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Corporate vs. Individual Election

September 18, 2011

In my last post, I questioned whether Paul’s potter/clay analogy in Romans 9 is capable of supporting the meaning that Justin Taylor (and Calvinists generally) ascribe to it, namely, that God predestines some individuals to eternal damnation.

Having answered that question in the negative, it behooves me, I suppose, to offer a plausible alternative reading. I don’t pretend to have the definitive interpretation of this passage. But I am persuaded that a more accurate reading can be had by rooting the analysis in Paul’s first-century Judean context.

The setting of Romans 9, as seen in its opening verses as well as the chapter that follows, is Paul’s concern for the Jewish nation. It is with respect to Israel (not individuals) that Paul conceives of God’s election. But there was a problem for this chosen people. Paul had an expectation of coming judgment on both Israel and the pagan world. Only a remnant of Israel would be spared (Romans 9:27). Paul seems to anticipate the challenge that a catastrophic judgment on Israel would be contrary to the Abrahamic covenant. He argues otherwise, beginning at verse 6, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed.”

In the verses that follow, Paul sets out an OT basis for the idea that it is God’s prerogative to define the parameters of his mercy as he sees fit. Paul is trying to explain why some who might assume themselves to be included in chosen Israel (Jews by descent) will come to destruction, while some who might appear excluded (i.e. gentiles) will be spared, having gained entrance to the reconstituted elect group through faith. God has the right to save a chosen people on the basis of faith rather than descent.

Because the exclusion (and impending destruction) of a substantial part of Israel might seem contrary to the Jews’ understanding of their deal with God, Paul spends some time insisting that God has the right to define the terms of the deal as he chooses. Thus, the references to Jacob, Esau and Pharaoh. God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.  The covenant does not oblige God to spare all of Israel. He is entitled to take from that “same lump of clay” (i.e. Israel) some for salvation and some for destruction.

The key to understanding the passage is to realize that Paul is talking about corporate election, not individual salvation. On such a reading, Paul’s whole point in Romans 9 is almost the opposite of what Calvinists glean from the passage. Rather than asserting that God has picked a select club and if you aren’t in it, you’re screwed, Paul is actually trying to explain that God has now made access to the club possible for all. He contends that it falls within God’s prerogative to make faith (or faithfulness) the basis for membership in the club — great news for faithful gentiles who would otherwise have been excluded; not so great news for faithless Jews who were banking on their Abrahamic descent.

Having laid this groundwork, Paul can go on to say this in the very next chapter:

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:12-13)

Doesn’t sound much like the Calvinist notion of double predestination, does it?

I readily admit that I cannot do justice to this argument. I further admit that my thinking is heavily indebted to Andrew Perriman, who may or may not wish to be associated with my treatment of the subject. With that caveat, I will close by pointing you to Perriman’s excellent discussion of Romans 9. He’ll straighten you out.

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Justin Taylor & Scarlett Johansson’s Liver

September 13, 2011

You have to give Justin Taylor credit for wading into unfriendly waters when he agreed to answer questions about Calvinism on Rachel Held Evan’s blog last week (to be clear, Rachel is very friendly; it’s just that her blog isn’t exactly home turf for a Calvinist). If you missed the post, here it is.

One of Taylor’s answers caught my attention. A reader named Charissa asked:

The idea of God pre-destining someone to hell with no POSSIBLE way of anything other than that happening is repulsive to me and offends my sense of justice. …  So my question is this: How does that logic not make our understandings of right and wrong completely arbitrary and meaningless? What does it make of our God-given sense of right, wrong, justice, and mercy?

In my view, Taylor’s response danced around the question without directly answering it. Understandably so, I suppose. It’s not easy to explain how a just, loving and merciful God would create whole swaths of humanity with the intention of damning them to hell, irrespective of any action or choice on their part.

Taylor points to Romans 9 and says, in essence, that we have to submit to what the Bible says, whether we like it or not. In like fashion, the message of Romans 9, as Taylor construes it, is that God can do as he pleases with his creation and we shouldn’t question him:

Paul goes on to explain that God has compassion and mercy on whomever he wills, not dependent upon human will or effort (vv. 15-18). Paul once again knows what all of his readers must be thinking: “Why does [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?” Paul goes on to explain that God is God and we are not.

I don’t disagree that Paul is arguing here for a divine prerogative of sorts. But I do disagree that Paul is suggesting that God arbitrarily picks and chooses individuals for salvation or damnation.

In my view, the argument Paul makes in Romans 9 is wholly inadequate for supporting the meaning Taylor assigns to the passage. In verses 19-21, Paul writes:

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? 

If this is an analogy to justify the predestination of individuals to eternal conscious torment, it is an incredibly poor one. The reason it seems absurd for pottery to complain about its lowly purpose is that pottery is an inanimate object. Few of us have sympathy for the lowly chamber pot. It’s just mud.

But if we adjust the analogy to bring it closer to the Calvinist understanding of the passage, the weakness in the analogy becomes glaring. Replace the pottery with humans — self-conscious beings capable of feeling love and joy, pain and suffering. Does the argument still work?


I cannot help but think of the 2005 movie, The Island. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson discover that, although real human beings, they have been manufactured by the profiteering Dr. Merrick for the sole purpose of being harvested for their organs should their “sponsor” in the real world require a transplant.

The movie’s plot only works because it is self-evident that these characters do indeed have a right to question the justice of being made for such a purpose. When you’re talking about sentient beings who have emotions and feel pain, it becomes a lot harder to say, “I can make you for whatever purpose I want. Don’t question your maker.” That, frankly, sounds like something Dr. Merrick, the movie’s villain, might say.

At least in The Island the clones were kept in pleasant conditions until their organs were required. But if we’re going to make the analogy truly apposite to Taylor’s Calvinism, we need to add the element of eternal conscious torment. Even Hollywood thought it a bit much to portray the clones as living in a state of perpetual torture. Yet, according to Taylor, this is the fate that awaits those whom God has preordained will receive no mercy.

This is why Taylor’s Romans 9 argument is unsatisfying. It’s not sufficient simply to assert that God is sovereign. If he uses his sovereign prerogative to do unjust, morally abominable things, then we’ve got a problem. This is what lies at the heart of Charissa’s question. This is what makes the notion of predestination to hell repugnant. And that is the issue Taylor fails to address.

When your hermeneutic results in a God too monstrous even for Hollywood villain standards, it’s time to rethink your hermeneutic.

In my next post, I will get in way over my head offer some thoughts in Paul’s defence. I don’t think Paul means what Taylor thinks he means.

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Nothing Says Fun Like Dead Egyptians!

September 6, 2011

Last week, Randal Rauser published a post entitled, “Are cataclysmic natural disasters appropriate for the children’s choir?” in which he questioned the wisdom of entertaining children with macabre Bible stories (sanitized or otherwise) simply because they’re found in the Bible.

Most readers will be familiar with the proposed Answers in Genesis theme park, Ark Encounter, down in Kentucky. Apparently, the folks at AiG believe that the Noah story isn’t the only biblical account of mass death suitable for children’s entertainment. Turns out they also have plans to develop a Ten Plagues ride.

Check out this short video by the ride’s designer:

It’s hard to imagine which part of the ride the kids will like best. Will it be the river of blood? Maybe the room of incurable boils. Or who could forget the final stop on the ride: the pile of firstborn Egyptian corpses. Yippee!!

Ironically, Answers in Genesis is also convinced that kids should steer clear of Halloween. As their “What about Halloween” webpage cautions, “Death is a terrible reality for all of us—not something to celebrate or treat as fun.”

Unless, of course, the people dying are godless Egyptians. In which case, you sell tickets and open a gift shop.

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The Bible’s Most Overlooked But Really, Really Important Guy

September 1, 2011

The recent NPR story on the historicity of Adam & Eve has managed to propel the issue into the spotlight again. Last week, Al Mohler devoted some more ink to the controversy.

To make the case that those who question the historicity of A&E are playing with theological fire, Mohler repeatedly alleges that the link between Adam and Christ is critical to the biblical narrative:

Furthermore, it is clear that the historical character of [Genesis ch. 1-3] is crucial to understanding the Bible’s central message — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The fall of the human race in Adam sets the stage for the salvation of sinful humanity by Jesus Christ. 

[I]f these arguments hold sway, we will have to come up with an entirely new understanding of the Gospel metanarrative and the Bible’s storyline.

The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel.

If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.

Mohler couldn’t be more clear: Adam’s fall is such an indispensable part of the gospel metanarrative that the latter cannot be understood without the former.

I can think of one group of people who clearly have not understood this fundamental truth – one obtuse bunch of men who didn’t get the memo. Unfortunately, Mohler will not be able to bring them up to speed because they’re all dead. You know them as the authors of the Bible. If the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be understood without the story of Adam, nobody bothered to tell them.

In the OT, Adam gets only a passing mention outside of Genesis. Of the four men who wrote biographies of Christ, not one of them thought to draw upon Adam in telling the Jesus story. Matthew thought Christ’s story was best told through the lens of Moses. Luke saw parallels in Elijah. But no one dredged up that old Adam story.

Consider the first sermons ever preached. Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, told Christ’s story through the words of Joel and David. No Adam. Stephen gave a lengthy history lesson before being stoned. Where did he start the story? With Abraham, not Adam. In Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13) he, too, attempted to set the story of Jesus in its context. Who gets a nod? Moses, Samuel, Saul, David, John the Baptist and Abraham. No Adam. The authors of the Petrine epistles didn’t consider Adam worthy of mention. Neither did the author of the Johannine epistles, nor the author of Hebrews, who seemed to be going out of his way to draw relevant OT connections (eg. Melchizedek who?).

Just because you make the odd cameo doesn’t mean the story is about you.

I could go on, but you get the point. The best evidence we have is that the earliest Christians, including the Apostles and other NT authors, routinely expressed the gospel of Jesus Christ without any reference to the fall of Adam. He just didn’t enter into the story. Even Paul, in all of his letters, mentions Adam only twice (Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15)*.

So why is Mohler so concerned? What’s really going on here is not that Adam is crucial to an “understanding of the Gospel metanarrative and the Bible’s storyline.” Rather, Adam is crucial to the modern Western evangelical version of the gospel that is all about individual salvation from an individual sin debt. In that story, with its notion of original sin, the fall of Adam plays a prominent role.

But the real story of Jesus is the fulfilled story of covenant Israel.  That’s why the biblical preachers/NT writers told the gospel by going back to Abraham, to Moses, to David.  The central problem, as they saw it, wasn’t that Adam had sinned, thereby rendering all people guilty due to an inherited sin nature from which they required individual justification.  The problem was that God had entered into a covenant with a chosen people, but his people had broken that covenant. As a result, they found themselves in exile (first in Bablyon and now in Roman-ruled Judea) and judgment of both Israel and her oppressors was imminent.

Jesus was the answer for fallen Israel, not fallen Adam.

This is the true metanarrative of the Bible. In fact, some have suggested (persuasively, I think) that the story of Eden/the Fall/the expulsion from Paradise is itself a metaphor for the overarching narrative of Promised Land/unfaithful Israel/exile. The gospel story is the story of God’s redemptive plan for a nation that had lost its way – a nation into which God would ultimately graft all of humanity.

If modern genetics casts doubt on the historicity of Adam (and it does), rather than undermine the gospel, this realization may actually help the church to recover the authentic gospel, properly conceived (as Scot McKnight has recently put it), “as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus.”

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*I have not included 1 Timothy 2 in the count as most scholars do not consider the Pastoral epistles to be authentically Pauline. Plus, the topic of 1 Timothy 2 is the role of women, not the gospel per se.

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Teenager Electrocuted – Christians Rejoice

August 30, 2011

Earlier today, Steve Douglas posted a video of Orthodox Archbishop Lazar Puhalo discussing Adam & Eve, original sin, and a host of other theological topics. Near the end of the video, Puhalo offered this critique of Western notions of the atonement:

The Western concept of salvation itself is violent and generates violence. It makes God the supreme child abuser, unable to forgive mankind without the torturous death of his own son.

This immediately brought to mind a video I came across last week, which is currently sitting on the front page of Godtube’s “Most Popular Videos”. Since I can’t seem to embed Godtube videos, here it is on Youtube:

Of the 75,000 people who have viewed the video on Godtube, over 13,000 have liked it on Facebook, which would seem to indicate that there is a large segment of American Christians who consider it an accurate or at least inspiring depiction of the atonement.

Personally, I find the video disturbing. Maybe it’s the depiction of Jesus as a hapless, frightened teenager being led to the slaughter like Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah. But even if Jesus had been portrayed as more of a willing participant, I still think there’s a troubling aspect to the depiction.

Would the average Christian’s reaction be the same if this were just a scene from a television show with no religious significance?  If Jack Bauer decided to have his daughter gruesomely tortured to death in place of a terrorist, I suspect that most viewers would be shocked and horrified.

But when it comes to the cross, Western Christians are so accustomed to thinking in terms of penal substitution, that the image of an innocent teenager being electrocuted elicits comments like, “this video brought tears to my eyes” and, “Thank you Jesus!” I can understand rejoicing in the mercy extended to the condemned prisoner. But doesn’t the image of the teenager staring back at you from the electric chair scream, “Something’s wrong with this picture!”?

There’s something in this video that captures the problem with penal substitution theory. And I think Puhalo may have put his finger on it. Yes, let’s rejoice at the prisoner being set free. Let’s rejoice at his chains falling off (and his tattoos magically disappearing ??). But I can’t get my heart behind the notion that a violent torturous death was God’s precondition for extending such grace.

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Ode on a Grecian Return

August 27, 2011

This blog has been rather neglected over the past few months. I’m sorry. But I have a good excuse. This spring, I asked a beautiful young woman to marry me. Against her better judgment, she accepted my proposal, culminating in the most spectacular wedding ever (perhaps I’m biased) on July 24.

As we discovered, wedding prep is a full time job. Thus, the silence here on Cognitive Discopants. Following the Big Day, we spent 3+ weeks honeymooning in Greece. We had stints in Santorini, Crete, the Peloponnese, and Athens. It was a wonderful mix of beautiful landscapes/quaint towns for my photographer wife and amazing archaeological sites/museums for my nerdy Mediterranean-history-loving self.

I thought I’d begin my return to blogging with a few photos from our trip, some of which bear some relationship to the topics discussed on this blog. Enjoy…

Watching the sun set over the Aegean Sea from the rocks below Oia, Santorini

Crete's sacred skull of St. Titus and definitely not a random skull

Katrina making translation breakthroughs on the as-of-yet undeciphered Phaistos Disc, discovered in the Minoan Palace at Phaistos

Remains of a 6th century AD Christian basilica in Gortyn, the former Roman capital on Crete

View of Matala beach from inside a 1st century AD Roman cave tomb

The Bema (place of judgment) in Ancient Corinth where Paul was brought before proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17)

The modern city of Sparta as seen from the hilltop of Mystras

inside a Byzantine monastery in Mystras

outside the monastery

Katrina standing on the Areopagus (Mars Hill) from which Paul delivered his famous "altar to an unknown god" sermon (Acts 17)

Yours truly hanging with Caesar Augustus. The emperor is the one on the left.

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Carl Medearis on Piper vs. Bell

July 11, 2011

Carl Medearis takes a Rally-To-Restore-Sanity kind of approach to the whole hell/universalism/Rob Bell debate.

I think I like this guy.

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Tim Keller on Adam & Eve – Part II

June 19, 2011

In my first post on this topic, I discussed whether it made sense to think of the Adam & Eve story as “mythologized history”. In this post, I want to tackle something else from Tim Keller’s post in defence of a literal Adam.

Keller is convinced that in order for Christ’s salvation to work covenantally, Adam’s sin had to spread covenantally. In other words, just as Christ died for the benefit of all, so too must the sin of Adam have been laid to the account of all.

My initial reaction is to ask, “Why?”. Why must the cause of sin work the same way as the remedy? Sure, it makes for nice parallelism. I imagine that’s why Paul made the analogy. But there’s no logical reason why it has to work that way and Keller doesn’t offer one.

What really troubles me about Keller’s argument is how he goes about justifying the idea that sin works covenantally. He writes:

As a pastor, I often get asked how we can get credit for something that Christ did. The answer does not make much sense to modern people, but it makes perfect sense to ancient people. It is the idea of being in “federation” with someone, in a legal and historical solidarity with a father, or an ancestor, or another family member or a member of your tribe. You are held responsible (or you get credit) for what that other person does. Another way to put it is that you are in a covenant relationship with the person. An example is Achan, whose entire family is punished when he sins (Josh 7.)

It is telling, I think, that in support of his argument that God attributes individual sin guilt covenantally, Keller relies on one of the more disturbing stories in the OT. Joshua and his men have just finished putting the city of Jericho to the ban. That is, God has allegedly ordered them to slaughter everything that breathes and to devote the entire city to destruction. When Joshua attempts to take the city of Ai, his men are defeated. Why? Because God is angry that they didn’t devote the entire city of Jericho to destruction. Turns out some guy named Achan had helped himself to some booty (the pirate kind, not the other kind). The response was a little draconian, to say the least:

Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.” Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. (Joshua 7:24-25)

Imagine the scene. “Little girl, I’m afraid your daddy has disobeyed God’s command. While we were busy running babies through with swords, your daddy was stuffing gold bricks down his pants. I’m sure you’ll understand that the only just thing to do is to stone him … oh and you as well. And your brothers. And your cat.”

Remarkably, according to Keller, this is a principle of general application for God. Immediately after referencing the stoning of Achan’s family, Keller writes as follows:

The ancient and biblical understanding is that a person is not “what he is” simply through his personal choices. He becomes “what he is” through his communal and family environment. So if he does a terrible crime—or does a great and noble deed—others who are in federation (or in solidarity, or in covenant with him) are treated as if they had done what he had done.

The great thing about proof-texting is that you can find an isolated story in support of your point, claim that it represents THE “biblical understanding” and then ignore other passages like Ezekiel 18:20:

The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

If you have a moment, read all of Ezekiel 18. The entire chapter is a refutation of the sort of thinking that Keller describes as the “biblical understanding” of the imputation of guilt.

For Keller, there’s no problem at all with the idea that all of humanity should be condemned for the sins of one man. He was our federal head and we get thrown in the stoning pit with him.

But it gets worse. It’s one thing to conceive of sin entering the world through the sole progenitors of the human race. In some way (if I turn my head sideways and squint) I can kind of see how it might be that once man had fallen, his offspring might then inherit that fallen nature and the consequences that go with it. But the whole point of Keller’s post is to contend for a historical Adam & Eve who are not the sole progenitors of the human race. Keller realizes that he must come to grips with the fact that the human population has never been smaller than several thousand. But he still wants to make us all vicariously liable for the actions of one man.

Keller provides no explanation as to why Adam would be in federation/solidarity/covenant with the rest of the existing human population of his day. Why should the thousands of other humans who co-existed with Adam be covenantally linked with Adam? Even Joshua didn’t stone the entire Israelite camp, just the responsible family.

Since Keller hasn’t attempted to guesstimate where Adam might fit into history, it’s hard to tell just how many contemporaries would have been stuck with the consequences of Adam’s sin. Was Adam a neolithic farmer in the middle east, as some have suggested? If so, that was rotten luck for the people in the Americas. They didn’t know Adam existed, their lineages had diverged thousands of years earlier, yet God thought it just to treat them “as if they had done what [Adam] had done.”

You can push Adam as far back into the Stone Age as you wish, but you will never eliminate the problem. It will always be patently unjust to hold an entire population of thousands of individuals liable for the actions of one of their contemporaries. It offends our most basic sense of justice. You wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. Why would God do it?

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Exciting New Jesus Documentary

June 13, 2011

What do you think? Have the revisionist Jesus scholars gone too far …

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Tim Keller on Adam & Eve – Part I

June 12, 2011

Tim Keller has joined the discussion on Adam-historicity with an article titled, Sinned in a Literal Adam, Raised in a Literal Christ, posted on the Gospel Coalition website. Keller accepts that life has an evolutionary history, but has concerns about treating Adam & Eve as mythological characters.

In response to the observation that the various Genesis narratives share remarkable similarities with other Ancient Near Eastern mythologies, Keller calls upon evangelical scholar Kenneth Kitchen. Keller writes:

The prominent Egyptologist and evangelical Christian, when responding to the charge that the flood narrative (Gen 9) should be read as “myth” or “proto-history” like the other flood-narratives from other cultures, answered:

The ancient Near East did not historicize myth (i.e. read it as imaginary “history”). In fact, exactly the reverse is true—there was, rather, a trend to “mythologize” history, to celebrate actual historical events and people in mythological terms.

In other words, the evidence is that Near Eastern “myths” did not evolve over time into historical accounts, but rather historical events tended to evolve over time into more mythological stories. Kitchen’s argument is that, if you read Genesis 2-11 in light of how ancient Near Eastern literature worked, you would conclude, if anything, that Genesis 2-11 were “high” accounts, with much compression and figurative language, of events that actually happened. In summary, it looks like a responsible way of reading the text is to interpret Genesis 2-3 as the account of an historical event that really happened.

Keller’s argument seems to be this: There was a tendency in the ANE for the memories of historical events and characters to accrue mythological elements over time. Therefore, seemingly mythological narratives may have historical persons and events at their core.

As a general proposition, I take no issue with the above. It was once assumed that the events and places in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were fictitious. When excavations in the late 1800s turned up the actual city of Troy, it became apparent that there might be some (minimal) historical truth behind the epic poems.

But there are serious limitations to this observation. While some mythologies have a historical referent, it is by no means the case that all mythologies do. Should we assume that the Babylonian tale of Marduk slaying the sea monster Tiamat to create the heavens and earth from her split carcass is an actual historical event that has become mythologized? Probably not.

So yes, it is possible to “mythologize history”, but it is also possible for mythologies to be invented out of whole cloth.

Moreover, even if we suppose that the Genesis narratives are mythologized accounts of two actual historical people named Adam and Eve, that’s not enough. To do the theological heavy-lifting that Keller wants them to do, Adam & Eve need to be more than mere historical figures. They need to be in some sort of special relationship with God and some sort of federal headship over mankind. They need to violate God’s command. They and their progeny need to be cursed by God as a result. In other words, the broad brushstrokes of the Genesis narrative need to be historical as well. So even if a comparative study of ANE mythologies leads us to conclude that there may be a historical Adam & Eve somewhere beneath the mythological trappings of the Genesis story, this does little to establish the Fall narrative as historical. The story of the Fall may simply be part of the legend that has developed around the historical characters.

How might we determine whether the Fall narrative is part of a possible “historical core” or part of later mythological accretion? Examine the text.

When we examine the text we find that the Fall story is rife with mythological elements:

  • a paradisaical garden
  • forbidden fruit
  • a talking snake (which, incidentally, doesn’t seem to surprise any of the characters)
  • an immortality-granting tree guarded by cherubim with a flaming sword!!

We also find that the story appears to serve an etiological function, explaining the origin of things that must certainly have predated any historical Adam and Eve:

  • pain in childbirth
  • weeds & agrarian toil
  • crawling snakes

In other words, the content of the narrative would lead any unbiased observer to recognize the Fall story as belonging to the category of myth, regardless of whether the characters in the story might have existed. To salvage the Fall as a historical event, Keller needs more than two neolithic farmers named Adam and Eve. He needs to contend that a story that bears all the hallmarks of mythology is actually part of the historical core and not subsequent mythologizing. That is not, as he suggests, “a responsible way of reading the text.” It is special pleading.

The putative Mask of Agamemnon

Agamemnon may have existed. If he did, he may or may not have laid siege to Troy. But it he did exist and he did lay siege to Troy, we can be pretty darn sure that it wasn’t because Paris stole Helen after adjudicating among the goddesses as to who should receive a golden apple from the gods.

Why are we so adept at recognizing mythology in the literature of other cultures but so willfully blind to it in our own?