Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Books by Dave Armstrong: Biblical Evidence for Catholicism: 80 Short Essays in Defense of the Catholic Faith

[completed on 2 August 2014; 245 pages. Accepted for publication by Sophia Institute Press on 11 November 2014; to be released in August 2015; the name may possibly be changed]



Introduction [see below]

I. Bible and Tradition (Authority)

1.Tradition is Not Always a Bad Word in Scripture +
2. The Catholic “Three-Legged Stool” vs. Sola Scriptura
3. Tradition: Short Reflection & Basic Explanation
4. The Bereans & “Searching the Scriptures”
5. Ten Deuterocanonical References in the New Testament
II. Doctrine of the Church (Ecclesiology)

6. The Catholic Church: Why we Accept Her Claims
7. Catholic Ecclesiology & the Jerusalem Council [read original longer dialogue]
8. Three Biblical Arguments for an Authoritative Church +
9. “Call No Man Father” & Calling Catholic Priests Father *
10. We Believe All that the Catholic Church Teaches
11. On the Scandal of the Outrageous Claim to be a Church
12. On Whether God Would Protect His Church from Error [read original longer dialogue]
13. Are Church Councils More Authoritative than Popes?

III. Priestly Celibacy

14. Short Exposition on Catholic Priestly Celibacy
15. The Celibate Priesthood as a Higher Calling
16. A New (?) Argument for Mandatory Priestly Celibacy [read original post and Facebook discussion]

IV. Theology of Salvation (Soteriology)

17. Works Can be Good or Bad, Just as Traditions Are
18. Faith & Works (But Not Justification) in Isaiah Ch. 1
19. Catholic Soteriology in John 3:36 (“Disobey the Son”)
20. Hebrews 3:14 (Lots of Catholic Theology on Salvation)
21. Unanswered Prayers of Jesus as a Counter-Reply to Limited Atonement
22. John 12:32 vs. John Calvin & Limited Atonement
23. God Doesn't Predestine the Damned (2 Thess 2:10-12)

V. Purgatory and Penance

24. Prayer, Penance, & the Eternal Destiny of Others
25. The Abundant Biblical Support for Lent *
26. Divine Chastisement (or, Purgatory in This Life) *

VI. The Holy Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass

27. Mystery is No Basis for Rejecting Transubstantiation *
28. On the Nature of Idolatry
29. “The Apostle Paul Says He is a 'Priest'?! Where?!”

VII. Sacramentals, Devotions, and Worship

30. Sacramentalism & the Bible +
31. Biblical Support for Ritualistic & Formal Worship +
32. Is the Rosary “Vain Repetition”? *

VIII. The Communion of Saints and Angels

33. Asking Saints to Intercede is a Teaching of Jesus *
34. Praying to Angels & Angelic Intercession *
35. Worshiping God Through Images in Holy Scripture
36. Martin Luther's Belief in the Invocation & Intercession of Mary & the Saints, as Late as 1521 [read online]
37. The False Doctrine of “Soul Sleep”
38. New (?) Biblical Argument for the Veneration of Saints: God “In” & “Through” St. Paul

IX. The Blessed Virgin Mary (Mariology)

39. Biblical Arguments for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary *
40. Holy Ground & the Perpetual Virginity of Mary *
41. Rationalist Objection to the In Partu Virginity of Mary
42. Martin Luther & the Immaculate Purification of Mary*
43. Mary's Immaculate Conception & the Bible*
44. Quick Biblical Proof that Mary is the Mother of God
45. The Bible & the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary *
46. Mary the “Queen Mother” & “Queen of Heaven”
47. Mary as the Woman in Revelation 12 [read longer original dialogue]
48. Biblical Analogies for Marian Apparitions

X. Papal Infallibility

49. Protestant Difficulties Regarding Papal Infallibility
50. The So-Called “Infallibility Regress” Objection [read original longer dialogue]

XI. Christology and Trinitarianism

51. The Bible “Never Says that Jesus is God”? Wrong! +
52. The Holy Trinity Proven from Scripture +
53. Is Trinitarianism Demonstrable from Scripture Alone?
54. Trinitarian Baptismal Formula & “Jesus Only” Baptism
55. Should God the Father be Visually Depicted in Paintings?
56. Satan's Tempting of Jesus as a Proof of His Divinity
57. Jesus' Divinity & Matthew 21:16 (cf. Psalms 8:2)
58. Jesus is Explicitly, Directly Called “God” (Romans 9:5)
59. Jesus' Agony in the Garden vs. “Be Not Anxious” [read original longer article]

XII. Marriage and Sexuality

60. Annulment is Not Catholic Divorce
61. Contraception: “Be Fruitful and Multiply” *
62. Contraception: God Blesses Parents with Children *
63. Contraception: Onan's Sin & Punishment [read online]
64. Reply to an Attack Against NFP & Spacing of Children
65. Contraception, Murder, & the Contralife Will
66. Does the Bible Condemn Homosexual Acts?
67. St. Paul's Argument from Nature Against Homosexual Acts (Romans 1) [read original longer 
68. The Prohibition of Premarital Sex in the New Testament
69. Does 1 Corinthians 7:36-38 Sanction Premarital Sex? [read original longer dialogue]
70. Thoughts on Women's Ordination

XIII. Hell, the Devil, and Demons

71. Philosophical Defense of the Necessity of Hell [read original longer dialogue: Parts One and Two]
72. The Stupidity of the Devil
73. Demon Possession & Modern Bible Translation Bias
74. The “Conditional” Possibility of Universalism Refuted

XIV. Philosophy, History, and Apologetics

75. Thoughts on a Perfect God Creating an Imperfect World
76. Can God be Blamed for the Nazi Holocaust?
77. The Inevitability of Development of Doctrine *
78. New Testament Proofs of Noah's Historical Existence * [read online]
79. Jesus' Use of Socratic Method in His Teaching [read on my Facebook page]
80. Apologetics Isn't Saying You're Sorry for Your Faith! + [read online]

* * * * *

* = originally published in Seton Magazine: The Premier Online Magazine for Catholic Homeschoolers (from March to July 2014). See my author page with links to all the articles.

+ = originally published in The Michigan Catholic: the official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Detroit (from May to August 2014). See my author page
with links to all the articles.


 This is a collection of writing that is precisely described in the book title: essays that are 1) short (usually two or three pages), 2) characterized by lots of biblical argumentation, and 3) in defense of Catholicism (apologetics). Most of them came about as a result of my ongoing efforts to comment on issues that regularly come up in “worlds” of Catholic apologetics and theology online.
The relative brevity of the chapters are indications of the trend in my apologetic writing for many years now: precise, “quick” answers to apologetics questions. For better or ill, this is the world that we live in, and the apologist must make efforts (as St. Paul did, and as Vatican II stressed) to “meet people where they are at.”
I don't deny the continuing utility and necessity of longer treatments (my “corpus” still contains plenty of those!), but most people prefer shorter essays, and their interest in theology and apologetics generally doesn't extend to treatise-length expositions. This is all the more true for beginners in theology.
Many of these essays were written as columns for Seton Magazine, which is devoted to Catholic homeschoolers. Those were all around 800 words. Others (1000 words in length) came from my regular column in The Michigan Catholic: the official newspaper for my archdiocese of Detroit.
Additionally, some were originally posted as part of my work in the Internet forum of The Coming Home Network from 2007-2010 (I was the head moderator during that period), and several were initiated on Facebook as well.
What all have in common is the desire to answer the questions that people ask, and to make the Catholic faith more understandable, leading to a confident belief, and the ability to “make a defense” (1 Peter 3:15) for this faith as opportunities arise. By God's grace I hope I have accomplished these goals.
Thanks so much for reading, and God bless you!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Has Joshua's Altar on Mt. Ebal Been Discovered and Verified by Archaeology?

By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong

[This is Appendix One from my book, Footsteps that Echo Forever  My Holy Land Adventure of Archaeological and Spiritual Discovery]

Here are the relevant biblical texts, before we begin our survey of the history of the excavations on Mt. Ebal:

Exodus 20:24-26 (RSV) An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. [25] And if you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones; for if you wield your tool upon it you profane it. [26] And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.'

Deuteronomy 27:1-13 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, "Keep all the commandment which I command you this day. [2] And on the day you pass over the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall set up large stones, and plaster them with plaster; [3] and you shall write upon them all the words of this law, when you pass over to enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you. [4] And when you have passed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you this day, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. [5] And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall lift up no iron tool upon them. [6] You shall build an altar to the LORD your God of unhewn stones; and you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God; [7] and you shall sacrifice peace offerings, and shall eat there; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. [8] And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly." [9] And Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, "Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God. [10] You shall therefore obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you this day." [11] And Moses charged the people the same day, saying, [12] "When you have passed over the Jordan, these shall stand upon Mount Ger'izim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Is'sachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. [13] And these shall stand upon Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zeb'ulun, Dan, and Naph'tali. (cf. 11:26-29)

Joshua 8:30-35 Then Joshua built an altar in Mount Ebal to the LORD, the God of Israel, [31] as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, "an altar of unhewn stones, upon which no man has lifted an iron tool"; and they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. [32] And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. [33] And all Israel, sojourner as well as homeborn, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Ger'izim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel. [34] And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law. [35] There was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

The central figure in our story is Dr. Adam Zertal, Professor, Dept. of Archaeology at the University of Haifa (and its chairman from 1996-1999). He received his Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University in 1988. His dissertation was entitled, “The Israelite Settlement in the Hill Country of Manasseh”.1

He is also the author of the entries on Mt. Ebal in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (edited by Ephraim Stern, Jerusalem: 1993; see pp. 375-377), and The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (edited by Eric M. Meyers, Oxford Univ. Press, 1996; see pp. 179-180).

Additionally, Zertal has written five books in Hebrew about the hill country of Manasseh, from 1988 to 1999. Zertal described his earlier positions in a 2010 interview:

I spent a year at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem [having been severely injured in the 1973 Yom Kippur War], and I became interested in archeology. Although I had argued that the Bible was full of myths, I decided after my recovery to travel the land by foot to look for archeological evidence. . . . I am a man of science and have to investigate whether what is described in the Bible suits the geography. Nobody thought there was an altar on Mount Ebal, but the evidence was found. It is not a legend. When you do archeological research as you should, you see a lot [of the biblical stories] is reality. 2

Zertal certainly knows the geographical area that he specializes in very well. The same article notes that:

. . . for 33 years [he] has led weekly walks with university colleagues and volunteers over 'every square meter' of Samaria and the Jordan Rift to search for archeological evidence from biblical times.

When he made his discovery in April 1980, he was not inclined to support biblical texts at all. He stated later:

At that time I never dreamt that we were dealing with the altar, because I was taught in Tel Aviv University - the center of anti-Biblical tendencies, where I learned that Biblical theories are untrue, and that Biblical accounts were written later, and the like. I didn't even know of the story of the Joshua's altar. But we surveyed every meter of the site, and in the course of nine years of excavation, we discovered a very old structure with no parallels to anything we had seen before.3

Dr. Zertal published his initial findings and conclusions along these lines in his article, “Has Joshua’s Altar been Found on Mount Ebal?”, Biblical Archaeology Review XI (1985), pp. 26-44. I shall both cite and summarize this striking piece (it can be read on Steve Rudd's web page: see footnote 3):

On a cool spring afternoon in April-April 6, 1980, to be exact-when we had nearly completed our survey of the mountain, we came upon a large heap of stones that was not very different from the thousands of stone heaps we had already found, collected by farmers as they cleared their fields for planting. True, the stone heap was somewhat larger than the typical one, but what really distinguished it was the great quantity of pottery sherds lying around it.
We were immediately able to date these sherds to the early part of the period archaeologists call Iron Age 1 (1220-1000 B.C.), the period during which the Israelites entered Canaan and settled there. Iron Age 1 also includes the period of the Judges.

. . . It took us two years to raise funds to excavate the heap of stones, and to organize our expedition. But I must confess we did not rush, for we never dreamed that the site would prove to be the earliest and most complete Israelite cultic center ever discovered and the prototype of all later ones. It took us another two years and three seasons of digging to find out what we were really excavating.

What he found was a nearly square structure, almost nine feet high, and about 25 by 30 feet in width and length. Zertal's first theory was that it was perhaps a “watchtower” or a “farmhouse.” But it was not like any other farmhouse in the area that he was familiar with. It had no entrance. He also ruled out the watchtower theory, since he saw no reason for one to be there. No Iron Age settlement was nearby. Evidence then started surfacing as to its function as an altar:

. . . the bones, which were found in such large quantities in the filling, were sent for analysis to the zoology department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The bones proved to be from young male bulls, sheep, goats and fallow deer. . . . The first chapter of Leviticus describes the animals that may be offered as sacrifices. A burnt offering must be a male without blemish (Leviticus 1:3). It may be a bull (Leviticus 1:5) or a sheep or a goat (Leviticus 1:10). The close match of the bones we found in the fill with this description in Leviticus 1 was a strong hint as to the nature of the structure we were excavating.

. . . 942 bones were examined, representing 50-100 specimens. These were attributed to four kinds of animals: goats, sheep, cattle, and fallow deer. The latter is a light-spotted animal which inhabited the woodlands of our country in antiquity. Examination of the sex and age of the animals revealed that all those that could be diagnosed were young males, approximately one year old. This correlates remarkably with the laws of sacrifice in the book of Leviticus:

And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man of you bringeth an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock. If his offering be a burnt-offering of the herd, he shall offer it a male without blemish" (Leviticus 1:1-3).

A great part of the bones, as we mentioned, had been burned over a fire and were cut near the joints. Being scorched in this way attests that the flesh was not intended for eating but was burned over an open fire (i.e. not in an oven). Thus the high correlation with the biblical laws of sacrifice, together with the great architectural resemblance to Israelite altars, confirmed the view that we were dealing with a cultic site and altar from the beginning of the Israelite settlement.

The Hebrews were allowed to eat deer:

Deuteronomy 14:4-5 These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, [5] the hart, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain-sheep.

It was also discovered that underneath the center of the structure was an older circular stone formation of about 6.5 feet in diameter. Some have speculated that this was Joshua's altar, over which a later altar was built.
Moreover, the structure consisted of several courts. In these were found bones of animals that had not been burned, and where the animals were eaten. This lined up with Deuteronomy 27:7 (see above). The ramp up to the top also corresponds to Exodus 20:26 (above). Zertal describes it:

A ramp of unhewn stones, 4 feet wide by 23 feet long, rises to the top of the platform from the southwest. The gentle incline, easily climbed . . . the ramp on our Mt Ebal altar indicates a strict adherence to the law in Exodus 20:26, which requires a ramp rather than steps: . . .

Zertal then goes into a detailed description of altars as described in the Bible, and comparisons to those of other non-Hebrew ancient near Eastern altars. Everything fits nicely into the theory that the structure on Mt. Ebal is, in fact, an early Hebrew altar. He makes note of another factor suggesting an early Israelite date:

Every other ancient altar that has been discovered thus far, however, was connected with a temple, or as at Beer-Sheva, was in a city where we may suppose a temple existed in connection with the altar (2 Kings 23:8). Our altar alone seems to have been an independent altar in the country side, not associated with a temple or a settlement. This is probably because the Mt. Ebal altar and its associated cult site were built at a very early period in the development of Israelite cult and religion; at that time, there was no temple. Moreover, the Mt. Ebal cult center lasted for only a relatively short time. It is unlikely that a temple could develop in such a short time. Even at Shiloh, which was the site of the successor to the Mt. Ebal cult center, no temple was built.

Zertal concludes:

With respect to the Mt. Ebal altar, . . . all the scientific evidence fits very well with the Biblical description. The three main factors that correlate precisely are the period, the nature of the site, and the location. True, no inscriptions have been found as yet. But apart from that one point, it may be said with all scientific restraint that there must be a connection between the strong, important and authentic Biblical tradition that identifies Mt. Ebal as a central Israelite cultic center and the gathering place of the Israelite tribes, on the one hand, and the site unearthed by us, on the other. . . . We have on Mt. Ebal not only the complete prototype of an Israelite altar, but moreover, a site that might prove to be directly related to the Biblical traditions concerning Joshua's building of an altar on Mt. Ebal.

Other evidences of corresponding dates were also found: an “Egyptian-style scarab” which is determined through five other known parallels to date from the 13th-12th century B. C. Other distinctive forms of pottery found, belong to the same period. Most remarkably, this scarab and others found at the location “date to the time of the great Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses II, who is considered the pharaoh of the exodus from Egypt.”

In November 2004, Dr. Zertal made additional comments and conclusions about the Mt. Ebal excavations, updating his earlier ones. He notes the consensus that has been established in archaeology and continuing skepticism in considerable sectors of that community:

No scholar challenges the fact that this is an extremely important and authentic tradition dealing with a central event in the life of the people. All agree that this event took place on Mt. 'Ebal. As to the date of the event and the date it was recorded, however, views vary. . . . The central altar was erected on Mt. 'Ebal, and there Israel became "a people unto the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 27:9); . . . Reputable scholars have suggested that the entire story of the conquest is nothing more than a later, etiological tradition which sets out to account for various manifestations in the light of mythological traditions and folklore. Recent extensive archaeological surveys of the central hill country, however, reveal clearly the process of Israelite settlement as a major settlement movement of the era (1250-1100 b.c.e.). Hundreds of newly-founded, small settlements were established within a short period throughout the hilly allotments of the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim and Benjamin. The settlers used a characteristic type of pottery and their houses were generally built on a three- or four-room plan.

. . . The cultic site on Mt. Ebal satisfies the three criteria necessary to identify a biblical site: chronological (beginning of the Israelite settlement), geographical, and the nature of the site (a cultic center with a burnt-offering altar). In view of this analysis, the identity of the biblical story and this site as the first inter-tribal center of the Israelite tribes can hardly be doubted. This is the first time a complete Israelite cultic center, including an altar for burnt offerings, is available for study. . . . The altar on Mt. 'Ebal is not only the most ancient and complete altar, but also the prototype of the Israelite burnt offering altar of the First and Second Temple periods. The Mesopotamian architectural influence on the structure of the altar is also very interesting, both in its stepped construction and in the orientation of its corners to the north, south, east, and west.

. . . The varieties of animal bones discovered are evidence that the laws of sacrifice were followed from the very beginnings of the Israelite religion. Despite the presence of wild boars in the region, not a single bone of this animal, not fit for sacrifice, was found on Mt. 'Ebal.4

Smithsonian Magazine took note of Dr. Zertal's claims in May 2006.5 He is cited as saying, ““The altar was supposed to be nonexistent, a legend,” and the writer comments on the rampant biblical skepticism within archaeology (which is detailed at length):

In this search, the Old Testament has quite literally been his guide. This approach was once common for archaeologists in Israel, but in recent years it has come to define an extreme position in a debate over whether the Bible should be read as historical fact or metaphorical fiction.

Those in Zertal’s camp say that all, or nearly all, the events in the early books of the Old Testament not only actually happened but are supported by material evidence on the ground. On the other side are the so-called biblical minimalists, who argue that the Old Testament is literary rather than historical—the work of ideologues who wrote it between the fifth and second centuries b.c.—and that Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon never even existed. A third group accepts the Bible as folk memory transmuted into myth—a mixture of fact and fiction. They argue over the balance between the two.

. . . For the literalists, the stones at Mount Ebal are crucial. “If this corroborates exactly what is written in that very old part of the Bible,” says Zertal, “it means that probably other parts are historically correct. The impact is tremendous.”

Bible scholar and commentator Pekka Pitkänen (whose doctoral work was devoted to very similar areas of study) defends in several respects the findings of Dr. Zertal:6

[W]hen scholars object to the possibility of interpreting the site as Joshua's altar based on a reading of the book of Joshua, they are not proceeding on an archaeological basis, but replacing one literary reading of the biblical text with another . . .

. . . if we think that the exodus/early settlement happened in the thirteenth century, it should rather be this altar [the round one lower in the strata] that should be associated with Joshua, if anything. Zertal himself thinks that the older altar was part of a foundation ceremony before the building of the actual altar (A. Zertal, personal communication, December 1999).

. . . What about the plastered stones? . . . one has to stress the fact that finding plaster at the site is extraordinary. [see Dt 27:2, 4 above]

. . . the uniqueness of the main structure with its surrounding wall complex and its possible connections with Joshua make the question of the nature of the site at Mount Ebal nothing less than intriguing. Also the fact that no structure has been found at Mount Ebal from Iron Age II rather speaks of the antiquity of the Joshua tradition, as there is no evidence of a cultic centre at Mount Ebal during the time of the monarchy from which to draw the tradition.7

Richard S. Hess, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Denver Seminary (Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College), and author of over 100 scholarly articles, claims in his commentary on Joshua:

[A]fter reading the excavator's report and conducting a visual tour of the site, it certainly looks like an early Israelite altar such as is described in this text in Joshua. Despite strong opposition by others, there remains no better explanation than that this represents an anomalous Early Iron Age cultic site that has no clear cultural antecedents anywhere in the region.8

Dr. Hess's extraordinary academic achievements in Old Testament study9 give his opinion considerable weight. The authors of A Biblical History of Israel10 also essentially agree with Zertal:

[W]hen the full body of evidence is considered, the conclusion that the site seems more like a cult installation than like anything described by competing theories is hard to deny. . . . on balance, Zertal's cultic theory may well prevail.

Kenneth A. Kitchen11, the eminent Egyptologist and archaeologist, formerly of the University of Liverpool; author of over 250 books and articles on such topics since the 1950s, believes that the farmhouse theory is ruled out and that the watchtower hypothesis is “feasible” but nevertheless “not beyond objection” and “open to some doubt.”

He doesn't take a final position on Zertal's opinion, and writes, “There is no final proof or disproof for either a watchtower or an altar complex (of Joshua or otherwise).” But he strongly critiques the closed-mindedness of Zertal's vocal critics:

It is noteworthy that the fiercest opposition to the specter of Joshua's altar has come from minds not open to such revolutionary possibilities. Thus, all that Kempinski could finally offer against the concept was the old views about the theoretical late (Deuteronomic) date for the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua in the seventh century which are not fact, merely dogma. . . . To Rainey's charge that only the gullible would believe Zertal's claim, one may observe that such people as Coogan and Mazar (who both grant a cultic possibility) could hardly be thus dismissed. Colorful language is not the answer either. In short, Zertal's views is feasible, but absolute certainty eludes us.12

We see, then, that prior hostile bias and academic egos are in full display within biblical and Palestinian archaeology (as we would fully expect). In my “non-scholarly” opinion, for whatever it's worth, I think a good deal of confirming evidence is in play, consistent with the related biblical texts to an extraordinary degree. I agree that it's not absolutely “proven” to be Joshua's altar, but few things admit of absolute proof, so that doesn't concern me, and I am most impressed by the cumulative archaeological evidence.


1 Gilgal Education Center: Professor Adam Zertal; University of Haifa (

2 “Christian in Israel: Long time archaeological riddle solved,” by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, The Jerusalem Post, 2 July 2010.

3 “Joshua's Altar on Mt. Ebal, Israel”; extensive web page by archaeology buff Steve Rudd (

4 “Shechem and mount 'ebal in the bible: is this indeed Joshua's altar?” (

5 “Shifting Ground in the Holy Land Archaeology is casting new light on the Old Testament,” by Jennifer Wallace (

6 Joshua [Apollos Old Testament Commentary], (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010): “Excursus 7: The Archaeology of Mt. Ebal,” pp. 192-214. The author drew heavily from his earlier work, Central Sanctuary and Centralization of Worship in Ancient Israel: From The Settlement To The Building Of Solomon's Temple (Piscataway, New Jersey : Gorgias Press, 2004): his doctoral dissertation for the University of Gloucestershire.

7 Ibid., pp. 200, 202-204.

8 Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, John H. Walton, general editor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), p. 39.

9 See his Curriculum Vitae: (; also his comments in his book, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 216-219 [including two great close-up photographs]; available to read online at Google Books.

10 Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, Tremper Longman III, (Lousiville: Westminster John Know Press, 2003), p. 186.

12 On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), pp. 233-234.

* * * * *

Saturday, July 19, 2014

RadCathR Elliot Bougis and a Combox Buddy Comically Lash Out at Straw Men of their Own Making (Supposedly Something that I Argued)

By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong

Elliot Bougis runs the FideCogitActio web page, where virtually every waking hour is devoted to bashing Pope Francis [some sarcastic exaggeration there, but not all that much]. Today I ran across comments made at my expense in my occasional Google Search, which locates such things (since virtually never am I informed of such public criticisms, so that I may give my side, or defend meself a bit). This one is an absolute classic and keeper: one for the archives, for sure. "Murray's" words will be in blue; Elliot Bougis' in red.

One "Murray (mgl) made the following comment [I cite all of it] on 18 July 2014:
While we’re sharing random links, I came across this Facebook post by Dave Armstrong (via the RadTrad on Twitter): "Radical Catholic Reactionaryism is a more serious and harmful error than even Modernism/Liberalism/Heterodoxy."

[the link he made to my post didn't work for me, but it may for others. Here is a working link to it]

It struck me because a young priest of my acquaintance posted last week on Facebook that Michael Voris should be condemned for heresy. When I (and others) asked in what sense Voris had obstinately denied some truth defined by the Church, the reply was that a) Voris “loves (what he believes to be Church teaching) more than Jesus,” and b) that he had denied the Church’s indefectibility. Under closer examination, both claims fall apart, but it seems very close to what Armstrong is arguing here. (The same priest later posted a more general criticism of Catholics who want greater “orthodoxy” that was even more similar to Armstrong’s article linked above.)

Long story short, “reactionaryist” Catholics are embittered, think they know better than everyone else, and should be quarantined lest they spread a “quasi-schismatic poison and cancer.” They try to “change the Church into [their] image, which is a far greater sin than what the liberal does.”

I think these things are genuine spiritual risks for traditional Catholics, but this really seems like straining gnats. The Church is populated from top to bottom with modernists (actual or de facto), most lay Catholics disagree with fundamental Church teaching on pelvic issues and the Real presence, baptisms are down sharply from 2001 (let alone 1960) Confessionals are empty, confusion is rampant, nuns are spreading heresy … but those guys who actually try to live their Catholic faith to the best of their abilities, they’re the real problem!

Elliot then chimed in:

Armstrong blocked me a while back on Facebook, so I can’t see the linked page. (Quick, somebody tell Pope Francis that I’m being marginalized! I’ll even send him an honorary jersey for the high altar!) Without putting too fine a point on it, Armstrong is an idiot–provided he genuinely believes that his confabulated Catholic category is more dangerous than what has been denounced by a string of popes for centuries.
[later he added:  [19 July 2014 -- I've updated this comment to emphasize the crucial qualifier.] ]

But unlike him where my papers are concerned, I am quite capable of reading and comprehending, and I was completely aware of the qualifier. If anyone is an "idiot" here (and I say this only rhetorically, mind you), it would be Elliot Bougis, because he applies the epithet based on his mistaken comprehension of what I argued in the first place. I pity the man and the utter waste of brain matter involved in much of his writing.

Murray wrote again:

Yeah, I’ve never read Armstrong before to my knowledge–though I’d heard of him as a well-regarded apologist–but I was shocked at how sloppy and poorly argued his post was, and even more so that this young priest was offering an even more muddled version of Armstrong’s argument to his flock on Facebook. Yes guys, orthodox Catholics are the biggest problem we face. Sheesh.

And Elliot (note the usual "bash Bush"-like obsession with the Holy Father as the source of all that is evil and irritating):

Everybody is rattled, and it shows in sloppy rebuttals. Thank you, Pope Francis.

I then replied:

Well, it is "shock[ingly] sloppy and poorly argued" if it isn't properly understood in the first place or presented in a gross caricature, as you have done here. Rather than actually dealing with my argument (I know, that is more and more a novelty these days: dialogue rather than caricature, ire, and the quick, derisive dismissal), you quote a priest who says that Michael Voris is a heretic and believes in defectibility and then say "it seems very close to what Armstrong is arguing here" -- thus clearly proving that you did not grasp my post (to put it mildly), since I neither asserted nor argued either thing in it, nor anywhere else, and in fact deny both assertions.

Nor was I arguing against "orthodoxy": which would be ridiculous since I fancy myself rather solidly orthodox. I stated again and again that radical Catholic reactionaries were orthodox. That is not the problem I was addressing, but rather, the danger they pose because they are orthodox and should know better, and can cause more harm in the sense that they move among the orthodox in a way that the modernists / dissidents do not. I wrote: "I am arguing based on the premise of 'to whom much is given, much is required.'"

This is most of the misunderstanding. I explained my reasoning in the combox:

Much of my comparison of the RadCathR and the modernist, I should note, hinges on the subjective / objective distinction. Objectively, the modernists are much worse, due to incomparably greater numbers and influence. Subjectively, the RadCathR is (as argued). This was the perspective of my piece. Since it is two different things being discussed, from two different angles, they don't contradict each other, and both are true.

I utterly detest both errors, and have written and condemned both many times (though more so the errors of the "right" for the reasons explained in the post). Anyone who thinks it is odd that orthodox folks could be roundly criticized for hypocrisy and other "rigorist"-type errors more so than liberals being raked over the coals (in terms of relative time spent) ought to examine Jesus' differential treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The former were orthodox (so much so that Paul called himself one, and Jesus even told His followers to abide by their teaching, but not to do what they do).  He criticized them for legalistic excess, misplaced priorities, and hypocrisy, which is almost exactly how I approach RadCathRs. But with the Sadducees (sort of the liberals of that time) He merely engaged in a few minor squabbles about the resurrection of the dead (which they denied).

Also, I changed the title a bit upon reflection and some good criticisms in the combox, to make it less harsh, and more qualified. It is now (and has been for over five days): "Radical Catholic Reactionaryism is at Least As Serious an Error as Modernism / Liberalism / Heterodoxy (from one particular perspective, anyway)"

I still wanted to leave an impression that it is very serious error. Since the RadCathR detests the errors of modernism, it is meant to give them a jolt and to realize that from where we sit their errors are quite serious, too.

Armstrong blocked me a while back on Facebook

Well, I was basically kicked off this [i.e., Elliot's] page (or, rudely asked to leave, if there is a difference) a while back after I proved that Elliot was lying about the pope, by citing what turned out to be imaginary words (after which he begrudgingly retracted his argument). This post may not even be allowed as a result. Gotta love that selective presentation: mention one thing and not the other. I have a policy of not allowing RadCathRs on my Facebook page, but they are free as ever to comment on my blog.

Thus, Elliot is quite "free" to comment there. If not, in any event, this whole exchange will be posted on my blog (and linked to Facebook), so both sides can be fully aired and readers can be allowed to determine where the truth lies, and either of you can reply if you wish.

Without putting too fine a point on it, Armstrong is an idiot . . . [then he repeats more of the straw man accusations, upon which he came to his conclusion: if they are true]

May God bless you with all good things!

Here is the link to my blog article regarding all this: [linked to this paper]

I'll update any further comments made on the other site.

A sensible blogger (TonyJokin) commented:

In your facebook post, you describe the “reactionary rad-trad” as someone trying to shape the Church in their image. So they like the rigorist heretics (Donatists & Montanists) of old, are a plague in the Church that should be isolated and removed before they do damage.

But this is where we run in to a problem.

The Donatists and Montanists were not appealing to some traditional praxis from before. They did not have the backing of a decision made by the Church on the matter to appeal to. They were simply saying “this is what we believe on the matter and we disagree with what the Church has decided on this particular issue”.

Contrary to that, the “rad-trad” is merely someone who is obstinately holding on to decisions and practices by the Church that were held for 2000 years. These decisions and practices of the Church were always looked with negativity from the outside world and there were those inside the Church who questioned the Church on such positions numerous times using arguments like the ones used today. The Church had clarified why she defended those decisions and practices and valued them. The faithful Catholic grew up learning to think like the Church and the defense of her decisions and practices came to them naturally. Many suffered persecutions and ridicule from their liberal family members as they defended the Church.

But now the Church has not only gotten rid of some of those decisions and practices but also adopted the very things that were warned against. The Catholic faithful who had learned to defend the Church of old, remember the reasons why these things were there before. They can see that the reasons still apply today and notice that the Church is acting like they were arbitrary decisions. To make matters worse, they see young generations being lost by the droves to indifferentism. It is hard to find a young Catholic today who realizes what a grave heresy Protestantism actually is. In very recent times, it is becoming harder to find a young Catholic who understands that sodomy is a grave sin. All of these are clearly fruits that were warned would transpire if the Church changed her positions.

So rad-trads aren’t looking to shape the Church in their image. Neither do they think they know better. They simply want to see the Church go back to the image she was shaped in to by the saints (who did know better) for 2000 years. They want to see the wisdom of the saints that they defended so passionately be respected and adhered to rather than described as “men of their times (but we know better)”.

Instead they see many like you who consider themselves orthodox and treat traditionalists as some rigorist heretics in the Church. Today, there is reason to think that even the Pope may suspect traditionalists as you do. All of this persecution comes for adhering to the tried and tested Catholic wisdom from countless saints (who did know better) which had been accumulated over 2000 years.
Surely, even you must at least see that the situation is not as simple as you make it to be.

Here is my reply:

Just to clarify; I don't use the term "radtrad" any longer. I coined "radical Catholic reactionary" myself because many legitimate "traditionalists" resented being lumped in with them (and they had a certain point that I granted, though I continue to think that a gradual spectrum exists). Secondly, as stated, I don't call them heretics. I made it a point to include "Catholic" in my coined term. This is sin that goes towards schism (traditionally called rigorism).

I could quibble with many characterizations or assumed premises or conclusions of your post, but all in all, I'd say that what you describe is mostly within the purview of legitimate "traditionalism," which I am in agreement with most of the time.

I don't think the situation is "simple" at all, as an observer of these movements for now 17 years and author of two books on this issue and many scores of papers. The post in question was a "jeremiad": which is screaming from the rooftops that something is wrong and unbalanced. That genre is not known for being subtle and nuanced, but rather, as shocking and graphic, with sweeping language understood to be such. I even quoted Jeremiah's prophecies to illustrate my point in the thread.

Then Bougis got in more shots (my replies are intertwined with his shots below):

Remember, Tony:

It’s okay for anti-radtrads to shape a Church to their liking (i.e. devoid of annoying “radtrads”), 

As noted, I don't use the term radtrad any longer, and have removed it from all my papers and books. Nor do I advocate kicking out RadCathRs. I want them to see the error of their ways and cease and desist.

but it’s wrong for committed Catholics to heed long-standing papal guidance by opposing creeping Modernism wherever it is. 

I completely agree, which is why I both detest modernism (as I stated) and oppose it (the distortions and stupefying noncomprehensions continue unabated). But I do lots of things, and there are only so many hours in a day. The biggest way I oppose modernism is by presenting and defending orthodoxy. You defeat darkness not by merely yelling against it or cursing it, but rather, by bringing more light into it, to wipe it out. Thus, every day I am opposing modernism by doing my apologetics which reveal orthodoxy to be true.

Once you internalize that precept, everything will make sense.

Maybe so, but it's not my concept, and so has nothing to do with me. Yet another straw man (see the photo at the top).

As for Mr. Armstrong’s claim that I was “lying,” well that’s a typically sensationalistic claim coming from him. 

He has made it a fine and continually practiced art on his website, where the Holy Father is concerned. But (as I have noted many times), if one looks in the dictionary, "lie" doesn't always have to mean "deliberate falsehood." It can also be a synonym of falsehood. And Bougis clearly did that, since he retracted it. Hence, for "lie" offers this second meaning for the word used as both a noun ("an inaccurate or false statement; a falsehood.") and as a verb ("to express what is false; convey a false impression.").

When I became convinced of the inaccuracy of the translations I had cited, I retracted my post. 

No kidding. I already noted that in my reply above ("he begrudgingly retracted his argument"). At first it looked like he would retract with class, but soon an edgy acrimony prevailed and I was hounded off the site.

But that didn’t generate enough shaming and bloodlust for his monthly chest-pounding circuit, so I require the additional smear of being called a liar.

Yet he claims I am characterized by sensationalism? LOL

(Meanwhile, Armstrong never could explain why he at first defended the statements under dispute, but then jettisoned them as erroneous once a bad translation could be cited. I shall have more to say about the “Pope Icarus” saga, believe it or not, God willing, once I find the time.)

All was dealt with at length at the time. In charity, I offered to not mention his name in my resulting blog paper where I defended the pope. That made no difference. He still decided to act like an ass and hound me off of his page when I disagreed too much. So I did a Facebook post where his name was mentioned. The comments of Bougis and others recorded there make for quite fascinating (but sad) reading. At first, in his original paper, he had mocked:

Just wait for it–”It’s the translation.” It’s the standard defense. Of everything. Unless Pope Francis is reported saying something unambiguously Catholic. In which case reporters and translators are suddenly returned their faculties.  

Six days later he retracted his claim after I proved that it was a translation problem. He sounded "nice" in the retraction, but how he acted towards me after that was quite a different story. That's when the fangs came out:

Dave, run along now. I’ve complied with your ultimatum (though I was never clear if the threat was that you’d take me over your right or over your left knee to learn me whatfer). Your services are needed elsewhere. Pope Francis has just jumped the shark–AGAIN:

I wrote at the time:
What he calls my "ultimatum" was an offer in charity that if he would retract the false charge against Pope Francis, I wouldn't mention his name or site in the paper I did about it. I kept to my promise (even though he still charges the pope with heresy in the paper; just without the discredited words that he never said).

And so we see the old biblical adage fulfilled (in full or in part) again:

Proverbs 9:7-8 He who corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, . . . [8] Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

He then kicked me out, while others continued to insult me in the combox. Meanwhile he is free to comment here on my blog. Here's what he wrote:

Do not comment on this thread again, nor on some other thread just to continue the conversation. At some other juncture we may resume this thread, and there are other topics that can be discussed, but for now, you’ve earned yourself a break from me. Thank you, and congratulations.

And later:

Oh good grief, Dave, you really are a prima donna. If you didn’t notice, you blew the O-ring on this thread with your usual water cannon of jabs and special pleading, so if anyone needed moderating, it’s you. The reason I asked you to say no more is because you were getting repetitive all over again. I didn’t say “shut up” and I haven’t “banned” you (you have a real knack for loaded rhetorical framing). I have simply asked you to be the bigger man and respect silence as a guest at my blog. The only reason I have not deleted your comment here is because I agree, you have a right to respond to direct comments, though I would ask other readers not to summon you anymore on this thread. You have your own blog. Enjoy it. 

Pretty entertaining (albeit ridiculous) stuff.

Readers get both sides here, and the full, non-censored debate.

Murray (mgl) has made another comment:

Having set off this to-do, I believe I owe Dave Armstrong a reply, though I’ll have to find the time. I will say that I may be guilty of reading Dave Armstrong through Father D., to coin a phrase. Father D. is the young priest of my acquaintance who asserted that Michael Voris should be excommunicated for heresy–based on exactly zero evidence–and it does seem like he was springboarding off Armstrong’s RadCathR argument, or something very close to it. But if he muddled Armstrong’s argument (and Father D. was very muddled indeed), that’s not Armstrong’s fault, so I need to re-read Armstrong without that lens.

And can I just say that I am utterly, completely unmoved by the hackneyed rhetorical device of Spot The Pharisee? As an online Catholic argument grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving the Pharisees approaches one. Pretty much everyone who has ever taken part in an argument among Catholics has been accused of Pharasaism at some point, which is a pretty good indication that its coinage has been completely devalued.

For the moment, though, Tony Jokin’s comment above says it all. If the traditional practice of the Faith is Pharasaical now, it was Pharasaical for over 1,900 years; likewise, if it was fruitful then, it is fruitful now.

I appreciate the  clarification / retraction of sorts in the first paragraph very much.

The rest doesn't constitute any sort of rational counter-reply. It is merely a cynical sociological observation. Nowhere to go there. I reply to rational counter-arguments that are made in relation to my rational arguments (and I've made a good number of them in this whole exchange, and especially in the original paper that precipitated it). I'm weird that way.

* * *

Six days after the initial controversy, Elliot Bougis did a second post, explaining how my comments had been caught in his spam filter. So I changed some of the wording above accordingly (it had seemed like he was blocking me) and posted on his site what didn't go through before, and added the comment below:

I claim no conspiracy and accept the explanation. But last time we had a controversy I was basically asked to get lost and to cease posting in the thread since my comments were supposedly so dumb and repetitious. Then the post under consideration was password-protected so I couldn’t access it anyway (I don’t know if that has been lifted since; haven’t bothered to check).

So I fail to see how in spirit that mentality is any different from simply blocking someone altogether. Now I’ve been classified as an “idiot” by the Big Cheese in this venue (conditional on other factors — as he needlessly reiterated –, which are not true, in any event, but still claimed to be true here). Like that doesn’t poison any conceivable discussion, even if I wanted to hang around? LOL

Only Tony has shown himself completely civil (i.e., “normal”) in demeanor and able to engage in rational discussion about the issues I dealt with (and Murray was fair-minded about admitting that he had unfairly read me through the lens of another). But I told Tony (in a PM discussion) that what he is talking about, I mostly agree with, because I classify it as “traditionalist”; NOT as radical Catholic reactionary.

* * * * *