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  2. Platos cosmology : the Timaeus of Plato?
  3. Pious fraud.

The heading of chapter 31 is the basis of our quotation, more or less exactly. However we need not consider Gibbon further here, except as probably the first to circulate this text as a proof-text against Eusebius. Incidentally it would seem that if Gibbon's reference is accurate, that the 16th century Stephanus edition was perhaps arranged differently to modern editions -- I need to check this.

I have seen modern references which refer to XII, 32, rather than XII, 31, which makes it interesting to consider what sort of checking of references was done in that case]. But did Eusebius write these words? And did he mean, as some have considered, to justify fraud when he wrote them? Are the chapter titles by Eusebius, or a later editor?

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Firstly, as far as I can tell the chapter divisions themselves are later, and the titles placed there were extracted from the summaries at the front of each book this can be seen from book 1, where the numbering in the summaries at the front does not correspond to the divisions in the text. As such, the assignment of wording to a given chapter is the work of a late-antique or medieval scribe. This leaves us with the summaries at the start of the book. However, the wording in the summary, if the summary follows the order of the contents, would seem to refer to this section of the body of the text anyway.

There seems to be some doubt whether the summaries can be considered certainly by Eusebius, rather than 'helps for the reader' added at a later period.

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Chapter titles in medieval manuscripts of the classics are not generally considered authorial. However there is some evidence of authorial summaries for some works of Eusebius After looking at them in the Loeb text, I can see that there are notes at the foot of some of these tables written as if by the author. I have been unable to locate any study of the subject as a whole. See my notes on capituli generally here. I have translated the interesting remarks by Mras here.

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He says that the chapter titles not just the tables of contents are also authentic, original, and intended for the position they hold in the manuscripts. This is the case because they alone indicate that certain extracts are from a particular author. That information must be authorial. But the chapter titles differ from the supposedly same entries in the tables of contents, and it is the chapter titles hold the information.

But he also says that the editions do not reproduce accurately what is in the manuscripts, and in particular give a mish-mash combining the tables of contents and the chapter titles. This view I have heard nowhere else. It would be unfair to expect Gibbon to be conversant with such issues, of course - he took the edition of Stephanus as he found it; and this used the MSS. The issue is interesting, but inconclusive. However, if we cannot be sure he wrote the words in question, is it altogether reasonable to pillory him for it?

If we do presume that the chapter title is authorial, then there is a question over how it should be translated. The word usually means 'lie' in Greek, certainly enough. However it can also be more value neutral than 'lie' or 'falsehood' is in English. In this passage Eusebius is quoting, in the body of the text, a passage from Plato's Laws , Book II, and the same word is used there; while elsewhere in the PE Book 12 he quotes Plato's Republic , again using this word.

In both cases the rendering 'lie' makes perfect sense, in the context of what Plato wanted to say. Some translators have gone ahead and rendered it 'lie' in their translations of Plato. But R. Loeb edition p. Bury, - online renders it as 'fiction'.

Desmond Lee, Consequently, unless the context forbids -- and the context is precisely the one where BURY says it does not -- the chapter heading might equally be rendered: XXXI. If on the other hand we presume the chapter title is by Eusebius, and we presume that the word 'lie' is intended by him, with all its connotation of inflicting injury, then we can reasonably say that the quote doesn't make Eusebius look very good.


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  • But is this -- Gibbon's interpretation -- fair comment? Is Eusebius advocating the use of lies, and meaning the Old Testament is a lie? Clearly there is room for more than one opinion here, and I would rather not suggest certainty where a judgement has to be made of a number of ideas. This is something the reader must do for himself; but I think Eusebius is not advocating dishonesty, so much as suggesting that fiction has a role to play in education.

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    But it is difficult to see Gibbon's remarks as fair comment, particularly when one notices the mistranslation of the final part of the chapter heading. However, the issue has recently been reopened making use of the chapter text body. The next section will discuss this, as it is really a new allegation. Updated with link to translations 28th September Rewording in one or two places to had apparently been misunderstood. Rewritten to add the point about 'pseudos' and details of the MSS, 24th April , after discussion in the infidels.

    The old version is still online here. Additional note about summaries - not tables of contents - added after discussion with a medievalist, 10th August More notes from Albino and some condensing and revision, 17th October Added note that some translators of Plato use 'lie' for pseudos.


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    • Updated 23rd October for unicode instead of SPIonic. His idea is that the chapter heading and the text itself of PE 12, 31 quoted above support the idea that Eusebius is dishonest. As far as I know this is original; at least, Gibbon does not quote the text itself in support of his idea. This idea does not really seem very possible to me, because it seems to presume that Eusebius is calling the Old Testament a lie. But here are some brief notes on it.

      That it is necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a medicine for those who need such an approach. For falsehood is something even more useful than the above, and sometimes even more able to bring it about that everyone willingly keeps to all justice. But to persuade people of it is not easy.

      So in a book where Eusebius is proving that the pagans got all their good ideas from the Jews, he lists as one of those good ideas Plato's argument that lying, indeed telling completely false tales, for the benefit of the state is good and even necessary. Eusebius then notes quite casually how the Hebrews did this, telling lies about their God, and he even compares such lies with medicine, a healthy and even necessary thing. Someone who can accept this as a "good idea" worth both taking credit for and following is not the sort of person to be trusted.

      And in support of this interpretation he quotes the portion of the Laws that follows this, not in fact quoted by Eusebius, in which Plato contradicts Clinias, and outlines that it would be easy to spin a tale. Carrier that he translated from the Thesaurus Lingua Graeca text, as the relevant portion of his copy of Gifford was lacking; that the chapter header also was his own, but the translation of the portion of Plato is said to be from John BURNET, , although I haven't a proper bibliographic reference for this. The differences are interesting. The portions of Eusebius seem fair enough, allowing for the 'pseudos' issue.

      A number of points come to mind. Eusebius does not say that falsehood and lying are acceptable, for whatever reason. This is an inference from his text, and not a very charitable one either. Few of us would wish to be subjected to such an inference, just because we don't denounce someone else while reviewing them. Plato has been discussing whether or not the self-interest of the individual is the same as the interest of the community. He has just concluded that it is. The comment in question follows. Plato asks us for a moment to imagine that self-interest and public interest are opposed.

      He asks whether it would not then be justifiable, if any lie were and he leaves that open , to tell people that in fact they were the same. The purpose is the good of the community, i. The infidels. Pseudos usually has this meaning, it is true. However we have seen that the word 'pseudos' has been rendered otherwise even to translate Plato. Plato seems to have an idea of deception in mind, but is it necessary to presume that Eusebius has?

      So is Eusebius really saying that the Bible is full of lies, and that this is one of the things the Greeks copied from the Jews? I find it hard to believe that Eusebius thought the bible was full of lies. But if so, surely such a curious proposition would certainly require more evidence than one footnote in the PE, anyway? That the bible contains stories, such as parables, intended to educate is surely a better interpretation? To resolve this, we need to see what Eusebius says elsewhere.

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      The idea presumes not just that Eusebius believes the bible is full of lies, but that if the bible is full of lies, it must be OK to lie; and that Eusebius has applied this in his writings. The purpose of the allegation seems to be to permit some of his testimony to be discarded. The first idea seems very strange, and the others are simply inferences from it.

      But no evidence is given for any of these. Finally, if the idea of the 'white lie' is a cultural convention of the age, is it entirely reasonable to single out Eusebius? In fact, if we look at PE 12, 4 , we see how Eusebius really thinks about the scriptures - an external literal meaning, which is in fact a parable, and an inner meaning for those who have passed beyond the first stages of instruction.