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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Fact Checking Preston on the Russian Academy of Science Claim

I decided to go ahead and fact-check Preston’s claims about his credentials on his About page on his website, where it states:Preston’s book Who Is This Babylon, has been positively peer reviewed, and received a positive review in the official publication of the Russian Academy of Science[1] (we will abbreviate it as RAS for brevity’s sake).

Being I do love to give Preston hell for his pseudo-scholarship, I went to RAS’ website and found absolutely nothing about Don K Preston on there in their databases. I figured, it being Don, he likely made it all up because that is the kind of person he has been known to be.
When asked though and grilled on it, as to where William and I could find this positive peer review in the OFFICIAL PUBLICATION, my response was, as is usual and is common, mostly incendiary remarks from Don K Preston, so I assumed the bloke was lying his tail off about this and just trying to do a cover-up as usual when he’s been caught in a lie, but lo and behold, after a week of not budging and the help of my associate William Vincent, we managed to get one random mention from Preston about a person named Basil Lourie and Christian East. As we expected, we did not find any mention of a Basil Lourie nor Christian East on the website either, nor to be on the database. However, we did come to find this bishop on the internet and also did eventually find this man’s book where he references Preston and a review he did on Preston’s Who Is This Babylon.

No thanks to Preston, we managed to get information from Bishop Basil Lourie himself and he even was kind enough to send me the link to his book in English and later the references in the book regarding Preston’s “review”.

This book by Orthodox bishop Basil Lourie – aka Heiromonk Gregori, is called The Coming of the Comforter: When, Where, & to whom? Studies on the Rise of Islam & Various Other Topics in Memory of John Wansbrough”. In it Lourie footnotes Don K Preston at one point in his chapter titled, “Friday Veneration In 6th & 7th Ce. Christianity & Christian Legends about the Conversion of Nagran”. The footnote reads: “Cf., on this tradition in the Apocalypse of John in NT, Beagley, A. J. The “Sitz im Leben” of the Apocalypse with Particular Reference to the Role of the Church’s Enemies. Beiheft zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche, 50. Berlin/New York, 1987. The matter remains controversial but I am inclined to agree with this identification; cf. B. Lurie., [Rev. of:] Don K. Preston, Who is this Babylon? (Ardmore, 1999). Christian East. 2 (8) (2000): 497–99 (in Russian)”.

I was pretty convinced Preston had probably made it up, given all the hate-filled vitriol, asinine comments, and incendiary remarks he gave in return, but as it turns out, the reference to the review is in fact written in a publication in 2001 called “Christian East 2nd Series Dedicated To The Study of Christian Culture of the Asian Peoples and Africa. New Series Edition Volume 2 of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the State Hermitage Museum Aleteya Publishing House. San-Petersburg, Moscow. 2001.”

Not sure where or why it is not in the databases as communism fell in 1991 but upon studying it a bit, it may very well be that in 2013-2018, RAS by Putin’s orders, decided to undergo some large reforms to basically upgrade and update so they could be better for the pursuit of academia. This may have led to many publications simply being wiped out perhaps but regardless, I was wrong. This publication does exist (or did – I am unaware if it still produces anything or not).

Now, was this publication of RAS actually kind to Preston’s Who Is This Babylon? And did it really receive “a positive review”?

Well, I’ll let you the reader decide on this but the way that it reads to me after translating Russian, French, and German into English (which was quite a labor), is that Lourie agrees with his conclusions that Babylon is likely identified as Jerusalem… however, it doesn’t seem that this review is “positive” about the book as he claims there to be “almost no chance of attention from the scholarly community” and “we have not come close to any evidential identifications of his Sitz im Leben”.

Lourie does list some wordings about the strengths of Preston’s book but also says in his footnote that “more often than not, we encounter such an identification without any proof” (reference is to Preston) and that “it should be noted that although early dating seems more appropriate "to identify Babylon with Jerusalem (and so also follows Preston), however, such identification is theoretically possible at the end of the 1st century.]. It doesn’t read as an endorsement in my opinion. He clearly says that Preston often gives an identification without any proof, though it is theoretically possible for Revelation to be written before 70. This basically is just a review saying he doesn’t have proof but it is theoretical and plausible it was written pre-70 and because of that possibility, we should not completely dismiss minority views like Preston’s just because of a consensus, which I would wholeheartedly agree with. We should not dismiss minority position views  just for the heck of it. We should be willing to examine the viewpoint and challenge it to see if it found wanting or not. This was the review referenced: I have translated it from Russian to the best of my ability. I may be asking a friend soon to translate it who knows Russian much better than I and can make it read more fluidly than I. Footnote with this review is listed below [bold].

Review: The next book about the Apocalypse of John, which came out of the pen of an American pastor, has almost no chance of attention from the scholarly[2] community - and this is very unfortunate for the scholarly community itself in the first place. Of course, the book is concentrated around theological issues that the scholarly community does not care about, but at the same time, regardless of these issues, the author again poses the old and still unsolved problem of the science of the Apocalypse - the identification of Babylon. The scholarly community can only boast here of its own “consensus” (Babylon of the Apocalypse and other early Christian works = Rome), which is by no means equivalent to proof. The author of this book, like only a small number of previous scholars, insists on another identification: Babylon = Jerusalem. All new and new private issues of the history of the text of the Apocalypse are being resolved - but we have not come close to any evidential identifications of his Sitz im Leben. Even the two closest literary analogues of the Apocalypse of John - the Apocalypse of Ezra (4 Ez.) and the Syrian Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Bar.) - the scholarly consensus refers to a completely different environment: not Christian, but Judean. So far, the study of all three of these apocalypses are reduced to the accumulation of "trifles" - such as, for example, well identifiable elements of liturgical sequences or citations of more ancient apocalyptic literature - and all the "conclusions and generalizations" are no more than initial attempts to link these observations together. Of these attempts, the most competitive should be, apparently, those that as little as possible resort to a “spiritual” (that is, alas, subjective) interpretation of the source. That is the strength and concept of the book under review. We will name only a few examples: the Apoc. verse. 11, 8, identifying Babylon with the city where “the Lord was crucified” (p. 31), parallelism between Apoc. 17 (God's punishment for the Harlot - Babylon) and Ezek. 16 (the same, but concerning the harlot - Jerusalem) (p. 60 - 61), verse Apoc. 18, 4 (see above, note 1), also noted by R. H. Charles' of parallelism between Matt. 24 (disasters raging on Israel) and Apoc. 6 (p. 1 - 3). So, while we are in the zone of “cumulative” evidence, scholarship has no right to forget any “Minority Opinions”, and even less - those of those opinions that are much less “force” texts than scholarly “consensus”[3]. The author of these lines also has a special reason to pay attention to the possibility of identifying Babylon as Jerusalem: just such a conclusion would be very natural, if we consider that Christianity does not go back to the Jewish tradition that had power over the Jerusalem Temple, some other “Judaism,” whose relationship with the Temple was not particularly simple. In this case, the similarity of all three of the above apocalypses could be explained by their common background of the pre-Christian era.

In conclusion, it does exist but it really seems a stretch to call this a “positive” review when it is clearly filled with some very damning critiques like that anything is possible theoretically but ultimately Preston offers identification of Babylon without proof other than subjective spiritual interpretation.

[2] Note that I, Conley, have translated the word ученый as “scholarly” in this translation instead of "science" because the context in Russian doesn’t seem to make one iota of sense for anything scientific. One should note though ученый as far as I know usually does mean science or scientific vs scholarly as it has to deal with researching and academia in a general sense. Maybe it should be translated as science or scientific but if so, it leaves a huge question over what "science" is involved here, as there seems to be none.
[3] More often than not, we encounter such an identification without any proof. To illustrate the shaky ground we find ourselves here if we just want to move on to the evidence, I will quote one of the most authoritative modern commentaries (on Apoc. 18:4 - Get out of her (Babylon)...) : “It does not seem that the most literary sense is possible: an invitation from the city of Rome!” (here the author without proof accepts the “consensus”: Babylon - Rome) Imagining an allusion to the flight from the Pella in 70 (i.e. Babylon = Jerusalem) supposes the use of an old document which cannot be isolated without support (here another consensus comes into effect on another controversial issue: the date before 70 according to R. H. Charles is considered unacceptable for the Apocalypse itself; it should be noted that although early dating seems more appropriate "to identify Babylon with Jerusalem (and so also follows Preston), however, such identification is theoretically possible at the end of the 1st century.]. So there remains the spiritual meaning: it is indeed the pagan context and idolatry, of which the capital of the empire is the perfect example, that Christians are invited to leave (Pierre Prigent, L'Apocalypse de Saint Jean. Lausanne - Paris, 1981 - Commentary on the New Testament, XIV, 268). The whole scholarly consensus on the identification of “Babylon” is built on this kind of “spiritual” interpretation! For a more complete review of the history of theography that accepts the identification of Babylon - Jerusalem, see in the dissertation (the author of which adheres to the same point of view): A.J. Beagley, The “Sitz im Leben” of the Apocalypse with Particular Reference to the Role of the Church's Enemies (Berlin - New York, 1987. Supplement to the magazine for New Testament science and the news of the older church, 50). For pointing me to this work, I thank Dr. Ph. L. Mayo.

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