Pope embarrasses church again, says Catholics should accept the Virgin Birth

Well, we already knew this (I think), since that asseveration is part of the Nicene Creed, that litany of beliefs that should embarrass any thinking person. Still, it’s nice, at least for us atheists, that the Pope has once again made himself and Catholicism figures of fun by affirming that Jesus was born of a virgin. As Yahoo News (via Reuters) reports, the Pope has given us a Christmas gift: an affirmation of the impossible.

 Pope Benedict published the last part of his trilogy on the life of Jesus on Tuesday, delivering an early childhood narrative which strongly reaffirms the doctrine of the virgin birth as an “unequivocal” truth of faith.

In the book, 137 pages in its English version, Benedict also urges his readers to stop seeing God as someone who limits personal freedom.

“The Infancy Narratives – Jesus of Nazareth” will be published around the world in some 20 languages. It goes on sale on Wednesday.

It is bound to be another international bestseller like the previous volumes. The Vatican said a million copies had already been printed and more runs were expected soon.

Oy vey; would my books sell as well!

But here’s the good part:

One section of the book is called “Virgin Birth – Myth or Historical Truth?”

The Church teaches that Jesus is the son of God and was not conceived through sexual intercourse but by the power of the Holy Spirit, one part of the divine trinity.

Note that the Trinity is not an explicit claim of the New Testament, but a doctrine (now ironclad) made up by Church fathers from some questionable references in the New Testament. And it’s not accepted by many Christians (e.g. “Unitarians”, Christian Scientists, and Mormons). Once again, theology has just made something up.  But I digress:

In simple language that is at once academic but still easily accessible to a non-specialist readership, Benedict says the story of the virgin birth is not just a reworking of earlier Greek or Egyptian legends and archetypal concepts but something totally new in history.

“It is God’s creative word alone that brings about something new. Jesus, born of Mary is fully man and fully God, without confusion and without separation…” he writes.

“The accounts of Matthew and Luke are not myths taken a stage further. They are firmly rooted, in terms of their basic conception, in the biblical tradition of God the Creator and Redeemer,” he writes.

“Is what we profess in the Creed (a Christian prayer that includes belief in the virgin birth) true? he asks. He answers: “The answer is an unequivocal yes”.

Catholics should see belief in the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as “cornerstones of faith” because they are undeniable signs of God’s creative power.

Yeah, but so are the creation, the Flood, Adam and Eve, Moses parting the Red Sea, and so on. Why aren’t those cornerstones of faith? Or are the resurrection and virgin birth “undeniable” for some reason that doesn’t apply to the other stuff?

“If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God,” Benedict writes. “But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation.”

Is Pope Benedict a Biblical fundamentalist, then? We know that he isn’t, for he hasn’t overturned the Church’s doctrine of accepting evolution, a doctrine that blatantly contradicts Genesis. (I should note, that, that Ratzi’s book bears both his own name and his Popeish monicker, and thus doesn’t constitute official church doctrine.)

In fact, in his new Golden Book of Jebus, Ratzinger indeed suggests that parts of the Bible are metaphorical (he uses the euphemism “interpreted history”). The Yahoo story continues:

Benedict also tackles the “question of interpreted history,” or the attempt by the gospels to understand events after they took place in the context of the word of God and their relationship to prophesies in the Old Testament.

“Hence the aim (of the evangelists) was not to produce an exhaustive account, but a record of what seemed important for the nascent faith community in the light of the word. The infancy narratives are interpreted history, condensed and written down in accordance with the interpretation,” he writes.

In other sections of the book Benedict discusses the genealogy of Jesus, the figure of St Joseph, the story of the wise men who the Bible says paid tribute to the infant Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem.

He writes of the symbolism of Jesus having been born in a manger: “From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms.”

The pope dedicates a section of the book to the Bible story of the three kings who paid tribute to the infant Jesus.

Benedict says that while he believes in the story of the adoration of the Magi, no foundation of faith would be shaken if turned out to be an invention based on a theological idea.

Well, that’s about as weaselly as it gets. First of all, why does he believe in the story of the adoration of the Magi? Just because it’s in the Bible? If that’s so, then does he believe everything in the Bible as literal truth? Certainly not, for he rejects the creation story.

Second, as has always been clear, the things that to Christians are non-negotiable “truths” of the Bible are those fables on which their faith rests most heavily. Therefore they can dispense with the parting of the Red Sea and the curing of lepers, buut not with the Resurrection, which is the most important fable that Christians must accept as literal truth.

But if that’s the case, then why not treat Adam and Eve likewise?. For without the Original Duo, and Original Sin, the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus would make no sense (as they say, “Did Jesus die for a metaphor?”).

But I don’t see the Virgin Birth as such an unequivocal truth. Nothing really depends on that tale except the notion that Jesus was an extraordinary (i.e., divine) being.  And by holding fast to such a ludicrous doctrine, the Pope is making things tough for his Church, and harder for adherents to accept its doctrine in an age of science.

I’d like to ask devout Christians or Catholic scientists, like Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, or Simon Conway Morris, if they too believe in the “unequivocal truth” of the virgin birth.  My guess would be that Collins and Conway Morris would equivocate, muttering something about metaphor, while Miller would refuse to answer.

h/t: Grania

126 Comments

  1. Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    an “unequivocal” truth of faith

    An interesting expression, that: “truth of faith”.

  2. Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    “From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms.”
    – wrote the Pope, before retiring to his golden throne & leading a sovereign city-state.

  3. Sastra
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    “Is what we profess in the Creed (a Christian prayer that includes belief in the virgin birth) true? he asks. He answers: “The answer is an unequivocal yes”.

    “Unequivocal?” Coupled with “faith?”

    HAHAHAHAHA.

    They can bend and bend and bend meaning around and then insist, with a straight face, that they are not equivocating or prevaricating or distorting or dodging or playing on ambiguities or any of that stuff. No, no — God is mysterious and different than us and therefore requires great subtleties of thought. Right.

    They mean just what they say until a critic is in the room, in which case they were misunderstood and meant something much more reasonable than it sounded. “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      What I want to know is does this rate higher or lower than The Argument from Hot Beverages in the Sophisticated Theology Scale?

      • Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        That’s a tough question to answer.

        On the one hand, we have lots of evidence for hot beverages (indeed, I had a rather nice Darjeeling with breakfast this morning), and none whatsoever (outside of a number of easily-recongnizable examples in fiction) of virgin births.

        But what I can’t figure out is whether that makes the associated theologies more or less sophisticated.

        I think the real question might have to do with the degree to which the proponents insist and expect that their theologies are beyond rational analysis, let alone reproach. In that case, the Poop wins by definition.

        b&

  4. Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    “And by holding fast to such a ludicrous doctrine, the Pope is making things tough for his Church, and harder for adherents to accept its doctrine in an age of science.”

    Really? I have serious doubts. The intellectually-challenged, credulous types that but into this crap to begin with are ripe for ludicrous, they can’t get enough of it.

    Science? That’s a pretty scary word for these guys. Better to balance it w/ a good amount of ludicrous.

  5. Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Wait just a little minute,Benedict – you must know that the word which you have translated as “virgin” actually is more closely translated as “maiden” — and the meaning of that word in the original text (and in English & presumably other languages)is ambiguous to say the least. It can mean merely a young woman who may or may not be “virgin.”

    • Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      So long as I’m on my Justin Martyr kick, it’s worth pointing out that Trypho the Jew made that exact same point in his dialogue with Martyr (as recorded by Martyr): that the Septuagint mis-translated that passage in Isaiah. Martyr’s response then remains the church’s official response today: ignore the observation and offer no rebuttal. It’s chapter LXVII.

      And Trypho answered, “The Scripture has not, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,’ but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,’ and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather[should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ,[it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.”

      Note how, even then, it was plain to non-Christians as well as Christians that Jesus was just a (not very) Jewish version of Perseus.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Dermot C
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Had Trypho known his Greek myths, he would have known that Danae was a virgin before Zeus transformed himself from a golden shower into the form of a man. Then we assume that divine/mortal rumpo gave birth to Perseus’ birth.

        Trypho’s plain wrong.

        • Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          I wasn’t aware that there was an official canon for Greek myths, and I’m not aware off the top of my head for a source of your version.

          Besides, the whole point of Perseus’s nativity story is exactly the same as that of Jesus’s, except that it’s even more emphatic in Perseus’s case.

          For Perseus, there was a Delphic prophecy that Acrisius’s still-virgin wife, Danae, would bear a son who would one day usurp Acrisius’s throne and kill him in the process. So, Acrisius locked Danae in a bronze chamber. It was in that chamber that Zeus spotted her, took pity, and appeared to her in his holy spiritual form of a shower of gold. This so infuriated King Herod Queen Hera that the very lives of the holy mother and infant were jeopardized. So, they set off over the sea to Egypt were cast adrift in the sea in order to escape the wrath of Hera(d). Of course, the young boy did eventually grow up and fulfill the prophecy to take his rightful place as King of the Jews Argos and seated in the throne of Heaven Mycenae.

          In light of all that and the common agreement amongst Christians, Jews, and Pagans alike of the parallels between Jesus and Perseus, I hardly think a comparison between Danae’s and Mary’s hymens after being impregnated by the Heavenly Father of the Gods is relevant, do you?

          Cheers,

          b&

    • SLC
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      As I understand it, the same Hebrew word is used elsewhere in the Hebrew bible to refer to women who were manifestly not virgins. I once got into an argument on another blog on this topic in which a critic claimed that there is no word in Hebrew for virgin and thus the word in question must be interpreted from the context. I failed to see anything in the context that would justify assigning the meaning virgin to the word used.

      • Maverick
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know about “virgin” per say, but “her virginity” is “na’araha”. Isiah uses the word “almah”, which is a completely different word.

        BTW, the end of the verse in Isiah says his name will be Immanuel, and Jesus is a corruption of Hesu is a translineration of Yishai. Yishai=\=Immanuel. Does Immanuel mean Yishai in the right context?

    • steve oberski
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t it amazing how much misery various mistranslations of holy books, such as virgin for young woman and virgin for white raisins, has caused ?

      Of course the underlying issue is a misogynistic pre-occupation with controlling female sexuality.

      • Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        It’s unlikely in the extreme that the passage in Isaiah was the inspiration for Jesus’s birth. Rather, it’s all but guaranteed that Jesus’s birth was decided to be virginal in order to fit a theological point consistent with the theologies of other virgin-born demigods, and the passage in Isaiah was conveniently discovered in retrospect to support the foregone conclusion.

        Also note that all great figures, fictional or otherwise, were said to have had births accompanied by prophesies and / or portents. If there really wasn’t anything in the Hebrew Bible that could be used to provide something foretelling of Jesus’s imminent incarnation, something else would have been manufactured and / or shanghaied into service.

        b&

      • Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        And male, of course. Who do you think aren’t having intercourse with all those virgins?

        They just Don’t Like Sex.

    • Stephen P
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      @owleyes: some confusion here, I think. The statements about Jesus being born to a virgin come from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, written in Greek, and I don’t believe that there are any doubts about the translation.

      You are probably thinking of the passage in Isaiah which Christians assert is a prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus. It isn’t, for two reasons. The minor reason is that the Hebrew word “almah” was mistranslated. The major reason becomes abundantly obvious if you read the whole of Isaiah chapters 7 and 8: it’s all about the Assyrians (five or six centuries BCE) and not at all about Jesus.

  6. Kevin
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    The heck with that. I want to know what he thinks about the lungs-liver-intestines controversy between Ben Goren and me.

    What was Thomas supposed to be fondling, exactly? His liver? The lower lobe of his lung? Maybe his gall bladder? Were any of these body parts sticking out of the gaping spear wound? Or did Thomas have to reach inside to fondle Jesus’ internal organs?

    Inquiring minds definitely want to know.

    • Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      I would pay good money to the Pope (or to a charity of his choice) to get him to directly (and publicly!) address this matter. Very good money, indeed.

      b&

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        I would pay good money to the Pope (or to a charity of his choice) to get him to directly (and publicly!) address this matter. Very good money, indeed.

        Except that what seems like good money to you is very small change to the Pope. Also, I would be very careful with offering money to the charity of his choice :-).

        • Posted November 22, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          I’d give money to the Mafia if it meant the Pope giving, say, an Easter homily on the explicit corporeal nature of Jesus’s wounds and exactly what Thomas and Jesus wanted to and did do with and to those wounds, in full clinical detail.

          b&

          • wholething
            Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

            That might work. “That’s a nice Vatican ya got there. It’d be a shame if somethin’ was to happen to it!”

  7. Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    In simple language that is at once academic but still easily accessible to a non-specialist readership, Benedict says the story of the virgin birth is not just a reworking of earlier Greek or Egyptian legends and archetypal concepts but something totally new in history.

    Benedict is either perfectly unaware of the early history of Christian apologetics, or he’s an unapologetic liar. Seeing how he’s the Pope, the first possibility is inconceivable and the latter inescapable.

    Apologies for the extended quote, but this point needs to be made most forcefully and I can think of no better voice to make it. I give you the words of Saint Justin Martyr (yes, that Martyr), perhaps the earliest surviving Christian apologist (defender of Christianity to the heathens), writing but a mere century after the claimed date for the Jesus incident. This is from his First Apology, and it is the entirety of Chapter 21, titled “Analogies to the History of Christ.” Emphasis, of course, is mine.

    And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars? And what of the emperors who die among yourselves, whom you deem worthy of deification, and in whose behalf you produce some one who swears he has seen the burning Cæsar rise to heaven from the funeral pyre? And what kind of deeds are recorded of each of these reputed sons of Jupiter, it is needless to tell to those who already know. This only shall be said, that they are written for the advantage and encouragement of youthful scholars; for all reckon it an honourable thing to imitate the gods. But far be such a thought concerning the gods from every well-conditioned soul, as to believe that Jupiter himself, the governor and creator of all things, was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions. But, as we said above, wicked devils perpetrated these things. And we have learned that those only are deified who have lived near to God in holiness and virtue; and we believe that those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire.

    That sets the stage and is more than enough unto itself, but what really seals the case with respect to the virgin birth is the next chapter, 22, “Analogies to the Sonship of Christ”:

    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. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them; but, on the contrary, as we promised in the preceding part of this discourse, we will now prove Him superior— or rather have already proved Him to be so— for the superior is revealed by His actions. And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Æsculapius.

    Now, I ask you: after one has stripped out all parts of Jesus’s biography referred to in those two chapters by Justin Martyr, is there anything at all left that one could even remotely recognize as Jesus son of Joseph of Nazareth? And is it at all conceivable that some random schmuck could, in but a century, accrue unto himself such a mountain of pagan divinity after doing naught but preach a few sermons here and there that nobody at the time noticed? And even if one is to suppose that such was the case, how on Earth does it make sense to equate the schmuck with the pagan god bearing the same name?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • jose
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Wow! Amazing comment, thanks!

      • Dermot C
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Well, you need, Jose, to understand whom Justin was writing to; it is an address to the Roman Emperor and his son and heir, known to be interested in philosophy and religion, around the mid-second century.

        Yes, it’s amusing, but Justin’s evident theme throughout the whole piece is to persuade the Roman ruling bodies, Emperor and Senate, that Christianity does not pose a threat to the established order.

        Hence his inaccurate and craven comparisons with Greco-Roman mythologies; he nevertheless continues, in that peculiar passive-aggressive way of the early Christians, to proclaim the superiority of Christ over the pagan myths.

        But no, there is not much of a link between(especially) the resurrection idea in Christianity and Greco-Roman myths; the similarities are superficial

        • Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry, Dermot, but your position simply isn’t supported by the evidence.

          If we are to understand that West Side Story is a musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliette set in twentieth-century New York, then it is simply inescapable to conclude that Jesus is a syncretic pagan demigod set in the Jewish pantheon.

          Consider, for example, the “calling cards” of the death / rebirth / salvation sun gods in the mold of Osiris and Dionysus: walking on water, turning water into wine, conquering death and returning with a promise of eternal life for all; unjust conviction at a mockery of a trial; a magical healing touch; and more.

          And, not only were Martyr and Trypho hardly alone in making explicit the parallels, we even have Lucian’s account of how Peregrinus was responsible for a number of them.

          Really, what more could one ask for? A signed statement from Peregrinus himself, and maybe some others from his cohorts?

          b&

          • Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            I should hasten to make clear — neither I nor anybody else I know of is claiming that Jesus is an exact copy of Perseus or any other pagan demigod or hero. Not even Justin Martyr hinted at that claim.

            Rather, all we’re doing is making the remarkably uncontroversial observation that there was a certain fictional literary style very popular in the Mediterranean in the Classical era, with many characters fitting into certain well-recognized patterns. And then we’re also making the observation that Jesus is a perfect fit for these patterns; that there’s nothing left of Jesus after you take away those patterns; that those patterns are as sufficient to explain the genesis of Jesus as of any other demigod of the era; and that there is a great deal of positive supportive evidence of all of this (in the form of Martyr and Lucian and many others).

            It’s the opposite conclusion, that Jesus alone of all the Classical demigods was a real incarnation including a flesh-and-blood human, that’s too radical to swallow.

            If it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck, one might maybe be able to get away with suggesting that it could be an immature goose of a novel species…but not a kangaroo, not even a kangaroo in costume.

            b&

            • Dermot C
              Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              Ben, when we last properly discussed the existence or otherwise of Jesus, under “OMG: Jesus was married”, back in September, you gave me some advice. I’ll start by responding to that.

              You wrote, “The last (theory – DC) is that Jesus is exactly what he appears to be: a garden-variety Greco-Roman death / rebirth / salvation demigod…”

              I disagree. It makes far more sense to view Jesus as coming from the Jewish tradition, via the apocalyptic expectations which 3 of the Jewish strands shared within 1st century Palestine – the Pharisees, the Essenes and the Jesus movement. This leaves only the Sadducees and the otherwise obscure Fourth Philosophy, which Josephus mentions. Assuming that the latter was a small group, this means that the majority of unofficial Judaism (which far out-numbered the Sadducee establishment) around 30 CE was expecting the Messiah to come soon (and the Pharisees made up the largest part of that tendency).

              As regards the idea that Jesus is rooted in Greco-Roman myth, the anticipation of a Messiah is just not in that tradition.

              The belief in death/rebirth gods dates from hundreds of years before Christ’s time and is concerned with the seasonal cycles. The very early (and subsequent) Christian concept of death and resurrection differs entirely in that it is a unique, unrepeatable event. There is no hint in the death and rebirth cults that the resurrection could be used as theological evidence for the adoption by God of a human who would become the Anointed One, as appears in Paul’s theology.

              Furthermore, the death and rebirth idea should not be confused with the proposition of a dying/rising God. There is no secure, unambiguous reference before Christ of any dying/rising god at all. The Christians did not take this idea from elsewhere. You can not plagiarise a non-existent thought.

              There is no evidence either that the notion of salvation came from outside the Jewish milieu. The Greco-Roman world-view contained no idea of heavenly salvation at all. The after-life in Hades resembled neither heaven nor God’s kingdom on earth, as you know.

              On the question of Jesus’ demigodiositude, you are importing a Greco-Roman concept into a debate on Jesus’ nature, which would have been unrecognisable to the early Christians; if at times Jesus was defined as both divine and human, this does not mean that they viewed his nature as somehow similar to, say, Hercules. The developing orthodox Christian notion of Jesus as both divine and human emphatically did not emerge out of any steal from Greco-Roman myth, but rather from their middling position between Christian Gnosticism, which claimed Christ as completely divine, and other heresies which asserted the human nature of Jesus. The allegation was that Christ was both divine and human and you, Ben, see a (superficial) resemblance to the Greco-Roman demigods; this ignores completely the theological debates which raged in the second and third centuries between those believers in Christ who turned out to be heretical and those, though they didn’t know it at the time, who were the proto-orthodox. As a matter of history, you have your history of Christology plain wrong. In fact, your view of what Jesus “appears to be” (to us moderns) is merely your misinterpretation of the outcome in a Christological debate which resolved itself only after centuries of arcane, frequently vituperative, theological argument. And then you back-project in order to assert that the man Jesus didn’t exist.

              Far grander claims were made by the early Christians for Jesus – his rule over God’s kingdom on earth – than the mere super-human strength of Hercules. They differ in kind. One thoroughly Jewish and apocalyptic, the other a characteristic feature of the Greco-Roman mythological landscape.

              You set the agenda, Ben, but in all this you have confused two separate questions; whether Jesus the man existed, and the idea that he was divine. The one is a historical question, the second a theological issue.

              Cheers.

              • blitz442
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                Sorry to butt in on this fascinating discussion, but I disagree with this statement.

                “The one is a historical question, the second a theological issue.”

                They are both historical, and even scientific, issues. The claim that Jesus was not just a man is an assertion about reality, no different than the claim that he was about 30 years old when he died. If the latter claim of his age is not just a “theologial issue”, then neither is the former.

              • Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

                I’m sorry, Dermot, but you seem to be very misinformed about the most basic elements of Classical paganism, and you also seem to be convinced that Jews were living in an hermetically-sealed bubble.

                The latter position isn’t merely ludicrous on its face, it doesn’t even square with Jewish mythology. The Jewish Bible is nothing if not a very long and tedious accounting of Jewish interactions (and wars) with neighboring cultures all across the region, especially including Egypt, Asia Minor, and Persia.

                You could maybe hope to sustain an argument of religious purity for this particular tribe were it not for the fact that your prime exhibit for said purity is itself a radical departure from said purity. Besides, religions just don’t work like that — look at all the other religions that are constantly undergoing schism and syncretism, then and now.

                Plus, there’s the fact that Christian philosophy, particularly the Logos is explicitly Hellenistic — and that the original versions of all foundational Christian texts are written in Greek.

                And your other premise…I really don’t know where to begin. Either you must be unaware of Dionysus’s rescue of Semele from Hades, of Isis restoring Osiris after his battle with Set, of Orpheus re-tracing Dionysus’s path to rescue Eurydice again from Hades, and the many other variations on that theme…or you’re suggesting that Christianity pre-dates all of them. Frankly, there’s no polite way to engage with you on either possibility.

                I can understand how you could come to the conclusions that you have based upon your misunderstanding of history and human nature. What I can’t understand is where on Earth such a gross misunderstanding could possibly come from.

                I mean, really. It’d be just as bizarre were you to claim that George Washington was a Muslim Frenchman and that the United States was therefore founded upon the principles of Zen Buddhism. Where on Earth would one begin?

                Cheers,

                b&

  8. Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    In the book, 137 pages in its English version, Benedict also urges his readers to stop seeing God as someone who limits personal freedom.

    Well, that’s great.

    So when will the Catholic Church change in ways that would allow us to stop seeing them as trying to limit personal freedom?

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      No, no. You don’t understand. God does limit personal freedom, but you should stop seeing him that way. You’ll be happy when you learn to love Big Brother.

      • jimroberts
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        “You’ll be happy when you learn to love Big Brother.”

        +1

  9. Frank
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    While the Vatican is explicating the unequivocal truths of faith, I would love to see them address Hitchens’ frequent mention of the scenario which no thinking person can believe:
    That God watched with indifference the frequent pain, suffering and brief lifetimes of anatomically modern humans for at least 100,000 years, and THEN decided only a few thousand years ago to reveal himself – to a largely illiterate desert people – and THEN His Omnipotence (who can do anything) decided the best solution to absolving sin was a brutal child sacrifice.

    • Mattapult
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      I don’t see why sacrificing his ‘only’ son is such a big deal. If all things are possible through god, then he could make more. In the words of Bill Cosby, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out. And make another that looks just like you.”

      It’s not a big sacrifice if he could easily make more, but choses not to.

      • blitz442
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        Not only that, but Jesus still exists, apparently chillin’ next to papa. And even in the three day duration that the corporal Jesus was dead, the divine nature had never ceased to exist.

        So not even a sacrifice really.

        • jimroberts
          Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          Not even three days, just a day and two nights.

          • Greg G
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            That’s like 3 days and 6 nights to a Trinity.

  10. Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Remarkably Papa Benny has declared that the cattle and donkey in the traditional nativity scene are a myth.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/the-pope/9691295/Nativity-donkeys-and-cattle-are-a-myth-says-Pope.html

    Animals in stable? Must be a myth. Virgin gives birth to magic baby? Irrefutable truth.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Dang! Do you know how many nativity scenes Benny just trashed? What a bummer.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      That is freakin’ hilarious, the more I think about the more I can’t help but chuckle.

  11. Simon Hayward
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I still want to know where the Y chromosome came from. I’m reminded – since it’s turkey season in the US – that parthenogenesis in birds can give rise to males, in mammals offspring would, of course, have to be female. So, do I need cranberry sauce with my roasted jebus.

    • SLC
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Ken Miller, during a somewhat heated discussion with Richard Dawkins in 2004, I believe, stated that he too would like to have a sample of the DNA of Yeshua of Nazareth to investigate the source of his Y chromosome.

      • blitz442
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        The discovery of a Y chromosome in Yeshua, despite not having a human father, would just be explained as yet another miracle from God.

        I love Ken Miller and I think that he is a superb explicator of evolution. But it is disingenuous of him to claim that there is anything that would falsify his religion. He doesn’t subject his Catholic beliefs to rigorous scrutiny in the same way that he subjects fundamentalist Christian beliefs to scrutiny. His Catholicism gets a free pass, safely quarantined in his brain away from his (very formidable) critical faculties.

  12. jose
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    The crucifixion and resurrection do make sense without literal Adam and Eve.

    The point of the resurrection is that you have to be free of sin to get to heaven. Sin is just going against their moral law, that’s all (“an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”). It doesn’t matter where sin came from in the first place in order to realize it is there because everybody disobeys their natural law all the time; Jesus opened the path to get rid of sin and go to heaven like he did.

    Adam and Eve are just personifications of humanity in general. Regarding good and bad, cognition goes both ways: The ability to discern right from wrong implies necessarily the ability to do wrong things. That’s why sin is inherent to humanity.

    Now, the problem with this idea is not that Adam and Eve aren’t literal, but whether sin exists at all – that their eternal law exists, which, judging by the evidence or lack thereof, is as imaginary as their God.

    • blitz442
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      “It doesn’t matter where sin came from in the first place in order to realize it is there because everybody disobeys their natural law all the time; Jesus opened the path to get rid of sin and go to heaven like he did.”

      If all that was needed to go to heaven was to not sin so much, then there would have been no need for a bloody sacrifice. What would the sacrifice accomplish if “original sin” was merely our tendency to behave badly?

      The sacrifice has always been stated as payment for a specific act of disobedience by primordial humans. Until this debt was paid, salvation was beyond humanity. But even after the grisly payment of the debt, salvation was/is only open to those who really believed in the reality and power of the sacrificial act.

      So now that we have seen that the crucifixion and resurrection only make sense in the context of being a payment for acts of disobedience, we have to identify the culprits. Does it have to be a literal Adam and Eve as depicted in the Bible? No, it could be Arlak and Ogra, a particularly mischievous Cro-Magnon couple whose acts of sin somehow prevent my entrance into heaven unless a God-man is slaughtered on my behalf.

      Perhaps, though, the debt of sin was built up by a culmination of generations of sinful behavior by countless individuals that reached some critical point in the 1st century, and not just the transgressions of two ancient people. Again, I fail to see how the misbehavior of others should affect my salvation status.

      So the crucifixion and resurrection just might be bolted on the real history of human evolution, but these events do not make sense if all that is necessary for an individual to get to heaven is to be free of sin. Christianity cannot explain itself out its central, gruesome message of sacrifice and salvation.

      • jose
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        Oh I agree with you about why the sins of others affect us. Not saying the doctrine of sin and salvation makes sense. I have no idea why the sacrifice of Jesus should affect anybody except himself; but if you notice, that’s a different question. The question I was talking about is that it doesn’t matter for the doctrine of salvation where sin comes from; the important part of the story is that sin is there, inherent to every human, and Jesus somehow enabled us to get rid of it.

        I think the doctrine of the original sin can be adapted nicely to suit our evolutionary origin the way I described: our consciousness is double-edged; it enables us to embrace the eternal law, but also to go against it. It’s not the details where this idea falls (might as well be two humans, or a townn; an apple or a pear or a coconut; a snake or a dragon or the alien queen), but in its core: the inexistence of such eternal law and the God who created it.

        • Tulse
          Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

          Original sin only makes sense if it is something for which we are (collectively) culpable, if we bear some responsibility. If we behave a certain way simply because of our nature, that’s a major theological problem for Christianity, since a) that nature was given us by god, b) it’s idiotically unfair to punish individuals over something that does not involve an actual choice, and c) it isn’t possible to “redeem” something that is a purely natural state. Christian soteriology demands some sort of specific, chosen violation of their god’s law that has to be atoned for. Without that, it makes no more sense to speak of human salvation than it does salvation for tigers and sharks.

          • jose
            Posted November 23, 2012 at 3:11 am | Permalink

            Our consciousness is double-edged; it enables us to embrace the eternal law, but also to go against it. There’s your actual choice.

  13. Fred
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Suppose virgin Mary didn’t intend this to happen but woke up to find herself pregnant in the morning, shouldn’t we conclude that she was raped by God, no matter by which means, holy spirit or possibly God himself showing up in her bed?

    • blitz442
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Was that a legitimate rape, because she could have shut that thing down if she wanted to.

  14. Jim Jones
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    First, you need an actual Jesus.

    Quote:

    The following is a list of writers who lived and wrote during the time, or within a century after the time, that Christ is said to have lived and performed his wonderful works:

    Josephus, Philo-Judaeus, Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial, Persius, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberius, Apollonius, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Quintilian, Lucanus, Epictetus, Silius Italicus, Statius, Ptolemy, Hermogones, Valerius Maximus, Arrian, Petronius, Dion Pruseus, Paterculus, Appian, Theon of Smyrna, Phlegon, Pompon Mela, Quintius Curtius, Lucian, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Florus Lucius, Favorinus, Phaedrus, Damis, Aulus Gellius, Columella, Dio Chrysostom, Lysias, Appion of Alexandria.

    Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library. Yet in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged passages in the works of a Jewish author, and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers, there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ.

    Philo was born before the beginning of the Christian era, and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ’s miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

    He was there when the crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead took place — when Christ himself rose from the dead, and in the presence of many witnesses ascended into heaven. These marvelous events which must have filled the world with amazement, had they really occurred, were unknown to him. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although this Word incarnate dwelt in that very land and in the presence of multitudes revealed himself and demonstrated his divine powers, Philo saw it not.

    From “The Christ” — John E. Remsberg

    (BTW, there’s also nothing about Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls — and there should be.)

    • Erp
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      Why should there be anything in the Dead Sea Scrolls about Jesus given that most (though not all) of the scrolls predate Jesus (the range for most seems to be 1st and 2nd century BCE and 1st century CE)? And most of the scrolls aren’t dealing with current events (do any of them mention Pontius Pilate?).

      Jesus as the amazing miracle man with earthquakes, darkness at noon, virgin birth, etc. is definitely later myth. Jesus as a Galilean who collected a small group of followers and was executed by the Roman authorities is believable. As is that some of his followers refused to believe he stayed dead (see hidden imam). Lack of evidence outside Christian writings is completely probable; we just do not have much writing about that time and place.

      • Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

        Can you point to even one bit of evidence that supports the theory that Jesus was only a regular guy with a few followers?

        I should note that it is not very reasonable to reject 90% of a source’s claims as unbelievable nonsense and then extract a very small bit out of context that’s not unbelievable, especially when the conclusion you reach as a result directly contradicts the entire repeatedly-made point of the source. For example, you wouldn’t conclude that Luke Skywalker was an obscure peasant farmer and nothing more after viewing Star Wars, would you?

        Cheers,

        b&

      • wholething
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        But we don’t see a Jesus from Galilee in the Epistles. They talk about Jesus a lot but only in terms of crucifixion and resurrection with no details. The only hints that it was in the first century are two interpolations. The Jesus you speak of was invented by misunderstanding the Christ cult, sort of like Lt. Fiji.

  15. Smith Powell
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    St. Peter notice God appeared glum as he sat on his throne. So, St. Peter suggested a vacation was in order. God assented, but where to go? St. Peter suggested the Orion group, but God declined and noted that it was very hot there. Then St. Peter suggested the Andromeda group as a vacation spot. Again, God noted some unsatisfactory feature of the site and declined. Then St. Peter suggested Earth.

    God reacted with horror and stated, “I can’t go there! The last time I was there, I knocked up a Jewish girl, and they havent’t stopped fussing about it since!”

  16. Posted November 21, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    must be nice. as soon as someone says “The Pope Says…” millions of idiots accept it as the truth.

    Benedict says…. the moon is made of Froot Loops

    Benedict says… Spider-man swings above the streets of Manhattan.

    Benedict says… virgins are impregnated by gods and insists that this claim has never been made before.

    seems like Benny lies a lot.

  17. Did
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    A (sine qua non)condition to be a Christian is/ the Pope is infallible,as simple as that.He is consequently always right.If you don’t agree you’re not a real and genuine Christian.Being an Atheist,and having received a scientific formation,of course this is pure non sense.This as ridiculous as discussong the sex of angels during a concile.Fortunately,to ridicule yourself doesn’t kill….
    But,if Christians begin to question the Pope infallibility,they’re not real Christians anymore…Call them dissidents,schismatics,deviants,whatever…I agree with Einstein,writing to his friend philosopher Gutkind,all religions are equal,not one is better than another,but they’re all childish.And I would add subversive and terribly dangerous.I rest my case.

  18. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Given the patriarchal mindset prevalent in biblical times, it’s easy to understand why no suitable genetic father for the Son of God could be chosen. What ancient Big Daddy (other than Caesar or perhaps Hercules, which would sort of defeat the whole purpose) could possibly be thrust into that role?

    Talk about performance anxiety…

    In modern times, Mel Gibson would no doubt qualify, along with Donald Trump and Hulk Hogan.

    But then again, if Lady Madonna was reprised by Beyonce, say, then given her strength and status any palooka off the street would probably work just fine.

  19. mandrellian
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    [The Pope's fan-fic prequel] goes on sale on Wednesday.

    Ah, how like the Vatican. Making stuff up, packaging it like sage wisdom and then charging for the privilege of reading it.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Those funny hats aren’t cheap, you know.

  20. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    What on Earth makes you think Catholics are capable of feeling embarrassment?

  21. Daryl
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    “…Benedict says the story of the virgin birth is not just a reworking of earlier Greek or Egyptian legends and archetypal concepts but something totally new in history.”

    Ah, special pleading. Where would Christians theologians be without it?

  22. Dermot C
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    @Ben Goren

    Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Sorry, Ben, I mustn’t have subscribed, hence the appearance of this response down here.

    Your attempt to draw parallels between Greco-Roman myth and the historicity or otherwise of Jesus is too big a jump; besides the parallels break down.

    Heaven and Hades differ in kind. Hades was neither heaven nor God’s good kingdom here on earth; it resembles in no way the early Christian soteriologies. In Greco-Roman thought, you can not be saved.

    Why else would the vast majority of early Christian quotations in the NT, the extra-canonical sources and even the heretical Antilegomenae refer to the OT, and not Greco-Roman literature?

    The conflict between Christians rumbled on, not in the secular rooms of the Athens Lyceum, but precisely in the scriptural fields of the Bible’s lectures; from which the proto-Orthodox emerged as the Athanasian victors in the fourth century only after protracted doctrinal disputes with Adoptionists, Separationists, Docetists and Patripassianists of all stripes.

    Some hermeneutists of the Christ turned out to be heretical and some, though they didn’t know it at the time, were the proto-orthodox.

    To continue with your advice to me from September, you talked of, “a garden-variety Greco-Roman death / rebirth / salvation demigod grafted upon the Jewish pantheon.”

    I am surprised that I should have to point out that there was and is no Jewish pantheon.

    You continued, “We know that that’s how new religions were born; famously, there’s the example of Serapis.”

    It is true that within the Empire, the Romans were happy to co-opt local gods from the colonies into the Roman pantheon. But, you are not comparing like with like when you infer that the polytheists introduced another God into this imaginary Jewish and monotheist ‘pantheon’. There is no example of the Romans managing to import any Roman god into the Jewish monotheism. In fact, the Romans treated the Jewish religion, despite its radical differences, with a modicum of respect, due to its antiquity.

    Yes, Serapis, from the 3rd century BCE, imported by Hellenisers into Egypt, is an early example of a Greco-Roman cult – not a religion – imposed on a pantheistic, not a monotheistic, colony. But Serapis did not rise from the dead, nor was he resurrected. He was corporeally reassembled from hacked-off parts and became the ruler of the dead in the underworld. There is no evidence, either, that 1st century Palestinians had even heard of Serapis.

    Furthermore, Greco-Roman religion never promulgated any idea about how to live the moral, good life; it was a-moral, if you like. Greco-Roman morality derived not from the cults of the various gods, but from philosophical and moral teachings, separated from the religious. Whereas Judaism and, later, Christianity viewed religion and morality as inseparable. Again, in no way was Christianity the descendant of the Greco-Roman world-view. As an example, let us take the 16 chapters of the non-canonical Didache (dated anywhere between 50 and 3rd century CE). What are its references? Old Testament quotations 5, OT references 3, NT citations 12, NT allusions 37, Deuterocanonical or Apocryphal references 1, Apostolic Fathers allusions 4. No sight of Greco-Roman references. These Christians were conducting a theological debate within the traditions of Judaism. That’s how they thought, whatever we think of them. They were steeped in the Judaistic world-view.

    But this takes us no further on the question of Jesus’ historicity, for, again, you are tangling theological debates with historical issues.

    • Daryl
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      “These Christians were conducting a theological debate within the traditions of Judaism. That’s how they thought, whatever we think of them. They were steeped in the Judaistic world-view.”

      Is it really likely that something like the Eucharist meal could have come from Judaism, with its various dictates against the consumption of human blood; or is it more plausible it came from a mystery cult, where such a thing was common?

      I understand that many Christian scholars today find this idea intolerable. In fact, I would go as far as saying that they find ANY Pagan influence on early Christianity as utterly revolting. Much safer to stay in the cosy ecumenical cocoon of 1st century Judaism, which itself was likely far more variegated and esoteric than many scholars want to admit.

      This is one area where so-called critical scholarship is nothing more than apologetics.

      • Posted November 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Is it really likely that something like the Eucharist meal could have come from Judaism, with its various dictates against the consumption of human blood; or is it more plausible it came from a mystery cult, where such a thing was common?

        Delighted you asked!

        And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

        Today really should be dubbed Justin Martyr day, for that’s again from his First Apology, Chapter 66, “Of the Eucharist.”

        Oh, and before anybody asks…Plutarch describes the pirates of Cilicia as practicing “secret rites” in 67 BCE, though he doesn’t specify what those rites were. Still, it seems ludicrous to suggest that a well-established religion popular amongst warriors and pirates should steal its most sacred rite from an upstart cult of a defeated race of slaves.

        One more point: Tarsus (as in “Paul of”) was the capital of Cilicia.

        One final point: the very first mention of the Christian Eucharist comes from one of Paul’s Epistles, and the associated story of the Last Supper is one of the very few instances in all of the agreed-authentic epistles where Paul gives any sort of biographical detail about Jesus.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted November 21, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

          The Plutarch reference, for those who care, comes from his biography of Pompey, chapter 25:

          The power of the pirates had its seat in Cilicia at first, and at the outset it was venturesome and elusive; but it took on confidence and boldness during the Mithridatic war, because it lent itself to the king’s service. [...] [The pirates] also offered strange sacrifices of their own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites, among which those of Mithras continue to the present time, having been first instituted by them.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Posted November 22, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

          Except doesn’t Paul say “the Lord’s supper”? A subtle, but important difference.

          • Posted November 22, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

            1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

            21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

            22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

            23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

            Most of the remainder of the chapter is the Eucharistic liturgy, almost exactly as you will hear it celebrated today.

            To further emphasize the context that this is not history but rather instruction in proper Christian ritual and demeanor, the chapter opens with dictates on proper head covering and hair length, and the chapter concludes in the same vein as verses 20-23: a command that one should fill one’s belly at home, and not with the Holy Communion.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

              The point is that it sort of “atemporalizes” it – removes it from time.

              • Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                Oh. Well, certainly. After all, Jesus put the Crucifixion itself in the vague unspecified past and at the hand of “the Archons of that age.”

                Hardly surprising that he thought of the Eucharist as the stylistic ritual remembrance of a similarly-timeless event, is it?

                b&

              • Greg G
                Posted November 23, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

                Did you overdose on tryptophan? You usually spell the name “P-A-U-L”. 80)

    • Greg G
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Why else would the vast majority of early Christian quotations in the NT, the extra-canonical sources and even the heretical Antilegomenae refer to the OT, and not Greco-Roman literature?

      Scholars have divided the Q sayings into three layers. The first layer is not from the OT but is reminiscent of a Cynic style.

      Mark uses a Plato reference and uses The Odyssey extensively. The blind Bartimaeus story tells us “bar” means “son” but also tells us the son of Timaeus, who discussed the nature of reality in Plato, leapt up to fallow Jesus.

      The demonaic story is a version of the Cyclops incident from Odysseus’ travels. The Cyclops’ name is Polyphemus which means “many talk about him”. The demonaid says, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” “Legion” is a Latin word that refers to many soldiers but is similar to the word “lego” which is translated as “said” just before the quote of the demonaic. The word translated as “many” is “polys”. Mark is trying his best to make it clear that the demonaic is the Cyclops, just as clearly as the John Goodman character with the eye patch does in O Brother, Where Art Thou? When you remember how Odysseus’ men escaped the Cyclops by clinging underneath sheep to reach the sea and that, earlier, Circe had turned some of Odysseus’ men into pigs, you know where Mark got the idea what to do with the demons.

      • Posted November 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        It’s also well worth noting that the part of the country where Jesus is said to have driven the pigs off the cliff is nothing but rolling hills with little more than the occasional gopher hole to break one’s stride. Such painfully obvious geographic mistrakes, along with equally painful misunderstandings of Judaism, are…well, legion, in Mark.

        Mark, again, is generally accepted as the oldest of the four Canonical Gospels. The differences between Mark and the other two Synoptics generally come in the form of either corrections to such errors, including of doctrinal differences; or fish-story-style elaborations and embellishments. But there’s so much copy / paste going on that all three would get kicked out of a modern academic institution for blatant mutual plagiarism.

        b&

    • Posted November 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      Dermot, again, I really have no idea where I should start…your understanding of history really is so bizarrely off the mark.

      Of course there are differences between Christianity and other religions. Duh! If there weren’t, there couldn’t possibly be a discussion, because there wouldn’t be two distinct religions.

      But compare, for example, Orpheus and Jesus. Both were torturously executed after mock trials; Orpheus was beheaded and Jesus was crucified. Both went to Hell; Orpheus before his trial and execution, Jesus after. Both were driven by love to conquer death; Orpheus for his lost wife and Jesus for all humanity (and Orpheus failed after he succeeded whilst Jesus provisionally succeeded). And, if you live a model life, you will join both in a pleasant afterlife: you’ll either get to hear Orpheus’s head sing in the Elysian Fields or join Jesus in the Celestial Choir.

      Is Jesus a direct copy / paste of Orpheus? Certainly not! Was Orpheus the direct inspiration for at least parts of Jesus’s biography? Likely not, though perhaps. But are they both standard archetypes cast from the same mold? Undoubtedly.

      All of your objections amount to obsessing over insignificant details, such as the fact that Jesus was crucified and Orpheus was beheaded.

      If you’re willing to acknowledge that Orpheus, described as a Dionysian priest, was a mythical stand-in for Dionysus himself — and I hope you are, for that’s the very first thing you would learn in even the most informal of scholarly settings — then you’d have to similarly acknowledge that Jesus himself is a similar stand-in for Dionysus. And that goes treble after you add in Jesus’s turning of water into wine, Dionysus’s very signature.

      And your notion that “in no way was Christianity the descendant of the Greco-Roman world-view” is…well, it’s utter bullshit. In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God, and the Word was, “Logos,” and appropriated wholesale from Philo of Alexandria who was famous for incorporating it from the Greeks.

      But this takes us no further on the question of Jesus’ historicity, for, again, you are tangling theological debates with historical issues.

      Again, you miss the point.

      Everything we know about Jesus is a textbook example of Greco-Roman “theology.” See Martyr for the exhaustive list. Subtract that and we’re left with nothing on which to hang an historical human, plus there’s a perfect lack of evidence for any sort of Jesus until generations after the “fact.” Now, add in pagan descriptions of the genesis of Christianity (such as from Pliny the Younger and Lucian) and it becomes instantly obvious that Jesus came from the exact same place as Joseph Smith’s Moronic Angel, LRH’s Xenu, and the aliens hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp.

      If you want to convince me of the historicity of Jesus, you’ll have to present positive evidence not merely not inconsistent with the theory but explicable only by that theory. I’ve done so multiple times in the preceding paragraph alone. But I think we’re both confident that no such evidence actually exists, or else it would have been presented long ere now.

      One last point for now: Judaism (and therefore Christianity) most emphatically has a pantheon, and one every bit as rich as the Greco-Roman pantheon. You’re just (whether you realize it or not) taking up the propaganda that the parallel characters are gods in the one religion but not (generally assumed so because they’re “real”) in the other.

      If Hades is a god, so is Satan. If the Olympians are gods, then so are the Heavenly Host. If Prometheus and Pandora are gods, then so are Adam and Eve. If Romulus and Remus are gods, then Abraham and Isaac are, too. If Hercules is a god, then Samson is a god. If the Titans are gods, then so are the Nephilim. If trickster Hermes is a god, then the serpent in the Garden is a god.

      Either both have pantheons, or there is no such thing as a pantheon. Either way, there is no meaningful distinction ‘twixt the two.

      b&

      • Dermot C
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        Ben,

        “All of your objections amount to obsessing over insignificant details, such as the fact that Jesus was crucified and Orpheus was beheaded.”

        You are the one who has raised the question of the parallels with Greco-Roman myth and therefore that this is almost proof of Jesus’ non-existence. Pliny the Younger, as far as I am aware says nothing about the genesis of Christianity; I find reference neither to Orpheus’ mock trial nor to his beheading, and why you cite those points in the context of their being no evidence for an existant Christ is bewildering. The scholarly opinion on mythologies is that they tell of heroes, there is very little interiority in those stories. We are told a lot about the interiority of the Christ figure; in that sense, this is a different type of story. I am attempting to point out that it is in precisely the details that the comparison breaks down; that the similarities are facile. But ultimately, if there are similarities in the evidently mythologised stories about Jesus, so what?

        As for the influence of Greco-Roman thought on the development of Christian theology, of course it is there. However, you bend the stick far too much in that direction; any poor sap who has waded through the NT and the early Christian writings knows how thoroughly Judaistic they are.

        You wrote, “We know that everything about Jesus’s biography was plucked out of the popular Greco-Roman tropes of the day, from the prophecy of the virgin birth to the struggles with the establishment to the triumph over death and the glorious return. And all the miracles are standard issue, too — water into wine, spitting in eyes to cure blindness, the portents at his death, all the rest.”

        We know nothing of the sort, Ben. I can think of 3 proverbially Greco-Roman prophesiers – the Delphic oracle, whom we can discount, Cassandra, who never made a prophecy of a virgin birth and the Sibylline oracles. We know that these Christian epexegeses of the Jewish pastiche of the Roman original were written between the 2nd and 6th centuries CE – and very amusing they are, too – but we do not use them to determine Jesus’ existence or no. Yet again, the question of a prophecy of the virgin birth confuses theological apologetics with an analysis of whether Jesus the man existed.

        On the question of Jesus’ biography, I can not think, off-hand, of a man, later claimed to be the Messiah, and therefore theologically the superior of the baptiser, under-going baptism or anything like it, in Greco-Roman myth; I may be wrong, but I would like a concrete comparison. Nor can I recall any Greco-Roman predicting the End Times within his own generation. Nor any Greco-Roman alleged to have ransacked the temple of his own religion. Nor any exclusively religious and low-born figure asserting his own claim to be the King of his people in opposition to a contemporaneous monarch. Nor his trial in that context, nor his capital punishment.

        The reference to the “struggles with the establishment” is such a vague and universal occurrence in history as to be worthless in determining the influence of one example of it on another.

        With regards to “the triumph over death”, there is no paraenesis in Greco-Roman religious or mythological thought of any triumph over death. I can think only of Orpheus in the myths who returned from the Underworld, but he is also recorded as later dying. This is not a triumph over death, neither for him, nor for any Greco-Roman. This is not comparable in any way with the Jesus movement’s prophecy of the eschaton and God’s good kingdom here on earth.

        You will have to enlighten me regarding the “glorious return” in Greco-Roman thought, as I don’t know what you mean.

        Granting, for the sake of argument, that elements in Jesus’ life-story were “plucked out of the popular Greco-Roman tropes of the day,” can you provide dates and authorship for the story of the virgin birth being inserted into the canon? Who first wrote of the water into wine miracle, and when? How do you date the tale of spitting in eyes to cure blindness told in the NT, and by whom? I know the references, of course, but would ask this corollary. How can any rationalist assert the notion that this relates in any way to whether Jesus existed?

        No historian alleges Jesus’ existence based on any story related to miracle-working. For that matter, no historian alleges Apollonius of Tyana’s existence based on any story related to miracle-working, either.

        None of the last seven paragraphs, in having to answer your points, addresses the question of whether Jesus existed, because your quotation doesn’t do that either.

        • Posted November 21, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          Dermot, let’s ignore for the moment your profound ignorance of introductory-level Greco-Roman mythology, such as the reason why Acrisus had Danae locked up in the first place or how Suetonius described Vespasian’s technique for restoring eyesight, and cut right to the chase.

          Please present what you consider to be the three best-identifying properties of Jesus and the evidence supporting the truth of those properties.

          For example, if you think that one important way we are to know the Jesus of Christianity from the dozens of other men documented to have lived in that time and place by the “fact” that he was crucified by the direct and personal command of Pontius Pilate, then please state so and provide evidence for said execution order. (If you don’t think that’s important, please ignore this particular set of details.)

          That’s all I ask: detail three ways for us to pick Jesus out of a lineup, and how we are to be confident that each of those three alleged facts are, in fact, factually true.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Dermot C
            Posted November 21, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

            Ben, my general point is, of course, two-fold; firstly, that your parallels with Greco-Roman mythology don’t stand up and, in terms of the weighting which one would give to the question of the historical Jesus they are pretty minor; secondly, that you view Jesus through the lens of the winners, the Athanasians, in the Christological debate.

            Of course we shouldn’t believe the obvious myths, as well as the Christological theories. That doesn’t mean that the bloke didn’t exist.

            Let me start with an earlier quotation of yours, “That, incidentally, (i.e. that Jesus’s biography was plucked out of the popular Greco-Roman tropes of the day – DC) also explains why there were so many different competing (and all equally absurd) notions of Jesus.”

            The question of the different notions of Jesus is a Christological point, which does not go to the root of whether he existed. However, to take one example which disproves your idea that Jesus is some sort of exclusively Greco-Roman invention, the Ebionites, some of the very earliest ‘Jewish Christians’, interpreted Jesus as a very Jewish Messiah for the Jewish people, the fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, and incidentally, categorically human, not divine. For the Ebionites, the Jewish Scriptures and the Gospel which they are reported to have used were a collection of well-known Jewish stories written in the contemporary language of the Jews by educated Jews who had attended Jewish schools, addressed to Jews, that Jewish parents had been telling in the Jewish language to their Jewish children for about as long as the Jews had been Jews. And I haven’t mentioned the other languages of early Christian writings…Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic. If you’re right, Ben, how did the mythologies of those cultures determine the stories we have of Christ? A lot? A little? And why is Jesus a Greco-Roman invention? What accounts, according to you, for the victory of your alleged Greco-Roman Jesus over, say, the Ethiopic Jesus? And how would they differ?

            You continued, “Historicists are left with the unpleasant task of explaining why the Gospels paint a true picture of Jesus but Marcion, the Ophites, and the rest of the heretics (who were all writing contemporarily with the Gospel authors) were way off base.”

            Historicists are left with no such task for they do not claim that the Gospels paint a true picture of Jesus. They merely say that there is enough evidence to affirm that Jesus in all likelihood existed.

            And mythicists are left with the equally fascinating task of explaining why the opposite should be the case. Both historicists and mythicists will use any document extant to determine the question they both address – whether Jesus existed. It is completely immaterial to both camps, as long as they are doing history, whether the pericope is proto-orthodox, orthodox or heretical. It is not the job of a historian, mythicist or historicist, to support this or that divine economy. Again, you confuse theological exegesis with evidence or otherwise for Jesus’ existence.

            However, mythicists would not cite in their favour Marcion the docetist (c.85 – c.160 CE), not contemporaneous with the Gospels, but the first recorded Christian to edit a canon of scripture, since Docetism views Jesus’ body as an imitation of a real body – what to the rest of us looks like a man. You appear to wish to cite heretical movements as evidence for Jesus’ non-existence; this does not make sense. I can not think of a heresy which disbelieved in Jesus’ presence on the planet, pace the ambiguous evidence of the Ophites. But the existence of a heresy is irrelevant to the historicity or otherwise of Jesus the man. Heresiology is a theological question; the historical question refers to the reliability or not of the documents we have.

            No Ophite document, if they ever did write (for we know that they drew!), is extant. Neither is the treatise of our earliest source on the Ophites, history’s first (proto-orthodox) anti-Pope, Hippolytus (170 – 235 CE) – again, not contemporaneous with the Gospels. It is reported, however, at the end of the 4th century by Philastrius and Epiphanius of Salamis, and by Pseudo-Tertullian (n.d.). But again, it is not the historian’s task to decide on questions of heresy; it is her job to determine what most likely happened.

            You continued, “And, obviously, it explains why nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary at the time this was all supposed to have happened.”

            Nobody? We have enough early documents making historical claims about Jesus’ prosopography. Indeed, in the classical world, no-one – Christian, pagan, apologist, hostile – alleged that the man Jesus didn’t walk the earth. The first secure suggestion of Jesus’ non-historicity dates to the late eighteenth century.

            Earlier on, you wrote, “Next (theory – DC) is that Jesus was a mere mortal of some kind but still the founder of Christianity. That’s what you’re trying to argue…but the problem is that, not only is there not one single scrap of evidence supporting such a hypothesis (it’s all based on the assumption that there’s fire where there’s smoke), but it’s contradicted by every account (especially the earliest and most authoritative ones) we have of Jesus.”

            The only kind of mortal that Jesus could have been would be a man; unless of course some future feminist Christian uncovers a knock-down document proving Jesus’ femininity; or perhaps an outlying archaeologist might discover, in the Valley of the Cheese-makers, ossified proof of the Messiah’s hermaphroditism; I think we can safely say that Jesus would have been an example of Homo sapiens. I know of no other member of the animal kingdom which propounded the Golden Rule, much less the Beatitudes.

            The documents do not support the statement that Jesus was the founder of Christianity; he was, however, the figure around whom Christian theology coalesced. The historian’s job is to take those early texts which relate to our hypothesis – that Jesus existed – and to critically examine them; I would posit that the “earliest and most authoritative” ones would tend to confirm the contention that a man Jesus did live during the reign of Tiberius, who ministered in 20s and 30s CE Palestine, who was crucified under Pilate.

            You say that, “(there is) not one single scrap of evidence supporting such a hypothesis” (“of Jesus [being] a mere mortal”); this is plain not true. No historicist or mythicist would agree with that statement.

            If the whole story of Christ is entirely fictional (like Harry Potter), then who was the first person to change the terms of the debate, to affirm Jesus’ historicity? And when? Was it Paul? Mark? Matthew? Luke? John? The author of the Gospel of Thomas? The writer of the Gospel of Peter? Or of Papyrus Egerton 2? Papias, perhaps? Maybe Ignatius? Or the one behind 1 Clement? S/he who wrote Romans 1:3-4? The forger of 1 Timothy? The Pseudepigraphist of 1 Peter? Or of 2 Peter? The composer of 1 John? John the Revelator (h/t Blind Willie Johnson)? The epistolator of Hebrews? Pliny the Younger, even? Tacitus? Josephus? Marcion? Justin? Origen? Serapion? Irenaeus? Hippolytus? Tertullian? Or perhaps someone lost to history? When did people start believing that Jesus really existed and how did it come about? Was this a conspiracy? Or was it merely a case of other intellectuals not doing a proper peer-review job? Was it an in-joke that just got out of hand? Why do you think, Ben, that all these sources really thought that Jesus existed?

            If you’re right, then somewhere in this fog of sources, someone fired off a flare, but gave the wrong position. Who held the smoking gun, Ben?

            To return to an earlier point and picking up again on our “earliest and most authoritative (accounts)”, (BG) none of the first Christians would have called Jesus a demigod because they neither thought nor said that he was God.

            Cheers.

            • Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

              Dermot, your entire response is nothing but incredulity founded upon the same sort of profound ignorance of introductory-level mythology and history that I’ve already laid bare…

              …and not once did you give any indication of who Jesus was and how we are supposed to know that that is who he was.

              This has now emerged into a pattern. Any time that I ask you to define who Jesus was, you respond instead by attacking my position with your ignorance.

              So, I am forced to conclude that even you, a vocal historicist, don’t even know who Jesus actually was. And, that being the case, my own case is therefore trivially proven.

              If you wish to continue the conversation, once again, please respond not with attacks on my position but rather positive affirmative evidence detailing who Jesus was — or, at least, an unambiguous description of who you think he is. If you can’t even do that, then there simply isn’t even enough of a Jesus to claim as hypothetical, let alone historical.

              If you can’t or won’t provide such evidence or description, then the conversation is concluded by default, and you are welcome to the last word.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Dermot C
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                Ben, my point is of course, that you should criticise the references I cite at the end of the previous post. Many are easy on dating alone. I am asking you to conduct proper historical research, to go to the sources, and evaluate them in a disinterested manner. I don’t see evidence that you do that, mate – and ‘mate’ is the opposite of pejorative.

                Here are 37 steps, a list of substantive points which I made in my previous posts, to which you did not reply. That:

                1. The anticipation of a Messiah is not in the Greco-Roman tradition.
                2. Early Christian writings overwhelmingly reference the OT, not Greco-Roman texts.
                3. The Christian concept of death and resurrection differs from the death/rebirth gods.
                4. The Christians did not plagiarise the dying/rising God motif.
                5. Greco-Roman thought had no concept of (Christian) salvation.
                6. The Greco-Roman demigods differ in kind from the Christian concept of the divine and human in one being.
                7. The latter idea emerged from intra-Christian debates.
                8. You consistently conflate the historical and the theological.
                9. Serapis is not comparable to the Christ.
                10. Jesus’ baptism has no echo in Greco-Roman mythology.
                11. Jesus’ prediction of the End Times has no echo in Greco-Roman mythology.
                12. Jesus’ ransacking of the Temple has no echo in Greco-Roman mythology.
                13. Jesus’ claim to kingship has no echo in Greco-Roman mythology.
                14. The circumstances of Jesus’ trial have no echo in Greco-Roman mythology.
                15. The circumstances of Jesus’ execution have no echo in Greco-Roman mythology.
                16. The “struggles with the establishment” are valueless comparisons.
                17. The “triumph over death” does not feature in Greco-Roman thought.
                18. The “glorious return” does not exist in Greco-Roman thought.
                19. You have a date and authorship for the virgin birth being inserted into the canon.
                20. You have a date and authorship for the water into wine miracle.
                21. You have a date and authorship for the tale of spitting in eyes to cure blindness.
                22. You can explain how your reiteration of miracles relates to whether Jesus existed.
                23. The über-Jewish Ebionite Christians existed in a purely Greco-Roman Christian Weltanschauung.
                24. Historicists affirm that Jesus in all likelihood existed, and no more.
                25. Early texts are to be analysed from a historical, not a theological point of view.
                26. Our modern conceptions of Christianity should not influence our interpretation of those pericopes.
                27. Many early documents describe the idea that a man Jesus existed.
                28. The first idea of Jesus’ non-historicity dates to the late eighteenth century.
                29. Jesus was a man.
                30. Jesus lived during the reign of Tiberius.
                31. Jesus ministered in 20s and 30s CE Palestine.
                32. Jesus was crucified under Pilate.
                33. We can identify the first person to affirm Jesus’ historicity. I gave a choice of 28.
                34. There must be a date when Jesus’ historicity was first asserted.
                35. The Jesus story is a conspiracy.
                36. Those 28 sources believed Jesus existed.
                37. The first Christians neither thought nor said that Jesus was God.

                You need time to research, of course.

                Cheers and goodnight.

              • Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

                Dermot, your point #24 is the only relevant one.

                If you merely assert that Jesus existed, but you assert nothing beyond a claim that a man named “Jesus” lived in the first third of the first century, then that claim is utterly and completely disconnected from Christianity and history both.

                I will concede that there was a man named, “Jesus,” who lived in the first third of the first century in Judea. There were undoubtedly many such men, indeed; the first that springs to mind is Jesus bar Damneus, a high priest who most emphatically had nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity. There was also a Jesus ben Stada who lived somewhat later, but who was crucified by the Romans — and, again, had nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity.

                Both men are a perfect fit for the Jesus you are arguing for, and yet both are plainly not the entity commonly referred to as “Jesus.”

                So, again, to conclude: your claims that “Jesus existed” are meaningless without a definitional identification of who you mean by “Jesus.” Therefore, your “Jesus” being undefined, his existence is similarly undefined.

                You might as well be equally insistent that “Chris” is real. Chris who? There’s only a few Brazilian of ‘em to pick from.

                b&

    • Daryl
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      ‘I am surprised that I should have to point out that there was and is no Jewish pantheon.’

      Really? What about Deuteronomy 32:8-9:

      ‘When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of God. For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.’

      Here ‘Most High’ (Elyon”) and ‘Lord’ (Yahweh) are separate gods. Elyon is doling out the nations of the earth to the lesser deities (some speculated there were 70 of these lower-case ‘gods’)in the pantheon. Yahweh’s allocation is Jacob, i.e. Israel. This is pure polytheism.

      Later versions tried to hide the blatant polytheism of this passage, changing ‘sons of God’ to ‘sons of Israel’, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The Mazoretic text does this, but the far earlier Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint versions retain the polytheistic nature.

      You could argue that by the time of Jesus, Judaism had solidified into monotheism. Perhaps; but the scholar Margaret Barker believes that the gospels portray Jesus as a theophany of Yahweh, noting that Jesus is often called the ‘son of God’ (Elyon), but NEVER the ‘Son of the Lord’ (Yahweh). Polytheism, then, could still have been prevalent in the 1st century. This is why we have to be careful in making blanket statements about what we think Judaism was in Jesus’ time; especially when there is evidence that suggests things were a lot more complicated than conservative scholars would have us believe.

  23. Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m confused. I thought the “virgin birth” was the doctrine that *Mary* was born of a virgin, and therefore was free of original sin and worthy of being the vessel through which Christ was brought into the world. The doctrine of virgin birth is a huge point of contention between the Catholic and Protestant churches.

    • Tulse
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      You’re thinking of the “Immaculate Conception”, which is a different retcon.

  24. Sunny
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    If God could fashion Adam from dust, why couldn’t he do the same with baby Jesus? Why mess around with a vagina?

    I really don’t understand the mind of our Lord.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Dust or vagina? Tricky choice.

      Colin.

      • jimroberts
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        Spilling your seed in the dust is a terrible sin. The only acceptable place for disposal is a vagina. So maybe the Lord was trying to act as much as possible in accordance with his own rules.

  25. Greg G
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    The evidence that Jesus was born of a virgin is just as good as the evidence he was born at all.

  26. 39joshua
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I think the response to Professor Coyne’s querry about the Virgin Birth is that it simply makes sense, that Jesus could not be divine if he was simply the product of normal sexual relations between two humans. Of course, you don’t have to buy that, but I think it can at least justify the veracity of that particular part of the Bible narrative – vs. something like the creation account which is obviously untrue because it clearly goes against scientific reason.

    • Tulse
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      “Could not”? That’s an odd limitation for an omnipotent being. Peter Parker gained superpowers by merely being bitten by a radioactive spider — are you suggesting the Creator of All Things, the Architect of the Universe, couldn’t make the baby of two humans divine?

      • mandrellian
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Indeed.

        I find the apologist tactic of placing limits on an allegedly omnipotent god – He who spoke existence itself into existence and then set the very rules for its functioning (rules that He’s able to break at a whim), it should be mentioned – to be a profoundly naive parlour-game and insulting to the intelligence.

        Limiting a god said ad infinitum to be all-powerful (placing the condition “He had to” on anything God does, for example) seems to occur in very specific arguments, such as the creation and existence of Hell & Satan and the doctrines of substitionary atonement & inherited culpability. It would appear that God “had to” do certain things a certain way at certain times – but usually only at times when Christian doctrine is questioned thoroughly and exposed as the illogical and unjust scapegoat projection that it is – but at any other time (subject to review by theological necessity) God is all-powerful.

        (In a similar fashion, God is unknowable & incomprehensible and his ways mysterious at the most coincidentally convenient – and sometimes contradictorily, utterly and definitely knowable – times for any theologian or apologist: childhood cancer? Mysterious ways/Fall of Man. Existence of evil? God has his reasons/Fall of Man. Fish on Friday/no bacon/chastity before marriage/homosexuality is sinful? God totally said so (and probably Fall of Man).)

        Either God is omnipotent – he can do literally anything and has absolutely no limits on what he can do – or God is not omnipotent and had to create Hell and has no choice but to send mostly decent non-Christian people there forever along with the worst murderers and rapits and genocidal maniacs humanity has to offer. Make up your minds, please.

        • 39joshua
          Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

          Look, if you want to build strawmen that’s your business (Vatican II opened up the possibility of salvation to non-Christians, for instance – do your homework before you spout your ignorance). There are also answers to all of your points, which I suspect you know (There are thousands of books which deal with the question of omnipotence and free will for instance – people have been debating this question since the Greeks). If you want to make a reasonable point like Tulse did above I’ll be happy to respond, but I’m not going to waste my time on the condescending bullshit that the likes of you spout.

          • Tulse
            Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

            There are thousands of books which deal with the question of omnipotence and free will for instance – people have been debating this question since the Greeks

            The mere fact that there is still something to debate after thousands of years suggests no satisfactory, universally accepted answer has been found. You’ll note that we don’t have such debates about, for example, the chemical constituents of water.

            • 39joshua
              Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

              That’s why faith is required.

              • Tulse
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

                What is that even supposed to mean, 39joshua? Why even engage in rational debate, if the problem is only “answerable” via one’s personal belief about the divine?

                (I’ll note in passing that far more narrow arguments regarding “faith” have typically been resolved through more direct means — just ask the Cathars…oh, wait, we can’t…).

          • mandrellian
            Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

            I notice that after insulting me and berating me for being condescending, you invoke the oh-so charitable Vatican II as a path to salvation (as though a non-Christian would place any value on the constant retro-fitting of Christianity the Vatican’s been engaged in for 1500 years) and command that I read “thousands” of books dealing with theodicy and the nature of this god (which all tend to behave precisely as the apologsts I described and which have answered nothing). You behave as if I just woke up one day, decided to be atheist and go poke a Christian (who, by the way, invited himself onto a site populated mostly with atheists to enter a discussion on Catholicism).

            You then recommend “faith” to Tulse as a one-answer-fits-all, get-out-of-dilemmas-free card – as if no atheist has ever heard that vacuous evasion before.

            If I am indeed condescending, fine – I’ll take that over rank hypocrisy any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

            • 39joshua
              Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

              Good grief – this is almost a parody. Do you not realize that youre precisely mirroring the thoughtlessness that you ascribe to believers? You don’t actually refute my point about Vatican II or even admit error, but simply use it as an excuse to make another point about the Church. This is not the way intelligent people debate. And your point about believers on an atheist website is simply bizzare, a mindless subjectism that is the mark of a person who is losing the argument: Don’t attack the person’s actual argument, but simply tar him or her as a believer. Real liberal, you are.

              • mandrellian
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

                Not “believers” of the ordinary type – theologians and apologists were my target. Those who have studied something long and hard enough to know it rests on a foundation of fabrication – or would if they did so honestly and without the blinders of dogma or the crutch of faith.

                Anyway, since you’ve decided I’m your enemy, I’ll leave you to educate Tulse as to how moronic and obtuse he is, reasonable debater and exemplary scholar that you are.

            • Posted November 22, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

              Approval++

      • 39joshua
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

        That’s an interesting point. I guess one very simple answer is that God wanted to enter humanity at its very beginning, at the stage of the embryo, in order to fully experience all the dimensions of being a man – from birth to death. Again, you don’t have to buy this, but I do think there is something rather beautiful and poignant about this notion. It’s part of the appeal of Christmas, after all, even for those who are not religious.

        • Tulse
          Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

          God wanted to enter humanity at its very beginning, at the stage of the embryo, in order to fully experience all the dimensions of being a man

          How does that prevent a natural conception? The Christian god couldn’t magic himself into a fertilized egg? Didn’t the god essentially magic some sperm into a human female to fertilize her egg? Why not wait one step?

          And what the hell does an embryo experience, anyway?

          • 39joshua
            Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

            “And what the hell does an embryo experience, anyway?”

            Your DNA, for one, the map of much of the rest of your life – profoundly important.

            Concerning your other point – because God wanted to be the actual father, the ying to Mary’s yang.

            • Tulse
              Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

              An embryo “experiences” its DNA? And if DNA is so important to human experience, surely your god should have used actual human DNA, rather than divinely-created DNA.

              By the way, is it theologically certain that Mary contributed her own DNA, rather than just acted as a surrogate for a divinely-implanted embryo?

              • 39joshua
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

                Don’t be a moron – my point is that the embryo is not some minor thing as you chose to characterize, but the beginning point of everything we will be – why would God not be concerned about something so profound?

              • Tulse
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

                What precisely was “moronic” about my question? You said your god wanted to “experience” being an embryo, and I merely asked what experience one has. I don’t see any theological reason that Jesus had to be born only from a human egg fertilized by god sperm in order for salvation to work. (And I’ll point out that some Christian theologies historically have doubted that Jesus was even fully human, yet had no problem accepting that he was able to provide salvation.)

        • mandrellian
          Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

          If Christmas was just the beginning of the story of a god who wanted to experience birth, life and death like those he’d created, that would be one thing. In fact, I agree that that would be a nice story – it could even be beautiful and poignant if told well.

          However, the Nativity isn’t the beginning of a story of a god who came to Earth incognito to live peacefully as a humble tradesman; it’s the beginning of the story of a vengeful god with a body count already in the hundreds of millions (among other things, he drowned the world!), impersonating a human in order to threaten people with eternal hellfire if they don’t love him, and then allowing himself be brutalised and tortured to death as scapegoat for humanity – only to cheat death, return three days later, showboat a bit and fly back to Heaven.

          If the story of Christianity began and ended with a baby in the manger who grew up to lead an exemplary, peaceful life, I’d like Christianity a whole lot more. But it simply isn’t, he didn’t, and I’m afraid I don’t.

          -

          For the record, I’m not religious and the actual appeal of Christmas to me is entirely secular: I get three weeks off to spend with my family and friends. I don’t even care much for presents anymore: just fill my glass and my plate and let me get back to joking around with my brothers.

          • 39joshua
            Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

            I agree, the vengeful God of the Old Testament is a problem to say the least, and trying to reconcile it to Jesus is very problematic, as Profesor Coyne has suggested many times.

            • mandrellian
              Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

              Occam might suggest the simplest solution is that OT God can’t be reconciled to Jesus.

              (And I think Prof Coyne would see the word “problematic” as something of an understatement.)

              • 39joshua
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                Boy, give an inch, take a yard huh?

  27. Nancy Morris
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    “The Nativity–Proving That Even in the Bible, Abstinence Doesn’t Work”

  28. mandrellian
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    39joshua:

    Good luck with your theodicy.

    • mandrellian
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      I say that because I’m very thankful I don’t have to engage in such a fool’s errand.

      • 39joshua
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        A typical response from a person who is afraid of pursuasion and very insecure.

        • mandrellian
          Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

          “Insecure.” Hilarious. I’m not the one who became adolescently inflamed the moment someone said something I disagreed with. And in addition to my own egregious sins, Tulse is apparently a “wilfully obtuse moron” because he doesn’t share your views.

          If you can’t brook dissent without leaping instantly to personal insults and defensiveness, perhaps a website populated mostly by people who don’t agree with you (and aren’t troubled by saying so without mollycoddling or qualification) isn’t a place you should spend much time.

  29. 39joshua
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Again Tulse, you’re being willfully obtuse, in this case in regards to my faith response. I think you know better. If you don’t think faith is a reasonable approach to epistomology that’s fine, but then don’t build the strawmen that knowing God should be the same as knowing the world through our senses (who actually believes that?!!!!), and then acting oh-so-shocked and outraged that somebody calls you on this sophistry.

    • Tulse
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      Who said anything about senses? There are plenty of purely rational arguments that have definitive answers (look at most of logic, for example). You claimed that there were “answers” to theological questions, but you also seem to admit that those “answers” involve non-rational criteria on which there is wide, and sometimes even violent, disagreement. I merely argued that this is a rather impoverished notion of “answer”.

  30. Vaal
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    I remember hearing an interview with Kenneth Miller and the subject of the Virgin Birth and similar miracles came up. (I believe he was being somewhat grilled by an atheist on an secular/atheist show…was it the Infidel Guy? I can’t recall…)

    Anyway, he admitted that “as a Catholic” he did accept/believe the virgin birth story.
    When asked how, as a scientist, he could believe such things, he said something along the lines of “I believe it as an act of FAITH, not from doing science. Don’t confuse the two.”

    As I remember he thought this version of non-overlapping magisteria (in epistemological terms) was obvious and the interviewer was silly for not knowing that one could do both, simultaneously.

    Vaal

  31. Posted November 22, 2012 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    (warning: shameless self-promotion) I wrote a post about the likelihood of the virgin birth a while back using Bayes Theorem. Suffice it to say, things didn’t look to good for the virgin birth myth.

  32. Ludo
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    For centuries the dogma of the immaculate (= untarnished) conception has been used by Catholic priests to instill into the minds of young children the idea that sex is dirty and tarnishing. This was/is an effective way to manipulate people by making them feel guilty of their sexual desires and feelings from childhood on.
    Now Ratzinger uses the less perverse phrasing ‘virgin birth’. One wonders if this is only for the ears and eyes of English speaking people? I would not be surprised if the perverse anti-sexual connotation of ‘immaculate conception’ is still retained in other languages, especially those spoken in Asia and South-America.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted November 22, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Whilst I don’t disagree with the main thrust of your argument about making people feel guilty about sexual desires, I think you are making the common mistake of confusing “immaculate conception” with “virgin birth”. Check Wikipedia for an explanation.

      • Ludo
        Posted November 22, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

        I am not taking into account the theological distinctions between the two concepts, instead I am referring to the practice of Catholic education. As far as I know (and experienced myself), many Catholic primary schools (age 6-12 years) in Europe used the term ‘immaculate’ explicitly to highlight the Catholic priest’s disdainful ideas on sexuality as squalid and sinful. The theological finesses came later, they were mentioned at the end of secondary school (age 15-17, and then usually only in passing. At that age a lot of damage was already done.

  33. Kevin
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    “Golden Book of Jebus”/i>

    Can we please call time on this puerile playing with names?

    I would have expected a little better from the followers of Charles Fartwind.

  34. Posted November 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    [Ratzinger]hasn’t overturned the Church’s doctrine of accepting evolution, a doctrine that blatantly contradicts Genesis.

    Of course he hasn’t overturned it. The reason is that there is no doctrine that evolution is accepted by the Catholic Church as such. What we have are many individual Catholics, including priests and even some higher ranking Church officials (the late Pope Wojtyla a.k.a. John Paul II, among others) who accept (theistic) evolution, but such acceptance has never been officially affirmed by the Church, much less made into a doctrine.

    While this difference might seem a minor point, the Church often insisted that official church policy can only be set by the Conference of Bishops and/or the pope when speaking ex cathedra — i.e., in his official quality as head of the Church, not when merely expressing a personal opinion (as Wojtyla did when declaring that evolution is “more than just a hypothesis,” or something to this effect).

  35. Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Virgin birth – Myth or Historical Truth?

    This question falls over from the start if the virgin birth story doesn’t appear in the New Testament. And it doesn’t.

    With the missionary activities of Paul and others, the passing of the original followers of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem, the NT soon fell into the hands of the Greeks and Latins.

    They interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures through the prism of their own culture, and gave meanings to words and phrases never intended by the NT authors.

    For example the Holy Spirit coming “upon” Mary is read as a virginal conception. However there are dozens of instances in the Bible where the Holy Spirit came “upon” individuals, usually men, but only in Mary’s case is it read as God impregnating someone.

    Also a ridiculous interpretation was given to Mary’s question to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” It interprets these words as Mary saying that she does not know how she could get pregnant in the future because currently she is a virgin!

    I could go on, but to cut a long story short, the NT says nothing about a virgin birth. What it does say is that Joseph was not Jesus’ father. Luke 3:23, when properly translated, names Heli as the father of Jesus.

    The few passages about the birth of Jesus in the NT are analysed comprehensively on — http://www.wallsofjericho.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=26


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  1. [...] was just catching up on some blogs this morning and read Jerry Coyne’s thoughts on the virgin birth, the resurrection, and their importance in Christian (specifically Catholic) faith.  Towards the end, he says [...]

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