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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 Zombie-Popcorn.com 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.

EPISTLE OF CAIUS PLINIUS SECUNDUS TO THE 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.

REPLY OF THE EMPEROR TRAJAN TO CAIUS PLINIUS SECUNDUS.

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

Survey about religion.

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

So I decided to do some research with respect to religious demographics. Hopefully the research will go well and I will be able to conduct more in depth research and just maybe write a research paper on the subject of my findings. I believe that the internet is the best way to do these sorts of things. In 2010 a majority of Americans have access to the internet and it provides a better statistical analysis than if I were to stand around asking people to take a survey like I did back in college. With that said, please take the survey, answer all the questions honestly and hopefully within a few weeks I will be able to come back with some of the results.

Click Here to take survey

Cheers!