Posts Tagged With: Jesus

Rethinking the Nativity

Time for our yearly Christmas history post that I’m sure you’ve been waiting for. It’s always interesting to track down the origins of holiday traditions. Now that Christmas is upon us, many have displayed their Nativity scenes with the usual stable, wise men and donkey. Some interesting facts:

  • The Bible doesn’t state how many wise men there were. Three is divined from the number of gifts. Some traditions list many more Magi.
  • We Three Kings tells us they are from the Orient. Some people may think this means the Far East, i.e. Japan and its neighbors. True today, but not back then. These terms referred to Persia (centered in modern-day Iran).
  • Nowhere does the Bible record Mary riding a donkey, as many images depict. That comes from the Protevangelium of James 17:2: “He [Joseph] saddled the donkey and seated her [Mary] on it; and his son led it along, while Joseph followed behind.”
  • While the “no room in the inn” and Christ being humbled by being born in a barn account is an inseparable part of Christian culture, is it correct? Would Joseph find no relatives and friends in the town of his origin? Did not Mary know people nearby as well? In fact, Luke doesn’t use the Greek word for a “commercial inn,” but the word katalyma, which means “a place to stay.” Luke also defines this as “guest room” in Luke 22:10-12. So they very well may have been with friends or family.
  • The Bible simply reads “manger” as to where Jesus was placed. Assumed to mean that he was in a stable, but very early traditions state that a cave was being used. The mother of Constantine, Helena, had a church built over a cave, the Church of the Nativity. This is all probably wrong. Consider that a “manger” in Middle Eastern homes was in the home itself. This gives us an entirely different Nativity story. We have one where Joseph wasn’t irresponsible in getting his pregnant wife somewhere safe in time (Technically Luke doesn’t state Christ was born the night of arrival in Bethlehem, as commonly misconstrued).
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Categories: Bible, Traditions | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jesus, Real and Imagined

There’s seems to be a wave of folks of redefining Jesus: Some wandering hippie, a good guy, hobo, this-or-that-retinterpreted-through-modern-cause or just someone that someone else made up. No, I’m not getting into a religious discussion here, but a historical one. This is also a case study in rooting out bias and agenda. In today’s 24/7 Internet, there’s a demand for a constant flow of articles. We should keep our baloney detector on, no matter what the topic we are reading (whether we like the author’s overall position or not).

Take the article by Chris Sosa, journalist, entitled “Historical Jesus, Not so Fast.” It starts out as if he is going to do what journalists do: A careful examination of an important subject. Very quickly, however, it becomes apparent we have nothing of the sort. Rather it is a repeating of common skeptical claims, not really new to anyone versed in such studies. An agenda emerges quickly.

Especially to anyone who spends 5 minutes looking up the author’s claims.

Claim 1: The Quirinius census (Luke 2:2) was too late to coincide with Herod the Great’s reign (Mathew 2:1) (thus Jesus birth story all out of whack). A couple things Sosa leaves out: Some serious; scholars believe Quirinius was twice governor as implied in Lapis Tiburtinus; inscription.  Others have suggested the translation should be, “this census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made.” Not all issues have clear cut answers, but nor is there lack of answers, as implied by the article.

Claim 2: Sosa claims the Gospel of Mark “does not say that Jesus resurrected” stating this was “added at a later date.” Actually, as the translation he references clearly marks, the disputed portion starts at Mark 16:9. The resurrection is mentioned before this in Mark 16:6. The author hasn’t followed his own advice of, “Grab a bible and read along.”

Claim 3: Then there this old stand-by, “…not a single [gospel] agrees with the others on who actually saw [the resurrection].” A cursory review of the gospels reveals that none claim who first saw the empty tomb. That’s an important point (or omission on Sosa’s part). All of the gospels choose different details to focus on of the same events, which is clearly not the same as disagreeing.

Claim 4: Okay, he doesn’t claim anything, only defaults to quoting Bart Ehrman, (infamous) New Testament scholar. Ehrman is a fave among Jesus-debunkers and their go-to guy. Problem is that those who actually test his claims find that he isn’t all that scholarly. In fact, his arguments fail quite spectacularly. That all is beyond the scope of this essay, but finding someone who affirms your view and not testing their claims is not the same as actually proving it. (And Ehrman, scholar he may be, likes to sell his books under tabloidish titled books like Forged).

Claim 5: Sosa then discounts extrabiblical mentions of Jesus, which, obviously, “disintegrate under close examination” when consulting only scholars that agree with predetermined view. Interestingly, though, he doesn’t list all the known references, only ones some people debate.

I’m sure Sosa can “go on for hundreds of pages about the contradictions and historical problems of the Jesus narrative” just as Ehrman has by ignoring thousands of pages — and years — of contrary scholarship. Among other things, they neglect the eyewitness issues and rapid spread of Christianity in face of persecution. Or, very importantly, few Jews ever denied Christ’s existence. By history’s standards, there is far more documentation for Christ than most others we accept as real in the ancient world.

Note here that I didn’t resort to “faith” or talking points or emotion, only history and looking at the documents. Sure, I haven’t gone into a lengthy scholarly dissertation here either, but that wasn’t the point. The point is that we shouldn’t get mad reading an article, or automatically agree with it, without basic verification. Tone can indicate an agenda. A brief article claiming to unseat two millennia of scholarship needs some scrutiny, to say the least.

Regardless of what you think of the New Testament, it is arguably one of the most important documents to come down from antiquity. We have more ancient copies of it than any other document from the ancient world. Even the most revisionist of skeptics and Jesus-debunkers see no reason to claim Jesus was a “myth.”

Earth is flat. Jesus wasn’t real. Aliens traveling light-years in little saucers to abduct humans and make circles in corn fields.

Sometimes we just need to think. Just a little.

jbk

Categories: Ancient Documents, Bible, Critical Thinking | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jesus “Myth” Myth

Recently, I ran across someone claiming Jesus was a myth. This, at first, made me laugh. Not from a religious perspective (though these claims seem to crop up during Easter like clockwork), but from the perspective of ancient history. I also shook my head on the realization that more and more people don’t test such claims. People are way too trusting. That’s another story altogether, but what does history tell us about this “Jesus didn’t exist” theory? Why has the evidence from history has compelled most scholars, regardless of their religious beliefs, to believe Jesus was real? First, this:

There are more ancient documents attesting to Jesus than any other individual from antiquity.

“So what?” says the skeptic. “Most were written by Christians.”

True, but since the writers were Christians (or what we would now consider such), does that automatically mean we should suspect deception? By that logic (or lack of), we should also be suspect of any non-christian writing about Christianity.

More importantly, the Gospels were all written relatively close to the time of Jesus. So people who had seen, known or encountered Jesus were still alive to verify the writings or serve as sources. Verses in Paul’s epistles have been recognized as coming from early creeds that date within a few years (the first two), if not months, from the death of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 there are various clues that indicate Paul is repeating an early creed, both in the language and style he uses and the underlying Aramaic. This is also why some of Paul’s writings predate the writing of the Gospels.

Also note that other sources do not deny Jesus existed. Jewish writers, who had more reason than anyone else to show Jesus didn’t exist, did not do so. Instead, they argued he wasn’t the Messiah. This brings us to the next important point:

The New Testament is not the only collection of ancient documents writing about Jesus.

Many Christians don’t even know this. Some examples: Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus in Annals; Suetonius, chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian; Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian in Antiquities; Julius Africanus in Extant Writings refers to the lost works of Thallus who describes the darkness and earthquake at the time of Christ’s death; in Pliny the Younger’s Letters; in letters from Emperors Trajan and Hadrian; Jewish documents the Talmud and the Toledoth Jesu; writings by Lucian, second century Greek satirist.

Understand that most of these writers were not “pro-Jesus” by any stretch. Even if some of the Josephus references were added later, as some claim, we are still left with a large body of undisputed writings. Nor have we mentioned the large body of apocryphal books that appeared in those ancient times.

And for those who claim the New Testament is unreliable, I’ll briefly state this: Pseudoscholars claim there are hundreds of thousands of variants between New Testament manuscripts. In reality, most of these variants are spelling variations, using different synonyms or language-to-language translation issues. What you are left with are a few verses like John 7:53-8:11 that are not in early manuscripts and Bibles denote them as such. These verses, and none of the variants, impact the orthodox beliefs of Christianity.

Claiming Jesus is a “myth” is nothing more than a futile attempt to rewrite history.

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The Media’s Jesus-Wife Myth

Recent years have seen fiction writers and pretend scholars make claims about Jesus having a wife. People who have bothered to examine such claims a little deeper have found that they don’t hold up very well. If you think the media is going to do the fact-checking for you, think again. Check out this post which compares a poor, sensationalist media report compared to the actual academic study. Is it any wonder why many people trust the media less and less?

Categories: Ancient Documents, artifacts, Bible, Critical Thinking | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Was Christ Stolen from Myth?

Continuing the Bible-history-theme for Easter we now turn to attempts to revise the origins of Christ. There is an entire cottage industry proclaiming that the fundamental beliefs of Christianity were all stolen. These “shocking” claims are actually nothing new, other than to people not too deep into ancient history. The problem is that the people who read the claims for the first time do not test them. If they did, they would find that they have not been provided with the whole story. Take these two examples:

Claim #1: Virgin birth stolen from others, such as the Persian god Mirtha or the Egyptian Isis.

The myth actually states that Mirtha was born from a rock. Other supposed “Christian” elements have been read into Mirthaism which formed much later in Rome. And many of the claims, like Mirtha being resurrected, after three days no less, have no documentation in myth or history. The Egyptian Isis (see below) may or may not have given birth to her son miraculously. In either case, her son did not set out to save the world.

Claim #2: The Egyptian Osiris was a model for Jesus’ resurrection.

Have people really read the myth? Osiris was killed and chopped up by his brother. His wife/sister Isis puts him back together and he ends up running the underworld.

What people fail to see is that tales like Mirtha and Osiris have no indication of being anything other than stories springing from someone’s imagination. Never grounded in history. No historical eyewitnesses. No fulfilled prophecies. Ironically, similarities — sometimes vague or imagined, but occasionally similar — in myths and beliefs around the world quite often prepared them for the coming of Christianity. And if Christianity is the historical and true religion from the actual creator as it claims to be, wouldn’t this be expected?. Historian Rodney Stark thinks so in Cities of God:

These days scholarly neo-pagans are especially hostile toward any hint that Christianity had anything new, let alone better, to offer…it is their usual claim that Christianity can hardly have been inspired since it offers only a rather stale mixture of conventional pagan ideas of myths. Their point seems to be that one either embraces all of the gods or none.

Of course, from the beginning Christian theologians have been fully aware of similarities between the Christ story and pagan mythology. And it did not disturb them to admit that elements of God’s final revelation had seeped into human awareness to help prepare the way. Moreover, the familiarity of the Christ story was entirely consistent with the long-standing Christian premise that God’s revelations are always limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend.

In other words, it is strange that peoples before or after the Christian era, often with no contact with Christians, would have beliefs that are sometimes vaguely similar to Christian ones. Humans seem to have an inborn realization of another existence. Never do we actually see evidence of other beliefs evolving into Christian ones. Just because a belief predates another, without a direct line to the latter, we cannot assume (as some do) the latter sprang from the former. This is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

It is not that the people spreading myths are being malicious. They are often just repeating the same incomplete claim read somewhere else, not bothering to study the rebuttals. People gravitate to affirmations of their beliefs, especially if it sounds plausible. Realize that many people have an agenda, intentional or not.

Assume nothing, test everything.

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“Brother of Jesus” Box: Real or Not?

Well, we still don’t know.

The court in Israel dismissed charges against an accused forger. Why? Because legions of “experts” laid out their evidence for and against the inscription being forged.

The ossuary has an inscription that reads, “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” For nearly ten years the debate has raged over these words and when they were chiseled on the side of this 2000 year old stone box. Some Christians don’t like the idea of Mary having other children other than Jesus. Scriptures do refer to Jesus having siblings, though some argue the “brothers and sisters” was more figurative. Others argue that there is no reason to discard the plain sense of the verses.

I will be reviewing this in more detail, along with other similar finds, over the next few weeks. Forgeries in archaeology cause much scrutiny to be leveled at any new find, but are “biblical” relics given more? Should they? What bias is at play, if any, from each side? And what role does the media play? It’s amazing how many articles on this court case one can read and get different information.

I thought the information age was supposed to make truth easier to find?

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Think History & Religion (or History of Religion) Boring?

“Religious historical fiction.” Is that its own genre? Almost. Ever since The DaVinci Code and what it passed as dubious, and often easily disproven, “facts” as its story’s background, the religious thriller has become a mainstay. Put something about a “code,” “codex,” “secret,” “Templar,” “hidden” or “scroll” in the title and you are guaranteed to sell a few. And many of them are good, or at least fun, escapes. A couple even try to get the history right.

Jerome Corsi’s The Shroud Codex weaves the centuries of debates surrounding the Shroud of Turin into a fast-paced story. Not as slick or well-realized as some, but not bad at all for his first novel.

Historian Paul L. Maier has a series that began with A Skeleton in God’s Closet. He uses his background to inject real history into his thrillers, though a few times it sounded as if he was giving a lecture. He also incorporates some current subject(s) of controversy that some of his competing writers are telling tales about. This one weaves in the historical Jesus debates. More Than a Skeleton continues the adventure, this time the hero facing down a supposed “messiah” (and endtimes theology).

The latest, The Constantine Codex finds Maier’s well-traveled characters in the wild world of lost, secret and suppressed manuscripts.

Each of Maier’s is a standalone novel, but I always like starting at the beginning. No matter how much an author explains later, seeing how the characters develop from the start is always best. He improves his storytelling with each, though the potential crisis in the third isn’t quite as humanity-changing as in the others.

History and religion, however, do make for quite the adventures.

Categories: Bible, Books, Fiction | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Easter & the Revisionists

As of late, it seems that skeptics and others with various revisionist ideas and pseudo-history, use Easter as the time to promote their views on the Bible and Jesus. The critical thinker can always spot those trying to push an agenda. When reviewing the books of these “alternative” theorists, there often seems to be a lack of scholarship as compared to their competition. Or they are very selective in their “evidence” and show little depth in research. So if you are someone who has only read the tabloid-like claims of these folks, or are worried about their ideas, here are some solid works on the New Testament and its contents:

The Case for the Real Jesus
The Many Gospels of Jesus
The Case for Christ
The Historical Jesus
The New Testament Documents: Are the Reliable?

These are the kind of books the revisionists don’t want you to read. However, anyone honest about seeking truth, owes it to themself to test everything.

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Where was Jesus?

The Bible is silent on most of Jesus’ years before he began his ministry. Many theories, including more than a few strange ones, have been floated about the “missing years.” These include travels to just about everywhere in the world. Some apocryphal accounts claim to have details of his childhood, though they date long after his time (Anne Rice did conjure up an interesting novel that was in part based on these stories). One of the more plausible legends has Jesus visiting Britain with his “uncle” Joseph of Arimathea. Local legends claim Jesus was there, but the debate centers around how old those legends are and if they were created to attract pilgrims. Nevertheless, it is an interesting possibility. See Glyn S. Lewis’ book for more (even he wanders into some strange speculations at times).

Categories: Bible, Legend, Mysteries | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Shroud of Turin

The authenticity Shroud of Turin has been the most debated of Christian relics in history. Many believe this is the burial shroud of Jesus. Some dismiss it out of hand because of their religious or philosophical beliefs about God. Some Protestants are wary of what they perceive as a “Catholic” relic. But what if it is real? What if it is an authentic archaeological piece?

Many people are under the impression that the shroud was dated to the Middle Ages. This is untrue, the carbon datings were done in way that defies all scientific protocol: On a part of the shroud that has been often handled and repaired. No one has been able to reproduce a similar shroud with its same properties. Just in the past year, studies have pointed to it being caused by energy — a “radiation photo” of sorts — and a “death certificate” was potentially found on the shroud.

The honest thinker is compelled to look at all the evidence. In The Truth About the Shroud of Turin, Robert Wilcox traces all of the shroud’s history, the debates and the tests. He leaves it up to readers to evaluate the evidence.

Indeed, the evidence is compelling. Many will ignore it. Others dismiss it without examination. However, if one considers it with same standards applied to all other artifacts — and leaves their personal bias behind — will they continue to pretend it doesn’t exist?

An interesting test for those who believe they are open-minded and critical thinkers.

Categories: Bible, Mysteries | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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