Posts Tagged “jesus”
I’ve mentioned the New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman a few times on this blog. The most recent edition of Newsweek contains a piece he wrote, about what we do and don’t know about the Jesus Christ and his birth (locally-cached article):
As Christians around the world now prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, it is worth considering that much of the “common knowledge” about the babe in Bethlehem cannot be found in any scriptural authority, but is either a modern myth or based on Gospel accounts from outside the sacred bounds of Christian Scripture. Some obvious examples: nowhere does the Bible indicate what year Jesus came into the world, or that he was born on Dec. 25; it does not place an ox and an ass in his manger; it does not say that it was 3 (as opposed to 7 or 12) wise men who visited him.
So not only do most Christians believe things about Jesus and his birth which are not in their Bible, what’s actually contained within that Bible has more than a few holes:
For centuries scholars have recognized that the birth narratives of the New Testament are historically problematic. For one thing, the two accounts—the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two chapters of Luke—are strikingly different from one another, in ways that appear irreconcilable. To start with, they both give genealogies of Jesus’ father, Joseph (it’s an interesting question why they do so, since in neither account is Jesus a blood relative of Joseph), but they are different genealogies: he is said to have a different father, and grandfather, and great-grandfather, and so on. It is not that one is a genealogy of Mary and the other of Joseph. Both Gospel authors are crystal clear: they are giving Joseph’s genealogy. …
Moreover, both accounts contain contradictions with the known facts of history. Just take Luke as an example. Only in this Gospel do Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census when “the whole world” had to be enrolled under Caesar Augustus. The whole world? Luke must mean “the whole Roman Empire.” But even that cannot be right, historically. We have good documentation about the reign of Caesar Augustus, and there never was a census of his entire empire. Let alone one in which people had to register in their ancestral home.
If one assumes — as most Christians do — that the gospels are “history,” in the sense of being a direct and accurate record of true historical events as they happened, this can, indeed, be troubling. But as Ehrman points out, this need not be the case:
The accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament have never been called “histories”; instead, they have always been known as “Gospels”—that is “proclamations of the good news.” These are books that meant to declare religious truths, not historical facts. For believers who think that truth must, necessarily, be based on history, that probably will not be good news at all. But for those with a broader vision, a more generous appreciation of ?literature, and a fuller sense of theological meaning, the story of the Christ-child and his appearance in the world can be founded not on what really did happen, but on what really does happen, in the lives of those who believe that ?stories such as these can convey a ?greater truth.
Cue the inevitable sanctimonious outrage … against Ehrman for having written it, and Newsweek for having printed it. Cue the accusations that Ehrman, or Newsweek, or both somehow “hate” the Baby Jesus and that they’re “dissing” him. Cue the outrage that they insolently chose the precious Christmas season to unleash their attack on Christianity and on Christians everywhere.
This is only natural, and they largely can’t help themselves. For Christian fundamentalists … unwilling to accept that the content of their Bible might be “true” only as metaphor or inspiration … Ehrman’s piece is blasphemy of the highest order. Because fundamentalists have been the most vocal wing of American Christianity over the last several decades, they’ve laid the foundation for what most Christians in the US think about the Bible — even if their own denominations don’t teach the fundamentalists’ kind of Biblical literalism — and that means most other, non-fundamentalist Christians will also be offended at what Ehrman wrote. But the bottom line is that what he says is nothing new, and is not at all strange to anyone who’s familiar with the material in question. Which ultimately, and ironically, is all the more reason why no one ought to be offended by it at all. There’s nothing new or novel here. No major revelations. Just old news … to those who know the early Christian texts and the religion’s history.
Photo credit: Ian Britton, via Freefoto.
Tags: bart ehrman
, birth of christ
, birth of jesus
, birth of jesus christ
, historicity of jesus
, historicity of jesus christ
, infancy narrative
, jesus christ
, three kings
, virgin birth
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I’ve just posted a new static page on my blog, describing a number of Bible verses that Christians generally don’t obey. I’m not quite sure why this would be the case, since some of them are widely quoted and are featured in Jesus’ two most famous sermons, the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain. Nevertheless, few Christians these days live by them. And Christians have been refusing to live by them, almost since the founding of their religion. So ignoring these verses is a very long and very deep Christian tradition, that will be difficult to root out.
The reason why these verses are ignored is because — to be perfectly honest — they’re inconvenient to practice. Poverty as a spiritual ideal is not all that attractive; and pacifism to the point of not defending oneself is none too appealing either.
Nevertheless, these things — and more — are all explicitly mandated by Christianity’s most sacred texts, which means Christians must go along with them … or cease being Christians. It really is that simple. My guess is that most of the disobedient Christians who refuse to follow these instructions, are nevertheless going to continue refusing to follow them, and continue calling themselves Christians, even though their disobedience means they’re not.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
P.S. In case you were wondering, here’s a list of the verses covered in that page, in Biblical order:
Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18
Matthew 6:19-21, 24
Matthew 24:36, 42
1 John 1:8-10
Revelation 3:14, 17-18
If you want to know more about these verses, you’ll just have to find out for yourself!
Update: I’ve gotten some comments, and a lot of personal correspondence, about that page. I responded to that a couple days ago in another blog post.
, jesus christ
, sermon on the mount
, sermon on the plain
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The Vatican has decided enough is enough, when it comes to the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” that I blogged about back when it was released. They just aren’t having any part of it. Not only are they rejecting its content, as Reuters reports, they took to their house organ, L’Osservatore Romano, to declare the thing a “fake” (WebCite cached article):
An ancient papyrus fragment which a Harvard scholar says contains the first recorded mention that Jesus may have had a wife is a fake, the Vatican said on Friday.
“Substantial reasons would lead one to conclude that the papyrus is indeed a clumsy forgery,” the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial by its editor, Gian Maria Vian. “In any case, it’s a fake.”
Joining a highly charged academic debate over the authenticity of the text, written in ancient Egyptian Coptic, the newspaper published a lengthy analysis by expert Alberto Camplani of Rome’s La Sapienza university, outlining doubts about the manuscript and urging extreme caution.
I looked at L’Osservatore Romano online and was unable to find the editorial. I did, however, find Camplani’s piece, which is essentially an anti-media whine (cached). It doesn’t say very much about the manuscript fragment itself; it just says that the insolent worldwide mass media ought never to have mentioned it to anyone. Other than the complaint about the media — which is nothing new for the R.C. Church, they’ve been spewing paranoid rhetoric about how the media are trying to destroy them for years now — I don’t see anything substantive here, explaining how they know the fragment to be “fake.” No Vatican officials have examined it (again, that I’m aware of) so I don’t see how they can be this sure of it.
What it looks like they’ve done, is to react to a phantom, that being the idea that this scrap somehow proves Jesus was married, which of course would totally contradict centuries of Catholic doctrine … and especially would fly in the face of priestly celibacy.
Unfortunately for the Church, no one has seriously made such a claim, nor anything like it … not Prof Karen King who first revealed it, and not any of the reporters who’ve turned in stories about it. If anything, like this Reuters report, they go to great lengths to point out that this is not what the fragment tells us and that King never said so:
During the conference King stressed that the fragment did not give “any evidence that Jesus was married, or not married” but that early Christians were talking about the possibility.
Why the Vatican would react to this phantom notion, I have no idea. Except that, perhaps, it fits into the prevailing sense they have that the media are trying to destroy them. Even if the media were trying to do so, reporting on this fragment doesn’t help them in that regard.
Few facts are really known with any certainty about the document known as “the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” As I posted earlier, this means skepticism is in order. It may well turn out to be a modern fake. Questions abound, and conclusions are hard to reach. But even if it’s determined that the fragment is precisely what it appears to be … i.e. a classical-era Coptic text … that still does not tell us the slightest thing about Jesus. All it would tell us is that one 4th century Coptic Christian wrote down a text which contained those words … and because of that, one might reasonably assume, s/he believed that Jesus had a wife. Still, it’s clear that such a belief — assuming anyone held it, back then — must have been a minority view in classical Christendom (since there are no other documents that mention Jesus having been married).
Really, people need to stop going off the deep end over this manuscript fragment. Campliani’s statement that the media shouldn’t have reported it, is especially asinine. The Vatican is boxing shadows here. It really needs to move on and stop whining about things that aren’t relevant to it.
Photo credit: Karen L. King, via the New York Times.
Tags: catholic church
, coptic language
, gospel of jesus' wife
, holy see
, jesus christ
, jesus married
, jesus wife
, jesus wife papyrus
, karen l king
, married jesus
, roman catholic
, roman catholic church
, vatican city
, wife of jesus
, wife of jesus papyrus
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I’ve already noted the tendency of people to use religious principles to defend the indefensible. For a number of reasons, it often happens to be Christianity which is used in this way. Lawyers representing now-convicted massacrer Joshua Komisarjevsky, for example, attempted to cast their client as a saint rather than a sadistic rapist and murderer, and used quotations from the gospels to suggest that no one on the planet has any right to judge him for what he did. (Fortunately, neither the judge in that case nor the jury bought into the defense’s sickening notion; their client was convicted and sentenced to death for his crimes.)
Well, another high-profile criminal case has elicited a similar reaction. Yahoo Sports reports on the infamous — and currently on-trial — Jerry Sandusky’s supporters (WebCite cached article):
Joyce Porter sits in a booth at the old downtown Diamond Deli, across the street from the Centre County Courthouse where her friend Jerry Sandusky is being tried on 52 counts of sexually molesting children. …
“When everyone was persecuting Jesus, someone had to stand with him,” Porter said.
It’s worth noting that Porter didn’t say Jerry Sandusky was Jesus, just that in her view the situation has similarities.
I’m not quite sure how any rational person could see any significant “similarities” between Jesus and Sandusky, beyond the fact that they’ve both been tried in court. One of the chief differences between them is that Jesus … according to the gospels and Christian tradition … was supposedly innocent of the charges that had been leveled against him. On the other hand, Sandusky’s own attorney has admitted he showered with young boys, which is such a stunningly inappropriate habit that — no matter the outcome of this trial — one can hardly call Sandusky completely “innocent.”
The Yahoo Sports article explains more of the rationalizing, compartmentalizing, and excusing that Porter engages in. I’ll allow it to speak for itself. It’s sickening to read, but it does illustrate how well human beings can deceive themselves, if they’re sufficiently motivated to do so.
As with my earlier example of this phenomenon, I don’t for one moment think most Christians would agree with Ms Porter about Sandusky being a close analogue of Jesus. That said, it’s clear that the principles of Christianity can very easily be twisted in ways most people wouldn’t recognize. It’s hardly to Chrisitanity’s credit that it can be used in such a way.
Photo credit: Nick in exsilio, via Flickr.
, jerry sandusky
, jesus christ
, joyce porter
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Screen shot of video report by KOAT-TV, 'Jesus in Tortilla?'
It must be tough for the Almighty, finding things he can do with his infinite power and wisdom. Oh sure, he could probably bring about world peace, end hunger, cure every disease, and all of those other “big ticket items” in a flash. Easy stuff for an omnipotent being! But he can’t
do any of that, you see … for some reason only he happens to know. Being boxed in, you’d think he’d find it tough to express his omnipotence.
When you’re the Almighty, though, you manage to find a way, nonetheless. And recently he did just that. The Christian Post reports he branded his own visage (or that of his son) on the surface of a tortilla, in Espanola, NM (WebCite cached article):
Another alleged sighting of Jesus is causing a stir once again, this time in New Mexico where a man claims Jesus appeared to him on a fresh baked tortilla.
David Sandoval from Espanola couldn’t believe what he was seeing last week when he sat down to eat dinner with his mother on Ash Wednesday.
There on one of his tortillas his mother made was the startling image of what resembles Jesus (see the image here, [cached]).
As we all know, seeing divine images in things is not new. People see Jesus and the Virgin Mary in things all the time, and I’ve blogged on some of them. Rather helpfully, the C.P. lists some prior appearances of the specific divine manifestation known as “the Tortilla Jesus”:
Holy images on the tortilla have reportedly been around for decades, beginning in 1977, when a woman named Maria Rubio from Lake Arthur, New Mexico, discovered a thumb-sized print of Jesus while rolling up a burrito for her husband.
Rubio created a small shrine for what was hailed as the first “Holy Tortilla,” and more than 35,000 people reportedly visited her home to see it, leaving flowers and photos of sick loved ones.
I’m sure all those believers would be happy to think their loved ones were cured by the intercession of the Tortilla Jesus. I’m more certain that, if any of them were helped, it was either by the illness or malady running its course naturally, or the intervention of doctors and nurses using conventional medical treatments. Let’s forget all the great work they do and ignore their contributions to our lives, and instead, give God all the credit. Why, how appreciative!
Folks, as I’ve noted previously and will say again, this is the phenomenon known as pareidolia. The human mind is hard-wired to discover patterns, and find recognizable things, in otherwise-accidental formations. There’s nothing magical or divine about it. With millions of tortillas being cooked around the world each day, it’s quite natural that occasionally one of them is going to end up with a Jesus-shaped scorch mark on it. To assume the Almighty branded it himself using his magical power — and that he has infinite power, but expresses it only in ways like this one — is just so fucking ridiculous, I hardly know what else to say about it.
Photo credit: KOAT-TV (screen shot).
, david sandoval
, espanola NM
, face of jesus
, jesus apparition
, jesus appearance
, jesus christ
, jesus tortilla
, tortilla jesus
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By now, I’m sure a lot of you have heard about the “Hate Religion, Love Jesus” video that’s gotten so many hits on Youtube over the last couple weeks. A lot of ink has been spilled — or rather, bits transmitted — about this video by Jefferson Bethke. Unfortunately, the video is based on an invalid and semantically nonsensical premise, and most of the commentary on it has missed this invalidity.
What makes this video illogical is something I’ve blogged about a couple times already: namely, that it’s possible for religious believers to separate themselves from what they call “religion.” Lots of people love to say they’re “spiritual but not religious”; however, this is a non sequitur.
In the case of this video, Bethke states that “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That statement is plain and simple bullshit. A heaping, steaming load heaved straight out of the barn. There is no way one can logically claim that Jesus came to “abolish” religion. “Change it,” maybe. Preach against its excesses, I guess. But “abolish” it? No fucking goddamn way! Jesus preached what he called “the Kingdom of God” or “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Both were — and are, still — religious notions. They were religious in his own putative lifetime, his followers accepted them as religious, and they remain religious notions even now.
Really, Jesus as he’s widely known is a decidedly religious figure. It is impossible to talk about Jesus and not talk about religion. They are joined at the hip, utterly inseparable, and always will be. Thus, it’s irrational — and semantically incorrect — to say that one can “love Jesus” but “hate religion.”
Now, I get where this guy, and a lot of other people, are coming from. They dislike what they view as the excesses of what they see as “religion.” Without a doubt, a lot of religious institutions and religious people have done a lot of very bad things. A lot of Christians have actually failed to live up to the teachings Jesus left for them. A lot of religious folks have fallen short of the goals they claim to pursue. And a lot of them have cloaked themselves in religion in order to acquire power, money, or both.
I get that people like Bethke and others want to distance themselves from these evildoers and disassociate themselves from the disingenuity of others. I get it. Honestly, I do. Really. I truly do get it. The problem is … this attempt at distancing flies in the face of reality, semantics, and logic. If one is religious, then one is religious. Period. What other religious people think, say, or do has no bearing on the matter. Having religious beliefs is all there is to being religious … other people, whether genuinely religious or just posturing, cannot and will never change that.
What I would suggest to Bethke and others who think this way, is: If other “religious” people are making you look bad, then get off your fucking asses and do something about it. Stop them from making you look bad. If they’ve stolen your religion out from under you, then take it back for yourself; eject them from your company, disown them, deprive them of their religious offices, quiet them, and in every possible way, make it clear to everyone outside of your religion that they do not represent you and that they are repugnant creatures.
In other words, if you belong to a religion, then it also belongs to you. Take ownership of it — in concrete, unmistakable, and unambiguous form — and stop sniveling that you aren’t religious, in order to avoid having to deal with the malcontents and evildoers in your midst. Let me put it as bluntly as I can: If your own religion means so little to you that you refuse to take control of it, then you have no right to expect any of the rest of us to respect it — or you. And using cowardly little dodges — like claiming not to be “religious” — aren’t going to fool the rest of us. So stop insulting our intelligence by trying.
The choice to act, is yours, and yours alone. What you choose to do, and how and when you choose to go about it, says everything about you and about your religion. Make it count. Don’t whine and quiver and defy semantics instead of taking action.
Photo credit: wmacphail.
, hate religion love jesus
, jefferson bethke
, jesus christ
, love jesus hate religion
, spiritual but not religious
, spiritual not religious
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It’s an old story, people seeing figures in random things. This is a known phenomenon, called pareidolia, and it happens because the human brain is wired to detect and discern familiar patterns in things. It seems to be particularly common among the religious, who are forever seeing the Virgin Mary, angels, Jesus, etc. in things and proclaiming these appearances to be “miracles.” The latest such example comes from South Carolina, as reported by WYVV-TV in Greenville (WebCite cached article):
An engaged couple in Anderson County says a shadowy image that turned up on a receipt from Walmart looks like the face of Jesus.
Jacob Simmons and his fiancee, Gentry Lee Sutherland, said they bought some pictures from Walmart on Sunday, June 12.
The following Wednesday, the couple had just come home from a church service when Simmons spotted the receipt on the floor of Sutherland’s apartment. He says the receipt had changed.
The appearance of this apparition didn’t come as much of a surprise to the couple:
“Then the more you look at it, the more it looked like Jesus, and it was just shocking, breathtaking,” Simmons said.
The couple said the image seemed to answer a question they had just been asked at church.
“We had a message on knowing God, abiding in him,” Sutherland said. “(The preacher asked) ‘If you know God, would you recognize him if you saw him?’”
Folks, blotches of this sort form all the time on store receipts like this one, especially in the summer, since they’re printed on thermal paper, which — by design — darkens with heat. That the blotches can appear to form something recognizable — such as in indeterminate face — is not at all surprising, given the many millions of such receipts which are printed every day in this country. This very well could be a coincidental production.
Or, it might have been by design: One could very easily heat up a plate with a face engraved on it, press it to the receipt, and voilà! instant Jesus-face.
Folks, there’s nothing to see here. No supernatural power is needed in order to explain this. Besides, the idea that the Almighty has nothing better to do with the infinite power at his disposal than to imprint his blotchy face on a Walmart receipt (and upside-down, at that!) in South Carolina is, well, laughable in the extreme. Get over yourselves, fercryinoutloud.
Photo credit: WYFF-TV.
Tags: anderson county
, anderson cty SC
, gentry lee sutherland
, jacob simmons
, jesus christ
, jesus christ face
, jesus face
, jesus on the receipt
, south carolina
, wal-mart receipt
, walmart receipt
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I’ve blogged twice about the idiots in Texas who took seriously a psychic’s tip that there were many
dead bodies buried children in danger at a home in the town of Hardin, which led law enforcement to raid not one, but two different homes. Well, I’m not the only one who’s observed what a nightmare this has been. Robert Todd Carroll of the Skeptic’s Dictionary penned an indictment of not only the “psychic” but the stupid officials who fell for this scam (WebCite cached article):
The harm here is not that some mentally disturbed person thinks spirits exist and talk to her. The harm isn’t that she called the police. The harm is that there are law enforcement officers who act on such flimsy evidence to justify kicking in the door of honest, law-abiding citizens. The psychic claims she’s worked with law enforcement agencies in the past. There’s no reason to believe anything she says, but it is a fact that many law enforcement agencies justify working with psychics either because “we have to follow every lead” or because “psychics have a sixth sense.” No. Psychics do not have a sixth sense. Psychics do not solve crimes with their psychic powers. And No, not every tip is a lead. Some tips, on their face, are unworthy of follow-up, unless the follow-up is to investigate the person calling in with the “tip.”
Carroll even points out the judicial failure here:
Finally, what about the judge who issued a search warrant based on finding blood on the porch of the farmhouse? Evans declined to discuss deputies’ failure to check a paramedic’s report that the blood was a remnant of a suicide attempt that happened some two weeks earlier.
The civil rights of those living in the two Hardin, TX homes were definitely violated in this case … even if the letter of the law was fulfilled (by the moronic judge who stupidly signed the search warrants). I hope this idiotic debacle will be seriously investigated, but have no confidence it will be. Too many people working for too many agencies — and from three levels (federal, state, & county) and two branches of government (executive & judicial) — for this to happen. My guess is that they’ll all close ranks around each other and continue to spew the lie that they never did anything wrong.
Update: In line with my prediction, it sure looks as though Texas authorities are trying to cover up their idiocy. The AP reports via the Houston Chronicle that they’ve decided not to charge the “psychic” with filing a false report (cached). A trial concerning this case would very likely have dredged up a lot of information that they wouldn’t want folks to know.
Photo credit: spike55151.
, hardin TX
, liberty county
, liberty county TX
, liberty cty
, liberty cty TX
, psychic powers
, psychic tip
, rex evans
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