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