Apparently I don’t understand Jesus

I knew this would happen: amateur theologians come along after I give my reactions to the Bible and instruct me that I am interpreting it rong.  Here’s a comment I got from one “Steve” which I decided to put above the fold; it refers to my post about the beginning of the New Testament.

He’s somewhat of a troll, so I am not allowing him to comment further, but feel free to say what you want to him, assuming he’ll read this.

People who have so little understanding of the teachings of Jesus should never endeavor to comment on it, much less to propagate it. I don’t have the time in my day to point out these errors and educate you. I will give you a little ‘clue’ here though.

Jesus taught a way to love that is beyond our human ability… nobody can naturally love their enemy. That takes a supernatural enactment of God in us. If we live in releationship [sic] with Him this is possible. And He wasn’t referring to letting someone beat you up. If you’ll read the text more carefully, He said, “If a man strikes you on the right cheek…” This was a common expression for someone giving someone a back-handed slap (picture it… he’s facing you… the common way one would strike you on the right side of the face is by taking their right hand and back-handing you. This was a form of INSULT. That’s what He was referring to!

And as far as no secular references to Jesus in history, you need to do your homework. You’ll find all kinds of historical references to dispell [sic] your ignorant assertion that he didn’t exist. I don’t have the time to ‘spoon-feed’ you any more. We live in the ‘information age’…there is therefored no excuse for this level of ignorance.

I guess Steve doesn’t have time, either, to check out those solid “historical references” to Jesus.  But I’m immensely grateful to lean that the word “strike” (or “smite” in the King James version) was purely metaphorical, referring to the reciprocation of insults rather than blows.

 

250 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Steve, of course, would be unable to sensibly answer the question: “How do you know you are interpreting it correctly?”

  2. eveysolara
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    There are historical refences to Hercules as well.

    • Andrew B.
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Historical references? He had his own TV show! If that’s not evidence of his existence, I don’t know what is!

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I know, they made ‘Hercules’ not 5 miles from where I live. I could take you to most of the outside locations on the west coast that they used too. So, Hercules is real!! ;)

        (And was worth millions of dollars to the West Auckland economy, there will be accounts and tax records to prove it).

    • steve oberski
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      For me it’s Casper the Friendly Ghost.

      Comic books, television and movies affirm his supernatural origins and with the introduction of The Ghostly Trio we see the eternal struggle between good and evil.

      I continue to feel his love for me and many others have had this experience.

      If the bible proves the existence of jebus then comic books prove the existence of Super Man.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        I suggest Forrest Gump. The mid-20th century people and places mentioned in accounts of Gump (Vietnam, presidents Kennedy & Johnson, etc) all existed. This is surely evidence for the existence of Gump himself, although no mention of him surfaced before 1986.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

          Dude, what about the totally excellent Bill and Ted? Or Marty McFly?

          Totally historically authenticated bro (picture frenzied air guitar gesticulations now…)

          • Reginald Selkirk
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            Time travel, besides being impossible, complicates the challenge of accurate historical dating.

  3. Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    It is a common habit of Christians to state a lie as fact and then offer no information to back it up.
    It is foolish for anyone to love their enemies. This, to me, is something only a slave mentality can prompt you to do.
    He states there is no excuse for the level of ignorance you display, this, after he displays what seems total ignorance to me.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Well, Gandhi wasn’t a Jesus follower, although he seemed to admire some sayings. Nor was he a devotee of any sort of god entity which Steve would recognise. “Truth”, which seems to be Gandhi’s take on god, appears to be an alien concept so far as Mr. Steve is concerned.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Ghandi said something along the lines that Christianity was okay, it was just Christians that are the problem.

        One of my favorites from Gandhi, when he was asked what he thinks about Western Civilization he said “I think it would be a good idea”.

        • Marella
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          Which is pretty rich coming from a man whose country had a policy of forcing widows to self-immolate on their husbands’ funeral pyres, until dissuaded by the British.

          • Veroxitatis
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            Gandhi, fought against all such practices.

          • Veroxitatis
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            Vide: http://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/gender_equality.htm

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

            Surely we don’t need to be so defensive of Western Civilization that we run the risk of echoing the British defense of colonial exploitation as a kindly civilizing influence on heathen savages. We can avoid being blindly chauvenistic, and also avoid being pathetically self-flagellating, and still be able to realistically criticize ourselves and realistically assess our advantages.

            I think Gandhi was criticizing the many brutal inhumane exploitative practices of British colonial rule, which reveal the hypocrisy of a people claiming a unique and exclusive ownership of “Civilization”. It was the same condescending view of “savages” that enabled the British to at once see themselves as saviors while enabling them to practice inhumane cruelty and indifference to their own cultural imperialism.

            This is something Americans repeated with their own “Indians”, and continue today in many of our attitudes toward Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, Asians, and Africans.

            There have been many great civilizations in human history, and none of them have been immune from falling into various kinds of brutal hypocrisy relative to their own self-pleasing narratives about themselves.

          • Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

            “Which is pretty rich coming from a man whose country had a policy of forcing widows to self-immolate on their husbands’ funeral pyres, until dissuaded by the British.”

            Let me not bother with the complete lack of logical thought that went into the above statement*, but go straight to the history of the thing. Firstly, “forcing widows to self-immolate” was by no means a “policy”. As (the reasonably well sourced) Wikipedia says (emphasis added),

            By about the 10th century sati, as understood today, was known across much of the subcontinent. It continued to occur at a low frequency, with regional variations, until the early 19th century.”

            Secondly, the British had no business taking credit for stopping the practice. Again as Wikipedia notes (emphasis mine),

            Akbar (1542–1605) had issued general orders prohibiting sati and insisted that no woman could commit sati without the specific permission of his Chief police officers.[19][20] They were instructed to delay the woman’s decision for as long as possible.[19] Pensions, gifts and rehabilitative help was offered to the potential sati to persuade her from committing the act.[19] Children were strictly forbidden from the practice.[19] Tavernier, writing in the reign of Shah Jahan, observed that widows with children were not allowed in any circumstances to burn and that in other cases, governors did not readily give permission, but could be bribed to do so.[20]

            The emperor Aurangzeb was the strongest opponent of sati among the Mughals. In December 1663, he issued an “order that in all lands under Mughal control, never again should the officials allow a woman to be burnt”.[20] Although the possibility of an evasion of government orders through payment of bribes existed, later European travelers record that by the end of Aurangzeb’s reign, sati was much abated and very rare, except by some Rajah’s wives.[20]

            Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs, spoke out against the practice of sati.

            Since you seem to know so little about Indian history (though that does not seem to stop you from making blanket statements about it) the British had little authority in India before 1757 CE (the Battle of Plassey), about 90 years after the above proclamation by Aurangzeb.

            Now, let’s come to what the British actually did about the problem. Among several other social reformers (mostly Indian) who were trying to eradicate the shameful practice, one called Raja Rammohan Roy, by all reckoning as un-British and as Indian as they come, ran a strong campaign against the practice in the Bengal territory (which was then ruled by the British) in the 1810s. This finally culminated in the British governor, William Bentick passing a law similar to those that that had been passed earlier by Aurangzeb (a full 150 years earlier) and Akbar (about 250 years earlier).

            So yes, this wasn’t a case of the noble colonizers “civilizing” the native savages or whatever (though it is quite understandable why that myth would be so popular in certain circles in the West). Perhaps, in the future, you would consider actually consulting history before falling hook, line and sinker for neo-colonial fantasies.

            Bonus Fact: Both Akbar and Aurangzeb, mentioned above, were devout Muslims.

            *Do you perhaps reject everything a German says because, you know, a certain practice was at a time quite popular in that country? Or perhaps neglect everything a certain Steven Pinker says because, hey, he comes from the country which till less than a hundred years ago segregated people by law based on skin color?)

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

            Ahh, so inspiring to see someone left to take up the White Man’s Burden.

            Yes, yes, of course those dusky subcontinent denizens owe the noble Brits for leading them away from their benighted practice of sati, but did squidgy-nosed old Gunga Din giving his last full measure in service of the Raj do nothing to assuage that debt?

        • Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

          @Jeff Johnson: Also, both of these quotes are now believed to be apocryphal, in part because Gandhi was not known to make severely caustic remarks, but mostly because no primary sources have ever been found. See here and here (you might have to scroll down on the second one).

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      It is foolish to lay down for someone trying to kill you, or to willingly keep surrendering your money to someone conning you out of it.

      But there are times when forgiving slights or offenses is a more effective response than tit-for-tat vengeance. To insist on repaying every insult makes one overly defensive and wastes time and energy. Plus people respect more one who can rise above petty squabbles, while they look down on those hell bent on settling every score.

      There is also wisdom in understanding one’s enemies, seeing them as humans rather than monsters, and knowing how they see the world and why they are your enemy. Taking a realistic view of one’s enemies is better than seeing them as unconditionally absolutely evil, which is the habit of many. Who are our enemies? The Russians? The Vietnamese? The Iraqis? The Chinese? The Germans? The Japanese? The Koreans? Really none of these people are our enemies. They are just people and we have been drawn into tragic conflicts at various times due to temporary conditions, fear, and stupidity.

      Perhaps loving your enemy is just a matter of seeing them with compassion and understanding, which is a big step toward avoiding lots of tragic consequences. It could be that Kennedy’s refusal to view Kruschev as an absolute enemy, the way LeMay and other generals did, that saved us from the brink of nuclear war. Bin Laden was a man who loved his children, loved horses, loved living a simple life and simple pleasures like eating dates and yogurt. He had the same kind of self-righteous self-justification that we feel when we attack an enemy, and we have killed way more innocent people than he ever did. So who is evil? Viewing the world as a binary of good and evil, friends and enemies, leads to much misunderstanding and confusion with tragic consequences.

      If we view Jesus as a man (whether he existed or not), it seems to me that he was teaching in a very simple way, in terms appropriate to his cultural and historical context, a way to rise above the zero-sum eye-for-an-eye competition that can so easily dominate small minded thinking, and to introduce what we might call a game theoretical strategy of cooperation, leading to non-zero-sum gains for society as a whole. Seeing “love thy enemy” in this context has some rational basis to it.

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Well, that’s laudable, but it seems a hermeneutical stretch to be sure that that was Jesus’s intent… (or, rather, the author’s intent).

        /@

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        Jeff Johnson is making Robert Wright’s point about the ensuing economic globalization in the Levant at that time and the social need for more acceptance, ie, what Steve calls “love”.

        It’s not uncommon for history to portray a broad social movement as originating in an individual who is partially or completely mythologized.

        • Posted January 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

          Paul Bunyan…John Henry…Pecos Bill….

          b&

      • H.H.
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I think the simple lesson is that aggression begets more aggression, violence more violence. It was a profound insight 2000 years ago and remains so today. It’s one of the few things about Christianity that isn’t either worthless or directly harmful.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

        “Bin Laden was a man who loved his children, loved horses, loved living a simple life and simple pleasures like eating dates and yogurt.”

        Based on what was found in his compound, he apparently loved his porn, too. Goes to show, nobody’s all bad. (And never mind about turning the other “cheek.”)

  4. Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    AFAICT there are thousands of “holy men” across India who supposedly enact any or all of Jesus’ miracles every day. Why are they less believable than Nth-hand conflicting reports from 2000 years ago?

    • Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Mike, I am looking for reports of modern-day “miracles” by non-christian religious figures. Can you steer me to some references? I think these would be very powerful counterarguments to christians who claim that the miracles in the Bible offer evidence for their god.

      • Stephen P
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Sai Baba is one of the better known ones – you can Google him.

        • Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, that’s the kind of thing I was looking for.

          • Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

            In fact, I think there is even a resurrection story about an ascetic (also known as Sai Baba) who lived about 150 years ago: http://www.saibaba.org/lhossb/lhossb7.html.

            To his credit the older Sai Baba (of the story linked above) seemed to have been interested more in caring for the poor and in meditation than in constructing a corporate empire (though, ironically, after his death, it did not take long for people to start taking financial advantage of his fame).

            The “Sai baba” that Stephen P probably has in mind is a more recent phenomenon, who claimed to be a rebirth of the older Sai Baba. However, if this was so, he seemed to have changed quite a lot: while the older Sai Baba was known to subsist on donated food, the excess of which he himself used to give away to more needy persons, the new Sai Baba constructed a rather large financial empire around himself.

  5. Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    You’ll find all kinds of historical references to dispell [sic] your ignorant assertion that he didn’t exist. […] We live in the ‘information age’…there is therefored no excuse for this level of ignorance.

    Christians always accuse atheists of their own worst faults.

    • Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I also love the use of “ignorance” in that quote. As if we’re only atheists because we haven’t bothered to examine the issue. Talk about ass-backward.

      I think the thing that most frustrates and depresses me about people is the Dunning-Kruger effect. Steve is a perfect example.

      • r3formed
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

        Your whole “ass backwards” statement indicates you’re committing the same error.

        Do you feel Christians are only Christians because they haven’t “bothered to examine the issue?

        • Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

          I refer you to Convert’s Corner at Richard Dawkins’ site. Look at how often higher education – a form of examining the issue – leads to the conclusion that there is no god.

          I refer you to Dennett and Lascola’s Clergy Project (as well as myriad comments on rationalist blogs). There’s nothing like reading and studying scripture/theology to help one find the conclusion that there is no god.

          And yes, willful ignorance is a huge part of religion. While I was an active Mormon I was told to “avoid the very appearance of evil”, meaning don’t go anywhere near any kind of material that might weaken faith: don’t read Darwin, don’t read Dawkins, etc. Dennis Prager insists universities (that’s right, all universities, not specific individual unis) are best avoided.

          Have you come across the idea that “the Internet is where religions go to die”? Access to information will likely be the death knell for religion (well, if it in fact dies).

          Yes, I’d wager a significant sum that a higher percentage of religious people have done less examining than non-religious people, and that that is why they remain religious.

        • Pete UK
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:27 am | Permalink

          Since you ask: yes,in many cases that is probably true. If you are religious, it is overwhelmingly likely that what you believe in depends on the country you were born in. Most people never change.

          You may have examined Christianity assiduously – although we must agree to differ on the robustness of your conclusions – but I suspect the data would show that you are in a tiny minority.

          Of course, it depends on what you and I mean by “examine”. And here, as with “cause”, “effect”, “time”, “evidence” and many others. We have learnt enought to now that these are all closely allied to the way humans perceive things, and that a rather different picture

          • Pete UK
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:29 am | Permalink

            Sorry – poor editing. Meant to finish with “a rather different picture emerges when we use greater rigour.

  6. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I love the righteous indignation that “Steve” shows in his tortured sentences without giving one piece of evidence to back up what he implied. He substitutes emotion for logic or facts.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Well, when you think about it, there really isn’t any evidence that he could adduce. Emotion’s all he has left.

  7. Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Awwww, Christians are so cute when they get angry.

    • Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Well, until they get their hands on ropes or guns or the legislature, anyway.

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        Just be sure you don’t have any expectations about what they’d do with a comfy chair….

        b&

        • Marella
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          Not the comfy chair! You brute!

          • Posted January 1, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

            And you’ll have to wait until eleven for your cup of coffee, too!

            b&

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

            I wasn’t expecting that!

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

              No one expects the comfy chair…

            • Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

              I certainly was expecting that comment from someone… 

              /@

  8. Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Nothing like computational linguistics, disambiguation, and hermeneutic specialization from a biblical maximalist.

  9. Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Steve says, “Jesus taught a way to love that is beyond our human ability… nobody can naturally love their enemy.”

    Actually Robert Wright has an enlightening take on the lesson of Jesus’ love in his book Evolution of God, theorizing that it’s an economic progression from tribalism to a more universal acceptance of The Other (Samaritans, etc) which was selected out as a social trait as trade and travel became more prevalent.

    This trend toward economic globalization has continued in fits and starts; the Jesus phenomenon, whether mythology or not, was just one step in the long progression…but it’s obviously “natural.”

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Good book. His agnosticism in the final chapter is mildly irritating, but the historical evolution of a monotheism from early Hebrew polytheism is very interesting stuff. It uses the Bible to puncture the narrative Jews, Christians, and Muslims want to believe.

      I highly recommend “Non-Zero” by the same author.

  10. Alex Shuffell
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Theists always remind my of HAL 9000. They appear normal, well meaning people, but they live with conflicting orders and this confuses them as they try to figure it out what and how to follow. You know the rest.

  11. Paula
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I’ve heard this argument regarding the slap from Catholics as well — “turning the other cheek” is essentially making a request to be hit with an open palm (as you would an equal) rather than a backhand (an insult to an inferior). I have no idea whether this interpretation is valid, but it is fairly popular.

    • the Siliconopolitan
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      I’ve heard that one along with claims that the instruction to hand over your shirt as well, if someone demands your coat, is expressly forbidden by Torah, so it’s supposed to be a way to make your creditor sin.

      Similarly the idea about walking two miles when ordered to walk one, is supposedly illegal under Roman law.

      I have no idea if there’s any exegetical reality to these claims (that I, myself, have parroted in the past).

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        I also don’t know if these have any real basis, but my intuition leads me to prefer the cynical view that these are just self-interested rationalizations until more information comes in.

        What are the rationalizations for it being easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, or for not being able to serve both Mamon and God? What are the rationalizations for knowing good trees from their fruits, the prohibitions against public prayer, and judging not, lest ye be judged?

        • tfkreference
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

          What I’ve heard–from someone versed in apologetics–is that the eye of the needle was the space under one of the gates of Jerusalem that would be difficult, but not impossible for a camel to squeeze through.

          Just reporting what I heard.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink

            That actually sounds quite plausible, since the literal interpretation is absurd. The interpretation you quoted makes more sense – Big J is saying it’s difficult for a rich man to enter heaven. As opposed to saying (by means of an absurdly exaggerated metaphor) that it’s flatly impossible.

            • Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:32 am | Permalink

              An urban myth, I think. There’s no evidence of such a gate described by that hares.

              The original could’ve just been hyperbole.

              Or a mistranslation; rather than “camel”, the original may have been “rope”, in which case the metaphor is less hyperbolic & makes a lot more sense!

              /@

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 2, 2013 at 3:05 am | Permalink

                I’d accept a mistranslation too. Just that the original, taken literally, seems so patently incongruous (as well as hyper-hyperbolic) that even allowing for the Bible being fictitious, it always seemed odd to me that anyone would ever use that as a metaphor.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

                Here is a claim that the Aramaic word for ‘rope’ and ‘camel’ have the same spelling (with vowels omitted, as is typical in languages of the region). There could have been lost Aramaic texts of this parable that served as a source to the Greek we know about, and the mistake was made in translation from Aramaic to Greek.

                Rope makes more sense than camel, but in either case the overall meaning is plain, and it is a meaning that many if not most Christians conveniently ignore, which was my original point.

                Jesus was critical of wealth, and the rich young man in the context of this quote was counseled by Jesus to sell and give away all his possessions, otherwise he could not follow Jesus.

                If we were to assume for the sake of argument Christian metaphysics, clearly you can’t take money with you to heaven. But Jesus seems to demand more than simply relinquishing wealth upon death, but rather strongly indicates that to serve God one must not accumulate personal wealth. This pretty much puts the lie to entire right-wing conservative Christian political and economic program, which is a massive hypocrisy in light of what Jesus actually taught.

              • Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                * hares (!!!) » term

                I was typing this too hastily on my iPad mini when I should have been packing and missed that auto-correct gem… 

                In any case, I agree with Jeff; hyperbole or no, the meaning is clear.

                /@

          • Jeremy Pereira
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

            Unfortunately, there is no evidence that such a gate ever existed.

            I’ll contribute another one I heard which is that the Aramaic for “camel” is very similar to the Aramaic for “rope” and that these two got confused at some point in the oral tradition. The statement “it is easier for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle” makes more sense than “camel”, however, I have no evidence for the idea.

            • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

              I think it much more likely that it’s simply a pun.

              That is, it started out as “rope,” then somebody either got clever or simply misheard it and thought it’d be hilarious to change it to “camel.”

              The ancient Pagans had great senses of humor, and there’s no reason to think that all ancient Jews and Christians were dour.

              b&

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

              It makes sense that walled cities and towns might have defensive measures that involve a narrow constricted passage, possibly with turns, that enables routine authorized traffic while preventing or slowing a full scale mounted assault. We have an equivalent today called “turnstiles”.

              It’s doubtful that they were in general called “eye of a needle” (or even “eye of the needle”). The Aramaic polysemy between camel and rope seems way more plausible as a source for this peculiar wording.

            • Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

              Slow echo… ! ;-)

              /@

    • corio37
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      But a Divine being dictating an instruction book for all of humankind throughout eternity has no right to be ambiguous or obscure. At the very least he should have supplied a footnote or annotation.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        The idea is silly, isn’t it? To think that someone who supposedly loves us would want us to live in ignorance forever out of fidelity to a finite and limited book frozen in time, or else we would make him jealous and angry, is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard. The mixture of pettiness and majesty that believers invest their god with truly is a divine comedy.

      • tfkreference
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        Perhaps he used endnotes, which have a completely different meaning for an infinite being.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

          Now that’s an intriguing thought. Come the End of Days, God will tell us all what he really meant.

          I want the publishing rights!

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

          LOL!

  12. Sam
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    What secular texts mention Jesus before the NT gospels were written? I don’t know of any. And I wonder if Steve knows/accepts that the earliest of the gospels was written about 60 or 70 AD, the last, John, about 100 AD. So they were not written by Matt, Mark, Luke, or John, but anonymous authors, none of whom knew Jesus personally.
    I wonder if Steve is familiar with the gnostic gospels, and whether the fractured, disputed state of early Christianity has any bearing on his modern belief; meaning but for a few accidents of history, Steve could be championing the Jesus of The Gospel of Judas or Gospel of Thomas, a very different savior than that described by the synoptic gospels.

    • Dale
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Or even the “wgospel of Jesus’s wife”.

    • Stephen P
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      As you’ve raised the subject, I’ll take the opportunity to ask if anyone knows why scholars typically date the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John to the period 80-100.

      I’ve got a book on the gospels (by Helms) which makes a detailed and plausible case for dating Mark to the early 70’s. But he just gives dates for the others, without any evidence at all for Matthew and Luke and only hyper-tenuous evidence for John. And I failed to track down anything much via Google when I tried a year or so ago.

      Given that Clement of Rome (writing around the year 95) and Ignatius (usually dated to around 110) don’t mention the gospels, even though they had reason enough to do so, it seems very unlikely that the other gospels are older than that. Of course they don’t mention Mark either, but there are quite a few pointers in it suggesting that it was intended as a document for a secret sect (like e.g. the Mithraic sect). It seems the gospel of Mark got out somewhere after 110 and then all the other gospel writers decided that it needed some serious improvement.

      But apparently biblical scholars disagree. Anyone know why?

      • muuh-gnu
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        > But apparently biblical scholars disagree. Anyone know why?

        Because nobody will finance hundreds of them to spend their life studying “only a myth”.

        Jesus and Bible studies draw their importance (and justify their funding) solely from the assumption of historicity.

        And in their studies, the scholars have come to a point where any “wrong” outcome of their research could jeopardize their future employment. And as anyone would expect people to do in such a situation, instead of getting their scholarship right and risk their employment, they are making sure their employment remains and compromising their own studies.

        They have basically collectively realized that they all bet their carreers on the wrong horse and are now collectively cheating their way to retirement.

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        I’ll take the opportunity to ask if anyone knows why scholars typically date the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John to the period 80-100.

        Trivially simple.

        First, I think you meant the Synoptics, which are Matthew, Mark, and Luke; John is a much different and later work.

        Most agree that Mark was the earliest. But Mark refers to the destruction of the Temple with the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE, so it’s quite a bit of a stretch to claim that it was written before then (though a few true nutjobs do so, claiming those examples of prophetic visions).

        But that poses a bit of a problem. Originally, the Gospels were claimed to have been written by the men whose names appear at the top. Though that’s long since been abandoned, the claim is still that they’re by other anonymous personal eyewitnesses; that’s key to Christian apologists for establishing them as reliable and credible documents.

        The problem?

        An eyewitness writing after 70 CE would have been quite elderly, meaning he had to have been writing right after 70 CE. Thus, the traditional apologetic dating of all three of the Synoptic Gospels to 70 – 80 CE.

        But the Gospel accounts refer to the destruction of the Temple in a way that only makes sense if it was long enough ago for it to be a hazy thing from history. Further, the authors display quite a bit of unfamiliarity with the geography, history, and politics of the area and the era. It instaed makes much more sense if they were not written in the aftermath of the Roman conquest when the memories were fresh, but rather at lesat a few generations later.

        To me, it’s quite clear that the Gospels are all second century documents, and not early second century either. Mid-century seems most likely, and late-century not at all implausible. Further, it would seem to be unlikely in the extreme that what we have are the original, unedited, unmanipulated versions of these documents; rather, it’s quite likely that each has been mucked around with by multiple scribes and editors at various points in time. In that sense, they would be living documents that probably didn’t settle into their current content until they were canonized in the fourth and fifth centuries.

        Hope that helps….

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Jeff D
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

          Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, writing at about 180 C.E., is usually cited as the first writer whose works survive and who associated the names “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke” and “John” with the 4 gospels in tbe N.T. They remained pseudonymous works before that. And of course, we don’t know the precise contents of the manuscripts that Irenaeus knew. For myself, I’ve got no objection to the idea that the original (second- or third- or nth-hand) source material for Mark, and even the earliest versions of Mark’s gospel, date to the 70-90 C.E. period. No one knows, and probably no one will ever know, how many changes were made to the various versions of the gospels between when they were first compiled in written form and the times when the oldest extant manuscripts were written.

          • Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

            I think we can safely dismiss the “Little Apocalypse” scene and similar anachronisms as having originated in the first century…and, in the case of Mark, that’s the bulk of the Crucifixion scene, and essentially the climax of his Gospel.

            Either that, or it was intentionally written as contemporary fictional political satire.

            That is, Mark unambiguously linked the Crucifixion with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, but without referring to how the Temple was actually destroyed by Roman troops.

            So, either Mark knew full well how the Temple was destroyed and that Jesus didn’t literally have anything to do with it but he used it as a literary device for whatever reason; or the destruction of the Temple was something so remote in time and space and so unfamiliar to Mark that it wasn’t at all strange to attribute it to Jesus rather than Roman conquest.

            The former means Mark’s Jesus was knowingly authored as pure fiction. The latter means Mark knew less than nothing about Jesus. Neither option leaves any room for Mark as an even remotely reliable source of anything about an alleged historical Jesus, and both are much more plausibly explained with Jesus being a purely fictional character regardless of Mark’s intentions.

            Or, again, it could be a later addition…but it sure would seem weird for Mark to not have written about the Crucifixion, which would only leave the option of a later “Mark” deleting the “original” “Mark’s” description of the Crucifixion and interpolating his own…which brings us right back full circle to the top of this post, but with a different “Mark” as the author.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Stephen P
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:05 am | Permalink

              I don’t think you’ve quite got this right. Mark doesn’t link the crucifixion to the destruction of the temple (unless you’ve got a passage I’ve overlooked) – are you maybe misremembering 14:56-58 or 15:38?.

              In chapter 13 he has Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple at some future date and then saying that Jesus will return shortly thereafter.

              • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

                No, I most emphatically mean Mark.

                Mark 15:37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

                38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

                The veil is very well known to have remained intact until the Romans tore it in just that manner.

                And there’re other references to Jesus’s death coinciding with the destruction of the Temple, such as Mark 15:29.

                There are lots of other anachronisms in the Gospels, too, especially with respect to minor characters who were much too young to have been running around in the first third of the first century. Sorry I don’t remember the details.

                b&

              • Stephen P
                Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

                Sorry, this time I’m not buying it. Destroying the veil of the temple is not the same thing as destroying the temple. And 15:29 is clearly a reference back to the 14:56-58 passage I mentioned; Mark says this is the work of false witnesses. Mark may perhaps be saying that the destruction of the temple would certainly follow; I see nothing which says they took place at the same time.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                I didn’t understand Ben to say that the temple was destroyed at the same time as the crucifixion, merely that the text draws a causal link. The idea is that the temple was destroyed as a consequence of the destruction of the Messiah, that there was a kind of divine logic that implied one sin (crucifixion) must be answered with a great punishment (destruction of the temple), which was presumably ordained by God as a just compensation for the murder of his Son. This is the apparent point of view of the author of Mark.

                The important point was originally, I believe, that the author of Mark was aware of the destruction of the temple, and thus Mark could not have been authored prior to 70 CE.

              • Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                Stephen, my point is that we know exactly when the veil was torn asunder: 70CE, at the exact same time when the rest of the Temple was destroyed.

                Which means that Mark’s account of the Crucifixion can only be understood as fiction.

                We know that Jesus was not crucified in 70 CE; I don’t think that requires any further explanation. And since that’s the only time that the curtain was torn…well, I really shouldn’t have to spell out such basic logic.

                The parsimonious explanation is that either the author of Mark was writing in recent memory of the destruction of Jerusalem and was writing a religious sociopolitical satire that he didn’t expect anybody to mistrake as fact; or that he was writing so far away in time and space that it wasn’t unreasonable for either he or his intended audience to reasonably conflate the events in question.

                Neither explanation is even remotely consistent with Mark as a chronicler of history. Considering that Jesus is nobody if the Crucifixion story isn’t true, and since it’s trivial to demonstrate that the Crucifixion story is fiction, so too is Jesus.

                …which is exactly the same conclusion one would draw from the silence of the early first century sources, from the Christian’s own impassioned equivalence of Jesus with the other Pagan demigods, and so on and so forth.

                Cheers,

                b&

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

          And the historical relation to Mark of Matthew, Luke (and Acts), and later John can be inferred from details added by the later authors not included in Mark. Why would essential details of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (conveniently fulfilling Jewish prophesies) be omitted from Mark if it was written afterwards? Why would Mark leave out such a detail if it were an established fact considered key to establishing Jesus’ credibility as the Messiah? It makes more sense that the embellishments were added after Mark wrote his work. The content and the structure of the gospels, when compared with cultural and regional factors at the time, enable scholars to identify what audiences each book was intended to evangelize, and how specific differences in details would enhance the power and credibility of the works with their focused audience. They reveal authorial intentions more like those of marketing documents than documents concerned with historically accurate retelling of facts.

          • Posted January 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            Spot on.

            The Gospels make no sense if they’re historical accounts of an actual person, but they make perfect sense if they’re an example of active religious mythologizing.

            Nobody gets upset that Paul Bunyan goes from merely big enough to use trees as toothpicks in one scene (which would put him at about a quarter mile in height) and big enough to carve the Grand Canyon by carelessly dragging his axe behind him in the next (which would make him about 6 miles tall). Details like that don’t matter in that type of storytelling.

            As you point out, the details that did matter to Christians were the theological and political ones. That’s why Mark blamed the destruction of Jerusalem on the rejection of Christianity (by having Jesus’s crucifixion causing the destruction of the Temple in the story), and why Matthew and Luke both felt it necessary to invent their own genealogies for Jesus to establish his political legitimacy as the heir of the Throne of David.

            That none of these “facts” line up with each other is of no more importance than the Force being quasi-religious telekinesis in the first Star Wars movies and a sexually-transmitted disease in the…wait, I forget…did Lucas ever get around to making any more movies after he made The Return of the Jedi?

            Cheers,

            b&

        • r3formed
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

          What about polycarp’s letter to the Philippians where he quotes from several books included in the New Testament?

          What about ignatius? Who seemed to be defending the authority of what we think to be a non-existent New Testament.

          What about Justin martyr who refers to the memoirs of the apostles and alludes to passages in the four gospels and quotes them in places?

          These and others all refer to this older collection of documents in the time frame you say they were developed and there are verbatim quotations from what we currently call scripture.

          Although it would be quite a stretch that the gospels were written before the destruction of the temple if the authors were being dishonest, if they were simply retelling their experiences and what they say is true then it’s not much of a stretch at all. I’m not saying definitive evidence exists just that your worldview is showing.

          • Stephen P
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:16 am | Permalink

            May I ask where exactly you got the idea that Polycarp quotes the gospels? Because this is helping to make one of my suspicions more concrete.

            I’ve just reread the epistle and I can find nothing to indicate that Polycarp is familiar with any of the events of the gospels. Yes, he uses phrases which are present in the gospels, but that is it. No stable, no fishermen, no healing the sick, no raising people from the dead, no moneychangers in the temple, no betrayal and trial. No actual events at all, not even an indication that he is quoting from a physical document; just sayings. Contrast that with the fact that he does make an explicit reference to Paul.

            Surely it is clear that Polycarp is not quoting the gospels; rather, the gospels are quoting Polycarp. (Or perhaps in a few cases both Polycarp and the gospels are quoting oral tradition.)

            But I’m really beginning to wonder whether all the academic bible scholars have got this arse-about-face, remarkable though it may seem.

            I don’t agree with Ben that the gospels could easily be late second-century though. It is not impossible, but given the work of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, I think you need a fair bit of creative book-keeping to push the gospels back past 160 (which is when we know that Justin Martyr was alive and kicking – one of the very few hard dates for the early church fathers.)

            • r3formed
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

              I said he quoted not described the events. Why would he include that in a letter to a church that knew that and probably had documents already with the story? What do you think the intent of that letter was? You believe the gospels quote him I believe the opposite. The great thing is neither of us have any evidence to support it that doesn’t take an assumption or two.

              • Stephen P
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:41 am | Permalink

                So where precisely does he quote any gospel event, or even allude to one? Can you point to any?

                To make the case that the epistle quotes the gospels, you have to assume that Polycarp had documents chock-full of juicy events, but ignored them all in favour of some fairly insignificant phrases such as “the Spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak”. Furthermore you have to accept that he explicitly referred to the writings of Paul (three times!), but that when he quoted Mark, Matthew and Luke he didn’t, not once, not even as an anonymous memoir of the apostles. In other words you have to assume that Polycarp was surpassingly strange in his use of quotes.

                To make the case that the gospels quote the epistle, you only have to assume that the gospel writers went hunting around existing documents looking for passages to use: and in fact you don’t even have to assume that because we know that that is what they did.

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

                Stephen,

                Letter to the Philippians. Bible.
                2:3. Matt. 7:1-2 Luke 6:20
                7:2. Matt. 6:13, 26:14
                11:2. 1 Cor. 6:2

                There is more if you desire or maybe you could just read the letter and see that he’s constantly saying as He said or as Paul said and then google what he says next. The reason you find strangeness is the gospels were written as biographys and maybe they didn’t feel it necessary to discuss who wrote them because it was insignificant. Why would they use some one like mark anyways? Who was he? If they were being deceptive wouldn’t they have used someone more crediblelike an actual eyewitness?

                As to it not containing what you refer to as juicy events I feel I’ve already overcome that. The Philippians probably already had that knowledge and the letters intent was different and does coincide with other letters that were included in canon. Those insignificant phrases hold wieght with the spirit of the letter.

                Since you state you know that’s what they did can you please provide evidence to that. Thanks

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

                Still I never said an event but the text itself. Got it? Good.

              • Stephen P
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                Right, those are just sayings and phrases that you reference, as I said. So I think we’ve agreed (it’s getting a little hard to follow the discussion) that Polycarp never refers to, or even hints at, any gospel event. And your argument justifying this rather striking omission is that the “Philippians probably already had that knowledge”. Yet he includes sayings and phrases from the very same document which they already had! And he includes phrases from Paul that the Philippians also already had. Hardly an argument, is it?

                We are back to the situation which seems to crop up so often in these sorts of discussions. There are two explanations for a given situation. One is simple, straightforward and explains all the given facts (here: the gospel writers copied Polycarp) while the other relies on a lot of excuses and special pleading (here: Polycarp copied the gospels, but in a very odd fashion). The rational person chooses the first (unless and until new evidence becomes available) while the religious person chooses the second.

                I suggest we leave it here. I don’t think we are going to get any closer to agreement, and I half expect out host to turn up and tell us we’ve done it to death. But thank you anyway for prodding me into clarifying my thoughts about this.

            • r3formed
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

              Oh I see how you got that sorry.

              He quoted the gospels and most of not all the letter. I never claimed he described the events. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps you could clarify the matter by, say, giving chapter and verse for both Polycarp and the quoted Gospel for your three favorite examples of such.

                b&

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                Yea that came to awkward when I submitted it but that’s what I did for three examples. If you really want them all I could compile them but really it would be unnecessary.

                Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians 2:3 corresponds to Matthew 7:1-2 and Luke 6:20

                7:2 corresponds to Matthew 6:13 and 26:14

                11:2 corresponds with 1 Corinthians 6:2

                He is clearly quoting in these parts.

                Now as to these being my favorite ones I see what your implying but you’re dead wrong. Although we have both been trading these passive aggressive insults. Good show sir

          • Stephen P
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:19 am | Permalink

            Oops, sorry: you didn’t explicitly say Polycarp quoted the gospels, though I got the impression that’s what you meant, given the context.

            • r3formed
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

              He did quote the gospels and other letters included in the New Testament. I did mean that. Your ability to come to effective conclusions through critical reading is fully functional sir.

          • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

            I’m not saying definitive evidence exists just that your worldview is showing.

            That’s just the thing. There isn’t any credible evidence for an early date of authorship of the Gospels, just the tradition that they were authored by the men whose names top them. You yourself cite that tradition in your reference to Justin Martyr.

            I’m not at all arguing for a late date to the origins of Christianity. Indeed, I personally suspect that there were prototypical Christians in the mid-to-early first century BCE.

            I’m arguing for a late date for the canonized Gospels. Or, at least, for when they were fixed in anything like their current forms.

            It’s entirely reasonable to suggest that there were traditions of Jesus that included many of the story elements we’re all familiar with (plus at least some we’re not familiar with — see the Ophites, for example) without those traditions having yet been codified in the four books of the canon.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • r3formed
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

              You could be right about the form we have today being developed around that time. There are odd things like Matthew and the two donkeys and the great genealogy issue. I think it’s terribly important as a Christian to get as close as possible to what was actually taught in the first century. I think we come pretty close. It does sadden me how little Christians understand when it comes to history and how we got our bible. That’s how people like you can be so effective.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

                There was no more consensus amongst Christians in the early centuries than there is today. Less, even — you had the Ophites, for example, for whom Jesus was a snake god. Marcion had Jesus’s first grand entrance not in a nativity scene, but beaming down from the heavens like Captain Kirk. The shortest book of the Bible warns against “deceivers” who claim Christ was not come in the flesh. According to the genealogies in the Gospels, either Joseph had two daddies or Jesus had three, two of them confusingly enough named, “Joseph.” John and the Synoptics give different days of the week for the trial and Crucifixion, and thus different years.

                Trying to divine the “real” Christ or “real” early church is as insane as looking for the “real” Paul Bunyan. It’s all faery tale, most of it not even pretending to be otherwise.

                b&

      • Jeremy Pereira
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Firstly, it’s almost certain that Matthew and Luke had a copy of Mark’s gospel because they copied large chunks of it out as the basis of their own gospels, so of the three Mark came first.

        The traditional date of Mark is set to around 65AD because Ireneaus (around 180AD) said that Mark wrote it after Peter and Paul were executed. Unfortunately, there appears to be no historical basis for Ireneaus’ claim. However, the references to the destruction of the temple place the gospel after 70AD, perhaps soon after.

        The first references to Matthew and Luke were by Ignatius (110AD) and Marcion (140AD) respectively.

        Ignatius quoted a few of Jesus’ sayings found only in Matthew and talks about the Star of Bethlehem, found only in Matthew. This gives an upper date of before 110AD for Matthew and also Mark.

        Marcion had a gospel which is thought to have been based on Luke’s gospel.

        Some of the above is a little bit thin (e.g. Ignatius may have had access to an earlier source that was also used by Matthew and Luke may be based on Marcion’s gospel rather than the other way around), but that is a summary of the reasoning behind the conventional dates for the synoptics.

        John is thought to be a late work because of its comparative sophistication. There is also an anachronism to do with the exclusion of Christians from the synagogues which apparently happened in 90AD. This gives us a lower limit for the writing of John. The upper limit is provided by the Rylands papyrus which is usually dated to between 100 and 150AD. The Rylands Papyrus contains fragments of five verses from John’s gospel.

        • Stephen P
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          Thanks for that. Apparently I’d missed Ignatius’ epistle to the Ephesians when I was reading up on him. There he does indeed talk about a star in connection with Jesus, but what he says is not a quote or even a paraphrase of Matthew. Go read it: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm.

          And, just as with Polycarp and Clement, Ignatius gives no hint that he is quoting or referring to an existing document. Compare that to Justin Martyr and Luke, who both say explicitly that they are using existing documents. There is definitely a pattern emerging: people have been assuming that Clement / Polycarp / Ignatius were quoting the gospels when it is just as likely – and in some cases considerably more likely – that it was the other way around.

          Furthermore (and unlike Polycarp) Ignatius does mention one gospel event: the virgin birth to Mary. Now this is the only component of the two nativity stories that both Matthew and Luke have. Is it not probable that this is where they both got it, while inventing the rest of their stories independently?

          And the bible scholars of the world couldn’t work this out?

        • Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

          The upper limit is provided by the Rylands papyrus which is usually dated to between 100 and 150AD. The Rylands Papyrus contains fragments of five verses from John’s gospel.

          P52 is dated using handwriting analysis, and its Christian caretakers have refused all requests at, for example, access to the dust at the bottom of the box to perform a radiometric analysis.

          Were I to perform a typographical analysis of a sizable fragment of my 1996 diploma from ASU, I might well conclude that I graduated in the twelfth or thirteenth century.

          b&

  13. Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    But I’m immensely grateful to lean that the word “strike” (or “smite” in the King James version) was purely metaphorical, referring to the reciprocation of insults rather than blows.

    Actually, the interpetation of these passages is rather more interesting than might be thought. See this wiki account for example (though I’ve no idea how reliable it is).

    • neil344
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      I wonder how a good christian should respond to a kick in the nuts.

      • raven
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        A go0od xian isn’t even supposed to have nuts.

        Jesus recommends that men cut them off.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          Not necessarily.

          http://www.sexinchrist.com

          (I’m not sure if this is real or a spoof.)

          • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

            Real or spoof, I’ve known Christians who, in all seriousness, espoused that…er…position…for unmarried couples for exactly that reason….

            b&

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

            Wow! Worth a read. Chapter headings such as “Masturbation: God’s Great Gift to Us” and “Fisting and God’s Will” make this site difficult to take seriously.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, though it doesn’t have any of the obvious satire or exaggeration that makes e.g. Landover Baptist Church obviously a spoof. It seems to deal with its subject in serious Biblical terms. But… ‘Threesomes within a Christian Marriage’ – umm, ya gotta wonder.

      • raven
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Don’t they teach the bible in Sunday school any more?

        Matthew 19:12

        Jesus: For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

  14. Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    In Steve one can understand why it is nearly impossible to communicate with faitheists. I’m often left wondering if any effort, beyond ridicule and satire, is worth it. I don’t believe it is.

    JC’s response is an example of the most natural and responsible type – exposing the troll for the laughter and derision he so rightly deserves.

    If this Coyneslap doesn’t wake him up, nothing will. One can conclude that Steve’s in a self-maintained coma.

    • r3formed
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      Although I am certainly not always right and am often wrong in fact I seem to encounter the same from “atheists”. I think it’s more of a problem with human nature and the desire to have and know absolute truth. I strive as a believer to have open dialogue and admit I don’t have all the answers. Stereotyping will only result in you behaving in like manner.

  15. coozoe
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Jesus was an illegitimate drug-induced hippy of his time. Building an unbelievable story around this is called christianity. Gotta love a good yarn.

  16. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Although my personal library can not be called comprehensive, the only references to Jesus I found is in world history textbooks where the authors cite the “Bible” as their source.

  17. lamacher
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I suggest Steve delve into Richard Carrier a little bit, to sample real Jesus scholarship as opposed to the standard dogma of the poorly informed. Or perhaps not: such a fragile opinion as his just might founder on the rocks of reality.

  18. raven
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Apparently I don’t understand Jesus

    What you need to know.

    1. Jesus in the NT is a largely ficitional character. How much is real (if any) is a matter of controversy.

    2. Even as a fictional character, he is a composite of a multi-author text.

    This is a key point. There are several jesuses running around in the NT. The ascended jesus of Paul. The social justice jesus. The apocalyptic prophet jesus. The not a very nice guy, jesus.

    3. You can pick your own jesus by simple quote mining, which is what every one does.

    4. Most xians ignore the not very nice guy jesus. The one who keeps going on about swords and murdering people when he comes back. The one who recommends men cut off their testicles. The one who gives advice on how to beat your slaves. The rabid anti-Jewish jesus of Matthew and John.

    5. Remember, jesus said, judge not less you be judged. Because the xians never do.

    • Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      The ascended jesus of Paul. The social justice jesus. The apocalyptic prophet jesus. The not a very nice guy, jesus.

      To be sure, this is but a very abbreviated list of the different Jesuses of the Bible.

      For a much more exhaustive list, see Justin Martyr’s First Apology. For example, you left out the Logos Jesus (possibly the most theologically important of all the Jesuses), the healer Jesus, the triumphant king Jesus, the so-pure-even-his-mom-was-a-virgin Jesus, and many more.

      b&

  19. Brad
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    The only valid contemporary historical info we have on Jesus is from the historian Flavius Josephus. Jesus is referenced in his manuscripts as a figure who lived and was slain. That’s it. Nothing more (that could withstand deep, scholarly scrutiny) can be inferred here. Everything else regarding what are thought of now as his “teachings” came at minimum twenty five years after his death and so is in fact an interpretation of a distant and highly questionable memory.

    • hturren
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Josephus was born after the alleged death of Jesus. The Testimonium Flavianum paragrph on Jesus is widely thought to have been interpolated or faked by Christians later on.So it can’t be considered as valid. I

      • r3formed
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

        There are different versions and scholarship generally understand which of those were doctored and which were legitimate the discovery of the copy in Arabic in the seventies was tremendously helpful. Thankfully these are not all the references to a historical Jesus. I still don’t understand how this argument is made today.

        I seem to constantly encounter this drivel and it makes me wonder how much reason is actually employed by the ones making such arguments.

        • raven
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          Thankfully these are not all the references to a historical Jesus. I still don’t understand how this argument is made today.

          Josephus is the earliest, even though it is generations after the alleged death of jesus. And is almost certainly a fake put in by xians.

          I seem to constantly encounter this drivel and it makes me wonder how much reason is actually employed by the ones making such arguments.

          Just who is driveling here now?

          You haven’t provided any answers to your assertions without proof. Just trivial and unimaginative insults.

          You constantly encounter assertions that there is virtually no evidence for a historical jesus becuase…there is no evidence for a historical jesus.

          It is however known that the NT is largely or all fiction. The only so called scholars who deny that are fundie Presuppositionalists like McDowell, Craig, etc.., who are just known liars.

          • r3formed
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

            You do realize that you just did the same thing you accused me of. The question isn’t wether the evidence is there it’s wether or not you feel the evidence to be substantial or good enough.

            What proof would you like? How much would it take? Would it matter to you even if I did provide it?

            • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

              r3formed, I would most like the original document (such as we have libraries worth preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Egyptian papyrus caches) of a contemporary (meaning dated to the third century BCE, though I’d consider a fourth century document), eyewitness (meaning the author at least claims to have been there himself) account, and for that document to have a solid provenance supported by reliable empirical analysis (such as radiocarbon dating).

              Even better would be archaeological evidence, such as a contemporary bust or inscription.

              For an especially good idea of what a well-evidence historical figure looks like, compare with the evidence we have of Gaius Julius Caesar.

              Is it not reasonable to suggest that the living incarnation of the true god who created Life, the Universe, and Everything might leave behind more of an impression than a mere mortal?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

                So for a rather obscure figure in 1st century Roman Empire, the son of a carpenter, who people claimed performed miracles like many others did, you expect the same kind of evidence for a Caesar?

                Really?

                That’s plainly absurd. The thing is there are records referenced in Justin martyr that existed in Rome. The annals of Pilate have just been lost. It’s also interesting that the census records are lost and many other things that we know existed that we just don’t have. People didn’t think caiphus existed until we found his ossuary. To deny that any evidence exists is ignorant. We as Christians would say you are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Even if what you require existed you would want more. You still wouldn’t make the leap to diety and would state the New Testament was a fable.

                If the bible is true it doesn’t seem to be God’s modus operandi to reveal himself so blatantly. There is an interesting bit in one of the gospels where it talk about how in Nazerath “Jesus could do no miracles”. It’s not that he couldn’t but he knew to do things in front of those who do not believe would only result in more disbelief on their part.

                “And He said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10).

                So no it doesn’t seem to be in the nature of the God of the bible to make His existence more plain.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

                Okay, r3formed, now you’re just lying for Jesus.

                If you’re a Christian, then you most emphatically don’t think Jesus was less important than Caesar. You think he was the human incarnation of the divine force who created Life, the Universe, and Everything, and humanity’s only hope for Salvation. You think he so upset the locals in Jerusalem that they made complete and utter asses of themselves in the most spectacular mockery of a trial in all of history. You think there was a mass zombie uprising coincident with the moment of his death on the Cross, and you think he resumed doing exactly that which got him killed in the first place after a mere three days in the grave, and that he did so, gaping wounds and all, for a month and a half before he beamed up to the Heavens in a glorious Ascension from a little hill overlooking (and thus visible from) all Jerusalem.

                And then you have the nerve to suggest that Jesus, who you believe walked on water, who turned water into wine, who fed thousands with a single loaf and two fishes, who raised the dead, who returned himself from the dead…you have the nerve to suggest that Jesus didn’t do any miracles.

                I’m sorry. You may be proud of your skills at doublethink, but the members of the reality-based community just laugh at that sort of bullshit.

                Pick one story and stick to it. And, if I might suggest, the story to pick is not the zombie snuff pr0n fantasy.

                b&

                P.S. You know how you’d laugh your ass off at somebody claiming that any of the other Pagan demigods like Hercules or Bacchus or Perseus or Dionysus or Orpheus or any of the others really were really honestly truly historical figures who really truly honestly did all those wondrous things they did? Now you know why non-Christians laugh at Christians the exact same way. b&

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                You change your questions when I respond. We were not talking about what I considered his importance to be but rather the response of the secular world around him. Do you think the roman society placed more value n the son of a Jewish carpenter who people said did miracles or a Caesar?!

                As to the rest of you know better and if you don’t you need to try and think outside of your biases. It’s almost like relativism or empathy. Step outside of your perception and approach the issues without your presuppositions. Zombies? Really?

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Mark 1-6

                I didn’t say he didn’t do any miracles. You’re demonstrating your poor critical reading skills. So no lies here. Thanks though.

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                Sorry mark 6:1-6

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                @r3formed

                So for a rather obscure figure in 1st century Roman Empire, the son of a carpenter, who people claimed performed miracles like many others did, you expect the same kind of evidence for a Caesar?

                Really?

                Absolutely!

                For the Son of God, the only instance ever of the Creator of the Universe visiting the earth in the flesh, as Christians claim, we absolutely should expect more evidence than there was for Caesar.

                For a Jewish carpenter who was not really the Son of God, but just a carpenter who confidently held some big ideas on how to improve Judaism, we would expect less evidence than there is for Caesar (but perhaps at least some contemporary evidence).

                So expectations are met with a lack of evidence that confirms the atheist notion that at best Jesus existed as an ordinary human being.

                This contradiction between historical fact and Christian claims is glossed over by Christians reveling in the masochism of persecution, wallowing in the myth that such perfection and beauty is despised and humbled and made ordinary because the world is so sinful and corrupt. It’s just one more of the endless convenient evasions Christians practice to misdirect people from the fact that there is no evidence for their claims. I don’t believe the world to be so corrupt that the actual son of god could hardly make a splash and go almost entirely unnoticed until several decades after the fact. This is a huge hole in Christian claims.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                Jeff beat me to it.

                For a Christian who professes belief in a larger-than-life Jesus to try to convince non-Christians that only belief in a smaller-than-life Jesus is reasonable is hypocrisy in the extreme.

                If Jesus was the personal incarnation of the ultimately powerful creative force responsible for Life, the Universe, and Everything, and if his purpose for making said personal appearance was to tell his favored example of his personal creation to spread the Word about how everybody else might attain salvation…then excusing his absence from the historical record because nobody would have noticed some random schmuck in a backwater province of the Empire…well, I hope even the most evangelical of Christians can understand how such an argument does worse than fall flat.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                But what you guys are expecting from the incarnation of the living God does not coincide with the gospel accounts. He would heal people and tell them not to tell anyone. He spoke in parables to conceal his meaning and confuse the listeners. He seems to hide himself all through scripture. If the bible is true why would the God you describe do any of this? The God of the bible does seem to behave that way though.

                Caesar was a king in this world. Jesus told Pilate his kingdom was not of this world.

                Jesus was a normal human being as well. He had to be for the atonement to work. In fact the. Bible alludes to this when it talks about how he had to grow and learn. At the same time he was God. I don’t understand it but that’s what it teaches. A common argument I encounter is that Jesus couldn’t be God because there were so many miracle workers. Wouldn’t it make sense for one more to disappear into obscurity? Outside of the teachings of those who followed him of course.

                And it’s not really that it’s so perfect that the bible says the world hates Christianity but rather that its so opposed to its methods and way of thinking. It’s also not so much that the world is corrupt but that we are naturally materialists and the son of a Jewish carpenter that people said did miracles was probably scoffed at, in fact the bible shows it was read that verse in mark I put down.

                Ben, when did I make the claim that only a smaller than life Jesus was reasonable? That’s not what I’m saying at all.

                And you’ve read Justin martyr so you know he references the acts of Pilate. We hardly have any of the governors records like that but we know it existed because people wrote about them. We also know that there was a census at the time and I believe it was tertullian ( I could be wrong on the person there) said that if we were to check them we would see Joseph and Mary there. Those early church fathers and other historians wrote as if there was a historical figure named Jesus who performed miracles and was crucified by Pilate and spoke of sources to back up these statements. You seem to be implying that no historical evidence ever existed but it seems that we just don’t have it 2000 years later.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

                r3formed, aren’t you forbidden from bearing false witness? And against your own gods, too, not even your neighbor!

                Jesus’s birth was foretold, leading to an international quest to find him and eventually to the slaughter of countless innocent infants in a failed assassination attempt. He entered Jerusalem to cheering masses, preached to overflow capacity crowds and even fed them in an unbelievable manner. His antics so upset the local authorities that they made spectacular public asses of themselves in what could only have been the trial of the century. At the hour of his death, the sun went dark, the Earth opened, and a horde of zombies invaded Jerusalem. Not to be stopped, he resumed his ministry after a few days laying in the grave, and continued for a month and a half to do that which had gotten him killed in the first place. Finally, he beamed back up to the heavens in full view of all Jerusalem, escorted by angels.

                I’d hardly say that qualifies as keeping a low profile, would you?

                Or is it your position as a Christian that the Gospels are nothing but a pile of bullshit and Jesus never did anything remotely like any of that?

                Cheers,

                b&

          • r3formed
            Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

            I did like how you said virtually in one sentence and none in the other. +1 sir

  20. E. A. Blair
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I’ve heard a lot of things about misinterpreting the bible based on idioms that have no meaning today. Someone once told me that, in ancient Hebrew, “to strike rock” meant the same as what we mean now by “to get lucky”. This means that when Moses “struck the rock” and found water, it wasn’t a miracle but a turn of phrase. I find this easier to believe than a miracle (I also cannot document this assertion). Speaking as a linguist, which is my background, I find the notion that idiomatic language causes a great deal of historical misinterpretation both appealing and interesting. How many times do we misjudge historical or religious records on the basis of lost idioms? The parables of the bible have long been explained as metaphors. I think it’s a ripe area of speculation to look into just how many popular modern notions about biblical “events” are simple misunderstandings of linguistic pecularities.

    • E. A. Blair
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Just as an example, I referred, in an email to a friend, to having been “under the weather”. We all know that I’m referring to being ill, but who is to say that a future archivist might interpret that to mean that I was “beset by storms”?

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure there’s plenty that gets lost in the translation…

        …but there’s no way that idioms can explain away Jesus telling Thomas to thrust his (Thomas’s) hand in his (Jesus’s) side and the ensuing wacka-wacka-chicka-bow-wow.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

          Early appendectomy?

          • Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

            Possibly…but more likely, a botched Caesarian….

            b&

    • Alektorophile
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      And mistranslations and copying errors surely played a part, too. I always have to wonder whether a doubt ever crossed Michelangelo’s mind that something was wrong with Jerome’s Vulgata translation of the bible when he found himself sculpting a pair of horns on his otherwise rather human-looking Moses.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        I’ve always assumed they were meant to be dreadlocks, mon.

  21. Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I love how confident Christians — of all different denominations and theological persuasions — are of their respective interpretations of an ancient text written by anonymous authors. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Of course passage p means X” by one confident believer, and then “Of course [the same passage] p means Y” by another, where X and Y are either contradictory interpretations or in tension. Everyone is just so sure of their own peculiar views; and yet many religious positions are rejected by people within the very same tradition! As some philosophers of religion have pointed out, the extraordinary uniformity of thought within science on the most fundamental of issues contrasts strongly with the extreme disagreement among religious people the world over on even the most superficial matters of spirituality. Good try, Steve, but I guarantee I can find you an equally passionate and equally “educated” Christian who would say that your interpretation is nonsense.

    • r3formed
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

      A uniformity existing can be dangerous though. We mustn’t be afraid to question held ideas. Einstein did so when he challenged newtons ideas on gravity and science was better for it.

      If science is currently uniform in basic ideas I fear stagnation or collusion.

      Although your comment was just one of many we-are-so-smart-and-you-are-so-dumb world views represented here.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

        Einstein didn’t contradict Newtonian physics though. Newtonian physics still works perfectly well for ‘normal’ velocities and distances (i.e. less than a substantial fraction of the speed of light); it can be regarded as a special case (albeit, in our world, a ubiquitous one) of Einsteinian physics.

        This is in contrast to religious denominations which sometimes derive flatly contradictory meanings from the Bible (aided by the fact that the anthology of old texts known as the Bible often contradicts itself).

        It’s a bit like trying to interpret a sci-fi anthology to yield a uniform message.

        • r3formed
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

          Einstein’s gravity replaced newtons gravity in the sense that we realized that it wasn’t an external force but a result of space-time. General relativity not special sir. Look it up.

          Do you have examples of these contradictions?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

            Oh yes you’re correct. Gravity not light speed. Nevertheless, Newtonian equations of motion in a gravitational field still work perfectly well (as I understand it) in all terrestrial applications, even launching satellites.
            In that sense, Einstein did not contradict Newton, Newton was not proved ‘wrong’ by Einstein any more than Galileo or Kepler were.

            For examples of religious denominations contradicting each other – just look around you, or read a few posts on this website, there are examples all over the place. As a generic example, Catholics vs Protestants (any flavour).

          • Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:16 am | Permalink

            Well, only partially correct. Newton’s model of gravity is still valid for many use cases; Einstein’s model provided higher-order corrections (explaining, eg, the “anomalies” in Mercury’s orbit) and explaining that force in terms of space-time curvature. But quantum field theory can also provide a model of gravity and explain that force in terms of massless spin-2 bosons (gravitons) (although the model is imperfect re renormalization). None of these are the “truth”; just our best approximations. And still none of these models contradict each other in the regime where they all work.

            Whereas, as ii says, religions are at loggerheads in the same regimes; eg, transubstantiation.

            In any case, I think you missed Phil’s original point about the “uniformity” of science; not that it is uniform over time (Einstein refining Newton; the modern synthesis refining Darwin, &c.) but that it is uniform over culture: there is no British gravity different from American gravity (except in local values); there is no Jewish gravity different from Presbyterian gravity.

            /@

            • Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:30 am | Permalink

              * just our best approximations at a particular time of given a particular theoretical framework

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:12 am | Permalink

              “it [science] is uniform over culture: there is no British gravity different from American gravity”

              And where it has been different e.g. Lysenkoism it has usually been wrong.

              But r3formed chose his example badly – if he’d chosen Copernicus/Kepler/Galileo vs Ptolemy, or maybe Alfred Wegener, I think it might have conformed to the point he was attempting to make. Though I also think that sort of revolution is very scarce compared with the normal gradual progress.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

                Actually, Ptolemy is a perfect fit to the theory.

                His model of planetary orbits was the best there was at the time, far superior to any that came before, and is still good enough for all sorts of low-precision uses today.

                It just doesn’t work at the same scales of time and precision as the gravitational model. But, then again, the same is true of the gravitational model with respect to Mercury. And we’ve got exactly the same sort of “doesn’t quite fit” problem with modern gravitational theories, considering the incompatibility of quantum mechanics and relativity especially with respect to gravity.

                Even the geocentric flat Earth model fits the pattern. It works reasonably well at the scale of a Mediterranean nation-state, and only starts to break down once you need to do much more than sail around the edge of the Mediterranean. Even relativity and quantum mechanics can be said to reduce to a flat Earth at such scales, in the same way that both reduce to Newtonian mechanics at human scales.

                Want proof? Buy a map, lay it flat on a table, and see if you can use it to find your way to the next town. Works great!

                b&

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                @Ben (hope WP puts this in the right place…)

                Well, Ptolemy’s model, with cycles and as many epicycles grafted on as mathematically necessary, certainly did ‘save the appearances’ (i.e. fit the data). In the same way as a Fourier transform can be made to fit almost any periodic signal. It just doesn’t explain anything. (Nor does Ptolemy).

                Part of Galileo’s problem was that his (and Copernicus) heliocentric model with circular orbits did not fit the data, it wasn’t until Kepler hit on elliptical orbits that it did so.

                I love the flat-earth analogy, by the way. Certainly, assuming the earth is basically flat (ignoring local hills) works perfectly for building roads, or pyramids. It can be described as a localised case of the spheroidal-earth theory, for sufficiently large radius of earth. (In the same way as Newton’s equations of motion are a localised case of the Einsteinian picture). Oh, I see you more or less said all that. I thought of it independently a while ago, just never had occasion to mention it.

      • Pete UK
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:09 am | Permalink

        Given that most people on the planet apparently still assert belief in the supernatural, of which Christianity is one flavour, isn’t the atheist more in the position of challenging the accepted view?

        Using Einstein and Newton to support your argument also seems a little odd. It is precisely the approach to finding better explanations that these two giants used that also leads us to question the assumption that gods exist, and to challenge the authenticity of the gospels.

        And yet you’re happy to run with one set of conclusions and not the other.

        • r3formed
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

          What makes you think I am “happy to run with one set of conclusions and not the other”? The bible tells us to test everything sooooo…. Yea.

          Why is it odd that I used Einstein and newton as well sir? Science is terribly important vital. Where is this assumption garnered from that indicates science and faith are opposed?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

            You misused Einstein and Newton in saying that Einstein challenged Newton’s ideas. He went beyond them. You could have found much better examples from science to illustrate your point. Galileo, Darwin, for example.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        @r3formed

        I fear stagnation or collusion.

        Scientists are human beings, so within an organization, or within a project, various forms of collusion are possible. We also have to suffer setbacks and limits like dickhead Republican lawmakers, who don’t know their peri-anal region from a black body cavity, canceling the Superconducting Supercollider. Or in research somebody who is very ambitious might fudge data, a close colleague may not review the work carefully enough to notice, or may even know and overlook due to friendship or other personal reason.

        But the way the scientific community works as a whole always catches these things out eventually. If the results are important they will be offered for publishing, which means peer review. There is no motive for the scientific community as a whole to passively accept errors or distortions. In fact the incentives are the opposite: a scientist can make his or her career by disproving some widely accepted work, or by catching errors in published results that have been reviewed widely enough that they start to gain broad credibility.

        So science can err, and theories are approximate models that work but are not identical to reality, but the errors are corrected by the self-correcting mechanisms of peer review, and the process of trial and error is one that converges asymptotically on the true nature of reality, not a process that flounders about blindly and erratically.

        Religion has given us the concepts of orthodoxy and heresy. These concepts are anathema to scientists. Scientists judge truth not by authority but by one standard: physical reality, and the agreement with empirical results. This absolute standard, not subject to human flaws and foibles, is what guards against science being bogged down in collusion and stagnation, as you claim to fear.

        Now it is true that the processes of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment have fragmented the greatest totalitarian reign of authority in the Christian world, and have opened up freedom for theologians to debate and disagree, but theology is completely locked up in the world of a priori reasoning based on premises that are entirely speculation. There is no bridge to reality, no empirical basis, no absolute standard of unyielding truth for theologians to test their ideas against. They claim they have one in “revelation”, but if you want to be concerned about collusion and vulnerability to human weakness and foible and impure motives, so called revelation is your perfect breeding ground. It is always entirely based on an individual’s subjective testimony, or on ancient unverifiable texts, with no recourse for testing, no final arbiter in the truth of reality to test against empirically. Nothing but personal subjective impressions.

        If we want to talk about stagnation, religion is the all-time champion. Look at the dark ages, prior to the Renaissance and Reformation. In a thousand years there was very little change, little advance in technology or living standards or understanding of the Universe. Since the Enlightenment we’ve seen an explosion of progress in 300 years.

        And look at the world of Islam. Out of 1.2 billion Muslims, only two nobel prizes from scientists working in Muslim countries. Of published scientific papers or translated works, the product from countries where Islam dominates is less than a fraction of a percent of what is produced in the world. This backwardness occurs in a part of civilization that a thousand years ago was an intellectual leader in philosophy, mathematics, and literature. What crushed the Islamic intellectual world was the fear imposed by threat of violence by Imams who were serving the dictates of faith. Around the 13th century the Ash’ari school of thought came to dominate, and they imposed the belief of occasionalism, which rejects causality because every single independent event must be the will of God. It eliminates the whole point of science. This crushed science in the world of Islam, and hundreds of millions of people suffer economically and politically because of it still today.

        For a religious person to turn to science and try to project onto it the errors of faith, and to imply it is made up of communities of opinion backing each other up for reasons of job security and other human weaknesses that lead to collusion, is laughable. It is a weak attempt to smear science with the sins of religion, and it simply doesn’t stand up to any reasonable amount of scrutiny. It is perhaps impressive rhetoric, but totally empty of substance.

        • Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          Nicely set out. May I tumbl this?

          /@

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

            Be my guest.

        • r3formed
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

          I agree completely. The scientific community today by far is much capable than the religious community.

          The point I’m making is that there is bad science and there are people who are rejected by modern science but still teach and propagate their ideas just like in religion. We seem to place blame on inanimate objects and ideas when the problem lies with what unreasonable people do with them. Faith and science are two different questions and the errors do not exist in either but in us. That’s why it’s so important to constantly engage and question everything.

          Someone mentioned Lysenko earlier and he was probably responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union yet no religious context existed, he felt he was performing good science. I could name a number of secular atrocities that have been and are being implemented today yet why is it different when it’s done by religion? You are creating a scapegoat, something to hate and focus your hatred on. In that you miss the problem entirely that people will do horrible things and find all sorts of reasons to do so.

          • Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

            Somebody who blames Lysenko for the fall of the Soviet Union is so far out of step with reality it’s not even funny.

            It’s no wonder you’ve fallen hook, line, and sinker for the scam that is Christianity. You’re repeatedly presenting overwhelming evidence that you’re incapable of rational analysis.

            b&

            • r3formed
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

              Well certainly not all the blame lies on his shoulders but his rejection of genetics extended the famine another 10-20 years and set Russian science back as far. I think the argument could easily be made for a causal relationship to exist. His practices and the governments endorsement of it played a major role in the instability of it all.

              Just because we disagree doesn’t mean I’m irrational. That kind of thinking allowed Lysenko to be successful.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            I could name a number of secular atrocities that have been and are being implemented today yet why is it different when it’s done by religion?

            This ought to be obvious. Part of the reason is in your own statement that “The scientific community today by far is much capable than the religious community.”

            I think your remark: “That’s why it’s so important to constantly engage and question everything” pretty much wraps it up.

            Anyone who seriously engages and questions religion, considering the lack of evidence, the failure of religion to have any material success at bettering humanity’s lot as science has, the thousands of Gods that people have believed in as fervently as Christians, Jews, or Muslims believe in their God, the contingency of belief, i.e. that people end up believing in the Gods that dominate the cultural and historical moment of their birth, that there is no empirical test or verification of religion’s claims about the natural world, all combine to make the case that religion really is just a subjective human creation that bears no relationship whatsoever to natural reality outside of the human brain. It is a psychological game people play with themselves, and certainly many people benefit from that, gaining courage, consolation, and self-discipline, but none of that really depends on God, just on the brain’s ability to psych itself out. Religion’s pretense to describe reality in some fundamental way can not stand up to serious questioning and examining of evidence.

            This is why religion is in a different category than science.

            • r3formed
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              Agreed different category than science. Hence why the methods used in the exploration of them are different. Same for history. Same for philosophy.

              Sometimes philosophy is cloaked by science as in such statements as philosophy is dead.

              Science being reliant on reason and evidence is employed by reasonable and evidential people which makes it more ready to address many issues. Also since it deals with what we can see touch feel reason the it has applicable external results that better society as a whole.

              Religion and other abstract concepts could hardly benefit sustainable energy or even give us a real clear idea how the universe came into being. It’s telling a different story.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

                Telling a story, yes. Telling a useful story, not so much.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but they aren’t different but equally valid.

                Religion is telling a story, the psychological one I alluded to above, while pretending to tell a much larger story about the entire natural Universe and all of existence.

                Religion is the mouse that roared, making enormous claims while providing nothing to back them up but a psychological game of self-deception akin to hypnosis or meditation.

                It is the belief that there is some real object underlying religious narratives that is purely a human brain phenomenon. The fact that the thing believed in is not at all real is not important to the self-deceiving brain, until it is really put to the test by, say, praying to God to heal your child’s appendicitis.

                These examples tell us that religion makes no real statements about the real world, but only gives us subjective narratives, akin to fiction, that human brains play a clever game of self-deception with. That is all there is to religion, really.

  22. Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I see most of what I would have written has already been covered, so I’ll just repeat the advice I gave to Steve when I responded to him in the original thread: read Justin Martyr’s First Apology and Lucian of Samosata’s account of the Passing of Peregrinus. If your insistence on the historicity of Jesus and the literal trustworthiness of the Gospels can survive that hit without taking a dent, then you’re hopeless.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • r3formed
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      Maybe I am just hopeless but having read both I don’t understand the relationship your proposing here.

      • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        It’s simple.

        You know how you consider it laughable that there was an historical Mercury, Æsculapius, Bacchus, Hercules, Perseus, Bellerophon, and the rest?

        Jesus is every bit as fictional, and Justin Martyr made the case as emphatically as anybody could. And Lucian told us how, in part, the myth got assembled — he showed us the sausage being made.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • r3formed
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          Well those stories are written and intended as fiction and make no claim to exist in history why the claim represented in the gospels is that a real man lived, died and rose again.

          I’ve read plenty of Justin martyr and certainly do not draw the conclusion that he emphatically made the case Jesus was fictional. Where do you gather this from?

          As to the Lucian analogy I think it’s more like Lincoln versus the zombies. I hope 2000 years from now people don’t assume that satirical story actually took place and give it credence over the historical Lincoln.

          • Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            Either the authors of the gospels understood they were writing fiction when they described, for example, a zombie ordering one of his thralls to grope his guts through a gaping chest wound, or they were serious and you’d therefore have to be having carnal relations with Mikey’s canine friend (i.e., “fucking Goofy”) to think that they’re even remotely reliable chroniclers of history.

            Martyr of course did not consider Jesus to be fictional; quite the contrary.

            He did write exhaustive and detailed and passionate and lengthy (and truthful) screeds dedicated to the proposition that there was extensive and systematic copying going on between the the stories of the Pagan demigods and Jesus.

            Martyr’s only failing is in attributing the copying to evil demons with the power of foresight who, knowing of the prophecies of Jesus and expecting his arrival, planted mockingly similar stories of other false gods over a span of centuries so that, by the time Jesus finally did actually arrive, honest men would dismiss Jesus as just another Johnny-come-lately.

            As I see it, Martyr’s analysis of the analogies with the history of Christ (q.v.) in his First Apology are spot-on. I just explain the analogies by suggesting that it was the Christians who copied the Pagans, and not the other way ’round.

            …which, oh-by-the-way, is exactly what Lucian says that Peregrinus did: take Pagan myths and convince Christians to adopt them as their own.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • r3formed
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

              Oh the zombies… I am aware of Matthew 27 and the passage in Zechariah but where is that statement?! The insult was unneeded as well sir. That’s a major error on your part to assume insanity/ignorance/deceptiveness/beastiality. Shame

              What evidence has convinced you that it’s the other way around? I certainly wouldn’t argue that those practices didn’t occur, the Catholic Church demonstrates that. What matters is if there was a Christian church in the first century who had a collection of documents written by men who followed a man named Jesus who lived died and rose again. Osiris, Mithras and others you’ve mentioned are not the same and you cannot provide any evidence showing they were because there is none. That comes from madam Blavatsky and theosophy. Stop watching zeitgeist and do some real research into those. You will be surprised but then again maybe not. You have made an awful lot of assumptions so far.

              Lucian was writing a satirical fictional story. Do you think Machiavelli meant what he said in The Prince? What about a modest proposal by swift?

              • gbjames
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

                What matters is if there was a Christian church in the first century who had a collection of documents written by men who followed a man named Jesus who lived died and rose again.

                Why does it matter? Substitute “Scientology” for “Christian”, “21st” for “first” and “L. Ron Hubbard” for “Jesus”. Does this prove thetans and xenu?

              • gbjames
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

                aarrggh. “20th”, not “21st”.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

                r3formed, if you don’t know who thrust his hand in whose gaping chest wound, you’re not qualified to comment on this thread.

                And if you don’t recognize the implicit depraved sexual violence depicted in that scene, you’re not qualified to comment on anything related to human psychology, either.

                b&

              • r3formed
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

                Ben Goren,

                Well if your talking about Jesus and Thomas I think your taking a little poetic license there.

                Or being intentionally deceptive. I’m glad you have set the standard for commenting though. I guess I’ll stop now. Sorry I just didn’t understand the rules.

  23. tom
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    We have no good historical records of Jesus. Period. All we have are the gospels and Paul’s epistles–and Paul’s epistles are the only sources taken seriously by scholars (and even those are pretty sketchy). Steve is either getting lied to by his pastor, or he’s assuming more historical evidence for Jesus exists than there really is. The fact that he’s pompous about his own ignorance is why I can’t respect religion–and I used to be a believer.

  24. Marta
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    It wouldn’t do Steve any favors for him to dig the hole he’s already dug deeper here, but my sense of fairness is getting kneed a bit that we can take him out to the woodshed but he can’t fight back. Just sayin’.

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I feel the same way. Besides, we’ve not had any good chew toys around here lately.

      Is he really a troll? He seems like a sincere Christian. Of course, that usually means he’ll be full of it, but being completely wrong doesn’t make one a troll, does it?

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      Good point. But it gives him a lot of practice at turning the other cheek. :)

      I think that’s the treatment people earn by being deliberately offensive and condescending to Jerry. Steve didn’t just try to provide what he thought was corrective information, but he also tried to belittle Jerry. Big mistake.

  25. steve oberski
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Steve, if you live in releationship [sic] with him then you’re in an abusive relationship.

    Help is available, you can get counciling and go on to lead a normal and fulfilling life.

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      I’d say more an imaginary relationship than an abusive one. If the other Steve is getting punched regularly by Jesus, and has the bruises to show for it, I’d be very interested.

      • steve oberski
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        Steve does indeed have a relationship with an imaginary being but that does not mean that the damage this causes to Steve is not very real.

        As for bruises, one only need to look to the millenia long history of child abuse by the catholic church.

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        Fight Club!

        /@

  26. Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    “Jesus taught a way to love that is beyond our human ability… ”

    .. is where I stopped reading. I’m fairly sure the nonsense went downhill from there.

  27. Hempenstein
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    People who have so little understanding of the teachings of Jesus should never endeavor to comment on it, much less to propagate it.

    Unless teachings of Jesus is a collective singular, then those it‘s deserve [sic]’s.

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      I read that and wondered if Jerry was really propagating Jesus’ teachings. I think not. Questioning maybe.

  28. deadweasel
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    “I don’t have the time in my day to point out these errors and educate you.”

    He should call the power of Christ to his aid. Since when does a way “beyond our human ability” require time to accomplish anything?

    • Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      That’s an especially apropos observation considering that Jesus’s final message to his creation, when he charged his disciples with spreading his story across the world, also told his disciples how to identify themselves to us, and did so in no uncertain terms.

      Steve, if you’ll meet me in the parking lot of any hospital in the Phoenix metro area with an emergency room, I’ll bring the ammonia and bleach. After you chug them (first the ammonia), you can then empty the hospital with your healing touch.

      Do that and we’ll skip the snake handling, and I’ll be more than happy to seriously and sincerely listen to anything and everything you might wish to tell me about Jesus. I might not concur with your assessment of his true nature, but I will have little doubt as to your faith in him and the power he in turn grants to you.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • DV
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        Aww, the snake handling is the best. Why skip it.

        • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          Sadly, the snakes are too often harmed by inexpert handlers.

          I suppose that, should Steve manage to do everything else, we could then take a trip to South Mountain Park where he could look for a friendly rattler….

          b&

  29. ploubere
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Steve, despite his knowledge of “a way of love that is beyond our human ability”, has no time for Jerry. Where’s the love, Steve?

  30. Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    My response to things like this is to say that if we made the concession that god *does* exist, and even if it is a personal god who has clear ideas about the way we should behave, the self-evident ambiguity of his divine manual, and the existence of countless religious factions each with different interpretations, necessitates the conclusion that no moral guidance can be drawn from the text with definite accuracy, therefore we owe it to the welfare of our fellow humans to base our behaviour on some other, more reliable means, regardless of whether we continue to believe in god.

  31. severalfourmany
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    When I was doing my grad work in ancient history it was widely held that Jesus was a historical figure. Wikipedia suggests that this is still the case: “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed.”

    The sources are few, but that is not uncommon. They include the historians Josephus, Tacitus and several other minor or possible references. More here if you are interested:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#Non-Christian_sources

    Love the blog, thanks!

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Not one of those referenced is contemporary to the supposed life of Jesus. Every one is 30 to 100 years later.

    • raven
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed.”

      That and $1.75 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

      There are quite a few “modern scholars” who maintain that jesus was probably a fictional character*. Friedman, Carrier, Wells. etc.

      Josephus’s main passage is widely regarded and almost certainly a later insertion. Tacitus just says there were xians around.

      * I’m not one of them FWIW. An agnostic historicist. The data is lost in the sands of time and it is not provable or falsifiable any more.

      • severalfourmany
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I agree it is not overwhelming, but also not unusual. We have limited early sources on many ancient figures, even one as well-known as Socrates. And as his sources are largely literary, rather than historical works, they may be highly embellished. Yet we don’t question whether Socrates existed.

        I have never run across a serious scholar that doubts Jesus was a historical figure (but then I have never seen a black swan either). As Friedman, Carrier & Wells are all common names could you provide first names or publications? I am very curious to see what kind of arguments could be made that deny Jesus was an historical person. Thanks!

        • JimV
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          See http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/

          (Richard Carrier’s blog.)

        • raven
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          wikipedia christ myth theory:

          and Robert M. Price agrees that this denial perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars.[13] Myth theorist G. A. Wells has also softened his stance on the non-existence issue.[14]

          There is two. Richard Carrier is a serious historian (with a blog at FTB) and his book has just come out.

          The mythicists are a minority of scholars. But we don’t vote on what is true and real. It’s only a century or two old as a theory. A few centuries ago, suggesting that jesus was a myth would have got you killed in one or another gruesome way.

          If you put jesus never existed and similar key words in google, you get a huge number of hits. Even wikipedia has a biased towards the xians discussion of it.

          • raven
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

            muuh-gns in subthread #12 has one explanation for why mythicists are uncommon.

            There is a lot of money in biblical scholarship, biblical history, and xian apologetics. Many universities, even secular ones have a religious studies department of some sort.

            Pat Robertson made over a billion dollars droning on like an idiot.

            If your job and roof over your head depends on there being a historical or supernatural jesus, you aren’t going to be writing mythicist books.

          • Veroxitatis
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

            Who cares whether Jesus existed. The finding of his birth certificate will tell us nothing about his life, far less his divinity. Clearly, St Columba existed but I’m not about to buy into the miracles expounded in Adamnan’s Life of Columba.
            There is precious little evidence for the existence of King Arthur. However, there is considerable evidence available to show that in the immediate aftermath of the Roman occupation of Southern Britain there was a groundswell of revolt by native, and less Romanised Britons, against the Saxon incursions. Similarly, I expect there were any number of early 1st. century Jewish prophets and rabble rousers who were not exactly enamoured of the Pax Romana. Arthur and Jesus are probably generalised personifications of multiple characters.

          • severalfourmany
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

            I’m sure I would get a huge number of hits from searching “Jesus never existed” but what I want is “Jesus never existed, exclude: nonsense” which is why I appreciate the links and leads.

            Carrier’s blog describes some interesting research but sadly I don’t have access to the original journals.

            The dominant strands of Christ Myth Theory typically question the details of his biography. Even here, few if any question his existence.

            Thanks again, cheers.

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted January 2, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

              It is almost always possible to look up the email address of an academic author in whose work you are interested, and most will email copies of particular works (journal articles) if requested by random strangers.

              However, I suggest you avoid taking up too much of a stranger’s time by spouting kooky theories or requesting their entire output at once, or you’ll be identified as a nutjob. :)

            • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

              Short version?

              There is no evidence of Jesus that dates to the first half of the first century, despite the fact that we have libraries of such sources where Jesus should or could have been mentioned had he been anything like the portrait of him painted by the Bible. See especially Philo of Alexandria, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Pliny the Elder, and the Roman Satirists.

              That Biblical portrait is indistinguishable from all the other popular Pagan demigods whom everybody readily dismisses as fictional. For an exhaustive list, see Justin Martyr’s First Apology. Indeed, after you strip away all of Martyr’s “Analogies to the History of Christ,” you’re left with absolutely nothing. Worse, certain key elements of Jesus’s story, especially including the Eucharist and the Last Supper have unambiguous origins outside of Christianity (Mithraism, in this particular case) that Martyr and others make undeniably clear.

              The Pagans who wrote of Christians and their beliefs all dismissed them as lunatic nutjobs the same way we dismiss the Raelians and the like.

              And, in one particular case, that of Lucian’s account of the passing of Peregrinus, we even have a smoking-gun example of the sausage stone soup actually being made.

              Put it all together, and the only theory consistent with all the facts is that Jesus is every bit a mythical pagan demigod as all his contemporaries. The Biblical Jesus is absolutely ruled out, and the Jesus-as-a-random-schmuck doesn’t hold up, either.

              I’ve given you lots of references to original sources in this comment, and I’d recommend you examine them yourself rather than rely upon my interpretation or the interpretations of others. For example, read Martyr’s First Apology, especially where he rants about the “Sons of Jupiter,” and ask yourself if you agree with the accuracy of the analogies. If you do, then ask yourself if you agree with his explanation for the origins of those analogies, or if you think mine (that Jesus is a typical syncretic Greco-Roman Pagan demigod grafted onto the Jewish pantheon, much like how Orpheus was superficially Thracian) is more plausible.

              Cheers,

              b&

        • Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          First, historians have a bad habit of insisting that we must give far more credit than is due to piss-poor evidence because, as they tend to put it, if we don’t, then we don’t know anything at all about history.

          The sad fact of the matter is that there’s much that we truly don’t know about history, even though we’ve got lots of nice stories to fill in the gaps. Some of those stories may have some bearing on reality, but it’s likely that many don’t.

          Apportioning belief other than in proportion with a rational analysis of empirical observation is what faith is all about, and that’s what these types of historians are engaging in. It’s decidedly anti-scientific.

          (Not all historians do this. Good ones rely much more on archaeology than Mediaeval copies-of-copies-of-translations-of-translations of works with dubious provenance.)

          An example of an historical figure we can have a good deal of confidence in would be Gaius Julius Caesar. You can buy some of the evidence for your very own collection, in the form of a coin minted on his authority during his reign with his portrait on it. It’ll set you back about as much as you probably spend on a month’s rent / mortgage. We’ve got scads more physical evidence, from busts to statues to monuments to buildings to roads and more and more and more. We’ve got superlative documentary evidence, too, especially including his own autobiographical account of his conquest of modern-day France, and his account has repeatedly been confirmed in wondrous detail such as by archaeological digs at the sites he describes camping at. And we’ve got his letters to others and their replies, contemporary letters about him, and, oh-by-the-way, historians from every generation after him have written about him.

          For Jesus, we have a perfect lack of physical or archaeological evidence. Most damning, we’ve got lots of contemporary works (especially including Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls and Pliny the Elder and the Roman Satirists), and not a one of them offers even a hint of a peep of anything that could vaguely be mistraken for Jesus or any of his antics.

          What we do have, starting at least a generation or two after the “fact,” are religious tracts of a bog-standard Greco-Roman Pagan demigod transposed onto the Jewish pantheon.

          Even worse, early Christians themselves wrote, in excruciating detail, entire tracts devoted to explaining to the Pagans how Jesus was no different from the Pagan gods — including long lists of each and every such god that the Christians stole from to make their Jesus. Granted, the Christians claimed that Jesus was the real deal and the others were deceptions perpetrated by demons to convince honest men that Jesus was the Johnny-come-lately, but….

          Every Pagan who eventually did write about Christians and Christianity dismissed them as a bunch of lunatic nutjob cultists much like we’d today dismiss the Raelians. We even have a delightful account by Lucian of Samosata of how Peregrinus duped the idiot Christians into accepting him as a prophet, at which point he not only proceeded to scam them blind but also got them to accept, wholesale, all sorts of Pagan myths as their own.

          So, there you have the $0.05 tour. There’s lots and lots and lots more, of course, such as how we can be extremely confident that both the Last Supper and the Eucharist are Mithraic rites that Paul interpolated into Christianity, but that should be enough to get you started.

          TLDR: There’s no contemporary evidence for Jesus where it’s impossible for such evidence to be missing; Jesus himself is indistinguishable from all the Pagan demigods everybody agrees are pure fiction; early Christians passionately argued that point; Pagans thought Christians were crazy; and we’ve got at least one smoking-gun account of how it was assembled.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Achrachno
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

            Excellent! Thanks, Ben.

            You should compile all this into a book, or a series of “Ben tracts”.

            • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

              Ha! As if I wasn’t already hopelessly behind…but thanks!

              b&

              • Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

                Hire an intern/ personal assistant. You have good stuff.

        • Peter Ozzie Jones
          Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          but then I have never seen a black swan either

          Images for our black swans(Cygnus atratus) may be found by using something like “black swan western australian images” in your search engine of choice. The black swan is used on our state flag.

          And, yes, I have also seen white swans in England!

      • muuh-gnu
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        > That and $1.75 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

        Apart from that, the usual appeal to authority is not a sound argument and is an insult to any inquisitive mind.

        The purpose of that argument is to stop an unpleasant discussion. It is basically saying “topic X is too complicated for you, leave it to the experts. dont question their judgement, they wont lie.”

        Instead of arguing about details, modern bible scholars spend half of their time about the credentials of their discussion opponents.

        And since most of their arguments are uncheckable anyway, how influential an argument is gonna be depends more on who made it than on details and comprehensible logic.

        > “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed.”

        Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity are simply lying about that since their employment depends on it.

  32. Bruce Gorton
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Jesus taught a way to love that is beyond our human ability…

    This, is why comparative religion should be taught in schools. The same concept is taught in the Tao te Ching, Hinduism, Judaism, and pretty much all other extant religions.

    If you are to accept your religion as the true one, and others as false it is pretty clear that that way to love is not beyond our human ability considering just how many other religions teach it.

    And that is without getting into the fact that if it was beyond human ability then Jesus couldn’t have taught it. We are still humans after all.

    Further it is a bad teaching, because it instils guilt in the victim who cannot love his or her abuser, thus adding to the suffering of those who are already in pain without doing anything to stop the abuse. Love cannot and should not be compelled.

    • Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      There are certain Indic religions (some branches of Hinduism, and Sikhism) which add several caveats to their “love your enemy” teachings. One of Hinduism’s important texts, the Gita is, at least superficially, all about why a violent fightback is a “duty” in some situations. Similarly, very early in the growth of Sikhism, fighting back against the Mughal Empire–which by then had discarded its earlier religious syncretism and turned into a a much more repressive theocratic regime– became an important part of the history of the religion.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      For once I get to quote a religious text for a reason:

      “Luke 6:27-36

      [27] “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, [28] bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. [29] If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. [30] Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. [31] Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

      The Golden Rule is of course old and widespread, and it is present in the Hippocratic Oath of ~ 400 BCE. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule ]

      But I think its secular form was preceded by Pericles. From his Funeral Oration from the Peloponnesian War ~ 430 BCE:

      “Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.”

      [My bold]

      As my link implies, Pericles, who was taught by philosophers, could have gotten it from greek philosophers, since it was old and ubiquitous among them.

      If this more humane form than the old “eye for en eye” jurisdictional form of the region was invented by the greek or introduced from, say, later Egypt I don’t know. But at least Pericles promoted it AFAIK as a secular principle in his form of democracy.

      [And the abrahamic believers in turn could have later gotten it from the hellenic empire.]

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        It also appears in Confucian teachings (which might predate Pericles) and in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata (different parts of which date to different times). There is also a popular Pali/Sanskrit chant (of whose source I am not aware), often used in Indian classical music, which literally translates to “May every one be happy, may everyone remain healthy, may everyone see only the good, may no one have to endure suffering”, which seems to be making a similar point, although without the enemy coming into the picture explicitly.

      • Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        I’d vote for Pericles today….

        b&

  33. gillt
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    But I’m immensely grateful to lean that the word “strike”…

    I think you mean learn not lean.

  34. Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    There are no solid historical references to Jesus. Messiah theorists allow their bias to guide their conclusions; unfortunately, anyone with a theory other than the Messiah theory can explain the evidence better. Richard Carrier is (arguably) the marquee example. Tacitus is usually thrown out there as a good source proving historicity; you read Richard Carrier’s take on that, and you’ll change your mind. Then there’s Josephus; again, Carrier’s latest paper lays that to rest. I debate this topic all the time and two things have caught my attention:

    1) Christians don’t know anything other than what has been said by apologists like Habermas, Licona, Craig, Strobel, Witherington III, etc.

    2) Christians are generally afraid to discuss or debate the topic.

    All they have are mantras like the one stated by Steve: “there is solid historical evidence for Jesus.”

    I find that I know their “evidence” better than they do. Given their reluctance, I state their evidence and then provide them with rebuttals or alternative, stronger explanations. Two things are for certain in this discussion: 1) The Christ of the Gospels is demonstrably mythological 2) It can be argued that a figure named Jesus never existed. Ultimately, I feel that it is important for atheists to know about Jesus historicity; remember, you can’t let your guard down with these people; they’ll consider your silence or lack of knowledge proof of their correctness. Personally speaking, I’m too competitive to give anyone that kind of leverage. :)

    If you want more info on Jesus historicity, check out my historicity page; I update it accordingly.1

    1 http://deconversionmovement.tumblr.com/historicity

  35. wildhog
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    “Jesus taught a way to love that is beyond our human ability…”

    If Steve is a creationist, I guess he’s wondering why we werent created with more ability to love in the first place. Did god/jesus originally want us to love at one level, then later change his mind and raise the bar? The concept of an all-knowing being changing their mind is quite a paradox. Wouldnt he see the future and know he was going to change his mind some day?

  36. Euphobia1
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Steve, I have had the most impeccable religious education that it is possible to have. I have read and studied the Bible from Jewish and Christian points of view and I have read the Koran.

    It matters not if Jesus existed. The ones that have to exist are Adam & Eve and DNA proves to us they don’t and being a bible expert you will know exactly what that means.

    You don’t have to read beyond A&E and their Sin!No Prince of Denmark no Hamlet!

    There is no evidence for Jesus. We don’t even know his dates for sure. Sounds OK to take 1 AD as a starting point and then say the first mention was 40 years later. How do you know? You don’t. Jesus could have lived 50 years before. No evidence.

    You are one of the 70% who know the truth but refuse to believe it. Ah me!

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    It is a typical Courtier’s Reply: “a logical fallacy that boils down to: “But you haven’t read enough on it!”” [ http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Courtier's_Reply ]

    And as far as no secular references to Jesus in history, you need to do your homework. You’ll find all kinds of historical references to dispell [sic] your ignorant assertion that he didn’t exist. I don’t have the time to ‘spoon-feed’ you any more. We live in the ‘information age’…there is therefored no excuse for this level of ignorance.

    The irony, amongst other things, is thick in this one. There are no historical references by contemporary writers, which is why we have a specific myth theory in the first place.

    And why would this specific on its face mythical religious founder/god be historical, when no other similar mythical founder is?

    Jesus taught a way to love

    That is your opinion. There are others. How do you know your opinion is true?

    If you have so little understanding of the texts, why would you endeavor to comment on it, much less to propagate it?

    a way to love that is beyond our human ability… nobody can naturally love their enemy. That takes a supernatural enactment of God in us.

    A terrible logical fail. What is it, is the “love” beyond our ability, or do we use the “way”? If we use it, it is because it is within our ability.

    As for the actual content:

    Nobody naturally wears clothes. That doesn’t make clothes beyond our ability or supernatural.

    I am going to name this the Courtier’s Opinion, since it obviously lacks clothes.

    • neil344
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      That doesn’t make clothes beyond our ability or supernatural.

      I wouldn’t be too sure of that. In every depiction of heaven I’ve seen, people wear clothes (usually, white robes), so clothes must be supernatural. Who ever saw a naked ghost?

  38. Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    This was a form of INSULT. That’s what He was referring to!
    All knowing God apparently doesn’t care about left handed people. So Steve thinks that if say a roman soldier came up to Jesus and said Bastard! and smacked him one – Jesus wouldn’t return the insult but he’d smite him back in return.
    Jesus taught a way to love that is beyond our human ability…
    Clearly beyond the abilities of some Christians.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Maybe Steve thinks that a once-smote Jesus would whip out his Bushmaster AR-15…

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        Of course he would. It is the appropriate way to exercise the privilege of self-appointed divine wrath according to the Holy Book of Armaments.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

        Just what I was thinking. Make sure the guy takes another poke at you while everyone is watching, so you’ve got plenty of witnesses that you were justified in hauling out your heat and blowing the sucker away.

        .. wait, this is the NRA forum, right?

  39. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I wonder why Steve isn’t a Mormon. Their Holy Book is far more recent, written in English, ‘translated’ by a man who definitely existed.

    Or perhaps he should be a Scientologist?

    How does he know he as picked the right god to follow? He ought to be able to demonstrate his reasoning – unless of course his choice of Jesus is irrational. If it is irrational why should his views be given any weight?

  40. Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

    …and another one falls victim to Hitchens’ Hatchet.

  41. Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Since texts like Steve’s are cut-and-pasted, it is superfluous to add “[sic]” to every misspelling. It isn’t as though you would add them. Unlike him, you have the liberty to go back and correct your mistakes (but your “grateful to lean” is still there as I write). Some quite smart people can’t spell. If the spelling, grammar or syntax is unbelievably bad, you can always add “(all sic)” at the beginning or end.

    All the best for 2013, the Year of Love.

  42. Posted January 1, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    As a former minister I can say, with certainty, the Bible is nothing more than a gateway into the inner person who reads it.

    People who are decent and kind will resonate with the decent and kind parts and emphasize them. People who are assholes will resonate with the asshole parts of the Bible and emphasize them.

    And that’s it.

    And the same goes for the Koran and Muslims. Believe me, there is plenty of ‘nice-nice’ in the Koran. But there is plenty of asshole too.

    Other than that, there are no ‘messages’ from these works as every message, except for keeping women down, has it’s contrary message somewhere in the work.

    And to pretend otherwise is, in my book, disingenuous, shallow and a product of cafeteria Christianity and not any sort of fundamental truth about the Bible.

    After all, what Christians stone their children for disobedience? What Christians stone adulterous behavior? What Christians put to death their pregnant, unmarried daughters?

    Only the worst. And yet, those things are biblical.

    And, of course, my favorite which puts Christianity, Judaism and Islam all on the same page:

    Kill anyone with a different religion. (Deuteronomy 17:2-7)

    • Posted January 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      People who are decent and kind will resonate with the decent and kind parts and emphasize them. People who are assholes will resonate with the asshole parts of the Bible and emphasize them.
      Except that we all know people who seem decent and yet turn into assholes due to some parts of their religion. Me, I know quite a few decent , helpful , mostly non discriminatory christians who suddenly lose that decency when their children decide to stop going to church , marry a non christian etc.
      Assholes being Assholes isnt a problem , decent people turning into assholes is.(I knows there is a better quote for that :) )

  43. Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I truly empathize, Jerry.

    Oh c’mere, ya big lug; I’ll give you a hug. And a beer. Or a Jim Beam. Or an OJ. (Let the spelling and grammar police sit on THAT and rotate).

  44. wads42
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Surely Steve you can make time to destroy atheism for ever by providing your proofs. Think of the fame. Is there a Nobel prize or something similar that you might collect?

  45. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t believe “Steve” to be capable of an original thought. Whoever fed him these ideas was diluting/twisting an old idea or Steve didn’t understand what he was told or he’s expressing himself poorly…. The point about the face slap is that it IS a physical action, but the true insult is the contempt that the strike represents.

    I have this idea that a strike from the right [clean] hand is a minor insult compared with a strike from the [dirty] left hand & the notion of clean/dirty hands pre-dates Luke by a long stretch. So perhaps another interpretation of turning the other cheek is being prepared to be further dishonoured by being struck by the left hand?

    Here’s an extract from THE CHRIST OF THE MOUNT ~ A Working Philosophy of life by E. STANLEY JONES [1931] :-

    Here Jesus enlarges his insistence upon reverence for personality to include the personalities of those who are socially above us and can flick our cheeks, and of those who are in power above us and can compel us to go the forced labor of one mile, and of those who are our enemies. I say “flick our cheek” for it is obvious that if a man strikes you on the right cheek with his right hand, it must be a back-hand slap, so that the blow does not merely represent a physical hurt, but being a blow of contempt it represents a hurt to mind and soul, to one’s self respect. To turn the other cheek in that case is asking a good deal of human nature. But Jesus being what he was and wanting to do for and with his followers what he had laid out to do, could not ask less of them. He would lead them

    Going off the road completely…
    Does anyone know how old the idea of footwear insult is? Is that pre-NT?

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      “Does anyone know how old the idea of footwear insult is? Is that pre-NT?”

      It seems to be referenced in the OT, and since it’s widespread in the ME it seems likely to be an ancient phobia in that region. Ritual cleanliness seems to be the issue, yet again.

      I’ll find the OT ref. and be back.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        appreciated

        • Achrachno
          Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

          So far I found this reference implying shoes are unclean (directed at Moses approaching the burning bush): (Exodus 3:5) “Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground”

          I’ll look for more/better.

          • Achrachno
            Posted January 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            Joshua 5:15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

            • Posted January 2, 2013 at 1:46 am | Permalink

              Is this about footwear themselves being dirty, or the idea that footwear bring contamination from unholy ground? You might well have stepped in something on the road on the way to the mosque.

              Jesus is reported to have told his disciples to shake the dust off their shoes when they leave an inhospitable town, by way of getting rid of all traces of it (and “it will be more bearbble for Sodom and Gommorrah on the day of judgement than for that town” Matt 10:15 – suggesting the sin of those places was not sexuality, but inhospitality).

              Washing feet, on the other hand, seems to be a kind of self-abasement.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 2, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Footwear insult… like shoe-throwing?

  46. DV
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    “beyond human ability” is euphemism for “it doesn’t make sense”. It makes a virtue of something that’s nonsensical, and if you don’t understand it, well, it’s beyond human ability to understand. “Created sick, commanded to be well” captures the absurdity in a soundbite.

    • RFW
      Posted January 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      Believers’ attitude toward the worse nonsensicalities of their Inerrant Book is similar to their attitude toward fossils that are obviously the remains of living organism: “put there to challenge our faith.”

      What utter b.s.

  47. articulett
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I hear there’s historical evidence of a real Santa too. Plus millions of kids get Christmas presents under their Christmas tree Christmas morning. And scientists have never proven that reindeer can’t fly. Who are we humans to try and understand things beyond our understanding?

  48. Posted January 1, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Steve is unwittingly showing how much rationalization has to be done to defend just one of the ridiculous verses in the bible.
    Here is the full passage.

    Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your [a]shirt, let him have your [b]coat also. 41 Whoever [c]forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.NASB

    Then, you need another rationalization for the next verse, and so on and so on. There is no practical sense in which one could live this way.

    Though I wouldn’t claim to know absolutely whether Jesus existed or not, “no secular references to Jesus in history” is an accurate statement, according to the preponderance of academia.

    Steve is the one who needs to study more; more than preselected fundy pseudo-academics.

  49. johne2010
    Posted January 1, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    According to the bible, Jesus was a false prophet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbBYLQxC7z0

  50. Pray Hard
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Steve, read D.M. Murdock’s The Christ Conspiracy, the Greatest Story Every Sold, guaranteed to ruin your life, presuming you have a brain.

  51. Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Jesus packing an Uzi

  52. Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    What is the difference between an amateur theologian and a professional theologian? Only thing I can think of is that one is paid to make things up whereas the other does it for free.


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