Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Richard Dawkins' Atheist Summer Camp

When Christian parents bring their children to Christian summer camps, it is considered brainwashing, cruel and abusive. Yet, when Atheists bring kids to Atheist summer camps, it's A-OK...

...am I the only person who smells the double standard here?

There’ll be no tent for God at Camp Dawkins
Britain’s most prominent non-believer is backing its first atheist summer camp for children.
by Lois Rogers

WHEN schoolchildren break up for their summer holidays at the end of next month, India Jago, aged 12, and her brother Peter, 11, will be taking a vacation with a twist.

While their friends jet off to Spain or the Greek islands, the siblings will be hunting for imaginary unicorns in Somerset, while learning about moral philosophy. The Jagos, from Basingstoke, Hampshire, are among 24 children who will be taking part in Britain’s first summer camp for atheists.

The five-day retreat is being subsidised by Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, and is intended to provide an alternative to faith-based summer camps normally run by the Scouts and Christian groups.

Crispian Jago, an IT consultant, is hoping the experience will enrich his two children.

“I’m very keen on not indoctrinating them with religion or creeds,” he said this weekend. “I would rather equip them with the tools to learn how to think, not what to think.”

While afternoons at the camp will involve familiar activities such as canoeing and swimming, the youngsters’ mornings will be spent debunking supernatural phenomena such as the formation of crop circles and telepathy. Even Uri Geller’s apparent ability to bend spoons with his mind will come under scrutiny.

The emphasis on critical thinking is epitomised by a test called the Invisible Unicorn Challenge. Children will be told by camp leaders that the area around their tents is inhabited by two unicorns. The activities of these creatures, of which there will be no physical evidence, will be regularly discussed by organisers, yet the children will be asked to prove that the unicorns do not exist. Anyone who manages to prove this will win a £10 note - which features an image of Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory - signed by Dawkins, a former professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University.

“The unicorns are not necessarily a metaphor for God, they are to show kids that you can’t prove a negative,” said Saman-tha Stein, who is leading next month’s camp at the Mill on the Brue outdoor activity centre close to Bruton, Somerset.

“We are not trying to bash religion, but it encourages people to believe in a lot of things for which there is no evidence.”

Stein, 23, a postgraduate psychology student from London, was inspired to work at an atheist summer camp in America after reading The God Delusion, the bestselling book that sealed Dawkins’s reputation as Britain’s most prominent non-believer. Stein is now helping to bring the US concept, called Camp Quest, to Britain as an alternative to faith-based children’s retreats.

The Scout Association, which has 500,000 members who collectively spend 2m nights camping out each year, is Britain’s biggest organiser of children’s camps. All new Scouts - whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or from another religious background - are required to pledge to do their “duty” to their god or faith. Atheism, however, is not accounted for in this induction oath.

Christian organisations that run summer camps include the Church Pastoral Aid Society, an evangelical group, which operates 100 schemes attended by about 9,000 children.

Camp Quest was founded in America, where Bible classes and Christian retreats are widespread, by Edwin Kagin, an atheist lawyer from Kentucky.

Since launching in 1996, Camp Quest operates at six different US sites, with a new camp due to open in Florida at Christmas.

Amanda Metskas is currently supervising 71 children at a Camp Quest project in Clarkesville, Ohio. Her classes include a session called Socrates Cafe, which debates issues such as definitions of knowledge, art and justice. “We teach them that even people like Sir David Attenborough are religious sceptics,” said Metskas.

Kagin, 68, the son of a church minister, will be visiting the camp in Somerset next month.“Richard Dawkins has made a contribution towards the setting up of the camp in England, but I think now the idea has a momentum of its own,” he said.

A week-long stay at the Mill on the Brue Activity Centre normally costs more than £500, but parents who have booked their children on the Camp Quest package are paying £275. Next year Stein hopes to run atheist camps at Easter and during school half-term breaks.

Additional reporting: Philip Connolly

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thoughts on the Ongoing "Pride Week"

Pride Parade

"Pride Week" started downtown Toronto just yesterday. The event had been advertised on the news throughout the whole week prior to that, and had been given extensive coverage last night when the "Pride parade" took off with all its flamboyancy.

What really makes me wonder about these pride parades is this: Why do those in the gay and lesbian community want to flaunt themselves so much? They already have the rights and the privileges that they want here, and nobody is persecuting them or spreading hate and homophobia. For some reason, they just have to make a big deal out of their sexuality and flaunt it in public for the whole world to see. It just seems so excessive.

Oh well. I guess the natural man is simply inclined to this kind of behaviour. I'm not trying to advocate taking away the rights of gays and lesbians, but I certainly would not condone this kind of superfluous and unnecessary display being made in public. I would prefer it if these kinds of displays didn't take place, but as long as we are in this world , we will just have to deal with its sinful tendencies and strive not to conform ourselves to its pattern. (Romans 12:2).

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
(Romans 8:6-8)

Friday, June 26, 2009

On the James White vs. Shamsi Ali Debate

Yesterday, Alpha & Omega Ministries aired a live broadcast of the debate between Dr. James White and Imam Shamsi Ali on the Bible and the Qur'an. Listening to Imam Shamsi Ali repeat many of the generic Islamic arguments against the Bible, I realized that he wasn't really offering much that was new on the table. Half of the time, I find that he pulls out quite a bit of smokescreens and misconceptions on the Bible.

It is also telling that he apparently lacks knowledge on textual criticism, and confuses translations with texts; a common misconception repeated by many Muslims including, notably, the late Ahmed Deedat. Plus there is the repetition of old and tired arguments such as the Qur'an containing "scientific miracles," and the Trinity being based off of Pagan copycat myths.

However, lest anybody think that I am merely giving a biased observation of the debate, here is a video of the Q&A and Closing Statements of the debate. Did James White really demolish the Islamic position regarding the Bible and the Qur'an, or did Shamsi Ali prove that the Biblical texts are unreliable? You be the judge.

Oh, and before I forget, Dr. James White appeared on the broadcast of Iron Sharpens Iron today, and gave his observation and opinion on yesterday's debate as well. For anybody who is interested, here is the audio of the interview. Also, see Wired 4 Truth on yet another take on the debate by another brother in Christ.

One last thing: I noticed towards the end of the debate that Shamsi Ali gave Dr. White a book entitled What Does Jesus Really Say? I did a Google search on that book and found an online copy of the book. The book appears to be compendium of all the standard fare arguments used by Muslims. I would like to note that Answering Islam already has a rebuttal to the aforementioned book. Nevertheless, anybody who is interested in Islamic apologetics ought to check it out, as it does seem quite interesting.

UPDATE (July 01, 2009)
Alpha and Omega ministries has put up the opening statements from the debate as well. Click here to view them. You can see the great disparity between the presentation of James White and that of Shamsi Ali.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Six New Books

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
  • Nelson's NKJV Study Bible
  • John MacArthur - A Tale of Two Sons
  • Josh McDowell - Evidence for Christianity
  • Josh and Sean McDowell - Evidence for the Resurrection
  • John Piper - What Jesus Demands from the World
  • Lee Strobel - The Case for the Real Jesus

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Excerpts from Jaroslav Pelikan

Yesterday, I got my hands on a library copy of Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). Though I'm only up to page 116 of the book at the time this blog post has been written, I already found some really interesting insights on ante-Nicene history from this book, which I would like to share in this blog post.

On the Eucharist:

...one of the most widespread calumnies against the Christians was the charge, “most impious and barbarous of all, that we eat human flesh” or “loaves steeped with blood.” The basis of this accusation was the language used by Christians about the Eucharist, for they seem to have spoken about the presence of the body and blood of Christ so realistically as to suggest a literal cannibalism. In the midst of rather meager and ambiguous evidence about the doctrine of the real presence in the second and third centuries and well beyond that period, these slanders would seem to be an important source of information in support of the existence of such a doctrine; but it is also important to note that the fathers, in defending themselves, did not elaborate a doctrine of the real presence. [p. 28]

On the antiquity of orthodoxy and heresy:

Some heresies seem to have retained the conceptual framework and the language of an earlier period, after the development of doctrine had rendered these obsolete; the term “fullness [πλήρωμα],” which came as close as any word to being a technical Christological term in the epistles of the New Testament bearing the name of Paul, was vitiated by its association with the Gnosticism of Valentinus, whose use of it, Irenaeus charged, “strives…to adapt the good terms of revelation to [its] own wicked inventions” and managed to discredit the term despite its prominence in the New Testament. Yet the same Irenaeus, unswervingly orthodox though he was, had, at another point, failed to anticipate the direction that the development of doctrine would take. For him, a millennial understanding of the kingdom of god was a hallmark of orthodoxy, but such an understanding soon became an aberration from the soundness of “apostolic tradition”.

Nevertheless, this discovery that heresy may be a result of poor timing has come only as a consequence of modern historical research: the primitive church was not characterized by an explicit unity of doctrine; therefore heresy could sometimes claim greater antiquity than orthodoxy. [p. 70]

On Charismatic gifts:

It would be useful to investigate how long visions, dreams, and apocalypses continued in the church, along with the claim to speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit, and how all of this died out among the laity but continued among the clergy, and especially among the monks. Celsus attested to the presence of “prophets” in Palestine and Phoenicia. Justin Martyr based his case against Judaism partly on the claim that “among us until now there are prophetic charismata,” while they had died out among the Jews; and Irenaeus described the many brethren in the church of his day who had these charismata, speaking in tongues by the Spirit, bringing out the secretes of men’s hearts and the mysteries of God. [p. 99]

More critical than Montanism’s theory of the role of the Spirit in the Trinity was its conception of the role of the Spirit in the church, and it was at this point that the principal doctrinal battle was joined. Montanism laid claim to supernatural inspiration by the Holy Spirit as the source of its prophecy, and it pointed to the moral decline of the church as the main reason for its having lost this power of the Spirit. Most orthodox writers in the second and even in the third century maintained that such inspiration by the Holy Spirit was not only possible, but present and active in the church. In meeting the challenge of Montanism, they could not, for the most part, take the approach that the age of supernatural inspiration had passed. Among the earliest critics of Montanism, there was no effort to discredit the supernatural character of the new prophecy. Instead, these critics affirmed that the ecstatic seizures of the Montanists were indeed supernatural in origin, but claimed that the supernatural involved was not the Holy Spirit of God but demonic spirits. Yet the decline of genuine prophecy and of the extraordinary functioning of the Spirit among the ranks of the catholic church tended to reduce the effectiveness of this charge that the prophecy of the Montanists was a pseudoprophecy because its supernatural source was demonic.

There was another way to meet the doctrinal implications of the Montanist challenge, and in the long run that was the way orthodoxy took. The first articulate spokesman of this viewpoint of whom there is record was Hippolytus of Rome, a contemporary of Tertullian. Apparently he recognized that the weakness which Montanism had discovered in the church lay in the church’s concept of a continuing prophecy. This concept was of a piece with a vivid eschatology; for apocalyptic has always, as suggested by its very name, which means “revelatory,” brought with it the notion of supplementary revelation, by which, among other things, the apocalypticist is convinced that the end has truly come. More consistently than most of the anti-Montanist writers were willing to do, Hippolytus subjected to question the very foundations of the Montanist movement. He was franker than most of his contemporaries in admitting that the church was not necessarily living in the last times, and in opposition to Montanism he defended the process by which the church was beginning to reconcile itself to the delay of the Lord’s second coming. As he pushed the time of the second coming into the future, so he pushed the time of the prophecy into the past. It had ended with the apostle John, whose Apocalypse Hippolytus maintained was the last valid prophecy to have come from the Holy Spirit. And though John was entitled to claim the inspiration of the Spirit for his prophetic work, later so-called prophets had no such right. [p. 105-106]

On Apostolic tradition:

Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussion of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the sixteenth century, for “in the ante-Nicene Church…there was no notion of sola Scriptura, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola.” At the same time, it is essential to note that doctrinal, liturgical, and exegetical material of quite different sorts was all lumped under the term “tradition,” from the Christological interpretation of specific passages in the Old Testament to a chiliastic interpretation of the apocalyptic vision; and the process of accretion continued far beyond the ante-Nicene era. Some of the most important issues in the theological interpretation of doctrinal development have been raised by disputes over the content and the authority of apostolic tradition as a source of Christian doctrine and over the relation of this tradition to other norms of apostolicity. [p. 115]

(Note: Citations from patristic sources have been omitted.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oecumenius - Justification by Faith

Sometime earlier this week, I ran across a couple of quotes on the Puritan Board by a post-Nicene father by the name of Oecumenius. I'm not familiar with this particular figure, but according to the person who originally posted the quotes, Oecumenius was a 6th century Greek layman who wrote commentaries on Acts, the epistles, and on Revelation.

The following two quotes are interesting as they seen to have a bearing on the historical development of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This first quote is a commentary on Romans 3:24-26. Here, Oecumenius writes:

Wherefore all that believe in Christ are freely justified, bringing their faith only with them. [1]

Greek text: Διὸ πάντες πιστεύσαντες εἰς Χριστὸν δωρεὰν δικαιοῦνται, τὸ πιστεύειν μόνον συνεισάγοντες [2]
This second quote presented here from Oecumenius is a commentary on James 2:23, wherein he writes:

Abraham is the image of someone who is justified by faith alone, since what he believed was credited to him as righteousness. But he is also approved because of his works, since he offered up his son Isaac on the altar. Of course he did not do this work by itself; in doing it, he remained firmly anchored in his faith, believing that through Isaac his seed would be multiplied until it was as numerous as the stars. [3]

Greek text: Της μὲν ἐκ μόνης πίστεως δικαιώσεως εἰκὼν ἦν Ἀβραὰμ, ὅτε πιστεύσας ἐλογίσθη αὐτοῦ εἷς δικαιοσύνην, τῆς δὲ ἔξ ἔργων, ὅτε τὸν υἱον ἀνενέγκας ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον. Καὶ γὰρ οὐ μόνον τὸ ἔργον ἐποίει, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς πίστεως οὐκ ἀπέστη, ὅτι ἐν Ἰσαὰκ μέλλει τὸ σπέρμα αὐτοῦ πληθύνειν ὡς τὰ ἄστρα [4]

There seems to be that one little caveat where he says "But he is also approved because of his works, since he offered up his son Isaac on the altar," though this can quite easily be explained by the proceeding sentence which explain that his works are the result of his faith.

In any case, since I'm not well acquainted with this particular church father and his writings, I don't have much else to add to this. I would like to see the rest of what Oecumenius has written, so that I may be able to gain a better idea of this person's beliefs and how they shape the doctrine of Justification by faith.

End Notes

1. Beveridge, William. Ecclesia Anglicana Ecclesia Catholica, 3rd edition. Oxford: University Press, 1847. p. 297.
2. Oecumenius. Pauli Epistola Ad Romanos. Caput V, PG 118:383.
3. Bray, Gerald. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. p. 33.
4. Oecumenius. Jacobi Apostoli Epistola Catholica. Caput IV, PG 119:481.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bibleworks 8

Ca.vini.st has recently announced that they're giving away 2 copies of Bibleworks 8 as a prize. Of course, the chances are pretty slim that I'm gonna win this thing (lol), but hey, it can't hurt to try, right?

Anyway, if anybody is interested, the giveaway contest may be viewed here. If you feel like joining, then good luck too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

News in Focus

A friend of mine (LDN_Truth, for those of you lurk around the AOMin chat channel) has recently started a journalistic blog. He will be looking at various news stories and writing about them from a Christian perspective. This should promise to be interesting, which is why I'd like to encourage you all to check out News in Focus, which is the title of his blog.

In a completely unrelated story, the pastor at my church will be discussing cults in our bible study tonight. It should be an interesting talk, and I'm always glad to be able to learn more about how to deal with the various cults that we encounter, such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Some Books on the Papacy

I'm going to list here a few free E-books that are relevant to the issue of Papal supremacy and infallibility. These should be a good read for anybody who is tackling the issue of whether or not the Papacy is really biblical and/or historical.

I'm also throwing in one on the authority and perspicuity of scripture. This should help provide further information on the sufficiency of the Bible.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Conclusion

I would like to continue my examining the Pagan Christ series, but I don't think I can devote any more time to refuting the claims written by Tom Harpur in his book. Suffice to say, he makes a lot of of unsubstantiated claims and assertions that simply do not hold up to scrutiny. He misrepresents history, the early church fathers and the actual beliefs of other religions. For further information regarding these claims, I would like to recommend the following resources to better equip my brothers and sisters in Christ to defend the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints against the claims of the skeptics and mythicists:



Thursday, June 11, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Part Six

This is a dissection of certain sections of chapter eight of the book. At this point, Mr. Harpur begins to exhaust his information, as a lot of the chapter basically repeats the same claims he has already made numerous times in earlier chapters of his book. Thus, I will concentrate mainly on the claims that are more specific to this chapter. First:

As scholars of the controversial California-based Jesus Seminar have pointed out, some twenty gospels of various kinds have come down to us either in whole or in pieces from the first three centuries of the common era, but only four ended up included in the New Testament. The seminar, founded in 1985 by Robert Funk, now consists of a group of over seventy-five internationally recognized biblical scholars who are experts in a wide variety of fields, from ancient history to archaeology. Sifting through the Gospels and the Book of Acts, grading the various sayings and deeds of Jesus according to their probability of authenticity, they have produced a very different “man” from the figure that is the icon of orthodox Christianity. In their findings, Jesus had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph; he was born not in Bethlehem but in Nazareth; he was an itinerant sage who liked the company of social outcasts; he healed many psychosomatic illnesses; he did not walk on water, feed the crowd with miraculous meals, change water into wine, or raise the dead. In their view, there was no empty tomb; belief in the Resurrection is based on the visionary experiences of Peter, Mary and later, Paul. Jesus did not, in their view, preach that he would come again. [1]

The Jesus Seminar is pretty far out there when it comes to biblical scholarship (though to be fair, they're nowhere near as bad as some of the really, really fringe writers I've encountered). If you're not familiar with their "scholarship" methods, they basically vote on the authenticity of the Gospel texts using different coloured beads, with the different colours representing different views as to each verse's authenticity. The texts that they identify as "authentic" are based on preconceived ideas that Jesus could not have done such-and-such an act or have said such-and-such a saying, and thus you arrived at a very skewed position that doesn't even reflect the views of the consensus of scholars. [2]

Of course, this does not bother Mr. Harpur at all, as he is willing to grasp at anything he can in order to try and vindicate his ideas regarding Jesus and the Gospels. Funny enough, he praises the Jesus Seminar when their findings support his conclusions, but he reproaches them when they disagree with him on the historicity of Christ:

The chief flaw in the entire Jesus Seminar approach, however, is that like the fundamentalists, the scholars of the Jesus Seminar seem stuck with the mistaken view that they are ultimately dealing with history. If they could only strip away all accretions and get back to the kernel or core1 But myth treated as history invariably falls apart. Instead of a powerful spiritual message, they have ended up with scraps of “stones for bread.”

The truth is that the earliest documents available to the seminar scholars are some tiny fragments of a papyrus copy of John’s Gospel, dating to about 130 C.E. The first substantial physical evidence for the four Gospels comes from near the end of the second century C.E., about 170 years after Jesus’ demise. But even then, as the seminar’s leaders point out, “hard information” is lacking as to how, when, and by whom they were actually composed or edited. [3]

Mr. Harpur, does it not bother you that the majority of scholars--even these supposedly far-left liberal ones who scoff at the idea of a supernatural Jesus--admit that Jesus Christ really is a historical figure? This is the reason why I find the Jesus Mythicist position to be so untenable: There is simply no foundation for it, historical or otherwise. Only by stretching the facts beyond any reasonable interpretation can somebody even come close to the kind of position that Mr. Harpur is espousing, and rebuttals to his work such as these bear witness to that fact.

Also, Mr. Harpur tries to make much of the fact that the earliest complete codices we have of the Gospels appear nearly two centuries after Christ. If you compare this with other ancient works that have an even greater age disparity (not to mention fewer manuscripts to back them up), the reliability of the Gospel texts is actually very impressive. As biblical scholar K.A. Kitchen writes:

Among works of classical (Greek and Latin) literature, the writings of the New Testament--4 gospels, 21 letters, the history of Acts and visions of Revelation--have a manuscript attestation second to none, and superior to most. No one blinks an eyelid at depending for the Latin text of Julius Caesar's Gallic Ware (Composed within 58-56 BC) upon manuscripts all of which are 900 years later than Caesar's time, only nine or ten of the manuscripts being good textual copies. No-one doubts that we still read the real text of the works of Herodotus or Tucydides (450 BC), even though the oldest available full manuscripts (only eight or so) date from 1,300 years later! For the New Testament, how different and how vastly superior is the manuscript evidence. Some 5,000 Greek MSS (whole or fragmentary) are known, not a mere eight or ten. The most notable MSS are the Codexes Vaticanus and Sinaiticus of c. 350 AD--only 250 years after the end of the New Testament period (100 AD), not 900 or 1,300 years! Older still are the Chester Beatty and Bodmer biblical papyri, including six new Testament MSS of the second and third centuries AD, only 150 years after the New Testament period. Further back still, there is a Rylands fragment from a manuscript of John's Gospel (18:31-33, 37f.) datable by its script to about 130 AD--little more than a generation after the New Testament period itself. As this fragment came from Egypt, it is evident that John's gospel had been composed, recopied and begun to circulate well beyond Palestine before 130 AD. Hence, on this evidence alone, it must have been composed (at latest) by 90/100 AD, and more probably earlier. [4]

If you are going to cast doubt on the Gospel texts, you might as well be completely consistent and cast doubt on pretty much everything else that had also been written during that time period. Next:

Notice that the Gospel of Thomas, discovered with other Gnostic writings at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, was purely made up of sayings attributed to Jesus. It had no Passion or Resurrection story. The same is true of the hypothetical “Q,” a “sayings” source believed to have been used by both Matthew and Luke. [5]

As Mr. Harpur has himself just admitted, "Q" is just a hypothesis. We have no manuscript evidence of such a writing actually existing, so one can hardly make a good case out of it. Also, most of the so-called "Gnostic Gospels" are written way after the canonical gospels. The Gospel of Thomas is dated to around the middle of the 2nd century. The other Gnostic gospels are much later than that. It should be obvious from reading these "gospels" that they contain a lot of late (not to mention heretical) ideas, speculations and blatant mythologizing that is conspicuously absent from the canonical gospels. Finally, Tom Harpur takes issue with the Gospels being biographies:

The point is that while on the surface the Gospels appear to be a form of biography combined with proclamation, closer examination reveals that they are not biographies at all. They are extraordinarily imprecise or vague just at the places where we would most expect explicit details. We know nothing about Jesus’ appearance from these texts—the colour of his skin or his eyes, his approximate height or size, whether he was bearded or clean-shaven, whether he had long hair or was balding, and so on. We’re left wholly guessing about his date of birth and the year he died, even about whether he was married or single. Because of the vast silence about the years between his birth and the beginning of the ministry (apart from Luke’s legend-like story about Jesus’ visiting the temple at the age of twelve for his bar mitzvah), volumes have been filled with speculations that grow wilder with passing time. There are legends about supposed visits to England; mystical sojourns in Egypt, Tibet, India; and much more. Credulous souls who have great difficulty discerning evidence from fanciful conjecture flock to buy each latest embroidery on this theme.[6]

That's how they wrote biographies back then. The writers didn't feel the need to represent every detail of every part of a person's life, or even place the events of their lives in chronological order. They only concentrated on those important details that they wanted to highlight and make known to readers. The plain fact of the matter is that the Gospel writers only wrote as much as was necessary for them to convey. [7]

Also, The last sentence of this paragraph I can actually agree with. A lot of people nowadays are very gullible, and will buy into the latest fad theories that they encounter (case in point: The movie "Zeitgeist"). That aside, I'm still not seeing a solid case being presented by Mr. Harpur. If there is any compelling reason why anybody should accept his thesis, I have yet to see it.

End Notes
1. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 138.
2. Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Zondervan, 1998. p. 114-118.
3. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 138-139.
4. Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. The Bible and Its World. InterVarsity Press, 1977. p. 131.
5. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 140.
6. Ibid, p. 144.
7. Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Zondervan, 1998. p. 25-26.

Further Reading
(Since Mr. Harpur cites Elaine Pagels as a source in this chapter of his book, I thought I'd post a couple of critiques on her work as well.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

C.T. Russell's Great Pyramid Scheme

If you've done enough research on the Jehovah's Witnesses and their founder, Charles Taze Russell, you would know that C.T. Russell was a great enthusiast when it comes to the Egyptian pyramids. He referred to the Great Pyramid as "God's stone witness and prophet," claimed to be able to see divine omens in them and wrote about them in his works. Interestingly enough, the Watchtower Society has since then disowned these ideas from their own founder and now views the Great Pyramid as "Satan's bible."

One of the strangest "revelations" that he claimed to have received from the pyramid was that he calculated from the length of the passages the date for the end of the world. Unfortunately for C.T. Russell, the prophecy did not come true, and the Watchtower Society has had to edit its own official publications to cover their tracks. One of the most telling examples of this is from the publication , Thy Kingdom Come. In the original 1897 edition, this is what it says:

So, then, if we measure backward down the "First Ascending Passage" to its junction with the "Entrance Passage," we shall have a fixed date to mark upon the downward passage. This measure is 1542 inches, and indicates the year B.C. 1542, as the date at that point. Then measuring down the "Entrance Passage" from that point, to find the distance to the entrance of the "Pit," representing the the great trouble and destruction with which this age is to close, when evil will be overthrown from power, we find it to be 3416 inches, symbolizing 3416 years from the above date, B.C. 1542. This calculation shows A.D. 1874 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble; for 1542 years B.C. plus 1874 years A.D. equals 3416 years. Thus the pyramid witnesses that the close of 1874 was the chronological beginning of the time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation--no, nor shall ever be afterward. (link)

After that whole messy affair with the 1914 prophecy, however, the text in this page was altered, and the 1916 edition now says this:

So, then, if we measure backward down the "First Ascending Passage" to its junction with the "Entrance Passage," we shall have a fixed date to mark upon the downward passage. This measure is 1542 inches, and indicates the year B.C. 1542, as the date at that point. Then measuring down the "Entrance Passage" from that point, to find the distance to the entrance of the "Pit," representing the the great trouble and destruction with which this age is to close, when evil will be overthrown from power, we find it to be 3457 inches, symbolizing 3457 years from the above date, B.C. 1542. This calculation shows A.D. 1915 as marking the beginning of the period of trouble; for 1542 years B.C. plus 1915 years A.D. equals 3457 years. Thus the pyramid witnesses that the close of 1914 was the chronological beginning of the time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation--no, nor shall ever be afterward. (link)

If C.T. Russell is to believed on this one, then it would mean that the Great Pyramid actually grew by 41 inches since he first measured it! Kidding aside, this is the kind of thing that the Watchtower Society does in order to cover up its tracks. In doing so, however, they expose themselves for what they really are. And what does the bible say about all of this?

But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. You may say in your heart, "How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?" When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Old Watchtower Literature

Sometime recently, good friend of mine has provided me with various .pdf articles containing scans from old Watchtower Society literature, which I am hoping to be able to use in my witnessing. The scans help to show some of the WTBTS's past blunders, false prophecies and doctrinal flip-flops. If anybody wants a copy of them, give me your e-mail or post on the comment box below, and I'll be glad to send you a copy.

Further Reading
UPDATE (June 8, 2009)
I just recently found out that Blue Letter Bible also contains some of the old Watchtower reprints, although their archive is not as exhaustive. If anybody wants, them the files may be downloaded here.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Part Five

I have just recently gone through the seventh chapter of Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ. At this point, he gets into the historicity of the bible in general, and ends up dismissing most -if not all- of the stories in the old and new testaments as pious myths. Here are the statements made by Tom Harpur in that chapter:

The lead article in the March 2002 issue of the prestigious Harper's magazine, titled "False Testament," bluntly stated that archaeology now refutes the Bible's claim to history. Over the past several years, dispute over biblical historicity has marked scholarly conferences and been the focus of articles in The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report, a cover story in the December 2002 issue of Maclean's magazine, and a hard-hitting piece by the archaeologist Ze'ev Herzog in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. But the Harper's expose, by the journalist Daniel Lazare, was the most trenchant, current account I have seen yet.

Citing the most recent evidence (or rather, for the most part, the lack of it), Lazare pulled the foundation out from under almost every major historical beam in the edifice of accepted wisdom about everything from the existence of Abraham and the other biblical patriarchs to the Exodus from Egypt, the supposed gories of Kings David and Solomon, and even the reputed conquest of the Promised Land (Canaan).[1]

The way it is written sounds very sensationalistic, especially when you get to the part where he talks about Lazare "pulling the foundation out from under every major historical beam in the edifice of accepted wisdom". The fact that these things are being published in popular (oftentimes Liberal) magazines and newspapers rather than scholarly scientific journals should already be enough to raise some red flags. Further on, he writes:

Lazare stated baldly that on the basis of his research and a survey of current scholarship, he'd concluded that all of this is "bosh." In the past quarter century, he said, archaeologists have seen "one settled assumption over who the ancient Israelites were and where they came proved false." Instead of a band of invaders who conquered Canaan, "the Israelites are now thought to have been an indigenous culture that developed west of the Jordan River around 1200 B.C.E."

The epic stories of Abraham, Isaac, and the other patriarchs "appear to have been spliced... out of various pieces of local lore." The whole account of David's empire is now viewed as "an invention of Jerusalem-based priests in the seventh and eighth centuries B.C.E. who were keen to burnish their national history," he wrote. (By the way, a study of comparative religions shows that all ancient peoples did the same.)

According to Lazare's findings, Jewish monotheism--that is, the exclusive worship of a Semitic deity called YHWA--didn't fully "coalesce" until sometime between an Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. and the Babylonian conquest of the southern kingdom of Judah in 586. The Bible indicates this happened much earlier. As we shall discover, the true origins appeared in Egyptian religious thought.

The situation gets even more problematic for the traditionalists in every camp. Abraham, as Kuhn had long insisted, was utterly mythological. "Not only is there no evidence that any such figure as Abraham ever lived but archaeologists believe that there is no way such a figure could have lived given what we now know about Israelite origins," Lazare wrote. In other words, as Kuhn said much earlier, he was a leading figure in the larger myth.[2]

Just so you know folks, it's YHWH, not YHWA. There is no Hebrew equivalent for the letter A, or any of the vowels, for that matter. Also, if the Exodus never occurred, that just makes you wonder how "Egyption religious thought" could have influenced the religious thought of the Israelites.

Now, he claims that there is no archaeological evidence that Abraham was a real historical figure, a position that is held only by a small minority of historians and archaeologists, not to mention certain sensationalistic journalists. In reality, we do have extra-biblical corroboration for the existence of Abraham. In particular, there is a record that comes from the reign of Pharaoh Sheshonq I, whom many scholars equate with the biblical Shishak (1 Kings 11:40, 14:25-26). In an inscription found in the Temple of Amun in Karnak, there is a mention of "The fort [or fortified town] of Abraham," which is located in the Negev desert, and has been equated by some scholars with Beersheba, a city founded by Abraham (Genesis 21:32-33). This is due to the fact that both are found in the Negev, it is unexplainable that a city as prominent as Beersheba could have been omitted from the Pharaoh's records, unless it is the very same city that is called Fort Abram by the Egyptians. [3]

Moving on, we have Harpur quoting Lazare to further disprove the Exodus, as well as the existence of David and Solomon. Here he says:

And Lazare didn't stop there. The Exodus never occurred, he asserted, a conclusion he based upon a growing body of evidence about ancient Egyptian border defences, desert sites where the fleeing Israelites allegedly camped, and so on. The Old Testament description of Canaan thus "turns out to be fictional as well."

King David, said by the Bible to have been a mighty potentate and empire builder, "was rather a freebooter who carved out what was at most a small duchy in the southern highlands around Jerusalem and Hebron." In fact, there are some archaeologists today who maintain, because of the absence of concrete evidence, that he too never existed. The name of David appears on one lone inscription on a stone block, or stele, from the ninth century B.C.E., and that's all there is. As Lazare points out, "If David and Solomon had been important regional power brokers, one might reasonably expect their names to crop up on monuments and in the diplomatic correspondence of the day. Yet, once again, the record is silent.

Fundamentalists once took delight in evidence from the 1930s that the walls of Jericho had on one occasion fallen down, much as the Book of Joshua describes. However, Lazare reminds readers that the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, in more recent times, has demonstrated from pottery shards in the ruins that the destruction occurred no later 1300 B.C.E., almost a hundred years before the conquest (if there was one) could have happened. Joshua may well not have "fit the battle of Jericho" after all.[4]

The argument from silence is not a very good one. Besides, one inscription alone should be enough to prove that there was a historical David. Remember that archaeological records from the bronze/iron age aren't always well preserved. For example, the writings of certain figures as Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.), Thucydides (460-395 B.C.E.) and Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.E.) are only preserved in a few manuscripts (no more than 5-10 in number each), and these manuscripts are from anywhere between nine to fourteen centuries after these characters lived, yet we do not question that they existed as historical figures. [5]

Thus, it would be too biased if anybody was to apply a different standard on the Bible and the figures mentioned therein. If we were to apply such a standard consistently, then we don't know what anybody from back then said or did, and we wouldn't know if any of the major historical figures of that period even existed!

Also, if the archaeological findings on Jericho disprove anything, it is only that Jericho fell later than 1300 B.C.E. We do not have a definite date for the conquest, so it could well have occurred before the aforementioned date. In fact, archaeology does support the idea of an Israelite conquest. According to Dr. David Livingston, "Cultural changes favor an early (1400 BC) Conquest." He quotes Frederic Brandfon, one of the staff at the Beer-Sheba excavation, who makes this statement:

. . . most of the [Iron Age] villages were established prior to the destruction of the urban centers on the nearby tells. . . . Villages so characteristic of the Israelite settlement period began at a time when the Late Bronze Age cities had not yet been destroyed. The resulting archaeological picture is one of cultural overlapping, with urban and rural settlements existing side by side. . . . Sites typical of the Late Bronze Age -- the Canaanite cities -- and sites characteristic of the Iron Age -- the Early Iron Age villages are now known to have been contemporary. In relative terms, the Iron Age appears to have begun earlier than previously suspected. The excavations of the village sites has raised the date for the beginning of the Iron Age, while the Lachish and Tel Sera inscriptions have lowered the date for the end of the Late Bronze Age. The result is a broad range of overlap between what is commonly known as the "Late Bronze Age" and the "Early Iron Age" lasting almost 100 years, from about 1230 to 1150 B.C.E. [6]

"This," according to Dr. Livingston, "admirably addresses the situation of Israel living in the countryside in tents while the towns and cities remained Canaanite, but were gradually taken over by Israelites." (link)

Moving on, we have a rather ridiculous assertion coming from Kuhn, who is quoted extensively by Mr. Harpur:

In The lost Light, Kuhn makes some startling comments on Abraham, who he says categorically was never a historical figure. Kuhn even unlocks the meaning of the patriarch's name, A-Brahm, arguing it is a combination of the alpha privative (as in the words "armoral" and "anoxia" and Brahm (as in Vedic or Hindu), and means, therefore, "not Brahm." He writes that "Abraham the patriarch, or oldest of the emanations, was not Brahm, the Hindu supreme deity, Brahma, the absolute, but the first emenation from Brahm. He was the first life that was not Absolute, but from the Absolute, a kind of demi-god, or sun God." [7]

This theory of emanations sounds like something out of Gnosticism. That aside, the problem with the assertion made by Kuhn (and Harpur by quoting him) is that Abraham is a Hebrew name, while the alpha privative is a feature of the Greek language, and Brahm comes from the Hindus, who lived way too far away to have possibly exerted any influence on Jewish religious thought. It is way too much of a stretch to assert that these two somehow influenced the Hebrew tongue to produce the name "A-brahm".

The same method is used again by Harpur on the names of Lazarus and of the town of Bethany (John 11:1 ff). Notice the amount of grammatical stretching and amalgamating of different (sometimes unrelated) languages that he resorts to in his "scholarly analysis:"

Consider this a form of detective work for a few moments and see how scholarly analysis reveals the true meaning of what is going on. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Anu, called Heliopolis in Greek (meaning "city of the sun"), was the theological name of an actual Egyptian city where the rites of the death, burial, and resurrection of Osirirs of Horus were enacted each year. The name is a combination of nu, the name for "mother heaven", or primal, empty space, "the abyss of of nothingness," and the alpha privative--hence, A-Nu, or "not nothingness," a world of concrete actuality, the world of substantial manifestation. In other words, Anu was precisely a place where units of divine consciousness (or souls) go to their symbolic "death" in every human (incarnation) and later rise again to glory. Anu was called, among other things, the place of "multiplying bread." (Significantly, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, means "the house of bread." We will not stop here, tempted though we may be, to show the intimate connections between this concept and the Gospel Christ who multiplies loaves and fishes for the crowds.) The Hebrews added their prefix for "house," beth, to Anu and produced Beth-Anu, or the House of Anu. But because the u and the y were interchangeable in antiquity, we ended up with the New Testament counterpart Bethany. The point here is that when we read the Egyptian text, we find that the Egyptian Christ, Horus, performed a great miracle at Anu, or Bethany. He raised his father, Osiris, from the dead, calling unto him in the cave to "rise and come forth."

These clues help us solve the question of who Lazarus was originally. According to the great Egyptologist Sir Wallis Budge, as well as my major sources and other eminent authorities on the texts, one ancient name for Osiris was Asar. The Egyptians reglurarly expressed their reference by place the definite article "the" before the names of their gods. Just as Christians say, or should say, "the Christ," the Egyptians say "the Osirirs." But that was the equivalent of saying "Lord Osiris". When the Hebrews took up the name of the Osiris, or Lord Osiris, they used the Hebrew word for "lord," el--hence El-Asar. Later on, the Romans, speaking Latin, of course took El-Asar and added the us ending used for most male names. The result was El-Asar-us. In time, the initial e "wore off," as linguists describe it, and the s in Asar changed to z, its constant companion in language. Thus, we have Lazarus, the Osiris of the Beth-Anu story. So it is that, beginning with massey, these scholars convincingly conclude that Jesus' raising of Lazarus at Bethany is "but a rescript of the old Egyptian dramatic mystery in which Horus, the Christ, raised his 'dead' father Osiris from the grave." It is written in the hieroglyphics that Horus followed the divine Meri to the place where Asar (Orisirs) lay buried in his tomb, just as Jesus followed mary, who had come forth to meet him on the way to Bethany. The most important point is that this Egyptian recital was in the papyri perhaps as long ago as five thousand years B.C.E. [8]

To even the semi-unbiased person, the verbal gymnastics and constant reading into the text should be plainly obvious. I would like to see where Harpur found the alleged text where Horus resurrects Osiris (I already covered Horus and Osiris in part three of this series, and no mention is ever made of such an event).

Also, I guess it is irrelevant to Mr. Harpur that there is an actual historical city named "Bethany", and that the actual meaning of its name is "house of dates". Besides, how do you get "Beth-anu" out of the original Greek word "βηθανιας" (Bethanias)?

Also, the Hebrew word for Lord is actually "Adonai". "El" (short for Elohim) actually means God, so that exposes another one of the grammatical errors of Mr. Harpur. That aside, the rest of Mr. Harpur's eisegesis involves way too much stretching to be considered credible (especially the part where he alleges that a Hebrew prefix and a Latin suffix are both arbitrarily added to an Egyptian word. Besides, the New Testament was written in Greek, not Latin, so the name actually reads as "λαζαρος" (Lazaros).

All of this is used by Harpur to justify his "esoteric" interpretation of the scriptures, where we who have "the Christ within" must symbolically "die and rise again" in this life.

Finally, I must deal with one last objection from chapter seven of the book. This is a rehashing of an old argument raised time and time again by skeptics against the historicity of the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Here, Harpur writes:

Luke tells how a decree went out from Augustus that "all the world should be registered." The trouble is that there is absolutely no trace--in a well-documented period--of such a decree. It's simply a means of getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for theological reasons. The messiah had to be of Davidic descent, and thus from Bethlehem. Luke says the birth occurred while Quirinius was governor of Syria. That means it could not have happened before 6 C.E., the year we know he took office. At the same time, Matthew says Jesus was conceived while Herod the Great was in power in Judea. But Herod died in 4 B.C.E.! The author of The Jesus Mysteries points out that Mary's real miracle, if both references are taken as genuinely historical, was "a 10-year pregnancy." For Matthew, Jesus' hometown was Bethlehem. For Luke, it was Nazareth.

As we have already seen, the stories of the angels and the shepherds, in Luke, and of the wise men, in Matthew, are rewrites of Egyptian mythical themes from at least two thousand years earlier. They are portrayed in the art at Luxor. There is no historical record of Herod's alleged edict regarding the "slaughter of the innocents" either. Common sense tells us that such an order was an impossibility in any case. Did Herod intend to kill the children of his friends, his soldiers, his civil servants, tourists passing through, and so on? You know for certain the whole matter is symbolic once you realize that an attempt to slaughter a holy child appears in all the ancient hero myths, from Moses to Horus to Sargon to Hercules. As noted earlier, the threat to the newly born Horus, the Egyptian Christ, came from Herut, the serpent. [9]

Actually, such decrees were quite common during the time of the Roman empire, and there is plenty of papyrus evidence to back that up. For example, one decree dated to around 104 C.E. reads:

Gaius Vibius Maximus, Prefect of Egypt [says]: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause whatsoever are residing out of their provinces to return to their own homes, and they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments. [10]

Notice the mention of "the regular order of the census". This shows such orders were quite commonplace at the time, so it is well within reason that such an event would have taken place. Mr. Harpur also claims that Matthew makes Bethlehem Jesus' hometown, but this is just another argument from silence. Just because Matthew does not explicitly state what Luke states doesn't mean that Matthew was proposing a different origin for Joseph and Mary.

Also, Mr. Harpur claims that common sense tells us that it was impossible for Herod to have ordered the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16). I guess Mr. Harpur's "common sense" does not take into account the fact that Herod was a very murderous man who had no qualms about condemning even his own relatives to death. The account of his ordering the execution of his own sons is well documented by the Jewish historian Josephus:

As for Herod, if he had before any doubt about the slaughter of his sons, there was now no longer any room left in his soul for it; but he had banished away whatsoever might afford him the least suggestion of reasoning better about this matter, so he already made haste to bring his purpose to a conclusion. He also brought out three hundred of the officers that were under an accusation, as also Tero and his son, and the barber that accused them before an assembly, and brought an accusation against them all; whom the multitude stoned with whatsoever came to hand, and thereby slew them. Alexander also and Aristobulus were brought to Sebaste, by their father's command, and there strangled; but their dead bodies were in the night time carried to Alexandraum, where their uncle by the mother's side, and the greatest part of their ancestors, had been deposited.

And now perhaps it may not seem unreasonable to some, that such an inveterate hatred might increase so much as to proceed further, and overcome nature; but it may justly deserve consideration, whether it be to be laid to the charge of the young men, that they gave such an occasion to their father's anger, and led him to do what he did, and by going on long in the same way put things past remedy, and brought him to use them so unmercifully; or whether it be to be laid to the father's charge, that he was so hard-hearted, and so very tender in the desire of government, and of other things that would tend to his glory, that e would take no one into a partnership with him, that so whatsoever he would have done himself might continue immovable... And this temper he showed in what he did afterward, when he did not spare those that seemed to be the best beloved of his friends that were left, wherein, though the justice of the punishment caused those that perished to be the less pitied, yet was the barbarity of the man here equal, in that he did not abstain from their slaughter also. But of those persons we shall have occasion to discourse more hereafter. [12]

Given this murderous nature of King Herod, it would have been well within his reason to kill all the infants in the little town of Bethlehem in order to preserve his own kingship, and such an action would have been so characteristic of him that it would have seemed redundant for anyone to record such a commonplace event. It might seem strange to the modern mindset, but it fits well with the bloody landscape of 1st century Palestine.

End Notes
1. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 116.
2. Ibid, p. 117.
3. Dailey, Timothy J. Ph.D. and David M. Howard, Jr. Mysteries of the Bible. Publications Internatonal, Ltd., 1998. p. 35-36.
4. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 117-118.
5. Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. The Bible and Its World. InterVarsity Press, 1977. p. 131.
6. Herzog, Ze'ev. Beer-Sheba II: The Early Iron Age Settlements. Tel Aviv University: Institute of Archaeology, 1984.
7. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 121.
8. Ibid, p. 133-134.
9. Ibid, p. 125-126.
10.McRay, John. Archaeology and the New Testament. Baker, 1991. p. 155.
12. Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 16, Chapter 11.

UPDATE (July 13, 2009)

Those who have read an earlier revision of this article might be wondering why a citation has been dropped from it. The reason behind this is that I realized that the information presented therein is not as accurate as I had hoped it to be. For a clarification on this, check out this blog post.

Further Reading

Monday, June 01, 2009

James White - Can the New Testament be Trusted?

Dr. James White appeared on the sixty-sixth episode of the TV program The Ancient Paths, hosted by Matt Weinstock, discussing textual criticism and why we can be confident that we have a reliable reconstruction of the original New Testament.

This program should be helpful to anybody here who is encountering claims that the New Testament has been corrupted by textual variations.