The False Promise of ChatGTP Consciousness…

If you have fallen or partly fallen for all the AI nonsense that ChatGTP has generated in the popular media, about computers taking over, controlling us, or in any way exhibiting the human capacities of our linguistic programming, Chomsky set things straight in clear language and straight talk. As one of the smartest computer guys I know puts it, hyperbole, but you get the point, ChatGTP is as “dumb” as this keyboard. Input, output. Nothing conscious or even near so. I think Robert Kuhn (Closer to Truth) agrees. We are not even close to understanding or explaining the human mind…or any mind for that matter…think about our dogs and cats whom we know so well. They are NOT machines on any level:

Noam Chomsky: NY Times–The False Promise of ChatGPT


How and Why the Gospels of Matthew and Luke Destroy their Source Mark

In this short video I show that the whole idea of “Harmonizing” our four New Testament Gospels is a mistaken idea in the first place. In fact, Mark, the earliest Gospel written was viewed and strongly deficient by Matthew, who used 90% of it, as well as Luke who used 80%. But the question is–how did they “USE” Mark. I am convinced, and I give a few examples in this video and much more in the Mark course now available to the public, that they basically OVERWROTE Mark–much like one might do to alter a painting–and in the process essentially destroyed it as it came from its creator/author.

New Closer to Truth Web Site–The Best Thing out There!

Dr. Robert L Kuhn’s newly designed Closer to Truth web site is truly stunningly done. Rich content, endless fascination…I know of nothing on the internet that compares. You can subscribe for free. Program content is also available on Youtube and via major Podcasts. If you are mainly interested in the “Big Questions” as I am, this is the BEST thing out there. Check it out.

Click on Image for 45s Introduction to the newly Designed Site

I am also very pleased to note my own contributor page has been wholly reorganized with videos I did not even remember I had done with Dr. Kuhn over the years, links to my books, and an updated Bio. Check it out here–a good place to start in diving into Closer to Truth!

James Tabor


Lady Chatterley’s Lover…

We watched “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” the new version, on Netflix. It was stunningly well done, acting, script, cinematography–just beautiful beyond words–but I need to re-read Lawrence to say how close to his literal story it was. But clearly the spirit is there, and the D. H. dichotomies of the flesh and the mind, human tenderness and oppression, sexual freedom and societal duty, passionate sensuality and obligation, flight and fear, escape and resignation.

John Dominic Crossan–Don’t Miss this Interview!

Over the decades I have heard dozens of interviews with John Crossan, listened to his lectures, read his books, and spent time together in Jerusalem in 2007 with him and his wife Sarah, in endless conversation, visiting some of the “off the beaten tourist paths” places with Shimon Gibson. He and I have our differences on getting at the “historical Jesus,” but we agree on far more than we disagree, and I am happy to stand in his shadow and continue to listen and learn from him.

I just finished listening for the second time (!) to his recent two hour free-ranging interview with Youtube host Derek Lambert of Mythvision Podcast–which includes an hour of Q & A from viewers–really great questions. I have never heard him better–a wonderful combination of his personal experience, his latest insights on Jesus and early Christianity, but also deep dives into his broader theological, philosophical, and scientific outlook on our lives and history on planet earth at the wonderful age of 88, with his characteristic graciousness to all, sprinkled with his Irish wit and charm! Pure delight. Don’t miss it.

What really stood out for me, beyond the many excellent historical points about Jesus and earliest Christianity in its Roman contexts, were his existential perspectives about the process of “Evolution”–which I would equate to my own understanding of what has been called “Process Theism,” as per Whitehead and Hartshorne. Terms like God, Atheism, Theism, Theodicy, Eschatology–easily fail in common usage to reflect much precision of meaning, skewered as they are by . But all in all, Crossan’s vision of “Reality” as both transcendent and distributively “just”–in the way he lays things out, I find profoundly moving.

I usually try to chose categories for Blog posts from a topical “drop down” menu, but for this one I come up with a thick cluster: Death, Future, God, Historical Jesus, Horrors of History, La Condition Humanine, Philosophical Musings, Religion and History, the Bible, the Earth, Time…as I said, “wide-ranging”!

Here is the link–I hope you benefit from the accumulative scholarship and life wisdom of “Dom,” as I have:

Time Travel: Why We Humans Are So Fascinated by the Ancient Past

In this informal presentation I relates our very human attachment to “old things,” to which we attach emotion and meaning–including some of my own personal experiences–and how that is connected broadly to “archaeology”–that is, the scientific exploration of the human material past. Our imagination connects us to the past–places, artifacts, and historical records that all correlate together in a kind of “Time Travel” experience–much like the hit series “Outlander” which millions have binged through.

Favorite Quotations of the Day–Mine and Others

He shows a general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say with facts.  

Here’s to those who wish us well and those who don’t can go to hell.

Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about. 

I was sick with love once.  It left with me with enough regret to last for a lifetime. Love makes fools of all of us. But better a fool than never to have loved

Are You Lost in Translation?–Reading Again the Book of Genesis

Summer Sale:  The Book of Genesis: A New Translation from the Transparent English Bible,  is available in Kindle, Paperback and Hardcover at significantly reduced prices on Amazon. 

You can also listen to an extended interview I did this week on this translation and what makes it different, just posted on my Youtube Channel here.

What is the best-known verse in the Bible—one that millions could quote immediately by heart? Christians might say John 3:16—after all, one even sees placards and signs reading “John 3:16” at sporting stadiums! But I think the very first verse of the Bible—Genesis 1:1—most likely would win the universal familiarity content:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I have a replica of the Geneva Bible, published in 1560, that was the standard up through the 17th century—even over the King James for a time. It has a very similar translation:

In the beginning God created heaven and the earth.

What few realize is that most scholars now consider this translation not only faulty but seriously misleading. The problem is that these older translations, now so enshrined in our memories, have ignored an important element of grammar—namely that the first word, בראשית/bereshit—is in the construct state, making it a temporal participle, connected to what follows. A good parallel is Jeremiah 26:1, which clearly means, “At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim . . .,” or “When Jehoiakim began to reign . . .” with what follows describing the state of things at such a beginning. The opening verses of Genesis clearly reflect the same grammatical construction.

In other words, it is not a simple declarative sentence about the creation of everything by God from nothing. It is rather a description of the state of the “skies and the land” when God began to create things—bringing order out of the water covered earth that was without form and empty.

I well remember when the New English Bible was published in the 1960s when I was in college that its translation of this single verse cause great consternation on the part of traditional Bible readers. The “liberal scholars” were trying to water down the Creation Story, we were told.  Everyone knew Genesis 1:1 was about the “origin of the universe,” to put it in modern terms.

Gradually other modern translations followed suit, including the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (1985), and of course Fox, Alter, and others. Even the New Revised Standard Version, and its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version, included a variant note: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth…”  The notes of the New English Translation (NET) Bible, hedge a bit, taking that first word as in the absolute state—but then in a note explaining that the construct state is nothing to get worried about—as if they prefer it but can’t bring themselves to put it in the text.

 Translations must sell, no matter how accurate they claim to be, and changing the first verse of the Bible is not a good marketing strategy—to say the least!

For more on this see my blog post: “Is the Best Known Verse in the Bible Mistranslated?”

I recently published a new English translation of the Book of Genesis with notes—the first volume of the Transparent English Bible (TEB). It is available on Amazon in all formats, and you can look inside and browse to get an idea of my approach. Prices on all are significantly reduced for this Summer Sale.

There is an ancient Jewish adage regarding translating the Scriptures, “One who translates a verse literally is misrepresenting the text, but one who adds anything of his own is a blasphemer.” Modern translators of the Bible continue to echo, in more sophisticated debate, the dilemma of this ancient bit of wisdom. The literal method of translation seeks to convey an exact sense of the words and the structure of the original language, while the paraphrase, or “dynamic equivalent” method, purposely recasts the essential “thought” of the original into the natural idiom and flow of the second language. The problem is that an overly naïve literalism easily becomes nonsense, while “recasting thought” can end up obscuring or even altering the richness of the original text. The TEB is decidedly on the “literal” side of this spectrum, although the concept of transparency better conveys its theory and method.

The following examples—some of my favorites, taken directly from the TEB translation of Genesis, allow one to see the many important ways this new translation differs from the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version, the two best-selling modern English translations.

 NIV: “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”

NRSV:  “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”

  • TEB: “Let the waters swarm a swarm of living life-breathers and let the flyer fly upon the land, upon the face of the expanse of the skies.” (1:20)

Here are three examples of poetic consonance in one sentence: with Hebrew nouns and verbs echoing one another: “swarm a swarm” “living life-breathers” and “let the flyer fly.” Comparing translations, the TEB is not only transparently beautiful but it is more literal in reflecting an accurate approximation of the original Hebrew terms. These “life-breathers” are creatures, no doubt, but their distinguishing characteristic is possession of the “living life-breath.” It is this factor that then binds the birds, land animals, and human beings together, as explicitly stated in v. 30. Also, although “birds” is likely intended by the Hebrew word “flyer,” the word itself has a more generic meaning that the TEB retains.

Throughout the TEB one constantly encounters refreshing and fascinating idioms that are found in the original Hebrew. For example in Genesis 29:1 we read: “And Jacob lifted his two feet, and walked toward the land of the sons of the east “ The NRSV has: “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east,” while the NIV has: “Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples.” In Genesis 12:9 the TEB reads: “And Abraham pulled up stakes, walking, and pulling up stakes toward the Negev,” The NRSV simply has: “And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negev,” while the NIV has “Then Abram set out and continued towards the Negev.” When you get up early in Hebrew you “cause to shoulder up” (see Gen 22:3), a reference to packing up and loading the animals for a journey. All three versions are understandable in terms of the basic meaning, but the TEB offers the English reader a glimpse into the colorful way that Hebrew actually expresses such common ideas.

The Biblical texts at times can be extremely repetitious, both in narrative style and vocabulary. Often translators are tempted to “smooth things out” a bit, forcing the original languages to conform more closely to modern English usage. Genesis 2:23 reads: (TEB) “This one, this time—bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh! This one will be called woman, because from a man this one was taken.” In Hebrew the feminine demonstrative pronoun (“this one”) is repeated three times in a single sentence. Genesis 11:6 (TEB) says: “This they begin to do, and now nothing is restrained from them of all that they have planned to do.” Both the NIV and the NRSV put “nothing will be impossible for them,” which is surely the meaning, and even much conventional English, but it removes the “flavor and flow” of the Hebrew text.

Professor Arthur Droge, who has produced what I consider to be the best translation of the Quran in English—also with notes, offers this evaluation of this new translation:

“Finally, a truly transparent translation! I have taught biblical texts for almost 25 years and have longed for a translation that didn’t pull any punches when it came to the difficult passages, or that didn’t try to “spin” the meaning of the text in the interests of later theology and doctrine (whether Jewish or Christian). Tabor’s translation of Genesis renders the Hebrew not just with unparalleled accuracy and fidelity to the text, it also offers readers a sense of the unfamiliar elegance and strange power of the original. Beautifully conceived and executed, Tabor’s translation is the result of a lifetime of critical learning and scholarly acumen. It is also a courageous undertaking. I have no doubt that it will quickly become the standard.”


A Sentient Computer? I Think Not…

Some readers might have seen a version of this story that appeared in the Washington Post last weekend about a Google AI program called LaMDA that one of its creators claimed was sentient and “conscious.” Here is the CNN version of that story, “No, Google’s AI Is Not Sentient.” Even the description of what it can do makes it clear this machine is just operating a sophisticated version of John Searle’s Chinese Box example. See Robert Kuhn’s interview here with Searle on his amazing program Closer to Truth-which, by the way is now being uploaded to Youtube. And for dozens of other programs exploring these fundamental questions do the search on the Closer to Truth web site for the “Mind Body Problem.”

I am a historian of ancient Mediterranean/Ancient Near Eastern religions so my comment here is stictly “outside my field,” as the saying goes. I have to agree with Roger Penrose, this idea that intelligent and consciousness—not to mention self-consciousness—is based on this kind of a computational model of complex data association is a basic category mistake, see his enlightening interview with Lex Fridman, “Consciousness is Not a Computation.”
I don’t think one needs to move to some “wholly other” force and call it “Mind,” as if naming a phenomenon conveys understanding it. I am quite sure our self-conscious minds are rooted in “this” world—I remain a Monist in that Whiteheadean sense, but our reductionistic assumption that the “material” is just STUFF…in contrast to some “spiritual” other—is just wrong headed. As if naming Gravity, Light, and the Strong and Weak Nuclear forces somehow means we have understood them and made them part of some so-called “material” aspect of the cosmos. The problem here, as I see it, is the very assumptions that are built into our dualistic categorization that seems to be built into our language anytime we discuss the so-called “spiritual.”