Contradiction: Was There a Sojourn in Egypt or Not?

Peter, one of the regular readers here, pointed my attention to a post that shows a discrepancy in what the Bible claims about Jacob’s descendants spending 400+ years in Egypt. I won’t try to summarize it here — I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Just check it out for yourself:
https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/the-story-of-ezer-and-elead-and-what-it-means-for-the-exodus/

Which Nativity Story?

Well, it’s that time of year again. Regular church attendees are going to have to share their pews with people who have finally decided to make it out for their second service of the year. Their belief that Jesus bled and died so they can gain eternal salvation might be unshakable, but it apparently isn’t all that motivating, considering how little these believers seem to do in response. Nevertheless, they can at least be counted on to show up for a retelling of Jesus’s miraculous birth.

But what version will they hear? More than likely, they’ll hear a “Hollywood” version of the tale that incorporates the most exciting elements of the two versions that we read about in Matthew and Luke. A quick Google search turned up this one, which illustrates my point perfectly. But what if someone tried to tell the full version? A version that included every detail that both Matthew and Luke provide?
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God and Football, or: Facts Should Matter

For the past few months, my wife and I have been meeting periodically with some family members to discuss our religious differences. The conversations have been interesting.

When we tried this during our deconversion six years ago, it didn’t go well. Emotions were simply way too high. This time around, we’ve all come to accept the status quo, so there’s less pressure on both sides. The conversations have gotten heated at times, but nothing like they used to. Overall, I feel like they’ve been going pretty well, though I don’t think any positions have been changed, and I don’t expect them to.

Most of you know that my wife and I once believed the Bible was completely inerrant, and this was pretty much the consensus of everyone at our congregation. The Bible’s flaws had a lot to do with our leaving Christianity, and I tend to refer to them any time I’m discussing religion with someone. But these family members have reacted to this in a way that I don’t really understand, and that’s what I want to talk through in this post.
Continue reading “God and Football, or: Facts Should Matter”

Is It Fair to Expect Inerrancy from the Bible When We Don’t Expect It from Other Sources?

In the comment thread of my last post, some of us mentioned that it’s hard for us to understand the point of view of Christians who believe the Bible can be inspired by God, without holding to the doctrine of inerrancy. unkleE left the following comment:

How is it that in everything else in life – whether it be ethics, or politics, relationships, science, history, law, even disbelief – we are willing to make decisions based on non-inerrant evidence and reasoning, but when it is belief in God we require inerrant evidence? I reckon your first thought might be that the stakes are so much higher. But that logic applies to disbelief as well. If we applied that logic, no-one would be an atheist because they didn’t have inerrant knowledge for that conclusion. You would not have any belief either way until you gained inerrant knowledge.

Continue reading “Is It Fair to Expect Inerrancy from the Bible When We Don’t Expect It from Other Sources?”

Letter to a Friend

Several months ago, I received a letter from a childhood friend whom I haven’t heard from in a very long time. She and I were both raised in the same fundamentalist branch of Christianity (Church of Christ), and our parents are still very close. Her preacher recently did a series of sermons on evidences for Christianity, and they impressed her enough that she felt the need to mail me copies of the CDs (14 of them!) as well as an apologetics book, Surveying the Evidence, by Kyle Butt, Wayne Jackson, and Eric Lyons. I immediately wrote her back and thanked her for sending the material. After all, it shows a deep concern for my eternal well-being, and that of my family, so I know it comes from the best possible motives. It’s a caring gesture. In my response to her I promised to read the book and listen to all the CDs.
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Family Ties: Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, and Nitocris

Regular readers of this blog may know that one of the first lines of evidence that caused me to begin questioning my Christian faith had to do with the Book of Daniel. There are a number of issues within the book that have led the majority of scholars to conclude that it was not written by a Jewish prophet living during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Cyrus of Persia, but that it was written some 400 years later during the Maccabean period. Over the last several days, a few of us have been having an in-depth discussion about those issues at this thread. One of the items we discussed had to do with a woman named Nitocris.

In Daniel 5, we’re told that Belshazzar is now king, and we’re given the impression that he is the son of Nebuchadnezzar. However, from a number of primary sources (some that even date from the Babylonian empire itself) we know that Belshazzar’s father was actually Nabonidus — a king who was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Christian apologists have suggested a couple of different ways to resolve this issue.
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Jewish Disciples Wouldn’t Have Created the Idea of the Resurrection, So It Must Have Really Happened… Right?

If you’ve discussed the resurrection with Christians before, then you’re probably familiar with the above argument. Since first century Jews didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection like Jesus’s, then they’re no way the disciples would have believed it without actually witnessing it for themselves. William Lane Craig has used this argument several times:

He made the case again in a 2005 debate at California State University. At the 29 minute mark, he says that Jews like the Pharisees believed in a resurrection that would happen to everyone at the end of time. They never believed that an individual could have a bodily resurrection within the course of human history.

But recently, while I was reading Crossan’s The Historical Jesus, he pointed out something that I hadn’t thought of before. It turns out that there are a couple of New Testament passages that really throw a wrench in Craig’s claim. For instance, Mark 6:14-16 says:

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Here, we have a number of people who are ready to believe that Jesus is actually a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet from antiquity. And we find similar passages in both Matthew and Luke as well. So now we have a problem. Either Craig’s argument is totally false, and the idea of a bodily resurrection from the dead is something that people in Jesus’s time were ready to believe with virtually no evidence, or the writers of the synoptic gospels were lying or mistaken. Either way, it illustrates how an actual resurrection is the least likely explanation for the resurrection story.

If you’d like to read about other issues with the resurrection, you can check out this article.

Some Thoughts on Josephus, Jesus, and John the Baptist

Many people are aware that Josephus, a Jewish historian from the late first century, mentions Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s often used as evidence that Jesus really existed. Of course, many of those same people are also aware that Josephus’s most detailed mention of Jesus, called the Testimonium Flavianum, has been embellished by a later Christian (perhaps Eusebius?). We know this because the passage says a number of things that no non-Christian would say, and Josephus was definitely not a Christian. Here it is:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, 3

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Josephus, Jesus, and John the Baptist”

The Book of Job: Serious or Satire?

I’ll let you know up front that this is a longer than normal post, but there was no good way to break it up. Hopefully, you’ll find the time it takes to read it well spent.

I’m a big fan of Seth Andrews and his podcast The Thinking Atheist. A week or two ago, I was listening to an episode, and Seth’s guest was Chris Matheson, who was one of the writer’s for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (one of my favorite films, as some of you may remember).

Anyway, Matheson has recently written a book called The Story of God: A Biblical Comedy about Love (and Hate), and that was the subject of their interview. Seth asked him if he had a favorite book in the Bible, and Matheson replied that it was Job. When asked why, he said that he views Job as a wonderful satire. That really piqued my curiosity. Could it be that the writer of Job truly intended his book to be a satire, like Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal?

The idea stuck with me for several days, and I realized that I needed to revisit the Book of Job and find out for myself. Is it serious or satire?
Continue reading “The Book of Job: Serious or Satire?”

PolitiFact Misses the Mark on Jesus

I love PolitiFact. I follow them on Facebook, and I always appreciate the fact-checking they do every time a politician makes a claim. Last week, they had an article that caught my eye, titled “Jesus was an ‘undocumented immigrant,’ ordained minister says.” The minister, Ryan Eller, is the executive director of a group that works to promote awareness about immigration issues, and he was trying to point out that people shouldn’t be so judgmental toward undocumented immigrants — that even Jesus would have been considered an undocumented immigrant when he and his family fled to Egypt to avoid persecution from Herod.

PolitiFact decided to investigate this claim, and they quickly pointed out that during Jesus’s life, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the comparison doesn’t really hold up — Jesus and his family were still traveling within the boundaries of the same empire, which was allowable under Roman law.

All of that is fine. But where I have a bit of a problem is that PolitiFact didn’t deal with this as thoroughly as they could have. Consider this paragraph, for instance:

Even though many scholars don’t agree on the exact years Jesus was born or moved to Nazareth as a youth, we know the family left Egypt after Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E. The region known as Judaea (where Bethlehem was) became a Roman province in 6 C.E., after Rome removed Herod’s son Archelaus, who had become king of that portion of Herod’s kingdom. Nazareth, meanwhile, was in Galilee, an area later ruled by Herod’s son Antipas, known as the king who eventually beheaded John the Baptist.

“We know”?! No, we really don’t know. Yes, if Matthew’s story (his is the only gospel that tells us about this flight to Egypt) is to be believed, then Jesus’s family left Egypt after the death of Herod. But we don’t really know that Jesus’s family went there in the first place. Earlier in the article, we read this:

Luke 2:1-5 says Joseph lived in Nazareth with Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, when the Roman emperor called for all the residents of the empire to be counted and taxed. Joseph left for Bethlehem, where King David had been born, because Joseph had roots there.

Anyone who celebrates Christmas is pretty aware what happened in Bethlehem, but Eller is referring to what happened after that.

Matthew 2:12-16 describes how the Magi visited Jesus, then were warned by God in a dream not to tell King Herod, who wanted to kill the child. Joseph then took Mary and Jesus to Egypt. According to Matthew, Herod then had every male child in Bethlehem younger than 2 killed. Verses 17-23 say Joseph moved the family back to Nazareth after Herod died.

But here’s the thing, as many of you who read this blog know, it’s pretty apparent that Luke’s and Matthew’s versions of Jesus’s birth can’t be reconciled with one another. One or both of them is a fabrication. According to Luke, Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth and are only in Bethlehem temporarily; therefore, it’s only in their version that we have the manger scene. Shepherds come to witness his birth, but no wise men are mentioned. According to Luke, around 6 weeks after Jesus’s birth, the family goes to Jerusalem to present him at the temple, do the sacrifices, etc. And once they finish that, they go straight home to Nazareth.

Matthew, on the other hand, starts his account with Mary and Joseph already in Bethlehem. There’s no mention of a trip to Jerusalem, and there’s no mention of the shepherds who witness his birth. However, we’re told that when he was born, some “wise men from the east” traveled to Jerusalem to find him. We have no idea how much time has passed since his birth. But after the wise men tell Herod why they’re there, Herod decides to kill all the children in Bethlehem under the age of two in an effort to eradicate this threat to his throne. Joseph is warned of this by an angel, and he and the family flee to Egypt. Matthew also tells us this was done in accordance with some prophecies, but when you look at those “prophecies” in their original context, you see that they aren’t prophecies at all. It’s also important to note that no historians of the time talk about this slaughter of children that supposedly took place, even those who had no love for Herod. Finally, Matthew tells us that after Herod’s death, the family decides to go back to Judea (the province in which Bethlehem is situated). However, Joseph worries that Herod’s son, who has now taken the throne, might still be a threat. So instead of going back to Judea, they go to Galilee and settle “in a city called Nazareth,” which seems like an odd way to refer to their hometown.

In Matthew’s version, instead of a journey to Jerusalem, it becomes the most dangerous place they could travel to. And in Luke’s version, there’s no mention of a trip to Egypt. Instead, they go to Jerusalem shortly after Jesus’s birth and then go home to Nazareth. Traveling to Egypt is simply unnecessary. Even if Herod had actually decided to kill all the children in Bethlehem, there was still no reason to go to Egypt. They could simply have gone back home to Nazareth. The city wasn’t under Herod’s control, and he didn’t actually know who they were, anyway.

In other words, there’s very little reason to think that Jesus ever went to Egypt at all. I know PolitiFact isn’t in the business of fact-checking religion. But since they took the time to examine this preacher’s claim, why not address it fully? Their entire shtick is fact-checking. I don’t expect them to flat-out say that Jesus never went to Egypt. But they could have at least mentioned that there’s no scholarly consensus about whether or not this even happened.

It reminds me of an article that Lawrence Krauss wrote for the New Yorker a couple of days ago that describes why scientists should stop being so PC with religion. We can still be respectful of individuals without compromising our standards of truth when it comes to their belief systems. And I feel that PolitiFact got it wrong this time.