The end of Alexei’s dragon

Capture-1 x2A few years ago, the Uncertaintist posted about whether dogs remember their dead comrades (link on image). The piece focused on the alpha Akita Clea, her late brother Alexei and the small dragon plush toy that had been Alexei’s, which Clea carefully preserved and kept with her. After Clea died in December 2013, I lost track of the dragon. I assumed that Alexei and Clea’s housemates had stored it away, as a keepsake.

Alexei had had a favorite among his human companions, a girl he had helped to raise, and of whom he was besotted. In Alexei’s later years, she had gone away to school. Whenever she came home to visit, Alexei walked two inches off the ground. No need to ask whether his beloved was in residence, you just looked at Alexei.

Several months after Clea’s death, this now grown woman rescued Amy, a dog who is a breed unto herself. A few months ago, your correspondent was honored to sit with Amy. As our visit progressed, attention turned to Amy’s toys. There among them was Alexei’s dragon, bright and pristine, scarcely different than it was when I had first photographed it resting against Clea’s cheek more than three years before.

pristine dragon

I photographed it again. Amy watched me closely as I fussed over the toy, but didn’t interrupt. When I was done, I returned the dragon to rest among her other toys.

A few weeks later, I sat with Amy again. This time, when I looked through her toys, the dragon was in tatters.

At first, I was of two minds about what Amy had done. I had grown fond of that whimsical little survivor. It reminded me of two dogs whom I love. But then so does Amy herself, unlike the Akitas physically, and yet large-spirited and completely suited to be their successor.

There is no mystery that a dog would tear apart a toy designed for a dog to tear apart. The mystery is that Amy hadn’t done so before. What had she been waiting for?

I think Amy reasoned as follows. When her human companions first gave Amy the dragon, Clea’s scent was all through it. Clea had kept it close by her for years and had regularly licked the dragon to clean it. Alexei’s scent was possibly still there, too. Amy knew that despite its apparent purpose, the dragon hadn’t been a toy for Clea. Dead or alive, Clea was an alpha dog, something else that Amy knew by smell. Amy prudently left Clea’s dragon alone.

Portrait of Amy

Amy

Amy likely knows that I knew Clea, Alexei and the story of this dragon that unfolded before Amy was born. She could see without being told that I recognized the dragon, and that I promptly performed a human ritual act that Amy is familiar with. I took photographs of it, much as so many people in Amy’s world often take photographs of her. Amy surmises this must hold some meaning for us.

And then, although I didn’t mean to, I probably sealed the dragon’s fate. When I finished my ritual adulation, I replaced the dragon among her toys while Amy watched. I thereby gave the dragon to her again, this time after a demonstrated awareness of what the dragon had once meant to another dog. Amy was oblivious that I was thinking only that I ought to return what wasn’t mine to where I’d found it. My mistake, not hers. I was oblivious to how this vignette looked to her.

Amy had been waiting for assurance that whatever the history of the dragon was, whatever it had been for the formidable Clea, this toy was now one of Amy’s toys, without conditions or complications, to use as Alexei’s human companions had originally intended that he use it years ago. And so she did use it, maybe more crisply than usual, lest somebody living or dead change their mind.

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An ancient teaching that Jesus didn’t exist

Preaching of the Antichrist by Luca Signorelli ca 1500

Preaching of the Antichrist by Luca Signorelli ca 1500 (detail, click to enlarge)

An earlier post discussed ancient critics of Christianity who vigorously expressed their doubts about the factual reliability of the Gospels, the character of the Apostles, and the discernment of their Christian audience. We couldn’t find an example, however, of an argument based on the possibility that Jesus never existed.

Some modern apologists would explain that this is because there never was any example. “The argument that Jesus never existed, …was not one that the enemies of Christianity in the ancient world ever used,” James Carleton Paget, a Cambridge academic flatly assured his readers (link).

It turns out, however, that an ancient patristic author wrote that there was a Christian group who taught that the proto-orthodox Jesus was an enchantment devised by a First Century magician. According to this magican’s followers, he was the real historical figure whose words and deeds inspired Christianity, not Jesus. Jesus was a thing of smoke and mirrors, or maybe not even that.

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Josephus and Jesus IV: How Origen gave James a new brother

historic steps - use at own riskThis is the last installment of the series on Josephus’ Antiquities. We examine the brief mention of a man named James who is described as the “brother of Jesus called Christ.” Those few words, found at 20.9.1.200, are the only known non-Christian mention of Jesus Christ securely dated from the First Century, except for Josephus’ much-garbled Testimony which was discussed in the previous installments.

The story in which James briefly appears would make fine sense if its James had been identified as the brother of either of two other Jesuses who figure in the same storyline. Given the evident lapses in transmitting the longer Testimony, how can there be any confidence that this James wasn’t the brother of one of those Jesuses, and the text wasn’t altered by a few words to make him James the Just instead? What possible test could reliably authenticate two or three words of ancient text?

The answer is three remarks by Origen from the mid-Third Century saying that Josephus had written about James the Just in Antiquities. Origen used that same distinctive and otherwise rare “called Christ” phrase as we now read in Josephus (in Greek, legomenos Christos). Origen wrote his remarks too early for Christian scribal alteration to be a plausible explanation of what he reports.

Recall, however, that Jerome told his reader that Jospehus had reported that there were supernatural voices in the Temple during Jesus’ crucifixion, contrary to any known copy of any work discussing the voices incident. Is it plausible then that Origen, like Saint Jerome, may have grossly misremembered something he’d read?

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Josephus and Jesus III: Estimating a plausible Testimony

dig med mauscripts dot orgWhat if Josephus did write something about Jesus? It would likely have resembled a short mention that Tacitus wrote two decades afterward that explained why Christians are called that. This estimate stems from a Tenth Century Arabic language report of a different version of Josephus’ Testimony.

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Josephus and Jesus II: Jerome, Josephus and Tacitus recall a miracle

woodcut of St Jerome

St Jerome, shown checking some sources more carefully than others

The ancient Christian historian and saint Jerome (347-420) was an early translator of the received version of Josephus’ Testimony of Jesus and a commentator on Josephus’ treatment of James the Just. Jerome wrote the following from Bethlehem to a Roman widow in 386 (Letters 46.4).

…it (Jerusalem) has been stained by the blood of the Lord. Now, therefore, its guardian angels have forsaken it and the grace of Christ has been withdrawn. Josephus, himself a Jewish writer, asserts that at the Lord’s crucifixion there broke from the temple voices of heavenly powers, saying: “Let us depart hence.”

Jerome is right that Josephus had written about that incident, but Josephus reported that it happened sometime in the 60’s of the First Century, a few years before the sack of Jerusalem, about a generation after the crucifixion is said to have happened. For Josephus, the voices in the Jewish Temple were an omen of the catastrophe that befell Jerusalem soon afterwards.

Whether or not he ever realized his mistake, Jerome frankly Christianized a Jewish miracle. He managed this feat not because of what any text said, but in spite of what two well-known texts said, one of which he cited. Jerome simply misremembered something he’d read in a way that suited his purpose. Jerome thus created a new text, along with a new Jewish witness to a crucial Christian teaching, that Jesus’ death was accompanied by signs of his divinity.

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PLOS ONE creationism scare

Last January, the nine year-old open-access online science journal PLOS ONE published an article about the biomechanics of the human hand. The article admired the design skill of “the Creator.”

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0146193

When this anomalous intrusion of religious doctrine into scientific publishing was recently widely noticed, PLOS ONE retracted the article.

Initial appearances were that this might be another creationist exploit against an insufficiently vigilant mainstream scientific publisher. In reality, the problem was more fundamental. English is the world’s leading second language, and the language of choice for many academics. Inevitably, much is written and published in English that is composed by people who aren’t native speakers.

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