In its two-thousand year history, the Christian faith has endured persecution. It has survived heresy, and dissention in the ranks. It has persevered in the face of war, famine, and disease. The Church has been proof against all these things. What it has not been proof against, however, is scrutiny. Close scrutiny by educated scholars, be they archaeologists, paleontologists, biologists, geologists, or just about any other -ologist there is has been the bane of the Christian faith. More and more begin to explore the fruits of atheism and agnosticism, or wander to the Eastern religions of Buddhism and Hindu.
It is with great honor that I ennumerate a few of the many failings of the Bible*, and Christianity in general, to stand up to logical reasoning.
The Old Testament
As an attempt to understand natural phenomena and to create a basis for a code of law by a 6000 year-old, pre-literate, desert nomadic culture, it's not a bad job. The curious thing is that, despite its proven lack of relevance, there are people who still believe that the stories are literal truth. This is a rather harmless belief. But the basis for legal structure is also believed to be a valuable source. This belief is just silly. While it may have had value then, the Torah (let's call an ace an ace) has no value as a basis for a system of law today.
The simple fact is, the laws as written down in the Old Testament (and described as the word of God by all Christians) have never been practiced by Christians. There has never been a Christian man who sacrificed a goat, or an ox, to appease his God. But if you want silly...
- Someone who works on Sunday is to be killed. (Exodus 31:15)
- Forbidden foods: camel, rock badger, rabbit, pig, eagle, owl, rat, gecko. Permitted animals include locusts, grasshoppers, and crickets. (Leviticus 11)
- Having sex during a woman's menstrual period yields exile for the couple. (Leviticus 20:18)
- And let us not forget the most important item. So important, in fact, that God named it as part of his his first Commandment (Exodus 20:4-5): "You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them." Yet Christianity is fraught with idols. Every sect worships the crucifix, and others expand to include such things as paintings, bits of cloth, stained glass images, statues, and slivers of wood purported to be remnants of the cross. In the modern era, potatoes or gelatin figures bearing vague resemblances to biblical figures become objects of worship.
Since Christians cannot be bothered to follow these laws, I believe we can forget about them, as well. As for the rest of the Torah, it's filled with histories, folklore, and false prophecy. I don't see that we need to discuss it further.
The New Testament
This is the heart of the Christian religion. It's the story of Jesus, and his disciples. Then it wraps up with the ravings of a psychopath, but I'm getting ahead of myself here. The story of Jesus is the absolute linchpin of the Christian religion. His saga is told in the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Many churches will tell you that every word in the Bible, and especially these gospels, is the word of God himself, and it's been preserved intact throughout the ages.
The sad truth is, in certain instances, the Gospels contradict each other. In other instances, contemporary historians and religious tracts reveal a different picture than the one the Bible paints.
Conclusive Evidence of Tampering With the Bible
This exists in the form of a copy of a letter discovered in 1958 in the library of Mar Saba, an isolated Eastern Orthodox Church community near Jerusalem. The copy dates back to sometime shortly after 1648, but the names indicate that the original was written by one Clement of Alexandria, a Catholic Church father of some renown from the second century AD. Paleographic evidence proves conclusively that Clement was the original writer, as it contains all of his known idiosyncracies.
The content of the letter is advice to someone named Theodore about what to do about the Carpocratian heresy that was florishing in the south of France. This heresy's beliefs were based on a few lines in the Gospel of Mark that had been edited out of the Church's copies. Clement even gives the lines removed. An entire section which deals with the raising of Lazarus was the heart of the heresy. Six days after Lazarus is raised, he comes to Jesus wearing only a linen cloth, and they spend an entire night together undisturbed. The Carpocratians took this to be a divine sanction for homosexual love, and they pursued this ardently.
But let's get on with examination of the Gospels themselves, as they exist today, beginning at the beginning. Two of the Gospels deal directly with Jesus's birth, Luke and Matthew. They both contain diametrically opposed stories. They each have a lineage for Jesus, but they have almost nothing in common. Matthew's genealogy, from David to Jesus, is just 28 generations. Luke's is 43. Only five names are common to the genealogies, but they don't necessarily appear in order. They are David, Jesus, Joseph, Salathiel, Zerubabbel, and Eliakim. The significance of David, Jesus, and Joseph are obvious. Zerubabbel is the name of the individual who restored the worship of Yahweh to the Jerusalem temple when the Babylonian Captivity ended, thanks to Cyrus I of Persia. His father was Salathiel. Eliakim may be a random name match, since his name appears as a grandson of Zerubbabel in Matt's lineage, and Luke has him appearing 17 generations before Zerubbabel.
While certain errors in a genealogy could be forgiven, the fact that they have only 5 common names out of a possible 43 is unforgiveable. Any person today could fail to construct a genealogy going back that many generations, but these don't even agree on the identity of Jesus' own grandfather. Luke says that the father of Joseph was named Heli, but Matthew names him Jacob.
Both lineages connect Jesus to David, and the assumption is that Jesus is the heir to the Jewish throne. But if that's the purpose, then why does Luke's geneology fail to follow the royal line? Matthew's lineage passes from David to Solomon, and on through all the kings we know from the Old Testament histories. Luke's passes from David to Nathan, who did not inherit the throne.
And this doesn't even address the most obvious question: if Joseph is not the father of Jesus, if Mary conceived him without Joseph's involvement, then why should we care about Joseph's ancestry? The simple answer is, he was involved.
But getting on with the childhood story, you'll find things getting even more contradictory. Luke's account of the birth is fairly simple. The child is born in a manger, and some shepherds come to look in on the boy. The family remains in the Bethlehem area until Mary has completed the prescribed purification*, then goes to Jerusalem to have the boy blessed at the temple. They then return home to Galilee.
Matthew's account of the birth goes like this: Jesus is born in a manger, and three astrologers from the East come to bring him gifts. Herod learns of the boy through them, and wants the kid killed. The astrologers find him in a house, present their gifts, and Joseph is warned about the danger. He immediately takes the family to Egypt, to remain until Herod's death.
Once again, these stories are incompatible. Even if we take a bit of license and grant that the astrologers visited after the family had been in town for some time, and been able to secure lodging, we still have no way to bring the later actions into coherence. Either the family fled to Egypt, or they didn't. We have no historical evidence for a purge of two-year olds by Herod, so we can assume that that account is wrong.
The likeliest scenario is that both stories are fabrications, as would fit with their mythological context. After all, there is very little scientific basis for a star over the city of Bethlehem, either. Apologists have proposed the idea that a shooting star hung over the city, but if it pointed directly at Bethlehem, it would have had to have hit it. But even the Bible doesn't mention one. If it were headed elsewhere and it only seemed to indicate Bethlehem from some great distance, then when the astrologers got to Bethlehem, it would have looked like it was over Egypt. Any child who has ever watched the moon out the back window of the car or tried to chase a rainbow is familiar with this phenomenon.
Common Misconceptions about Jesus
Promulgated by the Holy Mother Church, but not actually anywhere in the scriptures (but easily discredited by a critical eye to them) are the following myths:
Jesus Was a Simple Carpenter
Never mentioned in the Bible, except to say that Joseph was a carpenter, but there is clear evidence against it. Jesus is frequently called "Rabbi" and "Teacher," titles that are not casually tossed about in Jewish culture. He even taught in the temples, rather than confining himself to street lecturing (Matt 13:54). Nobody teaches in the temples without becoming an ordained rabbi. Nobody. In order to achieve that status, quite a bit of education is required, and in those days, education is quite expensive. Joseph would have had to build a lot of cabinets to put his son through school.
Now there is still room in this argument to disagree, but a bit of word etymology can put the entire subject to rest. The original Aramaic word for carpenter is "naggar." This word has more than one use, however. In the proper context, it also means "scholar" or "learned man." Jesus is obviously the proper context, since his encyclopedic knowledge of the scriptures is well documented.
Jesus Was Celibate
No rabbi in Jewish culture can get a bit of respect until he is married. Until he is married, a man in Jewish culture is still a child. For people to come to him, seek his knowledge and his blessing, Jesus had to be married. Although all such references had surely been excised from the Gospels centuries before, some non-canonical texts offer tantalizing hints about a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. From the Nag Hammadi codices*:
- The Gospel of Mary: "Peter said to Mary, 'Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women.'" Someone named Levi later tells Peter "Surely the Savior knows her (Mary) very well. That is why he loved her more than us."
- The Gospel of Philip: "There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, his sister, and Magdalene, who is called his companion." In the original Greek, the word 'companion' meant 'consort' or 'sexual partner.'
- Also from Phillip: "Christ loved her (Mary) more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth."
And even in the Gospels we find a hint left behind by the Bible's editors, in John 19:26, where Mary Magdalene is referred to as "the disciple whom he loved."
So why was her role marginalized by the Church? The Nag Hammadi collection also contains hints that Peter hated Mary personally, and women in general. Consider this excerpt from Pistis Sophia: "Peter makes me (Mary) hesitate: I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race." And in the Gospel of Thomas, Peter says: "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." As the church that eventually gained influence was Peter's, the mystery is explained.
Jesus the Pacifist
We know all about the Golden Rule, and "turn the other cheek," and "love your enemies." We know all about them, because people can't stop talking about them. But it's no suprise that people immediately identify these things with Jesus, because Jesus is alleged to be the epitome of goodness, and these are good, honorable tenets. However, not all is as it appears.
First, consider the episode with the money changers. This practice had been a part of Judaic worship since Abraham. After all, it is required by Jewish law that people make certain animal sacrifices at various parts of their lives. The family that has to make a pilgrimage from Galilee to do so doesn't want to be dragging an ox the entire way. So the temple raised livestock, which could be purchased on-site for the requisite ceremony. God certainly didn't mind the arrangement, or he would have mentioned it in one of his many conversations with Saul, David, or Solomon, but Jesus was furious.
Now let's get to the less obvious. "My mission is to spread, not peace, but division" (Matthew 10:34). Peace certainly wasn't his business, since he had two members of the Sicarii in his entourage, Judas and Simon. The Sicarii were the most violent protestors of Roman occupation, famous for terrorist acts. And the crime for which Jesus is crucified is insurrection, but I'm getting ahead of myself once again.
A few items of interest, direct from the mouth of Jesus, which paint him as more of a hothead than a god:
- "If anyone comes to me without turning his back on his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and sisters, indeed his very self, he cannot be my follower."* (Luke 14:26)
- "What an unbelieving and perverse lot you are! How long must I remain with you? How long can I endure you?" (Luke 9:41)
- "Never again shall anyone eat of your fruit!" (Curse leveled at an innocent fig tree, when figs were not in season.) (Mark 11:14)
Jesus Performed Miracles of Healing as Proof of his Divinity
Jesus's miracles of healing were not unique to him. John the Baptist performed many such acts before Jesus, and his disciples performed many more after him. But a careful reading of the scriptures reveals that Jesus never actually says "You are healed." Instead he says things like "Stand up! Roll up your mat and go home" and "Your faith has restored you to health," and "The little girl is not dead. She is asleep." In this day and age, it is not necessary to explain the cheap parlor tricks that faith healers often employ, or about the power of the mind to heal.
Jesus Was Nailed to the Cross
A bit of dramatic license on the part of the early Christians, and nothing more. It is a well-documented medical fact that the weight of the human body cannot be supported by nails placed in the palms; the skin and muscles would tear, and the body would collapse to the ground. Apologists try to evade the issue by stating that the nails were placed in the wrists instead, but this is in direct contradiction of the evidence given in John 20:27, when Jesus instructs Thomas to examine his wounds in the following manner: "Take your finger and examine my hands. Put your hand into my side." Roman practice was to bind the hands, just as Brian's are in Monty Python's The Life of Brian.
Jesus of Nazareth
One of the greatest benefits to history of Roman supremacy was their copious and careful documentation. The lack of a town near the Sea of Galilee bearing the name Nazareth on any map before or during the time of Jesus is no mistake. The mistake, rather, is in the translation. The appropriate usage is "Jesus the Nasorean," meaning he was a member of the sect bearing that name. The Nasoreans and the Essenes* are often considered to be one and the same.
The Death Scene
This part of the Bible is the most singularly confusing when read by an inquiring mind; it raises far more questions than it satisfactorily answers.
The Release of Barabbas
There is no evidence of any such custom existing, that of releasing one prisoner, designated by the crowd, on a feast day. In fact, it runs completely contrary to what is known of Pontius Pilate, an incredibly mean and brutal procurator. The concensus by biblical scholarship is that this bit was added in order to make their religion more palatable to the Roman citizenry and government, by making the Jews responsible for the crucifixion, rather than the Romans. The most obvious sign of this is given in John 19:15: "'What!' Pilate exclaimed. 'Shall I crucify your king?' The chief priests replied, 'We have no king but Caesar.'" Roman lordship was openly embraced in many of their territories, but never in Israel. In fact, a major rebellion took place in Israel just a few years after Christ's execution. Barrabas is described as an insurrectionist, as are the two men Jesus is crucified with, so there is clear evidence that unrest exists in Jesus's time*.
I recently came across a bit of word etymology that was eye opening, to say the least. It seems that Barabbas is not a proper name, as has always been thought, but rather a title. It comes from Hebrew, obviously, composed of "bar," meaning "son of," and "abba*", meaning "father," but general usage was that of The Father, that is, God. Therefore, Barabbas means "Son of God." Early manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew present the entire name as Jesus Barabbas, but this no longer exists in any modern translation.
Now we are presented with two characters, one Jesus the Son of God, and Jesus the King of the Jews. Messianic prophecies predicted the concurrent emergence of two Saviors, a Davidic one to become king, and a Levitical one to rebuild the Temple of Solomon. These two were to work together to bring about the new Jerusalem.
In light of this new information, it is reasonable to speculate further. If Pilate had arrested both of these individuals, the people of Jerusalem may well have become terribly upset. Knowing that the nearest Roman garrison was two days of forced marching away at Caesarea, Pilate may have made the offer to the people as a way to forstall a riot. The name "Jesus" is also a sort of title, as it means "Savior" in Hebrew. In this context, it is reasonable to identify Jesus Barabbas as James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem Church, brother to Jesus, and his appointed second-in-command*.
I frequently ask Christians this question: "What is the medical cause of death by crucifixion?" I am dismayed by their ignorant response: "suffocation." The medical cause of death is exposure. More specifically, dehydration. It is a process which usually takes a few days. When a quicker end is mercifully bestowed upon the crucified, it is delivered by a soldier who breaks the victim's legs. The legs no longer support the body, and he slumps downward. Suspended by his arms akimbo above him, the victim then begins to expire of suffocation. There is really no chance that Jesus is suffocating, because he is doing quite a bit of talking up there, and his last acts are a drink and some final words, both of which require a working respiratory and digestive system.
Let us assemble a list of injuries suffered by Jesus before his death by combining all of the four Gospels, even though they do disagree on the fine points:
- A crown of thorns is placed upon his head, which would probably leave a few scratches.
- While he wears the crown of thorns, soldiers slap him (John) and smack him upside the head with a reed (Matt and Mark), which would hurt quite a bit, but not leave any noticeable damage aside from welts or bruises.
- Despite tradition, there is no evidence that Jesus was whipped as he carried his cross to Golgotha, where he would be crucified. In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross, while only John has him carrying it himself.
It is thus that a rather healthy, if humiliated, Jesus is placed on the cross to die of exposure. Yet he manages to do this in the span of a few hours. And, curiously enough, in three of the Gospels, Jesus is offered a drink just before he utters his famous last words* and expires. In fact, in John, Pilate is so incredulous that Jesus could be dead so soon, he orders one of his soldiers to pierce him with a spear to verify that he is not faking it. This is the only mention of the infamous spear wound.
First of all, you would think that a fact so important as the desecration of Jesus' body by the guard would merit inclusion in all four Gospels, and yet it only shows up in one. That throws a shadow of disbelief over the whole episode, as well as the fact that it only shows up in the last Gospel to be written. Secondly, that mention goes like this: "One of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out." There is not enough detail here to draw conclusions...how deep was the puncture, what precise location, were any vital organs really in danger? Not enough information for anyone to speculate that he lost a lung. But then, to throw a bigger veil of disbelief over the subject, this follows it, in parenthesis: "This testimony has been given by an eyewitness, and his testimony is true, He tells what he knows is true, so that you may believe." This reminds me of another quote: "He doth protest too much." It sounds like John expected to be disbelieved even in his own time. Incredible events abound in John and the rest of the Gospels, yet no miracle Jesus performs is so vehemently defended.
Clearly, the questions raised by this leave room for alternatives to the traditional history. Biblical scholars have come up with the following possibilites, all of which are just as debateable as the Christian ending:
- The sponge soaked in wine carried a powerful narcotic which knocked out Jesus, giving the impression of death. Such chemicals were readily available in his day in the environs of Jerusalem, and were widely known. Jesus's body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and set free once the narcotic had worn off. He then escaped to France, where it is postulated by a few that he fathered the Merovingian line of French kings, the most famous of which was Clovis I.
- Same as above, but he went off to live in Egypt.
- Simon of Cyrene was substituted on the cross for Jesus, and Joseph disposed of the body to hide the evidence from people who would know the difference. The wine contained a poison to carry him off quicker.
- Simon was substituted, but the wine was a narcotic as before, and Simon was merely acting as a diversion while Jesus made his escape. Simon was freed from the tomb and was able to meet with Jesus in Galilee before he departed Israel forever.
Development of Christianity
The Catholic Church claims that it has received its doctrine directly from Simon Peter, who gave it to Paul, whose missionary work forms the basis of the religion. This is all completely untrue. The fact of the matter is that Peter stayed loyal to the Jerusalem Church, who were to come to be known as Gnostics, and that Paul stole, corrupted, and misinterpreted their traditions.
First of all, it is important to note that Paul never knew Jesus in life, and had never heard his name until after the crucifixion. It is claimed that Paul's conversion occurred while he was persecuting Christianity, but this was not a goal of the empire during his time. It is more likely that he was working to eliminate the remaining elements of the Jewish independence movement, in which Jesus was heavily involved, as I have shown. At any rate, he had opportunity to come into contact with James the Just, as it is James who he is introduced to immediately after "being struck blind" (Acts 22:14).
From James he would have learned the secrets of the teachings of Jesus, but as a properly Hellenized Roman citizen, he lacked the proper context for those teachings. He turned the Gnostic ritualised ressurection* into a literal reality for Jesus, and this created incredible friction between the two sects. Simon Peter refuted the idea by saying, "Wherefore observe the greatest caution, that you believe no teacher, unless he brings from Jerusalem the testimonial of James, the Lord's brother." The Dead Sea Scrolls document the contention of James and Paul from the point of view of James' supporters, calling him the "Teacher of Righteousness" and giving Paul the name "The Spouter of Lies."* For Paul's part, he was unabashed about his activities, "I made myself a Jew to the Jews to win the Jews...To those who have no law I was free of the law myself...I made myself all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:20-25). Paul's goal was to make his new religion available to all people, Jewish and Gentile. It was this accessibility that led to its success.
The followers of both sects would continue to gain converts, as well as spite each other, clear up until the mid-4th century. At that time Emperor Constantine I, himself a member and head of the cult of Sol Invictus until his deathbed*, began looking for a way to keep his fracturing empire together. Seeing that the hodge podge of cultures and religions in the empire contibuted to its weakness, Constantine decided that a single state religion would be the best way to control the people, and he settled on Christianity. By this time Christianity was the most popular cult in all Roman lands, thanks to the missionary work of Paul and his work to make it accessible to all peoples. It was beset by its own problems, however, as no single doctrine could be agreed upon, so Constantine called the Council of Nicae in 325. After several months of wrangling, a concensus was formed, and the Catholic canon was produced. Constantine then sponsored the eradication of all heresies, including Gnosticism, until the form of Christianity that we know today was the only religion left in the Western world. It should come as no suprise that no copies of the books of the Bible predate the fourth century, as the Church proceeded to edit them at this time to suit its needs.
In the Tradition of the Spouter of Lies
"The Donation of Constantine" is the document from which the papacy claims to derive its power. It is purported to be written by Emperor Constantine I, giving the Church absolute authority in secular matters, on the basis that Jesus had passed such authority to Peter, who in turn passed it to the Church of Rome. We've already seen that no such chain of events ever occurred, and it is a well known fact that this is nothing more than a terrible forgery on the part of the Church, and was not even in existence until the eighth century.
The story of Jesus, until only recently, was entirely dependent on the Bible. No single mention of this great man existed in any of the histories of the time. If he was who he claimed, he could not have failed to attract the attention of Josephus, a Roman historian who concentrated on Israel at the time Jesus' career was at its zenith. Tacitus would have been familiar with him as well, as he covered that area to some extent. In order to fill this void, the church manufactured a few sections in Josephus' work, which show up easily as forgeries, since they completely lack anything resembling his style and voice. Similarly, an entire book was credited to Tacitus that he never wrote. They were, predictably, filled with the sort of dogma and platitudes one would expect a cleric to write concerning his god, and totally lacked a knowledge of the time in which they were allegedly written, so they stand out as fabrications to even the commonest observer.
The utter lack of historical corroboration has caused many to surmise that the Jesus depicted in the Gospels never actually existed. The Gospels themselves weren't written until after Paul's letters, a generation or more after Jesus would have died, which would have given the myth enough time to become accepted as fact. The Gospels themselves provide very little evidence of a real Jesus, since they're difficult to corroborate due to internal contradictions. However, history has shown us that legend is often based on some degree of fact, and there are some corroborations that can be made with history concerning some of the known characters, such as Herod and Pilate. So it is possible that a real person did exist, and even biblical scholars who refuse to take the accounts at face value often believe that there really was such a person.*
The Christian Response
As secular scientists began to chip away at the cornerstones of religious foundations, the Catholic Church decided it needed its own scientists, dedicated to the truth as revealed in the scriptures, and its interpretations of them. In the 1880's the Church began the Modernist movement. It began educating scholar-priests in the scientific method, and turned them loose to begin proving the validity of Christian dogma. The results were less than favorable. Catholic priests were writing works which also shook the foundations of the Church. In 1902, a commission was created by the pope to supervise Catholic biblical scholarship, and many works found their way onto the Inquisition's Index of Forbidden Books.
Modernists comprised the best educated, most articulate enclave of the Church, and, backed by secular scholarship, continued on unabated. Modernism was declared a heresy in 1907, and by 1910, all Catholics involved in teaching or preaching were required to take an oath renouncing 'the errors of Modernism.'
As for today, the only opposition offered by Christianity is in the form of the Apologists. These people are nothing better than religious spin doctors, who commit several offenses against logic as they try to beat interpretations of religious texts into shapes that conform to modern day scholarship.