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Christian publishers admit Christianity's “image problem,” “postmodern turn,” differing rival “views” and…

Image Problem

Evangelical Christian publishers admit Christianity's “image problem,” “postmodern turn,“ differing rival “views” within the Evangelical fold, and speak about “hopeful skepticism” and “questions” rather than dogmatic truths:

Baker Academic

Outsider Interviews, The: A New Generation Speaks Out on Christianity
Statistics tell us that Christianity has an image problem. The authors of this book hosted a national interview tour with young non-Christians and Christians to hear why. Also see Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views

Zondervan

Perform a search at Zondervan's site for all their books with the word, “views” in their Title, and you will discover a host of Christians arguing for differing views and debating each other inside the same book, check out the list of titles!

Intervarsity Press

Click here to see Intervarsity's books with views& in their title and you will discover (just as in the case above) a host of Christians arguing for differing views and debating each other inside the same book! One new book includes the views of two secular biblical scholars pitted against moderate Evangelical and conservative Evangelical scholars, who critique each other's articles, The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Also see Intervarsity Press's The Hopeful Skeptic, the story of a Christian who heard a little voice telling him to set aside the faith of his childhood. So he changed his Facebook religion status from Christian to “Hopeful Skeptic” and set out to see where God would take him.

Also see the Questioning Faith blog on Intervarsity's site, that recently featured this candid admission:

“Eric: I have been deeply involved in church for most of my life, but over the past few years I have become very unsure of anything. I have read a great deal of history and anthropology and have found so many different societies and cultures have developed religions that claim to be the One. I have found early religions that seem to presage the stories of the Bible, often telling the same stories in different settings or earlier times. It makes me wonder if the Bible is simply carrying on the oral tradition that other, earlier societies had developed. I have tried to discuss my doubts with pastors and with priests and have generally been told to just accept God's Word. “Take it on faith.” When I try to get my head around prayer, I run into too many questions- why have prayer circles, with many people praying for the same thing, when God is supposed to hear even the lowliest of us in our silent prayer? Does God hear a loud chorus more clearly? I wonder if creating a God is just a way to give us something bigger than ourselves to lean on, to ask for help, to rely on. I felt safer when I just didn't allow my questions to come to the surface, but I have had so many uncertainties that they just won't go away. I have read all of the Scriptures and know many of them by heart, but it seems like a sham - at least my belief in them now does. I wish I could just “believe,” but it isn't there for me. How do I stop wondering if God is really there? In addition to all of this, I have lost a daughter, who was so young and innocent and who clearly did nothing to deserve to die. My little sister was born with a serious developmental disability. My mom died very young of a brain tumour. Saying God works in mysterious ways or that He has a plan for us or that they are in His hands is not an answer. At least it seems like a glossing over to try to make me stop asking. What do I do to find my faith, again? I am aching for answers.”

Recent books not published by Christian presses but which demonstrate that people, including former Christians are growing less interested in doctrinal dogmatic replies to their many questions:

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God Gets a “D” in Writing Class

Bible Battle

If it was the exact word of God it would be real clear and easy to understand. God's got a way with words, being the creator of language and all.

Bill Hicks (comedian)


Help Stamp Out And Abolish Redundancy

God said to Moses, “Take off your shoes from off your feet” in his redundant way. (Ex. 3:5, KJV)

David Steinberg


In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.
- Mark 6:10

And what glass soever ye drink from, lift it to your lips till ye put it down. Duhh!
- E.T.B.


Exaggerations Of Biblical Proportions

The Bible contains the same exaggerated speech, boastful lies and holy hyperbole common for its day and age, rather than evidence of special inspiration.

Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ [or flute, NIV].
- Genesis 4:21

“All?” Were the ancient Hebrews claiming that one person in particular brought musical instruments to the world, just as the Greeks portrayed Prometheus as the one human-like god who brought fire down from heaven and gave it to all of humanity? It would appear so, even though stringed instruments and blowing instruments were probably invented numerous times by countless numbers of people over the ages and round the world after someone plucked something or blew into something and enjoyed what they heard.
- E.T.B.


In this passage, Hebrew spies tell their desert-wandering comrades what they found in Canaan:

…all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
- Numbers 13:32-33

The spies are clearly exaggerating (cf. Barker, p. 210). If “all the people” were of such great size, one wonders how to account for the apparently normal size of Rahab, the Gibeonites, and others that Joshua encounters upon entering Canaan 38 years later (cf. Joshua 6:25, 9:3-15).
- Peter T. Chattaway, “Giants in the Bible,” RELG 303, March 10, 1994


The camels were without number as the sand of the sea.
- Judges 7:12

If the entire surface of the earth was filled with camels they would not be “without number,” nor would they be as plentiful as “the sand of the sea.”
- E.T.B.


As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David.
- Jeremiah 33:22

A Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration. The number of David's descendants is nowhere near the number of stars in heaven, nor sand in the sea.
- E.T.B.


Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men left-handed; every one could sling stones at a hair's breath, and not miss.
- Judges 20:16

Seven hundred who could sling stones at “a hair's breath,” and “not miss?” I'm surprised the author's nose didn't grow when he told that one. Even the greatest sharp shooters at the turn of this century, who performed in Wild West traveling shows, and shot cards out of each other's hands, did not retire with all their fingers—because they “missed” some shots by “a hair's breath.”
- E.T.B.


Their slain shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
- Isaiah 34:3

It would take quite a lot of blood to melt a mountain. Isaiah must have been confusing mountains with molehills.
- E.T.B.


The famine was over all the face of the earth…And all countries came unto Egypt to Joseph to buy corn; because the famine was so sore in all lands.
- Genesis 41:56,57

“Over all the face of the earth… all countries… all lands?” More exaggerated speech. Were folks in far off China and Japan and Australia and North and South America “sorely famished” and had to go to “Egypt” to buy corn?
- E.T.B.


[In one of the plagues with which the Lord smote Egypt] All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
- Exodus 8:17

Doesn't the Bible use the word “dust” to describe the ground, mud, and sand upon which we all walk as in “the dust of the earth?” Therefore if “all the dust of the land became lice” would not the Egyptians have drowned in lice and the pyramids been adrift in seas of lice? “Knock, knock.” “Who's there?” “Lice.” “Lice Who?” “Run for your lice!”
- E.T.B.


In one plague with which the Lord smote Egypt “all the cattle of Egypt died.” But a few days after that, “all the firstborn cattle died.”
- Exodus 9:6 & 12:29

Another exaggerated way of speaking. Or perhaps the Lord resurrected the “firstborn” among the cattle just so he could smite them again?
- E.T.B.


[The Lord said to the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert] “This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.”
- Deuteronomy 2:25

A typical Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration, i.e., to speak of the nations “under the whole heaven… shall hear report of thee… and tremble.”
- E.T.B.


The Exagerrated Abundance Of The “Promised Land”

In the year 1553 Michael Servetus was on trial for his life in Geneva, Switzerland on the charge of heresy. One point raised by the prosecution was Servetus's edition of Ptolemy's Geography, in which Judea (the “promised land” of the Jews), was spoken of, not as “a land flowing with milk and honey,” but mainly meagre, barren, and inhospitable. In his trial this simple statement of geographical fact was used against him by Protestant Refomer, John Calvin, with fearful power. In vain did Servetus plead that he had simply drawn the words from a previous edition of Ptolemy; in vain did he declare that this statement was a simple geographical truth of which there were ample proofs; it was answered that such language “necessarily inculpated Moses, and grievously outraged the Holy Ghost.”

A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. 1


Exagerrated Promise

I have set my king upon the holy hill of Zion… Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [as slaves] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.
- Psalm 2:6,8,9,12

The above psalm is believed to have been sung at the coronations of Hebrew kings. Another Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration. (Though it must be admitted that this psalm later proved popular with some Catholics and Protestants who used it to justify their “breaking” of the “heathen,” driving them into slavery and stealing their land in alleged fulfillment of this exaggerated Biblical promise.)
- E.T.B.


[Jesus said] “The Queen of the South [i.e., the Queen of Sheba] came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon.”
- Matthew 12:42

The Queen's residence, being probably on the Arabian Gulf, could not have been more than twelve or fourteen hundred miles from Jerusalem. If that is the “uttermost parts of the earth” then it is a small world after all.
- E.T.B.


All the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom.
- 2 Chronicles 9:23

“All the kings of the earth?” Another silly Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration.
- E.T.B.


The devil took him [Jesus] up into an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.
- Matthew 4:8

Shown “all the kingdoms of the world” from an “exceedingly high mountain?” I suppose so, if the mountain was “exceedingly high” and the earth was flat. Verses in the Bible's book of Daniel presume a flat earth the same way that verses in Matthew do:

I saw a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth.
- Daniel 4:10-11

Instead of an “exceedingly high” mountain from which “all the kingdoms of the earth” can be seen, Daniel pictures a tree “whose height was great,” growing from the “midst” or center of the earth and “seen” to “the ends of all the earth.”

Funny how such flagrantly flat-earth verses appear in both the Old and New Testaments. “Bible believers” will of course reply that such verses are only “apparently difficult” to explain, and not the “real truth” as they see it. But it is the “apparent difficulties” that remain in the Bible, as it was written, and they will always remain there, regardless of all the ingenuity employed in explaining them away.
- E.T.B.


A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
- Luke 2:1

“All the inhabited earth?” The Romans and Hebrews indulged in the same cultural-centric exaggerations when it came to viewing their cultures as central to “all the earth.”
- E.T.B.


And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
- Acts 2:5

“Out of every nation under heaven?” Another exaggeration.
- E.T.B.


A great famine all over the world took place in the reign of Claudius.
- Acts 11:28

“All over the world?” Another exaggeration.
- E.T.B.


Paul the apostle wrote:

Their voice [of first-century proclaimers of the Christian Gospel] has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.

The mystery is now manifested and… has been made known to all the nations.

The gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world.

The gospel… which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul was made a minister.
- Romans 10:18; 16:25-26; Colossians 1:5-6,23

Sorry Paul, but “Their voice” (of Christians proclaiming the Gospel) had only reached a handful of churches in the Roman Empire when you wrote the above verses. The Gospel had not reached, nor been proclaimed in “all the earth,” nor “to the ends of the world,” nor “to all nations,” and certainly not “in all creation under heaven,” not like you said it “has” and “was.” (Three billion people on earth still haven't heard “the Gospel,” at least not according to a statement made by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2004.)

The early church father, Iraenaeus, maintained Paul's charade when he wrote: “Now the Church, spread throughout all the world even to the ends of the earth;” “…even though she has been spread over the entire world;” “Anyone who wishes to see the truth can observe the apostle's traditions made manifest in every church throughout the whole world.” (Iraenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.1, 1.10.2, 3.3.1-2) Not a very big “world,” mind you, leaving out most of Asia and Africa, not to mention the continents of Australia, North America and South America.


Summation Of The “Exaggerations Of Biblical Proportions”

If an all-wise God had inspired the Bible He would have been able to give its human authors a few inspired geography lessons, just to show them how big the earth really is. Instead the Bible contains the same exaggerated speech, boastful lies and holy hyperbole common for its day and age, rather than evidence of special inspiration.

Furthermore, if the Bible is speaking in an exaggerated fashion when it speaks of “all the earth,” “to the ends of the earth,” “from the uttermost parts of the earth,” “all the inhabited earth,” “in all creation under heaven,” “under all the heavens,” and, “every nation under heaven,” then how can anyone be expected to assume that the statement, “everywhere under the heavens,” as found in the tale of the Flood of Noah isn't also an exaggeration? (It says in Gen. 7:17, “The water prevailed… and all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered.” Why couldn't the phrase, “everywhere under the heavens,” be another exaggeration to make the Hebrew version of the Flood story (which they stole from the Sumerians/Babylonians) sound more impressive and appeal to the cultural-centrism of the Hebrew's? After all, they did also change the name of the story's hero and the name of the mountain upon which the boat eventually rested, just to suit their culture.

Having run across so many instances of cultural-centric exaggerated speech in the Bible one even wonders what is to become of the central Christian boast, the exaggeration par excellence, namely that Jesus died for the sins of “the world?” Believers from every sacred tradition boast that their beliefs affect “the world,” or must be taken utterly seriously by “the world.” Must they? I cannot take seriously many instances in which Biblical authors exaggerate about the extent of a famine, a census, the distance to a queen's residence, the extent to which a message has been spread, the extent of a flood, etc. And, didn't “orthodox” Christian doctrines and theology arise via exaggerating the importance of some of the alleged teachings of Jesus above others (as well as by exaggerating the importance of some interpretations of those sayings above rival interpretations)?

E.T.B.


An Exaggeration Found At The End Of The Fourth Gospel

The Gospel of John ends with this verse:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
- John 21:25

“The world itself” could not contain the books of “many other things which Jesus did?” The author of the Fourth Gospel was not displaying much prophetic ability when he wrote that line, I guess he wasn't inspired enough to foresee that we can now store whole libraries in a single laptop computer and accompanying CDs.

Moreover, the books we do have that tell of “things Jesus did,” consist of only four slim “Gospels,” not one of them over forty pages in length. Two of them, Matthew and Luke, even repeat over 90% of what appears in Mark. So the four Gospels minus the overlapping portions would be even slimmer. Not a lot of “books” about what Jesus did I'm afraid. To reiterate the silly last sentence in the fourth Gospel:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

Is there a less convincing way for an allegedly “inspired” book to end than with the faltering phrase, “I suppose?”

“I suppose” such a last verse made sense to believers back then, who were being regaled and entertained by ever new and fabulous tales of Jesus's infancy, youth and adulthood churned out by their fellows and incorporated into additional “Gospels” many of which we only know the titles of today. But ending an inspired book with such a silly exaggeration, followed by the faltering words, “I suppose,” does not make much of an impression, not even strictly literarily speaking.

E.T.B.


Exaggerated Commands: “Cut And Pluck” To Avoid “Hell”

Take the following verses:

[Jesus said] If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
- Matthew 5:29-30, repeated redundantly in Matthew 18:8

[Jesus said] If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
- Matthew 18:8

[Jesus also taught] All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs… which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
- Matthew 19:12

The inspired words concerning “cutting off” body parts to avoid being “cast into hell,” along with Jesus's praise of those who “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven,” made a deep impression on Origin (an early church Father). He castrated himself.

During the sixteenth century both Catholics and Protestants liked to cite the verses about “cutting off body parts” as a justification behind the censoring and execution of heretics in order that heresies might not spread to the rest of the “body of Christ” and the whole of Christendom risk being “cast into hell.”

And in the 1700 to1800s a group of Christians in Russia called the Skoptzies cut off their own testicles and scrotums. Female members mutilated their vulvas, breasts and nipples. (“For the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” Luke 23:29) Furthermore, they taught that if you also removed your penis (or removed both breasts if you were female) you would be granted the highest honors in heaven. Apparently with the aid of a perfect holy book like the Bible and with the promise of the Holy Spirit to “lead believers into all truth,” this was the truth that the Skoptzies came up with. Bodily sexual temptations could lead to hell, so if mutilating the body aided a person in denying those temptations, it increased one's chances of avoiding hell and attaining heaven.

Maybe God could have used less emphatic language and not linked the cutting off of body parts with avoiding hell? “Let him who has ears to hear…”

“Whaaat? I can't hear you, I recently cut my ears off. They ‘offended’ me. And I would rather be in heaven without them than be cast into everlasting fire with them.”
- E.T.B.


Too Much Reverence For The Literal Words Of The Bible Coupled With Too Much “Fear Of God?”
Construction worker Thomas W. Passmore, 32, filed a lawsuit in April for $3.35 million against Sentara Norfolk, Virginia, General Hospital and four doctors over the loss of his hand. Passmore admits to having cut off the hand because he believed it to be possessed by the devil and to having refused twice to allow doctors to reattach it. However, he claims the hospital was negligent in not asking his family to overrule his poor decision.
- Tulsa World (AP), May 14, 1996

According to the story above, Mr. Passmore thought he saw the number “666” on his right hand, and, “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee, for it is better to enter eternal life maimed than have two hands and be cast into everlasting fire.” Mr. Passmore sued the hospital for not having reattached his hand, but he is an adult and if the hospital had operated against his will he might have sued anyway for violating his wishes, or maybe even for violating his “freedom of religion,” like when Jehovah's Witnesses deny themselves blood transfusions, and the doctors must comply even if that person is bleeding to death, because the Jehovah's Witness religion interprets the Biblical passage, “the life is in the blood” to mean that blood transfusions are forbidden.
- E.T.B.

Ivan Henk, of Plattsmouth, Neb., whose son, Brendan Gonzalez, age 4, had been missing since Jan. 6, admitted in a courtroom outburst in April that he killed his son. “The reason I killed Brendan is that he was the Antichrist. He had 666 on his forehead.”
- Lincoln Journal Star, April 30, 2003

A thirty-two-year-old Filipino farmer sliced his genitals off with a machete in a fit of religious fervor because he believed his penis was leading him to sin. In a follow-up to this story: He was right, and it worked.
- Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live News

Jimmy Fallon's joke was based on a 2002 or 2003 news story, and not that unusual for the Philippines because every Easter a number of fervent Christians in that country publicly act out Jesus's sufferings: They are whipped, or walk down the road carrying a cross from which they are later suspended with ropes. In a few extraordinary cases, some people have even sought to be crucified, but not to death.
- E.T.B.


An Exaggerated Command: “Give To Everyone Who Asks”

[Jesus commanded] Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.
- Matthew 5:42

Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again… But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
- Luke 6:30,35

Next time an evangelical Christian targets you with their soul-seeking missiles, tell them to look up the above verses and read them aloud. After which, ask them for their Bible. If they do not give you their Bible then ask them to please turn to the end of the same sermon in which Jesus spoke the verses above, and read aloud what Jesus said at the very end of that sermon, emphasizing the word “doeth”:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father…Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man… And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man.
- Matthew 7:21-24,26

Remind your evangelical friend that if they do not “doeth” what Jesus commandeth them, they risk hearing Jesus say unto them, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity!” Is that what they want to hear Jesus say to them? Or do they want to give you their Bible, since you asked them for it?

After they have handed it over, tell them, “Thank you,” and say that you don't want to keep their Bible forever, nor destroy it. You would just like them to read a few books about the Bible, books that take a more “inquisitive” approach to the Bible and Christianity, like Hitting Below the Bible Belt. And then you will return their Bible to them.

Speaking of “giving to all who ask,” here's an idea for the IRS to try. They should print Mat. 5:42 and Luke 6:30 on all tax forms. Beneath the verses should be a little note from the IRS that says, “We ask all Bible believing Christians, especially wealthy televangelists and pastors of mega-churches, to not claim religious tax exemptions this year.”

In fact, I invite everyone to ask their “Bible believing Christian” friends for money every day and keep asking, especially any fat cat Christian ministers they might know. Call their TV stations and radio stations, stand up in their mega-churches, etc., and quote the above verses and ask them for money. There is no limit put on the above commands.

E.T.B.


An Exaggerated Promise: “You Won't Be Hurt”

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name… They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.
- Mark 16:17-18

This promise (which does not appear in the earliest known manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark) has inspired crippling illnesses and fatalities, including the death of the founder of the “serpent-handling” sect of Baptists who died from a poisonous snakebite.

Of course, if any Christians truly believe that “if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them,” why don't they move their families to homes built on toxic landfills which they could buy for a prayer?

Toxic Acres is the place for me!
Mark 16 lets me live there comfortably.
Land spreadinʼ out so cheap and wide.
Keep sin city just gimmie that DI-OXIDE!

E.T.B.


Exaggerated Numbers Of People Wandering In The Desert For Forty Years

According to the Bible the number of people who followed Moses out of Egypt during the Exodus was “about six hundred thousand on foot that were men.” (Ex. 12:37) To that number must be added women, children, and a “mixed multitude” of non-Hebrews who followed Moses out of Egypt, raising the total way above the six hundred thousand Hebrew males, and nearer to a grand total of two million men, women and children. That is like the population of New Orleans (or Columbus, Ohio, or San Antonio, Texas), being kept on the move (following “a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night”) every day for forty years. The only day of the week they were not moving was the Sabbath day. That's a heap of packing and unpacking—of setting up “camp” and breaking it down again. Of course, God miraculously prevented the Israelites' shoes and clothes from wearing out during the 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 29:5), and their knee joints too, apparently (though the latter miracle is not mentioned). Plus we are to believe that all the men who were “warriors” walked “outside the camp” (a really huge camp) each time they had to go to the bathroom.

Moreover, there were sacrificial/sacramental duties that also needed to be performed for two million people (must have fit those in at night after they had ceased wandering each day), and the Bible only mentions Aaron and his two sons as being available to conduct all the burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, peace-offerings, sin-offerings, trespass-offerings, thank-offerings for all of the Israelites. (Num. 3:10) Just the number of pigeons to be brought as sin-offerings for newly born children, would have averaged, based on a “multitude” of nearly two million “wanderers,” more than 250 a day, not counting all the bulls, sheep, lambs, rams, goats, and turtle doves needing to be sacrificed for reasons too numerous to mention—and their carcasses having to be bled ceremonially, the fat removed meticulously, the organs burned as an offering to God, and the carcass dragged “outside the camp” to be burned (a camp of perhaps 16 miles in diameter).

Miraculously, these two million or so Israelites left no traces of their forty-years in the wilderness. No traces of encampments, tent holes, potshards (or other items discarded during their marches), nor traces of their daily sacrifices—no evidence of large charred ash deposits nor blackened stones nor bones. (Oddly enough archaeologists have discovered the remains of a small fire in the Sinai wilderness that was carbon-dated back to about that time. But one small fire could not have warmed the alleged two million who marched nearly every day for 40 years up and down the Sinai.)

So staggering are the problems raised by the exaggerated Biblical number of “600,000 males” (an embarrassingly well attested number, repeated three more times in the Bible—on each occasion each separate tribe being numbered, the sum of the results making up the whole), that even conservative Christian scholars have admitted that “600,000 men,” beside children, women, and the mixed multitude, is an exaggeration on par with many others found in ancient Near Eastern lore.

Evangelical Christian, W. M. Flinders Petrie, author of Egypt and Israel (London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1911) pointed out, “There are… two wholesale checks upon the total numbers. The land of Goshen recently supported 4,000 Bedouin living like the Israelites, or at present holds 12,000 cultivators. To get “600,000 men” with their families out of that district would be utterly impossible. Also on going south the Israelites had almost a drawn battle with the Amalekites of Sinai. The climate of that desert peninsula has not appreciably changed; it will not now support more than a few thousand people, and the former inhabitants cannot have exceeded this amount. How could the Israelites have had any appreciable resistance from a poor desert folk, if they outnumbered them as a hundred to one? Again, we are compelled to suppose that the Israelites were not more than a few thousand altogether. Thus we see that more cannot be got out of Goshen or into Sinai.”

E.T.B.


Exaggerated Sizes Of Armies In The Bible

In the 18th century, Frederick the Great had an army of 83,000 troops when he became King of Prussia. Other states—Austria, France, and Russia—fielded larger armies, but rarely did they approach 100,000 troops. Frederick's greatest victories—Rossbach and Leuthen—involved about 75,000 and 115,000 troops respectively on both sides. Napoleon's greatest victory—Austerlitz—involved about 150,000 troops total. So did Gettysburg, America's greatest Civil War battle. Alexander the Great, who controlled Greece, Macedonia, Thrace (Southern Yugoslavia), and a little bit of Western Anatolia, was able to raise between 90,000 and 100,000 troops total. Yet the Bible says that Hebrew kings, David and Saul, fielded far larger armies than those. King David had 1.57 million troops (1 Chron. 21:5)…or 340,000 plus the muster of Issacher…or 1.3 million (depending on which verses you read). While King Saul could field 210,000 troops. (1 Sam. 15:4)

Did the dry scrubland of Judea—populated by scattered villages and small settlements—raise up armies larger than the Persian Empire's when it faced destruction at Alexander's hand, larger than Frederick the Great's, larger than Napoleon's in all his battles save the invasion of Russia, larger than the Union's and Confederacy's in their epic struggle? Truly such a feat must constitute one of the least heralded miracles in the Bible.

In the ancient world only the greatest powers, such as the Bronze Age Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and later the Persians, fielded armies upward of 50,000 or more…When Egypt's king Ramesses II fought the Hittites at Kadesh in about 1285 B.C.E., he recorded their force as 37,000 infantrymen and 3,500 chariots and said that the Hittites mustered much of the military power of their empire, which covered most of Anatolia, Syria, and a bit of Iraq (Sir Alan Gardiner, The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II, 1975, p.41-42). Ramesses had possibly the largest army Bronze Age Egypt ever fielded. It is worth noting that in his poetic account of the battle of Kadesh, Ramesses claimed to have personally killed “hundreds of thousands” of Hittites and their allies (Ibid., pp 10-13), and Ramesses probably lost the battle. (Propaganda was invented long before the Israelites appeared.)

William Sierichs, Jr., “Those Amazing Biblical Numbers: Taking Stock of the Armies of Ancient Israel,” The Skeptical Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1995


Exaggerated Numbers Of People Slain

According to the Bible, Abishai & Jashobeam each slew 300 men using only a spear (2 Sam. 23:8 & 1 Chron. 11:11). But that's nothing, because Shamgar slew 600 men with an ox-goad (Judges 3:31). And Adino slew 800 with a spear (2 Sam. 23:8) Do ya suppose Adino was the inventor of Shish-ka-bob? Last but not least, Samson slew 1000 men with the jaw-bone of an ass (Judges 15:15). If only their techniques in the lethal arts of the “spear,” the “ox-goad” and the “jaw-bone” had been preserved for posterity, imagine what martial arts films Chinese directors could make today, featuring hundreds of deaths in one long (and obscenely bloody) scene!

E.T.B.


Exaggerated Ages Of The Biblical Patriarchs

It is certain that one cannot build up a chronology on the spans of years attributed to the Patriarchs, nor regard it as factual that Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Harran and a hundred when Isaac was born and that Jacob was a hundred and thirty when he went into Egypt, for the evidence from the skeletons in the Jericho tombs shows that the expectations of life at this period was short. Many individuals seem to have died before they were thirty-five, and few seem to have reached the age of fifty.
- Dr. Kathleen Kenyon (the eminent excavator of the city-mound of Jericho)


Exaggerated Ages Of The Sumerian/Babylonian Kings Compared With Those Of The Hebrew Patriarchs

According to ancient Sumerian/Babylonian “king lists,” their kings could live for tens of thousands of years, but of course the worthies of the kings lists were not merely men, but gods or demigods (“kings from heaven”), whose ages could consequently be recorded astronomically. The Hebrew authors dealt only with men, and therefore the ages they assigned to them are comparatively modest, less than a thousand years, because above one thousand years is a perspective proper to God alone. (Ps. 90:4). (The Hebrews were partial to that number, “1000,” as anyone can see who does a “search” for it throughout the Bible.)

Interestingly, both the “king lists” and the Hebrew list of the patriarchs are composed of ten kings/patriarchs. And in both lists the number of years that a king reigned (or patriarch lived) dropped after “the Flood.” (The Sumerian/Babylonians had their own “Flood” story that pre-dates the one found in Genesis.) In fact the Babylonian king's ages dropped after their “Flood story” to ages appropriate to the ages of the Hebrew patriarchs before the Flood, i.e., none of the kings after the Flood reigned longer than 960 years.

Professor Bruce Vawtner in A Path Through Genesis, suggests that “Both the Hebrews and Sumerians/Babylonians knew that many more than ten generations had elapsed during these periods. To bridge over the enormous gaps in time, therefore, both of them assigned tremendous ages to the few names that they possessed. While the Babylonians simply set down astronomical figures, none of them under twenty thousand years, the Hebrew author has been comparatively moderate, and above all, he made his ten generations serve a religious purpose.”

But before discussing the ages of the Biblical patriarchs further, one must note that there are three different sources for the Hebrew Bible, the ancient Masoretic text, the Septuagint text, and the Samaritan text, and they record slightly different ages for the patriarchs, and different totals as well if you added all their ages up in a straight line one after the other. The MT gives a total of 1656 years, the Septuagint gives 2242 years, while the Samaritan text gives 1307 year. The MT is the one used in most modern day Bible translations. According to the MT text, Noah is the first man to be born (in the year 1056) after the death of Adam (in the year 930). Thus the author singles out Noah at birth as the beginning of the new generation of post-Adamic man that will follow after the Flood. This contrivance is further strengthened by the Hebrew author's choice to have Methuselah, the longest lived man of the old generation (before the Flood) die precisely in the year when the Flood begins. A clean sweep, therefore, is made of all the patriarchs that preceded Noah and the Flood. And this neatly excludes any implication that the patriarchs were linked to the corrupt world that had to be destroyed, since the last, and the most aged of them dies immediately prior to the Flood. At least that's according to ages given in the MT version of the Old Testament. Secondly, in the MT the age at which the patriarchs “begot,” drops progressively till the beginning of the second half of the list is reached with Jared. Adam, who precedes the first five on the list, and Jared, who precedes the last five of the original ten patriarchs, also lives an identical length of time after “begetting,” i.e., 800 years. Jared also begins his “begetting” 32 years later than Adam, which happens to be 1/2 of the 65 years at which Mahalalel and Enoch (who come directly before and after Jared on the list) begin “begetting.” Enoch, the traditional holy man of the period, who occupies the symbolic 7th place on the list (and whom God “took”) also lived a symbolic number of years (365 being the number of days in the solar year). And simply by doubling Enoch's year at “begetting,” you arrive at Adam's. In fact, all of the numbers of the MT for the ages of the patriarchs, aside from the total age of Methuselah, are in multiples of five or in multiples of five with the addition of seven (seven being the most popular number in the Bible, appearing in various capacities at total of over 500 times). The ancient Sumerian/Babylonian kings list employed a similar fancy of “adding seven” to numbers, like when in two places it explicitly stated that the total length of the monarchic period preceding the Babylonian Flood was “a great sar plus seven sar.”

Other aspects also hint of artifice: In Gen. 6:3 God “allows” man 120 years to live. (“120” is “50” plus “70,” much like the way the ages of the patriarchs in the Masoretic Text of Genesis are all divisible by “5” with the addition sometimes of “7.”) Moses, the supposed author of the passage about God “allowing” man to live 120 years, goes on to live exactly 120 years. Yet in Ps. 90:10 we are told that man lives only 70 years (ah, there's that “7” again). Joseph went to Egypt, and lo, lived to be the ideal Egyptian age of 110 years; then Joshua retrieves Joseph's bones from Egypt and also lives 110 years. Lastly, compare how awkwardly the author of Gen. 11:10-26 and Gen. 25:8 juxtaposes the scene at Abraham's death with the age of his distant relative, Shem, as though he had no idea that people still lived so long as Shem. For the author states that Abraham died “at a good old age, an old man, after a full life,” while Shem, Abraham's 7X great grandfather lived to SEE his 7X great grandson die “at a good old age, an old man, after a full life!” for Shem was, if we take Gen. 11:10-26 literally, alive and 565 years old when Abraham died at a mere 175 years of age.

Vawter's book in chapter 6 and 7 discusses some of the other artifices. All in all, the ages of the patriarchs like the ages of the Sumerian/Babylonian kings, appear mythically larger than life, growing less so the nearer each king (or patriarch) came to the author's actual day. “The Flood” was of course a major disjunction in both their mythologies, separating the world of demi-god-kings (or patriarchs whose father was ”born at the creation and walked with God”) with the latter world nearer to the author's own day.

E.T.B.


Why Evangelical Theologians Grade God's Writing On A Curve

If I was teaching a class in the art and craft of writing and someone turned in “the Bible” as their writing assignment, then I guess I would have to ask God what message he was trying to convey to his readers. His emotions and sentiments, like those of his characters, are on a constant roller coaster ride.

For example, Job 5:2 says, “For wrath kills the foolish man, and envy slays the silly one.” So “wrath” is connected with “the foolish man” yet compare:

Let me alone that my wrath may wax hot against them.
- Exodus 31:10 (See also Numbers 16:46)

The Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.
- Psalm 21:9

And God often angrily loses his temper:

That the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger.
- Deut. 13:17

He made Israel to sin to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger with their vanities.
- 1 Kings 16:26 (See also: Ex. 32:10; Num. 11:1,16:46, 32:13-14; Judges 3:8, 2:20; 1 Kings 14:9,15:30, 16:2, 16:7, 16:13; 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Samuel 24:1; 2 Chron. 34:25; Psalm 18:7 & Jer. 44:6; Nahum 1:2)


Or take the story about Moses descending from a mountain holding Ten Commandments, one of which says, “Do not kill.” But Moses saw that some of the people had begun worshipping idols, and he says, “Kill every man your [idol worshipping] neighbor.” (Ex. 32:27)

So, depending on the circumstances, we have either “Love your neighbor” (Lev. 19:18 & the Gospels), or, “Kill every man your neighbor.” (Ex. 32:27)

And the same Moses who taught “Do not kill” also commanded the Israelites to “kill every [Midianite] male among the little ones?” (Num. 31:17)


And what about the use of the word “Blessed” to describe two very different sentiments in Matthew 5:9 and Psalm 137:9, respectively:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

“Blessed will be the one who dashes your little ones against the rock.”


Or take Psalm 34:14, “Seek peace, and pursue it;” and Luke 2:14, “Peace on earth, good will toward men [at Jesus's birth];” and Jesus's teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Mat. 5:9), and “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27a).

And compare them with, “Do you suppose that I [Jesus] came to grant peace on earth? I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mat. 10:34); or, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division… I have come to cast fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49,51)


Or compare Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful” with the following verses:

“Leave alive nothing that breathes… show them no mercy.” (Deut. 7:2)

“The Lord hardened their hearts… that they might receive no mercy.” (Joshua 11:20)

“I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the Lord: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them… A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord's work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed.” (Jer. 13:14; 48:10—NIV)


Or compare Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” with “Chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7)


Or take these two verses that depict the joy of vengeance:
“The Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you” (Deut. 28:63)
“The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance, he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked” (Ps. 58:10)

And compare such verses with: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles… If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink… He who rejoices at calamity shall not go unpunished.” (Prov. 17:5; 24:17 & 25:21)

God should have slowed down and concentrated more when He wrote the Bible. However, if He had, that would have left theologians with little to do, since it is their job to contrive ingenious explanations that make “perfect” sense out of every verse in the Bible. I suppose English teachers could do the same thing with the papers they grade—they could contrive a host of ingenious explanations to make every exaggerated, contradictory, imprecise statement in a fictional story or research paper appear to make “perfect” sense. But what would be the point in concocting so many ingenious explanations? Simply to spare giving the child a “D” on their writing assignment?

E.T.B.

Additions To Above: Editing Required

In Deuteronomy 18:20, for instance, Yahweh unceremoniously sentences all followers of other gods to death. For Christians, of course, the Tanakh or “Old Testament” has been superseded by a new collection of texts, many of which are similarly belligerent. In Galatians 1:8 Paul curses any man or angel who dares to proclaim a contrary gospel, and in 2 Peter 2:1 “swift destruction” is prescribed for all false prophets and teachers.

Avalos reminds us, “nowhere in Mein Kampf is there anything as explicit as the policy of killing Canaanites in Deuteronomy 7 and 20 and 1 Samuel 15” (361).

Hector Avalos. 2005. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. Amherst, NY: Promethus Books. 444 pp.

Review of Fighting Words (2006)
Kenneth Krause

He says: “Honor thy father and mother,” and yet this God, in the person of Christ, offered honors, and glory, and happiness an hundred fold to any who would desert their father, and mother for him. Thou shalt not kill, yet God killed the first-born of Egypt, and he commanded Joshua to kill all his enemies, not sparing old or young, man, woman or child, even an unborn child.

Robert Ingersoll


Armies of Bible scholars and theologians have for centuries found respected employment devising artful explanations of the Bible often not meaning what it says.

J. S. Bullion, Jr.


What Are Bible Believers To Do?

The Bible commands:

Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth
- Exodus 23:13

Keeping in mind such a command, consider someone who eats a bowl of cereal then hops into their Saturn with Atlas tires on a Thursday afternoon in March to go rent the movie, Apollo 13. “Cereal” is named after “Ceres,” the Roman goddess of grain; “Saturn” was a Roman god; “Atlas” a Greek god; “Thursday” means “Thor's day” and “Thor” was a Norse god; “March” is named after “Mars,” a Roman god; and “Apollo” is another Greek god. As you can see, it is a little difficult in today's world to cease mentioning “other gods.” Even the membrane that closes off the vagina on virginal females is named after “Hymen,” a god of the Wedding feast. So how do you avoid “the names of other gods being heard out of your mouth?”

To add insult to irony, “Biblical hermeneutics” is the art or science of Biblical interpretation and is taught in every seminary, yet the word “hermeneutics” is based on the name of the Greek god, “Hermes.”

E.T.B.


Does God “Do” All The Stuff The Bible Says He Does?

By His windy breath the heavens are cleared.
- Job 26:13

From the breath of God ice is made, And the expanse of the waters is frozen.
- Job 37:10

He says to the snow, fall to the earth, and to the rain, be strong.
- Job 37:6

He draws up the drops of water which the clouds pour down.
- Job 36:27

Who hath gathered the wind in his fists?
- Proverbs 30:4

[Clouds] turn around by His guidance.
- Job 37:12

He covers His hands with the lightning. And commands it to strike the mark. Its noise declares His presence; The cattle also, concerning what is coming up.
- Job 36:32-33

His thunder is incomprehensible.
- Job 26:14

Listen closely to the thunder of His voice, And the rumbling that goes out from His mouth, Under the whole heaven He lets it loose, And His lightning to the ends of the earth. After it a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice; And He does not restrain his lightnings when His voice is heard. God thunders with his voice wondrously.
- Job 37: 1-5 (NASB)

This just in…God breathed on Chicago, and His mighty thunder incomprehensibly shattered several windows in the Sears Tower.
- E.T.B.


The very god who, according to those who believe in him, made every last electron spin in its orbit everywhere throughout the universe, cannot write a clear, unmistakable volume of instructions to human beings who are supposed to follow his wishes?

Fred Woodworth


If God got a job as an author of technical documentation, he'd be back on the streets within a week.

Overheard on an internet discussion group


Odd, isn't it, that some assume it all to be a divine revelation? If it is all so terribly important, why can we no longer even tell what some of it means?

David Coomler


The Bible is like a badly Xeroxed chain-letter.

- Unknown

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Edward T. Babinski Carnival #2 (Galaxy Evolution Explorer Edition)

Galaxy Evolution

Data from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer has revealed that more “little stars” (many the same size as ours) are out there whose existence had been masked by the light of massive, brighter stars. So in some regions there are four times more stars than astronomers had previously estimated.

According to the Bible, God made the stars on the fourth day of creation. But even more remarkable is the fact that He is creating them still, though the latter miracle is considered not worth mentioning by any of the Bible's authors.


The order of creation in Genesis 1 is farcical from a modern astronomical viewpoint. Our earth is a child of the sun. The offspring could not have existed before the parent.

The sun, moon, and stars were “made and set” in heaven “to give light upon the earth?”

When the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras dared to suggest that the sun was as large as the southern part of Greece he startled his Greek contemporaries. What must have been the notions of a grossly unscientific people like the Jews? For them it was easy to regard the sun, moon, and “the stars also,” as mere satellites of the earth, as lanterns for the human race.

George William Foote, “The Creation Story,” Bible Romances


Gimme That Earth-Centered Creation, It's Good Enough For Me

Genesis 1:3-5 describes the first act of creation:

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

At this point in the biblical creation process, not only has the sun not yet been “made and set in the firmament,” but the earth is also still “without form.” In other words the Bible depicts the establishment of “Days” (days-nights-evenings-mornings) before anything else, which is about as earth-centered a creation story as one can possibly conceive, and about as far as one can leap in the direction of ancient thought as opposed to modern scientific conceptions of the cosmos.

Daytimes or weekly times (i.e., approximately one quarter of the lunar cycle) experienced by earth dwellers would naturally appear central to them, such as the earth-dwellers who composed the Genesis 1 “creation story.” But think of how geocentric the beginning of such a story is, with all of creation revolving right from the beginning around the earth's time schedule. Perhaps creationists do not realize the story fits ancient views of cosmology (with the earth as creation's foundation and heaven above) far better than modern Copernican ones. A day, night, evening or morning, or even numbered days of the week on earth are not of any central cosmic significance since we know the earth is not the foundation of all creation. All creation does not revolve around “earth days.” The earth is merely one of nine planets (with many more planets circling distant stars) whose “days” (as they spin on their axis around their respective stars) vary considerably in length.

Yet Genesis and Exodus agree in depicting these as literal days and nights as understood in earth terms:

“God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:3)

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and sanctified it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

The point of dividing the creation process into days, a feature that could easily be omitted without affecting the sense of the story, is to reinforce sabbath observance. These “days of creation” were therefore accepted as normal days of the week by the ancient Hebrews, and illustrate another way in which they viewed the earth as the flat firm base of all creation.

Speaking of God “resting,” the priestly author of Exodus 31:17 may have elaborated a bit too much on the meaning of the Sabbath when he wrote, “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested AND WAS REFREHSED.” “Rested and was refreshed?” This passage adds that after God had ceased from His labor of creating everything His soul-life [or breath/nephesh] was replenished, refreshed (cf., Mark S. Smith, The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1, Fortress Press: 2009, p. 97), or, as translators of a Bible published in 1774, put it, “on the seventh day God rested and fetched breath.”

E.T.B.


An Even Greater Miracle Is How God Took Immeasurable Pains To _Not_ Light The Earth With The Rest Of The Cosmos

If the sun, moon, and stars were created “to light the earth,” then why create over a hundred billion galaxies whose light is invisible to the naked eye? (Out of billions of galaxies only two relatively close ones galaxies can be seen with the unaided eye, and they appear no brighter than two dim stars in our sky.) In other words, over a hundred billion galaxies produce light that can only be seen with our most powerful telescopes, and it took telescopes recently mounted in space to detect 99/100ths of those galaxies. And our galaxy is composed of about a billion stars, some of which are far larger than our sun. Therefore, the creation story in Genesis would be even more believable if it told us how much trouble God went through to “NOT light the earth” with the rest of creation.

Astronomers are even hypothesizing that the cosmos may contain “dark” matter and “dark” energy, so much of the stuff in fact, that most of the cosmos might still be invisible to us even with our satellite telescopes surveying it to a depth of thirteen-billion light-years in every direction. Again, that's a lot of work to do to “NOT light” the earth.

E.T.B.


An Even Greater Miracle Is How Many _More_ Lamps Rule The Nights And Provide For Signs And Season On Other Planets

Genesis 1:16 depicts the sun and moon as “two great lamps” [literal Hebrew translation]. Those “great lamps” were made to “light” the earth, to “rule” the earth's days and nights, and, “for signs and seasons” on earth. But a couple thousand years after the Bible was written, astronomers discovered a curious thing about that “great lamp” the moon. They discovered that Mars has two moons. Yet Mars has no people who need their steps “lit” at night, or who need to know the “signs and seasons.” Even more curiously, it was discovered that Neptune has four moons, Uranus has eleven, Jupiter has sixteen, and Saturn has eighteen moons (one of them, Titan, is even larger than the planet Mercury). The earth was created with just one moon, and it “rules the night” so badly that for three nights out of every twenty-eight it abdicates its rule and doesn't light the earth at all—at which time creationists bump into each other in the dark.

E.T.B.


Galactic Habitable Zones In The Cosmos

What fraction of stars in our Galaxy might play host to planets that can support multi-cellular life? Lineweaver and others have calculated the probable extent of hospitable space for complex life in the Galaxy, called the “Galactic habitable zone.” The criteria include distance from deadly supernovae, enough heavy elements to form terrestrial planets, and enough time for life to evolve. Based on these criteria, the Galactic habitable zone is an annular region between 7 to 9 kiloparsecs from the Galactic center and contains about 10% of the Milky Way stars with ages between 4 to 8 billion years old. [The Milky Way, like most of the 100 billion other galaxies in the cosmos, contains roughly a billion stars.]
- Science, Vol. 303, Jan. 2, 2004 www.sciencemag.org

Keeping in mind the above “odds,” there may be plenty of possible planets on which life might exist. But what does that imply about the Bible's understanding of the cosmos when interpreted literally as in Genesis and the New Testament? See the following quotations to understand the questions raised by the notion of “[intelligent] life elsewhere in the galaxy.”

E.T.B.


“A New Heaven?” Even For People Living In Distant Galaxies?

According to the book of Revelation a “new earth” and a “new heaven” will be created after Jesus returns. Occupants of other planets throughout the hundred billion galaxies of our present “heaven” will no doubt be surprised to receive such an unearned favor, all because of what happens on our little world. Or is this simply another example of how the Hebrews viewed the earth as the flat firm foundation of creation with the heavens above created simply for the earth below?

E.T.B.


Though it is not a direct article of the Christian faith that the planet we inhabit is the only inhabited one in the cosmos, yet it is so worked up from what is called the Mosaic account of creation, the story of Eve and the forbidden fruit, and the counterpart of that story, the death of the Son of God—that to believe otherwise renders the Christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous, and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air.

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason


So long as people believed, as St. Paul himself did, in one week of creation and a past of 4,000 years—so long as people thought the stars were satellites of the earth and that animals were there to serve man—there was no difficulty in believing that a single man could have ruined everything, and that another man had saved everything.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Fall, Redemption, and Geocentrism,”Christianity and Evolution


Did Jesus die uniquely to save the sins of human beings on planet Earth, or is he being strung up somewhere in the universe on every Friday?

Michael Ruse, “Booknotes,” Biology & Philosophy, Vol. 14, No. 1, Jan. 1999


The New Jerusalem

The last book of the Bible mentions a fabulous city called the “New Jerusalem”:

"And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth… twelve thousand furlongs [about 1500 miles according to most commentaries]. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal."
- Revelation 21:16

In other words the New Jerusalem is a gigantic cube and it is depicted as descending out of heaven above and landing on the earth below. The author who wrote about the city may have made it of such gargantuan proportions so that the length of just one of its sides was equal to the distance from Jerusalem to the capital and heart of the Roman Empire. Perhaps the author had in mind that God meant to flatten Rome just as Rome had flattened God's holy temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.?

However the author of Revelation does not seem to have paused to consider that a cube that was 1500 miles on all sides would simply see-saw on the earth's curved surface, since the earth is not flat, but a sphere. Even if it didn't see-saw and settled onto the surface of the earth gently, such a massive object would probably make the earth's crust buckle or crack beneath it and initiate earthquakes and eruptions; or cause the rotating earth to wobble (just try gluing a small cafeteria-sized carton of milk to a large bowling ball and spin the bowling ball to see what I mean) How could a cube that was 1,500 miles on each side maintain its cubic shape since much smaller objects in space that are merely 400 miles in diameter collapse into spherical shapes due to the force of their own gravity? And, what would prevent the city, after it landed, from growing as wide and flat as any mountain range due to its mutual attraction with the earth's own gravity?

This “New Jerusalem” is so depicted as being so tall that it would extend 1,300 miles further out into space than the International Space Station that is situated only about 200 miles above the earth. In fact the New Jerusalem would block jet streams in the upper atmosphere, and be pummeled by natural and man-made objects orbiting the earth, as well as its topmost floors being hit by solar winds and radiation. If you happen to live on any floor higher than merely the first 100 miles above sea level, I wouldn't suggest opening your windows without first donning a space suit.

The author of the book of Revelation also depicted the “twelve gates” of the New Jerusalem as “twelve pearls; every gate is of one pearl.” (Rev. 21:21) Hence the slang expression for heaven, “The pearly gates.” (I'd pay money to see the oyster that popped those babies out.)

Of course some Evangelical Christian creationist apologists like Grant R. Jeffrey assume that the description of “The New Jerusalem” must be true without a doubt because “what reason would God have for describing such details so precisely unless they were true?” [Apocalypse: The Coming Judgment of the Nations—Bantam Books, Toronto, 1994), p.351] But then, who ever said “God” was the one describing such details? And who ever said that human writers didn't have imaginations capable of adding details to a story? Maybe the author of the book of Revelation assumed like most people of his day that the earth was flat [see NOTE], so a cube-shaped object would sit securely and squarely on it? He probably also made the New Jerusalem a cube because that's how the holy of holies of Solomon's temple was shaped. The author of Revelation, probably had no idea that the enormity and shape of such a city might raise questions in the minds of “latter day” readers, especially since he probably assumed that the heavenly abode of God and angels existed not very far overhead, instead of that region being filled with orbiting bits of matter, solar radiation, and the vacuum of space?

Finally, maybe Grant R. Jeffrey should cease making a career out of trying to anaesthetize the frontal lobes of people's brains, and embark on an expedition to find that oyster that pops out pearls as big as city gates? And he had better hurry and find that whale-sized oyster before King Kong enjoys it as an appetizer. (But where is Kong going to find a lemon large enough to squeeze on it?)

[NOTE] The author of the book of Revelation wrote completely in accord with a flat earth view of the cosmos: “I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1); and added elsewhere, “There was a great earthquake…and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casts her figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” (Rev. 6:12,13). “Stars of heaven falling to earth” after the earth below has been “shaken,” mirrors the way that the sun, moon, and the stars are portrayed in the creation story in Genesis, being “made” and “fixed” above the earth. And just as those stars were “fixed” there, they might one day “fall to earth” like “figs” from a tree after the earth below had experienced “a great earthquake,” because to the ancient Hebrews the whole of creation consisted of a cosmos whose two halves were the earth below and the heavens above.

E.T.B.


Are There Creationists On Other Planets?

Do they quote from a book somewhat like our earth-centered book of Genesis? And, supposing that the name of their planet is “Zontar,” does their book read something like this…

In the beginning God created the heavens and ZONTAR, and the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters OF ZONTAR and God said let there be light, and there was the first evening and morning [on ZONTAR]. And God separated the waters and caused dry land to appear, and he called the dry land ZONTAR, and there was a second evening and morning [on ZONTAR]… And God made TWO GREAT LIGHTS, one to rule the day ON ZONTAR, and one to rule the night ON ZONTAR, and he made the stars also, and set them in the sky to light ZONTAR and for signs and seasons [on ZONTAR], and there was a fourth evening and morning. And God made animals ON ZONTAR, and there was a fifth evening and morning. And God made beings IN HIS OWN IMAGE, and he visited them in the garden where He and they left slimy trials as they moved and talked to each other via their antennae, and there was a sixth evening and morning. And on the seventh day God “rested” from creating the heavens and ZONTAR.

Of course, we earthlings, being raised on our Bible, would know that God needed to “rest” after creating ZONTAR, so He could regain enough energy to trek to another part of the cosmos (near one of those stars he'd created “to light ZONTAR”) and create a place called “earth.”


What Do Evangelical Christian Professors Of Old Testament Think About Genesis 1?

Several Evangelical Christian professors have recently argued that their fellow Evangelicals ought to relinquish “scientific creationist” interpretations of Genesis 1, and that the creation story in Genesis 1 ought to be interpreted in a mythical/spiritual/analogical or metaphorical fashion. Such figures include:


Quotation From John Walton's New Work

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

The Israelites received no revelation to update or modify their “scientific” understanding of the cosmos. They did not know that stars were suns; they did not know that the earth was spherical and moving through space; they did not know that the sun was much further away than the moon, or even further than the clouds or high flying birds [able to “fly across the face of the firmament” per Gen. 1]. They believed that the sky was material (not vaporous), solid enough to support the residence of the deity as well as hold back waters. In these ways, and many others, they thought about the cosmos in much the same way that anyone in the ancient world thought, and not at all like anyone thinks today. And God did not think it important to revise their thinking.


Creation And The Psalmists

Ancient Hebrew psalmists drew a parallel between the height of the “clouds” and the wondrous height of their Lord's “truth”: “For Thy loving kindness is great to the heavens, and Thy truth to the clouds.” (Psalm 57:10). The height of clouds appeared so near to the holy heavens that they excitedly strung such phrases together to praise God in a way we do not react to today in the same way because we are able to fly above the clouds and also know how high “the heavens” can be, in light-years, making the height of clouds seem not comparable at all.

A psalmist wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) Yet today we know we can walk from east to west and wind up right back where we started.

A psalmist asked, “[Can] the heavens above be measured?” (Jeremiah 31:37) Yes, it's someone's job to measure such things—from meteorologists noting the heights of certain clouds, to astronomers measuring distances to the sun and moon, even distances to the furthest galaxies.

A psalmist wrote, “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; But the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Ps. 115:16) One of NASA's satellites passed Pluto several years ago, not to mention telescopes peering into “the heavens of the Lord.” We have even launched spacecraft named after pagan gods (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo) when the Bible forbids mentioning even the names of “other gods” (Exodus 23:13).

A psalmist wrote, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou are mindful of him? (Psalm 8:3-4) The “heavens” referred to the clouds, and to the sun, moon and stars that the psalmist believed did not lie far above the clouds, along with the angelic heavenly realm lying not far above the sun, moon and stars. Any similarities between such ancient verse and modern day cosmic angst are merely relative. Even the clouds felt intangibly high to the ancients, but then, none of them could even guess what lay beyond the horizon. In fact it may be that their cosmos felt more intangibly huge to them than our cosmos does to us because we can fly round the globe, above the clouds, gaze at photos of outer space, and open a book and read the distances to stars and galaxies set down for us in tangible numerical form.

“Those little heaven-encrusted universes of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Hebrews seem quaint enough to us, who have formed, thought by thought from within, the immense modern Cosmos in which we live—planned in such immeasurable proportions, and moved by so pitiless a mechanism… Yet what a splendor dazzles us in these great halls! Anything less limitless would now be a prison.” (Logan Pearsall Smith).

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The Golden Rule, C. S. Lewis, William Barclay, Peter May

Golden Rule

“The Golden Rule was original to Christ and is unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of ethics.”
—Peter May, Testing the Golden Rule

“Almighty God and Christianity and the Bible professes ‘DO unto others,’ not, ‘do NOT do unto others.’”
—An Evangelical Christian explaining why he thinks Christianity alone is positive while all other teachings appear negative

Not a few evangelical Christian apologists argue that their religion is “superior” because Jesus preached the Golden Rule, “All things therefore that you want people to DO to you, DO thus to them” (Matthew 7:12), while other ancient teachers merely taught the negative version of that rule: “Do NOT do unto others what you would NOT like done to yourself.” Christian apologists C.S. Lewis and William Barclay even cited numerous quotations of the negative Golden Rule from ancient sources to make the contrast appear more stark between what Christianity taught and what the rest of the world taught:

“Do not impose on others what you do not desire others to impose upon you.” (Confucius, The Analects. Roughly 500 BCE.

Hindu sacred literature: “Let no man do to another that which would be repugnant to himself.” (Mahabharata, bk. 5, ch. 49, v. 57)

“Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find hurtful.” (Udana-Varga, 5.18)

Zoroastrian sacred literature: “Human nature is good only when it does not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.” (Dadistan-I-Dinik, 94:5; in Muller, chapter 94, vol. 18, p. 269)

Buddhist sacred literature: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” (Udanavargu, 5:18, Tibetan Dhammapada, 1983)

The Greek historian Herodotus: “…if I choose I may rule over you. But what I condemn in another I will, if I may, avoid myself.”
(Herodotus, The Histories, bk. III, ch. 142. Roughly 430 BCE.)

Isocrates, the Greek orator: “What things make you angry when you suffer them at the hands of others, do not you do to other people.”

Christian apologists add that it is not (in their opinion) difficult to honor a negative Golden Rule, but it is “exceedingly” difficult to live by the positive Golden Rule Jesus taught. Such apologists seem to forget that a lot of Judeo-Christian morality is based on the “Ten Commandments,” which are almost all negative rules, “Thou shalt NOT…” etc. Such apologists even forget that Jesus and Saint Paul are said to have struggled hard to resist temptation and resist sinning, i.e., to NOT do things they were tempted to do, again a negative task. The whole story of Job is about a man tempted to “curse God,” but he resists. So, for Jesus, Paul, Job and other Biblical heroes, there appears to be just as much “difficulty” involved in avoiding sinful behaviors as practicing positive ones, (perhaps even greater “difficulty”) regardless of what the apologists state.

Indeed, the so-called “negative” Golden Rule is itself a part of Christianity. It is found in pre-Christian Jewish writings as well as in the Catholic Bible and in a textual variant in the Book of Acts, see these examples:

Philo, a Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, wrote, “What you hate to suffer, do not do to anyone else.”

Hillel, a Jewish rabbi who lived just before Jesusʼ day, taught, “What is hateful to thee, do not to another. That is the whole law and all else is explanation.” (b Shabbatt 31a; cf. Avot de R. Natan ii.26)

Even earlier than the saying by rabbi Hillel, the negative Golden Rule is found in Tobit, an apocryphal book that is included in the Catholic Bible: “What you hate, do not do to anyone.” (Tobit 4: 14-15. 2nd century BCE.)

The negative golden rule is also found in the Book of Acts: “Textual variants in Acts 15 :20,29 & 21:25 are quite involved… various Western texts add the Negative Golden Rule, ‘Do not do unto others…’ which is attributed to the first century Jewish rabbi Hillel and also quoted in The Didache (a second century Christian text believed to consist of teachings of the earliest Christian Fathers and used to teach new converts) i.2.” [from Tim Hegg and Beit Hallelʼs online article, “Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council: Did They Conclude the Torah was Not For Gentiles?” copyright 2001 www.torahresource.com]

But what about the claim made by Christian apologists, such as William Barclay, who argued, “The very essence of Christian conduct is that it does not consist in not doing bad things, but in actively doing good things.” Was Barclay unaware of the fact that teachings that advocate “actively doing good things” are found in other ancient literature besides the New Testament?

Ancient Babylonian sacred teaching from two thousand years before Jesus was born: “Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.” (Akkadian Councils of Wisdom, as cited in Pritchardʼs Ancient Near Eastern Texts)

Buddhist holy teaching: “Shame on him who strikes, greater shame on him who strikes back. Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Let us therefore overcome anger by kindness, evil by good, falsehood by truth.” (written centuries before Jesus was born)

Buddhist holy teaching: “In this world hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.” (The Dhammapada)

Taoist holy teaching: “Return love for hatred. Otherwise, when a great hatred is reconciled, some of it will surely remain. How can this end in goodness? Therefore the sage holds to the left hand of an agreement but does not expect what the other holder ought to do. Regard your neighborʼs gain as your own and your neighborʼs loss as your own loss. Whoever is self-centered cannot have the love of others.” (written centuries before Jesus was born)

The Greek poet Homer: “I will be as careful for you as I should be for myself in the same need.” (Calypso, to Odysseus, in Homer, The Odyssey, bk. 5, vv. 184-91. Roughly late 8th century BCE.).

Excerpts from a paganʼs prayer: “May I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides…May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all menʼs happiness…May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another. May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to all who are in want. May I never fail a friend in danger…May I know good men and follow in their footsteps.” (“The Prayer of Eusebius,” written by a 1st-century pagan, as quoted in Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion. Interesting Note: A few Christians on the internet have incorrectly attributed this prayer to a 3rd-century Christian also named Eusebius. They should read Murrayʼs book instead of assuming that everything positive has to be “Christian.”)

Islamic holy teaching: “That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.” (Sukhanan-i-Muhammad, 63)

The Positive Golden Rule is also found in Jewish literature (Mishneh Torah ii: Hilekot Abel xiv.I)

Lastly, there appears to be a flaw in the Golden Rule itself. If you simply try to “do unto other as you would like them to do unto you” then you could wind up doing things to others they might not enjoy as much as you do! For instance, think of all the things you like and think what would happen if you started “doing them” to others without first considering whether or not those others like all of the same things you do. People have different “likes” in clothing, food, music, books, and religion, and so doing to others what YOU like might not be something THEY like. (One hypothetical worst case scenario of attempting to “do unto others what YOU would like done unto yourself,” might be if someone LIKES heaven but fears they will be sent to eternal hell for doubting a particular religious belief, so they might hypothetically agree that they LIKE the idea of having others coerce them to “correct” their beliefs to avoid hell and get to heaven. In that hypothetical case the Golden Rule would imply that other people would be equally appreciative of being “corrected”—even via coercion—rather than “risk eternal hellfire.”) So perhaps we need both the Golden Rule and also the “negative” Golden Rule, working together, to avoid imposing our LIKES on others who do not share them.

An even more finely tuned rule might be what some call “The Platinum Rule,” namely, “Do Unto Others as THEY Would Have You Do Unto Them.” In other words, take time to learn about your neighborʼs tastes, their mood, their nature, and their temperament, before you start “doing” things “unto them.” Treat others the way THEY want to be treated.

In all three cases — the Golden Rule, the negative Golden Rule (also nicknamed the “Silver Rule”), and the “Platinum Rule” — our shared biological and social/psychological structure ensures that we share similar desires and fears. And such similarities are what allow each of us a window into each othersʼ inner self. Very few people enjoy being lied to, called names, stolen from, injured, or otherwise provoked. While almost every last one of us loves having friends, sharing experiences, good health, good meals, etc. Those are part of who we all are. Hence, “you” have an inner window on what other people would like done to them. Just keep in mind that the exact ”scene“ that is displayed most prominently inside each personʼs “inner window” may differ from person to person, and should be taken into account before you “do unto them” as “they” would like.

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Friends and Colleagues