Saturday, December 16, 2006

The first part of my review of "Letter to a Christian Nation"

Sorry for not blogging in such a long time!! Life got really rather busy for me the last few months. Anyway, I've started a review of Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation", once I'm done I'll post a condensed version of the review at Amazon.

I gave this book two stars instead of one because it does make some good points about some Christians. But I feel Mr. Harris overreachs at many points, and also displays ignorance about Ancient Near East culture.

A couple of points to start off with:

1. I found it incredible that this book critiquing Christianity did not deal with the Resurrection of Christ at all. Christianity makes a historical claim that the Resurrection of Christ was an actual historical event. The Resurrection is the central belief of Christianity. If that tomb wasn't empty on that Sunday morning, then Christianity is false. If that tomb was empty for some naturalistic reason, like Jesus only swooned on the cross, then Christianity is false. Mr. Harris did not deal at all with Christianity's historical claims surrounding the Resurrection, this makes it very difficult for me to accept this book as a good critique of Christianity.

2. I feel that it is very important to understand the socio-historical context of the Bible. For example, I agree that on a surface reading Deuteronomy 22:13-21 seems barbaric and uncivilized. However, if we read this passage in the context of an ancient society that was constantly on the edge of survival, a society that needed to be certain of the paternity of all citizens for the purposes of inheritance, a society that therefore needed to impose such strict laws for its own survival, maybe this passage wouldn't seem so barbaric. Since our survival as a society doesn't depend on being able to prove the lineage of every person, we deem this passage as "the vilest lunacy". But taking this passage in socio-historical context, there might still be a worthwhile moral message, that people shouldn't put seeking out their own pleasure when said pleasure puts their family's survival at risk. As one prominent Internet skeptic has put it:
“I do think that a sort of default skepticism about supernatural events is reasonable--which would, of course, extend to such events in the Bible. However, if someone wants to actually commentate specifically on the Bible, they had better think about whether they are qualified to do so. I generally try to refrain from expressing an opinion where the Bible is unclear, unless I am citing a resource. The bottom line is that the Bible is an ancient and complex document which is impossible to fully understand simply by sitting down and reading it. One could memorize every word of scripture, but it still won't be properly understood until it is placed in the correct socio-historical context. I suggest that any non-scholar who wishes to criticize/commentate on the Bible ought to either announce their amateur status up front (ala Isaac Asimov) or rely heavily upon citations.”

3. In order to be a reasonable critic of the Bible, it not only requires some degree of knowledge of the socio-historical context of ancient Hebrew culture as stated above, but also knowledge of philosophy, history, ancient literary genres, archaeology, ancient languages, etc., etc. I feel this is only being reasonable given that

a)the Bible is a collection of 66 books representing different literary genres, everything from poetry, biography, allegory, etc, and

b)the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and

c)the Bible was written by about 40 different authors over the course of 1600 years in which society did change and evolve.

I’ll grant that Mr. Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation” is just that, a letter, there wasn’t the space to delve into these factors very deeply. I haven’t had the opportunity to read Mr. Harris’ earlier work, “The End of Faith”, perhaps he addresses some of those issues in that book. But this letter should have shown some recognition of these issues, and it doesn’t. This is a flaw of the book, in my opinion.

Now on with my review.

I agreed with everything Mr. Harris said on the first page, although I will say as an annihilationist, I don’t believe Mr. Harris will spend an eternity in the torments of hell, but that his soul will be destroyed. Mr. Harris says, “The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.” Well this is would be all well and good if Mr. Harris went on to show an adequate understanding of my reasons for being a Christian, but he betrays an absolute lack of understanding of those reasons when he says this two pages later:

“Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian.”

I had no idea that Muslims believe that God rose Muhammad from the dead. No, a Muslim’s reasons for being a Muslim are completely different than my reasons for being a Christian. I’m certain a Muslim’s reasons for being a Muslim are just as compelling in their mind as my reasons for being a Christian are to me, but to say that they are the “same” is just ignorant. The reason why I don’t lose sleep over whether or not to convert to Islam are simple, I’ve considered their claims and rejected them. I can’t prove that Allah isn’t the one true God, and so I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong, but having considered the claims of both religions, I made what I feel is a rational decision to become a Christian, and it’s a decision that I’m comfortable with. Having said this, I’m on a pursuit of truth, I’m not interested in forcing myself to believe things that are false.

I agree where Mr. Harris says questions about morality come into play when our actions can affect the experience of other creatures positively or negatively. But then he betrays his lack of knowledge of socio-historical context here: “Admittedly, God’s counsel to parents is straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23:13-14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Mark 7:9-13, and Matthew 15:4-7). We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshipping graven images, practicing sorcery, and a wide variety of other imaginary crimes.”

Here’s a place some CONTEXT is needed. First, Christians believe that Christ has taken the punishment for sins, therefore under the new covenant with God through Christ, we are not to enforce any punishment at all. Second, as far as the Proverbs sayings our modern culture obviously beating a child with a rod would be extreme, but since in ancient times a child’s disobedience put a family’s survival at risk, maybe it’s a little more understandable?

By the way...Exodus 21:15 doesn’t refer a child “talking back” to his parents, but attacking them physically. Leviticus 20:9, which is quoted in Mark 7:9-13, and again in Matthew 15:4-7, refers not to a single instance of a child’s temper, but rather a child wishing harm or imploring nature to bring harm to his parents.

Mr. Harris quotes Matthew 5:18-19:

“For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

He says that Jesus is endorsing the entirety of the Old Testament Law, therefore we should be stoning people for working on the Sabbath., etc. The problem here is that Mr. Harris wrests this passage from the preceding verse which, once again, gives it context, Matthew 5:17:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” What does Jesus mean here? He is simply saying this....he came to fulfill the Law’s requirement for punishment for sin. He fulfilled that punishment for all humanity on the cross. But the Law still exists!

More later.

Monday, July 31, 2006

"The God Who Wasn't There" - Part 3

Back to Brian's little film.

He's back to interviewing Christians on the street, asking them what they know about Mithra, Dionysus and Osiris. Note what JP Holding says about Osiris' "resurrection", that he was murdered, his body was torn to pieces, then the pieces were scattered. Afte that, he was rejoined and became the god of the underworld. Some resurrection, huh? Brian does succeed in showing here that most Christians do need to understand a little more about pagan religions, but he's in no better position to teach anybody about those religions.

He spends the next four minutes of his film whining about how bloody "The Passion of the Christ" was, which he cleverly calls "The Smashin' of the Christ". Is Brian a hemophobe? He'd have a point if the violence in "The Passion" was gratuitous, but it doesn't seem to occur to Brian that for us Christians, Jesus' suffering has a very deep personal meaning.

Next up, Brian shows us some clips of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell. He is shown saying "We need to raise up an army"....leading to clips of Christians marching with rifles, burning books, and well, back to marching with rifles. This leads to Brian showing us a page of Force ministries which has Christians in military camouflage, toting machine guns. What else would Bria Christian ministry that serves the military have on its website?

Richard Carrier, a historian, comes back, and Brian asks him, "Religion does no harm at all. Discuss." Carrier responds, "The evidence of history and even contemporary evidence refutes that. Even if we set aside the obvious war, conflict, violence, that has always plagued society, and has gotten particularly worse under the Judeo-Christian religions, even if you set that aside we have ordinary, every day things that are going wrong. The sort of dehumanization and mistreatment of homosexuals is a prominent example, and it's getting worse in this country actually. It was getting better for a while but now there's this backlash. That's bad. That's bad for humanity. And a religion that encourages that or even allows that is wrong."

Brian then shows us a clip of an interview with a man named Dean Wycoff of the Moral Majority where Dean says that homosexuals should be executed. Leviticus 20:13 comes on screen (The film says that it's Leviticus 18:22, but it's not).

There's no denying that Christians have done some pretty terrible things, but Carrier fails to mention that more people have died at the hands of atheistic regimes like the Khmer Rouge than in all the religious wars of history, the Inquisition, witch-hunts, etc. As far as homosexuality goes, number one, Christians understand the relationship of the Old Testament law to the new covenant under Christ. He has accepted the punishment for all of our sins. Number two, I do believe that homosexuality is a sin, but everyone is a sinner, myself included. I'm really no better than they are. All I'm saying is that the dehumanization of homosexuals simply isn't Christian, and anybody, whether they're an atheist or a Christian, who says that it is greatly misrepresents our faith. Leviticus 20:13 doesn't show God hating shows God hating homosexuality. Big difference there.

After going on a diatribe against moderate Christianity, Brian tells us that God is not a moderate. We are shown Luke 19:27: "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me." The problem here is this is in a parable, the parable of the ten minas. Talk about quoting out of context!!!

Now Brian talks about the Inquisition, anti-semitism, etc. Plain rhetoric. Brian asks "What the hell is moderate Christianity? Jesus is only sort of the Son of God? He only somewhat rose from the dead? Your eternal soul is at stake, but you shouldn't make a big deal out of it? Moderate Christianity makes no sense. Is it any wonder that so many people choose Christian leaders that actually have the courage of their convictions?"

You see, what Brian is doing here is arguing against a strawman. He's arguing against moderate Christianity by attributing beliefs to it that don't represent moderate Christianity at all. Let me be clear about this. I consider myself a moderate. I fully believe that there is a God. I fully believe that there was a Jesus Christ. I fully believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I fully believe that Jesus Christ was crucified, that he died and rose on the third day. The difference between fundamentalist Christianity and moderate Christianity isn't here. The differences are a lot more complex than this simple minded analysis.

Next Brian shows how bothered he is by rapture eschatology. He interviews Scott Butcher of Rapture letters, a website where Christians can leave letters to loved ones that can be read after the Rapture. Sam Harris, a well known atheist and neuroscientist, says that belief in the Rapture is maladaptive to planning for a sustainable future for the earth, or avoiding conflict, because conflict is the precursor to Jesus returning to the earth. Harris again: "And really it's not an exaggeration to say that some significant percentage of the American electorate which if they turned on their television and saw that a mushroom cloud had replaced Jerusalem, they would see a silver lining in that cloud." "Insofar as people like that elect our Presidents and Congressmen or get elected as our Presidents or Congressmen, it's a terribly dangerous state of affairs." This is all just argument by outrage that doesn't deserve a response.

Carrier again:"You have someone make up a fake quote (like this "quote" from Pope Leo X?:""What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!", see here and scroll down to Leo X), or misrepresent a document (like what Robert Price did with the Toledeth Yeshu in this movie?) misrepresent the evidence (like what Brian did by dating Mark's Gospel at AD 70?), then they'll put it in a website (like "The God Who Wasn't There"?) or put it in a book that's published by what people think is a respectable publisher (like "The Jesus Mysteries", Kersey Graves' "The World's 16 Crucified Saviors"?), and then hundreds or thousands of Christians (like Brian, who know calls himself an "atheist Christian"?) will read this and believe it because they assume, "Well this guy wouldn't lie. He wouldn't have made this stuff up." And so they go and repeat it, and so you get the lie repeated many times (like this one?:"Jesus didn't exist") mostly by people who aren't lying, who really do think it's true, but they just didn't check."

More from Scott Butcher talking about the rapture, saying that Saddam Hussein has rebuilt literal Babylon and got Madonna to "christen" it. Christians throughout the film are portrayed as either intolerant, insane, or just plain stupid. I wonder how Brian would handle someone like William Lane Craig, or Ben Witherington, or N.T. Wright. Anyone of these guys would cream Harris or Brian in an empty tomb debate. Harris again:"Faith really is a conversation-stopper. If someone says, 'It's my faith that life is sacred, that God creates life and man should not meddle in it', that really stops the conversation. You can't challenge someone further (why not? Is he afraid of asking the question?) and treat them as if they're drawing their ethics out of the Iliad and the Odyssey, which is really what I think we should be able to do. When the President of the United States says, 'I plan to appoint common sense judges who know that our rights are derived from God', I think someone in the White House Press Corps should be able to stand up and say, 'How's that different from thinking you're going to appoint common sense judges who think our rights are derived from Zeus?' That's clearly an impertinent question, but it's a reasonable question." I have a better question, why doesn't Harris debate someone like Craig, Witherington, or Wright about the existence of Zeus as opposed to the existence of the God of the Bible?

More rapture eschatology from Scott Butcher. Brian is really obsessed with the rapture, as he next shows us a film about the rapture from the 1950s.

Next, Brian talks about his schooling as a fundamentalist Christian, at Village Christian Schools. Brian:"Our mascot was a crusader, because our mission was to do battle with the secular world. But not just the secular world, we knew that Satan also worked through other versions of Christianity, and we fought those too. In chapel every Friday, we learned that the only way to salvation was to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and every week, we had an opportunity to accept Jesus as our personal savior. What is salvation? Well it's the opposite of damnation. I learned that hell is a real place where you really do go if you have not been forgiven by Jesus Christ. When the school says that each student will be encouraged to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ, this is what encouragement means (as a painting of souls being tortured in hell rolls by), be forgiven or be damned." Nothing but pure argument by outrage, no response is deserved.

Brian: "But Jesus was a great guy. He'd forgive you for anything. Lying, murder, internet pornography, he'd even forgive you for speaking against Jesus himself. But apparently just to make things interesting, he added one extra rule to the mix. There actually is one unforgivable sin. Denial of the Holy Spirit. If you do that, you are eternally damned." Luke 12:10 and Mark 3:29 are shown on-screen. Wrongo, bucko. Denial of the Holy Spirit is not the same as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, see here. If denial of the Holy Spirit was the unforgivable sin, then no one who wasn't a Christian could convert to Christianity and be saved! The last I checked, most atheists don't believe in the Holy Spirit. Is there no possibility of them being saved? Check this out. If you take the verses in context, it's apparent that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. This renders Brian's whole diatribe about Christians being eternally damned if they "dare to think" entirely moot.

Brian then obtains an interview with the superintendent of the school (under false pretenses), ostensibly how he could teach children such frightening doctrines such as hell. In between, more of Harris' blatherings about how Christians believe completely uncritically. If someone denies the Holocaust or says they can communicate with aliens, they're regarded as crazy because we challenge people when they believe things strongly in contradiction to a mountain of evidence, according to Harris. I guess then that atheists must also have psychological problems. Harris then goes on to blather about someone trying to get a medical degree, and who has theories about the human body that aren't backed up by evidence, but he has strong convictions about his theories, well that person would be laughed out of the room. I wonder what he'd say to me as someone who came to faith after a reasonable and critical evaluation of evidence. Brian asks the superintendent for hard scientific evidence for the existence of hell. The superintendent points out that there is solid historical data for the existence of Jesus Christ, and for his resurrection, but that "hell" is a matter of faith. Brian asks, "Well have you thought then that teaching 1800 students that the world does operate this way and you don't have any evidence that it does, have you considered that it might be the height of irresponsibility to do that?" The superintendent responds, "No absolutely not. I think it would be the height of irresponsibility to ignore the reality of God, to ignore the reality of the person of Jesus Christ." After a few more questions like this, the superintendent asks if he can ask Brian a question off camera. Brian refuses. The superintendent rightly points out Brian's dishonesty in setting up the interview, walks out of the room and ends the interview.

You can't help but feel at least a little bit sorry for Brian. It is absolutely horrifying to watch Brian throw what is a basically a huge howl of pain over his fundamentalist upbringing while talking to the man he blames for it. You can hear his voice crack with emotion as he talks to the superintendent, and I can't help but think that if this man is responsible for Brian's horrible religious education, then he deserves the barrage that Brian throws at him. But all that has happened here is that Brian has turned from a gullible fundamentalist Christian who believes everything he's told by other Christians to a gullible fundamentalist atheist who believes everything he's told by other atheists. He thinks he's learned the ability to think for himself, the truth is that he's as FAR away from it as he ever was.

Brian then goes into the chapel of the school, where he was saved three times. He points that camera at himself, and says, "I deny the Holy Spirit".

This is by far one of the saddest movies I've ever seen.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"The God Who Wasn't There" - Part 2

So I'm back to watching Brian's little movie.

I'm going to start off tonight by saying that in most cases of ancient historical figures, a period of 40 years between the person's death and their first known biography is actually quite short. For example, the period of time between the death of Muhammed and the first known biography of him is 212 years. The truth is most historians would rejoice at this short a gap.

Also, Luke makes reference to many people writing accounts of Jesus' life before him. So there were other accounts written before his.

Moving on...

Brian talks about the gap between 30 AD and 70 AD, he says that most of what we know about what happened during this gap comes from Paul. We are shown a clip from an old Jesus film. Paul is on the road to Damascus, when he has a vision of Jesus. Jesus asks him, "Why are you persecuting me?" You see, Paul (who is at this point Saul of Tarsus) is very busy persecuting Christians. Brian says, "Paul says the Lord told him to start spreading the word of Jesus Christ, and he did it with avengeance. Paul was a bit of a scold, but the salvation he offered through the god he called Christ Jesus was very popular. He travelled very widely and left behind new Christians who formed the early Christian church. Paul wrote a lot of letters about Christianity, in fact he wrote 80000 words about the Christian religion. These documents represent all we know about Christianity during this decades long gap. And here's the interesting thing: If Jesus was a human who had recently lived, nobody told Paul. Paul never heard of Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, Herod, John the Baptist, he never heard about any of these miracles. He never quotes anything that Jesus is supposed to have said. He never mentions Jesus having a ministry of any kind at all. He doesn't know about any entrance into Jerusalem, he never mentions Pontius Pilate or a Jewish mob or any trials at all. Paul doesn't know any of what we would call the story of Jesus except for Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension. And even these, Paul never places on earth. Just like the other savior gods of the time, Paul's Christ Jesus died, resurrected and ascended all in the mythical realm."

A few points...

Silence doesn't prove anything. Paul doesn't mention Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, Herod, this is true. But does that mean he doesn't know about them? I could just as easily say that Agatha Christie doesn't know about Presidents Truman or Eisenhower. Therefore, neither Truman nor Eisenhower existed, right? In order for her to mention these two, there would generally have to be a need for her to mention them. Paul was writing to churches that were already established, in response to things that they asked him. Is there any reason to believe that they wouldn't have known these details already? He didn't write a biography of Jesus, so there wouldn't have been a need to write these details down.

I like what JP Holding has to say about this issue here. "Let's return to the most fundamental basics of writing and communication and ask WHY a certain thing is usually mentioned when we are writing -- and we shall use a commonplace fact that parallels one of our examples.
My wife was born in Granite City, Illinois -- a hardworking steel town across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. I have just told you this basic fact for the first time. Now that you know this, why would I need to ever tell you about it again? Here are some possible reasons:
You have forgotten, and it shows. Perhaps you didn't consider it important enough to remember. That's quite all right, but I won't know that you've forgotten unless you come up with some comment like, "Hey, I was in your wife's hometown the other day. We went to see Disneyland." Now at that point I can guess that you seem to have forgotten that my wife's hometown was Granite City and not LA -- either that, or you have mistaken the St. Louis Arch for something that it isn't. Either way, your error gives me a reason to correct you and say, "No, it was Granite City she was born in. I told you that!" (We'll also include in this area the possibility that I have forgotten that I told you.)
You want to argue about it. For whatever reason, you think I'm lying. Or wrong. Or you just don't believe it. Or someone told you my wife was born in Kokomo, Indiana. Whatever the case, if there is some doubt about it, then I have reason to bring up the subject again.
A change in circumstances, an update, or a correction. OK -- let's suppose the unlikely event that my wife lied to me these past 20 years I've known her, as did her mother, and her family, and they even forged a birth certificate that I've seen that says "Granite City" on it. I find out she was actually born in Tacoma. So I may say to you, "I told you once my wife was born in Granite City. Well, she was actually born in Tacoma." Such an admission of course might follow upon an incident like #2 above, but it might also occur independently. (Similarly, if we once lived in Cheyenne, but moved to St. Paul, we might say, "We moved from Cheyenne to St. Paul." But more likely I'd just say, "We moved to St. Paul" and assume you knew it was from Cheyenne.)"

Besides, Acts reports that Paul heard Stephen's testimony just before his martyrdom. As far as Paul never quoting anything that Jesus said, well how about this:

"And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.'"(1 Corinthians 11:24, NIV)

Hebrews 8:4 appears on the screen:"If Jesus had been on earth, he would never have been a priest".

A couple of quotes about this passage from JP Holding's site here. From an expert in Koine Greek:

"As Ellingworth states in his commentary (p. 405), the translation 'had been,' while technically allowable can easily be misunderstood since this is a Greek conditional contrary-to-fact conditional sentence, which means it cannot be true in what it asserts. The point is that Jesus is not NOW on earth, since he is NOW offering sacrifices. It requires that Jesus was at one time on earth, otherwise the argument does not work.
'Had been' is a poor translation simply because (the Greek word used) does not nor can it have a pluperfect (past perfect) form. It is what we call aspectually vague, but if a pluperfect form were needed by the author, he would have to use a different word or formula to get it (e.g. a periphrastic construction).
Even the commentaries who translate the verse as "had been" note that it only excludes Jesus' present ministry as being on earth, not his presence on earth ever (see Attridge)."

I personally can't find a translation that translates Hebrews 8:4 this way, most say "If he were on earth".

Brian goes on: "Paul doesn't believe that Jesus was ever a human being. He's not even aware of the idea. And he's the link between the timeframe given for the life of Jesus, and the appearance first gospel account of that life. This is why you don't hear many Christian leaders talking about the early days of Christianity. Because when you assemble the facts, the story is that Jesus lived, everyone forgot and then they remembered. But it gets even shakier than that. Allegorical literature was extremely common back then."

Atheist historian Richard Carrier then comes on screen and says:"Mark himself probably did not believe he was writing history. He was writing a symbolic message, he was writing a gospel, and symbolizing it using Biblical parallels, parallels to Pagan religions and so forth". Mike Licona does a good job of answering these two last points in the "Answering Infidels" link below.

Next...the late Alan Dundes, who was an expert in folklore at UC Berkeley. He basically says that once you take the folklore out of the Bible, all you have is begat, begat, begat, begat. You see, Brian draws a false parallel between folklore and myth. It is possible for folklore to develop about a real person! Heck, the folklore itself can be actually true. For example, the story about Babe Ruth pointing his bat is folklore, it's nevertheless true. Academic folklorists like Dundes use a specific definition for the word folklore. "Folklorists generally associate five qualities with true folklore; (1) its content is oral (usually verbal), or custom-related, or material; (2) it is traditional in form and transmission; (3) it exists in different versions; (4) it is usually anonymous; and (5) it tends to become formularized. Each of these terms is used in a broad sense and the first three qualities are the primary ones to be considered in arriving at a clear definition of folklore. . . Generally speaking, then, folklore may be defined as those materials in culture that circulate traditionally among members of any group in different versions, whether in oral form or by means of customary example, as well as the processes of traditional performance and communication." (link here) Note that there's nothing here about whether the story is true or not.

Atheist scholar Robert Price (who was once a Christian) then comes on and questions two events that the gospels report: the slaughter of the innocents and Jesus' trial. For Price, the slaughter of male babies in the area around Bethlehem ordered by Herod is drawn right out of Exodus, and he feels such an event should have been reported by other historians, which it is not. But Bethlehem was only a small village, now honestly how many male infants would there have been? Five? Surely compared to Herod's other atrocities, this pales in comparison. As far as the trial goes, JP Holding does a good job of responding here. Mr. Price then goes on say that there were ancient Jews and Jewish Christians that believed that Jesus had been killed a century before under King Alexander Jannaeus. But the only "ancient" document that says this is called the Toledoth Yeshu here, which was written no earlier than 600 AD, and appears to be a Jewish satire of Christianity. I mean it has Judas and Jesus flying about like people in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Sheesh!

Next up....Barbara and David P. Mikkelson of All they basically say is that sometimes fictional stories develop into stories that are mistakenly thought of as being true. Which of course, does nothing to prove that this happened with the story of Jesus. Brian says he even started one of these stories. Good for him! Moving on...

Here's Alan Dundes again, with a copy of Lord Raglan's book "Hero"(whose work is questioned here). Dundes proceeds to list 22 characteristics of the life of a mythical hero. Here's the list, each point has Brian's evaluation and mine. Mike Licona does the same in his review at the Answering Infidels link below, but I've decided to see what would happen if no half-points are awarded.

1. His mother is a royal virgin. Brian's evaluation: Match. My evaluation: A virgin, but not royal. No match.
2. His father is a king. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Joseph was a carpenter. But since Jesus also calls God his father, I'll give this a match.
3. His father is a relative of his mother. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Huh? I don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says Joseph and Mary were related. No match.
4. Circumstances of his conception are unusual. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Match.
5. He’s reputed to be the son of a god. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Match.
6. At birth, an attempt is made by his father to kill him. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Since when is King Herod Jesus' father? No match.
7. He is spirited away and saved. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Jesus’ parents fled with him to Egypt. (1.0 match)
8. Foster parented in a foreign country. Brian: No match. My evaluation: No match.
9. We’re told nothing of his childhood. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Luke's Gospel does mention something of Jesus's childhood. No match.
10. Upon reaching manhood, he returns to his future kingdom. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world. No match.
11. He has a victory over a king, giant, or dragon. Brian: No match. My evaluation: Match. Jesus did resist Satan's temptations.
12. He marries a princess. Brian: No match. My evaluation: No match.
13. He becomes king. Brian: Match. My evaluation: I guess he was considered a king by his disciples. Match.
14. Reigns uneventfully. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Huh? (again) Not only was his life filled with conflict, the last 1970 years haven't exactly been uneventful. No match.
15. Prescribes laws. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Match.
16. He later loses favor with his subjects. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Well, he was welcomed on Palm Sunday, then executed the next Friday.
17. He is driven from the throne of the city. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Jesus was King of Jerusalem? No match.
18. He meets with a mysterious death. Brian: Match. My evaluation: I fail to see how a death by crucifixion is mysterious. No match.
19. His death is often at the top of a hill. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Match.
20. His children, if any, do not succeed him. Brian: Match. My evaluation: Is Brian a fan of the DaVinci Code? No match.
21. His body is not buried. Brian: Match. My evaluation: All four Gospel accounts report Jesus’ burial. No match.
22. Nevertheless, he has one or more holy sepulchers. Brian: Match. My evaluation: I guess he has one located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Match.

So Brian, out of a score of 22, scores Jesus a 19 which places him in third place. Oedipus gets 22, Theseus gets 20, Jesus gets 19, Romulus and Hercules are tied at 17. My score for Jesus? 10, same as Licona's. I guess I'll leave it up to you to decide whose scoring is more reliable.

Price goes on to talk about some other savior gods of the same time period like Mithras, saying their stories are so similar. Let's see, Mithras was born out of a rock, and slew a cosmic bull to create the universe. Dionysus was born from a virgin named Semele after Zeus impregnated her with a lightning bolt. The bolt fried her to a crisp, leaving a fetal Dionysus, which good ole Z sewed into his thigh. How about Attis? I guess a virgin birth also applies here, though it's more like Mithras. Zeus had some fun with a mountain that looked like the goddess Rhea.

Brian goes on to abuse a quote from Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist from the second century:

"When we say that Jesus Christ was produced without sexual union, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new, or different from what you believe regarding those whom you call the sons of Jupiter" Justin Martyr, "First Apology", Chapter XXI.

But let's take a look at the context of this quote. Justin Martyr's "First Apology" is directed at the Romans who were persecuting the early Christians. The main point he makes is this: that it was utterly unfair for Christians to be persecuted and thrown to the lions in the Colosseum when their beliefs were similar to other religions that weren't being persecuted. "Justin Martyr went so far as to concede certain parallels between Christianity and pagan religions - most likely as a way to bridge the gap between his pagan readers and the Christian faith. He did this in part because of his background in Greek philosophy and in part to legitimize Christianity as a religion that was not so different from other religions that it could not be embraced. At the same time, a careful reading of Justin shows that at every turn he sees the gospel as ultimately unique and thus superior to pagan religions." ("Reinventing Jesus", J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B. Wallace, Kregel Publications, 2006, pg. 231) However, it is quite clear that Justin thought of Christ as a man in the flesh:

"For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue."

"For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed."

"Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy to be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods."

These are all quotes from Justin Martyr's First Apology, as well as this one:

"But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically."

Now here comes the forged crucified Orpheus amulet!!

Now Kersey Graves' list of crucified saviors including Beddru!

For a more indepth treatment of the list of crucified saviors click here:

Now another quote from Justin Martyr shows on the screen, while Robert Price tells us that the early Church fathers said Satan copied the prophecy about Jesus in advance of his arriving:

"For when they say that Dionysus arose again, and ascended into heaven, is it not evident that the devil has imitated the prophesy?"

Note the words: imitated the prophesy. Meaning the prophesy by the Hebrew prophets. Check Isaiah 53:6-10(NIV):

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand."

And no, this is not the explanation to this day...see this link:

I'm tired....I'll finish the rest of the DVD ASAP.

BTW, I love the treatment JP Holding gives all of this at his cartoon site:


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"The God Who Wasn't There"

I received a copy of a film by independent film maker Brian Flemming called “The God Who Wasn’t There” on an interlibrary loan. I just thought I’d blog my thoughts about thefilm. For the rest of this post, I’ll simply refer to him as Brian.
The movie opens with a computer animated Earth revolving around a computer animated Sun, after a few seconds, however, the Sun starts revolving around the Earth. Brian says:”The Earth revolves around the Sun. But it wasn’t always that way. The Sun used to revolve around the Earth. It was like that for hundreds of years, until it was discovered to be otherwise, and even for a few hundred years after that.” The computer-generated Earth once again starts to revolve around the computer-generated Sun, while Brian says,”But ultimately, after much kicking and screaming, the Earth did begin to revolve around the Sun. Christianity was wrong about the solar system.” Slowly the camera descends down through the atmosphere of the computer-generated Earth, down to Israel. “What if it’s wrong about something else too?” Then we are shown a picture of Jesus Christ.
Less than a minute out of the gate, and we’re already presented with a rhetorical ploy. Yes, the church was wrong about the solar system, so were most other scientists of Galileo’s day. Geocentrism was a belief held by most scientists for over 1400 years before, as noted here:

"The faces of Christianity" - Brian talks to some Christians after they've just left a Billy Graham Crusade, and comments about their happy faces. Then we are shown faces of other Christians: Charles Manson, Pat Robertson (who at one time suggested bombing the U.S. State Department), Dena Schlosser (who cut her baby's arms off for God), and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the "Left Behind" Series. Under LaHaye and Jenkins' picture is the quote "Look forward to the day when all Non-Christians are thrown into a lake of fire, 'howling and screeching'".

Ok, if this is Brian's next argument against Christianity, then here's an argument against atheism:

Hmmm...Chairman Mao who ordered the killing of 26.5 million people, and Pol Pot who orchestrated the Killing Fields in Cambodia. They were both atheists.

This section is topped off by a tasteless comment, a picture of the burning Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas:"86 crispy fans of similar apocalyptic literature".

Next up is the story of Jesus told in less than six minutes, not much to say here. At the age of 12, according to Brian, Jesus went missing. They even show him on a milk carton! (How droll!) Brian says that Jesus went missing because the Gospels don't record anything of his life between the ages of 12 and 30. Of course most ancient biographies recorded only a person's public life, not their childhood, nor any other part of their lives that weren't noteworthy. I guess Julius Caesar was missing until he became emperor of Rome too.

Brian then asks these same Christians on the street (just after a Billy Graham crusade) about how Christianity spread after Jesus' ascension. Now it is quite sad that these Christians really don't know much about what happened after Jesus' ascension, but why not ask scholars? The information is out there and available. Heck, read the Book of Acts.

Next up is Brian's version of early Christian history. Jesus lived from around 4 BC to around 33 AD. According to Brian, Mark was the first Gospel written, the other three are derived from Mark. Now Brian says that Mark was written after 70 AD. Why? Because it mentions the destruction of the temple which happened in 70. Although, to be specific, Mark mentions a prophesy by Jesus about the destruction of the temple. As in something that is going to happen in the future. But you see, Brian thinks the whole life of Jesus was made up, so this prophesy was made up after the actual event. Let me see if I can clearly show you Brian's line of thinking:

Q: Why do you think that Jesus didn't exist?
A: Part of the reason I think he didn't exist is because there was almost a four decade gap in between his purported life and the time the first biography about him, Mark, was written.

Q: Why do you say Mark was written after 70?
A: Because it mentions the destruction of the temple.

Q: How does it mention the destruction of the temple?
A: It mentions the destruction of the temple in a prophesy by Jesus.

Q: But isn't a prophesy talking about something that's happening in the future?
A: Normally it is. But in this case, this was something written by Mark after the actual event.

Q: Why do you say that?
A: Since Jesus didn't exist, any supposed prophesy he made must have been written about after the fact as part of a fictional story, to make him look godlike.

To sum up, Mark was written after 70 because it was fictional, and part of the reason that Jesus is fictional is because Mark was written after 70! *ahem*circular logic*ahem*

His contention about the three other gospels is also quite suspect. Matthew and Luke probably used Mark as a source, among other sources. But to imply that Matthew, Luke and John simply reworded Mark is quite silly. As far as the date of authorship goes, well this is a very long process for which I do not have the time for in this blog post. I'll only say that Mr. Flemming does nothing to refute Colin Hemer's work on the Book of Acts, which you can purchase here: In this book, Hemer lays out a pretty good case that Acts must have been written sometime between 62-64 AD, and since the Book of Acts refers to the Gospel of Luke in it's preamble, Luke's Gospel must have existed before that. If Luke used Mark's Gospel as a source, then Mark's Gospel is even earlier than that.

I shall continue on with my review tomorrow.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"The Jesus Mysteries" - Part 3

OK, OK. I'm back again.

So I now have my copy of "The Jesus Mysteries" on an inter-library loan...I've read a few pages from it here and there and I can already tell this is going to be a laugh riot!

One example:

On pages 133-134, the authors, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, list 27 Pagan writers that lived within a century of Jesus they feel should have mentioned Jesus in their writings if Jesus did in fact exist: Arrian, Petronius, Seneca, Dion Pruseus, Pliny the Elder, Appian, Juvenal, Theon of Smyrna, Martial, Plutarch, Apollonius, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Florus Lucius, Quintilian, Favorinus, Lucanus, Damis, Silius Italicus, Aulus Gellius, Statius, Columella, Ptolemy, Dio Chrysostom, Hermogeones, Lysias, Valerius Maximus. None of these Pagan writers mentioned Jesus at all, and according to Freke and Gandy, this is evidence that Jesus Christ did not exist.

Of course, there would have to been a reason why these authors should mention Jesus in their writings. I can't think of a single reason why Columella, who wrote about agriculture, should mention an itinerant Jewish wander-preacher.

Pliny the Elder wrote about the philosophy of nature. Statius, Silius Italicus, and Gaius Valerius Flaccus were poets. Pausanias was a geographer. Aulus Gellius was a grammarian. Ptolemy was an astronomer and geographer. Theon of Smyrna was a mathematician. Most of the others are historians, yes, but none of them were primarily interested in Judean history.

There is one historian from that era who does mention Jesus, twice in fact. Josephus (37-93 AD) wrote this in his history "The Jewish War":

"At about this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one might call him a man. For he was one who accomplished surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as are eager for novelties. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon an indictment brought by the principal men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him from the very first did not cease to be attached to him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the holy prophets had foretold this and myriads of other marvels concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has to this day still not disappeared."

This passage is referred to as the "Testimonium Flavianum".

Most Christian scholars dismiss the parts in bold as being later additions by later Christian scribes. So what do Freke and Gandy do with this quote? As other people who believe Jesus was a myth, Freke and Gandy dismiss the entire paragraph as an addition by later Christian scribes. Once again, I recommend JP Holding's take on Josephus, where he states, contrary to Freke and Gandy's claim that most modern scholars reject the passage entirely, that actually most modern scholars accept the passage as genuine with a few additions:

A great review (by an atheist) of "The Jesus Mysteries" can be found here:

Monday, July 10, 2006

"The Jesus Mysteries"

OK, so I now have Guthrie's book which I talked about here:, and lo and behold, WKC Guthrie does refer to Otto Kern's concern that the amulet on the cover of their best-selling book, "The Jesus Mysteries", is a forgery("Orpheus and Greek Religion", WKC Guthrie, Methuen, 1954, pg. 278). Compare this with the statement in bold below.

"Our reply to the first charge is to ask for references to support the assertion that the object has ‘long been suspected of being a fake.’ We know of no such suspicions, nor did we come across any in our research. Nor, to the best of our knowledge, has the object ever been proved to be a fake. And it is hard to see how anything might be proved one way or the other now, for sadly it appears that the amulet no longer exists.

Our reaction to the second charge of calculated dishonesty is one of indignation. This is not only the lowest form of ad hominem attack, it is also libellous. Neither of our sources mentions any doubts about the authenticity of the amulet, nor do they refer to any other scholar who had expressed such a view. Both Eisler and Guthrie clearly accept the object as genuine as they advance theories about its meaning and significance. This would be absurd if either had any doubts about its authenticity. The fact that neither professor expresses such doubts, or refers to doubts that may have been expressed by any other scholars, undermines the charge that the object ‘has long been suspected of being a fake.If Kern had pronounced the object a fake then why do neither Eisler and Guthrie refer to this? We can only conclude that they were either unfamiliar with his work, or that they found his evidence unconvincing and not worth repeating.

We are now making enquiries as to the best way to seek redress for our complaints and to have the Wikipedia article changed. At the very least we suggest that it should have a header warning readers that ‘The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed."

Once again, here's a link to this essay in full:

The current Wikipedia article on "The Jesus Mysteries", here:

And a review written by the fellow who wrote the Wikipedia article to which Freke and Gandy are referring, here:

I have a few comments:

Number one, Timothy Freke says in the above quotation that Guthrie does not refer to anyone who had concerns about the amulet, yet Guthrie quite clearly does.

Number two, Freke refers to "Venerable Bede" as a fundamentalist Christian at his blog here , when Bede is an evolutionist who doesn't believe in Biblical inerrancy. Yeah, he's a real "because the Bible tells me so" type Christian.

Number three, while it is true that the earliest Christian artwork depicting a crucified Christ dates from the sixth century, there are four written depictions of a crucified Christ that even by Freke and Gandy's own admission are centuries earlier than the amulet which is dated to the fourth century, (that is, if it is not a fake). I'm hoping that Freke and Gandy have heard of them...they're called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. ;)

I have "The Jesus Mysteries" coming on an interlibrary loan. Looking forward to reading this. I am going to correct what I said earlier by saying I'll try my best to read this with an open mind.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Critical thinking

I want to post about something that is lacking in our culture - critical thinking.

I was reading the Amazon reviews for a book called "The World's sixteen crucified saviors" written in 1875 by a man named Kersey Graves. In this book, Graves talks about 16 savior gods that supposedly predate Christianity. The implication was that Christianity borrowed all of its story of Christ from these other myths. There were two that really stuck out in my mind: Beddru of Japan, Quetzalcoatl of the Axtecs. Here's the link to the Amazon reviews:

I didn't want to hear any explanation how first century Hebrews could have borrowed from the Aztecs (although I'm sure Kersey had interesting theories involving time travel or aliens or something like that.) But something that really saddens me is the positive reviews here.

Never mind that "Beddru" of Japan has been shown to be a complete hoax: (and one truly wonders how the Hebrews could have borrowed from the Japanese.)

How do people get sucked in like this? Like JP Holding, I attribute it to a lack of critical thinking in our culture. Let me clarify this...I don't say people should be told what to think, but they should be told HOW to think.

When you're reading something, how can you determine the reliability of what's being told to you? Here are some tips:

1. Check their sources. If the book has no sources, like Kersey's book, disregard it. If it has a lot of sources that are extremely old, unless the book is a historical account, toss it out. If it refers to the same sources repeatedly, chuck it. You can find better information.

2. Check their credentials. G.A. Wells is a professor who espouses the Christ-myth theory. Jason Long over at Debunking Christianity is a doctor who has written "Biblical Nonsense". The only problem is G.A. Wells is a professor of GERMAN, and Dr. Long has his doctorate in PHARMACY. You can treat their opinions accordingly.

3. Try to go for the newest sources you can. Scholarship from 1875, like Kersey, is useless compared to modern day scholarship.

4. Don't be afraid to read books that argue another position. Don't say "I won't read this, it's based towards atheism". Every source is biased. Heck, even the Bible is biased. Holocaust accounts are biased, does that invalidate them immediately? This is a tactic used by Christ-mythers, "don't trust that source! It's written by a Christian!" What you should do is read books advocating both positions, check up on their sources as much as you can, check the credentials of the authors, and come up with the position that makes most sense to you.

Critical thinking means neither automatically dismissing, or blindly accepting what anyone says. It means analyzing what they're saying.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"The Jesus Mysteries"

I decided I'd see if I can cause a little trouble for Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, the authors of "The Jesus Mysteries", and a new book just out this year, "The Laughing Jesus". I've posted these quotes from "Reinventing Jesus" (a book I highly recommend!)

"A good illustration of radical liberalism's critical ignorance about, and abuse of, textual criticism can be found in Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy's book, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God? (New York: Three Rivers, 2001), 145. The authors rely on chapter 4, 'How Reliable Are the Manuscripts of the Gospels?' of Graham Stanton's The Gospel Truth? New Light on Jesus and the Gospels (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1995), 33-48. First, they quote the pagan Celsus's complaint (as recorded by Stanont, Gospel Truth? 35) that Christians had deliberately tampered with the text of the New Testament. Their comment on Celsus's complaint is that 'modern scholars have found that he was right. A careful study of over 3000 early manuscripts has shown how scribes made many changes' (Freke and Gandy, Jesus Mysteries, 145). The lone documentation for this assertion is Stanton's Gospel Truth, 35. But Stanton mentions nothing about three thousand manuscripts on this page - and in fact there are nowhere close to three thousand early manuscripts for the New Testament, let alone any other ancient literature! Indeed, Stanton himself does not agree with this assessment. Stanton goes on to quote Origen's response to Celsus that such alterations were made only by heretics. This quotation and Stanton's subsequent discussion are conveniently left out of Freke and Gandy's treatment. Freke and Gandy's selective quoting of the data seems to be driven by the results the authors wish to achieve, rather than by an honest pursuit of the truth. In the next paragraph, they note that 'scholars also know that whole sections of the gospels were added later.' They give the same example we mentioned in chapter 5 - Mark 16:9-20. By 'whole sections' apparently they mean one or two verses - and verses that have been excised from modern translations. There is only one other large block of material that has affected modern translations of the New Testament, the story of the woman caught in adultery. (John 7:53-8:11). While this passage is a favorite of many Christians, whether it is authentic makes no doctrinal difference. Yet, Freke and Gandy clearly give the impression that we simply cannot trust anything about these manuscripts, that skepticism must rule. The reality is that they have not represented Stanton's treatment, the works of other scholars, or the evidence with anything that remotely resembles an honest appraisal. The most charitable verdict is that such works as Freke and Gandy's are sloppy and irresponsible."(J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B. Wallace, "Reinventing Jesus", Kregel Publications, 2006, 278-279)
"Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God? (New York: Three Rivers, 2001), 224; cite Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, 13, in an endnote (311 n. 105) to back up their contention that 'in the first four centuries every single document was at some time or other branded as either heretical or forged!' But that is not what Metzger says. He is citing a late seventeenth-century Irish author, John Toland, who created a scandal when he made such a proclamation. The clear impression one gets when reading Metzger on this point is one of incredulity at, not agreement with, Toland's viewpoint. If Freke and Gandy are so careless in handling a modern author whose writings are well known and accessible, should we really trust them to handle ancient authors?" (J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B. Wallace, "Reinventing Jesus", Kregel Publications, 2006, 300)

I will admit that I haven't read this book...I plan to do so very soon, and I will update this post when I have. However, I've read enough about it to know not to take it seriously. It's one of a slew of books out there proclaiming that the Jesus story was based on pagan myths that are centuries older, and that there really was no Jesus Christ who actually existed. There is an amulet depicting a crucified Osiris-Dionysus on the cover of their book. Here's a link to a review written by "The Venerable Bede" on JP Holding's site, You'll see that one of Freke and Gandy's sources does a refer to a scholar who thinks the amulet on the cover is a modern day forgery. Now compare this with this quotation from a letter that Freke and Gandy recently wrote to Wikipedia when the Venerable Bede wrote a portion of the article on "The Jesus Mysteries".

"Both Eisler and Guthrie clearly accept the object as genuine as they advance theories about its meaning and significance. This would be absurd if either had any doubts about its authenticity. The fact that neither professor expresses such doubts, or refers to doubts that may have been expressed by any other scholars, undermines the charge that the object ‘has long been suspected of being a fake.’ If Kern had pronounced the object a fake then why do neither Eisler and Guthrie refer to this?"

Here's the full text of the letter:

I have the Guthrie book coming to me very shortly on an Interlibrary loan and I'll confirm what's in there. But if Guthrie does refer to a scholar expressing doubts about the amulet (as Bede says Guthrie does), then I might just decide to be a little bit of a pest.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

After having read the Craig/Ehrman debate in full, I just have a few comments.
“In short, Bill makes the mistake by assuming the disciples claimed to see Jesus alive afterwards, they necessarily believed or knew that this was his actual physical body. That’s a modern assumption, not an ancient one. The texts we’re dealing with are ancient texts, not modern ones. Ancient people have no difficulty at all thinking that a divine appearance was not an actual physical appearance.”
Maybe I’m confused here, maybe this is a point that Dr. Ehrman has addressed in one of his many books...I don’t know. I think it’s important to ascertain just what the early Christians would have believed about Jesus’ resurrection, to the best of our ability. This might end up being a whole other discussion, but regardless of what anyone thinks about the actual historical accuracy of the Gospels....I do think that it’s reasonable to believe that the Gospels reflect what the early Christians thought.
“While they were still there talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,‘Peace be with you.’
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” (Luke 24:36-43, NIV)
So what are we talking about here? A “spirit” resurrection, or a full BODILY resurrection?
Now keep in mind here that I’m NOT saying “It happened because the Bible says it happened!!”. What I’m saying here is that I think we have a pretty good indication about what early Christians believed about the resurrection.
Is it possible that the belief in the resurrection morphed from a “spirit” resurrection to a full “bodily” resurrection in the time between of that Passover weekend and the time Luke’s Gospel was written? Perhaps. But we have reason to believe that oral transmission probably wouldhave been pretty good in between those times (at least in relation to Luke). I do plan on writing a post about that sometime. Wait for it ;).

I'll probably think of more things to say in the coming days about this.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A couple of interesting items, plus a thought.

I've found a couple of interesting items through Tektonics.

First a debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman. For those of you who don't know, Craig is a Christian philosopher and FIRM believer in the resurrection. Ehrman is a professor of religious studies who does not believe that a bodily resurrection of Jesus occurred. Here is a transcript of their debate. I myself have not yet had the time to read it, but I've heard that Craig handed it to Ehrman on a platter. Here is a 38-page transcript of their debate:

Second link: Remember back in 2002 when a bone-box, with the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" was found? Then later, one team of experts came to the conclusion that the bone-box was fake? Then an antiquities dealer was charged with forgery? Now another expert says the bone-box is NOT a modern forgery, it is in fact several hundred years old: Let's be careful with this though, if the bonebox is genuine, it only proves that there was a James with a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus in Jerusalem at around the time James is said to have lived.

I'm working on an essay about the Roman cult of Mithraism and it's relationship to Christianity.

Now my thought for much as I appreciate people like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, part of me wishes that William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, and Ben Witherington had half as much fame in the Christian community as Warren and Osteen do.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mithras and Christ

*Photo taken by DanielCD at Wikipedia in March 2004*

Over to the left, we have a picture of Mithras. Now, you may be saying,

"Who is Mithras?"

Well, I'll be glad to tell you.

Mithras was a Roman god. Here's his story. He was born out of a rock on December 25. He is usually shown carrying a torch in one hand (bringing light), and a dagger in the other. His birth is attended by two shepherds.

Sometime after this, he performs a water miracle. He sits on a stone aiming a bow at a rockface, another person sits a below, waiting to catch water in cupped hands. This of course bears resemblance to the story in Exodus of Moses striking a rock with his staff and water flowing out of it.

As a finale, Mithras hunts and slays a bull in a cave. In some depictions, the bull is shown grazing peacefully, in others he is lying inside a temple. Mithras hunts him and slays him. There is a scorpion attached to the bull's genitals, a dog and a snake are also biting the bull.

It has been reasonably difficult to truly determine the meaning of these depictions, as Mithraists left no holy texts, neither have they left behind many captions underneath these images. These images and monuments are all found in caves which were used as temples. Mithraists worshipped in caves because that's where the sacred scene of Mithras slaying the bull took place.

What does this have to do with Christianity? Not very much unless you listen to Leigh Teabing in Dan Brown's book, "The DaVinci Code." Teabing says in Chapter 55 of "the DaVinci Code", "Don't get a symbologist started on Christian icons. Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras - called the Son of God and the Light of the World - was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then is resurrected in three days."

I've decided to do some research on our good old friend Mithras, and I'm going to share what I've found. It seems actual Mithraic scholars (you know, people who actually spend their careers researching Mithras) don't really agree very much with Teabing. Let me break down the specific points.

"Pre-Christian"....true, but needs a SERIOUS qualification. Mithras was actually originally a Persian deity who first surfaces around 1400 BC. The thing is scholars have found no common link at all between the Persian Mithras and the Roman Mithras (other than the name of the God) who was being worshipped close to the same time Christianity was also being practiced in Rome. But it's fair to point out that the earliest evidence for Mithraism in Rome comes from the late first century, which makes it post-Christian. The Persian Mithras never slew a bull, he was a mediator of contracts, which the Roman Mithras never did.

"Called the Son of God and the Light of the World" - JP Holding says on his site (link below) that he found no evidence for this...neither did I. Let's move on.

"Born on December 25" - as noted above, this is true. However, there's no parallel here between Mithras and Christ, because Jesus WASN'T born on December 25. There is not a single mention of December 25 as Jesus' birthday in the New Testament. None. This was something adopted by the Christian church in the fourth century, therefore there was no borrowing originally from the Mithras cult.

"Died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then is resurrected." - I think the following quotes speak for themselves.

There is "no death of Mithras – which means, there can be no burial of Mithras, and no resurrection of Mithras, either." ("Image and Value in the Greco-Roman World", Richard Gordon, Variorum, pg. 96)

"The 'unconquered' Mithras, however, does not die and therefore cannot rise again; so Mithraic 'salvation', whether locative or utopian, cannot rest on a story of this sort, nor can its rituals express that type of myth or realize that type of salvation." ("Beck on Mithraism:Collected works with new essays", Roger Beck, Ashgate Publishing, 2004, pg.86-87)

"The (Mithraic) mysteries cannot be shown to have developed from Persian religious ideas, nor does it make sense to interpret them as a fore-runner to Christianity. Both views neglect the sheer creativity that give rise to the mystery cult." ("The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and his Mysteries", Manfred Clauss, translated by Richard Gordon, Routledge, New York, pg. 7)

But what about Mithras' birth? It was attended by shepherds, right? Well. Mithraic scholar Richard Gordon puts it thusly,

"There are, incidentally, no grounds for calling these two figures 'shepherds', in the wake of the Christian nativity story."(Clauss, pg. 69). These shepherds are little more active in Mithras' birth, because they help pull Mithras out of the rock. I guess you could still call the birth of Mithras a virgin birth though, I can't imagine the rock had much sexual experience beforehand :).

So what is the point of all this? The point is that people will pull out any ancient God they can think of and try to draw parallels to the Christian story, and a good example of this is in Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code". The antidote to all this merry mythmaking for any Christian is a trip to the library.

The second point is if you see someone trying to draw parallels between a pagan God and Christ, CHECK THEIR SOURCES! If the sources are outdated, or if they don't list their sources at all (like Dan Brown), then you shouldn't trust anything they say about early Christianity any farther then you can throw a Sumo wrestler, which, if you're like me, isn't very far at all.

An excellent essay on Mithras can be found here:

"Many have undertaken.... draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4, NIV)

As a new Christian, I have to say that my favourite gospel is Luke's. He states his intention right up front. These are things that happened, without any BS. Without any flowery language. I very much like his straight forward approach. What can I say? That appeals to me.

I have so much I want to say, I don't know where to start.

I know everyone and his dog nowadays has a blog, I suspect that mine won't attract much attention outside of my friends and family. I'm fine with that.

I guess I'll start off with some general thoughts about Christianity and Atheism.

My decision to surrender my life to Jesus Christ was more a decision that I made with my head than my heart. I investigated historical evidence, and did research. I read both Christian and atheist authors. I read a lot. When I was confronted with the evidence that convinced me that there was no real rational reason to deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I knew I had to make changes. At various stages in my life I had been an atheist and an agnostic. I'd been living for myself, and although I was generally happy, I had just had the feeling there was more out there. But now, I live for God's purpose for me, and I feel more energized. Life has all new meaning that it didn't have before.

Now I feel that God is calling me to be an apologist, a person who gives rational and evidentiary defenses for the Christian faith.

"But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully." (1 Peter 3:15, Amplified Bible) This shall be my motto here.

I hope that whoever happens upon this blog will give serious consideration to the things I say. I'll post messages when I have the time.

I think at first I want to provide a few good links that have really helped me in my baby steps walking with the Lord. Tekton Apologetics Ministries - J.P. Holding is probably the internet's premier apologist. I love the humour with which he attacks his topics. Also check out his "Hallway of Ouchies" at his other site: Be Thinking - a great resource. A number of essays and audio resources for apologists and other Christians, discussing history, arts and culture, science, etc. Most of these essays are by top flight academics. Venerable Bede's Library - run a by a guy who has nearly completed a Ph.D. in history. I believe he is concentrating on the history of science. Reasons to believe - A site run by a number of scientists who are Christians. The founder is an astrophysicist and a pastor. Leadership U - great site from what I've seen so far, though I need to read more there.

And just to throw the other side a couple of bones: The Secular Web - probably the largest atheistic website on the net, followed closely by