RESPONDblogs: More Details on that Early Mark Fragment

evans

I’ve just listened to some info on an amazing find – a first century fragment of Mark’s Gospel – the oldest New Testament document in existence today. I blogged about it this morning.

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/respondblogs-more-reasons-to-accept-the-gospels/

Craig Evans – Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at Acadia University in Canada – has spoken about this find recently. And I love the passion with which he does it!

Paraphrasing him, he says…”If you are a first century pagan…you are going to take the Christian Scriptures that you don’t respect…screw em up…and make paper mache out of them. Guess what – paper mache lasts for thousands of years. And we have worked out how to pick apart the layers of paper…so we’re now able to read 1st century copies of New Testament documents – along with other historical works of great interest. This was just a matter of time…” Thank you to the pagans, then 🙂

The Bible we’ve got today…contains texts that are increasingly being traced back to their historical setting and source. So maybe we need to take them seriously and read em as such?

Check out the short video here (thank you http://truthbomb.blogspot.co.uk/)

RESPONDblog: Evidence for Bible Miracle Claims – a Dangerous Edict

5 Claudius Nazareth Inscription - Paris copy

Some skeptical folks will want evidence for the claims of Christianity. Fair enough!  After all, one of the core claims of Christianity is – that God entered human history as Jesus of Nazareth at a specific point in history. If this is true – then surely he has left behind evidence of his time on earth?

I would argue that the New Testament documents form the basis of that historical evidence. Yet there is other supporting evidence to be found too. Little supporting pieces of history, like shards of buried treasure that point towards the truthfulness and the reliability of the New Testament record. And we find this evidence in the most surprising of places.

 

Back in 1878, amongst the ancient remains of the town Nazareth, archaeologists found a fascinating inscription engraved on marble. The inscription – which is housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris today – has been named the Nazareth Inscription. The text says this:

“Proclamation of Ceasar. It is my desire that graves and tombs remain sealed for the benefit of those who have made them and for their children, family members and their religion. If, however, anyone accuses that another has either destroyed them, removed the buried, or with ill intent has taken them to other places in order to wrong them, or has removed the sealing on other stones, I order that person be brought to trial. Just as a man should respect the gods, so also with regard to men, for all should respect the buried. It is therefore forbidden for anyone to disturb them. Should this edict be violated, the offender is to be sentenced to capital punishment on the charge of violating a sepulcher.”

 

The marble inscription has been dated to around 41AD, less than 10 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and this edict is believed to have been made by Claudius Ceasar. The language fits with other surviving edicts from him.

 

So – the leader of the entire Roman Empire is making an edict here. Breaking the terms of this edict will lead to the death penalty – this is a big and serious deal. So which criminal act is being doubled down on, here? What is so threatening to the Roman Empire that such a clear warning would be given?

 

Removing dead bodies from Jewish Sepulcher graves

 

Seems a bit over the top, don’t you think? Surely robbing of valuable items from graves – which I am sure, was common – is a more serious crime compared to stealing a dead body? What use is a decomposing corpse, after all?

 

It is a baffling edict – unless you choose to view it in the context of the New Testament’s report that …

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” Matthew 28:6

 

One of the oldest explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is – the disciples stole his body. According to Matthew’s gospel, this was the message that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem urged the Roman Tomb Guards to give. They even go on to say that, if this story gets passed up the Roman chain of command…we will make sure you don’t get into any trouble for it guys. You can read about this in Matthew 28:11-15.

Well it seems from the wording of the Nazareth Inscription edict that the Jewish Chief Priests story reached those in charge – and the response was a modification of the law in Palestine. STOP STEALING DEAD BODIES out of Jewish sealing tombs…or else!

 

I have no doubt that the 1st century Romans dismissed the preaching of the early Church as lies. They didn’t believe Jesus had been raised. They believed – as the Sanhedrin and the Guards had claimed – that Jesus’ Disciples stole the body following Jesus’ death. This theft had clearly led to social unrest, as described in part in Acts chapters 5 to 8. And so – the Roman Government’s  solution – was to make the stealing of dead bodies illegal.

 

It seems to me that the Nazareth Inscription corroborates parts of Matthew’s Gospel post resurrection account – namely the claim the Jesus had risen, and the counter claim that his disciples stole the body. It also seems very significant to me that the Nazareth Inscription itself was presumably installed…but certainly found in Jesus’ very home town.

 

What am I saying here?

I am NOT saying that the Nazareth Inscription provides archaeological proof of Jesus’ Resurrection. What I am suggesting however – is that the story of Jesus’ Resurrection was widely known in the years following the 33AD event; even to the Roman Emperor. What does this mean? It means that Jesus’ first Disciples were the ones who circulated the resurrection reports. Jesus Resurrection was not an invention hundreds of years later, as has been claimed by some skeptical scholars who have tried to discredit Christianity.

 

It seems to me – the Nazareth Inscription is evidence that presents a question to us. Did the disciples steal Jesus body, or was Jesus really raised from the dead as they claimed?

 

 

Two final thoughts about the Stolen Body Explanation:

First – it assumes Jesus tomb was empty. And people knew then where  Jesus’ dead body was placed after his crucifixion.

Second – the record shows that Jesus’ friends were broken by his crucifixion. But something happened very quickly to turn this dispirited band into dynamic world changers. These men stood for truth and morality. And each one of Jesus original circle went to a premature death, standing for Jesus, his resurrection and the forgiveness of our sins.

It seems to me that it would take a lot more than a mistakenly missing body to turn frightened nobody’s into radical world changers.

Also – the idea that they knowingly stole the body in order to manufacture the birth of the Christian Church – does not fit with the record of these first Disciples. These people stood for truth and went to their deaths proclaiming it. What reason would they have for making this sacrifice, if they knew all along that the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax?

Surely meeting the risen Jesus Christ – and being commissioned by him to spread his life changing truth – is a historically reasonable explanation for their positively changed lives?

RESPONDblog: Why the Bible Cannot Be Classed as Myth

 cornetto

Oliver:             You do know that “The Three Musketeers was a fiction, right? Written by Alexander Dumas?

Gary King:      A lot of people are saying that about the Bible these days.

Steve Prince:  What, that it was written by Alexander Dumas?

Gary King:      Don’t be daft, Steve! It was written by Jesus!

                — The World End, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost

 

 

I do have a soft spot for The Cornetto Trilogy of movies. And in the particular scene I’m quoting above, there’s a stray comment that resonates with me strongly. As I talk to different people – I do get the sense that many folks today are coming to the opinion that the Bible is simply a bundle of myths – and it has no place being taken seriously by any thinking person.

You don’t need to watch a movie to sense it either. Look at the Gallup Poll that was done recently. The view that the Bible is an ancient book of Fables has grown 9% in 30 years.

fable

And yet – when one actually takes a cursory glance at the evidence – the evidence for the Bible as Myth or Fable just isn’t there.

 

What do we mean by Mythology? Ancient mythologies have many forms.  For example:

  • From Rome, the Greek hero Hercules.
  • The Norse fertility goddess Freyja, the daughter of the sea god Njord.

Popular modern mythologies we could point to would be Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings saga, or George Lucas’ ongoing Star Wars saga.

 

Mythology is there for a purpose; it has its own internal truth and logic, it tells an important fictional tale containing themes that people will naturally relate to.

 

Yet the evidence suggests that the Bible is a very different library of literature.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible has a solid, historical framework. People pop up who are mentioned outside of the Bible in surviving world history. Take the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (634 – 562 BCE); history documents the alliance he secured with the Medes, his defeat of the Egyptians and much more besides. Including his part in the Babylonian exile of the Jews that the Bible explores in the Books of Daniel and Jeremiah.  Yet we’ve hardly touched the tip of the iceberg. The Bible’s history coincides with Cyrus, Herod, Felix and Pilate. Its narrative calls out the Hittite, Egyptian and Persian nations and many more. And the action occurs in geographical areas such as Canaan, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible has many confirmations amongst the sciences. Take Archaeology, for example. The Old Testament book of Exodus tells the tale of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and eventually entering and occupying the land of Canaan. In the Ancient near Eastern culture, these nations would create things called “Stelas” – effectively memorial stone inscriptions.  Similar to our monuments celebrating the end of the First World War (for example). Well – in 1896, the Merneptah Stela was discovered in Thebes. Dating from 1200 BCE it recounts Pharaoh Merneptah’s victories. But it also happens to recount the existence of a people group called Israel who had occupied Canaan by that point in history. The Merneptah Stela is one of the most ancient records of the nation of Israel.

 

Unlike Mythology, so much of the Bible is actually presented as documented history. Luke, for example, claims of his gospel that he had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” and so wrote an “orderly account…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (See Luke 1:1-4) The book of 2 Chronicles  makes a side reference to the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon apparently  to engage in trade negotiations. And – indeed – historians know from studying artifacts and inscriptions in ancient remains, that Israel was indeed trading with a number of countries – including Sheba – 900 BCE. The events of Solomon’s life and reign as king of Israel are set to the backdrop of history.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible contains many fulfilled prophecies. Predictions about how things will play out in the real world. It has been estimated that up to a third of the entire Bible deals with prophecy in some way, shape or form. The Old Testament, for example, contains more than 300 prophecies that are all fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ who lived hundreds of years after the original texts were written (we know that because of the internal evidence of the text itself, and the external evidence of history, ancient copies and archaeology).  This makes perfect sense – if God exists, as the Bible assumes from the beginning, then he is going to know how things will play out.

 

Of course not every book in the Bible is historical narrative. The Psalms contain songs; Proverbs recounts Solomon’s wise sayings. To understand the Bible, we must first understand the style of the text we have before us. But whatever the genre, it contains an honest expression of someone’s real and down to earth experience. One cannot dismiss it as a made up tale; human history does not permit it.

 

I’m as fond of stories as the next guy – probably more.  So was J.R.R Tolkein, who said this:

“Fantasy remains a human right; we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” – J.R.R Tolkein

 

I agree – our love of creating and exploring fictional world’s points to the similarity between us and our creator – who has expressed Himself to us thru the ancient, true stories of men and women in the Bible.

Does Human Reason Point Toward God’s Existence or God’s Absence?

thinker

Human anatomy is a mind bogglingly amazing thing.

 

For example…

 

The cardiovascular system threads through your body. Hundreds of miles of plumbing carry 5 litres of blood around our frame every minute. Oxygen is distributed, nutrients shared, and cellular waste products are disposed of.

 

The digestive system converts food into energy, absorbs that energy and excretes the waste.

 

The skeletal system is like scaffolding that supports and protects our soft tissues. Each bone is a living organ; some featuring mounting points for muscles, many containing red marrow for the production of new blood cells.

 

And on – and on it goes. Amazing.

 

Now some think that your body and its systems are simply the product of the blind and purposeless forces of nature. Others feel that it is the intentional product of a supernatural (i.e. outside of time + space) Designing Intelligence. But both groups agree – there is clear purpose inherent in each and every one of our body’s systems.

 

 

 

We also have another incredible system.

 

I’m referring to our faculties of REASON. This is our capacity to think, to consider, to explore, to theorise and to speculate about whatever takes our fancy! I believe (or I reason) that our ability to reason has as much purpose as any of the other biological systems we have mentioned.

 

We can reason for a good reason.

 

So what is the purpose of our ability to reason? Surely it is there so that we can begin to understand. So that our choices are carefully selected from the options open to us. And we use reason in the hope that it will lead us to an important destination. Discovery of the truth!

 

If the purpose of the digestive system is to keep me energised and healthy – then the purpose of my faculties of reason are to allow me to move towards discovering the truth – in which ever topic takes my fancy.

 

I reason that it’s a pretty cool system. But it leads me to a question.

 

Why do you trust your ability to reason?  And why do I?

 

 

 

Okay – we might not feel very clever, or quick to reason. Yet I can guarantee that we are sharper than we think we are. Think of the smartest person you know. Perhaps you’ve read one of their books or listened to them talk. And you have been captivated by their ideas and their discoveries around life’s big questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? My question is not why do you like their ideas – my question is is why do you trust their ability to reason in the first place?

 

“The fact that we human beings – who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature – have come close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our Universe is a great triumph.” — Stephen Hawking

 

Yes okay Professor Hawking – but why do we choose to trust your understanding of the Universe? After all, we did not create the Universe. Did we? We were born into it. We have found ourselves here and some of us are compelled to study it and reach some understanding about the truth contained within it. But here is an important thing to consider. My ability to reason does not define that truth – it simply seeks to understand it. However clever the reasoning is – these are just ideas and theories about how life works. How do I know the theories are right?

 

Ah – by using our senses. That’s the answer. By gathering evidence! But wait – evidence is simply an input to my system of reason. I’ve still got to draw conclusions about the evidence I have found. This takes me back to my original question. Why does anyone trust the conclusions that we make?

 

Is human reason capable of reaching objective truth? Think of it like this. Someone who sits down at a piano with no training – will quickly master the ability to make the sound of musical notes. But as they randomly press down on the keys, the result will most likely sound horrible! It takes time and training to master the instrument – to play a tuneful melody (altho what is tuneful to my teenagers right now, ain’t so to me!). My question is – we do we believe that human reason is able to reach the truth, in the same way that a pianist can work reach that tuneful melody?

 

To most people – the intuitive rightness of human reason is just assumed. But I am asking – why is that…and is it right?

 

 

 

It is common amongst many people today to assume that life is a big cosmic accident. That human beings are the product of millions of years of biological mutation and natural selection of the most appropriate mutants. This counts AGAINST our assumption that human reason is right and trustworthy. Why? Because if all of life’s an accident – then there’s every chance that my reasoning faculties are just compounding the mistake!

 

“if the thoughts in my mind are just the motions of atoms in my brain – a mechanism that has arisen by mindless unguided processes, why should I believe anything it tells me?” — J.B.S Haldane

 

Why indeed.

 

It seems to me – as I exercise my questionable faculties of reason – that if people are solely the result of blind, unguided, Darwinian evolution, then we lose any solid ground for rationality. Chaos leads to chaos – randomness leads to randomness not exquisite structure and information.

 

Further – if we are the product of evolution – why do people intuitively care about truth anyway? Why do we spend so much of our lives seeking for our own truth that will bring us security and happiness? Or running from that same truth? Why do so many spend their lives seeking a true understanding of how our Universe works? Surely if we really were the product of evolution – we would simply be a machine that prioritises survival above everything else. Genes are apparently selfish, not truth seeking!

 

 

 

I suspect the irony of atheism is that it may undermine the very rationality needed to understand, to study and to explore the Universe.

 

“If Dawkins is right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce – including Dawkins own science and his atheism.” — Alvin Plantiga

 

 

I am not painting a rosy picture here. If evolution is right – then human reason is broken.

 

 

 

Unless, however, Christianity is true.

 

 

 

If Christianity is true then we have a coherent explanation for why our Universe is rationally intelligible. Because God lovingly created everything – including my mind – to be rational and intelligible. He made me in his image – in other words, he has passed his rationality on to me.  This is precisely why I can trust the capacity of human reason. Because I’m built to reason my way toward the truth.

 

“we are faced, not with the choice between God and science, as the New Atheists would have us to think, but with the choice either to put faith in God or to give up on understanding the universe. That is, if there is no God there can be no science.” — Robert Spaemann

 

 

If there is no God – there is no designing first cause mind – therefore there is no guarantee of a rationally understandable universe.

 

And yet a rationally understandable universe is precisely what we find. Surely a Designing Intelligence is sure to follow?

 

Personally I believe that Christianity is true; that it makes sense of human reason and points to God’s existence. And I agree with CS Lewis, when he said:

 

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” — C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

If you have reached this far – you will be reacting to the argument that I am laying out. Namely that human reason points to the existence of a creator God. At this point – let me mention that we have also been provided with free will in addition to human reason. This means I am well within my rights to acknowledge God – or not. Some today happily stand on the firm ground he has provided – and declare him absent. Or shake their fists at him in anger. Or exercise their reason and communicate in a way that tries to obscure his presence for other people. I can choose to use my God given reason to deny him.

 

At least I can for now. But our window of opportunity for ignoring him is closing. The clock is ticking.

 

And frankly what an unreasonable exercise anyway? Cos I reckon the human faculties of reason point to the true, loving, patient and hope giving God that we are working so hard to avoid!

 

 

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:27, NLT

 

 

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.