In my previous post, I expressed my reasons for abandoning Roman Catholicism (and traditional Christianity as a whole). I will now will explain my religious views.
A Moderate Naturalism and a Spiritual Nature
It is sort of unusual to argue that spirit is material. This view comes mostly from ancient philosophy, which conceives the soul as something diametrically opposite and, sometimes, opposed to the physical body. This goes as far back as Plato, who established the realm of ideas as the place where our souls originally come from, but fell, and now it is a prisoner of matter. Matter is corruptible, changing, and temporal. It is not the natural state of the soul to be contaminated with it.
As a contemporary Platonist, I have to point out the deep (but historically understandable) fallacy in which Plato fell into: that truths-of-reason and the spiritual realm are one and the same thing. Plato correctly distinguished between those objects that are understood but not sensibly perceived and those that are perceived but not understood. Yet, due to the fact that our minds (souls), not the bodies, are able to grasp the former, then that would mean that minds and the objects of understanding are essentially the same. Further, since he needed to explain how the physical objects participate from the ideal realm, he fell into another fallacy: that a Divinity (the Demiurge) actually created these ideas as a way to create a great material organism that participates from His Divinity (all of this is expressed in Timaeus). Judeo-Christianity only perpetuated these fallacies in lesser or greater degree (which is, once again, can be perfectly understood given its historical background).
My Platonist position about the objects of understanding is similar to Edmund Husserl’s: logical truths are essentially formal apophantics, and mathematics is formal ontology. Formal logic prescribes a priori all forms of truth whatsoever, while mathematics deals with the forms in which objects can be given. Both are a priori disciplines, meaning that they are only known through reason (i.e. they are truths-of-reason), and they are the unconditional, absolute, and logically necessary basis of any truth or anything whatever. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that logical truths and mathematical objects exist, as well as formal categories, and so on. I extend this to ethical values in general, as well as ethical principles, among others.
There is no possible deity that can determine absolutely anything relating to mathematics and logic, nor can God make a genocide good in principle, nor make a square be round. As a matter of fact, gods or God (as traditionally conceived) Who can create and/or intervene in the physical world, must belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, not of truths-of-reason. Hence, spiritual activity (unconscious, subconscious, and conscious, elementary or highly evolved), also belongs to the realm of matters-of-fact, as Frege, Husserl, and other philosophical realists saw very clearly.
If both, material and spiritual realities belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, then in some sense they must be related. Contrary to Plato, who saw matter only as decadent and corruptible, what science has discovered recently is that matter is a thriving activity and self-creative. In fact, as has been pointed out by so many people, Ultimate Reality seems to be made up of nothing but emergent nested creativity:
- From quarks to atoms
- From atoms to molecules
- From molecules to stars
- From stars to galaxies, etc.
The material world is intrinsically emergent, where a new complexity emerges from another. Today’s cosmology is an emergent cosmology. It is within this creative activity, especially through evolution, organisms (autopoietic beings) came to be, who could replicate their genetic code, and through natural selection’s tinkering of the code and the emergence of forms of unintended cooperation, a rich variety of complex living beings came to be. Among them, many animals developed brains that could process few bits of information. Then through natural selection some minds became increasingly more complex and modular, specializing each more in operations of the senses, of action and reaction, and avoiding harm.
Humans today have a brain whose parts and modules have been inherited from our ancestors. Each of them became more and more conscious until humanity gained some spectacular abilities, such as to foresee consequences of its actions, of creating solidarity systems for collective action, and a wonderful way of adapting to the environment (needless to say our ability to make the environment adapt to us). Our souls literally come from active, self-creating matter.
For this, we should be thankful for matter, energy, and our own souls. We should celebrate our material origins and our emergence in this wonderful universe, so full of sacred moments. I remember the ecologist theologian Thomas Berry saying in a very moving statement:
We need to experience the developmental story of the universe as our sacred story. ..There was a time when the oxygen in the air had been created by the plankton in the sea. This oxygen, though, was poison, it was deadly… It nearly killed every living form. A transformation had to take place. Forms had to invent a way of using the energy to create organic substance in an inorganic world. Animals can’t do that. Only plants can do that. That’s why Ecclesiastes says that all life is grass, because all life depends on what grass can do. This I think is a moment of grace…. The invention of sexuality is a moment of grace. Evolution could not happen without the invention of sexuality. That one life form can live of another life form, that is another moment of grace. A Divine that creates the universe that can create itself, that is the miracle of creation.
In this light, everything material becomes sacred.
About God and Prophecy
I don’t believe in a supernatural God anymore. In that sense, you can call me atheist, just as most of us are atheists regarding Zeus, or Odin. I am an atheist regarding Yahweh and regarding Jesus. I don’t believe that Jesus is God, but I do believe about Jesus what practically all historians and Bible scholars hold as true: that Jesus existed as an apocalyptic prophet who was later deified by Early Christians, a process which culminated with the Councils of Niscea and Constantinople. For more on this, buy Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God (I have a big difference of opinion regarding the issue of Jesus’ burial, but the rest of the book is great). Simply speaking, there is no supernatural God. I don’t accept supernatural miracles anymore, nor do I think there are angels, nor a lot of things I used to believe when I was Catholic. The best apology for such a kind of God was Hans Küng’s Does God Exist? (a book that is very rich in knowledge, wisdom, and rigor of thought, and I highly recommend reading it), and still I was unsatisfied with his answer.
That being said, I am not antitheist, nor do I intend to become another antitheistic activist like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. I do respect a lot of theists who hold their belief in a supernatural God. It just didn’t work for me. My aspiration is to work along with religious people for a better future, and I do care deeply about religions in general.
I do believe in a God, and that is Ultimate Reality. God is a proper name, a personification of Ultimate Reality. Once again, He is a personification, not a person. He is a mythical way of relating to Ultimate Reality of which all of us are part of. He (or She if you prefer) encompasses all of material components, its energetic processes, and material and spiritual events. He also incorporates all of the history of the universe, or what Thomas Berry called The Great Story. Others have called it Big History. The Great Story is the one that incorporates every single story of the universe, even humanity’s history, incorporating mythical histories, all forms of understanding the relationship between humanity and the universe, religious thinking, ideals, moral values, and so on.
This is the Great Story of a creation that happened and is still happening all over the world. Humanity is a big contributor to this evolution. We have the huge problems of world hunger, climate change, wars, etc. In a world like this, God has made us an evolutionary gift: we can foresee the consequences of our actions or lack of them as basis to make decisions individually and collectively. We are moral beings (to make decisions based on values), who are able to be ethical beings (to make decisions based on objectively good values). As Peter Parker’s uncle used to say: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Paraphrasing A Course in Miracles (but in a radically different sense), each of us have the mind, the eyes, the ears, the voice, the hands, the arms, the legs, the feet … in other words, the body as instruments of salvation.
As a Religious Naturalist (and even when I was Roman Catholic), I recognize the role of being a prophet of this time. When I was young, and belonged to Líderes de la Paz (a missionary Roman Catholic group), I learned that a prophet is the one who announces and denounces righteously in God’s name.
Notice righteously, not self-righteously. To be righteous requires a lot of humility, as opposed to self-righteousness, which requires a lot of arrogance. Someone told me that for St. Theresa of Avila, “humility is the truth”. There is no better definition out there than this one. Both reason and experience of Ultimate Reality (of God) will keep us humble constantly. For this, we need Philosophy, Formal Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, and so on. It is necessary to pay attention to God’s own revelation (discovered facts) through all of these science. On that basis. we can make our own individual decisions, and help redirect society to help it make the best collective decision.
On such foundations, we can actually know what it is going to happen if we don’t do anything about climate change. It is not God’s punishment, but the result of our own sin. Even when people don’t like the term “sin”, we have to recover it within this Naturalistic view. For theologians, “sin” is not merely doing something wrong, it is making a wrong decision that disrupts our relationship with God. Within a Naturalistic reconception, our refusal to understand Ultimate Reality and not dealing with establishing our right relationship with God is a sinful behavior. Our indifference and hatred to manifestations and expressions of God such living beings, including xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and others, are sinful, because they disrupt our relationship with God’s own creation of which we are part of. In light of this, we can say “Amen” when we can restate Naturalistically what the author of 1 John says:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
An Evidential Faith
As we act this way, the deal of living spiritually is living in integrity. That does not just mean being honest. It means that I should align my mind and my actions with what factual evidence that empirical sciences can show us. Rev. Michael Dowd has talked about an evidential faith. This phrase is so strange because people think of “faith” as believing with no evidence. Actually, faith is synonymous with trust. Some people trust that God exists, and do so blindly. In my case, I think that we should trust evidence as it is revealed by the sciences in general, we should have an evidential faith to live in integrity.
What about things you don’t know? Simply speaking, I can speculate about could probably exist, but on the basis of evidence. Of others sorts of claims I will remain a skeptic, in the same sense of Skeptic magazine or the Skeptical Inquirer.
Short Summary of my New Religious Views
Rev. Michael Dowd has expressed in a metareligious sense the following principles:
- Reality is my God.
- Evidence is my Scripture.
- Big History is my creation story.
- Ecology is my theology
- Integrity is my salvation.
- Ensuring a healthy future is my mission
I hold all of these from a Naturalistic standpoint. Is there anything more to say?
Recent months have been a very tough period for me, especially regarding the religious and spiritual aspects of my life. As many of you know, some months ago, I left Roman Catholicism and have adopted a sort of Religious Naturalist view My change of views is mostly a result of a self-criticism and self-evaluation of my own beliefs in general that I constantly do every once in a while.
A lot of my friends were very surprised. Some were happy, others sad, and others couldn’t care any less. Yet, I soon discovered in Facebook that it didn’t matter how many times I told the reasons for my change of mind, some people continued guessing for “other” reasons for it.
Let me set the record straight. I didn’t leave Catholicism for the recent scandals we all know about, nor its dark past. The Church is made out of humans, and any other religion with the same social problems most probably would do the same thing. Any group without accountability (and the Church had much of that for centuries) would be just as abusive. I can only say that at the very least, the Church has been mostly kind to me during my whole life, especially my intellectual life and living the Gospel the best way I could. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had any bad episodes, but most of my experience with it has been for the better. This statement of mine doesn’t intend to diminish other people’s horrible experiences with the Church, but at least I want to clarify mine.
The reason why I left the Church is something very simple: I stopped believing in its core doctrines and dogmas. There were multiple reasons for it, but here are some of the reasons:
- One of the factors had to do with my philosophical research on the relationship between the brain and the mind. Once I understood the basics of brain processes due to our evolutionary process, I gradually saw how a mental life and consciousness are in great part the result of modular interaction in the brain, especially through the continuous exchange of information (the brain as an organ of computation). The mind is real, but it is inseparable from the body and brain functionss. It is like trying to separate the software that runs in your computer from the computer itself. In fact the mind and the ego (the “I” of our consciousness) are emergent properties of brain processes. This would directly go against the Church’s teaching of the soul as being the substantial form of a body and that it can be subsistent (i.e. it can be independent from the physical body). From the point of view of neurobiology and philosophy of the mind, the separability of the soul and the body is meaningless. The soul is the result of body processes, without it, the soul goes extinct. I think that Raymond M. Smullyan’s reading “An Unfortunate Dualist” was a big influence when I reached this conclusion.
- We have another difficulty, even if we posit, along with Thomas Aquinas, a rational-spiritual subsistent soul beside animal souls. The problem is that, from an evolutionary standpoint, the rational soul with all of its essential properties (memory, understanding and will) are nothing more than developed mental faculties that we have inherited from our non-human ancestors and that anyone can find in varying degrees in other non-human animals. From this perspective, the distinction between both kinds of souls (animal soul and rational soul) makes no sense at all. The rational soul is just another kind of animal soul (using Thomas Aquinas’ terminology).
- I have long rejected the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope (which was never a dogma before the XIX century, and not everyone believed it, especially during the first centuries of Christianity). I didn’t believe either that Jesus established a papacy as we know it today, and in many ways, the Papacy had become institutionally the opposite of the message of the Gospel. Sorry, but Mt. 16 or the end of the Gospel of John don’t serve to provide the foundations for the Papacy at all (at least with the kind of earthly power it had in the Middle Ages until today). It seems more that the Papacy is just the result of the accidents of history, especially after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West and the Western kingdoms’ competition with the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Western rivalry against Muslim powers. (Many people would say that I’m being “simplistic”, and to some extent it is true. The problem is that I can’t explain the long history here, that would be another subject for another post … or perhaps a book?) The dogma of the infallibility of the papacy, that the Pope can proclaim a certain moral or religious doctrine as true ex cathedra is the ultimate act of institutional arrogance, especially as a response to nineteenth century Modernism.
- I had a very serious problem with Christianity’s notion of God in light of what the Puerto Rican economist Francisco Catalá Oliveras has called: “Funes’ syndrome“. I’ve talked before about it. It is the implicit prejudice that many of us have that perfection in the world is possible, and that such perfection would be functional. I would contrast this with what I call Catalá’s principle: In this world perfection is impossible, and if it were, it would be dysfunctional. If this is true, then that means that things and activity do work in this world, precisely because of their imperfection. If this is true in the case of the entire Cosmos, wouldn’t the allegation of God’s perfection beg the question? If a supernatural God exists, and created the world, He would be as imperfect as all of us. If God interacts with us, it is because He is imperfect. And that would mean that His “plan” for the Cosmos is also imperfect and ever changing. This is incompatible with the traditional notions of God, including the Catholic one.
- If God is imperfect, and interacts with the world, God must be a Being in process, which was the insight formalized by the philosopher A. N. Whitehead, and later developed by Process Theology by John Cobb. This sort of philosophy and theology underscores metaphysical relationality over substance. I have my criticisms against some things held by process philosophy and theology, but I think that most of it is sound and consistent with the actual behavior and creativity of the universe.
- Daniel Dennett’s views on free will also made a big impact on my philosophical thinking (read his book Freedom Evolves). Although in many aspects I’m still a bit unsatisfied about Dennett’s solution that free will can coexist with determinism, I think that most of his points makes such a view plausible. I also think that his point that you don’t want an immaterial principle not causally linked to the world as a solution to the free will v. determinism is worth holding on to.
- The theodicy problem. I found a lot of very clever and wonderful responses to this problem, but all of them left me unsatisfied in the end. I have to say that I’ve read a lot of the literature about it, the most touching intellectually and spiritually being Marilyn McCord Adams’ book Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, and Gloria Schaab’s The Creative Suffering of the Triune God. Still, as brilliant as their expositions are, at some level there was still a problem with our current understanding of God’s goodness and his omnipotence.
- The problem of original sin was another headache, especially from an evolutionary standpoint. The point of view of a humanity devoid of sin and malice that made a mistake and then the mistake itself is inherited as well as its effects to all of us is simply implausible. Needless to say that the mechanism of this inheritance makes no sense within the traditional dualistic view of the body and the soul: through our genes we inherit everything that makes us good and bad, and make us die, but original sin is spiritual (?). A Naturalist account of death and birth makes far more sense than the traditional doctrine of original sin. The understanding of humanity’s sinful nature can be explained very well as a continuation of the violence and destruction experienced and carried out by our ancestors. Also, it understands death, suffering, and destruction as necessary for life and intelligence to rise and thrive. It is to death and suffering that we are all here, and we can celebrate them … and even welcome them, and then transform them into blessings of joy and life.
- Finally, at the end of the day, the traditional Christian framework of salvation makes no sense. Whatever is the loving Self-giving of God for the salvation of souls as an expression of His love, He could have done way better than to sacrifice His Own Son. It is not that I haven’t learned anything from this framework, nor that there are rich and beautiful ways of looking at it. But, at the end of the day, why kill His Son when an Almighty God can do much better and still express His Love?
Now, some Catholics will argue that I didn’t study hard enough. I guarantee you, ever since I was little, I’ve been well informed of both Catholic history and theology. Others will argue that this is what happens when you take a Progressive theological stand. Yet, that still does not respond or answer any of the questions formulated above. Others will tell me that I didn’t have enough faith. Well, unless you show me how do you measure faith in someone, I think that such a statement is speculative.
Now, I want to say that I still read a lot of theology, and each day learn something new from what theology has to offer, especially when it is written by very knowledgeable and amazing thinkers. But when I look at the Bible, I read it mostly from literature, from the pieces of wisdom it has, and so on, but I no longer hold it as a foundation for my faith. I still read it every single day of my life, but with new eyes, and new philosophical and theological frameworks. I also read the Qur’an, and other sacred texts to learn from them.
In a sense, I still feel the Catholic Church as my mother, since it taught me a lot that I still incorporate in my intellectual and practical life. I am fully blessed by those teaching, and I never regret them. I don’t discard returning to it again, but as far as it goes, I can’t believe in its core doctrines, which I find impossible for me to hold at this stage. My move to a sort of Religious Naturalism that conceives God as the personification of Ultimate Reality is one I’ve done where my intellect and my spirit can align much better.
In my next post, I’ll explain this view.
Para todos aquellos interesados en la filosofía de Husserl, he dedicado gran parte del verano a escribir. Uno de esos escritos es un libro de texto sobre Husserl. Nótese que no es la versión 1.0 (que estará disponible para diciembre de este año).
Todavía las referencias son incompletas y, a pesar de considerables correcciones, es posible que se me haya colado uno que otro error. Agradezco cualquier señalamiento o crítica constructiva del escrito. Pueden escribirme a firstname.lastname@example.org.
Se hizo el documento utilizando LaTeX, y proveo abajo los archivos originales (en cuatro formatos de compresión distintos, para que descargue el que mejor le convenga) para aquella persona que quiera modificar el documento de acuerdo con los términos de las licencias CC-BY-SA 4.0 y la GNU FDL 1.3:
Estos paquetes pueden extraerse utilizando el programa 7-Zip.
Give me a nickel for every single time I’ve seen Facebook or Google+ Osho related memes.
“The moment you accept yourself you become beautiful. When you are delighted with your own body, you will delight others also.”
“Respect life, revere life. There is nothing more holy than life, nothing more divine than life.”
These wise sayings are obviously associated with someone who looks like this:
What a kind, holy man!
Yet, for some reason, people forget that he also looked like this:
Aaaand, aaaaand, he also said “wise” stuff like these:
“Homosexuals, because they were perverted, created the disease AIDS.”
“[Hitler] killed people in the most up-to-date gas chambers, where you don’t take much time. Thousands of people can be put in a gas chamber, and just a switch is pressed … Within a second, you evaporate. The chimneys of the factory start taking you, the smoke – you can call it holy smoke – and this seems to be a direct way towards God.”
“If a child is born deaf, dumb, and we cannot do anything, and the parents are willing, the child should be put to eternal sleep.”
Oh…. such an inspiration! ~ little tear in my eye ~.
But if that were not enough, just remember something very important: that this “holy” man supervised a sectarian group which carried out one of the most notorious bioterrorist attacks in U.S. history, and an assassination plot on a politician. What?! You didn’t know that?
Searching the facts regarding Osho
It really makes me furious every time I see a lot of people who share sayings from this guy. He was a sectarian leader who established a cult around him and his teachings. Recently, I’ve been seeing his books everywhere in pharmacies, stores, shopping malls, and so on. People find his “wisdom” in his books, but never make an actual search for this guy. Wikipedia has everything you need to know about him (click here) and his group’s questionable doings (click here, and here). For more details still on his group’s criminal activities, feel free to read all of the articles, and watch pictures and videos about the group in Oregon here. Osho said that he was innocent of all of this. I DON’T BUY IT! As everyone who has studied his group will note, in a cultic environment, people do whatever their leader wills. Sheela did his dirty work, and Osho denounced her when he had absolutely no other choice on the matter. ALL of the people involved were the individuals closest to him.
I don’t have to write about this issue, since all of these articles provide much more information than I could ever write about the subject. Yet, I wish that people could actually do a serious search about the people they quote. EVERYONE (even evil guys) can say wise stuff every now and then. Just because you said something wise some time, does not mean that you will say wise stuff all the time. Whenever you see a saying by someone you don’t know, please make a serious little RESEARCH on the person who said it before you share it in a social network.
Very recently, an ex-student and a dear friend had serious questions regarding a video placed in Youtube. Here it is!
When I saw this, I realized that I lost miserably about 10minutes 46 seconds of my life I would never recover for something more useful. I was shaking my head so much, that I think that I’m going to sue my ex-student for “shaking adult syndrome”. Practically everything in this video is historically wrong. Needless to say that I’ve already talked about the Horus-Christ falsity before, but the video adds more deities like Attis, Krishna, Dionysus, Mithra, and so on. The author of this video evidently did not make any research, except with some popular books with questionable information. He has not checked the reliability of these claims, nor has he actually checked the primary sources (the documents or original stories themselves) to claim what he claims. I cannot refute every point regarding these deities, it would take too much of my time, and would make my blog post needlessly infinite. Yet here are some facts: Attis had no resemblance to Jesus in any way. Here is a summary and some ancient texts on Attis –a reliable secondary source –, after reading this can somebody honestly hold that Attis resembles Christ or any of the features ascribed to him in this video? People who include Mithra in the discussion often fail to distinguish between Persian Mithraism and Roman Mithraism. The Persian Mithra had little resemblance to Jesus: he was not born of a virgin, but of a rock; there is no sign of a crucified or resurrected Mithra anywhere, his most representative icon is him fighting with a bull. Romans assumed a modified version of Mithraism, and in this case, he was born on December 25 …. but that was by the third or fourth century CE (i.e. centuries after Christ was born). Regarding Krishna, just an elementary research reveals that Krishna was born in July 18, 3228 BCE (nope … it was not December 25th), he certainly was not born of a virgin (when Visnu descended to the womb of Vasudeva, she was not in a virginal state, she had intercourse with her husband and had 7 children before Krishna). The Dionysus talisman where he appears crucified, has been found to be a XIX century forgery.
I could go on and on making a field day about the gazillion ways the author of this video was a lazy researcher regarding his knowledge of these deities. Yet, I want to address the core statement of the video.
The Video’s (Lazy) Historical and Astrological Analysis
What follows is essentially my response to my ex-student (with a bit of more details along the way). I hope this is an adequate response to a lot of friends, students, and other people who keep asking me these questions.
- There are two stories of Jesus birth and infancy, one in the Gospel of Matthew and another in the Gospel of Luke. Both are late traditions (about the year 80 CE) and, as many Bible scholars know, none of these stories hold historical water, and seriously contradict each other. The story about the Wisemen visiting Jesus appears only in Matthew. The video does not dwell on Luke’s version of events, so its analysis is necessarily incomplete.
- According to the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 2:1-12), those who visited Christ were not “kings” but “MAGI” (often translated as “Wisemen”), the Magi are religious figures from Persia who, presumably, were following a particular star in the sky. The star itself was clearly in motion. They were not kings!
- The tradition that the Magi were “kings” was a later elaboration by Christians from the second century to the sixth century. This is because the Magi story in the Gospel of Matthew reminded many Christians of a prophecy made by Isaiah who actually did talk about kings (Is. 60:1-7).
- The Magi were not following “the” Star of the East, but a star in the East. The text of the story is very explicit that it was not a usual star in the sky and that it was in motion guiding the Magi.
- The Gospel of Matthew does not say how many Magi went to Bethlehem. A later Christian tradition assumed they were three because of the three gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh.
- I do agree that the Orion’s belt is now called “the three kings” in many parts of the world … but it was not the case back then! They were called the “three kings” centuries later when some Christians associated the three stars in Orion’s belt with the tradition of the “Three Kings” after this tradition was already formed. Yet, they are not called that way in all societies, not even Christian societies. In some Christian societies, they are called “the three sisters”, in others “the three Marys”. There is no record of Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Jews, etc. who called these three stars “the three kings”.
- During the first three centuries, Chrisitans did not celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25. In fact, our earliest tradition is that it was celebrated on January 6. Some authors, based on Luke’s account, conjecture that maybe Jesus was born during the Spring. Regardless of the fact that we will never know exactly when was Jesus born, centuries later Christians started celebrating his birthday on December 25. There are two explanations for this:
- We know for a fact that Christians started a weekly celebration of Sunday in the Pagan world and not Saturday, mainly because it was the day when Jesus resurrected. They were perfectly aware that it coincided with the Pagan celebration of the Sun (as the writings of Justin Martyr make clear). Although more information is needed to confirm this, it may be that after the fourth century, Christians had adopted December 25th as Jesus birthday to substitute the Pagan celebration of the rebirth of “Sol Invictus” (Unconquered Sun) which was celebrated that day. Assertions made by John Chrysostom point in that direction.
(NOTE: This is the point when I have to stop and laugh. Every time I see memes in Facebook about how different deities around the world were born on December 25, they are wrong in each and every case. Yet, if they mentioned Sol Invictus, they would have been right!!!! Yet, they forget Sol Invictus in every one of them!!!! And even when this video describes perfectly well why the Unconquered Sun was born every December 25th, it also forgets Sol Invictus!!!!!!! This is hilarious! … But I digress … )
- The other explanation is that is rarely discussed is the fact that, apparently, from the fourth century, Christians celebrated the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary on March 25 of the Western liturgical year. For the liturgical calendar, if the Annunciation is to be celebrated that day, then that means that Jesus’ birth should be celebrated nine months later (December 25). This does not exclude the first explanation, given that March 25 happens to be the celebration of Spring equinox at the time.
- We know for a fact that Christians started a weekly celebration of Sunday in the Pagan world and not Saturday, mainly because it was the day when Jesus resurrected. They were perfectly aware that it coincided with the Pagan celebration of the Sun (as the writings of Justin Martyr make clear). Although more information is needed to confirm this, it may be that after the fourth century, Christians had adopted December 25th as Jesus birthday to substitute the Pagan celebration of the rebirth of “Sol Invictus” (Unconquered Sun) which was celebrated that day. Assertions made by John Chrysostom point in that direction.
- None of the Pagan deities died on a cross. Crucifixion simply did not form part of any Pagan mythological story in or before Jesus’ time. The very idea of a worshipped entity dying on a cross was repugnant to the Pagan mind. Crucifixion was an extremely humiliating process of defeat and unworthy of gods you might want to worship. When Paul preached a crucified Christ to gentiles in the Mediterranean, it was rejected by the vast majority of Pagans as being “crazy” or “foolish” (e.g. see 1 Cor. 1:18ff). We even have second or third century graffiti that mocks the very idea of worshipping a crucified god (e.g. the Alexamenos graffito, which makes fun of a Christian).
- The reason why Jesus had twelve Apostles had nothing to do with constellations. Jesus was a first-century Jewish apocalypticist. This means that he thought that the end of times was very close, that Yahweh would intervene in history and replace the forces of darkness with the forces of light, and that a new kingdom would be established. Furthermore, in that kingdom, the twelve Apostles would rule as judges the twelve tribes of Israel, with Jesus as the supreme king of the Kingdom of God (Mt. 19:28).
- The reason why the number twelve is repeated in the Bible is totally unrelated to constellations. The twelve tribes of Israel emerged from a very complex interaction of historical events, and internal economic, political, and religious issues of the time.
- The Christian Cross has nothing to do with the Zodiac, but with Jesus having been crucified. This was adopted by Christians because it was through the Cross that Jesus redeemed humanity for its sins, and with his resurrection he conquered death. The video shows a Celtic cross at the top of the Church, which superficially looks like the cross in the Zodiac. In reality, though, as any expert in Celtic art will tell you, it is only a stylized cross of many that were developed in Europe. The vast majority of these crosses have no circle. It seems that the Celtic circle in the cross is just artistic, nothing more.
- Finally, again, the research for the video is simply lazy. It does not establish the big differences between the Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Essene, etc. astrological maps. Egyptologists alone have a hard time identifying the figures of an ancient zodiac map with certain stars. This is because the Ancient Egyptian zodiac is so remarkably different from the one we use today, and it evolved adopting and rejecting some aspects of other cultures’ astrological beliefs.
You can check my claims if you want, but I checked the videos’ claim … and it is definitely bogus! No question about it!
I am a body … and more than that too!
I say this because a lot of people out there think that we are souls but we have a body (rephrasing a statement by C. S. Lewis). Yes! You are more than a body! But you are a body, it is an integral part of you without which you wouldn’t be who you are.
A great part of what you are is in your genes. Many of our own genetic predispositions along with the environment we interact with during our lifetime shape who we are in a very real sense. Scientists have found that a lot of our inclinations depend in part on our genes: our taste of food and clothing, our political views, our sexual orientation, the jokes we like, and so on.
Another great part of our body is our brain, without it, it would be impossible for us to live, breathe, and relate to society in any sensible way. To make decisions, you need the frontal lobes of your brain, without them, it would be impossible for you to create your own projects, build your own future, and know what to do with your life. Without your limbic system, you wouldn’t be able to establish an empathic relationships with anyone: not with your parents, nor with your children, nor with your siblings nor your friends. As many studies on serial killers have shown, the brain plays a great role in your behavior towards others. And, as it turns out, without key features of your limbic system, it would be impossible for you to make rational decisions either. Emotions play a great role regarding those sorts of decisions (e.g. acts of caring for others).
The way your body is built (with all of its strengths and weaknesses) serves as a foundation for your own relationships: it is your body that determines who your parents are, or who your children are, or who are your friends and neighbors. Without your body, your relational life is simply gone. There wouldn’t be any form for you to grow as a human being. Your body is the one that gives you the opportunity to smile, to see a landscape, to enjoy a meal with family, to watch the sky.
And speaking of sky … one thing that is extremely important is to realize and is missed when we state that we are a soul and not a body … is the realization that we are part of the cosmic story. When we look at the stars, we look at our ancestors. Everything our body is, which make our minds possible, come from them. The iron that flows through our veins, the oxygen we inhale, the nitrogen that nourish plants, and so on, they come from stars. And here we are! We are their offsprings through billions of years of evolution. Thanks to our bodies, we realize that we are the universe conscious of its own existence, looking through the telescope, and be amazed by the millions of wonders that await to be revealed every day about who we are, where we come from, and how we came into being.
And as Neil Shubin (based on Charles Darwin) has shown in his book and his video series Your Inner Fish, a lot of our bodily features, are the footprints of so many creatures of the past. They are the ones who gave us the gifts that let us react towards immediate dangers, see colors, count numbers, walk to the park, smile, among all of the things we hold dear and treasure.
Yet you are more than your body … you are your body, and part of who you are is determined by it, but you are also what you do with it. As a matter of fact, it is the way we use our bodies (i.e. the way you treat others) that your soul is a good one or not. Nature is constantly revealing the truth that we are not apart from it, that what we do actually matters to others. Your soul arises from the depths of matter and your gazillion relationships with everyone and everything in the planet.
This is how God breathed on the Earth to give it life, because active matter is creative, building living things and making souls arise out of them. This is how the Creator created life in a world that is endlessly giving us existence in every instance and every moment.
Who are we to deny this beautiful way with which God kisses every being on Earth?
Este obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons
Reconocimiento-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional.
Tanto que ansío verte y tocarte
acaricias mi vista en el horizonte abierto.
Pero por dulce que sea la melodía de tu voz,
la vida me encierra fuera de tu cuerpo.
¡Qué desgracia la mía
cuando tu piel no puede besar mis labios!
I so wish to see and touch you,
you caress my sight before the open horizon.
But as sweet it is to hear your voice
life locks me out of your body.
How disgraceful it is for me
when your skin cannot kiss my lips!
Ok … this is the episode that really, really reveals the SENSATIONALISTIC (with bold, italics, capitalized, and underlined) dimension of these series. If Episode 2 was better than Episode 1, Episode 3 is significantly worse in relationship with Episode 2, and also an abysmal way to establish its credibility. The show has completely lost it, and, as I said in my review on Episode 1, it shows that these series exist for entertainment purposes only with very little regard to historical facts. So, expect me to make a very long list of historical and scholarly mistakes made in it.
Episode 3 is titled “The Forbidden Scriptures”. As expected, it talks about how “evil Christianity” hid books to keep secret the embarrassing subjects that it didn’t like.
People Interviewed in the Documentary
Here is a list of people interviewed in this documentary, scholars and non-scholars:
Academic scholars and historians:
- Bart Ehrman
- Robert R. Cargill
- Peter T. Lanfer
- Jordan Smith
- Francesca Stavrakopoulou
- Dale B. Martin
- Marc Goodachre
- Elaine Pagels
- James Tabor (although his involvement with some of his statements made by his work, and his participation in the documentary Lost Tomb of Jesus make me question his credibility, but he is a credited scholar and historian).
- Daniel Smith-Christopher
- Bryan Givens
- Jonathan Kirsch
- Kathleen McGowan (of an extremely low reputation: she claims to descend from Jesus and Mary Magdalene — see here and here– I rest my case!). She also says that she has visions of Mary Magdalene. Why was she interviewed and made her appear as someone with credibility? Beats me!!!! … Oh! I forgot! … The one thing that the History Channel wants: MONEY!!!!
- Joel M. Hoffman (see my review on Episode 1)
- Reza Aslan (see my review on Episode 1)
True Statements Made in the Episode
I want to clarify that the statements that I’m going to mention are true, but have omitted very important information that I’m going to deal with in the “Misleading Statements” section.
- Ehrman appears with a very accurate description of early Christianity’s conception of the term “apocrypha”, which just means a book not accepted in the canon. THAT’S IT!!! That is all that the word “apocrypha” meant at the time. It is also true what Jordan Smith says, that there are far more apocryphal books than books in the Jewish or Christian canon.
- It is true that the Gnostic Gospels were forbidden reading in most of the Church liturgy and that these books were burned. Cargill and Mark Goodachre are correct when they said that these writings did not agree with general Christian teachings.
- Cargill also brings a very important point regarding the issue of Christian diversity. Although scholars are not unanimous about this, it is an increasing conviction among them and historians that during the second and third centuries, Christianity was not a particular movement, but a variety of movements, many of them claiming different things against the others. So, Christians felt the need to “hammer out” what they believed and what they didn’t believe. There is where influential people (of authority, politics, economics) came in to be able to decide what was orthodox and what unorthodox. This activity by itself was also not a coherent activity either, since many church leaders opposed each other regarding a variety of elements of doctrine.
- It is true that the Gospel of Mary, which was a Gnostic writing, suggests that Jesus shared with “Mary” some teachings that were not shared with the rest of the Apostles. It is suggested that it is highly probable that this “Mary” was Mary Magdalene, but we don’t know for sure.
- It is true that at the very beginning, women held a role of leadership in the first-century Church, but were later repressed by a male-dominated Christian leadership. This was exacerbated by the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire.
- The Testimony of Truth was repressed because it portrays a different account of Genesis, and that perhaps there was a misogynistic attitude for its rejection. However, what was glaringly obvious to most of the orthodox Christians is that the Testimony of Truth corrupted the true understanding of the Gospel. Orthodoxy was here the main criterion, because it portrays Gnostic teachings. The attitude towards women were secondary in this sense, although it may have played a significant role.
- The Life of Adam and Eve was an ancient manuscript whose function is to “fill in the blanks” of what Genesis doesn’t say.
- It is true that there were some Jewish archeological findings regarding Yahweh and “his asherah“. In this case, Francesca Stavrakopulou displays her knowledge on this subject very well, although, I must clarify, that the meaning of the word “asherah” in these archaeological findings is disputed among scholars today. It may mean Asherah as Yahweh’s consort, but it also may mean a stick (some other discoveries seem to support the latter).
- It is true that there were other apocalyptic writings that did not make it into the Bible, and that the Apocalypse of Peter almost made it into the Bible (it was widely used in liturgies by the third century), and that Dante based his Divine Comedy on it. It is true that the Gospel of Peter was kept out of the canon for being too strange. However, these two books were rarely considered heretical, and were not suppressed by the Church, they were just kept out of the canon.
- The documentary continually misleads the public by stating that there were books “deleted” from the Bible. This way of talking is historically incorrect. Much of these books did not form part of the Bible, because during the first, second, third, and much of the fourth century, there was no Bible. So there was no “bible” where these writings belonged to, and that were “deleted” from it. These books were excluded or kept out as being non-canonical by the second half of the fourth century, when the Bible was finally created.
- One of the things that people must keep in mind is that it is true that there are different Bibles in the huge realm of Christianity, much of it because of influential people. So,in this aspect, the documentary is correct. However, many times the reason why they were adopted went beyond “influential people”, as we shall see, it had to do also with the liturgical tradition since the end of the first century, the content of the books (as Dr. Cargill correctly points out), and their antiquity. I also question Cargill’s statements that “other books may have been true and accurate, but that didn’t have the backup of influential people.” Really? Can someone give me one case where this is true?
- Although it is true that there are far more apocryphal books than those in the Christian canon, the documentary misleadingly seems to imply that all of apocryphal books were considered heresies and/or were burned. This is not the case. A lot of apocryphal books were also considered orthodox, but did not comply with much of the criteria for canonicity. Examples that can be mentioned: The Book of Enoch, The Proto-Gospel of James, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Apocalypse of Peter. Most of these books have reached us today, because many Christian copyists considered them devout books, but they were not considered as authoritative as those in the canon. So, contrary to what the documentary implies, not all of the apocrypha remained hidden.
- Contrary to what the charlatan (Kathleen McGowan) states, the Book of Enoch was not the “most forbidden” book in the Bible. As a matter of fact, it was preserved throughout the centuries. One of those who preserved it was the Orthodox Ethiopian Christian Church. Their earliest manuscript goes back to the eleventh century. Early Christianity (in the first century) did seem to support the idea that the Book of Enoch was authoritative, since it was quoted in the New Testament, specifically in the Letter of Jude. It also greatly influenced in Christian mythology about angels for centuries to come. The fact that it was not accepted as part of the canon in most Christian denominations, did not mean that the Church wanted to suppress and hide it from the public. Nothing in the Book of Enoch threatened any belief in the Church. In fact it was an elaboration of many passages we find in Genesis.
- She also states baselessly that the God of the Book of Enoch is completely different from the God of the Old Testament: this book present him as just loving and non-judgmental. …. To that statement I ask … did she actually read the Book of Enoch? This book belongs in the apocalyptic genre and it talks about a God who is going to judge the world! Don’t believe me? Here you have access to the Book of Enoch.
- As the moron (Kathleen McGowan) states, it is true that the Gnostics claimed to have received their teachings directly from Jesus … AS EVERYONE DID AT THE TIME. The Gnostics were truly unremarkable in this aspect. Do Bible scholars in general believe that Gnostic transmitted the genuine teachings of Jesus? About 99.99% of Bible scholars in the world (Christian, Jewish, agnostic, atheist… you name it) do not think that these Gnostic teachings reflect the actual teachings of Jesus … and that much of it was antithetical or a negation of his actual teachings. All Bible scholars agree that Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish prophet who believed in the Jewish God, Yahweh. Yet Gnostics taught exactly the opposite. They mostly mixed the figure of Jesus with mostly Platonic and Zoroastrian teachings, two things Jesus knew nothing about. Finally, they negated the Jewish God, and considered the material world evil. McGowan completely distorts the history of the Gnostics … but … I get it! She needs to legitimize the Gnostics, so that she can base her unfounded belief on she being Jesus’ descendant basing herself on some historically questionable passages in the Gnostic Gospels… Great!!!
- Elaine Pagels said that Athanasius of Alexandria forbid the reading of all Gnostic books except the 27 books that we now call the New Testament. Let me clarify that he clearly condemned the Gnostic Gospels, but that condemnation did not extend to other books that were not Gnostic. Again, not all apocryphal books were condemned as heretical. The requirement made by Athanasius referred exclusively to the reading of the 27 books in the liturgy of the Church in Egypt, it did not extend anywhere else. It only extended by a gradual centralization of Church authorities in the Roman Empire as time went by (see my comments about it in Episode 1).
- Although Pagels says that Jesus could have been influenced by Buddhism, there is not an ounce of evidence that this is the case. Later Christians (perhaps the author of the Gospel of Thomas) may have been influenced by Buddhism or Indian teachings, but their content cannot be construed as the actual teachings of Jesus.
- Jesus did not travel to India. No Bible scholar or reputable historian supports this view. This idea came from the so-called discovery made by Nicolas Notovich of a book about Jesus (Issa) in the Hemis Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in in 1887 (read all about this guy). According to this writing, Jesus went to India to learn from the earlier avatars and returned to Galilee. However, this story has been shown to be a complete hoax, and the book as written by Notovich was a falsification. Later he confessed to have fabricated the story. Today you can go to the Hermis Monastery, and you won’t find any such book. All of the actual teachings of Jesus can be accounted perfectly well by the historical context of first century Galilean and Judean realities of the time. Ockam’s razor: we don’t need to suppose that Jesus went anywhere else in the East to teach what he taught.
- The documentary wants to portray the Gospel of Mary as if it said that Jesus had an “astonishing” relationship with Mary. Yet, this unfortunate choice of words make people think that this Gospel was rejected for showing Jesus as being too human. Yet, it surprises people when I say that this is not the case. It is exactly the opposite, in this Gospel there was little humanity in Jesus! As a matter of fact, when Peter asks her for information, Mary does not say that she had a love affair with Jesus. She said that she had a “vision” of Jesus, as a spirit. He taught her some esoteric teachings clearly associated with Gnosticism. Of course, you may ask, “why didn’t Jesus show Himself physical?” Answer: Apparently the authors of the Gospel of Mary were very close to being docetists. Docetism is the belief that Jesus did not have a physical body, because as a pure spirit, he could have not been contaminated with the evils of matter or of human pleasure. There is an indication that this was not exactly what the Gospel of Mary portrays, but it is pretty close to it: that Jesus freed himself from the body after the crucifixion. And to make matters worse, the Gospel of Mary, far from embracing sexuality (as some popular and questionable authors seem to suggest) it rejects it implicitly by stating that believers should embrace an ascetic form of life (i.e. a life purely devoid of bodily pleasures). In fact, it says that the pleasures of the body, which is a material object, are the sources of ill. In fact, matter itself is evil! Don’t believe me? Here is a link to the Gospel of Mary … knock yourself out ;-)A point of clarification is also in order. The attribution of secret teachings of Jesus to a particular person is nothing new in Christian literature. Its first case appears in the Gospel of John (non-Gnostic), where Jesus preferred a “beloved disciple” (who remains nameless in the whole Gospel) above the rest of the Apostles and Jesus’ family members. In the case of the Gnostics, they trace their teachings to certain people: in this case Mary, in other cases, Judas Iscariot (as in the case of the Gospel of Judas), and James. This is a literary device used by the Gnostics to place themselves in a privileged position in relationship with the rest of Christianity (usually represented in their literature by the the Apostles). However, none of these Gospels tell us anything about the historical Jesus, and actually misrepresent his original teachings. So whatever McGowan says … just take it as BS.
- The BSer (McGowan) said that there was no debate about Mary’s authority in the Gospel of Mary. Umm… yes … there was … McGowan just stated that Peter and Andrew challenged her authority. Is she paying attention to herself?!
- Regarding the Life of Adam and Eve, the main reason to reject it in the Christian canon was very simple and pretty straightforward … because it was not included in the Septuagint, the version of the Hebrew Bible written in Greek about II to I century B.C.E., and that the Christian Church adopted very early. We could speculate if there were any other reason for the acceptance of the Life of Adam and Eve, but the main reason is that Christianity stayed with the books of the Greek Old Testament already considered sacred by Christians in the first century. This apocryphal book contains no Christian teachings, and, as far as I know, it was of little concern by early Christian thinkers.
- Despite of what McGowan says about Yahweh and Asherah as being a divine couple that defines what God is … we must point out that this is not the case. The cult to El-Yahweh and Asherah existed at first as a form of a polytheistic environment, that later evolved into henotheism. Henotheism means that the people of Israel was dedicated to one sole god (in this case Yahweh) while recognizing the existence of other gods. It is in the context of an henotheistic cult that this should be understood. It is little different from a cult centralized in Zeus as the main god whose consort was Hera. As Cargill points out, as henotheism evolved into a more centralized monotheism, the cult of Asherah was relegated and later considered a pagan idol.
- Contrary to what McGowan (or the documentary) seems to imply, the Yahweh-Asherah relationship is culturally and historically unrelated to the Gnostic belief in the God-Sophia relationship.
The episode as a whole is BS, and whatever is of historical value is submerged in misleading information, especially with the unwarranted intervention of Kathleen McGowan. It is so frustrating to find that such reputable scholars who do contribute every day to history and Bible scholarship with so much of their effort and time are being mixed in a documentary with questionable people and misleading ways to read historical material. It is very sad.
On Episode 2 of Bible Secrets Revealed, we are confronted with one of the most heated issues we know today. The show is titled “The Promised Land”, and it talks about the land of Israel as the promised land. I’m pleased to say, that this particular episode had much less inconsistency with history than Episode 1. It is also a bit less sensationalistic, and it is directed mostly at the fact of how the three major Abrahamic religions approach this very sensitive subject today.
This episode portrays very well the stories of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad just as it was told by the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament, and the Koran. So, in that area I have no objections whatsoever. Yet, that does not mean that I have no comments whatsoever regarding the historical aspect.
Some Historical Holes in the Episode
Again, I repeat, compared to the earlier episode, this one is great at portraying accurately both the historical material as determined by historians, and its comparison with the stories of the Bible, and shows how the latter can be historically unreliable, at least regarding Abraham and Moses. Yet, there are some things that I think are missing in this episode.
For example, according to the Hebrew Bible, the ancient Hebrews followed Moses for forty years in the desert until they reached the Promised Land. The episode does say that there is no evidence for such an exodus. At best, we could say that the story of the Exodus was based on a core story of some slaves fleeing Egypt and establishing themselves in the land of Israel, but that the evidence for this is lost. However, I really missed what archaeology has been revealing in the last few decades regarding the time of ancient Canaan during the supposed time of Moses and Joshua. First, there is no evidence that the Hebrew destroyed most of the cities mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. For example, the Book of Numbers and of Joshua tell us that Hebrews invaded Neguev, Sijon, Jericho, Ai, and Hasor. Yet all of the archaeological evidence points at the fact that either they were destroyed long before the Hebrews arrived, or that they were not destroyed by any invasion.
Apparently all of the archaeological evidence points in one direction: there was no violent takeover of Canaanite towns and cities. There was, instead, an uprising from people of the lower classes against those of higher status who lived in high terrains. After this uprising, these different tribes organized into equalitarian societies, where there were no central rulers. If they needed to go to war, they would be under the command of a judge, but as soon that defense was no longer needed, they all returned to their equalitarian way of life. That was the way Israel was born in Ancient Canaan. This uprising was directed against vassal kings who operated under the rule of Egypt in the Middle East at the time, and this may be symbolized by a certain Moses who “freed” ancient Israelites from the hands of Egypt.
Regarding the Ark of the Covenant, many people think that it was an actual object, first worshipped in Shilo, under the Northen Hebew priestly leadership. Later, it was moved to Jerusalem under David’s rule, to then be housed in King Salomon’s Temple. However, the images of the cherubim in the Ark were wrong in the documentary (ironically the cherubim in the Temple were represented almost well). The cherubim were figures adopted from ancient Akaddian karibu and from similar depictions in other Middle Eastern civilizations. A cherub was a being with the head of a man, the body of a lion, the feet of a bull, and wings of an eagle. For some reason, the documetary decided to go with the “Indiana Jones‘΅ look of the Ark.
Contrary to what the documetary says, the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant would not prove conclusively that the Exodus occurred. It is widely accepted among scholars that much of the Covenant we have today in the Bible came from later traditions that existed centuries after Moses (namely the Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly and Deuteronomic traditions). Each of these traditions elaborated and revised earlier ones as time went by. They also changed considerably Moses’ story in order to respond to their own reality at the time. For example, the whole story of Moses and the Golden Calf was a reaction from the Northern priesthood against Jeroboam’s new golden calves cult in the cities of Dan and Bethel. The famous ten commandments we find in Exodus and Deuteronomy were written by the Priestly and the Deuteronomistic tradition respectively with some changes among them. Most scholars think that the former is based on the latter (although personally I agree with Richard Elliott Friedman that it may have been the other way around). If Moses ever existed, then what we have in the Bible is not necessarily the original Covernant legislated by him.
Regarding Helena finding Christ’s Cross, we have to point out that, although it is said that she did this, the story is highly questionable. We have absolutely no evidence that the fragments of this cross come from the Cross where Jesus was crucified.
I can’t say much about Islam, since I don’t know them as well as Judeo-Christianity. I do agree with the scholars that a lot of the stories about Muhammad were adaptations of the Judeo-Christian Bible. However, I do have a huge respect for that religion, its prophet, and the Holy Koran, even when I don’t believe in Islam.
Finally, regarding the way that it deals with Jerusalem, the episode talks extensively about the conflict among the different religious denominations regarding territory and their place in different temples, churches, and places of worship among religions. However, I miss another social scientific perspective, the one dealing with ethnic relations in the area. The ethnic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has an impact on religious groups in Jerusalem and vice-versa. However, I do love the fact that it shows the huge problem that some Christians represent to the whole issue: by supporting Israel, they promote the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s Temple, as a way to accelerate Christ’s Second Coming.
That is all I can say for the episode.
I want to begin a series of reviews regarding the series Bible Secrets Revealed. Today, I wish to begin with the first episode, titled: “Lost in Translation”.
Before I begin, I want to say two or three things about the History Channel. I do not respect this channel at all. The single fact that it misleads many people with the Ancient Aliens series has been one of the biggest headaches I have ever had when teaching history to my students. After I don’t know how many seasons (I think 6?), many of my students have been misled by the outright false and fraudulent claims made by these series, forcing me as a teacher to dedicate time to clarify them. Also, at the time when I stopped watching cable, I was aware that it was showing a lot of “reality TV”. Some of my students who still watch it, tell me that it is now rare to find genuine historical material in it.
What does this mean? Something very simple: The History Channel is primordially entertainment. It is not meant to inform the public.
That does not mean that it offers no information whatsoever (for example, I do use the Barbarians series when I teach about the Middle Ages). There are also many other of their series that I like. However, informing people is not the primordial goal of the channel … it is to entertain and make money. We should look at the series Bible Secrets Revealed from this perspective. There is a lot in these series that is informative, but there are some statements that disinform the public, and make sensationalist claims.
Scholars and Theologians who Participated in Episode I: “Lost in Translation”
I want to begin with my evaluation of the scholars and theologians being used in this episode. The fact that both groups appear together represents a problem for the series (as it says in the beginning that it exposes a variety of points of view). The problem is that theologians and Bible scholars (who are historians) engage in two very different activities. The latter evaluate critically the Biblical texts from a literary and historical standpoints (what does it actually say, and what of the content is fatual). The former rely on faith and the particular interpretation of a Biblical text from that framework. The two can coincide, but they can also diverge, since there are many different faiths that intepret the same text from a variety of standpoints. These may be based on history, but they are not strictly historical as a criterion.
The second problem is that it mixes the opinions of real Bible scholars with “scholars” of dubious reliability. Here are the Bible scholars that appear in this episode who are credited Bible scholarship and are genuine history (although not all equally reliable … more on that later):
- Bart Ehrman
- Candida Moss
- Robert G. Cargill
- Robert Mullins
- Elaine Pagels
- Francesca Stavrakopoulou
- Dale B. Martin
- Jeffrey Georgeghan
- Chris Keith
- Mark Goodachre
- Lori Anne Ferrell
- Peter T. Lanfer
- Bradley Hale
- Jennifer Wright-Knust
- Pnina Shor
- Yuval Peleg
- Jonathan Kirsch
However, also in the episode, there are people who are not Bible scholars (in the historiographical sense) nor historians:
- Reza Aslan (to a certain extent a scholar of religion, but certainly not a Bible scholar)
- David Wolpe (Rabbi)
- Joel Hoffman (does not hold a degree in either history or Bible scholarship, yet he has written amazing works on the Hebrew Bible and history)
There are some points I want to make about these three. When I make this list, I don’t mean that they cannot say anything historically true about the Bible. As a matter of fact, they all made positive contributions to this episode. However, many people will see them and have the immediate impression that they can be, in principle, reliable Bible scholars (in the historiographical sense). David Wolpe is a Rabbi who is primarily focused on teaching Jewish religion, even when he pays very close attention to Hebrew Bible scholarship as every responsible Rabbi should. I greatly admire his spirituality, but let us not forget that his primordial criterion is spiritual. Reza Aslan has suddenly risen as a sort of “expert” on the historical Jesus in the eyes of the public. Yet, Bart Ehrman wrote a series of blog posts on the historical and scholarly mistakes that permeate all of his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. (For those who are members of Ehrman’s website, here are the links to his blogs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13; for those who are not members, here are the partial blog posts on the matter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). Despite this problem, I want to clarify that as far as I’ve seen (at least in this episode), nothing that Aslan said is historically or scholarly false.
Historical Mistakes and Scholarly Errors in the Episode
These historical mistakes are the ones I was able to identify in the episode. They are not necessarily the only ones.
- It is a huge historical error to say that, under the Roman rule, Christians were frequently put to death. Don’t get me wrong, it is not that there were no martyrs at all during Roman rule, but this was not the Roman modus operandi. As a matter of fact, I was shocked by the fact that the episode claimed this, since one of the scholars interviewed in this episode was … CANDIDA MOSS!!!!! She has been known to have worked on this issue. In fact, she has published at least two books on the subject: Ancient Christian Martyrdom and The Myth of Persecution, the latter being the popular version while the former is more academic. Based on tons of research made on this issue by previous scholars, she demystifies completely the historical understanding of the Romans as being ruthless persecutors of Christians.
- The way this episode is edited, it seemed to imply that the Gospels were forgeries (pseudoepigrapha), and that apparently Ehrman supports this idea. I know that this is not the case. Ehrman wrote two books, one called Forged and the most recent Forgery and Counterforgery (both books that I highly recommend). In both of them he did not say that the Gospels are forgeries, rather that they were wrongly attributed to certain authors. In fact, of the four Gospel writers, he only identifies the author of Luke’s Gospel as being a forger, but not regarding its Gospel, but only in relationship with the Acts of the Apostles, where this anonymous author falsely claims to have been the Apostle Paul’s companion. Yet, none of the Gospels claim falsely to be written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John … hence, they are not forgeries. So, the episode misrepresents Ehrman’s position on the matter (see Forgery and Counterforgery chapter 3: “Terms and Taxonomies”, especially the section “False Attributions”).
- Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire. The Edict of Milan simply legalized it and other religions in the empire (Read the text here: “When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I Licinius Augustus fortunately met near [Milan] … we thought, among other things … those regulations pertaining to the revence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred … “). The imperial decrees made by Constantine reaffirm the idea that this was granted as a way to guarantee freedom of worship to many religions including Christianity (Read text here: “As we long since perceived that religious liberty should not be denied, but that it should be granted to the opinion and wishes of each one to perform divine duties according to his own determination, we have given orders, that each one, and the Christians among the rest, have the liberty to observe the religion of his choice … “) This mistake is particularly annoying, since it is a repeated error in too many documentaries.
- Constantine was not the author of the Bible. As the scholars in this episode rightly point out, Constantine wanted to maintain order in the empire and there was a political interest for him regarding Christianity. Yet, this issue is not contextualized in the episode at all. Ever since he legalized Christianity, he had to deal with disputes among Christians (problems with the Donatists, Gnostics, Arrians, among many others). Contrary to what people think, he was not interested in these issues! If you don’t believe me, just read a letter written by Constantine to Arius and Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, quoted in Eusebius’ Life of Constantine (Book II, 64-72). There, he said that the Arian and Alexandrian dispute regarding the nature of Christ as “truly insignificant in character, and quite unworthy of fierce contention”, an issue “suggested by the contentious spirit which is fostered by misused leisure”, dealing with “sublime and abstruse” subjects, “very small and insignificant questions”, full of “trifling and foolish verbal differences” between Christians, discussions that are “unbecoming, but positively evil”, and “rather characteristic of childish ignorance”. Still don’t believe me? Read it for yourselves (click here, and follow the “Next” arrows, until Section LXXII to read the whole letter). If he was not interested in Christian doctrine, what did he really do? Since Christians had ardent dissensions between them, and this could fragment the Roman Empire which he devoted so many years to keep together under his rule, he had the idea of placing Eusebius of Caesarea in charge of collecting those writings that were commonly shared by Christians in the empire to be used by Christians during their liturgical ceremonies. And the list of sacred books included those adopted and widely accepted by Christians since the second century (long before Constantine was born). Constantine thought that this would help unify Christianity better, even when he was not himself interested in Christian doctrinal issues. His concern was only Christian unity, hence Imperial unity. Contrary to popular opinion (and what the episode seems to imply), the list of books included in these copies was not the New Testament as we know it today. The New Testament and the Christian Bible as a whole took its final form (as we know it today) during the second part of the fourth century: in 367, Athanasius (bishop of Alexandria) required it for Alexandrian lithurgy, in 380 a synod by the Bishop of Rome approved the same New Testament list, and in the councils of Hippo and Carthage (under the sponsorship of St. Augustine of Hippo) in the years 393 and 397 respectively, adopted the same list for African churches. All of this occurred after Constantine died.
- Although I highly respect Stavrakopoulou, I really differ from her in her characterization of the virgin birth as “the beginnings of a misogynic culture”. I think that is a bit of a historical stretch. Yes, the Virgin Mary has been used throughout Christian history to legitimize a patriarchal culture and many misogynistic attitudes (See, for instance, Marina Warner’s Alone of All her Sex). Yet, this does not mean that the Gospel authors had this in mind when they wrote the virgin birth stories.
- Talking about Dr. Stavrakopoulou again, there is another thing that I disagree with her. She stated somewhere in this episode that the books of the New Testament were written in Greek in order to convert Romans and have collect money from them. With this criticism, I don’t know if it is directed at her or the lousy way that this episode has been edited to give the viewer the impression that this is actually her opinion (see Ehrman’s case above). However, the books of the New Testament had a variety of purposes, not all of them directed at collecting money. For example, many of the authentic Pauline letters were just directed at mediating disputes, clarifying his theological position, and in many cases deal with the class conflicts within the ecclesiastical communities. In the case of the latter, this was also the concern of whoever wrote the Letter of James. In the case of Matthew’s Gospel, we see a book that it is clearly directed at Jews in the diaspora. It would be extremely hard for the author of the Apocalypse of John to attract money from the Romans, especially due to its highly apocalyptic content. Can we argue that the Letter to the Hebrews was written to attract the Roman elite? I think it is more prudent to approach these books in a case by case basis. I don’t exclude the fact that some of the books or some of their content were written in Greek to attract the Roman elite, but to generalize it to all of the books of the New Testament is a bit questionable.
- A Codex is not “individual pages”, it is essentially a physical book, much like we know it today (but not printed by a printing technology). Apparently this was a careless phrasing.
- The Gospels do not say that Jesus appeared “three days after his death”. They said that he appeared “the third day” (counting the day of death as being the first one).
- Regarding the end of the Gospel of Mark, the episode says that the page had been deleted or destroyed, yet the scholars suggest one of other two possibilities: that the page has been lost! The other possibility is that Mark really ended in 16:8.
- The episode mistakenly confuses several crimes accused against John Wycclife. Wycclife was not declared a “heretic” for translating the Bible from Latin to English. Translating the Bible in and of itself was not a heresy, it was a crime, but it was not heresy. The heresy that he was accused of was to expouse a strong belief in the predestination of those who would become part of the “invisible church of the chosen” while diminishing the importance of the “visible” Catholic Church. He also attacked the hierachy of the Church, particularly the papacy, and identified the Pope with the Antichrist. These and other challenges to Church doctrine, made him a “heretic” in the eyes of the Church.
- William Tyndale was not accused of “heresy” for translating the Bible. He was accused of heresy for stating his total rejection of the papacy and the Church. However, he did translate the Bible to English as an act of defiance against Catholicism, and the Church itself questioned the way Tyndale purposely translated several terms to English in a way that favored his position against Church’s doctrine. This led to the Church charging him of disobeying the law, and simultaneously with heresy. However, the act of translating was not in itself a “heresy”.
I wish to make a final point. There is one thing that the episode does not clarify at all. The initial impression that people will have is that “the Bible” has been changed so much that it is practically totally unrelated to the original writings. This is not the case. Today, most Bibles out there are closer to the original than those versions of the Bible that were published in the Middle Ages or even the Reinaissance. That is due to the arduous work made by Bible scholars since the nineteenth century, and discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archeological discoveries, historiographical critical evaluation, and so on, have led us to reconstruct versions of the original books of the Bible that are closer and closer to their original meaning.
On the other hand, it is a mistake to say that the Dead Sea Scrolls represent the “original” Hebrew Bible. This is a mistaken idea, because there is a possibility that Essene scribes altered some of the texts to adjust them to their own worldview. So, even the Dead Sea Scrolls should be looked at critically.
Virtues of the Episode
One of the most important aspects of this episode is the exposition of some of the actual contradictions you may find in the Bible, and how translations actually distorted the original meaning of the texts. These two factors combined have shown that the books of the Bible are not historically reliable. Some of them have higher historical reliability than others, so, we must take the book critically, and listen to what scholars have to say about it. If you keep all of what I said above in mind, you can watch the episode and learn a lot of the history of the Bible and its importance today.