The horrors of fundamental and even of moderate Islam are obvious. But when Christians criticize the supposedly sacred ideas and writings upon which these Muslim’s support their horrible ideas (the Qur’an and Hadith), the Christians’ ignorant irony is laughable. The above cartoon by the famous Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig captures that same tragic irony that I also expressed in my 2010 post “Your God is weird!”. Death theology, Exclusivist theology, Tribal theology and all such wrong thoughts must be fought constantly — sacred or secular. Freedom from stupidity is not a right, it is the tenuous fruit of constant effort.
Tag Archives: Bible
Matt Brisancian did a fine infographic on the Easter story. At the end of his graphic, he proposes five ways of looking at the Jesus story. Of these five ways, Atheists tend to take the #4 or #5 options: 4. Growing Legend, 5. Christ Myth.
But the contrast between these views may not be as strong as some imagine. To illustrate my point, above I made an imitation and expansion of Matt’s options #4 & #5 to show a 4 a,b,c and d. With these, I try to illustrate that depending on how much truth you feel the Jesus legend version (#4) contains, it can so easily approach the Christ Myth version (#5) in a way as to be almost indistinguishable.
Question to Readers: Where do you tend to stand?
Did the Jews borrow from Greek Mythology — I’d bet they did, but literalist Christians vehemently disagree.
When one culture has very similar stories compared to another there are three things that could have happened – see my illustration to the right showing models of where Jews may have gotten their stories.
Either (b) they borrowed the story from the other culture, or (a) both cultures developed them completely independently. The third option is (c) the Judeo-Christian option that Yahweh shared the stories between cultures to help others eventually understand Israel’s truths.
Three Possible Shared Myths
Neil Godfrey just publish a short post on three similar myths shared between Bible myths and Greek myths (taken from West’s book, see below). To aid in reading Neil’s fine post, I have explored some of the time elements below. You can see that the answer is not easy.
(1) Greek Spy in Trojan War, Hebrew Spy in Fall of Jericho
Trojan War: recorded between 500s-800s BCE by Homer (and others) — oral tradition earlier. Dates range from 1100-1300 BCE.
Fall of Jericho: Joshua 6:1-27, possibly 1400-1500 BCE by literalist Christian archeologists. Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon claimed the walls of Jericho fell around 2,000 BCE before the Biblical story was created which was 800 years after the fall of Jericho. But all of this, as you can imagine, is controversial. And some feel that later penned story may be based on the Ugaritic Epic Poem from around 1500-1200 BCE.
(2) Arion & the Dolphin & Jonah & The Big Fish
Jonah: supposed prophet during 786-746 BCE
Arion: first mentioned 665 BCE
(3) Ereuthalion & Giant, David & Goliath
Ereuthalion: Mentioned in Homer: 500-800s BCE — perhaps much earlier
David & Goliath: 1 Sam 17. Goliath came from Gath (destroyed in 800s BCE). David traditionally lived around 1000 BCE by literalist Biblical scholars. However, Biblical minimalists see the story and historicity as contrived.
It goes unspoken that of the Myth Semblance theories, I only give credibility to the Shared or Independent theories. For literalist Christians, exposing that their Bible stories were borrow or stolen from other cultures is very threatening. The apologetics to counter these charges are amazing. Chronology is the biggest fight: which myth came first. Keeping track of the archeology, vested interests and all the various shared myths is tough stuff. Way over my pay grade. But I hope this post makes Neil’s post a bit richer for you.
Books that discuss the Greek Myth & Bible Story connection include:
- Gaster, Theodor (1969): Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament: a comparative study. $10 Amazon
- West, ML (1999): The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. $89 Amazon
- Wajdenbaum, Phillippe (2011): Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. $62 Amazon
As I have read various retellings of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, I have seen two important traits they share:
- The Extras & Oral Tradition: The epics are huge, and it is not the main story that fascinates me but all the side stories and morals. Super condensed version tend to exclude these. The extras get attached over the thousands of years the stories evolved in oral tradition.
- The Retellings & Fixed Agendas: Even to this day, people continue writing “re-tellings” of the two epics. And reading these retellings. one can clearly see how myths are flexible enough to absorb political, sexual, tribal and religious agendas. This is different from te the Christian scriptures which became a fixed canon (anthology) by law in the 300s AD, At first I thought that this was perhaps an evil side-effect of the printed word — once written, people were loath to change it. But in India, retellings is not as taboo as they are in the West. The best “retellings” that can be snuck in for the Christian tradition is putting spin within a translation.
Below are selections from two of my recent readings to further illustrate these points.
(1) From the Introduction to John Smith’s translation (and abridgment) of the Mahabharata. (see the bibliography for source)
“However, to think of the Mahabharata as merely one more heroic epic would be a serious over-simplification, for it became much more than that. The story that lies at its core came to be overlaid by numerous additions in the form of narrative digressions, substories and protracted sermon. In the process the character of the work underwent a significant change: the bardic Ksatriya epic whose early existence we can deduce (but about whose circumstances of performance we can only guess) ended up by becoming a gigantic compendium of chiefly brahmanical lore and a key text in the early development of the Hindu religion.”
(2) From India’s Business Standard, an excellent article on a rewrite of the Ramayana.
“The Ramayana began its life as a collection of disjointed stories strung together in a song. It took several decades and innumerable bards and writers to thread the tales into the linear narrative as we know it today. Every time it was sung, it acquired a fresh sound and rhythm. And once it was put down on paper, it gathered volume and mass. According to Camille Bulcke, a Belgian Jesuit missionary who studied the Ramayana and wrote Ram Katha: Utpatti aur Vitaran (The origin and spread of the Ramayana) there were around 300 tellings. It was not the fashion to refer to these as retellings at the time because the epics, myths and legends were part of an oral culture that allowed them to be interpreted and reinterpreted several times over. Scholars and historians lay much store by these tellings as they believed that the subtle differences between the versions held a mirror to the social and moral mores of the times.”
Question for readers: The oral tradition of the Bible was not locked up for hundreds of years, can you give us an example of the two principles I mention above that are obvious also in the Christian tradition — before the lockdown. Or perhaps elaborate on ways Christians get around the lockdown. (It is my hope in sharing the Hindu examples, our own culture’s patterns become more obvious).
The word “Bible” is used in several ways. Let’s look at some background to the word.
Egyptian writing in the 2000s BCE was done on the pith of a plant called “papyrus”. Paper, on the other hand (developed in China around 100 BCE). The Egyptians called the plant “paperaa” which meant “of the Pharaoh” since apparently he owned a monopoly on its production.
The Greeks, in importing papyrus products, called the food products of this plant “papuros” but the nonfood products (scrolls, baskets …) they called “bublos” after the Phoenician city of Byblos from where it was exported. But “Byblos” was the Greek slaughtering of the Phonecians real city name of “Gubal” (currently Jubayl) which meant “well” or “origin”.
The Greek word word “book” comes from their name for Gubal, where they got their material (papyrus) to write on.
“Paper”, interestingly, also comes from the greek work “papuros” even though the papyrus plant is not used to make paper but instead, paper production was developed in China around 100 BC and only made it to Europe in the 1200 CE to eventually replace both papyrus and parchment (animal skins) .
Returning to the word “Bible”, since Christianity has a book they value above all others, that book was simply called “The Bible” or “The Book”. So the phrase “the Bible” means:
- sacred collection of books used by Christians and Jews
- and by extension: the sacred collection of books of any religion
Since the Bible is the source of Christian theology, doctrine and authority, the word “Bible” eventually was enlarged to also mean:
3. any authoritative book (Oxford dictionary)
- a book considered authoritative in its field
(The Free Dictionary)
- a publication that is preeminent especially in authoritativeness or wide readership
- any book, reference work, periodical, etc.,accepted as authoritative, informative, or reliable
- a book considered authoritative in its field
Reader Challenge: Give some examples of this general use of the word “bible”.
See other “Word!” posts, here.
According to most versions of Christianity, the Jewish god, Yahweh, impregnated a 13 year-old Palestinian peasant girl in order to make a version of himself called “Jesus”. Yahweh did this because he had a mission or missions for Jesus.
The various flavors of Christianity see Jesus’ mission(s) differently but most of them fall into one of three categories:
- Salvation: to save people from sin and damnation
- Kingdom: to establish a new Kingdom: God’s kingdom
- Teachings: to give moral teachings
The four accepted Jesus stories (the “gospels”) are then peppered with magic and supposed prophecy fulfillment all along the way so that the reader accepts the credibility of Jesus’ missions.
Each sect of Christianity does a different mix of these three missions. I have written elsewhere the obvious problems with his first supposed mission: Salvation. As for his second mission, the Kingdom, it is obvious that no Kingdom has arrived even though both Jesus and his disciples expected it in their lifetimes. So in a panic, hundreds of generations of Christians have spun various Kingdom theologies to try and correct for this obvious problem.
Though nonbelievers mostly laugh off Christian salvation and heavenly kingdom myths, the third mission gets occasional approval even from nonChristians. I have often heard non-believers kissing up to Jesus’ apparent third mission: The Great Teacher. Perhaps this is to be expected of believers in other great gods, gurus or teachers, but I have even heard casual atheists saying, “Well, I don’t believe Jesus was a god, but I believe Jesus was a great moral teacher.” Mind you, blogging atheists (not the casual type), go the other extreme. Check out the poll results.
But really? If you look at Jesus teachings, they are a mix of nonsense, blandness, and occasional good virtuous ideas which were said by teachers and philosophers all over the planet before his time. Jesus was not unique. Often times his teachings were just “Blah”, outright wrong and even crazy. Jesus was not a great teacher. Well, at least that is my opinion.
In future posts, I hope to illustrate and support my above preposterous claim.
Question to readers: First, please take the poll then add a comment with your caveates, objections and more. They will help me in considering future posts.
What Christians call “The Bible” is not one homogenous book but instead an anthology of books and letters. To top that off, the various sects of Christianity often have different anthologies. Most importantly, those anthologies have no internal consistency – no homogeneity to allow the use of the phrase “The Bible says” in any meaningful way. Heck, even using the phrase “The Bible” can contain the same hidden, wrong assumptions.
If someone says “The Bible Says…”, be they Atheist, Christian or anyone else, any of following questions may be helpful in revealing the trojan assumptions within that expression:
- Which Bible?Which translation from which tradition?
- Whose Bible?
- Whose anthology: Catholic, Protestants, Jews, Ethiopians, Eastern Orthodox? Or perhaps former Bibles which we forbidden and destroyed.
- Which author in the anthology?
- Bible has lots of authors and the authors had different theologies. There is no spirit writing all those books using men as puppets.
- Which type of book in the Bible?
- Poetry, letters, apocalyptic stuff, myths, fake history …
You can’t generalize about the Bible — tell us what you are talking about.
- Poetry, letters, apocalyptic stuff, myths, fake history …
- Which redaction do you prefer?
- The books collected by the believers have been changed over time.
- Which hermeneutic do you embrace?
- There are lots of ways to interpret and understand the books in the Christian Anthology — what is your favorite theological spin?
You see, there too many questions to allow someone to comfortably us “The Bible says” — because “The Bible says” is a trojan horse sneaking in all sorts of misunderstandings of the politics, the history and the nature of the many collection of books that Christians called sacred.
Below are two of my charts linked to posts showing why “The Bible” is a problematic phrase. And below them are links to other posts I have written emphasizing the same trojan nature of the expression “The Bible Says”.
Related Posts of Mine:
- The Homogenized Bible
- The Holy Spirit as Author
- New Testament Sources & Translations
- Translation Pathways
- Stop Saying “The Bible Says”
- Bibliolatry: The Great Christian Sin
Credit: HT for the trojan horse pic
The “Study Shows Smokescreen” (see my post here) was recently used by a progressive Christian over at Patheos — Ben Corey. Corey is a Doctor of Missiology student at Fuller Seminary (his third time in a seminary – first two times at Gordon-Conwell). His post title is:
His post is peppered with problems — all in an effort to support two of his agendas: (1) Keeping the Bible as a magic book that effects people as God’s Word: Progressive Christians still want their cake and eat it too! (2) his own personal leftist politics. He does this by feigning to be scientific and using the lulling deceptive phrase “a study shows“.
Corey tells us he “read a study the other day” but only links to a poorly written Christianity Today article with conflates two studies — not one “study”:
(1) Undated, not-yet peer reviewed poll by “LifeWay Research: Biblical Solutions for Life” — they are of the Southern Baptist Convention [guess their bias]. And to top it off, the actual title of their poll is “Americans’ Experience with the King James Version of the Bible” (I found it for you here). Corey doesn’t link to it, of course, only to the Christianity Today article (?”study”).
Both of those two surveys are problematic in themselves. And then, to top it off, Corey conflates the two sets of results to make his point — he acts like it is one study and a recent study at that. Well, the Christianity Today article does that and Corey seems to buy into that because it supports his unfounded position. Corey tells us:
“Frequent Bible reading has some predictable effects on the reader.” [–> namely that:] “the more often people read their Bible, the more liberal they become“
This is complete hogwash. To support his unscientific smokescreen, Corey then adds insult to injury by telling us his anecdotal story of how reading the Bible made him more liberal. But actually all he tells us is that by his third time through seminary, he became more liberal and he looks back and credits the Bible for it — of course. Argghhh! And he uses his simple, retrospective, post-hoc rationalization with his other errors of mixing of two bad polls, and conflating correlation with causality to try to convince us of the magic power of the Bible.
Note, as my last post said, Corey does not tell us what sort of study he is supposedly reading (qualitative, quantitative …) nor what investment the researchers have (what bias risk). Instead, I had to dig around and find the actual studies and expose these critical points. His whole effort is to make the appearance of SCIENCE supporting his views. Reading the comments on his post, it looks like his deception (intentional or not), unfortunately worked. Look at all the time and effort it took me to see through this stuff — and for you to read this. Do you think Corey’s sympathetic Christian readers even paused to doubt the expression “study shows”? No, certainly not, yet alone to do all the footwork needed to see behind his smokescreen. That is why people use it.
Question to readers: OK, I am sort of busy, and reviewing this stuff is not my occupation, so maybe I made some mistakes above. But I think I nailed some very important points. But if I made any errors, let me know.
From my experience, however, few of those Christians are following Jesus as seriously as a friend of mine once did. Actually, as I have written here, I am glad most Christians do not follow Jesus — as you will see.
Of course each Christian envisions Jesus differently, picking their own favorite passages or images for the Jesus of their imaginations. And I guess if they make him bland enough, they might actually be following some undemanding Tofu Jesus.
My friend Greg, however, did not follow a Tofu Jesus, he was following a full-blown apocalyptic Jesus. I met Greg during my hitchhike from Europe to India. Neither of us had any money. And if I remember correctly, our paths crossed the American consulate in Turkey. Greg was a gaunt, 22 year-old blonde Floridian who met Jesus two years earlier and was taking his Jesus to heart.
Following the Jesus in his head, Greg was on his way to India to find a cave where he felt he was to store-up honey in preparation for the end times. Following Jesus’ admonition in Matt 6:26, Greg had given up almost everything he owned, rarely wore a shirt, and carried the minimum of belongings.
Greg had blonde hair down to the middle of his back feeling that God would care for him so there was no need to either cut his hair nor brush his teeth. Well, this all went well with his hair, but Greg was also a fruititatarian which was apparently bad for his teeth. I am not sure how he got the Bible to tell him that being a fruitarian was what Jesus wanted of him, but he was diligent. So during our travels, we had to beg twice for local dentists to pull out two of his rotting, aching teeth since he could not pay for repair. Greg was amazing though — he did this with no complaints and no local anesthesia.
In Part 2 I will share a little more about Greg — the most devoted follower of Jesus I have met. I remembered this story after reading Alice’s post chronicling her exist from Christianity where she said,
“Roughly two years ago we [her husband and her] were having supper and one of my back molars just caved in. At the time I was expecting the Rapture at any second so I just put it off.”
Alice, like Greg, was really was following Jesus teachings concerning her teeth. Well, whether it was Jesus’ spirit or some imaginary Jesus in their heads, we can’t be sure –though I have my suspicions.
Question to readers: Have you done anything stupid for the Jesus in your head?
Growing up, I thought there was only one story of Jesus, just like there was only one story of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr. Of course, at that time, I did not know that the Jesus stories were constructed in a very different way from Lincoln and King.
Not only do the stories of Jesus vary, but the way people visualize Jesus are also different. Think about Jesus in your head — do you get an image? To the right is the well-know BBC reconstruction of a possible generic 1st Century Jewish face which may capture a possible real Jesus’ face closer than all the other Jesus images familiar in the West. I’ll explore more of that later.
But my point is that the Jesus in people’s head is a mix of fictitious images and fictitious stories (well, certainly fictitious to some degree). And today I am just sharing the diagram illustrating the three main origins of Jesus stories: Christian, Pagan and Atheist.
My diagrams terms are as follows:
- “Xians“: People who call themselves “Christians” often are surprised to find out how many different versions their fellow Christians have spun.
- “Pagans“: Religious folks who are non-Christians have several different ways to explain Jesus. Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism all have their own stories.
- “Atheists“: People who decisively don’t believe in any gods, also have several different contradictory stories of who Jesus was.
- “Apathists“: Most Christians are “casual” Christians and could careless about doctrines, no little of the Bible and don’t really worry too much about stories about Jesus. A person who doesn’t believe in God and is apathetic about the issue may call themselves an Agnostics. And many believers in other religions (“Pagans” in this diagram) may care less about Jesus, just as most Christians could care less about the details of Amida. All these apathists.
Blog thread conversations about Jesus get confused easily because of the conflicting view people have of Jesus. I think both Christians and non-Christians sometimes don’t remember that there is a such a huge variety of stories. This diagram, then, is just a reminder.
Questions to Readers:
- Tell us, in 2-3 sentences, the version of Jesus you find most persuasive at this time.
- Name a few versions of Jesus from within your own group (Pagans, Atheists or Christians) which conflict with your view.