Monday, 30 August 2010


In his book Christian Antioch – A Study of Early Christian Thought in the East (Cambridge University Press 1982) D . S. Wallace-Hadrill explains how the Christians during the first couple of centuries after the death of the apostles of Christ came under the influence of pagan Greek philosophy.

Some of the Christians in the second century were philosophers before their conversion, others were people who followed the intellectual fashion of the day or apologists who believed they could convert the pagans by using their discourse.

Interestingly the approach of the Christian writers of Antioch was very pragmatic and objective. They interpreted the Bible according to the grammar of the text and what they knew about the historical background of the narrative. If one should pick a Greek philosopher whose method was closest to that of the Antiochenes, it would be Aristotle. But there was hardly any direct connection. The interest in the works of Aristotle in the Eastern Church started long time after Antioch lost its theological importance.

The philosophical discourse at that time was strongly influenced by the idealism of Plato. It was a sort of paradigm that made people accept unstated assertions without being aware it. As Wallace-Hadrill writes (page 97): “In the cultural millieu that was predominantly Platonist, a Christian could of course be open to Platonist influence without being aware of it, and it could find a place in his unexpressed assumptions.”

One may for example wonder how Christians – especially in Antioch – started to believe in the immortality of the human soul. In the Hebrew Bible, that was regarded as an authority by Antiochenes as the bishop Theophilus, the word נפשׁ (nefesh) translated psyche (ψυχη: soul) in Greek meant the material living person. This is also how the word is used in the New Testament (as in Pauls first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 where he contrasts the psychical with the spiritual using ‘psychical’ synonymous with ‘material’).

Wallace-Hadrill continues (pages 99 & 100): “The fragments that remain of the proceedings at the trial of of Paul of Samosata in 268 [in Antioch] are sufficient to show that the Antiochene judges maintained a generally Platonist view of the relation of soul to body. The ontological separation of soul and body is expressed in fragment 16, in which man is described as being composed of flesh and of ‘somebody’ within – the ‘interior man’ of fragment 30. The soul-complex is the real person in a fleshly covering.”

This totally Platonist understanding of the nature of man would have surprised both the writers of the Old Testament and the Christians of the first century. But it illustrates how easily we are influenced by the ideological air we breathe.

Today the ideological paradigm of the Western World is not Platonism but rather humanism and individualism. And often people who call themselves Christians advance humanistic ideas honestly believing that they represent New Testament teachings.

Here in Antakya the same thing is observed among modern people calling themselves Muslims. They try to explain, justify and even rationalise their beliefs by means of western philosophy and science.

The important thing is that your ideas are in fashion

Sunday, 22 August 2010


As mentioned in the blog of my friend Christopher Ecclestone entitled The Dig at the Daphne Bridge (May 22, 2010) the old Daphne Bridge over the torrent Phyrminus in Antakya has been unearthed in connection with canalisation repair. At that site last night I had an interesting experience that reveals how the human mind works.

We were on our way home after an Arabic coffee (served in Turkish tea glasses and called suvari) at the nearly historical coffee house Affân. When we passed the place of the old bridge one of our friends asked me: “They say that this is a tunnel used by smugglers that takes you to the other side of the Syrian border. Is that true?“

It should be mentioned that the distance to the Syrian border is about 50 kilometres. There are mountains part of the way. Those who within the last couple of months invented the myth of a smuggler tunnel never bothered to explain to themselves how it would be possible secretly to make a tunnel all the way to Syria when the government spends millions of lira to have a tunnel made through 5 kilometres of mountain other places in this country.

This brings us to how our mind works. When we know everything about a matter we are able to draw conclusions about singular aspects of this matter with the same certainty as you have about the whole. Example: 1. All humans are mortal. 2. The president is a human. > The president is mortal. This is called deductive reasoning.

Most often we do not know all the details about a certain question, but we know sufficient to have an opinion. 1. Some banks do crack. 2. This bank has never had any financial problem and as far as I can tell it is economically sound. > It is unlikely to crack. I can safely deposit my money there. This is called inductive reasoning. As we are not omniscient this is the reasoning we base most of our informed decisions on. It is also our basis for scientific theories and for religious faith - if we happen to base our faith on reason at all.

The third “discipline” is abductive reasoning* described by the logician Charles Sander Pierce as guessing. You could call it jumping to conclusions. In your daily life you are suddenly faced with something new and surprising, something for which you have no rational explanation. You do not have any premises to base your deduction or induction on. So you simply try to find an explanation on the basis of what the new experience looks like in comparison with what you have seen or heard before.

When you take a look at the old bridge across the Phyrminus as shown on the picture in the blog cited above it looks like the entrance to a tunnel because you do not see the other side of the bridge. In fact, had it been a tunnel its direction would lead you away from Syria, but the myth-makers did not think of that. On the other hand: Who are using tunnels? Smugglers are. Where do smugglers from this neighbourhood go? They go to Syria. So this must be a smuggler tunnel to Syria although it is leading you in the wrong direction.

We are such stuff as myths are made of.


* Abduction

allows inferring a as an explanation of b. Because of this, abduction allows the precondition a to be inferred from the consequence b. Deduction and abduction thus differ in the direction in which a rule like "a entails b" is used for inference. As such abduction is formally equivalent to the logical fallacy affirming the consequent or Post hoc ergo propter hoc, because there are multiple possible explanations for b. For example, after glancing up and seeing the eight ball moving towards us we may abduce that it was struck by the cue ball. The cue ball's strike would account for the eight ball's movement. It serves as a theory that explains our observation. There are in fact infinitely many possible explanations for the eight ball's movement, and so our abduction does not leave us certain that the cue ball did in fact strike the eight ball, but our abduction is still useful and can serve to orient us in our surroundings. This process of abduction is an instance of the scientific method. There are infinite possible explanations for any of the physical processes we observe, but we are inclined to abduce a single explanation (or a few explanations) for them in the hopes that we can better orient ourselves in our surroundings. (

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Two thousand years ago it was claimed that the attitude of the Antiochians was rather laid back. I do not know if this is still the case, but certain aspect of daily life seem to indicate that this still applies.

Four weeks ago an excavator showed up in the street where we are staying and transformed ninety percent of the street into a field. I have visited several villages in the neighbourhood of Antakya, but never seen streets like that. The closest was the main street in Samandağı two years ago. It was like driving through a street in a town in central Africa. But our street is worse.

When I am saying that our street is like an open field I am not exaggerating, in fact, it is worse. The street is a steep hill and the “field” is filled with pebble and cobble so when you go downhill you are in constant danger of sliding and falling backwards hammering you neck into one of the bigger stones in the middle of the road.

After a weeks time the lower part of the street for some reason became filled with water. Now you had to wade through mud to get to the main street.

Up in the middle of the street a manhole cover to the sewerage had been removed. The hole left open was big enough for a small child to disappear into it. As this section of the street was without streetlight at night a motor cyclist could easily break his neck if his bike fell into the hole.

After a couple of weeks the excavator reappeared and dug a narrow ditch for electric cables up through the street. The dirt from the ditch was left in the middle of the street. Now the street was not like a field anymore. It was like climbing a mountainside when you wanted to go home. No cars could get up the street. When you had to receive parcels or packets people from the forwarding company had to carry them on their back up the mountainside.

Naturally the excavator filled up the manhole to the sewer system with dirt, so now the droppings from scores of toilets are running down the street.

They say that we are staying in the wealthy part of town. So I guess we are lucky.

Sunday, 8 August 2010



We are told that the inhabitants of Antioch used to be a irresponsible lot. They loved entertainment and did not take rules and standards too seriously. This resulted in a superficial tolerance between the various groups and denominations of the city. Whenever other issues such as economy, politics or even the teams on the race ground got involved, the shallow tolerance towards those different from your own group was easily replaced by violence.

People of modern Antakya are generally speaking as tolerant as those who were living here a couple of thousand years ago. And fortunately we do not have the riots that haunted the city in Byzantine times. People here are mostly easygoing and tolerant. The tendency of sudden outbursts of violence however can still be seen – but for other reasons than those of old.

Yesterday we met a young, pretty girl of nineteen yeas old. Across her forehead she had a big wound stitched together with eight stitches. When we asked her what had happened she told us that she had been battered by her big brother. He had wanted her sunglasses and she would not give them to him. The result was anger and violence so serious that had the assault happened in another city or country the doctor who dressed the wound would have notified the police immediately.

One may wonder what the psychological mechanisms behind this aggressive behaviour may be. There are several explanations. One of them is a belief, also shared by many individuals outside Antakya, that problems can be solved by violence. An observer from another culture may find it strange that anybody can have this approach, especially in a country still suffering under blood feuds. Violence breeds hate and hate breeds violence. Violence does not create respect, but disgust and the perpetrator appears pathetic.

Another phenomenon that should not be overlooked is the way many locals spoil their sons. It may be a hangover from times when the society here believed in feudalistic virtues: It was a shame society, not a guilt society. What mattered was not what you did, but your ability to defend you “honour”. The ideal was the “macho”, the male chauvinist.

When people in the West speak of male domination and the suppression of women in the Middle East they usually focus their indignation on the father, the head of the family. They forget that it is mostly not the father who raises his sons. He is at work during the day (here in Antakya he may even be working in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States only showing up once a year), and if he does not go to the coffeehouse in the evening or is out eating with his friends, he at least does not spend his evening on teaching ethics to his children. This is the mother’s job.

And the mother very often spoils her sons. This gives way to a mother fixation that is nearly unknown in the West. Sometimes she even gives her son the idea that he is Mister Marvellous, and at any rate better, handsomer and more intelligent than his sisters. Unfortunately they sometimes believe in this hoax as well. And when they don’t, he tries to defend his “honour” by resorting to violence.

If you want to find a culprit, look for his mother.