Saturday, May 2, 2015

    The Bookworm Report #8: Misquoting Jesus

    The Bookworm Report #8
    Submitted by Russell Pizer

    Misquoting Jesus © 2005, 242pp
    The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
    by Bart D. Ehrman

    It is often asked, “How can a biblical scholar who is a Christian believe in The Bible as the inerrant and/or revealed word of God? The inside flap of the dust cover of Misquoting Jesus provides a partial answer.  It reads in part, “When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages he was startled to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New Testament and shows the great impact it had on the Bible* we use today. . . [His studies] made him abandon his once ultraconservative views of the Bible.”  [One writer said that the living God must be a very poor communicator to have allowed such variations in his written message to mankind.]

    The dust cover flap then continues, “Ehrman makes the provocative case that many of our cherished biblical stories and widely held beliefs concerning the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the divine origins of the Bible itself stem from both intentional and accidental alterations by scribes – alterations that dramatically affect all subsequent versions of the Bible.”

    On page 46, Ehrman explains one of the many problems that have occurred over and over throughout the early years of biblical literature.  He writes: “One of the problems with ancient Greek texts . . . is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase‡ letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words. This kind of continuous writing is called scriptuo continua, and it obviously could make it difficult at times to read, let alone understand, a text.  The word godisnowhere could mean quite different things to a theist (God is now here) and an atheist (God is nowhere) . . .”

    Continuing on page 48, Ehrman writes: [scribes] “could not distinguish between the syllables. [Being as most scribes] could not read the text fluently but could only recognize the letters, and so copied them one at a time.  Obviously, if you don’t know what you’re reading, the possibility of making mistakes in transcription multiply.”

    On Page 88 Ehrman tells of the search made by John Mill who was an English theologian. He is noted for his critical edition of the Greek New Testament which included notes on the many variant readings.  (This John Mill is not to be confused with John Stuart Mill – the great Utilitarian.) This earlier John Mill spent 30 years accumulating materials for his text that was published in 1707. During that time, he isolated some 30,000 places where different manuscript citations and versions had different readings for passages . . . Mill was not exhaustive in his presentation of the data he had collected.  He had, in fact, found far more than 30,000 places of variation. He did not cite everything he discovered, leaving out variations such as those involving changes of word order . . .  Whereas Mill knew of or examined some 100 Greek manuscripts to uncover his 30,000 variations, today [2005] we know of far, far more.  At last count, more than 5,700 Greek manuscripts have been discovered and catalogued. . . .  These include everything from the smallest fragments of the size of a credit card to very large and magnificent productions, preserved in their entirety. . . These manuscripts range in date from the early [2nd down to the 16th century].  Some of these manuscripts are inexpensive, hastily produced copies; some were actually copied onto reused pages (a document was erased and the text . . . was written over the top of the erased pages); others are enormously lavish and expensive copies, including some written on purple-dyed parchment with silver or gold ink.”

    On page 89, Ehrman adds: “Scholars differ significantly in their estimates [of the number of variants known]. [S]ome say there are 200,000 variants, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more!  We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all.  Perhaps . . . it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms.  There are more variations among manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”
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    * In modern American-English prose writing about “the Bible,” the word “the” should not only have an uppercase “t” but also be in italics.  Also, the word “Bible” should be italicized.  Thus the name of this particular book should appear in print as: The Bible.

    ‡ The terms “upper case” and “lower case” come from the suitcase-like boxes with shallow drawers called type-cases that held the “type” type for the movable-type printing presses.  The “capital” letters were in the upper part of the case.  The lower part of the case held the “smaller” type.  We still use the word “type” today, as in “typographical” errors.  That term should perhaps be changed to 
    “computergraphical” or “data-entry” error.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    Alternate invocations don't go down well in Idaho. Surprise?

    From the AP wire via the New York Times, a protest against an invocation that is non-Christian:

    At least in parts of Arizona, secular invocations at governmental meetings haven't met with this kind of reaction.

    Be sure to read the comments.  One of my favorites was the commenter who asked how it was OK to have a Jewish invocation (non-Christian last I looked) but Hindu is protest-worthy.

    The Myth of the Angry Atheist

    This column from the Guardian debunks the Angry Atheist myth.  We might be annoyed, but not necessarily angry.

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    The Bookworm Report #7: The Mythmaker by Hyam Maccoby

    Submitted by Russell Pizer

    The Bookworm Report #7
    The Mythmaker
    – Paul and the Invention of Christianity
    by Hyam Maccoby ©1986, 237pp

    The inside flap of the dust cover of the book titled The Mythmaker, begins with this question: “Who was the founder of Christianity? The answer seems obvious – Jesus. . .”  The author, a Talmudic scholar, shows clearly that this is not true. The information on that flap continues: “. . . Jesus’ disciples never had any thought of founding a new [religion]; they never embraced such ideas as Jesus’ divinity and the Eucharist, which were the brainchildren of Paul; and the heretical Ebionite* sect was really a continuation of ‘Jewish Christianity’ against which Paul had rebelled.”

    For clarity, this “Paul” was Saul of Tarsus who has become known as the “Apostle Paul.” Also, for clarity, there is no evidence in The Bible that Paul had contact with Jesus except through Paul’s own alleged revelations that he said came directly for the risen Jesus.

    It may seem nonsensical to Christians that the founder of Christianity was not the Jesus of Nazareth or any of his apostles – including James – his biological brother – or Peter, but Paul. At first, Paul defied James and Peter and claimed revelations from Paul's new deity as a basis of the doctrines of his (Paul’s) new religion which has come down to present day societies as the Christian religion.

    On page 139, this is found: “[The book of Acts – particularly Chapter 15] was written to minimize the conflict between Paul and the leaders of the ‘Jerusalem Church’ – James and Peter.  Peter and Paul, in later Christian traditions, became twin saints – brothers in the faith. . . The idea that they were historically bitter opponents standing for irreconcilable religious [differences] would have been repudiated with horror.  The work of the author of Acts was done well. [H]e rescued Christianity from the imputation of being the individual creation of Paul . . . [He] gave it a respectable pedigree, as a doctrine with the authority of the so-called ‘Jerusalem Church’ . . .   Yet, for all his efforts, the truth of the matter is not hard to recover. If we examine the New Testament evidence with an eye to tell-tale inconsistencies and confusions, rather than with the determination to gloss over and harmonize all difficulties,  . . .” the truth of the conflict becomes evident.

    Page 145 continues with, “Paul did not accept, either in his private thoughts or in his teaching . . . that he was under the authority of the Jerusalem Community led by James [the brother of Jesus].  On the contrary, he regarded his own authority as higher than theirs, since his doctrines came – as he declared – direct from the risen Christ, while theirs came only from the earthly Jesus. Yet he came meekly to Jerusalem when summoned and submitted himself to the decision of James for he did not consider the time ripe for a complete break with Jewish Christianity.”  In other words, Paul wasn’t honest enough to tell the followers that Jesus had selected that he [Paul] was going to “do his own thing.”

    Because it is in the Book of Acts that we find Saul’s conversion making him the “Founder of Christianity” – not Jesus of Nazareth, the author of The Mythmaker, Hyam Maccoby, on page 88, gives a problematic view of the New Testament.  Maccoby states that there are three accounts of [Paul’s conversion] in Chapters 9, 22 and 26 with some curious inconsistencies. Also there are four other accounts in the first chapter of Galatians written by Paul himself. These raise problems also.
     — Russell Pizer   
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    * The Ebionites regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites. They revered James the Just and rejected Paul (Saul of Tarsus). Ebionim was one of the terms used by the sect at Qumran that sought to separate themselves from the corruption of the Temple, whom many believed were the Essenes.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2015

    Don't look now, but Hell may be freezing over - Evangelicals embrace gay marriage (!!!)

    I found this article to be moving in a couple of ways.  First, just the fact that an evangelical church has pivoted to a position of acceptance of same-sex marriage.  The second was in reading the thought process that led up to this decision, grounded in scripture, if you can believe it.  Even though we don't share the same views on religious issues, maybe there really is a way we can work it out so that we achieve the same end.  It's not the belief, it's the action that counts in the end.

    David Brooks of the NY Times takes on secularism - worth reading for the comments

    Conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks has recently strayed into the minefield of philosophy.  This column is worth reading not necessarily for what he says but rather for the comments, many of which rebut Brooks' argument in thoughtful responses which contain nuggets of wisdom that HSGP members could use to further refine their own thoughts about secularism.  (Sorry for the bad pun but I couldn't resist.)

    Monday, February 2, 2015

    Bookworm Report #6: The Jefferson Bible

    By Russell Pizer

    The Jefferson Bible
    The Life and Morales of Jesus of Nazareth

    Christians like to assert that Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, et al., founded these United States of American on Christian principles and especially the Ten Commandments.  However, those who assert such appear to discount one of Thomas Jefferson’s activities regarding The Bible.

    On 3/16/2011, this headline appeared in the Hoffington Post: “Will the Jefferson Bible Spark New Smithsonian Controversy?”  The article read, in part: “The Smithsonian recently began the painstaking restoration of one of America’s great hidden treasures: what is called the “Jefferson Bible.” Composed through a process of rigorous editing, Thomas Jefferson assembled a spare, concise book that was devoid of supernatural events from six different biblical texts. Even the crowning moment of the Christian story, the Resurrection, is completely deleted from Jefferson’s version. . . .

    “[Religious] pundits . . . would have you believe that the Founding Fathers were devout believers who saw America as a Christian nation. They point to the phrase in the Declaration of Independence,* noting that natural rights are ‘endowed by a Creator’‡ . . . 

    “[T]he Founding Fathers shared little consensus on religion.  Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were explicit deists.  Franklin’s writings revealed ‘some doubts as to [Jesus’s] divinity' . . .”  [Presidents Jefferson and Madison were charged with being atheists.]  “Madison, the author of the Constitution and no friend to organized religion, composed a ‘Detached Memoranda’ to the Constitutional Conventions decrying religious influence as injurious to public life. . .”

    Concerning the “Ten Commandments,” Jefferson selected only six for his version of The Bible.  He included these: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother; and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  These are the same six that Jesus gave in Matthew 19:17-19.  Historically, it should be noted that in 787 the 7th Ecumenical Council nullified the 2nd commandment. This was done so the Roman Catholic Church could have its statues, paintings, icons and images of God, the Holy Family and all the saints.

    People who are not familiar with this effort by Jefferson will probably be mortified to learn that one of our Founding Fathers mutilated the Bible.  Jefferson literally took scissors and cut out the portions he liked and glued them together – making him perhaps the first great American Cafeteria Christian.

    NOTE:  The Jefferson Bible can be downloaded for free from the internet.  An 8½- by 11-inch version contains 33 pages.
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    * Contrary to popular belief, there is no such document in U.S. history that is titled “The Declaration of Independence.” The heading on the first broadside as printed by John Dunlap is: “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of American in General Congress Assembled.”  The embossed official document – the hand-written version by Timothy Matlack – has the title: “The unanimous Declaration of the united States of America.”  Notice it is not the United States of America – with an upper case “U”.  And, history shows that it was not “unanimous.”

    ‡ When Thomas Jefferson submitted the hand-written version of the so-called “Declaration of Independence” to the printer – John Dunlap – the word “creator” appeared with a lower case letter “c.”  There seems to be no historical record as to who changed the word “creator” to “Creator.” It was probably some unknown typesetter in the Dunlop printing office on the night of July 4, 1776. Also note, the phrase is “endowed by their creator,” not, “endowed by the Creator.”

    Friday, January 30, 2015

    Labeling GMO foods - followup to January presentation

    For those of you interested in knowing whether or not what you're buying is GMO, here's an article from the NY Times that doesn't offer much reassurance about product labeling.

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    Bookworm Report #5 The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer

    Submitted by Russell Pizer

    The Quest of the Historical Jesus
    by Albert Schweitzer

    There are a large number of books that are supposed to show that the man the Christians call Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene was an historical figure, i.e., was a real person that lived and walked the roads of Galilee 2000 years ago.  One great attempt is by an almost saintly figure, Albert Schweitzer. His book is titled: The Quest of the Historical Jesus. The paperback dated 2001 contains 562 pages.

    For the most part, there are 354 pages of typical Christian dogmatic prose and “interpolations”* of what The Bible is supposed to teach or what should be a true interpretation of the original written materials. It includes discussions of eschatology and contain citations from biblical literature and what those citations should really mean.  Schweitzer then gets to the subject of the book – the quest of the historical Jesus. However, he never gets to the point in question: Was there ever a person named Jesus as depicted in The Bible that appear in any historical source other than that which can be found only in religiously-biased writings?

    The title of Chapter 22 (page 355) is: “The Most Recent Disputing of the Historicity of Jesus.”  Christians who are looking for an historical Jesus – as was Schweitzer – often quote from Flavius Josephus who wrote The Jewish Antiquities ca. 93-94 A.D.  On page 359, Schweitzer uses a questionable quotation from Josephus’ book 18, chapter 3, section 3.  That quotation consists of a 126-word highly disputed passage. That passage begins with these words:  “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man. . .”  It then goes on to state that: “He was the Christ; and when Pilate, on the indictment . . . condemned him to the cross . . . [but he] [re]appeared on the third day . . .” At the end of this section it is alleged that Josephus recorded that: [his followers were considered] to be “the tribe of Christians . . .”

    Strangely, following this Josephus quotation presented by Schweitzer, Schweitzer states, “This note is either inauthentic or so extravagantly interpolated that it can no longer be presented as credible evidence.”  (Here Schweitzer appears to be destroying his own thesis.)

    A complete condemnation of this passage as being a fraudulent interpolation by an unknown Christian copyist is presented in The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by C. Dennis McKinsey.  Beginning on page 100, McKinsey presents 18 major errors in this oft-quoted section from Josepheus beginning with: “[Josephus], a devout Jew, would not imply that [Jesus] was divine.”  And, “a devout Jew would never say that Jesus was the Christ.”

    After fully describing 18 major errors in this passage, this is added, “[O]n page 50 of The Mythical Jesus, Patrick Campbell notes that the historian Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, considered this passage to be a forgery as do many theologians.” 

    Question: Did Schweitzer achieve his quest, i.e., show there was an historical Jesus?  Not in these 562 pages!
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    * The word “interpolation” in this case means inserted information that is believed to be true or is believed to have actually occurred or been handed down by oral tradition. For example: The Bible states that wise men from the east visited the baby Jesus after having followed a star in the east. Somehow the wise men became the three kings. The names of the three kings are somehow known to be Balthasar, Caspar, Melchior. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Somehow we now know their mode of transportation.  It should be noted that many astronomers have searched ancient astronomical records and attempted to recreated events that could have caused a conjunction of stars, or planets or asteroids or comets that would have resulted in the star of Bethlehem. No such phenomenon has ever been found or replicated in a planetarium.