A special treat for two readers

October 12, 2012 • 9:53 am

I don’t ignore my readers, you know. I know who many of you are, have email correspondences with some, and am proud of nearly all of them.

And so, for two readers, here are special treats from the art museums of Vienna:

First, when I saw this painting in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the big art museum) of Vienna, there was one reader who came to mind. Guess who that might be? (The painting, “Doubting Thomas,” is by Mattia Preti, 1613-1699.) It could serve as the cover of my next book:

I don’t see any intestines being fondled, however.

New reader Michelle Beissel added four pictures of one of my favorite felids, Dayo the Cat, to the latest post on her superb cooking website Souped-up Garden. In return, I was expected to post pictures of one of her favorite artists, Egon Schiele. I took many photos of  Schiele’s paintings at the Leopold Museum today, but am including just three in this post in hopes that it will summon further pictures of Dayo the Cat (real name “deo888xx”).

Schiele, who died at the tragically young age of 28 of influenza (the same epidemic that killed my paternal grandmother in 1918), also became one of my favorites after a long viewing of many of his pictures this morning. The guy was a genius. (Click photos to enlarge.) What an artistic revolution was going on in Austria at the turn of the last century!

House with Shingles (1915)

Here’s a section of one of three self-portraits in the gallery. Schiele used both his fingers and brushes to get this effect.

Schiele had a rough life: he was imprisoned for producing paintings and drawings that were considered pornographic, had a bad heart, and died three days after his wife, who was six months pregnant, also succumbed to the flu.  There will be more Schiele on this site soon.

And I expect moar pictures of Dayo in return!

41 thoughts on “A special treat for two readers

  1. So…you mean that Jesus didn’t get his guts groped, but rather his liver fingered?

    Somehow, that just doesn’t have the same ring to it….



    P.S. On my way to make a pickup, then make a print, then make a postal run…. b&

    1. As a matter of accuracy, Ben, John’s Gospel records Tom as abjuring Jesus’ more than somewhat queasy and homoerotic invitation to caress his hands and sides; the rather tiresome moral is to believe without seeing.

      Yes, Tommy expresses a wish to prod about in the Messiah’s more man-made orifices, but he never actually does it.

      1. That’s a common apologetic response, but it’s not one that I find supported by the text.

        John 20:24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
        25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
        26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
        27 Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
        28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.
        29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

        First, nowhere does the text say that Thomas didn’t follow through with the thrusting.

        Second, Thomas explicitly states that he will not believe unless he thrusts, and his belief is later confirmed.

        Third, Jesus explicitly orders Thomas to thrust, and that it is the thrusting that should be the basis for Thomas’s belief.

        Last, the text reads, after Jesus commanded Thomas to thrust, “And Thomas answered and said.” An answer need not be verbal. The text is perfectly consistent with Thomas’s answer being in the form of the thrust, whereafter he then said those words confirming the belief he had gained as a result of the thrust.

        I’ll also note that it’s a typical apologetic tactic to lie about the more obviously embarrassing bits of the Bible. The talking snake is really Satan playing mind games; the one genealogy is for Joseph and the other for Mary; Pharaoh hardened his own heart without any intervention from YHWH; the call to genocide by Jesus in Luke 19:27 is a metaphorical call to struggle with one’s own inner demons; and so on.

        Doubting Thomas clearly fits the pattern: the text is pretty clear that that’s the whole thrust of the passage; it’s commonly interpreted to mean exactly that (I’ve heard it described exactly that way in an Easter Mass)…and, really, does it really make a difference if Thomas did or didn’t thrust? There’s no dispute about whether or not Jesus was a walking corpse with gaping wounds, or that he told Thomas to grope his guts. What difference does it make if Thomas disobeyed that direct order? What on Earth is to be gained by denying that that’s what the story says he did? If Thomas suicking Jesus embarrasses you but Jesus telling Thomas to squick him doesn’t embarrass you, you’ve got bigger problems than be solved by exegesis.

        …and now I really must be off on my errands….



        1. I have to agree with dermot here and I don’t think what he’s saying is apologetics at all. Like he said, it’s a case of believing without seeing (20:29 is clearly fired right over the head of the protagonists and is aimed directly at us, the reader. )

          What the whole thing does show, I think, is a residual docetism of john’s Jesus. See also 20:17, where Jesus tells Mary not to hold him, implying that Jesus’ body is non-comporeal. He even materialises in a locked room, for christ’s sake. Johns depiction of Jesus is naively docetic in a number of places.

          All of this means, of course, is that the whole thing is fiction. Every last word. A shame, because Jesus is so hilariously megalomaniacal and over the top in this gospel. I mean, getting up in front of the Pharisees and declaring ‘I am the light of the world.’ This is real ‘get out the butterfly nets’ behaviour. Fantastic stuff.

        2. Ben, caaaalm down, caaaalm down, as the comedy scousers say.

          I rather think that any reasonable reader would go with my interpretation of Tommy’s response to Jesus’ demonstrably masochistic, passive-aggressive invitation to pootle about with his presumably quite sore innards.

          Yes, your ‘fondling’ schtick is funny; I merely point out its absence from the text of the Holy Book. Verse 29 implies my interpretation.

          I wasn’t aware, after 40 years of atheism, that I was an apologist; there you go, know thyself, as I assume it says somewhere in the Bible.

          Btw, I do have problems, but I don’t think the Bible is going to sort them out.


          1. Sorry — I didn’t mean to accuse you of being an apologist, merely of uncritically accepting the standard apologist explanation. Lots and lots of sane, rational atheists have never even thought to question most of apologia, to the point that it doesn’t even register on their consciousness that there might be any other possible interpretation of a given passage than the apologetic one.

            That sort of thing happens at a gross scale even with the most strident of Gnu atheists; Richard hisself regularly speaks fondly and approvingly of Jesus and his teachings in the Gospels. Hell, I even expressed a wish once that Shrub had read from the Sermon on the Mount in his speech at Ground Zero after the 1/99 attacks — and this was after I was already self-identifying as an atheist (but before I was made the BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy on alt.atheism).

            Verse 29 implies my interpretation.

            “Implies,” I think, is too strong a word. The verse is consistent with your interpretation, but it doesn’t say (nor, I think, imply), “because you have seen without thrusting.”

            The whole lead-up, from both Thomas and Jesus, is the thrusting. I think it would be much more remarkable for such a lead-up to be blown off and go unremarked upon than for the author simply to have thought that not only was there no need to explicitly state that they followed through with it but also that it would have been over-the-top unseemly to have written it out.

            I mean, how exactly would that have come out?

            John 20:27 Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

            27a And Thomas didst reach thither his finger, and beheld Jesus’s hands; and Thomas reached thither his hand and thrust it into Jesus’s side and clutched Jesus’s colon.

            28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.

            Seems a bit over-the-top even for me, even in a book that has a hymn of praise to those who rip open women’s bellies and dash the “little ones” against the rocks.



              1. Apology accepted,Ben.

                My point was not influenced by any apologists’ interpretation of the story; I have never read any such criticism. It is my reading of the text; if I agree with some apologists’ reading of the piece, well then I agree with them as to what the text says happened. What theologians make of that inference on the text will differ from me because I don’t think it happened, and neither do you.

                On the question of Jesus’ teachings, I disagree with Dawkins, Ehrman, and suspect that I would probably come closest to Hitchens’ views on Christ’s moral prognostications.

                I think JC was an apocalyptic Jew who thought the End Times were coming within his own generation – that’s what he is reported to say in the earliest Christian documents. No-one who believes in the Second Coming is thinking about how to create the good society for the long term, how to live together, what are the bases of a harmonious and long-lasting polity.

                In that context, any universalist moral prescriptions which Jesus made up can be correct only by accident. If Jesus did propound the Golden Rule, he saw it not in the context of the way the rest of humanity lives its life; for we assume life as continuing for decades, hundreds or thousands of years after we die. If that is the case, and if his teachings do help to create The Good, then that is entirely coincidence. Because the rest of us seek to build The Good for the long haul, assuming that our actions will affect future generations.

                For the early Christians, there were no future generations; that is how we, although we know far more than Jesus’ contemporaries, are more ‘humble’ than those early Christians. We lack their apocalyptic certitude; and that’s a good thing.

              2. I think JC was an apocalyptic Jew who thought the End Times were coming within his own generation – that’s what he is reported to say in the earliest Christian documents.

                Which Christian documents would that be? And when and by whom do you think they were written, and how do you know when and by whom they were written? What else do those documents say about Jesus, and how does that play into your assessment of who and what he was? Was there anything else written about the same time (or even earlier) — and, if so, how does it square with the documents you’ve thus far privileged?

                I rather suspect you’ll sing a somewhat different tune after answering those questions….



              3. Note, Ben that none of my comment on Jesus’ moral ideas depends at all on whether the man existed; it equally represents the views of the earliest Christians.

                But, what is the positive evidence that Jesus existed? Before I answer, I should say that of all the academics across the world who teach at universities, colleges, theological seminaries or divinity schools, none to my knowledge doubt Jesus’ existence. We are talking about Jesus, a Jew, a preacher, who was crucified during Pontius Pilate’s governorship in the reign of Tiberius.

                In no particular order: Pliny the Younger (112 CE), Suetonius (115 CE) I discount as inconclusive for, amongst others, orthographical reasons, Tacitus (115 CE), Josephus (ca. 93 CE), the Gospel of Mark, Mark’s source or sources (according to the latest scholarship), and Q, of Matthew, and M (which may be several written and/or oral sources), the Gospel of Luke, and L (which may be several written and/or oral sources) i.e. Luke’s ‘numerous sources’ (now disappeared), the Gospel of John, John’s Signs Source, John’s Discourse source or sources, perhaps John’s Passion Source, the Gospel of Thomas, the original Gospel behind the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, Papyrus Egerton 2, Papias, Ignatius, the author of 1 Clement, Acts, Paul’s letter to the Romans, Romans 1:3-4 (not written by Paul), 1 Timothy, the writer of 1 Peter, the writer of 2 Peter, 1 John (not he who wrote the Gospel), the writer of Revelation, the writer of Hebrews and Paul’s testimony in Galatians regarding his meeting with James and Peter around 35 or 36 CE.

                I make that at the minimum 21 separate pieces of evidence; I have been conservative. I have not included in the count Q, L, M, any sources behind surviving documents, different pieces written by the same person i.e. Paul and Luke who also wrote Acts, oral testimony such as that of James and Peter. This is the documentation that survives, to my knowledge; there may of course have been more, now lost. Academics would put the count at 30 at the minimum.

              4. If you’re looking to theological schools and seminaries, then of course nobody is going to suggest that Jesus was anything other than genuine. Anything else will result in an involuntary early retirement without benefits.

                If you’d like examples of academics who reject the historicity of Jesus, start with Hector Avalos, as well as Richard Carrier (who posts here from time to time). Others include Robert Price, George Wells, and Earl Doherty. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg — and, indeed, only the most recent ones to note that Jesus is pure myth. Indeed, even the New Testament warns of “many deceivers [who] are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” (2 John 1:7). From the very beginning, Docetism and Gnosticism have vigorously contested the heterodox position of a real physical incarnation.

                Your list of sources is fraught with problems.

                The Romans you lead off with are writing a century after the “fact” and reporting on the beliefs of Christians, not affirming or independently verifying the truths of those claims.

                That Josephus mentioned Jesus is an overwhelmingly established lie, the archetypal example of that type of fabrication. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that “[t]he passage seems to suffer from repeated interpolations.”

                The Gospels most emphatically do not describe Jesus as a mere mortal. His birth was of a virgin by way of a god and announced by angels; he turned water into wine and raised the dead; and he returned himself from the dead and ascended into the sky. That there should be unremarkable bits of color here and there in the story are no more remarkable than mentions that Odysseus made camp on the isle of the cyclops, and they do no more to establish the historical reliability of the documents — indeed, quite the opposite; the Gospels in and of themselves are more than sufficient to establish Jesus as an entirely fictional character.

                And we don’t at all have source documents for the documents (Q, M, etc.), and we certainly don’t know what their nature was. It’s far more likely that any source documents would have been fictional themselves than historical; claiming non-existent rough drafts of fantasies in order to establish the reality of the fantasies is beyond absurd.

                You then cite a whole raft of non-Biblical documents, all of which radically differ from and contradict each other and the Gospels — and, indeed, the Gospels themselves contradict each other in every conceivable way. You also leave out huge swaths of contemporary heterodoxical documents that contradict your position. No two sources from that period can agree on much more than the character’s name and the fact that he was somehow very important. Such vehement disagreement indicates not that they’re all somehow right, but that they’re all quite worng.

                Especially considering that not a single one of those documents was authored by anybody who could even hypothetically been an eyewitness.

                That’s hardly a sound foundation upon which to base claims of historicity. Quite the contrary, in fact.



              5. Briefly, Ben; I know many of the contradictions in the Bible and of the points which Daryl makes. Some of the sources are less reliable than others naturally; but the job of the historian is to go through the documents, one by one, to critically evaluate them.

                I don’t see evidence of your taking the sources and seriously examining their veracity or otherwise, aside from your usual amusing rhetorical flourishes.

                I have guests for the next three days and will be unable to spare time for WEIT. If I can I’ll respond more fully when they’re gone.

              6. Dermot, the point is that all we have for Jesus (whose story, we are to believe, is the greatest ever told) is copies-of-copies-of-copies of documents the originals of which were penned generations after the “fact” and which have long since been lost to history…and all those documents fall into three easily-recognizeable categories: classic heroic myths; unabashed religious proselytizing of those myths; and reports of the religious beliefs of a wacky and disturbing new cult. And the classic heroic myths at the heart of it all are textbook examples of the genre.

                If you’re going to take an historicist position towards Jesus, then you’re left in the untenable position of either having to take an historicist position towards Hercules, Osiris, Mithra, and the rest or of applying a completely different set of standards to the Christian myth than all its contemporary myths. Even worse, you’re going to have to pick and choose, on absolutely no objective basis whatsoever, which parts of which tellings of the Jesus myth to accept as true and which parts to reject as false.

                Why, for example, is the author of the Gospel of Matthew to be trusted when he reports that Jesus was crucified by the order of Pilate but not when he reports, in the same passage, that a horde of zombies descended upon Jerusalem when the sentence had been carried out?

                If your reply is that the one is believable and the other not, then on what basis do you reject the historicity of Dionysus? After all, it’s entirely plausible that he might have fathered children with Ariadne — that’s hardly implausible, even if it’s also said that he descended into Hades in order to save her. I’ve met newspaper reporters; are you going to tell me Clark Kent wasn’t a real person?

                All claims for the historicity of Jesus amount to nothing more than special pleading. This passage in this text is trustworthy, but the passages on either side aren’t. This text is trustworthy, but its indistinguishable contemporaries that argue the exact opposite aren’t. This broad and non-specific characterization of Jesus is trustworthy, but the piles of contradicting characterizations aren’t. These sources that impeach themselves are trustworthy, but only the bits that support the desired conclusion. And all of the techniques used to build this particular house of cards are only to be applied to this one favorite hero and not to any of the others.

                I’m sure you can understand why I’m decidedly underwhelmed.



              7. Dermot, one more point.

                If you could point me to even one early source that described Jesus as a mortal human and nothing more, I’d at least be willing to consider the historicist position. But, of course, no such source exists; the closest you get is the Talmud centuries later.


            1. Dermot, what are those ‘sources’ for Mark’s gospel? To me the sources seem to be rewritten Old Testament stories mixed with Mark’s brilliant literary imagination…

              Those Christian documents, none of which can be reliably be dated (they don’t receive external attestation until well into the 2nd century)attest to a beginning of a new religious movement. They can’t simply be used as support for a historical Jesus. The Pagan/Jewish sources aren’t much help either, as they too can only attest to the existence of Christians by the 2nd century.

              There are NO primary sources for a historical Jesus. None. That doesn’t mean he didn’t exist, but it’s a fact that should give scholars a hell of a lot more pause for thought than it currently does.

    2. Looks more like he’s about to put in a chest tube for Jesus’ pneumothorax.

      Too high for the liver. He’s fondling the lungs.

      1. Hmm…I’m not exactly an anatomist, but it’s pretty clear that Thomas is just touching the wound and isn’t exactly probing it. If he keeps his fingers going in that direction, he’ll be in the lungs. But if he instead hooks his fingers back down, bringing his tips in line with where the base of his fingers are, won’t he be at the liver?

        A lot would depend on the nature of the spear wound. Wouldn’t the centurion have aimed for the liver rather than the lungs?

        And why do I feel like I’m trying to figure out whether or not the Enterprise really could have made the Parsec run in under twelve muggles?


        1. Well, it would have been an upward thrust — though I think that’s based on the common misconception that crucifixions were conducted with the person 6 feet above the ground. Not necessary. You can crucify someone just fine a mere inches from the ground. Saves the soldiers from all that hauling up and down. Easier on the back, don’t you know?

          But let’s say it’s higher than that. Let’s have it be the “classic” method. Jesus above your head. Meaning the centurion in going for the liver could have thrust up and into the lung as well. Those spear tips were pretty long, you know.

          I think we’re both right.

          I also think you’re right about the fondling — if Jesus told me to fondle his wound, I most definitely would have fondled the wound. Am I going to tell him “no”? No way! He just came back from the DEAD!! There’s no telling what he’d be capable of. He might breathe fire like a dragon or shoot lightning out of his eyes. So, if he tells me to fondle, then fondle I will.

          And of course, one can use Infinite Improbability Drive to get away from the Dementors and reach the Enterprise. Or Dr. Who’s telephone call box.

        1. Ben will never again be able to talk about “fondling Jesus’s intestines.” It’s the liver or nothing now!

          1. But…but…but…the imagery! The alliteration! I mean — what the Hell am I supposed to do with his bloody liver?

            I’d love to go with something like “Thomas longing to lick Jesus’s lacerated liver,” but I’m already getting enough pushback (from atheists!) on the intestinal fondlitude.

            And who’s to say that Preti’s vision was inspired? My vision shows the spear wound much bigger and a bit lower. And Thomas is in there, up to his wrist, gleefully groping Jesus’s great and glorious grossly glistening guts.

            That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it — just like Thomas stuck it to Jesus’s splendidly slippery spleen.


        2. I don’t think that diagram is very accurate. First of all, there’s no diaphragm. Secondly, the xiphoid (bottom of sternum) is roughly at the level of the 5th rib- the diagram has that right. For most men (without significant breast tissue), the nipple lies above the xiphoid, roughly at the level of the 4th rib (the nipple is also in the T4 dermatome). In the diagram, the nipple is a level below the xiphoid, at the 6th rib, which is too low. Anyway, in the painting it could go either way. He’s right at the border. Probably poking lung if he’s standing up and liver if he’s lying down.

      2. Obviously Preti wasn’t in possession of a genuine inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he did that painting, or he would have put the side wound in the right location. I suggest Ben do his own painting with the wound adjacent the intestines, plenty of shiny guts showing, and Thomas’ elbow deep in them, then we will all know the TRUTH!!

        1. Oh, my.

          I’d love to do just that, but I’m afraid what artistic skills I have don’t extend to illustration, and certainly wouldn’t be up to the task.

          But, if there’s anybody out there so inclined, I’d be more than happy to offer my consultation (and endorsement should you accurately capture the essence of my vision).

          I suppose, ideally, it should be in a classically realistic style such as Preti’s…but I probably can’t be too picky.



    3. I tend to disagree with Ben on this, on purely forensic (not sure if that’s quite the right word) grounds. As I understand it Big J was stuck with a spear. However much the soldier jiggled it about, I think it would leave rather a small hole which would probably tend to close up afterwards, so the opportunity for poking around would be rather limited. If the Roman had used a chainsaw, now, it might be different.

      Of course that also implies that the wording in the bible is rather exaggerated, but I’d assume that anyway.

      1. That would hold true if the Centurion thrust in the spear, wiggled it around while pivoting it about the entry point, and then pulled the spear straight back.

        But if, instead, upon withdrawing the spear, he pulled down or to the side with a slashing motion, there’d have been copious intestinal spillage.

        And, I ask you: if you were directing a zombie movie, would you go with your version and send home all the special effects guys, or would you go with mine so you could have Jesus tripping over his own guts?



        1. You’re assuming there that the blade of the spear had an extremely sharp edge. I’m not an expert on Roman spears but I doubt the necessity for that in such a weapon. In fact some quick Googling suggests that Roman spears were in fact used as thrusting weapons rather than cutting weapons.

          Had the Roman concerned been able to use a mediaeval polearm or halberd, such as this, however, with any degree of diligence, the results would doubtless have gratified the most enthusiastic director of zombie movies. I get the distinct impression, looking at them, that their makers were as much concerned with appearance as with practicality.

          So I guess we can allow some degree of imagination to creep in since that’s undoubtedly what the original authors used anyway.

          1. Yes — that’s it, of course.

            The Centurion, being in reality an agent — nay, a manifestation! — of Satan, had access to any weapon he wished, past, present, or future. Problem solved, guts spilled.

            Thank you for helping shed light on this historical conundrum of — literally! — Biblical proportions.


  2. There’s a lovely boat trip along the Danube from Vienna to Budapest, about a half day, if memory serves, which passes by Bratislava high on a bluff above the river. If you get the chance, JAC, try it, an impressive extended bateau-mouche stylee effort. I did it in about 1991, memorable, relaxing and of course Budapest is grand.

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