by Michael M. Hobby
WHO ARE THIERING AND SITCHEN?
To provide the reader of this post with a reason for its having been written, we must first describe who each was and the controversial nature of their principal theory(ies).
“Barbara Thiering (born 1930) is an Australian nonfiction writer, historian, and Biblical exegete specializing in the origins of the early Christian Church. In books and journal articles, she challenges Christian orthodoxy, drawing on claimed new evidence that gives alternative answers to its supernatural beliefs. Her analysis has been rejected by many scholars in the field.
From her specialty, studying the Dead Sea Scrolls, their semiotics, and their hermeneutics, she has propounded a theory arguing that the miracles, including the Turning water into wine, the Virgin Birth, Healing a man at a distance, the man who had been thirty-eight years at the pool, and the Resurrection, among others, did not actually occur (as miracles), as Christians believe, nor were they legends, as some skeptics hold, but were "deliberately constructed myths" concealing (yet, to certain initiates, relating) esoteric historic events. She alleges that they never actually happened (that is, that the events they chronicle were not at all miraculous), as the authors of the Gospels knew. They wrote, according to the methods of pesher, which she discovers in the scrolls, on two levels. For the “babes in Christ,” there were apparent miracles, but the knowledge of exact meanings held by the highly educated members of gnostic schools gave a real history, of what Jesus actually did.
Born in Sydney, Australia, Thiering graduated in 1952 from Sydney University with first class honours in modern languages, was a high school teacher of languages for several years, and then, while caring for her three young children, continued study and research privately. She obtained an external B.D. degree from the University of London, a M.Th. degree from Melbourne College of Divinity, and a Ph.D. degree from Sydney University in 1973.
As a consequence of her research publications in academic journals, she was invited to lecture at Sydney University, at first in the Department of Semitic Studies, then in the School of Divinity (now the Department of Religious Studies) where she continued until her retirement. During this time she was a member of the Board of Studies in Divinity and the Board of Continuing Education, and served for twelve years as a lay member of the NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal. When her work became known in the USA, she was made a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar.
In 1990 a documentary film about her research, Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was shown by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.”
The summary on the back cover of her book, the Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, asserts the following:
“A renegade scholar's revelation of how the Scrolls disclose Jesus' real life story as encoded in the Gospels. This bold, historical detective work yields a who new picture of the origins of Christianity and the identity of Jesus.
-He was born not in Bethlehem but into the royal priestly line of a strict sect as Qumran
-He was born out of wedlock to a betrothed and thus, officially 'virgin' woman
-He did not die on the cross but was drugged and later revived in the burial cave
-He married twice and fathered three children
-As a hated outcast, he befriended the poor, the sick, women, and gentiles and rejected the harsh legalism of his sect
-He performed no miracles”
“Zecharia Sitchin (born 1922) is an author of books promoting an explanation for human origins involving ancient astronauts.
Sitchin attributes the creation of the ancient Sumerian culture to the "Annunaki" (or "Nephilim"), a race of aliens from a planet he calls Nibiru, which he believes to be in an elongated, elliptical orbit in the Earth's own Solar System. He asserts that Sumerian mythology reflects this view, though his speculations are entirely discounted by professional scientists, historians, and archaeologists, who note many problems with his translations of ancient texts and with his understanding of physics. He was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and attended the London School of Economics at the University of London. His official website is http://www.sitchin.com/"
The following is quoted from the back cover of the first volume in Sitchens' Earth Chronicles series, entitled, The Twelfth Planet:
“Over the years, startling evidence has been uncovered, challenging established notions of the origins of life on Earth-evidence that suggests the existence of an advanced group of extraterrestrials who once inhabited our world.
The first book of the revolutionary Earth Chronicles series offers indisputable documentary evidence of the existence of the mysterious planet Nibiru and tells why its astronauts came to Earth eons ago to fashion mankind in their image.
The product of more than thirty years of meticulous research, The 12th Planer treats as fact, not myth, the tales of Creation, the Deluge, the Tower of Babel, and the Nefilim who married the daughters of man. By weaving together the biblical narrative with Sumerian and Babylonian clay-tablet texts, it challenges the established notions of the origins of Earth and mankind, and offers a compelling alternative history and prehistory of both.”
It is immediately evident that if the theories embodied within either JESUS AND THE RIDDLE OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS or THE TWELFTH PLANET are correct, they completely overturn the foundations of virtually all Christian faiths and destroy the underpinnings of any other belief system which relies upon the biblical account. With respect to Thiering, the divinity of Jesus and his designation as the Christ [christos ; Greek, divine mission] of the New Testament is overturned and rendered spurious. With respect to Sitchen, the Genesis account of creation, primarily chapters 1-10 is overturned and rendered fundamentally mistranslated.
It matters not whether either Thiering and/or Sitchen are correct. We will be rigorously examining their assertions in this post in an attempt to determine if they are.
Beyond that matter, it must be obvious to all that the reaction among the majority of Christians, including laymen, religious scholars, and scientists, was outrage and dismissal. Not only the assertions, but the individuals making them were derided.
We are not so naive as to accept such reactions, regardless of their dimensions, as evidence that either is wrong. It is a standard reaction to any theory which fundamentally threatens widely held beliefs or consensus opinion. Nor are we so naive as to accept the reaction as evidence that the theories of either are correct.
There are two very different approaches to confronting fundamental challenges to a belief system.
Dispassionate examination involves, indeed REQUIRES, the suspension of faith (belief), IE, one's own. Only if examined “outside the box” can they be thus examined point by point to determine which “evidence” upon which they rely has (apparent ) merit and which does not. This is, by definition, the scientific approach. It is borne of a need or desire to “know.”
Examples of this approach are Copernicus and Galileo.
The “knowledge” of the scientific approach evolves. What is consensus at one time is later discarded in favor of a new consensus. Scientists, credentials and specialized education and training notwithstanding, who attach passion to current consensus adopt faith as their approach. This is unfortunate, but we all experience primate emotions. We are not gods; we are Homo sapiens.
Faith requires no point by point examination. By definition, faith is the “evidence” of things Unseen, IE, unknown. Knowledge IS “known.”
Examples of this approach are Thomas Aquinas and the learned professor of Astronomy at Padua who refused even to LOOK through Galileo's telescope.
The stricture of faith, limited to its definition, cannot produce knowledge, because knowing is unnecessary, even considered futile or moot. It involves, indeed REQUIRES, the suspension of knowledge, such as the Astronomer at Padua typifies. It is borne of a need or desire to “believe.”
A specific faith does not evolve. What is fundamental at one time is retained as fundamental over time. If not, that faith collapses, and will be replaced by another.
Thus, it is requisite that I reveal my preference for the Dispassionate approach, and my abhorrence for the strictures of Faith. My examination of the claims of Thiering and Sitchen will attempt a dispassionate approach. I will also, where necessary, apply Occam's razor, or alternatively, the Axe.
[to be continued]