesus. It is absurd for Holding to argue that they were actually proclaiming their innocence.
Holding had no response to this very relevant fact that the Jews in the very passage he is discussing admit their guilt! This is why the other book he refers to does not apply.
Having looked at each of Holding’s attempts to wipe the anti-Semitism from the bible, it must be stressed that he did not deal with many other passages. Such examples include:
Acts 3:12-19: “ When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see. “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
Acts 14:5: “There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them.”
Acts 13:50: “But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.”
Acts 7:51-52: “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him.”
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: “For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”
While many Christians do understandably try to distance the bible from its anti-Semitic passages, there is no denying the blatant anti-Semitism in the bible. Hector Avalos has a brief, but good, section in The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus Books, 2007) about this topic in Chapter 1.
Near the end he finally addresses my main argument:
Now to the final chapter, which is where I dealt with the premise behind the No True Scotsman fallacy (even though I did not use the term). AA at first babblingly repeats his prior foolish arguments about the alleged difficulty of finding objective criteria, a problem that rests in his ignorance, not my arguments. Likewise his appeals to diversity within Christianity are fruitless; it is his job to show that the diverse views have respectable backing. As it is, his foolishness in accepting the exegetical blatherskeit of von Leibenfels, without asking any questions about whether it deserves any credence, speaks more to AA’s desire to blow smoke than to his ability to show that there is no way to find objective criteria.
The one thing he gets right here is that my criteria are “so narrow that even modern day Christians disagree with several of his beliefs (such as the role of belief vs. works).” That is precisely the point. Far too many groups, like Mormons and JWs, claim the title “Christian” that do not deserve it. And this has less to do with objective criteria and more to do with rejecting such criteria so that people’s feelings won’t be hurt. If AA thinks it bothers me to exclude such people, he’s wrong. And if he thinks I’m raising the bar too high, he needs to prove it – not dash off into the refuge of ignorance and uncertainty. I have composed hundreds of texts defining my objective criteria. If he wants to play this game, he will need to addresses and refute all of them. I have done more than enough to respond to critics; so likewise have many scholars, countercult apologists, and many others. AA simply needs to go out and get some exercise – more than just picking up Ehrman’s silly little treatise (which, as noted, I have also addressed) and thinking that that does the whole job.
There really isn’t anything of substance to respond to, mostly more of his vileness and bald assertions. As a matter of fact, I deconstruct the very orthodoxy that Holding is referring to and demonstrate that it is just as subjective as every other “unorthodox” branch of Christianity. How does Holding deal with this argument? He doesn’t even lay it out, or deal with it. He simply dismisses my source of criteria for how orthodoxy was derived! His final sentence reads,
As it is, that he thinks Josh McDowell (!) is the apex of what is offered from this side speaks far more to his incompetence than anything else.
So Holding’s distortions are fully exposed I will copy the entirety of my final section of the review, which is the final nail in Hitler’s Christianity‘s coffin.
The bible was written over the span of many decades and by many hands, many of whom vehemently disagreed with one another as the above quotes clearly show. Once again, what’s so objective about this? During all of these theological and doctrinal disputes religious leaders finally decided to come together to determine which texts were the true teachings of Christianity. After long discussions, they finally decided upon which texts Christians were going to accept as “orthodox” Christianity for centuries to come. By what criteria did they decide on which texts were going to be canonical? Christian apologist Josh McDowell discusses this process and he lays out the criteria as follows,
We don’t know exactly what criteria the early church used to choose the canonical books. There were possible five guiding principles used to determine whether or not a New Testament book is canonical or Scripture. Geisler and Nix record these five principles:
1. Is it authoritative – did it come from the hand of GOD? (Does this book come with a divine “thus saith the LORD?)
2. Is it prophetic – was it written by a man of GOD?
3. Is it authentic (The fathers had the policy of “if in doubt, throw it out.” This enhanced the “validity of their discernment of canonical books.”)
4. Is it dynamic – did it come with the life-transforming power of GOD?
5. Was it received, collected, read and used – was it accepted by the people of GOD?
Each of these categories are entirely arbitrary. To quote Gary Lenaire,
There are problems with every one of the listed criteria. The first four categories are subjective judgements. We can’t know if a book is authoritative if we don’t know who the author is! We know the books are not prophetic because none of the alleged prophesies have been verified or proven to come true – absolutely none. We don’t know if a book is authentic because the manuscripts were written many years after the events were said to have occurred. How can we know if a book is dynamic? Dynamic is just another way of saying “lively” [and is a pointless criterion for determining truth]. […] The fifth criteria can be approached somewhat historically. There at [sic] least two problems in applying this to one’s faith, however. If you study how religious groups use a book, you are studying the conclusions reached by humans. The books they chose reflect their own religious views; this is another form of circular thinking. Naturally, they chose books that agreed with their particular religious group. We cannot know the perfect word of God by studying fallible humans, even if those humans are Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, or the Pope.
After taking a much closer look at early Christian beliefs and how early followers of Jesus finally decided upon an accepted canon, is any of it even remotely the least bit “objective?” Not one bit. Therefore, Holding’s appeals to objectivity falls completely flat on its face. Not even J.P. Holding explains this criteria or why his criteria is objective and that alone ought to raise some serious red flags for anyone reading this book.
I have not been impressed with J.P. Holding’s response to say the least. His unprofessional and, at times immature, demeanor don’t help his already poor arguments. Throughout his response he took my original review out of context or neglected to cite many important claims and evidence that I cited, misleading his readers about the quality of my argumentation. In this reply I have demonstrated how Holding has little knowledge of the ancient world, does not seem to understand the bible and the meaning of many of its passages, and many of his so-called counter-arguments are nothing more than bald assertions or insults.
It looks safe to say that my main thesis, as well as almost the entirety of my review of Hitler’s Christianity, has come away unscathed by Holding’s misguided and misinformed attacks.
1. The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, by Benjamin H. Isaac, Princeton University Press, 2004; 23
2. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2005; 313
3. The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity; 65
4. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence; 309