(NB: The following is an autobiographical essay, not a curriculum vitae, and incorporates prose rather than serving as a straightforward recitation of my credentials.)
Over the years that I have been online, many people have wondered about my credentials, particularly since I write about controversial and contentious subjects that tend to create widespread debates. Let us first understand that the “credential argument” frequently constitutes an ad hominem attack, especially in the case of individuals who disagree with mainstream perspectives. In reality, it is not always necessary to have perfect and proper credentials to become an expert or authority in a subject, or even to understand it. One doesn’t need credentials, for instance, to recognize that “Christmas” occurs during the winter solstice period, which represents a “Pagan” solar holiday. There have been many brilliant laypeople with few or no credentials who have been able to cut through the haze and bring to light numerous insights leading to monumental breakthroughs in virtually every subject over the centuries.
For example, the mysterious ancient Cretan language called “Linear B” boggled the minds of the world’s best and most credentialed authorities and experts for decades. Linear B was finally decoded by an amateur linguist named Michael Ventris. While this decoding may not have led to monumental scientific breakthroughs, it was very important in the world of archaeology.
With enough time and effort, we could certainly compile a long list of discoveries and insights by people who did not possess the “proper” credentials. What were the credentials of those who have influenced and created human culture for the past many thousands of years? Did they attend Harvard or Yale? How on Earth did human civilization progress without all these people with acceptable credentials? In a word, intelligence. People have simply used their brains to figure things out, not needing to study for decades or to obtain the obligatory sheepskin first.
That having been said, we must also keep in mind that there is such a thing as specialization that does require study, although this study, of course, may be acquired outside of the confines of academia. In other words, many brilliant people have been self-taught. American President and lawyer Abraham Lincoln and lay Egyptologist Gerald Massey come to mind immediately as examples of individuals in this self-taught category.
While I myself am “self-taught” in the sense that I developed a fascination for learning certain subjects at an early age, unlike the bulk of my detractors I actually do have formal, academic credentials relevant to my field of expertise.
Firstly, I have been interested in the Greek myths and Greek civilization since I was around three years old, when I came across comics and cartoons about Zeus and Hercules, among others. In addition to reading books on mythology, I also spent many long hours in my family’s small library pouring over National Geographic magazines dating back to the 1930s, so I possessed a very broad and expansive view of the world beginning at an early age.
All the while, I attended schools in a small town known for its emphasis on academic excellence that included advanced “experimental” programs designed to educate the individual to his or her fullest and highest potential. As such, I was filtered into the advanced programs for “gifted” children with high IQs. At one point in second grade, one of these experimental programs allowed me to speed-read at a rate of some 600 words per minute. Another program had us studying the Inuit (Eskimo) culture in fourth grade. In middle school, I was given the chance to learn photography and cinematography. I shall never forget these exceptional opportunities that helped shape my world view, as they were extremely stimulating and exciting.
Furthermore, I was raised on a small farm with loads of animals, both wild and domestic, and fields and woods all around. This pastoral and idyllic childhood instilled in me a profound delight in nature, of which I became a keen observer, allowing me eventually to recognize, understand and appreciate the nature-worshipping roots of many religious concepts.
At the age of 11, I became fascinated by the work of famed paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, with the result that I knew that I wanted to study anthropology, specifically the branch of it called archaeology. When I was 14, my father took my family to Greece, where he had been assigned to teach psychology on an American battleship. As soon as I saw the Temple of Zeus in Athens, I knew exactly what I wanted to study in college. While we were in Greece at that time, I learned enough Greek that my family turned to me to communicate with the natives.
Franklin & Marshall College
As a result of these experiences, the first day of college I already had my major in mind, as my first class was about ancient Greek art and architecture. I approached the professor after that class and asked what was his major, to which he replied that it was “Classics, Greek Civilization.” And that became what I majored in, receiving a BA from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The 17th oldest college in the United States, Franklin & Marshall (F&M) represents a combination of the college named for American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin – chartered in 1787 – and that named after Chief Justice John Marshall. F&M is considered a “potted Ivy League” school, appearing in the “highly selective” category in guides to the top universities and colleges. My qualifications for gaining entrance into F&M included being an honor roll student in high school, a National Merit Scholarship honorable mention, and a National Honor Society member.
During my sojourn at F&M, I also studied French and Spanish, as I had done in middle and high school, as well as German, Italian, Latin and ancient Greek. My skills with modern languages were good enough that, during my junior year when I traveled around Europe, I could and did conduct myself in French, Italian, Spanish, German and modern Greek, the latter of which I taught myself while studying in Greece with the Lake Forest College Program under the direction of Professor Emeritus of Religion Rev. Dr. Dan Cole. During that semester abroad, my Greek became good enough that when I answered the phone, people thought I was a Greek boy! (Greek women tend to have high-pitched voices, while I do not.) Moreover, Greek people frequently stopped me on the street and asked me in Greek for directions. In the northern Greek village of Metsovo, where people speak the Slavic language of Vlach first and Greek second, after hearing me speak Greek, one peasant woman asked me if I were a university student from Athens. When I replied that I was an American who had just recently learned the language, she was flabbergasted and insisted that I must be a Greek-American who had known the language from an early age. I further informed her that, no, I was not Greek at all.
The Greeks absolutely loved the fact that I spoke Greek, and they would get tears in their eyes when they communicated with me – some of these people had never spoken to a foreigner before, because they knew no other languages and had never met a foreigner who spoke Greek. One man from an isolated village on the island of Crete wept when he discovered I could speak Greek, as he said he could die in peace knowing that he had finally spoken to a foreigner! This man had lived through World War II, with Germans and Brits occupying his island; yet, he had never spoken to a foreigner, because none of those he’d met spoke Greek. The relief from his isolation was so powerful that it caused him to weep with joy from speaking with me.
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens
After graduating from college, I spent a year in Greece with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where I studied with some of the luminaries within the field of Greek archaeology, including Dr. John McK Camp, who guided First Lady Hillary Clinton around the Athenian Acropolis when she and daughter Chelsea visited Greece during the Clinton Presidency. I also excavated at the important classical site of Corinth, under the direction of Dr. Charles K. Williams. Prior to this postgraduate work, I had excavated a “paleo-Indian” tool-making camp under the direction of Dr. Ken Feder of Central Connecticut State College. During my postgraduate studies, I also served as a teacher’s assistant on Crete to a group of students from Lake Forest, the program I attended in Greece during college.
In order to be accepted into the American School of Classical Studies, I had to take a written exam that covered pretty much every aspect of ancient Greek civilization and took me several hours to complete. I also needed to have recommendations from my professors, with whom I was pretty cozy because there were only two Classics majors that year. My professors at Franklin & Marshall College included Dr. Robert Barnett, Dr. Joel Farber and Dr. Ann Steiner. It was Dr. Steiner, now a provost of the college, who introduced me to the American School of Classical Studies or ASCSA.
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is no slouch in the world of Classics and Greek civilization and archaeology. ASCSA is, in fact, one of the most respected institutes in the world in this field. Following is a quote from the ASCSA website:
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, founded in 1881, is the principal resource in Greece for American scholars conducting advanced research on the language, literature, art, history, archaeology, and philosophy of Greece and the Greek world from pre-Hellenic times to the present. Each year the School, its programs, and its facilities welcome some 400 graduate students and scholars from over 160 affiliated North American colleges and universities.
The American School is so significant, in fact, that our matriculation party was attended by the wife of the Greek President and the Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri.
It should be noted that I was not a summer associate but a regular member at ASCSA, and am now an alumna. Contrary to fallacious internet gossip, I did not have to pay to gain entrance into ASCSA. There was tuition, of course, but the entry requirements were strictly academic, as described above. The following is an excerpt from the description at the ASCSA site regarding regular membership:
The Regular Program of the American School offers an intensive introduction to and survey of the sites, monuments, history, and archaeology of Greece, from prehistoric times to the present, with a focus on sites dating from the Bronze Age through the Roman period. The program consists of three terms and runs from September to June. The fall term is chiefly devoted to a series of trips, usually four in number, of ten to twelve days’ duration to sites and museums outside Attica. The sequence and itineraries of these trips may vary from year to year, but they normally include Central Greece, Northern Greece, and the Peloponnese, with special attention to Delphi, Olympia, and Corinth. Participants in the regular program–Regular Members–are required to participate in each of these trips. Trips are led by one or more members of the School staff, and each Regular Member delivers an on-site, seminar-style report on each trip.
On that same page appear the requirements for admission into ASCSA:
Regular membership is generally open to advanced graduate students, although well-prepared undergraduates who will have earned the B.A. before the start of the program may apply. Admission is granted on the basis of the School’s qualifying examinations, letters of recommendation, and other information submitted to the School’s Committee on Admission and Fellowships.
I was in fact one of only four of the relatively rare “well-prepared undergraduates” among 22 members who were accepted that year. The rest of the members were PhD candidates, and two of the other undergraduates were from Harvard and Princeton. In addition, I was the second-youngest member of ASCSA during that year. My “well-prepared” status, it should also be noted, stemmed from my education at Franklin & Marshall, during which time I was regularly on the Dean’s List. (I include this detail in response to calumny disparaging my grades.) My year at ASCSA was thrilling but not easy, as we were held to the highest standards by some fairly difficult professors. The list of professors I studied under in Greece reads like the “Who’s Who in Classical Greek Civilization” and includes:
- ASCSA Director Dr. Steven G. Miller, Director, Nemea Excavations
- Dr. Stella G. Miller-Collett, Associate Director, Nemea Excavations
- Dr. John McK Camp, II, Director, Agora Excavations at Athens
- Dr. Charles K. Williams, II, Director, Corinth Excavations
- Dr. Nancy Bookidis, Assistant Director, Corinth Excavations
- Dr. Frederick A. Cooper, Archaeologist and Architectural Historian, Bassae Excavations
- Dr. Oscar T. Broneer, Director, Isthmia Excavations
- Dr. Joseph W. Shaw, Director, Kommos Excavations
- William B. Dinsmoor, Jr., Archaeologist and Architectural Historian
Some years after my time with ASCSA, I returned to Greece to give a send-off to my deceased father, who was a true philhellene. All in all, I traveled to Greece four times and spent a total there of almost two years, during which time I journeyed to some 200 archaeological sites all over the country, including not only ancient temple sanctuaries but also numerous Orthodox and Byzantine Christian churches and monasteries such as the fascinating but macabre sites at Meteora. Many of these sites were very isolated and difficult to get to, including some that required us to hike up mountains and trudge through snow for hours at a time. Naturally, we spent a significant amount of time at such famous locales as Athens, Corinth, Delphi and Olympia, as well as traveling to various Greek islands and their archaeological sites.
After my year with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, I did not pursue academia for a variety of reasons, although I certainly could have. In the first place, I did not want to become a college professor with the attendant strict curriculum and hectic schedule. I also knew instinctively from my previous experiences that, if I had pursued academia, I would have needed to rein in significantly my intellectual wanderings, which likely would have eventually prevented me from writing my controversial books. Furthermore, I had another career I wished to pursue while I was young, and I did so for several years.
Over the more than 20 years since my formal education ended, I have continued my studies of the world’s cultures, including and especially mythology and religion. At a certain point, when I began stumbling upon the Christ-myth material I am now notorious for promulgating, I knew that I was in fact well qualified to write about it and to develop expertise in it. I possessed a long and intensive background in mythology and the very language of the New Testament, for one thing, as well as being quite familiar with the general milieu in which the Christian ideology arose. I had spent many months in the heart of Western civilization – Greece – and I knew to a large extent what the ancient world of the time was really like. I also knew quite a bit about Christianity not only from being born and raised a Protestant but also from spending numerous hours in Christian churches and monasteries in Greece and elsewhere throughout Europe. In fact, I traveled to numerous archaeological sites in other countries as well, including Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill in England, for example. Furthermore, following my postgraduate studies I briefly became a “born again” Christian while living in New York City, a period that found me immersing myself in the study of Christianity and the Bible, particularly the New Testament, with which I was already somewhat familiar. Shortly after that “conversion” – again, I was already born and raised a Christian – I began studying several other religions, including Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Taoism, Jainism and Islam. These studies, naturally, led me away from Christian fundamentalism.
What all this means is that from an early age I have been single-focused and have gained expertise, including obtaining certain academic credentials, in subjects and fields that are highly relevant to the origins of Christianity, the New Testament and the gospel story. My areas of interest and expertise include not only Christian origins but also archaeology, comparative religion, mythology, astrotheology and archaeoastronomy. Throughout much of my work, which includes numerous articles online and in print, as well as a number of books unusual in their scope and breadth, I examine the connections between modern religious belief and the ancient veneration for the sun and other natural phenomena, an ideology falling under the rubric of “astrotheology.”
As concerns my credentials and continuing education, I would like to consider my books Suns of God and Christ in Egypt in particular a PhD thesis in the subjects of comparative religion and astrotheology. In this regard, I sincerely hope that these important subjects become increasingly popular and taught in colleges and universities, and that others may be able to obtain relevant and appropriate credentials therein.