Matthew the τελώνης (“Toll Collector”) and the Authorship of the First Gospel

Last weekend I presented at an Education in Antiquity academic conference, in which I discussed how one’s occupation and social status was tied to literacy and education in the ancient world. Knowing nothing about an individual, except for one’s profession, gives us a general estimate of that person’s probable education and can inform the question of whether he or she could author a complex piece of literature. Since our knowledge of early Christian figures is exceptionally sparse, sometimes the best guide to assessing their background and education is to know the region that they came from, their social status, and their means of making a living.

This question is particularly relevant to the issue of Gospels’ authors. As I discussed in a previous article, the large majority of scholars doubt the traditional authors of the Gospels for manifold reasons. Part of the problem is that many of the figures to whom complex Greek scriptures were attributed were rural Aramaic-speaking peasants with a low probability of having recieved the necessary education to author the work in question.

For one of these traditional authors, Matthew the tax collector, however, I was less than certain about his probable level of education. Tax collectors would have had to recieve education in accounting and a certain degree of functional literacy for managing records, but how complex of an occupation was tax collecting? Would a tax collector be of high status or low status? To what extent would a tax collector be literate? These questions are important for assessing the disciple Matthew’s probable education and abilities. To answer it, I checked out a copy of Fabien Udoh’s To Caesar What Is Caesar’s: Tribute, Taxes and Imperial Administration in Early Roman Palestine (63 B.C.E.-70 C.E.), in order to learn more about the occupation of tax collector and the system of taxation in Judea and Galilee during the time of Jesus. What I found was quite interesting.

Continue reading

Posted in Classics, History | 2 Comments

Status Update

I have been away from the blog for a couple months now, and I want to give an update about some of the projects that I am currently working on. Apologies if anyone has wondered about my absence. I have actually been doing quite well and I have been busy developing projects relating to both my academic work in Classics and counter-apologetics, which I will discuss below.

Continue reading

Posted in Announcements | 5 Comments

Podcast Interview (Part 2) with NonTheology – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism

Last week I posted part 1 of an interview I had in early January with Gabriel McDonald from the NonTheology podcast. The subject of the interview is Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism, and how they provide for a non-theistic worldview without the need of religion in any part of one’s life philosophy.

Part 2 of the podcast is now available on NonTheology.

In the second half I provide arguments in favor of Metaphysical Naturalism and also respond to apologetic arguments against Naturalism. At the end of the podcast we also discuss the type of world that Secular Humanists want to create, and how this outlook for the future can inform our positions and direct our activism in the present when it comes to determining social policy and promoting a secular culture.

If you enjoyed the first half, I hope that you likewise find the second half to be interesting. Thanks to everyone who listens to the whole two-hour interview! I know that I certainly enjoyed the time on the show!

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Philosophy, Podcasts | 11 Comments

Podcast Interview (Part 1) with NonTheology – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism

A couple of weeks ago I had a podcast interview with Gabriel McDonald from NonTheology. Not only did I have a lot of fun on the show, but I also think that we managed to produce a podcast that is both highly informative and entertaining.

Part 1 of the podcast is now available on NonTheology.

In the first part we discuss what it means to have a ‘worldview,’ and delve into the differences between Metaphysical Naturalism and Christian Theism as competing worldviews. We also talk at the beginning of the podcast about some dirty debate tactics that are common in apologetic circles, particularly in dealing with campus apologist Cliffe Knechtle.

Part 2 of the podcast will not be up until next weekend, but I will post the rest of the interview here once it becomes available. In part 2 I lay out arguments in favor of Metaphysical Naturalism, as well as respond to apologetic arguments against Naturalism (such as those of Alvin Plantinga). So stay tuned next week to hear the rest!

-Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Philosophy, Podcasts | 6 Comments

New Blog about Secular Humanism!

I am happy to announce that, starting today, Κέλσος will have a new sister-site! Civitas Humana is a new blog dedicated to exploring and discussing the human condition in a post-religion setting. If Κέλσος is the “wrecking ball,” so to speak, of religion, then Civitas Humana will serve as the “blue prints” for the new world, lifestyle, and community that we might build under secular humanism.

Here is the description from the About section of the blog:

civitashumana21Civitas Humana is a blog dedicated to discussing and promoting secular humanism as an ethical worldview in conjunction with a naturalist metaphysical worldview. The picture at the top symbolizes the blog’s mission: Adam, upon realizing that god does not exist and did not create him, looks out and instead sees the natural universe that has brought him into being and that he is a part of. Where and how far will humankind go once it has been freed from religion? The purpose of this blog is to explore and answer this question.

Secular humanism is a philosophy dedicated to discovering what it means to be human, what needs we have, and what methods will best help us to actualize, grow, and be fulfilled in this universe. Civitas Humana (Latin for “City of Humanity”) recognizes that religion, which has traditionally served as a pre-boxed, take-off-the-shelf worldview in most periods of our more primitive history, cannot answer these questions in light of discovering the purely natural and atheistic universe that we live in. Instead, this blog brings together arguments, perspectives, and ideas for how we, as nothing more than a global community of humans, might conceptualize and achieve the best possible world for ourselves and our children. Heaven may not exist in some supernatural realm, but we might build it here on Earth, but only once we recognize that it is not god, but we ourselves who must create it.”

The new blog’s name is a pun off of Augustine’s “City of God.” When Christianity took over and consumed Europe and the West, philosophy became chained to theology and religion. Nevertheless, the actual big questions in life do not amount to “How do you answer question X with/without God?” rather than “How can we humans answer and solve question X?”

Civitas Humana (“City of Humanity”) is dedicated to restoring philosophy to a purely secular, natural, and humanistic setting, so that we can not only refute and debunk religion, but also live lives that are fully emancipated and independent from it.

The blog’s chief author is my friend and colleague (pen name) Francis Adams. Adams has posted on this site previously about issues of the Bible and Sexism and the Modern Evangelical Obsession with the Nation of Israel. I will also be contributing to the new blog and posting articles there. Κέλσος will continue to serve as the main resource for counter-apologetics and intellectually defending atheism, naturalism, and secular humanism, while Civitas Humana will be the primary resource for exploring a post-religion future.

The first post of the new blog is “It Belongs in a Museum!” in which Adams discusses the obsolescence of religion, while acknowledging it as a part of humankind’s past. The post concludes with a call towards secular humanism not only as an alternative system, but also as the next logical stage of human progress.

Happy 2014!

Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Announcements, Philosophy | 2 Comments

Pliny’s Christmas Carol

During this previous Fall quarter one of the graduate seminars that I took at UCI was a “Survey of Latin Literature” course in which we translated a variety of Latin authors from different periods of Roman history. One of the assigned readings we had in the seminar was a large selection of Pliny the Younger’s letters from the Sherwin-White edition of Pliny’s epistles.

Reading ancient epistles is very interesting, since the authors who corresponded with each other frequently discuss incidental details and personal anecdotes that are often not preserved in other genres of literature. Ancient letters can provide us with direct, day-to-day glimpses into the lives of those who wrote and received them, furnishing valuable historical and biographical details that we would not know about otherwise. For example, in Pliny’s letters we learn all sorts of bizarre personal stories from Pliny, such as when he boasts about his hunting exploits to the Roman historian Tacitus (1.6) or when he describes an unpleasant dinner party to his friend Avitus (2.6).

While reading a number of Pliny’s letters, I came across a particular bizarre story that is probably one of the most ridiculous tall tales that I have heard from all of antiquity! In book 7, letter 27 of Pliny’s epistles, Pliny writes to the Roman senator Lucius Licinius Sura about an alleged haunted house that he had heard about in Athens. Pliny describes the house as being haunted by the ghost of a haggard old man, with a pale complection, shaggy hair, and a bristling beard, who would haunt his victims by rattling iron chains over them.

When I first read about this ancient ghost story, I could not help but laugh, as I was poignantly reminded of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, who appears to him in the form of a pale ghost bound in iron chains!

jacob-marley Continue reading

Posted in Classics, For Fun | 1 Comment

Holiday Musings

Phew, so after grading 200 undergraduate exams, submitting finals and seminar papers, and tutoring clients with their finals, I have finally finished the Fall quarter! Some good news for the Fall is that I passed my Roman History qualifying exam, so that is at least one Ph.D. requirement out of the way.

Somehow in the chaos of it all I felt inclined to do a rather lengthy blog on why the majority of New Testament scholars doubt the traditional authors of the Gospels. I think it is my longest blog yet (over 30 double-spaced pages).

I think it is important to do blogs on methodology, since apologists like Cliffe Knechtle often try to put non-believers on the spot when asking loaded questions to college freshmen like, “Well, what criteria do you use to determine historicity?!” I think such questions are manipulative rhetorical tactics, since, obviously, someone cannot realistically respond to such a question on the fly. I’ve literally written hundreds of pages on historical issues, and even I couldn’t answer such an open-ended question in an immediate, extemporaneous response. Apologists who ask such questions are not really concerned with getting thought out answers, rather than putting non-believers on the defensive, as if they have to construct an entire historical theory, merely not to believe in a few ancient myths.

Fortunately, my Holiday present for the year is that I have now written three very extensive posts on methodology and skepticism towards the Gospels. For refuting the traditional authors and alleged “eyewitness” status of the Gospels, see here. For refuting the claim that the Gospels are historical in genre, see here. For an analysis of historiographical criteria and why we can doubt the historical reliability of the Gospels, see here.

In all of these articles I apply the same criteria to non-Christian texts, showing how it is not hyper-skepticism but fair historical treatment that leads informed and reasonable people to doubt the reliability of the New Testament.

That is my answer to apologists like Cliffe who try to catch laymen off guard in order to bombard them with questions they can’t answer. As someone who studies Classics and Ancient History, I answer them.

In any regard, I will be traveling to Phoenix these next couple weeks to spend time with my parents and relatives. I’ll still be around occasionally to answer emails and comments, but, as it is the Holiday Season, I will be a bit slower in responding. However, feel free to keep sending your thoughts!

I hope that we can all catch up on some rest and enjoy the end of the year!

Happy Holidays,

Matthew Ferguson

Posted in Musings | 2 Comments