Thursday, November 22, 2012


Early Christian Art

Yesterday, I finished reading Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (Yale UP, 2007), which documents a Kimball Art Museum exhibit of the same name. Three common motifs among early adherents of the Jesus movement/Christianity were the Good Shepherd, the Chi-Rho, and the Ichthys. The third image on the right below actually appeared in the exhibit.

Curiously, the book also includes a chapter on "Jewish Art and Biblical Exegesis in the Greco-Roman World". The most common "Jewish" motif was a seven-branched lamp stand a.k.a. menorah, which, according to Dr. M. D. Magee, was originally a Zoroastrian cultic object. In at least two ancient examples (Beth Alpha and Hammath Tiberias B "synagogues") in the book the menorah was paired with a Zodiac, which is of ancient Babylonian origin. Of course, the Star of David appears nowhere in the book as it only became associated with Judaism in modern times.

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Dawkins on Alien Intelligent Designers

I am a fan of neither Ben Stein nor Richard Dawkins but I recently watched Stein's snarky, controversial but worthwhile documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The film is about Intelligent Design (ID), a theory which "holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." More specifically, the premise of the film is that ID and its proponents have been excluded from the educational and scientific establishments based on ideological rather than scientific grounds. You don't have to agree with the filmmakers' point-of-view on ID or the fate of its adherents to find the film--like it's anti-ID counterpart Flock of Dodos--entertaining and thought-provoking.

Any way, what prompted this blog post was Stein's interview near the end of the film with Richard Dawkins. Starting at about 3:10 in the clip below is the following exchange:
BEN STEIN: What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in Darwinian evolution.

RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it's possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer.

BEN STEIN (in narrative voice): Wait a second. Richard Dawkins thought Intelligent Design might be a legitimate pursuit?

RICHARD DAWKINS: And that Designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that higher intelligence would itself have had to have come about by some explicable, or ultimately explicable process. It couldn't have just jumped into existence spontaneously. That's the point.

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