Living in Easter Saturday World

Great post – insightful and true. Let’s get thru Saturday together – cos Sunday’s coming!

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RESPONDblogs: Biblical Jesus = Retelling of Pagan Myth?

Imagine someone looks at you earnestly and says the following.

I don’t believe Jesus existed, I don’t believe he was real. Why? Because there is this guy in blue tights and wearing a red cape with an S on his chest.  (On his planet the S means HOPE)  And this red and blue guy was sent to earth – his father’s only son – to save humanity. He had amazing powers – he brought people back from the dead…and he himself returned from the dead. You see? Many parallels there between Jesus and Superman. Because these parallels exist – Jesus can’t be a real person – the reports about Jesus’ life cannot be true.

 

How would you respond?

 

 

Well – there seems to be some faulty logic going on here.

  1. For a start – Superman is a fictional comic book character while Jesus is a person from ancient history whose life is documented more carefully than anyone else. Superman is sadly a work of fiction – Jesus is documented history.
  2. Next – Jesus lived two thousand years ago, whereas Superman first appeared in issue #1 of Action Comics in 1938. Superman came after Jesus. So if there is any influence going on here…surely it’s Jesus influencing the Superman character?

 

So why do I say all this? Because there’s a similar line of argument going on in the Bill Maher clip above. The Biblical Jesus isn’t a myth copied from Paganism – rather he is the fulfillment of humanity’s myths and our stories. Our fictional stories point to the real him.

 

Steve DiSebastian makes this point better than I could in his blog. You can check it out here:

http://godfromthemachineblog.wordpress.com/tag/paganism-and-christianity/

 

 

What I think Bill Maher is attempting to do in the video clip above is to discredit Jesus Christ by comparing him to many mythological characters from the ancient world.

If those were myths – so too is Jesus.

 

But the problem is that I think the logic is faulty.

 

 

 

Jesus and Mithras:

Bill mentions Mithras who was a mythical figure worshipped by Roman soldiers – and the archaeological evidence we have comes from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In other words – Mithraism flourished over a hundred years following the birth of Christianity. If there is any influencing going on…then surely it was the historical Jesus influencing the story of the mythical Mithras. Do you see the Superman parallel now? Jesus influenced Superman…..and Jesus influenced Mithras. Not the other way round.

 

In the video clip – Bill Maher claims a number of parallels between Jesus and Mithras. Now – I for one am no expert on the ancient Mediterranean mystery religions. And call my cynical…but I don’t think Bill is either.  BUT – I can do some research by reading what the experts say.

 

Experts like Edwin M. Yamauchi, PH.D.

With a doctorate in Mediterranean studies, Edwin taught at Miami University of Ohio for more than 35 years. He’s worked on the archaeology, written and presented peer reviewed books and papers on Mithraic studies since the 1970s. And what does he say?

He dismisses every single one of Bill’s claims on Mithras and the wider Mediterranean mystery religions.

  • Mithras known as the way, the truth and the life?
  • Mithras resurrected on the 3rd day?

 

“[Those writing on the Mystery Religions drawing parallels with Christianity] don’t have the languages, they don’t study the original sources, they don’t pay attention to the dates, and they frequently quote ideas that were popular in the 19th century…but have already been refuted.”

– Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Case for the Real Jesus, ISBN-10: 0-310-24061-1

 

There’s no historical or literary evidence for any of it. Sorry Bill – I’m more inclined to go with Edwin’s opinion rather than yours.

 

Mithraism was based on a myth. But Bill is just heaping error and falsehood on top of it. He’s not alone in this. Dan Brown did a much more entertaining job in the Da Vinci Code. But entertaining or not, it is not history that they are repeating. It’s fiction.

 

 

Jesus and Horus:

Bill also makes many claims about the mythical Egyptian god Horus, son of the god Osiris. Again – this is a mythical story that Bill is comparing to the Bible’s historical account.

Who are Horus and Osiris? They are mythical characters mentioned in the Egyptian Books of the Dead; a variety of papyri and hieroglyph inscriptions left at burial sites of wealthy Egyptians thousands of years ago. Egyptologists have found many different versions of these books spanning a 5000 year period of Egypt’s history. These were not intended to be historical texts – rather they were stories inscribed and left with the dead in the hope that they would help the person enter the afterlife.

Osiris story tends to involve his death and dismemberment followed by his reanimation by members of his family as – in effect – a zombie! His reanimation  occurs so he can father a son – Horus.

Now – these hieroglyphs do  pre-date Christianity. Further – the Jews lived in Egypt for a long time before Moses came along and helped free them from Egyptian oppression. So maybe they picked this Horus stuff up while they were in Egypt and it informed the writing of the Bible?

 

I think the point Bill is making is – Horus was made up…and the Jesus of the New Testament is made up too. But there’s a problem. Actually Bill is repeating some of the conjecture made by Gerald Massey, who lived between 1828 and 1907. Egyptology was in its infancy back then – and Massey was no expert on the area. He was an English poet. But – he wrote some books, (e.g. Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World) that tried to draw parallels between the Gospels and the Horus myths.

Egyptologists today apparently view Massey’s work as wild speculation because it’s based on picking and choosing many different texts, many of which contradict each other. Massey apparently never provided any references supporting his theory that Christianity finds parallels in Egyptian writings. So he was speculating without evidence – yet many people (like Bill Maher) quote his speculation as if it is fact.

 

To claim Egyptology spawned Christianity is pure conjecture with no evidence.

Yet the life of Christ is passed on to us as well attested, historical accounts containing independent eye witness testimony. We’re back to the Superman vs Jesus comparison – myth vs history. I’ll go with history every time!

 

Others have written a more detailed response to the claims of Gerald Massey…and Bill Maher. They have looked at the Egyptian texts – and responded. At best – I think we can say that Massey and Maher are reading Christian Theology back into the Egyptian stories in order to identify parallels that aren’t actually there. You can find more information here:

http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2012/is-jesus-simply-a-retelling-of-the-horus-myth/

http://www.strangenotions.com/horus-manure/

 

 

 

In Conclusion:

What I am saying is – scholars think that it was the stories of the historical Jesus who influenced 2nd century Mithraism (not the other way around). And the Jesus – Horus connection is built on some wild speculation from the early 1900s by an earnest yet unqualified English poet.

 

As I watch that video clip again…it strikes me that Bill challenges his poor victims with real conviction, doesn’t he? However – conviction is not an accurate measure of truth. We can be convinced we are right…when we aren’t. Hey – I’m Scottish. I’m often convinced Scotland is going to win our next international football match. I know what it feels like to be genuinely wrong!

 

When it comes to Ancient mystery religions of the type Bill is referring to – I think he needs a better researcher. Because he is repeating a line of argument that was abandoned by respected ancient historians over a century ago.

 

But hey – his audience aren’t to know that. Right?

 

Mithraism and Egyptian mystery religions died out thousands of years ago. Jesus worship is alive and growing today – and there’s a good reason for that.

RESPOND blogs: Why I Believe in the Supernatural

RESPOND

It has been said – Miracles are simply the stuff of fiction.

Belief in Miracles – or the Supernatural – can be traced back to an ancient, pre-Scientifically enlightened world. A world where Vikings looked at the sky and believed a wolf chased the horses that dragged the chariot that contained the Sun across the sky. Great imagination there, guys!

Thanks to the work of David Hume in the 1800’s, many people today think everything that happens MUST be the result of natural processes. Because the Supernatural does not exist.

Someone who claims a Miracle is frowned upon in our culture today.  Because the claim is understood simply to be the result of us not understanding the natural processes involved in the event.

In other words – people who believe in Miracles are simply ignorant.

But here’s a thought – it IS possible to embrace and be inspired by the…

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Jesus Resurrection – As Unlikely as Alien Abduction Claims?

RESPOND

i_want_to_believe

In 1961, the first big Alien Abduction claim hit the public consciousness. Barney and Betty Hills, from Portsmouth New Hampshire, reportedly had a Close Encounter with…something. It has cemented them and their claims firmly in pop culture.

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at the Hills’ outlandish claim, I wonder whether the New Testament’s report of Jesus physical return from the dead is any less outlandish and fanciful?

Let’s go back for a moment to the cold war tensions and paranoia of 1961. It wasn’t just a new decade marked by musical brilliance and Moon shots. Aliens were also reportedly doing medical procedures on unfortunate folks who were going about their daily business!

What exactly was Barney Hills claim?

Driving home one evening, they thought they saw something unusual in the night sky. Actually – many people including the US Military later agreed that something weird…

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Responding When Life Gets On Top of Me

peace

Once upon a time, I saw the land of peace

          from a mountaintop of my own making.

And it appeared to me that what I needed

to sustain me on this path was

          one more project,

          one more possession,

          one more accomplishment.

But these were detours that sent me

          deep into the land of discontent.

More projects led to too much stress.

More possessions turned into too much stuff.

More accomplishments turned into too much of me.

Then I heard that simple voice,

          still echoing in the distance:

“Follow Me.”

“Rest in my footprints.”

“Meander in my footsteps.”

“Keep me in sight as you walk the path

          to the land of peace.”

Swept up in the warm echo of that voice, I realized this:

One day, when I have learned to live as if

You are always with me,

I will move beyond

          all of my stress,

          all of my stuff,

          all of myself.

And I will taste this truth:

Each moment that I spent in Your shadow,

          I was living in the land of peace already.

— Timothy Paul Jones

And as one ancient writer put it…many centuries ago…

This is what the Lord says:

          “Stop at the crossroads and look around

          Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.

          Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.

— Jeremiah 6:16, NLT

Jesus Resurrection – As Unlikely as Alien Abduction Claims?

i_want_to_believe

 

In 1961, the first big Alien Abduction claim hit the public consciousness. Barney and Betty Hills, from Portsmouth New Hampshire, reportedly had a Close Encounter with…something. It has cemented them and their claims firmly in pop culture.

 

And this raises a question for me. As I raise my eyebrow at the Hills’ outlandish claim, I wonder whether the New Testament’s report of Jesus physical return from the dead is any less outlandish and fanciful?

 

Let’s go back for a moment to the cold war tensions and paranoia of 1961. It wasn’t just a new decade marked by musical brilliance and Moon shots. Aliens were also reportedly doing medical procedures on unfortunate folks who were going about their daily business!

 

What exactly was Barney Hills claim?

 

Driving home one evening, they thought they saw something unusual in the night sky. Actually – many people including the US Military later agreed that something weird was happening that night. They reportedly stopped the car and took a good look. But the bright lights – and the erratic behavior of the object – began to freak them out. So they hurried back to their car and drove on. Before long – it became apparent they were 35 miles further down the road than they should have been. They appeared to have lost time!

Many weeks later, following a period of disrupted sleep and nightmares, they reportedly went thru regression hypnosis. And this brought out vivid details of little bald grey captors, operating tables and medical procedures.

Actually this is only the first well documented case of Alien Abduction – throughout the next 20 years, a number of similar claims were made by apparently ordinary people with no apparent reason to lie.

 

The New Testament contains 2000 year old eyewitness reports from apparently ordinary people too.

  • Reports of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, followed by the grief and shock of his friends.
  • Reports that these grieving people then subsequently encountered their friend back from the dead at various different times and places over a 40 day period.

 

Sounds pretty unlikely – right? Dead people don’t come back. Aliens don’t abduct people driving home in their cars.

 

Whatever historical event you are trying to verify – whether mundane or fantastical – historians apply 5 criteria to test the solidity of the report.

A solid Historical claim will:

1 – be supported by multiple, independent sources

2 – be attested to by enemies (hostile witnesses) as well as friends

3 – include embarrassing admissions which reflect honest reporting rather than creative storytelling

4 – be supported by direct eyewitness testimony

5 – be supported by early testimony making legendary development impossible

 

The problem with the Barney and Betty Hills Alien Abduction claim is – by the criteria laid out above – we do not have a solid Historical report.

The only witnesses were the alleged abductees. There are no independent sources or witnesses – either friendly or hostile – to the Hill’s claim.  While other people agreed something strange was seen in the night sky that evening in September 1961, no other witness to the alleged Close Encounter exists. We’re right to be skeptical – their case is historically unverified.

 

So – what about the Bible’s claim that God raised Jesus from the dead? (Acts 2:24) Well – a historical case based on a minimal set of data does exist. What is this data and how solid is the case?

 

DATA POINT 1 – The Death of Jesus By Crucifixion

This fact is attested by every Gospel, and many non-Christian sources too. For example – Roman historian Josephus, Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata as well as the Jewish Talmud itself.

Jesus crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple independent eyewitnesses, early sources and enemy attestation.

Some have proposed that – maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross. He merely swooned, was then buried and was then revived in the cold tomb.

But this doesn’t work.

  • Roman executioners were excellent torturers and executioners
  • Jesus faking his resurrection goes against his moral teachings
  • There are no early reports he was wounded and not killed
  • A half dead Messiah could not serve as the foundation for a belief in the Resurrection. If his friends had encountered him bloodied and bleeding…they would not have called him the Lord of Life. They would have called him a doctor!
  • Jewish thinking said, only once at the end of human history would the dead be raised. This means that – on encountering Jesus alive again after his crucifixion –his followers would naturally have just assumed he didn’t die. Yet this is not what they claimed. It is highly culturally unusual for the Jewish early Church to proclaim him as Christ crucified and raised from death.

 

DATA POINT 2 – The Empty Tomb

All naturalistic theories that attempt to explain away the Resurrection presuppose the empty tomb. The body was reportedly gone.

From the beginning, the hostile Jewish authorities claimed that Jesus’ followers had stolen his body to fake his resurrection. But this claim gives no reason WHY they would have done so.

Further – the claim that the disciples stole the body does not work within Jewish culture at that time. There was no expectation of a Messiah who would become the suffering servant; who was executed shamefully by the Gentiles, and then raised bodily before the general resurrection at the end of time. Rather – Messiah’s were ten a penny in ancient Jerusalem. If your Messiah got themselves killed – you either gave up and went home, or you hitched your wagon to a different one. But the idea that Jesus followers stole his corpse and faked his resurrection just wouldn’t have entered their minds at that point in Jewish history.

Finally – if the disciples stole the body – this doesn’t explain the conversion of Christianity’s 1st century enemy turned Apostle – Saul who became Paul.

Surely if someone had managed to produce his rotting corpse and deposit it in the middle of Jerusalem for all to see….that would have been an end to it. But they could not.

DATA POINT 3 – The Post-Resurrection Appearances

Scholars cite 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 as the earliest snapshot of Christian belief about Jesus. Paul claimed to receive this creed from the original Apostles many years before he wrote his letter. Scholars date the creed to within months or weeks of the crucifixion itself.

Three of our four minimal facts are recorded there as an early statement of belief – Christ died, his tomb was discovered empty and he was seen by his closest friends. And then more than five hundred people saw him at once.

The early date of this creed rules out legendary embellishment because there simply wasn’t time for legends to develop. And besides – the eye witnesses were still alive at the time this was passed on.

Yet over hundreds of years some legends did develop; they are referred to as the 3rd century Gnostic Gospels. In comparison to the New Testament’s stark and excited eyewitness reporting, the Gnostic Gospels are full of bizarre and fanciful imagery.

 

Some have suggested hallucination as an explanation for the appearances. People saw what they wanted to see. But Psychologists have ruled this out. Hallucinations are private experiences yet crowds of eyewitnesses reportedly witnessed the risen Jesus. Remember, Jews would not expect to see a raised Jesus anyway. And finally – hallucination does not explain the empty tomb itself or indeed Saul’s conversion to Christianity.

 

DATA POINT 4 – The Origin of the Christian Faith

Within one generation of Jesus crucifixion, “the Way” had spread to Europe, Asia and Africa. If Christianity is the effect – then what was the cause?

Well – surely the most obvious cause is the Apostles belief that God had indeed raised Jesus from the dead. And this belief transformed people’s lives. The cultural worship practices of Jewish people changed. Church moved to a Sunday.

Could the Disciples have stolen the body and made it all up? No lie or shared conspiracy or mistaken observation has the explanatory power to ignite the Christian church in human history.

 

IN SUMMARY

Jesus resurrection is based on historically verifiable evidence – it meets the 5 requirements outlined earlier in this blog. However unusual the event, there is powerful evidence of the event’s historical reliability. Even though we don’t understand how it happened – this does not preclude us from historically accepting that it did happen.

 

Really?

You’ve got to be gullible to believe Alien abduction reports – right? In the same way, dead men do not rise!

Hold on a minute –

The historical basis of the resurrection is incredibly strong. And no one claims Jesus was raised from the dead by natural means. Christians simply repeat what the Bible eye witness accounts say – that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Besides – you don’t have to understand something to accept the truth of it. Ask any Scientist to explain human consciousness; where does it come from? Then ask them what energy really is. They don’t really know. If Scientists can accept these things even though they don’t understand how and why they work – can’t we accept Jesus’ Resurrection as true based on observable and historically verifiable evidence?

 

Challenging the Blind Watchmaker

blind_watchmaker

“The only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics…the blind unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for…life, has no purpose in mind…If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is that of a blind watchmaker.”

 — Richard Dawkins

 

 

The Blind Watchmaker Thesis says that life has the appearance of design – but it not actually designed. It is the result of millions of years of gradual random unguided biological mutation and change acted upon by natural selection.

 

 

Our culture has – on the whole – accepted the Blind Watchmaker Thesis. And it has done so in spite of the despair filled destination to which this thesis leads us to. (Cue wails of…everything is pointless, there’s no real purpose to our lives, etc, etc)

 

 

I do not accept the Blind Watchmaker Thesis – I challenge it. I believe that there are good reasons to be skeptical of it. There IS a point to existence – and there’s a God given purpose for you and me THAT IS THERE FOR US…if we want it.

Here are two reasons I’m skeptical of the Blind Watchmaker.

 

 

1 – The Fossil Record Does Not Suggest It is True

2 – The Information at the Heart of Life Cannot (by normal human experience) Arrive by Random Processes

 

 

Would you give me a few minutes of your time to explain these reasons?

 

 

1 – The Fossil Record Does Not Suggest It Is True

This might sound like I’m completely denying the science of Paleontology, the institution of the Natural History Museum in London, etc! Not so – the Fossil record gives us a fascinating snapshot of ancient history. I’m simply repeating an objection that was levelled at Darwin’s Theory by one of his contemporaries.

Darwin looked at the layered fossil record…

older fossils lower down

more recent fossils nearer the surface

…and saw an increase in creature complexity the nearer to the surface he got. Surely a sign of evolutionary development?

 

 

The problem with this conclusion is – it ignores an important piece of data. There is a massive jump in complexity and diversity between each layer at various points in the fossil record. This period is usually referred to as the Cambrian Explosion – a period of time in earth’s history which is estimated to have lasted millions of years. But it’s a period where single celled forms of life were eventually joined by plant life…and then joined by small but complex forms of life like Trilobites (armoured beasties who had eyes, mouths, digestive systems, spines, etc).

 

 

The fossil record does not suggest that all creatures are descended from a single ancient primordial form. Rather – life appeared and existed for a while in history. Much of it died out – much of it is still living to this day.

 

 

If we look at the jumps in creature complexity between the geological layers with a mind that is not already decided about the truth of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution – it looks for all the world like there were periods of time when complex life suddenly appeared on the planet.

Suddenly appeared? Sounds like magic rather than science!

 

It’s only magic if we decide ahead of time that life WAS NOT created by a designer. If we are open to the possibility of a designer – then doesn’t the fossil record leave the fingerprints of the God who injected life into his creation? This creation is outside of Science – but God’s creative results are study able BY Science. Which is great fun!

 

 

Darwin’s critic Agassiz put it this way.

“[Darwinism] contradicts what the animal forms buried in the rocky strata of our earth tell us…Let us hear them – for after all, their testimony is that of the eye witness and the actor in the scene.”

— Agassiz

 

 

In other words – these creatures lived. Their fossilized remains suggest appearance rather than gradual development. 150 years of Paleontology has not found the fossilized intermediate forms that prove Darwin right. We could hang on to Darwin’s  fanciful theory or – we could at least be open to following the available evidence of the fossil record where it leads. Life appeared. And this points to a Life Designer.

 

Ah – but that’s very closed minded. Isn’t it? Not very scientific. Why can’t I be more open to the possibility that the missing fossilised links will really be completely convincingly found?

Well…because of my second problem with the Blind Watchmaker thesis.

 

2 – The Information at the Heart of Life Cannot (by normal human experience) Come about By Random Processes

Darwin didn’t realise it – but each of the countless billions of cells in our bodies is an efficient factory. It’s a complex microscopic biological facility for storing and using information to create biological machines – or proteins. Don’t believe me? Just look at this.

 

 

 

Every car or TV production line (and the factory building it sits in) that you have ever seen was designed and built by clever people. Every instruction manual you’ve ever referred to was written by an eloquent author (sometimes Chinese!). Every machine you have ever used – whether it’s your microwave or your iPhone – was intentionally designed by a creative agency.

So why is it when we move from electronics or automotive engineering to Biology – do we suddenly throw away any need of a designer when we reach Biology?

 

 

The truth is that life is more complex than ANY man made mechanism.  It demands design even more than electronics or automotive engineering.

 

 

Consider for a moment the strand of DNA stored in each cell nucleus in your little finger. The DNA contains instructions for creating proteins, and instructions for managing the life of the cell. It’s the software that keeps the system working. The use of the word “software” is not a metaphor – this is an accurate description. Just ask the guys who are building storage devices today that treat DNA molecules as microscopic hard disk drives.

 

DNA ‘perfect for digital storage’

dnastorage

Just consider the way that – whenever a new organism is conceived – the cells that appear are hard wired with Gene Regulatory Networks (GRNs) to create specific body plans. The cells that comprise a fish embryo are hard wired to create the shape of a fish. The cells in a bird embryo know ahead of time how to create a bird shape, and so on.

 

 

I have worked in software and electronics for 20 years. My Manager’s expectations have never been met by accident or random chance. I’ve always had to work hard – and use as much insight and learning as I can – to build the circuit that will work, or to write the code that compiles and runs and performs its task correctly. Circuits don’t mutate into other circuits. They either do their job – or they don’t. And we fix them – or we give up on them.

 

 

Why should the situation be any different for biological software and circuitry? A creative intelligence was required to start life off. To deny this just doesn’t fit with normal everyday experience!

 

fiction

I find the idea of life arriving on planet Earth by purely natural processes as fascinating. But to my mind it sounds like a fiction book full of cool ideas – without any grounding in the real world. I do not accept the Blind Watchmaker Thesis – I challenge it. I believe that there are good reasons to be skeptical of it.

 

I’m much more willing to sing along with the ancient psalmist:

“O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures.” Psalm 104:24, New Living Translation