Friday, October 19, 2007

Mr. Bean Goes to Church

After a series of very serious, academic, and perhaps stuffy posts on apologetics and scholarship, check out this classic and halarious clip of Mr. Bean doing what he does best.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Zeitgeist: The Movie, Part 4: Josephus and Other Resources

In the final part of our look at the web documentary Zeitgeist, we are going to be looking at some of the most audacious claims in the documentary.

The point they are making is that the historical evidence for the existence of a man named Jesus does not exist. The claim is that only four first century historians mention Jesus. Three of them, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger only mention Christ or Christos, which, since that is a title and not a name, they argue could be a reference to anybody. The fourth reference, and by far the most significant, is made by a Jewish Historian named Flavius Josephus. This is the place where the documentary makes that amazing statement, saying that Josephus has been "proven to be a forgery for hundreds of years." Here is the Josephus quote in question (from Antiquities 18):

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

I studied a lot of Josephus in college. My professors quoted him regularly. I had never heard anything discrediting or even doubting Josephus as a source. Needless to say, I was shocked when I heard this, and had no idea what to say.

Again, here is the response of Dr. Wave Nunnally:

Lastly, they attack the writings of Josephus, saying that he has been "proven to be a forgery for 100's of years." This was completely new to me. Had you heard this before? On what grounds do they discredit him and his writings?

The works of Josephus are accepted as genuine and as legitimate sources for the reconstruction of intertestamental Judaism and NT backgrounds by EVERY expert in the field, whether Jewish, Christian, or non-aligned, and whether conservative, moderate, or liberal. This might well qualify as one of the most absurd statements I have ever heard in my entire career that was supposed to be associated with an "academic" discussion. I can only hope that whoever said it is not allowed to procreate…

An interesting response, to say the least. The response goes to show the difference between the anonymous, nonacademic, unsupported and unreferenced claims made by the creator of the documentary verses many years of study from world renown Colleges and Universities as well as trained professionals in the area of Biblical Studies. This is the initial response you will see a lot from the top experts when presented with some of the outrageous claims floating around today, including books by Michael Baigent in Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Jesus Papers. There is quite simply a huge difference between good, well researched, respected scholarship and the popular pseudo-scholarship that people like Baigent and the creator of Zeitgeist are furthering.

However, just to see the initial response of respected scholars is not enough. We should be able to talk about specifics. In a radio interview, the Creator of Zeitgeist elaborated a bit on his Josephus claim. Here is my paraphrasing of the claim in a question to Dr. Nunnally, followed by his more detailed response:

The claim: Josephus references 13 different Jesuses. The quote we see of this often quoted section about Jesus, talking about him raising from the dead, does not appear until 200 years after the death of Josephus, despite the fact that early Christians, Justin Martyr and others, would have been very interested in referencing this, though we don't know of them mentioning it at all. This section about Jesus was added later. Any further responses to this?

On the antiquities 18 passage, the answer is yes. First, all Josephus scholars acknowledge that SOMETHING was there in the original version of Josephus. This is because there is another passage (20:200) that mentions him without further explanation, which means he must have already introduced him and given sufficient information for his readership to have connected the two passages so the second would be understandable. Again, all Josephus scholars recognize this argument as being legitimate. Second, historically, there have been three different schools of thought about the originality of this passage. The earliest simply took it at face value. With the rise of critical scholarship and more careful analysis of ancient texts, two additional schools of thought emerged. One reconstructed it to read as a very negative statement about Jesus, and the other emended the passage somewhat, but retained the generally favorable tenor of the “original.” Both agreed that the original text had suffered from “creative” Christian scribes in antiquity. The problem was basically laid to rest in 1971 when Israeli scholar Shlomo Pines published an Arabic version of Josephus which followed none of the three earlier schools, but instead provided a “neutral” reading of the Josephus text. The point is, it was there and now we have a legitimate version of it with ancient textual support.

This is great, because it gives us the history of the argument. This is only scholars word for it, so if you would like to read more on this issue, check out Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament by F.F. Bruce and Jesus Outside the New Testament by VanVoorst.

Here are a few more resources. Here are three interviews posted on Youtube with Peter J, the creator of Zeitgeist. They are each in 4 parts.

Interview on 6/28/07 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Interview on 7/13/07 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Interview on 7/22/07 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Also, in case you are interested in part two of the documentary, which I have not discussed here, here are two videos that represent both sides of the 9/11 argument. Zeitgeist, as you can imagine, is a bit one sided. These videos are here and here.

Also, a fellow blogger and fellow student of Dr. Nunnally, Nate Watson has written a bit about Zeitgeist as well. Check out his blog My Friend Ivan and the Zeitgeist material here and here.

Lastly, you can purchase the complete works of Josephus from Thomas Nelson Press very cheap. I got it at Barnes and Noble for $17. Here it is on Amazon for $12.73! A very good deal.

In conclusion, I think not only has this experience shown some more good reasons why many of us ascribe to the Christian faith, it has also shown us once again that you cannot believe everything you hear. In addition, I feel that we have a responsibility as followers of Christ to educate ourselves about these issues and be able to have meaningful, informed conversations about them. May we always demand good information, even if it challenges what we believe. May we stand for truth in all circumstances. And, may we love one another while doing it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Zeitgeist: The Movie, Part 3: Jesus the Copycat

In our third look at the online documentary called Zeitgeist where we are responding to the allegations that are brought up in the first third of the movie about Jesus and religion, we will look at the most vicious and serious attacks the the documentary brings against Christianity. Remember, you can watch the movie by clicking here. Also, check in with parts 1 and 2 of this discussion below. Here we go.

The documentary claims that Jesus is a copycat of a number of other religious figures whose stories are remarkably similar, either Horus, or Mithra, or whoever (there are hundreds). In fact, when you list the essential events of Horus' life, who dates to 3000 BC, 3000 years before Jesus, they are very similar to the essential events in Jesus' life. For example:

Horus was

  • Born on December 25th in a cave/manger with his birth being announced in the east and attended by three wisemen.
  • He is of royal decent
  • At age 12, he was a teacher in the temple and baptized at age 30
  • He had 12 disciples
  • He did many miracles, including walking on water
  • He was crucified between two thieves, buried for three days, and resurrected
  • He was called "The Way, the Truth and the Life," "The Messiah," and "the Word Made flesh" among others

    Do these things sound familiar? Yes, they all existed in the life of Jesus. And, if these elements really were in a common astrological, Egyptian mythical religion that predates Christianity by thousands of years, that would be very suspect. This part of the video troubled me more than any other. So, I went to work to find the truth.

    The first step was to talk to a friend who is smarter than me. Here is my question and the response of Dr. Wave Nunnally, professor of Theology from Evangel University:

    What is your response to the mentioning of, for instance, the Egyptian god Horus, who dates to 3000 BC, and has very much in common with the birth, life and death of Christ? In fact, there seem to be many examples of this; figures whose stories are very similar to that of Jesus, some of which seem to be older. Your thoughts?

    As you learned here, there were many dying and rising god myths in the ancient world. In his NT intro, Robert Gundry dismisses any true parallels with the Jesus event by noting that these stories are all about events that supposedly happened in eons past, for which there was no eyewitness testimony. Also, their deaths were not true, but rather ethereal, quasi-deaths. Finally, their dying and rising were actually ways to personify seasons and other forces in nature. None of these things can be said of the death of Jesus, so the "parallels" are more or less over-generalizations that don't really work out when the details are analyzed.

    Interesting response. However, it was too general. I wanted specific evidence of the claims being false. So, I kept going, and there seem to be several issues in play.

    My first clue to this should have been the first quote that flashes up on the screen of the documentary: "They must find it difficult, those who have taken authority as the truth, rather than truth as the authority." The author of that quote was listed as G. Massey, or Gerald Massey. Massey was an English poet and (supposedly self taught) Egyptologist who was a somewhat famous conspiracy theorist and Christ-myther (this is a label you will probably see again, there seem to be a whole fraternity of these guys, including the makers of Zeitgeist). If you did a quick search of his name on amazon, you would find many of the books he wrote, but the 2 most notable are The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, and Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World. Also notice that though he has been dead for like 100 years, that these books have been re-released recently (because religious conspiracies are so huge right now!).

    This is all just background to the point I want to make. Massey is the source used by Acharya S, a female author of the book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold. She is the source of most Christ-mythers today and the primary source for this documentary, as cited on the sources page. So, if you are following the trail, Zeitgeist uses Acharya S, Acharya S uses Massey. Massey never sites a source. Aparantly Massey made all this up, because we find no evidence of this before him. The lies are passed on and on.

    All of these sources and all of these Christ-mythers make the same mistake. As I debunked on this website a few years ago, you have probably heard of the similarities often cited between Abraham Lincoln and JFK. Upon further scrutiny, however, it is pretty easily seen that the similarities they claim that exist are either not spectacular, distortions of the truth, or flat out lies. This is exactly what has happened with the list given on Zeitgeist.

    This is a great list, looking at the similarities between Horus and Jesus, as cited by Massey and taken from the Egyptian Book of The Dead (which, by the way, you can find at any Barnes and Noble. But, be warned, it is very weird). Using the website, it is not hard to debunk the list that is above, like so.

    Horus was
  • Born on December 25th in a cave/manger with his birth being announced in the east and attended by three wisemen.

    Let’s take this one apart and deal with each separate issue:

    Horus’ mother was not a virgin. She was married to Osiris, and there is no reason to suppose she was abstinent after marriage. Horus was, per the story, miraculously conceived. Seth had killed and dismembered Osiris, then Isis put her husband's dead body back together and had intercourse with it. In some versions, she used a hand-made phallus since she wasn't able to find that part of her husband. So while it was a miraculous conception, it was not a virgin birth.

    Horus was supposedly born on the last day of the Egyptian month of Khoiak, which corresponds on our calendars to November 15th.

    Horus was born in a swamp, not a cave/manger. Acharya's footnotes for this point only make the claim that Jesus was born in a cave, and say nothing about Horus being born in one.

    Horus' birth was not announced by a star in the east

    There were no “three wise men” at Horus’ birth, or at Jesus’ for that matter (the Bible never gives the number of wise men, and they showed up at Jesus’ home, not at the manger, and probably when Jesus was a year or two old).

    Acharya's source for the last two claims appears to be Massey, who says "the Star in the East that arose to announce the birth of the babe (Jesus) was Orion, which is therefore called the star of Horus. That was once the star of the three kings; for the 'three kings' is still a name of three stars in Orion's belt . . . " Massey's apparently getting mixed up, and then the critics are misinterpreting it. Orion is not a star, but a constellation, of which the 'three kings' are a part. And even if there is a specific star called 'the star of Horus', there's no legend stating that it announced Horus' birth (as the critics are claiming) or that the 'three wise men' (the three stars in Orion's belt) attended Horus' birth in any way.

  • He is of royal decent

    This one’s true! But it's not really a comparison to Jesus. When followers speak of Jesus being of 'royal descent', they usually mean His being a descendant of King David, an earthly king. Horus was, according to the myth, descended from heavenly royalty (as Jesus was), being the son of the main god.

  • At age 12, he was a teacher in the temple and baptized at age 30

    He never taught in any temple and was never baptized.

  • He had 12 disciples

    Horus had four disciples (called ‘Heru-Shemsu’). There’s another reference to sixteen followers, and a group of followers called ‘mesnui’ (blacksmiths) who join Horus in battle, but are never numbered. But there’s no reference to twelve followers.

  • He did many miracles, including walking on water

    He did perform miracles, but he did not walk on water.

  • He was crucified between two thieves, buried for three days, and resurrected.

    Horus was never crucified. There’s an unofficial story in which he dies and is cast in pieces into the water, then later fished out by a crocodile at Isis’ request. This unofficial story is the only one in which he dies at all.

  • He was called "The Way, the Truth and the Life," "The Messiah," and "the Word Made flesh" among others.

    The only titles Horus is given are “Great God”, “Chief of the Powers”, “Master of Heaven”, and “Avenger of His Father”. None of the above titles are in any Egyptian mythology.

    Upon further scrutiny, it is clear that these supposed similarities are not that at all. Few are true, but those are very general (miracles, royal decent). Some are distortions, and others are flat out lies. If you click the link that compares Jesus and Horus, it gives more comparisons and goes deeper in the explanations. Here is the root site, that goes into more depth about this issue and also tackles the comparisons between Jesus and dozens of other god myths, in which you find the same issues at play. The site is a fantastic source. I think a quick look at it will pretty much settle the Jesus/copycat issue. It has for me.

    While I was in the process of researching this and writing about it, I stumbled across Lee Strobel's new book called The Case for the Real Jesus, which is a response to the attacks that have come against Jesus in the past few years through sources like The Da Vinci Code and The Jesus Family Tomb. One of the issues he discusses in the book is the idea that "christian beliefs about Jesus were copied from pagan religions." Strobel addresses this issue very well. He interviews two experts about this issue and they weigh in on the validity of the argument. Perhaps the most revealing quote in this section is by Dr. Michael Licona who states "I know of no highly respected scholar today who suggests that these vague fables are parallels to the resurrection of Jesus. We only hear this claim from the hyper-skeptical community on the Internet and in popular books that are marketed to people who lack the background to analyze the facts critically." The Case for the Real Jesus p163. To be clear, this is exactly what we are dealing with: the highly skeptical community on the Internet as well as a production marketed to the laymen who typically don't have the background to argue with the claims.

    If this has not convinced you, grab Strobel's book and read his chapter on this issue. It is very worth the $22 as it deals with a number of other scholarly issues that Christianity is facing today.

    One more resource I should mention briefly is this page on the Always Be Ready website. It is simply a list of scholarly quotes that respond to many of the issues in Zeitgeist. It is worth a quick read, and the site as a whole is a good resource to bookmark as well.

    This has been a very long post. Perhaps I should have made it two parts. Nonetheless, it is good info. Next time we will look at the documentary's attack of Josephus. Stay tuned!


  • Friday, October 05, 2007

    Zeitgeist: The Movie, Part 2: Astrology

    In the second post about the movie Zeitgeist, a highly skeptical documentary that contains, among other conspiracy theories, that Christianity is a lie, I am going to address address the films claims about astrology. To watch the movie, see the post below. You really should watch it before reading this, otherwise much of what I write about won;t make sense. Here we go.

    The video essentially claims that for thousands of years the Egyptians have worshipped the sun and stars, and that all religions that exist today are derivatives of this initial belief system. Keep in mind that the makers of this movie put no stock in astrology. They are merely using it (a ridiculous belief system) to show that Christianity is a ridiculous belief system.

    In addition, they claim that the Bible is riddled with astrological claims, saying "this text has more to do with astrology than anything else."

    I am still friends with many of my professors from college. Here is the question and response of Dr. Wave Nunnally from Evangel University on this issue:

    I'm sure you have heard some of these Astrological theories before (i.e. the idea that the Bible "has more to do with astrology than anything else."). Do you have any general comments?

    The doc[umentary] as a whole seems to be poorly conceived. The Bible actually polemicizes against astrology in a number of ways. Moses, for example, describes the sun, mon, and stars as created "signs" that have no life within themselves and are to serve God and man. The writers of the historical books and the prophets denounce Israel's decent into paganism when the worship the "host of heaven." Despite this, authors like Marilyn Hickey and David Wommack have written volumes asserting that the gospel can be found in the stars.

    There are several examples they attempt to give of of Christianity copying off of astrology and the bible referring to such, and I will address three of those instances here. Let me say that i am no astrologer or expert in astrology. However, since they are claiming that the bible makes astrological claims, I feel I am educated enough to weigh in on what the Bible does say.

    First, they claim about Luke 22:10, "this scripture is by far one of the most revealing of the astrological references." They say "When Jesus is asked where the next passover will be after he is gone" that he replies saying "As you enter the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will greet you. Follow him to the house that he enters." The documentary claims that this is referring to Aquarius, the man carrying water in the signs of the zodiac, and that Jesus is essentially saying that he (Jesus) is the representation of God in this age, but that a different age is coming, called the Age of Aquarius, in approximately 2100 AD. Keep in mind that the creator does not actually believe Jesus said this (because doesn't believe Jesus ever existed), just that this is what the writers of the bible wanted to communicate. The only problem with this interpretation of Like 22:10 is that this is not the question that the disciples asked Jesus. In fact, there question has nothing to do with the future. In verse 8 Jesus tells them to "Go and make preparations for us to eat the passover." "Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked. That is when Jesus tells them to go into the city, find this guy carrying water, and that he would give them a room that is furnished for the passover. Not future, now. Not in the next aeon, but right now. They gave the wrong context (as mentioned before) and it changed the entire meaning of the verse. Not only is it not astrological, but as it is, it cannot even be bent to be astrological. This terns out to be nothing more than bad hermeneutics.

    Second, they say that Moses comes to power in the age of Taurus, the bull, but he represents Ares, the ram, and that the exchange on Mt Sinai marks the transition. And, it was because the people were stuck in the previous age is why he was angry about the golden calf, not because they were worshipping a false god. This is again solved if we look at the context. Ex 32:31 shows Moses repenting for the people, saying "oh what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold." Clearly it is that they are worshipping false God's, and not a mix up of the "ages" that has Moses (and God) so angry. They also attribute the blowing of the shofar (or rams horn) during this time as signs of ares. They don't consider that there are only a handful of instruments available at this time (harp, lyre, tambourine, and shofar etc.). The Israelites are only guilty of using instruments in worship, not of announcing the age of ares the ram.

    Third, they claim that Jesus brings about the age of Pisces, the fish. Now, despite the fact that Jesus is oftentimes ministering in areas where there is a lot of coast, where fishing would be a large part of the commerce, and a large percentage of the men would be fisherman, and that the majority of the meat that is clean for Jews to eat is fish (I'm sure none of these could be the reason that fish are mentioned so much in the NT), we know why the fish became the symbol of the early Christian movement. The fish, or ichthys (pronounced ick-thoos) which is the Greek word for fish is an acronym, with each of the letters standing for a word in the phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God." That is why the symbol of Christianity in the first hundred years and today is the fish, not because we are in the age of Pisces.

    Some of these claims in the film are so outlandish that you can nearly laugh them off. If you know anything about the Bible, it is hard not to immediately find where they go wrong. this is just another good time to encourage us all to be diligent students of God's word, and to be intellectually honest and look for proof and evidence. If you except everything on faith, then when a documentary like this comes by, you have no way to answer it. However, if you have studied the history, archeology, and other disciplines that back up Christianity claims, it is not hard to come against these outlandish statements. Faith is good and absolutely necessary. but we don;t believe for no reason. We believe because it make sense, because there is a long line of evidence and experience to lead us to believe the way we do.

    Next time I will be diving into the claims that Jesus is a copycat of the pagan religions. Stay tuned!