Posts Tagged “christ”

Popular Mechanics / The Real Face of JesusChristians love to assume their religion is founded on historical fact. Specifically, they’re absolutely certain their Jesus lived and walked the earth in the first decades of the 1st century CE. This assumption is so compelling that we count the years in terms of Jesus’ supposed lifetime … i.e. our Year 1 is, supposedly, the first year he was on earth.

The reality of it, though, is that it’s by no means certain at all that Jesus ever actually lived. Many people find this surprising, but Jesus’ historicity has been a subject of scholarly review and conjecture for over a century now. While devout believers in Christianity are certain Jesus lived, the rest of us, and scholars especially, aren’t as sure, because the historical record of his existence is vastly less clear and compelling than Christians claim.

Despite the lack of scholarly certainty, this month’s National Geographic cover story proudly trumpets that Jesus definitely lived (Archive.Is cached article). Their evidence? The discovery of a tomb:

Just yards from the tomb of Christ [at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem] are other rock-hewn tombs of the period, affirming that this church, destroyed and rebuilt twice, was indeed constructed over a Jewish burial ground.

Nat Geo has made a big deal about the recent discovery of one particular tomb near the Holy Sepulchre. The problem is, in historical and archaeological terms, this finding doesn’t really tell us anything, and it certainly doesn’t prove Jesus must have lived. The site of that church was “found” by the (Christian) Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. When she was there in the 4th century, it’s possible she knew tombs were nearby, and that may have been why she picked that location. So finding a tomb in the area doesn’t mean anything.

The problem here is that Nat Geo is accepted as an authoritative publication. Many Christians looking to promote Jesus’ historicity are sure to use this article as ostensible “proof” that he actually lived. Unfortunately for them, it’s not “proof” of anything, other than that Christians would like to think he existed and will go to ridiculous lengths in order to say they’ve “proven” it.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Popular Mechanics.

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Nativity Scene / Ian Britton, via FreefotoI’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.

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Bible-openI’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:

Psalm 14:3
Psalm 37:11
Proverbs 11:2
Proverbs 29:23
Ecclesiastes 7:20
Matthew 5:3, 5
Matthew 5:9
Matthew 5:17-19
Matthew 5:38-42
Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18
Matthew 6:19-21, 24
Matthew 7:1-5
Matthew 7:21-23
Matthew 10:9-10
Matthew 19:21-25
Matthew 22:19-21
Matthew 24:36, 42
Matthew 26:52
Mark 10:21-26
Mark 12:16-17
Mark 12:41-44
Mark 13:31-33
Luke 6:20
Luke 6:24
Luke 6:27-29
Luke 6:37
Luke 6:46
Luke 9:3
Luke 12:33-34
Luke 14:7-14
Luke 16:13
Luke 16:17
Luke 18:10-14
Luke 18:22-26
Luke 20:24-25
John 8:3-7
Acts 2:44-45
Acts 4:32-35
Romans 3:22-23
Romans 3:9-12
Romans 11:32
James 1:22
James 4:10
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 1: 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.

Update 2: I’ve added a section on humility and its Biblical virtues. I’ve inserted the verses cited into the list above.

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Jesus before Pontius PilateI’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.

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Rick Santorum speaks in Eastlake, OhioI’ve blogged about GOP presidential candidate and militant Christofascist Rick Santorum a number of times already. As his candidacy has slumped, I’d hoped I’d be able to avoid blogging any more about this walking train-wreck. But alas, Santorum has — once again — posed as a theologian. This time, he’s declared that Christianity — as he sees it, anyway — is the source of freedom in the US. ABC News’ The Note blog reports on his ludicrous Religious Rightist pontification, earlier in March (WebCite cached article):

Talking about American exceptionalism, Santorum said the concept of equality came from Christianity, not Islam.

“I love it because the left says equality, equality. Where does that concept come from? Does it come from Islam? Does it come from other cultures around the world? Are men and women treated equally? Are adults and children treated equally? No,” Santorum said. “It comes it comes from our culture and tradition, from the Judeo-Christian ethic. That’s where this comes from-the sense of equality.”

I’ve read this several times and cannot figure out where or how Islam comes into play in this. It doesn’t seem to be of any relevance to the subject at hand. I can only assume it was his attempt to somehow work some derision of Islam into his speech, and thus appeal to any Neocrusaders in the crowd.

As for whether or not Christianity, as a religion, supports or opposes the concept of equality, the record on that is slightly mixed. Christianity appeared in the Greco-Roman world, initially in its eastern portion, and as such was a product of that culture. Greco-Roman society was quite stratified, along many dimensions. There were a number of social classes, with the aristocracy at the top, and several layers underneath, ranging down to unskilled laborers and slaves at the bottom. The genders were divided. Ethnic groups tended to be segregated, in large cities often living in enclaves apart from others. Religions tended, too, to separate people, e.g. with Jews living in their own quarters of cities. The Greco-Roman world was one in which people were born into any number of stratifications, and with few exceptions, they stayed within them their entire lives.

The earliest extant Christian documents, the seven “genuine” Pauline epistles*, which date to the 50s CE, exhibit something of a departure from this, at least doctrinally. For example, Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). (Note, Col 3:11 says something almost identical, however, that epistle is not genuine, it was written long after Paul). Paul elsewhere refers to a blending of classes and genders within the church in his day. Only in the epistle to Philemon does Paul concede that there’s any validity to any class division, and that lies in his apparent support of slavery as it was practiced then.

Later on, however, we find the early church turning away from egalitarianism. In the gospels — written in the last quarter of the first century CE — we see references to people mainly by some sort of identifier (whether it’s ethnic, professional, or social class). In his parables and comments, Jesus uses stereotypes of these identifiers, sometimes ironically (e.g. the Good Samaritan). His reported interactions in the gospels are often with groups (e.g. he dressed down “the Pharisees”). Jesus also preached to the lower classes as though their plight had virtue in itself. In general, the gospels are written assuming that people fall into various fixed classifications, that this is how things were supposed to be, and that none other than Jesus Christ himself acted as though this was the case. In only one regard is Jesus said to have resisted the prevailing class-wisdom of his time, and this was by attracting “sinners” as followers.

Subsequent Christianity either stated explicitly, or implied, that social classifications, ethnicity, etc. were all God-ordained and that everyone was required to live within the strictures of his/her position in society. That remained the case until the Enlightenment. Even then, the notion of complete equality took a long time to develop. For instance, initially the United States gave voting privileges only to white landowning males. Suffrage was expanded only incrementally over the last 200 years. Also, slavery was legal in the early U.S. and was abolished only after the Civil War. Christianity’s teachings had little to do with this, at least for the first 16 centuries or so of its existence.

It’s true that equality movements like Abolition were comprised of many Christians who believed that Christianity taught to open freedom to others, but this was not universal in Christianity. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, was founded by southern slave-owning Baptists who opposed the Abolitionist turn their denomination was taking in the 19th century. They, and other Christians, insisted that the Biblical “Curse of Ham” meant that God had rendered black Africans less-than-human.

It is correct to say that the concept of equality can, historically speaking, be viewed as anti-Christian (and anti-Judeo-Christian). Once again, by claiming otherwise, Santorum reveals his ignorance of both history and Christian theology. Well done, Rickie … well done!

Hat tip: Apathetic Agnostic Church.

Photo credit: PBS NewsHour.

* The seven epistles in question are: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians.

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Picture on receipt / WYFF-TVIt’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.

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The End is Near sign at Sweet Melissa's, SavannahI’ve blogged a number of times about Bible scholar religionist crank Harold Camping of Family Radio and his wingnut prophecy that Jesus is going to return on May 21, 2011 (this Saturday! hallelujah!) and that the world will end five months later, in October. It’s obvious the guy’s theories are whacked. But what I find amusing are all the other Christians out there who are trying to angle away from Camping and his sheep. Just one example of this is Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, who penned a whine for the CNN Belief blog about how Camping makes Christianity look bad (WebCite cached article):

What harm is there in an 89-year-old preacher making prognostications about the end of the world?

First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.

There are plenty more examples I could cite, but this one is enough to make the point that a lot of evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christians are tripping over themselves trying to get away from the lunatic Camping and his “prediction.” The problem is that their religion is inherently predisposed to such predictions! Christians through the millennia have repeatedly predicted death, doom and destruction, based on any number of suppositions and extrapolations, only to be proven wrong eventually (cached). In fact, the founder of Christianity — none other than Jesus Christ himself! — made some very clear and explicit “End of the World” predictions, which likewise failed to come true:

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Mt 16:28)

“But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:27)

Those are not the only such predictions Jesus made, but they’re enough to make the point: No Christian can really be a Christian without believing in a Doomsday, and without believing in Doomsday predictions. To condemn Camping for making such a prediction, and triangulate away from him because he did so, is laughable. Selectively veering away from the more ridiculous aspects of their religion only makes Christians look like “fair weather” believers … eager to trumpet their metaphysics when they think it makes them look good to do so, but equally eager to get out of the way of the follies which are part and parcel of Christianity.

In case anyone isn’t already clear on the matter … all Biblical prophecy is bullshit. All of it. All the time. Forever and ever.

Photo credit: mmwm.

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