Posts Tagged ‘myths’

A New Project

November 12, 2011 Leave a comment

So while I am constantly reading sections of the Bible in Koine Greek, or cross-referencing manuscripts, or comparing conflicting stories in various books it has been a while since I went back and read the whole Bible. I remember the first time I read the whole Bible. It was around the time when I was twelve years old, right after my apostasy from the church. Having experienced Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist traditions I decided to read the book in its entirety to see if I could figure out which was right. I came to the conclusion upon finishing the book that none of them were right and perhaps the book was wrong too. There were too many questions, too many contradictions, too many conflicting stories to make the whole thing truthful… I was twelve. Codex Gigas - (Kungl. biblioteket)

The time has come for me to delve back into this enormous project and I hope to document it all here. Unlike the last time I tackled the whole Bible I will not be beginning with Genesis and moving straight through to Revelation. I will be beginning with the New Testament first of all, mostly because Christian scripture and church history is the most interesting aspect of the whole thing to me. I will also be reading, rather than from the King James Version alone, from various translations including the Revised Standard Version and the Lexham English Bible English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament alongside the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 27th Edition. I will also be referencing the manuscript tradition when I feel something might be better expressed or to note interesting textual variants.

I hope to document as much of the process as I can. I will be reading not only the testaments out of order but I will be reading them in a very specific order which I believe helps shed light on the themes hidden below the surface of the Bible. I will be starting with Mark, the first gospel written, and then on to Matthew and Luke, its textual dependants. Then on to Acts, Luke’s sequel. From there I will be reading the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles (1, 2, & 3 John). Then to Paul in the order of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians. Leaving Paul for the time being I will move to James then to Pseudo-Paul’s Pastorals: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I will finish with 1 & 2 Peter, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation. I will also be interspersing my readings with various translations of other non-canonical works such as the Gospel of Thomas, Letter of Ignatius, Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Didiache.

My newest project

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

So on April 9th, my good friend Jason had me come on his internet radio show to discuss the May 21, 2011 end times prophesy. It was originally just going to be me on the show with his co-hosts. The show runs for two hours and we were set to talk about Harold Camping, May 21st, and the rapture more generally. However, about 4 hours before the show was to start Brother Mike called Jason’s hotline and asked to be on the show.

Well the show came and we had Brother Mike come on and talk about the claims. He was long winded and full of crap but he was generally polite. He was on for just shy of an hour before he was cut off and we went into the second portion where the three hosts and myself discussed what Brother Mike said.

After the show, Bob who is also an atheist, Jason who is religiously apathetic, and myself decided that we could have a show just to address the things that came up during that one episode. So we got together and planned out our own show, I am the host and Bob and Jason agreed to be the co-hosts.

We filmed our first episode on Monday. The format is somewhat raw, we were out in public, but we think that this will work well for what we are doing. Jason’s other show is filmed in his living room so we wanted something more open for this show. Our inaugural episode deals with the Resurrection Challenge issued by LogosApologia last September as a sort of kick off. We have some big things planned once we get a small following. If you want to check out the show you can like our fan page on Facebook and tune in at 8pm ET tomorrow night at for our first episode.

Evangelism in America: Is the Religious Right taking the helm of America’s Christian traditions?

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The headlines have said it; Evangelical Christianity is on the rise while the more moderate Protestant Christian denominations are in decline. But is this really the case? And if it is, how long will it be before the more radical aspects of Protestant Christianity hold sway over the majority of Americans? Imagine if most people bought into the inane garbage spewed by the Pat Robertsons, Billy Grahams, and Jerry Falwells of the world. A frightening projection indeed; so what does the major research into this field tell us about this supposed unstoppable growth?

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS)[1] conducted out of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut found in 2008 that so called Mainline Christianity is indeed in the decline while Pentecostal and other Charismatic and Evangelical denominations are increasing; however, it is the Non-Denominational and Unspecified Christians who take the lead in areas of growth. While Pentecostals grew from 1.8% of the population to 2.3% the former groups grew from 4.7% to 10.9%. It seems that hand over fist it is the more generic Christians who are taking charge of the faith but another interesting conclusion of the ARIS report is that Christianity as a whole, while still adhered to by a majority of Americans, is in decline. From 1990 to 2008 the number of Christians in American dropped by nearly 10% while the irreligious went from 8.2% to 15%, gaining nearly the whole loss from Christianity. It is safe to say that according to ARIS the US won’t face an Evangelical takeover anytime soon.

Then there is the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,[2] a great research tool for anyone with questions concerning demographics of religion and politics. They found in 2010 that only 39% of Americans attended a religious service once a week, only a third of Americans believed that the Bible was the literal and unaltered word of God, and only 56% of Americans consider religion to be very important to one’s life. Striking figures when one considers that Christians make up 76% of the US population. Finally, according to the Pew Foundation the irreligious grew by 1.1% in the two years between the 2008 ARIS report and the one done by Pew in 2010.

From this we can clearly see that while Evangelism is a growing trend within Christianity it is by no means the fastest growing nor is it the dominant trend. On top of that Christianity as a whole is in decline, it would seem that the denominations are more so cannibalizing current members from other churches than gaining new members from outside the faith resulting in a net loss in the pews. Secularism and irreligiosity is one of the fastest growing trends in the American religious landscape possibly by Christianity’s step toward the political right as it becomes less mainstream and more Evangelical. Whatever the reason it, it would seem that the reports about the evangelization of the nation are all taken out of proportion.

Were the Christians Really Persecuted in Their Infancy? And What That Assumption and Truth Means in Contemporary Life

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

For as long as anyone can remember there have been stories about the persecution of the early church under the Roman emperor, Nero. In church, children grow up learning about how Christians in the first and second century CE were thrown into gladiatorial arenas with nothing but their own rags, to battle lions and professional fighters. In learning these stories children begin to identify any sufferings they may have with this early persecution. A self-aggrandizing culture of discrimination is created within the minds of young Christians, one which has come to a head in contemporary America and Europe. As the ability for Christians to persecute diminishes these same Christians see it as persecution by secular humanists and liberals. While some 78.4% of America recognizes itself as Christian[1] the idea of being a marginalized is one that is pervasive throughout society. Indeed, regardless of the fact that of the 535 Congress-people serving in the 112th Congress 86% are Christian[2]—meaning that they have proportionally more representation in Congress than other groups—this misguided notion perseveres. But what if the stories children learn in catechism, Sunday School and bible camp aren’t true?

To begin this historical expose of what we know about the early church and its persecution let us first look at the source for it all, the writings of a famous first century historian and Roman Senator, Tacitus. Who was Tacitus? Born sometime around 55 CE and living until 135 CE, Tacitus was a Roman historian who wrote majorly on the reign of Nero. Aside from Flavius Josephus, another first century historian, he is the most commonly touted witness to the early church and the supposed existence of Jesus of Nazareth. What was it then that Tacitus said that could convince so many people that early Christians were persecuted?

[Nero] inflicted the most cruel punishments upon a set of people, who were holden in abhorrence for their crimes, and were commonly called Christians. The founder of that name was Christus, who, in the reign of Tiberius, was punished by Pontius Pilate. This pernicious superstition, thus checked for awhile, broke out again; and spread not only over Judӕa the source of this evil, but reached the city also: whither flow from all quarters all things vile and shameful and where they find shelter and encouragement. At first, only those were apprehended who confessed themselves of that sect; afterwards, a vast multitude discovered by them; all of which were condemned, not so much for the crime of burning the city, as for their hatred of mankind. Their executions were so contrived as to expose them to derision and contempt.  Some were covered over with the skins o wild beasts, and torn to pieces by dogs; some were crucified. Others having been daubed over with combustible materials, were set up as lights in the night-time, and thus burned to death. Nero made use of his own gardens as a theatre on this occasion, and also exhibited the diversions of the circus, sometimes standing in the crowd as a spectator, in the habit of a charioteer; at other times driving a chariot himself; till at length these men, though really criminal, and deserving exemplary punishment, began to be commiserated as people who were destroyed, not out of regard to the public welfare, but only to gratify the cruelty of one man.[3]

If this is a true account, it is clearly one of the most despicable actions that could be taken against other human beings, criminal—as Tacitus calls them—or not. But what is the actual nature of this document and is it historically sound?

The best way to authenticate early writings is to see who, if anyone, quotes from it. In the first century and beyond it was common for one writer to create a work and then for another to write rebuttals or commentaries on the work. In this manner we have what is believed to be the works of Celsus, a second century Greek philosopher, not because his own works survived—as they have not—but because the Church Father Origen transcribed it along with his individual rebuttals in his work Against Celsus. Similarly, such a clear and well defined account of Christian persecution should—if it is authentic—be heavily quoted by the early Church Fathers and contemporary historians.

However, it turns out that no one did despite the fact that many should have. Clement of Alexandria went to painstaking lengths to compile any and all references from Pagan sources to Christ or Christians. Surly this would not have escaped his notice being written by such a renowned historian. Flavius Josephus who resided within Rome from 70 CE until the end of the century, himself a Jew, surly would have taken notice of a group of people worshiping a Jewish Messiah being persecuted during his time within the city and yet he recounts nothing concerning the deaths of these Christians in Rome.

Furthermore, Tertullian, who wrote to heavily on the supposed persecution of Christians, never once quotes this chapter from Annals regardless of the fact that he quotes Tacitus numerous other times in his works and that this single quote would have proved to be a much more solid ground for him to build his argument. In fact, it is undeniably improbable that the quote regarding the persecution and torture of Christians by Tacitus is authentic considering this point. Finally, Eusebius, a Church Father who wrote heavily on matters of Christian history never once uses Tacitus’ above passage to make the case of Christian maltreatment under Nero.

This over the top accusation of persecution flies in the face of even the Bible itself. Paul who was an apostle of Jesus and arguably one of the most prolific of the missionaries in early Christendom resided within Rome itself and taught “about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered.”[4] Paul also makes the claim when conversing with the church in Rome via his letters that the State has the authority to punish but it is not to be feared for it is both just and fair.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, For there is not authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.[5]

It wasn’t just Paul who held this positive view of the Roman authorities—despite being written during the reign of Nero—Peter, traditionally considered to be the first bishop of Rome and an original apostle to Jesus, considered these same implications.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be the emperor as supreme, or as to the governors who were sent by him to punish those who do wrong and praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.[6]

Honor the Emperor? This document says to honor Nero. Either Peter was writing about a different emperor or Tacitus’ claims of Christian persecution are greatly exaggerated. Now, most scholars agree that 1 Peter was not written by the historical Peter but rather by someone as a pseudonymous work after Peter’s death. This only raises more questions as that places the authorship to be sometime between 75 and 115 CE—a contemporary document to the gospels of Matthew, Luke or John—but certainly after all this persecution supposedly having occurred under Nero. This is peculiar coming from a Christian author living in Rome at the turn of the second century. How can this be the case? This is certainly a direct contradiction to the account given to us by Tacitus.

None of this is surprising though, when one considers where the Annals come from in their modern form. All versions of the book today come from a single manuscript located in the 15th century and it is only after this date that we find reference to Tacitus as proof of Christian persecution to the extent it is often pushed.

The first publication of any part of the “Annals of Tacitus” was by Johannes de Spire, at Venice in the year 1468—his imprint being made from a single manuscript,  in his own power and possession only, and purporting to have been written in the eighth century… from this all other manuscripts and printed copies of the works of Tacitus are derived.[7]

It looks as though Tacitus isn’t going to cut it as proof of extreme Christian persecution in the early days of the Church. While Annals is not disputed to have been written by Tacitus, this chapter in particular is suspicious as it seems to have avoided being noticed until the 15th century, regardless of the fact that people were both familiar with the works of Tacitus and this passage would have given credence to the claims of many Church Fathers. Beyond that, the preceding and succeeding chapters of Annals flow perfectly into one another, if anything Section 45 of Chapter XV breaks the literary seam. It is an unwarranted interjection about Christians being persecuted in the midst of a narrative about how Rome itself was enduring hardships because of the burning under Nero and the economic hardships of Rome as a result of sending money out to the provinces. It is odd that two sections concerning Roman difficulties should be intermediately punctuated with a section on Christian persecution. For that reason, this section of Annals can for all intents and purposes be regarded as inauthentic.

Now we will turn to another often quoted proof, the Epistle of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan concerning how to treat Christians. This letter has been misrepresented so many times that it is necessary to include the whole of both the initial letter and its response from Emperor Trajan.


IT is my constant practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters about which I feel any uncertainty. For who is better able either to guide my hesitation, or to inform my ignorance? I have never taken part in the judicial trials of the Christians, and I am therefore ignorant how and to what extent it is usual for them to be punished or sought out. And I am in considerable doubt whether any distinction of ages is recognized, or whether no difference is made between any one of tender years and adults: whether pardon may be granted to penitence, or whether it is no advantage to any one, who has been a Christian at all, that he has ceased to be one : whether the name itself apart from any actual criminality, or the criminality attached to the name, is to be punished.

In the meantime, this is the method I have adopted in the case of those who were accused to me of being Christians. I asked them whether they were Christians: if they confessed it, I put the question a second and a third time, threatening punishment; and if they still persevered, I ordered them to be led away to execution. For I had no doubt, whatever their confession might imply, that stubbornness and immoveable obstinacy certainly ought to be punished.

Others there were of a similar madness, whom, as they were Roman citizens, I set aside for removal to Rome. But soon, under this very treatment, the crime, as often happens, spread, and several instances occurred. An anonymous accusation was presented to me, containing the names of many persons who denied that they either were, or had been, Christians. When at my dictation they invoked the gods, and offered incense and wine before your statue, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose along with the images of the gods, and in addition reviled Christ,—none of which acts, according to report, can they who are in real verity Christians be forced to perform,—I thought that they ought to be discharged. Others, named by an informer, said that they were Christians, but presently denied it; others said they had been Christians, but had ceased now to be so, some for three, others for several, and a few for so long as twenty years. All worshipped your statue, and the images of the gods: they also reviled Christ. They affirmed that this was the sum of their guilt or error:—that ‘they had been accustomed on an appointed day to assemble before dawn to sing anti-phonally to Christ as to a god; and to bind themselves by an oath, not for a criminal purpose, but never to commit theft, or robbery, or adultery, nor to break their word, nor to refuse a deposit, when called upon to restore it; and, this accomplished, that it had been their habit to separate and meet together again, to partake in common of a harmless meal, but that they had ceased to do this after my edict by which, in accordance with your mandate, I had prohibited clubs. And from this I judged it to be the more necessary to enquire what truth there was in this account from two female slaves, who were called deaconesses, and whom I even put to the rack for the purpose. But I discovered nothing more than a perverse and excessive superstition, and therefore I postponed a legal investigation of it, and hastened to consult you

For the matter seems to me worthy of consideration, especially on account of the number of those involved in the risk. For many of all ages, of every rank, and even of both sexes, are being drawn into danger and are likely to be drawn. Nor has the contagion of this superstition overrun the towns only, but even the villages and rural districts; although it still seems possible to check and correct it. It is certainly a fact that the temples, which had been nearly deserted, are now beginning to be frequented; and the sacred festivals, so long disregarded, to be observed anew; and victims are everywhere on sale, for which a purchaser could till lately only very rarely be found. And from this it may easily be gathered what a large number of men might be reclaimed if an opportunity of penitence were given them.


You have followed the right course, my dear Secundus, in investigating the cases of those who have been accused to you of being Christians. No universal rule, however, can be laid down, which shall have an unvarying application. They are not to be sought out; but if they are accused and impeached, they must be punished; provided, however, that any one, who shall deny that he is a Christian, and clearly demonstrate the fact by worshipping our gods, may obtain pardon in consequence of his penitence, although there may be strong ground for suspicion that he has been a Christian in time past. But anonymously written accusations brought to your notice ought not to be received in the case of any crime. For they form the worst precedents, and are not in keeping with our age.[8]

Though Pliny the Younger obviously wants to punish these Christians for their beliefs the manner in which it is carried out and the extent to which Emperor Trajan approves of is not in any manner similar to that which is described in the contemporary sense. Specifically, the word for punishment in Pliny the Younger and Trajan’s letters is supplicium which means punishment in a rather general term, albeit usually harsh manner, and not as capital punishment as it is so often inferred.

Secondly, the Christians these letters are referring to may not even be the Christians to whom we are so commonly familiar. To see what is meant here we turn to the writings of Suetonius who references Christians twice but it is of note that his Christians are not ones who follow a man who came from Galilee. Suetonius writes of Christians as followers of a rebel known as Chrestus. In “The Life of Claudius” he writes that “He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.”[9] This is an interesting turn of events, as this line is usually given to mean Jesus with Chestus being an improperly Latinized form of Christus (from the Greek Χριστος), but two problems arise from this. First, that Claudius reigned between 41 and 54 CE, more than a decade after the supposed crucifixion of Jesus, thus Jesus could not be inciting Jews in Rome to riot; and second, that Chestus is a perfectly common Roman name, for example Prince Mithridates Chrestus of Pontus and King Socrates Chrestus of Bithynia. Certainly this persecuton of Christians would make more sense in this light considering that they are a sect of Jews rioting in Rome as opposed to the persecution of a fringe sect of Jews whose own missionaries and founders tell them to be at peace with the Imperial government.

So now that it can be fairly seen that there is no real evidence of persecution to the Christians living in the first century what does that mean for contemporary Christians? In our modern world where we move further and further from theocratic rule and into a more secular age it seems that the Christians see themselves as having come full circle to some extent: going from being a persecuted minority to ruling majority and back again. Unfortunately for the section of the Christian community which thinks this way it is simply not true. Christians still hold a disproportionate amount of power in government, are the only religion to have a religious holiday recognized as a national one, and being the majority within society dictate the status quo. Christians are not a persecuted division of society and contrary to their revisionist histories by-and-large, they have never been one except at their own hands. The Biblical rhetoric of having to endure hardships[10] or the glorification of being persecuted[11] has created a mentality for Christians to imagine persecution in everyday society. If a Christian isn’t being persecuted then are they truly a soldier for Christ? Thus, this rhetoric coupled with allusions to past persecutions become a salient model for the experience of being a Christian for most practitioners, leading some to grope for some event by which they can claim their rightful place as a persecuted.


Notes and Citations:

[1] The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “Statistics on Religion in America Report.” 2007.

[2] Ibid. “Faith on the Hill. The Religious Composition of the 112th Congress” 2011.

[3] Tacitus. Annals, Book XV. Section 44.

[4] Acts 28:31. RSV

[5] Romans 13:1-5. RSV

[6] 1 Peter 2:13-16. RSV

[7] Taylor, Rev. Robert. The Diegesis: Being a Discovery of the Origin, Evidences and Early History of Christianity. London: John Carlile. 1829. (393)

[8] Bindley, T. Herbert, Ed. The Apology of Tertullian: Translated with Introduction, Analysis, and Appendix containing the Letters of Pliny and Trajan respecting the Christians. Oxford: Parker and Co. 1890.

[9] Thompson, Alexander, Trans. Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. London: George Bell and Sons. 1890. (318)

[10] 2 Timothy 2:3

[11] Matthew 5:10

The Political Violence of the Bible and the Koran: A Response

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

This essay has to do with an argument which was put forth by one Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam. His post which can be found on Scribd, is one of typical Judeo-Christian hypocrisy, where the pot calls the kettle a war monger.

In his argumentation for the dissimilarity of the Hebrew Bible, Christian New Testament, and the Islamic scriptures of the Qur’an and Hadith, Bill Warner makes several blunders in comparative theology and the delivery of what he calls quantitative evidence. What will follow is far from an exhaustive list of rebuttals, but rather what I would consider to be the most important counter-arguments to consider before applying the label of war-mongering to Islam without also applying it to Christianity and Judaism. Firstly, Warner claims that there is a political agenda of Islam. This can be stated as either a misconception of Islam or as an understatement of the political agendas of all religions save Islam. As all religions strive for control, especially the Abrahamic faiths, this is certainly not a legitimate grievance. Secondly, Warner states that said political agenda is derived from the “trilogy” of Islamic scripture, the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira. The Sira, the biographical work depicting the life of Mohammed, is not scripture in the way that the gospels are. They are more a reflection on the nature of the prophet in the same way that reading deuterocanonical books would give one insight into the life of Jesus, important to the faithful but not necessarily authoritative. In reality the bulk of Islamic scripture is the Hadith, Qur’an, Tawrat (Pentateuch), Injil (Gospel given to Jesus), and the Zabur (Psalms).

Warner’s primary blunder is one of terms. He relies on the term “political violence” one which he seems reluctant to provide a definition for. Perhaps because if defined, a rebuttal would be much more clear. As such, I will now infer a definition based on his loose statement of what political violence is not. “Cain killing Abel is not political violence. Political violence is not killing a lamb for a meal or making an animal sacrifice.” As his premise is most likely that political violence is violence solely against other humans and solely for the purpose of religious expansionism I will ignore all passages of animal sacrifice or cruelty (although one could read these as worthy trespasses as well) or of human on human violence without socio-political pretence.

Warner makes the claim that only 34,000 words in the Hebrew Bible are dedicated to political violence and makes the unabashed claim that there is no political violence in the Christian New Testament while there are 328,000 words dedicated to political violence in the Islamic scriptures. These claims are sorely understated if not intentionally misleading. Firstly, the Hebrew Bible is much shorter than the Islamic scriptures (1,163 pages of Old Testament[1] vs. 3,138 pages of Islamic Scripture[2]) so his one for one comparison falls apart under even slight scrutiny as the Islamic literature being compared is nearly three times the length of the Hebrew Bible. Beyond this, one need only read until Exodus to find the Hebrew Bible is abundant with political violence. Even if one doesn’t recognise the Plagues of Egypt[3] as political violence as they are atrocities committed by God and not the Israelites one needs read no further than when Israel is finally out of bondage that they are told to go out and kill everyone who resides within the Promised Land[4]. If that were not enough the message that they should ultimately kill anyone who offers sacrifice to any god but YHVH[5] would mean, in any literal sense, that Christians and Jews are demanded by divine command to slaughter the 4 billion people who are not believers. This concept is no doubt the basis of the fundamentalist strain of thought within Islam but it is important to remember that this is heavily tied into scriptural references within the Christian and Hebrew liturgical tradition. The list goes on, execution for anyone who breaks the Sabbath,[6] the fate of the Midianites at the hand of the Israelites,[7] or God’s command to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and destroy their relics.[8] This is not exhaustive as certainly this is simply a few examples found in the Pentateuch (in my edition I am only 210 pages into the book with the final example given) and not the militaristic histories given in Judges, Chronicles, 1 & 2 Kings or 1 & 2 Samuel.

Of course this is all moot when one does the math, by Warner’s calculations the Islamic trilogy is 328,000 words dedicated to “political violence” but then realize that the Sira is not Islamic scripture. If Warner isn’t going to include the deuterocanon and apocrypha then we should not allow the Sira in this. That then brings the amount of words back down to 118,080 words dedicated to political violence assuming that the Sira makes up 67% of its references. This math means that there are only 118,080 references in 1,205 pages means that there are 98 words per page in the Islamic texts—a questionable amount in any sense—versus 29 words per page in the Hebrew bible.[9] Upon this conclusion I want to digress that words themselves are not a good measure of how much violence is in a text but rather how many verses refer or condone violence.

However, even if the Qur’an and Hadith are more violent than the Tanakh does that really matter? If the expression of God’s will to slaughter all non-believers occurs once or a hundred times is it any different? Weren’t Christianity, and Judaism before it, spread through political warfare? Indeed, the Catholic symbol IHS stands for In Hoc Signio, Vinces, (Latin: By this sign, conquer) attributed to a vision purportedly beheld by Constantine before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Considering the long military history of European Christianity, the forced conversions of Jews and Slavs in Central and Eastern Europe, of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, the Crusades, and the various witch hunts and inquisitions couldn’t one also call Christianity to the fore on the charge of political violence?

As for the claim that political violence is absent from the Christian New Testament, one needs turn no further than the third chapter of the first gospel, that of Matthew, to find the first example. “Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”[10] This startling threat that is given by John the Baptist to the Pharisees is more than just a side note. This is a theological claim to the superiority of Christendom. Further into the gospel Jesus references back to the Law of Moses, not abolishing its abhorrent rules but making them more strict. “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, shall pass from the law until all is accomplished.”[11] Now taking into consideration that the law, and that means its penalties are still enforced, reflect upon his statement on adultery. “You have heard that it is said ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one [sic] who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[12] Now what does the law say about adultery? The law clearly states that both adulterers—yes, in this case that means the woman being lusted after, regardless of her involvement—must be put to death. Adultery is serious business in God’s eyes.[13] One could continue to read into the socio-political message of Jesus by continuing through the final three gospels, Acts, the epistles, and finally the ultimate socio-political treatise, Revelation. Judeo-Christianity is rife with political violence in very comparable a sense as Islam.

Warner also makes the statement that Islam is singularly unique for making threats against artists, videographers, and authors. This is an exquisitely false statement. The Catholic Church maintained the Index Librorum Prohibitorum until 1966, a list of all books, banned by the church, where it was not only illegal but at times punishable by death to own one. The John Wycliffe, the first man to translate the bible into English, was heavily persecuted during his life and after his death had his remains exhumed and destroyed. The church also declared that translation of Scripture into English is a crime punishable by charges of heresy, coinciding with the 1401 law De heretico comburendo (Latin: Regarding the Heretic who is to be burned). Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from Oxford simply for writing his pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism. In the 1930s there was the Catholic League of Decency, its sole purpose was to object to what they saw as questionable content in films. Though these are not violent crimes per say, Christianity has simply not been as harsh on the arts as contemporary Islam. Christianity is much more obsessed with sexuality and political power.

The comingled religious/political propaganda used by Hitler in his rhetoric was unabashedly Christian in nature. Concerning atheism and its perceived threat to his Christian nation Hitler made the statements:

Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany’s fore. I am not merely talking about Christianity; I confess that I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity. Fourteen years they have gone arm in arm with atheism. At no time was greater damage ever done to Christianity than in those years when the Christian parties ruled side by side with those who denied the very existence of God. Germany’s entire cultural life was shattered and contaminated in this period. It shall be our task to burn out these manifestations of degeneracy in literature, theater, schools, and the press—that is, in our entire culture—and to eliminate the poison which has been permeating every facet of our lives for these past fourteen years.[14]

This of course was perfectly fine by the Catholic Church.  In fact religious identity was heavily intertwined with the beginnings of the Nazi Party,[15] religious iconography made itself present in German military apparel in the form of the motto Gott Mit Uns (German: God with us), and the surprisingly close ties between the Holy See and Germany during the Third Reich in the form of the Reichskonkordat, an agreement between Pope Pius XI and the fuehrer uniting the two. Catholicism was taught in schools, clergy were exempt from mandatory military service should it be reinstated, and the Holy See can maintain communication with its bishops. This close church-state relation was all well and good with the Christians who adopted Nazi politics because they were weaned on the age-old Catholic rhetoric of Jewish deicide and Martin Luther’s famous essay, The Jews and Their Lies and thus were fine with the oppression and even extermination of the Jewish people. Drawn from the account in the gospel of Matthew where Pontius Pilate washes his hands of guilt while the Pharisees answer “His blood be on us and on our children”[16] has been used as a justification for anti-Semitism for hundreds of years and it was one that would have rung familiar with religious Germans attracted to the Nazi ideology.

Turning to contemporary America, all that is needed is a cursory search of the internet to find a news article on recent the murder of a doctor who performs abortions. These slaying seem to always have been carried out by devout Christians who see it as God’s work. These people see the murders of abortion providers as “justifiable homicide.”[17] Sometimes it is not just the doctors themselves that get attacked, in 1998, Robert Sanderson, who worked as a security guard for an abortion clinic was killed when his work was bombed by Eric Robert Rudolph. In 2000, Ronald Gay entered a gay bar in Roanoke, VA and opened fire killing Danny Lee Overstreet. Gay, self described as a Christian soldier doing the Lord’s work. He was sentenced to life in prison for his crime.

In Warner’s final statement he suggests that “It is time for so-called intellectuals to get down to the basics of judging Islam by its actual doctrine, not making lame analogies that are sophomoric assertions. Fact-based reasoning should replace fantasies that are based upon political correctness and multiculturalism.” While it can be said that fanatical Islam should be recognized and dealt with in accordance to its severity, Christianity and Judaism are by no means free of criticism on the matter. Both have and do use political violence to their ends and both will continue to do so as long as they have carte blanche to do so. This is not so much a case of multiculturalism or political correctness as it is calling things as they are. While fundamentalist Islam is violent so is fundamentalist Christianity through justified homicide and sanctioned anti-semitism. Any belief structure which claims ultimate truth will inevitably end up leading to fanaticism and sanctioned violence against any perceived other.

Notes and Citations:

[1] The Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Edition. Oxford: Oxford University. 1962.

[2] The Qur’an (Oxford World Classics). Oxford: Oxford University. 2008. Calculated based on Warner’s calculation that the Qur’an is 16% of the Islamic Scriptures at 502 pages.

[3] Exodus 5:1 – 12:36

[4] Exodus 23:23 – 28

[5] Exodus 22:23

[6] Exodus 31:14

[7] Numbers 31:1 – 54

[8] Numbers 33:50 – 52

[9] Abdul-Rahman, Ghouroub, trans. The Authentic Holy Hadiths. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyah. 2010. 703 pages.

[10] Matthew 3:10

[11] Matthew 5:17 – 18

[12] Matthew 5:27 – 28

[13] Leviticus 20:10-21

[14] Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1942. p. 240

[15] Spencer, Heath A. “Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism.” Church History 3. 2010 p. 731-3.

[16] Matthew 27:25

[17] O’Keefe, Mark. “Anarchy in the name of God”. The Oregonian. January 24, 1999. Retrieved January 4, 2011 .

Who is this Jesus guy anyway?

April 1, 2010 5 comments

I am ever confronted with atheists and agnostics who while they disbelieve in the existence of God they totally believe that Jesus was an actual historical person. Could he have been a real person, separate from all the mystical hogwash? Perhaps, but no more than any character in any work of historical fiction might be. However it is something that I have been asking more and more lately. Did he even exist? I honestly can’t think of any reason to believe he even did. Lets examine the evidence, since if he did exist then there certainly should be some.

The logical place to start is the Bible. You would go to a science text for information on science, a history text for history so why not start with the Bible for what is biblical. Seeing as Jesus is a player in the New Testament (NT) we can disregard the Old Testament. This leaves us with half the book to examine. The NT is generally broken down into two parts, the Gospels and the Epistles. Lets start with the Gospels.

As you can see the two passages from the original Koine Greek are fairly identical to one another.

Almost from the start we can eliminate two of the four Gospels for the literary violation of plagiarism, namely Matthew and Luke. Both are a retelling (almost verbatim) of Mark with some of Jesus’ sayings thrown in for good measure. These saying come from the so called Q Document. A document of unknown origin which is said to be a compilation of the sayings of Christ. Now about 55% of Matthew and 42% of Luke come directly from Mark while 25% of Matthew and 23% of Luke are shared with one another (sans any corroboration with Mark). This means that a mere 35% of Luke is original to itself while only 20% of Matthew can claim the same thing. If the authors of Luke and Matthew were first hand witnesses of Jesus then they would certainly not need to plagiarize the work of Mark. Beyond that places where the two diverge tend to contradict one another on things such as the genealogy of Jesus, since both cannot be correct in this matter and because they are definitely not eye witness accounts we can immediate dismiss them.

So what about Mark? Mark is the oldest of the Gospels arising in its completion at around 90 CE (Common Era) but believed to have been circulating as a working core version by about 70 CE. The problem with Mark is that it was certainly not written by a Palestinian. Mark’s understanding of Palestinian culture and geography diverge so heavily from reality that it could not have been written by someone who lived in Roman Palestine. My belief is that the author of Mark was a Greek. The first problem is that Mark obviously knows little about Palestinian geography. When Jesus sails the Sea of Galilee he comes across a man who is beset with demons and casts them out into a herd of pigs who then drown themselves (Mark 5:9). Mark places this story at Gerasenes in the old Greek manuscripts. Problem is that Gerasenes is about 30 miles from the Sea of Galilee. That’s a pretty far run for these pigs and as Bible Atlas dot com puts it, “Here the slopes descend swiftly almost into the sea, and animals, once started on the downward run, could not avoid plunging into the depths.” If we assume that a decline that “swift” is something akin to 45 degrees that would put Gerasenes somewhere in the stratosphere. Matthew knew a little more about geography and placed it somewhere called Gadarene but that is still 5 miles from shore and in a different country. Copyists who transcribed the whole thing into English for the King James Version (KJV) put it at Gergesa, a region now thought to have actually formed part of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The next thing about Mark is that he knew little about Palestinian traditions, especially marriage and divorce. For example, in Mark 10:12 it says, “And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery” (KJV). This is nonsense. Palestinian women at the time were not afforded the right to divorce. This is a gentile ruling put into Christ’s mouth to give it authority after the establishment of a church outside of Palestine. If Jesus had said this it would be like saying “a man who has an abortion has committed murder” well men can’t have an abortion and therefore the point is moot. Mark fumbles again in the 7th chapter when Jesus is debating the Pharisees. He quotes Isaiah 29:13, but his quote is the wording taken from the Greek Septuagint.  The differences? In Hebrew it says, “their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote,” but in the Greek version it says “Why the Lord said, For as much as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:” (KJV). No Pharisee in his right mind would take a Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew scripture as a valid point when debating. Mark was obviously not familiar with the Hebrew version or he would not have made this mistake, he was however familiar with the Greek Septuagint which I would say proves he was Greek not Palestinian and his errors show that he had never been to Palestine. With this we can eliminate the oldest Gospel, Mark.

Finally we come to John, the most supernatural of the Gospels and also the youngest. It arose in about 110 CE making the author, had he been born at the same time as the crucifixion about 80 years old at the time of its writing. Fairly unlikely considering the average life expectancy for a Palestinian at that time was about 45. John starts of with a mystical beginning stating, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (KJV). No swaddling clothes, no manger, no pregnant virgins, just God and the word. Beyond the blatant time difference between the writing and the events we need only look at John 21:24 which states “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” Not a problem, except that the original versions of John end at 20:31, the 21st chapter were added much later. So much for the Gospels.

St. Paul is healed by Ananias after being blinded.

The next biblical source are the Epistles these are some of the oldest texts in the NT having been established by the middle of the first century CE. Most of the letters were supposedly written by Paul. Background on this Paul character goes as such; Paul was a man who was originally named Saul of Tarsus, and though he was  Hebrew he was a Roman citizen. He was a Pharisee who violently persecuted Christians before his conversion, even approving of the death of St. Stephen (Acts 8:1) showing that he was possibly of the Sanhedrin. On the road to Damascus he had a vision of the resurrected Jesus which blinded him and he began to proselytize in the name of Christ. Now remember that by his own admission he never met Jesus in person (Gal. 1:11-12), but lets get back to the Epistles. He is traditionally thought to have been the author of 13 of the Epistles accordingly named the Pauline Epistles. However, scholars having examined the writings deem that only four of them were written by the same person, these are the first four: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians.

G.A. Wells, in his book The Historical Evidence for Jesus [22-23], sums things up so succinctly:

The…Pauline letters…are so completely silent concerning the events that were later recorded in the gospels as to suggest that these events were not known to Paul, who, however, could not have been ignorant of them if they had really occurred.These letters have no allusion to the parents of Jesus, let alone to the virgin birth. They never refer to a place of birth (for example, by calling him ‘of Nazareth’). They give no indication of the time or place of his earthly existence. They do not refer to his trial before a Roman official, nor to Jerusalem as the place of execution. They mention neither John the Baptist, nor Judas, nor Peter’s denial of his master. (They do, of course, mention Peter, but do not imply that he, any more than Paul himself, had known Jesus while he had been alive.)

These letters also fail to mention any miracles Jesus is supposed to have worked, a particularly striking omission, since, according to the gospels, he worked so many…

Another striking feature of Paul’s letters is that one could never gather from them that Jesus had been an ethical teacher… on only one occasion does he appeal to the authority of Jesus to support an ethical teaching which the gospels also represent Jesus as having delivered.

These factors should not be ignored and with this we can dismiss the Epistles as first hand historical evidence of Jesus. That eliminates the Bible as a historical source, so what is left? Well there are a few historical instances of Jesus being mentioned. Namely they are by the historians Josephus and Tacitus. Josephus was a Jew and more than that a Pharisee. He is often quoted as having said in his anthology Antiquities of the Jews as thus:

About this time, there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Now if we bear in mind that Josephus is a Jewish Pharisee and not a Christian he would never call Jesus the Messiah. Beyond that admitting to the resurrection and still not being a Christian is even more unbelievable. Reason for that is simple, this is a forgery. It was added to the book by later hands; one need only check the paragraphs before and after to see how disjointed this point is. Immediately before this part about Jesus he says, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder…” Josephus had previously been talking about awful things Pilate had done to the Jews in general, this is a horrible break in the literary seam. Couple this with the fact that Josephus was born in 37 CE, more than half a decade after the crucifixion and you can eliminate this theory.

The next historian is Tacitus, a Roman Senator and lifelong pagan as well as historian.

Before considering the alleged witness of Pagan authors, it is worth noting some of the things that we should find recorded in their histories if the biblical stories are in fact true. One passage from Matthew should suffice to point out the significance of the silence of secular writers:

Matt. 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. [46] And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [47] Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. [48] And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. [49] The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. [50] Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. [51] And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; [52] And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, [53] And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

The Romans recorded everything, wouldn’t they have noticed and recorded a solar eclipse? Wouldn’t someone have remembered and recorded the name of at least one of those “saints” who climbed out of the grave and went wandering through town? Well, they didn’t. More so, Tacitus was born in 55 CE, a quarter century after the crucifixion. He couldn’t have been a historical witness to Jesus. Tacitus’ single allusion to Jesus being crucified under Pilate (whom he names a Procurator, an incorrect title at the time since that title was not used until the second century CE, Pilate’s correct title was Prefect) is something that came to him secondhand at best.

That leaves us with no credible evidence for the existence of Jesus in any historical sense. No historical evidence in the Bible, and the only two credible historians to mention him in any respect are at best second hand accounts based on Christian retellings or at worst complete forgeries. Does that mean that Jesus was made up? Probably, considering the similarities to other Mediterranean gods floating around at about that time it isn’t unlikely. I promise to examine those aspects in later posts as this is already fairly long.

What brave new world…

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

What a better day to create this blog than the same day we humans have created in a laboratory a minuscule recreation of what happened 14 billion years ago at the centre of our universe. Today we collided two protons deep beneath the French Swiss border unleashing particles that have remained unseen since the dawn of time.

Large Hadron Collider

Associated Press

The information that will come from this collision will drag us kicking and screaming into this century and inevitably rewrite our understanding of particle physics and what happened just moments after the creation of the universe. It is my hope that people will be able to leave their petty bronze age beliefs behind when the undeniable evidence that science produces shows that it was not a grand schemer in the sky that created the world in 6 days but a wondrous chain of events spanning 14 billion years. Here’s to science.