Quería informarles vía mi blog que ya se ha publicado la tercera edición de mi libro Pablo el Emisario. Para los detalles en torno a dónde lo pueden conseguir o dónde descargarlo gratis, visiten su página cibernética: http://pablo.pmrb.net.
Los que hayan leído las dos ediciones anteriores (aquí está el acceso a la segunda edición) y esta nueva edición se sorprenderán de varias cosas. Lo primero que salta a la vista fue el añadido de ilustraciones y gráficas en el texto. En parte, mi intención era estética. Un libro con ilustraciones hace más agradable la lectura. Sin embargo, no quería añadir demasiadas, no fuera que resultara ser una distracción y que tuviera como resultado una lectura del contenido mucho más difícil. Además, haría la edición a colores (la edición de lujo) mucho más hermosa. Sin embargo, una gran parte de estas iban más allá del puro aspecto estético. Como en el caso del Apéndice C, ayudan al lector a ilustrar parte de la discusión del texto. Así también el caso del retrato de la Caverna de Santa Tecla, que presenta una evidencia física del desprecio de ciertos cristianos al ministerio o autoridad de las mujeres en el cristianismo medieval. La ilustración no se discute en el texto, pero da una idea de lo que ocurrió después de que el cristianismo del primer y segundo siglo fue marginando a las mujeres del ministerio y las subordinaba a la autoridad de los hombres.
Han habido toda una variedad de cambios al texto y, aunque las tesis principales no varían mucho, ha habido una elaboración más detalladas de estas. En otros casos, ha habido unos cambios radicales en otras posiciones. La más notable la pueden encontrar en el capítulo 6, en relación con la cristología paulina. Antes adopté una posición en la que supuse que una cristología paulina que sostuviera a Jesús como Dios era demasiado temprana para ser supuesta por Pablo, por lo que adopté la posición de Senén Vidal y otros en relación con el tema. Tras el estudio del libro de Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, del libro de Susan Garrett, No Ordinary Angel y finalmente la lectura de los libros de Larry Hurtado, ¿Cómo llegó Jesús a ser Dios? y One God, One Lord, cambié de parecer. No solo la convicción de que Jesús era Dios era temprana en el cristianismo primitivo, sino que sostengo que fue la teología sostenida por el movimiento de Jesús como resultado de la proclamación de su resurrección, tal como presenta Hecho de los Apóstoles en un momento dado (Hechos 5:30-31; 13:32-33).
El otro cambio sustancial tiene que ver con la llamada “Nueva perspectiva” de Pablo, en la que se le concibe como judío practicante y observante de la Torah después de sus experiencias revelatorias y cambio de vocación. Para él, se le eximía a los gentiles (no a los judíos, incluyéndolo a él) de la observancia de ciertas disposiciones de la Torah. En varios capítulos enfatizo este punto cardinal que adopté como parte del planteamiento central del libro.
También hubo otro cambio bien importante. En el 2015, Senén Vidal publicó su excelentísima traducción del Nuevo Testamento y la utilicé como texto para citar el Nuevo Testamento cristiano.
En cuanto al resto del libro:
- En el capítulo 1 no hubo cambios sustanciales, pero sí correcciones de contenido y de descuidos gramaticales. Pulí el estilo para que fuera más fácil su lectura. Hice lo mismo en los demás capítulos.
- En el capítulo 2 tampoco hubo cambios sustanciales.
- En el capítulo 3, tampoco hubo cambio sustancial de contenido excepto una porción del texto que entendía que entorpecía un poco la línea de discusión en torno a las razones de las persecuciones de Pablo al cristianismo primitivo. Lo discutido en dicha porción se colocó en el Apéndice A.
- En el capítulo 4 podemos observar ya unos cambios de parecer en torno a una diversidad de temas. Esto se dio como resultado de mi lectura de diversas obras del filólogo español Antonio Piñero: Guía para entender el Nuevo Testamento, Guía para entender a Pablo de Tarso, La verdadera historia de la Pasión (coautoría junto a Eugenio Gómez Segura) y El Juicio Final (coautoría junto a Eugenio Gómez Segura).
En la primera y segunda ediciones de mi libro asocié equivocadamente la noción expiatoria del Siervo Sufriente como la comprendían los cristianos primitivos con la noción de sacrificio (derrame de sangre) vicario. Algunos eruditos también hacen lo mismo y pensaba que esa era la posición mayoritaria (aunque en realidad es un poco disputada). Sin embargo, Piñero informa que el primero sí era consistente con el contexto judío, mientras que el segundo no. Aunque no muchos eruditos siguen esa línea de pensamiento (que creo que para muchos es novel), creo que su argumento es sólido.
También cometí el error de acercar demasiado las cosmovisiones de Jesús y la de Pablo. Eso me llevó a no aclarar una diferencia fundamental entre la manera en que Jesús concebía el Reino de Yahveh (como terrenal) y la de Pablo (como celestial). De hecho, ahora acepto lo que no aceptaba en las ediciones anteriores: que Pablo sí ha sido influenciado en mayor grado (más de lo que inicialmente pensaba) por la filosofía helenística. Aunque no creo que el fuera filósofo (y continúo sosteniendo esta posición), sí creo lo que Piñero sostiene: que Pablo fue influenciado por una especie de “platonismo vulgar” característico de su ambiente helenístico y que afectó el pensamiento del judaísmo de la diáspora en general.
Por lo demás, menciono las citas directas e indirectas de Jesús que encontramos en Pablo y añadí una concerniente a la convicción del favor de la otorgación del conocimiento divino a los humildes y no a los sabios.
- Otro de los grandes cambios se pueden notar en el capítulo 5. Pensé que en las ediciones anteriores dejé un gran “hueco” en la discusión en torno a las iglesias y congregaciones primitivas. ¿Cómo estaban constituidas? ¿Cuál fue el proceso de su establecimiento? ¿Cómo se estructuraron carismáticamente las congregaciones judeohelenistas como las de Corinto? (En este último punto contribuyó mucho la lectura de un ensayo de Juan Bek) El resto del capítulo es prácticamente idéntico a las ediciones anteriores.
- El capítulo 6 (que ya discutimos un poco), trabaja otro “hueco” que quedó de mis ediciones anteriores. El cristianismo primitivo sostenía una gran diversidad de cristologías (lo que yo llamo “sopa de cristologías primitivas”) y las identifico. Más tarde, trabajo el problema de cómo Pablo entendía a Cristo como deidad y su relación con el Padre. Como nota interesante, añado una posible reciente interpretación: que para Pablo, Jesús era un ángel (mensajero divino). Elaboro los detalles que parecen justificar esta perspectiva, aunque me muestro indeciso en torno al asunto. Puede ser posible que Pablo viera en Jesús un ángel (quizás el Ángel de Yahveh), pero no hay realmente pasajes claros de ello. A pesar de ello, no deja de ser una perspectiva muy interesante.
- En el capítulo 7, correspondiente al capítulo 6 de mis ediciones anteriores, hago unas pequeñas correcciones, pero fundamentalmente no altera mucho el texto.
- En el capítulo 8, correspondiente al capítulo 7 de las ediciones anteriores, no hubo muchos cambios, fuera de correcciones menores.
- En el capítulo 9, correspondiente al capítulo 8 de las ediciones anteriores, tampoco hubo cambios significativos.
- En el capítulo 10, que corresponde al capítulo 9 de las ediciones anteriores, sí sufrió cambios. El más evidente es el título del capítulo y la inclusión del tema de la llamada “obsesión paulina” en relación con la virginidad. El capítulo se encarga de ponerla en perspectiva. Además, quise adentrarme en el tema de la supuesta homosexualidad de Pablo con un mayor sentido de justicia con mis oponentes y utilizo uno de los textos del obispo Shelby Spong como referente de su posición. Utilizando su obra, muestro que el obispo Spong y los que sostienen que Pablo era homosexual están rotundamente equivocados. Cuando discuto el tema de cómo Pablo trata el tema de la homosexualidad, utilicé información adicional que cayó en mis manos gracias a la reciente publicación de E. P. Sanders, Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought.
- El capítulo 11 es uno enteramente nuevo y que intenta responder a diversas vertientes del miticismo que tanto se ha vuelto de moda en los círculos ateos, agnósticos y escépticos. Después de leerlo, me doy cuenta de lo irritado que estaba cuando lo escribí, pero sostengo cada palabra que aparece allí. Para ser justo, reconozco una vertiente más sensata de un sector más académico y la distingo de la otra que es más producto de falseamiento decimonónico de la historia antigua, que pinta al cristianismo casi como una copia al carbón de las religiones antiguas de todo el mundo. La segunda es sencillamente falsa y no requiere discusión alguna. La primera, aunque más sofisticada, merecía una contestación más precisa. Sin embargo, solo me concentré en la manera en que se abusa de las cartas de Pablo para sostener las dos vertientes.
- Este también es un capítulo casi completamente nuevo en el que elaboro mi hipótesis de que Pablo no era filósofo, que esa era una imagen creada por Hechos de los Apóstoles, entre otros factores. Sin embargo, las cartas de Pablo muestran que era un judeohelenista apocalipticista del siglo I y todo su pensamiento giraba dentro de esa cosmovisión, no a las diversas filosofías helenísticas. Aunque sí hay que admitir una influencia de un “platonismo vulgar” que se reflejaba en la cultura judeohelenista en general, no pasaba de eso. Pablo despreciaba la filosofía.
Además de lo anterior, añado una serie de apéndices. El Apéndice B muestra una serie de confesiones y credos valiosos que se pueden encontrar en las cartas paulinas. En la discusión de la Última Cena, me atreví a añadir la discusión minoritaria en el ámbito de la erudición bíblica (pero a mi juicio correcta) del Dr. Piñero. Sin embargo, en el momento de la publicación pasó inadvertida una aclaración que debí haber hecho:
- El Dr. Piñero no parece sostener que los versos de Lucas 22:19b-20 fueron añadidos posteriormente. Sin embargo, lo que sí quise decir, es que el hecho de que varios eruditos consideren este pasaje una interpolación posterior, sostiene mucho mejor su hipótesis de que el relato más conocido de la Última Cena se remite a Pablo y sus experiencias revelatorias (y que él no estaba transmitiendo una tradición de otros) y que Jesús originalmente celebró un kiddush.
Aunque he querido atenerme lo mejor posible a las posiciones consensuadas entre los expertos bíblicos, la argumentación de Piñero en este caso es TAN sólida, que creo que debería prestársele mucha mayor atención.
En el Apéndice C, elaboro más, pero con brevedad, la hipótesis de Richard Elliott Friedman y otros biblistas del Antiguo Testamento de que los levitas fueron los que originalmente “experimentaron” el llamado “Éxodo” y no todo el pueblo israelita. Utilizo como referencia el Himno del Mar.
Finalmente, en el Apéndice D, elaboro un poco más ciertas observaciones en torno al Canto de Déborah.
Espero que les guste el nuevo texto y que estoy abierto a cualquier crítica racional y constructiva al respecto.
Recently, I’ve been involved in some debates online regarding Jesus’ existence. One of them was in the Facebook account of LiberalAmerica.org, regarding this particular (bogus) article. I’ve refuted some of these claims before in a previous post written some years before my deconversion from Roman Catholicism, and my opinion on this matter hasn’t changed in the least.
Since, I’ve already refuted the claim, I want to make a more positive approach, that is, to present clear cases where the mythicist views of Jesus clearly fail, and the evidence for Jesus’ existence is positive. I want to begin with one of the known but least discussed stories about Jesus: his baptism.
The Texts We Will Evaluate
There are no first-century texts outside the New Testament about Jesus’ baptism. The Gospel claims are pretty much all we have for now. Before we begin, we must remember the way they were written. The earliest Gospel we have is the Gospel of Mark (ca. 70 C.E.). The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were written later using Mark as a source, but also using another one scholars call Q. Even though Q is a hypothetical document, most scholars consider its existence as highly probable. For many, Q took its final form about the year 60 or 65 C.E. Matthew and Luke were written about 80 to 90 C.E. It is said that these gospels also had some other sources that scholars have called M and L respectively. The last of these first century writings is the Gospel of John (ca. 90-100 C.E.) What do these Gospels have to say? Let’s have a look (all of our quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version).
The Gospel of Mark
What follows is our earliest account of Jesus’ baptism:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John [the Baptist] in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:9-11).
The Gospel of Matthew
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13-17).
The Gospel of Luke
So, with many other exhortations, [John the Baptist] proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from the heaven: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (Luke 3:18-22, I have adopted the rare text as the most probable original, for more on this read Bart D. Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture).
The Gospel of John
The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34).
I hear some of you saying:
Me: “Yep, that’s it!”
—“But doesn’t John tell us the story of Jesus’ baptism?”
—“As I’ll show you, that’s exactly part of the evidence … John does NOT tell us anything about Jesus’ baptism. And THAT fact is a great piece of this puzzle.”
Qualifying the Evidence
Historians in general do not immediately suppose that whatever they read in a document is true. Quite the contrary. As Bart Ehrman has argued in his most recent book, eye-witness testimony is very unreliable. Yet, none of these Gospels come from eye-witnesses, but have received these traditions from earlier sources by word of mouth. Mark was written 40 years after the events, so that means that this took at least 40 years of oral tradition to reach the author of Mark. And THAT is a problem. We must keep this in mind when using this Ancient writing.
Yet, that does not mean that we cannot get some historical facts out of it. For instance, what was the purpose of the Gospel of Mark? Answer: to show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. How do we know that this was the purpose? Simple. If you read all of that text you will realize that it has one very basic literary theme: that Jesus was the Messiah, but the people who heard him did not get that he was the Messiah, because Jesus didn’t want it revealed to the public; and that he also got upset with those who were close to him, because they didn’t understand his Messianic role. Regarding the first part of the theme, we can see that Jesus often gets angry when people (and demons) confessed his Messianic role public; he literally tells them to shut up, and, despite the fact that later his fame spread like wild-fire (e.g. Mark 1:23-28,32-34,40-45; 3:10-12; 5:42-43; 8:11-13,22-26, 27-30). It is as if Mark were showing this particular fact about Jesus as “a secret” that he didn’t want to be known.
We could ask, why was there such an insistence on Mark. Think about it! If Mark was written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah, but shows him forbidding everyone to tell this “secret”, then what the text is doing is providing the readers the reason why Jesus never publicly proclaimed himself to be the Messiah! Notice that already the theory of Jesus’ non-existence starts to crumble. Someone may ask,
–“But wait! Didn’t everyone watch the heavens open and the Spirit speak?”
Ummm… no! Read again the texts of Mark and Matthew. According to them only Jesus saw the heavens open up and watch the Spirit descend on him!
So, here is our first historical fact that happened to be very inconvenient to Christians: the historical Jesus never publicly claimed to be the Messiah or Son of God. These were claims made after he died. The Gospel of Mark was written to explain away this problem. If Jesus didn’t exist, then it would be hard to explain why the author of Mark wrote his Gospel as if he actually existed but never publicly claimed to be the Messiah. Why wouldn’t he have written the Gospel in such a way as if he did announce it?!
Yet, there is still another inconvenience in our story: Jesus’ own baptism! Isn’t Jesus’ vision of the Holy Spirit descend and proclaim his Sonship as convenient? Actually, no. If you read the first chapter of Mark in its entirety, you find what the writer had to say about John’s activity as a baptizer:
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized to him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (Mark 1:4-5).
Why would Mark or any Christian at the time make up the story that Jesus was baptized if John’s baptism was for the repentance from sins? In their view, would it be acceptable that the Messiah repented from sins? Obviously, there is a problem. How can we explain this from a historical standpoint?
It is clear just from this text that before Jesus’ ministry, he began as John’s disciple who repented from his sins and was baptized (our second historical conclusion). Mark‘s story about Jesus’ vision was apologetic, he wanted to explain away why despite the fact that the “Messiah wasn’t a sinner”, he let himself be baptized. For Mark‘s author, Jesus was not baptized because he was a sinner, but because was going to adopted by God as His Son with this act. Mark wanted to persuade readers why, despite the fact that John’s baptism was about the repentance of sins, Jesus could still be considered the Messiah.
But wait … why didn’t Mark just omit the whole story of Jesus’ baptism in the first-place?! Again, take into consideration that this is the earliest Gospel. This means that most probably some of the eye-witnesses to Jesus’ baptism could be living at the time, and someone like the author of Mark could not deny this simple fact. He needed to address this inconvenient fact when confronted by other people like, let’s say, John the Baptists’ disciples that still persisted at the time, or from other Jews who were acquainted with that same information. After all, Christianity’s custom of baptism clearly derived from John the Baptist’s activity, right?!
From Mark‘s text, we can also see that it omitted any reference to Jesus’ own activity as John’s disciple. As we can also observe, Jesus began his ministry, shortly after John was arrested (our third historical fact, Mark 1:14).
Qualifying Matthew and Luke
The confirmation of the Christian embarrassment regarding Jesus’ baptism doesn’t stop with Mark, but continues with the gospels of Matthew and Luke. We can see that clearly they borrowed their respective stories from Mark. Let’s have a look at Matthew‘s account first.
One of the things that we notice at first glance is that Matthew‘s author adds a small dialogue between John the Baptist and Jesus. This exchange is made to address a concern that he attributes to John, but obviously is everyone‘s question when reading about Jesus being baptized, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”. In other words, “Hey! You are the Messiah! You are above me! You are sinless and blameless! If anything, this poor sinner should be baptized by YOU!” The account gives us Jesus’ (non)answer to his question: “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Why did Matthew include this awkward eye-brow-raising dialogue? Because, as in Mark’s case, he tried to explain away the reason for Jesus’ baptism: it’s all God’s will, so that Jesus’ sonship will be revealed.
But the embarrassment in Matthew doesn’t stop there! Matthew shares with Luke a story not found in Mark, which is a strong indicator that it comes from Q. After John was arrested, Q tells us this story:
When John heard [about all of these things], he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?'” … And [Jesus] answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the [skin-diseased] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:18-23; Matt. 11:2-6)
At first, we might be impressed by Jesus’ claim, but the most embarrassing section is the first part of the story. Any attentive reader should stop and say: “Wait a minute! In Matthew‘s story of Jesus’ baptism, John knew perfectly well who Jesus’ was! Now he is asking if he’s the Messiah?! What is going on!” Scholars in general agree that this story contains what is perhaps a core historical event, when John really questioned whether his disciple, Jesus, was “the one who is to come”, the Son of Man or the Messiah. There is no certainty whether Jesus’ reply is historical or not, although it does seem to resemble apocalypticist language very well, as we can attest with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The story itself as a whole served both gospels in order to confirm their views of Jesus as the Messiah, but at the expense of revealing a historical inconvenience: that John did not know that Jesus was the Messiah (our fourth historical fact).
As a matter of fact, Q’s story seems more coherent in Luke. There is no dialogue between John and Jesus in that text, and, most interestingly, there is no case of John baptizing Jesus in that gospel. Jesus was baptized, yes … but after John’s arrest. In other words, Luke is establishing a distance between John’s activities and Jesus’ baptism, so that it no longer looks as if Jesus was baptized because of his repentance of sins, which is what John proclaimed.
Yet, if we look thoroughly at Luke (that rhymed!), how come John never knew that Jesus was the Messiah, if chapters 1 and 2 made them cousins? They should have known each other! Yet, as many scholars have pointed out, it seems that its author’s original project intended to begin his gospel with chapter 3. After finishing his work (whether in that edition or a later one), the same author added chapters 1 and 2. As many scholars have pointed out, these chapters are too fantastic and too inconsistent with historical data to be historically reliable. Luke‘s author’s original intention was to present Jesus’ sonship as God’s adoption at the very moment of Jesus’ baptism. Yet, he went further back, and justified his sonship because he was the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So, in Luke‘s “original project”, apparently he made it as to make John totally oblivious regarding Jesus’ status as the Messiah.
As we have pointed out, there is no story of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of John. As many scholars know, many times when John omits information that is found in the Synoptic Gospels, it usually is a form of denial. For instance, in all three Synoptic Gospels we find the scene of Jesus’ agony in the garden, either throwing himself at the floor or kneeling, and asking God to keep his future suffering away from him (Mark 14:32-42; Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:40-46). Yet, in John we find no agony at all! On the contrary, the soldiers are the ones who throw themselves to the floor when Jesus reveals his divinity when he says “I am” (John 18:1-11). At one point in the Gospel, Jesus even denies that he is going to ask God to keep the crucifixion away from him (in John it is portrayed as his “moment of glorification”; John 12:27-28).
Notice also that this time, Jesus is not the one who sees the Holy Spirit, but John the Baptist! In other words, John recognizes Jesus as being the Messiah, does not baptize him, and has the vision revealing him to be the Messiah. Being the one to write the Gospel at the very end of the first century C.E. has its advantages … the main one is that despite the gospel writer’s evident conflict with the disciples of John the Baptists, none of them are eye-witnesses of the event … hence none of them can deny the “truth” as John understands it.
All of the evidence thus far screams for Jesus’ historicity as the best explanation for the way these texts have been written. Mythicists really have a very, VERY hard time explaining all of these texts from their standpoint. Some people might say that the story of John the Baptist as a whole is a carbon-copy of Horus’ Anup’s the Baptizer. People who argue this way forget two things:
- The story of Anup baptizing the god Horus is a hoax. Scholars all over the world have recognized it as being a complete fabrication from late 19th or early 20th century so-called “scholars” who wanted to make up evidence to “disprove” Christianity’s “lies and fabrications”. People who keep believing that the Horus’ thing nonsense is true will never know the irony!
- The historicity of John the Baptist is well attested, not only by the Gospels, but also by external sources such as Josephus’ writings, particularly, Antiquities of the Jews. The way he is portrayed in that writing has convinced scholars that this was not a later addition by Christian hands. There is no debate that this is Josephus’ actual story about him.
From all of our analysis we can state the following as the most probable historical theory about Jesus:
- He existed.
- He probably began his apocalypticist journey by being a follower of John the Baptist.
- Jesus was baptized by John, because he believed that he was a sinner, and repented.
- After John was arrested, Jesus began his ministry.
- It seems that at no point Jesus proclaimed publicly that he was the Messiah.
- John the Baptist didn’t know that his disciple, Jesus, was the Messiah.
All of this tells us that Christians found Jesus’ baptism by John as being highly embarrassing to the point of us being able to see the efforts of explaining it away, or denying that Jesus was baptized by John, or even that he was not baptized at all! All of this only makes sense if he was actually baptized, which would inevitably mean that Jesus existed!
We will keep exploring more in the series. For now, just be aware that from just this post alone, we have established the unequivocal existence of Jesus, not only as the most probable theory, but as a very strong one.
For these, and many other reasons, scholars in general no longer argue about his existence. It is non-issue!
The Christmas Stories in the New Testament
Contrary to what people use to think, there is no one Christmas story in the New Testament. There are two of them: one in Matthew 1-2, and the other in Luke 1-2. As pointed out by many Bible scholars, both of the stories are incompatible, and critically divergent from more reliable historical data.
According to both stories, Jesus was born of a virgin called Mary, and who was betrothed to a man called Joseph, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Practically the similarities end there. After that, both stories diverge from one another in significant ways. Generations of Christians have tried to reconcile these contradictions without distorting their content, with no apparent success. For example,
In the case of Matthew 1-2:
- Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, became pregnant without Joseph’s intervention.
- In dreams, Joseph is announced by Yahweh’s angel that the child is the act of the Holy Spirit and that her child is the Son of God (the Messiah).
- Jesus was born in Bethlehem, because both Joseph and Mary lived there (Matt. 1:11).
- Certain Magi went to Jerusalem searching for the “King of the Jews”, and who were following a star in the sky.
- According to Matthew’s Gospel, Herod the Great and “all of Jerusalem” were startled by the claim.
- Herod asked them where was this “King” who was born, and to indicate where he was when they find him.
- The Magi follow the star to Joseph and Mary’s house.
- The Magi worship him and offer the newborn three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh,
- Later, they are told in dreams to avoid Herod and go another way.
- Joseph is told by an angel of God in a dream to take the baby and flee. He does so, and flees to Egypt.
- Herod unleashes a persecution against two years old children and below.
- Herod dies, and Joseph is told in a dream to return.
- To avoid Herod’s son, Archelaus, Joseph avoids his hometown in Bethlehem. So, Jesus’ family made Nazareth their new home.
In the case of Luke 1-2 (omitting the story of John the Baptist):
- Mary lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to a man called Joseph.
- Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, telling her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Son of God.
- She was told that she was going to get pregnant by an act of the Holy Spirit of God, by covering her with His shadow.
- Gabriel told Mary that her family relative Elizabeth, despite of her advanced age, was six months pregnant.
- Mary traveled from Nazareth (Galilee) to Judea to visit Elizabeth. There, Elizabeth’s baby skipped in her womb, and Mary recited the Magnificat, and stayed with her for three months.
- By the time when Cirinus was Syria’s governor, Ceasar Augustus implemented a census everywhere in the Roman empire.
- Due to the census, Joseph (and a pregnant Mary) had to go to Bethlehem, because Joseph was David’s descendant.
- They had to stay in an “Inn” (most probably the part of the house where animals were kept).
- Jesus was born there, and was placed in a manger.
- Angels gave the shepherds the good news of Jesus’ birth saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
- Shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the child in the manger.
- The child was called Jesus.
Why are these stories incompatible? Let’s begin with Jesus’ own birth date. For starters, according to Matthew, Jesus was born when Herod the Great was still alive. He died in the year 4 B.C.E. Since, he ordered children to be killed from 2 years old below, that would suggest that Jesus was born from from 6 to 4 B.C.E. Yet, according to Luke, Jesus was born when Cirinus was Syria’s governor, which was the year 6 C.E. So, there is an 11 years distance (remember there is no year 0 C.E.) between Matthew’s account and Luke’s.
[Note: Many people ask scholars when was Jesus born, and expect a “definitive” answer. Scholars may actually tell you one of these dates. Reality is that, given these dates, no one knows when Jesus was born. Anyone who claims otherwise is either deluded (in all his or her sincerity) or lying to you. Yet, for reasons that escape me, the public won’t accept “we don’t know” as an answer. But look at the New Testament material that we have, can you decide on its basis which is the real date?]
Another source of contradiction has to do with the place where Jesus’ family lived originally. “Matthew” assumed throughout the story that Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, since they had their house there (Matt. 1:11). This is so, presumably because he was David’s descendant. then he moved to Egypt, and then to Nazareth. Yet Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, and for reasons of the Augustus’ census, had to move to Bethlehem, so that Jesus would be born there. In Luke, there is no story of the travel to Egypt or Herod’s persecution.
To make matters worse, none of these stories are considered historical by serious Bible scholars and historians. Even when they talked about historical figures (Herod the Great, Archelaus, Caesar Augustus, Cirinus), none of the alluded facts check out historically:
- Matthew’s story:
- There is no record of the Magi’s visitation that “startled Herod and all of Jerusalem”.
- There is no record of Herod ever carrying out a massacre or persecution in Bethlehem.
- Luke’s story:
- There was no census carried out by Caesar Augustus for the whole empire at the time.
- Even if there were a census, at the time, there was no irrational requirement for people to move to the cities of their ancestors’ origins. As a matter of fact, historians find Joseph’s move to Bethlehem particularly unbelievable, since David, his ancestor, was born in Bethlehem a thousand years before. And why David has to be the criterion and not any other ancestor before or after? Bart Ehrman always asks his students at this stage: “Imagine that the IRS in all of its wisdom required that you move to the city of your ancestor who lived a thousand years before. Where would you go?! And no one else in antiquity mentions this, not even ‘their newspaper’?!”
Obviously as a Religious Naturalist, I question a supernatural intervention by the Holy Spirit, or the virgin birth. Even without being a Naturalist, these two factors as they are told are considered highly improbable (to the point of impossible) to be integrated to history.
The Mythical Background of the Stories
If none of these stories can be considered historically accurate and reliable, then where did the stories come from? Why were they written the way they were written.
The answer is twofold, because they are two stories, written by two different authors, with two very different worldviews, two different mindsets, and two very different messages they wanted to convey to their respective communities.
Before starting this analysis, know that it is a popular belief that the Christmas stories are just Xeroxed copies of Pagan legends of gods who were born and raised. Yet, as most historians specialized in the subject and serious Bible scholars agree, this is not the case. The similarities with much of these legends is simply accidental, but as we will see, they are more inspired in the Hebrew Bible than on Pagan legends.
A. Matthew’s Story’s Background
If you look at the author of Matthew’s Gospel (we’ll call him “Matthew” with quotes), you see a behavior everywhere that you don’t see in Luke. About every story you read in it, the he says: “… and this was to fulfill such and such a prophecy”. Reading the text in Greek, we know that whoever the author of the gospel was, wanted to convince the Jewish sector of the diaspora that Jesus was the Messiah. So, he engaged in copious statements about how Jesus fulfilled God’s prophecies.
There is one small detail, though. “Matthew” evidently didn’t know Hebrew (one of the reasons we think that the author of this gospel was not Matthew (a.k.a. Levi). In fact, he used the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible extensively. The problem with using the Greek version (probably a version of the Septuagint) is that much of it is translated in a way that is close to the meaning in the original Hebrew, but there are other significant passages that distort the original meaning considerably.
To make matters worse, in order to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, he tried in many passages to fit Jesus deeds to the mistranslated prophecy from Hebrew to Greek. For example, Matthew’s Gospel is the only gospel where it says that Jesus entered Jerusalem seated on top of two animals, a donkey and a colt (Matthew 21:1-7). If you are scratching your head confused, don’t worry. We all are at first. However, the confusion dissipates once you realize that the reason why Matthew’s Gospel does present Jesus making an amazing physical feat, it is because it was prophesied in the Greek passage that said this:
Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of donkey”
Yet, the original Hebrew prophecy actually said this,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout out aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Notice that it doesn’t say, “on a donkey and a colt” (which is what the Greek version said), but really on a colt (to emphasize the humble reception of the king). So, not knowing that, “Matthew” (whoever he was) made Jesus ride on a donkey and a colt to fulfill the Greek version of the prophecy.
The same very thing happens with the story of Jesus’ birth. In Hebrew, the prophecy about the birth of “Emmanuel” talked about a “young woman” (‘almah) being pregnant with “Emmanuel”.(Isaiah 7:14). Yet, scholars know that the Greek version of that same prophecy translated ‘almah to the Greek parthenos (meaning “virgin”). In “Matthew”‘s mind, this meant that Jesus mother had to be a virgin! (Matthew 1:22-23)
The rest of the Christmas story is to emphasize that Jesus, not only was the Messiah, but also a Second Moses … even better than the First Moses. This is a theme that appears everywhere in Matthew’s Gospel. For instance, in the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revises and culminates the Torah (the Law). Why on a mountain? Because Moses was given the Torah in Mount Sinai (or Horeb).
In the same way, the story of Jesus’ birth is reminiscent of the Genesis and Exodus stories, but adapted to Jesus’ birth in Palestine:
- Joseph descends from Jacob, just like Joseph the Patriarch (Matthew 1:16). And who is the next important patriarch after Joseph? Moses, right? Jesus is the very next in line after Joseph, betrothed to Mary.
- Just as the patriarch Joseph received and interpreted Yahweh’s induced dreams, so does Joseph, Jesus’ father has dreams from the Angel of God (Genesis 36:5-33; 40-41; Matthew 1:20-21).
- The visit of the Magi and their gifts reminds us of a prophecy of (Third-)Isaiah about foreigners visiting Israel (Isaiah 60). The three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myhrr are simultaneously symbolic of Jesus’ kingship, divinity, and burial.
- Just as Moses had to be saved from the massacre by pharaoh, Jesus had to be saved from Herod’s cold infanticide (Exodus 1-2:10; Matthew 2:12-18).
- Just as Moses fled and returned to Egypt to save Yahweh’s people from slavery, Jesus returned to Ancient Palestine to save it (Exodus 3; Matthew 2:19-23).
B. Luke’s Gospel’s Story
“Luke”‘s story (whoever “Luke” was) has tangential similarities with Matthew’s as I stated at the beginning of this article. Yet, the reasons for the similarities are very, very different from Matthew’s.
We have to point out that some analyses made by some scholars indicate that Luke’s Gospel was originally planned to begin the text in what we now call chapter 3. The stories of Jesus’ birth apparently were added later by the same author. This point is still debated by scholars, but I wanted to point it out anyway.
“Luke”‘s story include the story of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, which is intermingled with Jesus’. If you take both stories side by side, you’ll notice that they are mostly the same story with the same structure. The stories only differ in the degree of importance of the main characters involved, John the Baptist and Jesus
- John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, hence, he is born first.
- Both Zechariah (John’s father) and Mary (Jesus’ mother) question the Archangel Gabriel on how would their respective children being conceived. Yet, Zechariah’s question expresses doubt, which is the reason why he is chastised with dumbness. Mary’s question is an inquiry, not doubt.
- Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:49-56) is more glorious for her than is the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79) is for Zechariah and John the Baptist. As a matter of fact, the Benedictus, praises Jesus (“God’s savior”). It is very important to point out that in the case of the Magnificat, some ancient authorities attribute this saying to Elizabeth. Many scholars believe that Elizabeth was originally the one who sang the Magnificat, while later copyists may have added the phrase “And Mary said …”. In either case, the Magnificat seems to praise Mary, “God’s servant” (e.g. Luke 1:38,48).
Yet, why are both stories so similar in structure. The explanation is very simple. They are both a mix of two stories we can find in the Hebrew Bible: 1) the Yahwist story of the conception of Isaac (as announced by Yahweh’s Angel), and 2) the story of the conception of Samuel (Genesis 18:1-13; 21:1-8; 1 Samuel 1-2). In both cases, there was an old couple who tried to have children for years together, and then Yahweh announced that they were going to have a child, which was exactly what happened. Yet, when you look at “Luke”‘s narrative, you see that its structure is mostly similar to that of 1 Samuel. In fact, the Magnificat, and the Benedictus express exactly the same ideas and in a similar poetic form that Hannah Song does (1 Samuel 2:1-10).
Some scholars go even further, it is not only that “Luke” narrated two stories that are strikingly similar to another, but that Jesus’ birth story, may have been based on John the Baptist’s birth story, which is also based on the stories of the Hebrew Bible. The thing that leads some of them to think this way is that “Luke” makes Mary and Jesus’ birth look better than Zechariah and John the Baptist’s conception. After trying many times, God finally lets Zechariah and Elizabeth have their own child. Yet, Jesus birth is even more extraordinary, because neither Joseph nor Mary “knew” each other (in the Biblical sense), making Jesus’ conception altogether 100% miraculous, because the whole thing happened without Joseph’s intervention. Elizabeth was not a virgin, but Mary was! Why is that? Because Jesus is not only the Messiah, but the Son of God, because God’s own Spirit made her pregnant … hence, HE is the Father! (Luke 1:35)
(LOL … Sorry, I couldn’t resist! Ahem… Let’s continue!)
Notice that in this case the reason why Mary was a virgin had little to do with prophecy, and much to do with “Luke”‘s particular notion of why Jesus was called “Son of God” and why his birth was superior to John the Baptist’s. He also insinuates that he received this information from Mary herself, which is historically unlikely (Luke 2:19,51).
Further, some other themes appear throughout the story that were inspired by the Hebrew Bible:
- Gabriel said that the way that Mary was going to be pregnant was by being covered by the shadow of God’s spirit, which reminds readers about God’s glory covering the Tent of Meetings, to make it sacred (Luke 1:35; Exodus 40:34-35).
- Mary visited Elizabeth and John the Baptist skips in her mother’s womb, which reminds readers of how David danced in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant (Luke 1:40-44; 2 Samuel 6:16).
- Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months, which reminds the three months the Ark of the Covenant stayed with David in Obed-Edom and his household (Luke 1:57-58; 2 Samuel 6).
No wonder Catholics noticed these pattern and included in the Litany’s to Mary the name “Ark of the Covenant”.
There are many other stories being borrowed in “Luke”‘s account, but this is enough for our literary and historical analysis.
As popular it is that the idea of Jesus’ birth derived from Pagan birth stories, the evidence is clearly abundant (even to the point of literary content and structure) that the stories derive from stories in the Hebrew Bible. They are not historical precisely for this reason, and because they clearly conflict from other historical information that scholars and historians consider far more reliable.
Does that mean that we cannot know where and when Jesus was born?
Actually, both stories give us hints … but it is not Bethlehem. As we can see, both of these stories make Jesus be born in the City of David to emphasize that he was David’s descendant. Yet, there are also four things we have to notice:
- Mark, the earliest Gospel (65-70 C.E.), does not begin with a birth story. In that text, Jesus apparently was revealed (to himself) to be the Son of God when he was baptized, and ministry begins when John the Baptist was arrested (Mark 1:9-11,14,15). Why wasn’t Jesus’ birth story included? Presumably and probably, because it wasn’t remarkable (at least to the gospel’s author). After all, our earliest report on Jesus’ birth (and affirmation of his humanity) comes from Paul, where he says that he was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).
- When comparing both stories, we can see that their authors are trying very hard to explain why did Jesus’ family live in Nazareth (Galilee) while simultaneously accounting for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Judea). Since the stories are too invested in explaining this fact and that the stories clearly conflict, then it seems more reasonable to suppose that he was not born in Bethlehem. That Jesus’ family lived in Nazareth, and that, most probably, he was born there.
- John’s Gospel seems to pick up the tradition that Jesus actually came from Nazareth (John 1:46). Notice also that this Gospel does not have Christmas story, nor does it say anywhere that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
- Another reason why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem is the fact that Nazareth in Galilee was an extremely poor town, which would make it (in the minds of many) unlikely for the Messiah to have been born in. John’s Gospel confirms this fact when he reports that Nathanael said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Archaeologically, we know that Galilee was mostly Jewish (especially in the rural towns). Hence, Nazareth was mostly Jewish. Houses and structures from the first century confirm that it was extremely poor, and its small economic life was possible due to the fact that it was close to Sephoris. Presumably, as an artisan, Joseph and Jesus took advantage of that fact. The fact that Nazareth didn’t appear in Roman maps at the time, far from establishing its non-existence (as many people mistakenly argue), it establishes how unimportant it was. Even “Matthew” feels forced to provide a reason (a prophecy) for why did Jesus’ family ended up living there (Matthew 2:23).
So, if anything, one of the very few historical factors that critical analysis leads us to is that Jesus was born and raised in Nazareth. The other historical important factor from the stories seems to be that he was born between 6 B.C.E. and 6 C.E.
Yet, I have only addressed Jesus’ birth stories from a critical literary and historical points of view. But do these myths actually capture something valuable for all of us, and what is their spiritual message for today? That will be the subject in my next post…
To be continued …
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!
Luke was a physician. He knew the human body better than any of the other Gospel writers. Think about it! Matthew was a tax collector (Mt. 9:9-13). John was a fisherman (Mt. 4:21; Mk. 1:19; Lk. 5:10), and Mark … well, we don’t know much about him, except that tradition holds that he was Peter’s companion, who, by the way, was another fisherman (Mt. 4:18; Mk. 1:16; Lk. 5:1-9). We all know for a fact that Luke was a dear friend of Paul the Apostle (Philm. 24), who worked with him in many of his missions (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). He was sometimes called “Paul’s dear physician”, so, we know about his profession (Col. 4:14).
Many argue that we know for certain that this is the same Luke who wrote the “Gospel of Luke”, because as a physician he included an episode about something that Jesus went through. I’ll highlight the passage.
He came out and went, as was his custom; to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (Lk. 22:39-46).
This is a remarkable and moving story. Notice that the highlighted passage is not found in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John. This confirms beyond a doubt, that Luke knew about this physical phenomenon because he was a physician. Luke is the undisputed author of the Gospel of Luke …
… or is he?
Not only is this passage absent in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John … but it is also absent in many manuscripts, especially the most ancient and best ones we have. Yes, this highlighted passage got into our Bibles because several manuscripts have it. Yet, as many scholars have argued, this was a later interpolation by a scribe in one of the manuscripts, and it had been copied in many other manuscripts ever since.
It is an interesting case, because some scholars even go as far as to say that the author of the Gospel of Luke could not have written this passage, because it goes against his own theology. Remember our earlier post, when I say that in the Last Supper episode in Luke there was a later interpolation that said (and I highlight the interpolated passage):
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in rememberance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you in the new covenant of my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me … (Lk. 22:19-21)
These two interpolations I just discussed constitute the only two passages that allude to Jesus’ passion and suffering, the spilling of blood for others’ sake. Yet, this is not the theology being held in the Gospel of Luke. If you read the entire Gospel on its own (i.e. independently from the other Gospels), you realize that Jesus does not save others by spilling his blood, but rather the crucifixion would serve as a catalyst (a stimulus) for people’s conversion, especially in Gentility (not in Judaism, since the Jews are almost always portrayed as rejecting Jesus’ message). Gentiles are those who are lost, who are somehow away from God. Because of Jesus’ suffering, he would attract Gentiles to him, while the Jews would stand in jealousy. This is the reasoning behind many specific parables in the context of Luke’s Gospel: the parables of the Prodigal Son, of the Lost Dracma, of the Lost Sheep, and so forth. There is no allusion at all about Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice for others’ sins in Luke.
Even in the case of Jesus’ “passion”, we have the first manifestation of what scholars call a “passionless passion”. Mark’s version of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion is filled with pathos, where you feel that Jesus is shocked by what is happening to him, you even feel his disgrace as both of the crucified criminals were mocking him, and he ended up yelling and crying because God abandoned him. Luke’s version of events is not that way at all: Jesus does not throw himself to the floor (as in Mark), but kneels, he does not ask his suffering to go away … period (as in Mark), but rather submits calmly to God’s will, he silently stands all the mockery, on the way to Golgotha he talks to women asking them not to cry for him but “for their children”, when he is nailed to the cross he asks forgiveness for the Romans, he has a conversation with both crucified criminals, and, unlike Mark, Jesus does not yell or cry out to God, but gives God his spirit.
Why was this episode of Jesus sweating blood-like drops added to the main text? Simply because without it, the whole Lukan episode of Jesus’ passion would be too passionless. Apparently, the scribe who added this passage was in conflict with second-century Christian sects known today as the “docetists”, who argued that Jesus was never a divine being incarnated in human flesh, but rather one who adopted the appearance (in Greek dokeos) of a human being, as if he had a human body. Apparently the scribe felt the need to underscore Jesus’ humanity by adding this little passage.
In Bart Ehrman’s 2012 debate with his arch-friendly-nemesis, Christian scholar Dan Wallace, he stated that this was the explanation, and Wallace confirmed that he agreed completely. Not only did he agree, but Wallace also added to the discussion the fact that in John’s Gospel we have another instance of a passionless passion, one which was far “more passionless” than Luke’s version. He is indeed correct. According to one of the experts in the field, Raymond E. Brown, the Gospel of John explicitly denies any agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. At one poin t, in Jesus’ discourse before the Last Supper, the Gospel says:
[Jesus speaking:] “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. (Jn. 12:22).
He said in his discourse in the Last Supper that he was always in control, and the powers that be (the “ruler of the world”) had no power over him. And in the Mount of Olives (Gethsemane’s Garden) it is not Jesus who kneels and prays, but the soldiers were the ones who were forced to fall to the ground when Jesus revealed his divine nature with the “I am” (Jn. 18: 4-8). Not only is Jesus calm during the whole passion, he is absolutely in control over the situation, even to the point of expiring just when he said: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:28).
But this whole discussion, which may seem pointless regarding the issue at hand (i.e. did the Church as a single-all-powerful entity distort the Bible to “hide the truth”), reveals all of the points regarding this subject!
The Problem of Authorship
So, we cannot use the episode of Jesus sweating blood-like drops to confirm that Luke was the actual author of the Gospel of Luke. The question is: Is there anything else to confirm that Luke was the author? The answer is that scholars generally think that the real Luke (the friend of Paul) did not write the Gospel of Luke. Whoever wrote this Gospel, also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. And even when this author claims to have helped Paul in his mission, this author did not share Paul’s theology. According to Paul, Jesus died as a self-sacrifice for humanity’s sins and save all of those who embrace the faith in him as the Messiah. As we have seen, this is different from what we find in Luke’s Gospel. Not only that, there are too many anomalies in Acts to credit it to a Pauline disciple: for instance, he seems totally unacquainted with Paul’s letters, there are clearly unhistorical episodes, and Paul appears holding theological positions that contradict the ones he holds in his letters, etc. Hence, whoever “Luke” was, he was not Paul’s friend. Whenever Acts says that its author was with Paul’s missions, he is actually falsifying the information.
Note: If you know Spanish, you may be interested in my recent book where I discuss Paul from a historical approach, which includes a critical evaluation of the Acts of the Apostles.
Matthew (or Levi, as he is named in the other Gospels) the Apostle could not have written the Gospel attributed to him. This is because the name of the actual Apostle implies that he is of Jewish origin. Presumably he would be acquainted with Jewish customs in Judea. However, the text of the Gospel reveals that he seems unacquainted with the Hebrew Bible, and frequently uses a (mis)translated Greek version.
John could not have written the Gospel attributed to him, but many people infer that he did because its teachings are remitted to a “beloved disciple” of Jesus. There was a triad of disciple closest to Jesus (Peter, James and John). It could not be Peter or James because they are clearly distinguished from the “beloved disciple”, so, people think it is John. On the other hand, many scholars have concluded that this “beloved disciple” (who remains unnamed in the Gospel) is a fiction, a literary device for the writer of the Gospel to legitimize his message. Beside the fact that the historical John was illiterate (Acts 4:10), scholars have long shown that what we call the Gospel of John is the result of several layers of traditions, writings and re-writings of the main text during the end of the first century. The actual text of the Gospel of John as we know it (with the exception of 7:53-8:11) was published in its almost-final form during the period of 90-100 C.E.
Scholars are unanimous regarding the fact that Mark’s Gospel is chronologically the first one, yet, we have no idea if Mark wrote it. The Gospel itself originally had no title that said “Gospel of Mark”, and in the early stages of the second century C.E. this text was known as “Peter’s Memoirs” by some Christians. It seems that later, this Gospel was identified with the name Mark for unknown reasons, and the other Gospels were identified as those of “Matthew”, “Luke” and “John”. These names were made “official” by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (France), who justified the canonicity of the four Gospels, as opposed to many other Gospels being published at the time.
More to the point I want to stress … Not only do we not know who the authors of the Gospels were… but if you read them, you realize that they disagree, and often contradict in many aspects. In Mark’s Gospel, you have a very human Jesus who is the Messiah. In Matthew, you have a Judaizing Jesus who tries to fulfill every single prophecy in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. In Luke, you have a more Gentile Jesus, and in John you have a more divine Jesus (as conceived by the Judeo-Hellenistic understanding of the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible), who was in control of his death and resurrection. And, as you can see above, these contradictions often go beyond the mere “difference of opinion” among Christians, some of them are dedicated to attack earlier versions of Jesus in earlier Gospels.
Let’s look at this phenomenon more closely.
Conceptions of Jesus we Have Seen in This Discussion
In case you have missed all of the views on Jesus we have seen until now, let me enumerate them for you:
- Mark’s Version: A very human Jesus (who gets angry sometimes, who is shocked and desperate during his passion), who is adopted as Son of God at the moment of his baptism (Adoptionist view of Christ).
- Luke’s Version: A Jesus inclined to condemn Jews to attract Gentiles, who goes through a relatively passionless passion, who never spilled his blood as self-sacrifice for sins. He is (was not adopted as) Son of God ever since the time of birth, because he is the son of David, who is the son of Adam, who is the Son of God, and/or because the Holy Spirit of God made Mary pregnant without a man’s intervention (Lk. 1:32-35; 3:23-38).
- Matthew’s Version: A Jesus who is Son of God, because the Holy Spirit made Mary pregnant, but, this is a very pro-Gentile-but-Judaizing Jesus, who is a sort of “Second Moses” (or someone better than Moses), who went through a passion.
- John’s Version: A Jesus who is a divine being or God himself (John 1:1-3), who is the masculine Sophia (Wisdom), that is a Logos (translated often as “the Word”), whose speeches often resemble a Hellenistic monologue, who is in control over the world, who has conquered the world and took it away from the “ruler of the world” (presumably Satan). This Jesus is crucified, not exclusively to suffer for others, but conceives the crucifixion as the “hour of glorification of the Son of God” (Jn. 3:14-15; 17:1-26). He didn’t have an agony, nor did he have any suffering passion.
- Docetist Views: Jesus was not human at all, but only appeared to be human. He was never crucified, nor did he resurrect.
- Paul’s Views: Jesus is the Messiah who was glorified after the crucifixion, not at the moment of the crucifixion. He was a human who was born without sin, and self-sacrificed to atone the sins of all of those who were baptized and believed in him.
I wish to emphasize that I have just given you few of all of the divergent points of view we already find within the New Testament itself.
There are far more discrepancies than people are willing to admit. Colossians and Ephesians are letters attributed to Paul which contradict Paul. So is 2 Thessalonians, which seems to unauthorize the genuine Pauline letter 1 Thessalonians. 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus have even more discrepancies with the Pauline letters, Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians. And still, the views of the author of the Letter of James differ dramatically from the Pauline views as well as Colossians and Ephesians. And STILL, the letters of Peter (who were not written by Peter either) hold different views between each other. In fact 2 Peter and Jude have more in common than with 1 Peter. The 1 and 2 letters of John coincide only with the Gospel of John, while the Apocalypse of John was written by a Judaizing Christian in Gentility who didn’t write Greek very well, and whose vision seemed to differ from the Judeo-Hellenistic Christianity in general (i.e. the pro-Gentile writings of the New Testament a.k.a. most of the New Testament).
And these are only most of the first century and early second century Christian writings that we find in the New Testament! From the second century on, there were still MORE Gospels with even MORE divergent views on Jesus and doctrinal issues. In fact, as scholars have pointed out pretty often that from the relative “uniformity” of doctrine we find by the years 33-47 CE, we find a variety of divergent positions in churches in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy, and many other places around the Mediterranean Sea as Christianity continued to spread in Gentility, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem around 70 CE. These divergent and incompatible positions about Jesus and his doctrine kept branching and multiplying like rabbits everywhere, as many people kept elaborating it and incorporating non-Jewish thinking to it.
Here, we have a big doctrinal MESS among Christians who were arguing against each other. In fact, scholars think that this is the reason why Christians invented codices, for the task of arguing among themselves. What are codices? You know that in ancient times, the usual form of publication were scrolls. Yet, it is very difficult to find passages to justify your position with a sacred text in the form of a scroll. Therefore, they took the pages of these sacred, joined them in one corner of the pages, and you have a codex (today we call it a book), which is a LOT easier to manage when searching for passages during disputes!
However chaotic this entire situation may seem, that does not mean that during the second century there were no centers of power among Christians. Many of these centers were well-known (e.g. Rome, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, and Alexandria), and ultimately the authority on Christian doctrine gravitated around those centers. But still, there would be disagreements among Christians, sometimes within the churches themselves, and even among the centers of power! For example, by the year 95 C.E. we have a letter from Clement (bishop of Rome) to the church of Corinth asking them to reinstate their own bishop (we don’t know the response or the outcome of the church of Corinth).
Again, it was during this time that the most radical changes to the New Testament took place, usually as responses to other Christian divergent positions: such as the passage where Jesus sweat blood-like drops, or such as interpolated passages telling women not to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:33b-36); or an interpolation in Mark that seems to indicate that Jesus declared all food “clean” (Mk. 7:19b), or such as the lovely long interpolation about love in one of Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 13), and so on.
Conclusion in the form of a Question: Given this scenario do you REALLY think that there was enough coherent and solid institutional Church that distorted the Bible to confirm its doctrine? If you answer “Yes”, which one of all of the doctrines?!!!
Sorry that I haven’t been able to write for a long time, but work has been a bit more demanding than in previous year, especially when I am doing plans for my PhD in philosophy (or history?)
However, for the longest time I have always wanted to share with you a lot of what has been going on in my life, in my mind, and in my spiritual journey. Tonight I want to talk about several women, most of them bloggers, who have touched my soul and have influenced my spiritual life in one way or another. In some cases, they have actually changed my spiritual paradigms and praxis forever.
Most of these women come from a Christian culture, but some of them are definitely open to learn about other spiritual paths and traditions. All of these women are courageous, even when some of them don’t regard themselves that way.
This post does not mean that I agree with all of their views. However, it does mean that they are the sort of women you want to sit down with and listen attentively, because they always have something very important to say.
1. Leila A. Fortier:
Leila A. Fortier is one of those souls who have changed my spiritual life forever, especially through poetry. I had the honor of her writing a foreword for my book Creative Heart. A modified version of one of her paintings served as a cover for that book. Her poetry never ceases to stimulate my own, and has always led me to look at the manifestation of God in words and the colors of abstract representations. Her trips to India, Okinawa, and other countries have been moments of spiritual growth for her. Her new insights in light of these experiences show her deep spiritual wisdom, which have often lifted (and keep lifting) me from spiritual darkness. Her book Metanoia’s Revelation is a book I carry with me everywhere I go, especially when I want to be poetically and spiritually inspired. If you want to buy it, click on the image:
Leila has been a dear friend of mine all over these years, and her spiritual guidance has been one of the most transforming experiences. Currently she does not have a blog of her own. On the other hand, she does have a website (visit it here), and a Facebook page (visit it here). If you visit her Amazon.com page, and look at the picture in “More About the Author” section, you’ll see that she is reading my book It Needs to Be Said.
2. Rachel Held Evans
I discovered Rachel Held Evans when I was looking at BioLogos’ Videos. It was published online shortly after she published her amazing memoir Evolving in Monkey Town. You can see her in this video.
I started to follow her in both her blog and Facebook. I consider her to be a brilliant mind and heart (in both intellectual and spiritual senses of the word “brilliant”). She may not be a theologian, but her thinking far outways a lot of theologians I know. I finished her book Evolving in Monkey Town, and I felt that a lot of her experiences resemble mine in many ways. Of course, I never grew up in a Bible-Belt environment, so a lot of her experiences within that world sounds so foreign and strange to me. Yet, I’ve had my dose of Catholic fundamentalism at one time in my life, and had to struggle with a lot of questions which resemble those she had to deal with (perhaps she had to deal with them more intensely given her environment). Also, like her, I had to deal with a lot of people at the most extreme side of the conservative spectrum.
However the simiilarities between our spiritual journeys, a lot of her ways of dealing with the questions over the fundamentals of Christianity show her depth of her thinking in genuine Christian spirit. Her blog has helped me learn new ways of understanding my faith and others’ faiths. For me, God acts through her love, thinking, and understanding. I hope to be able to read her new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The subtitle is: “How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering her Head, and Calling her Husband Master” …. so, it will be an interesting reading! Buy her books:
3. Elizabeth Esther
I knew of Elizabeth Esther through a Rachel Held Evans’ blog post. First, I learned that she went to Bolivia, because of Elizabeth’s and Rachel’s World Vision sponsorship. Not surprisingly, both of them are friends and support each other on the web. Later I learned that she had a very traumatic past with a Christian cult, and was a victim of the teachings of the very controversial Michael and Debi Pearl. Eventually, she became a Roman Catholic, although she has a more Pogressive view regarding some subjects, and sometimes has struggled with some other teachings and activities of the Church. She is also very politically open about her opinions. She is a conservative I love to love. During her discussion of political issues, I always feel that her opinions are genuinely founded and guided by her Christian ideals. Before the elections, she posted a series of discussions with a Democrat blogger. I’ve never seen in my life such a lively and lovely political discussion with a high degree of respect. I underscore this, because these blog posts have uplifted my soul and have given me much hope for the future of the United States. I also deeply enjoy her intelligence and sense of humor. In these and many other ways, her blog has been a lighthouse. Sometimes her writings about her spiritual struggles resemble a lot of my own, and her courage has been very inspiring for me. You can go to her blog, her Facebook page, her Twitter page and her video blog in Youtube. She has not published a book yet, but she is going to do it soon. Apparently, her book will be called: How I Left the Church to Find God. I wish the best for her. I can’t wait to read it. You can sense that I have a deep admiration for her, right?
4, Christian Heretic
As you might suspect, she is one of a kind. I am proud to consider her a friend, and I love her dearly. Although I’m not exactly a fan of calling oneself “heretic”, under the current Christian environment in the U.S., I completely understand it. She regards herself as a follower of “Jesus the Christ”, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and the Mahatma Gandhi. The reason why she has touched my soul so many times is because she has unorthodox views of spiritual life. Many times she has had a spiritual insight I find nowhere else, and has teased my mind and heart every now and then with her views. Currently she has a blog, and a Facebook page.
5. Laura Ziesel
She is a spiritual thinker I love to admire. Her theological writings online, though, are not in the ivory tower sort of academic sophistication, but rather spiritual and intellectual insights on every day life and our relationship with Jesus Christ. Like in the case of Elizabeth Esther, I first learned of Laura Ziesel through Rachel Held Evans’ blog. She is now in a ministry looking forward to the day when “God’s Kingdom is fully realized on earth, as it is in heaven”. Her blog has been another big shining light whenever I am in spiritual darkness. You can visit her website (blog), her Facebook page, and her Twitter page.
This documentary by NOVA is a very interesting and fascinating archaeological exploration on Hebrew history before Ancient Israel. It shows how contemporary archeology not only shows significant discrepancies with the Bible stories about how the people of Israel settled and developed, but also it helps shine on our understanding how the Bible originated, and how it evolved. Enjoy it!
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Ever since I began writing the series on evolution, I’ve received some e-mails or messages from young-earth creationists. Among their objections I find, they say:
- Were you there when the world was created?
- It was believed that the world was flat, today we know it is round. We believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, we now know the sun is the center of the Solar System. Therefore, what we may hold as true of evolution and old-earth formation may be false, and tomorrow it will be shown to be true.
- Carbon-14 is the only method to establish the age of rocks, it can go as back as 6,000 years ago. So, I have no basis to believe that the Earth is really billions of years old, or that evolution is a fact.
- The "myth" of evolution rests in the "belief" that the Earth is billions of years old. However, there is no way to know how old it is, so a dating based on Genesis is as reliable as the "atheist" billion years belief.
There are other sorts of responses but these were the ones I either found most prevalent or more reasonable.
My Response to (1): No, I wasn’t there. So, you may ask, "with what authority do I say then that the Earth is old?"
First, we can say that this reasoning is not only bogus, but dangerous to an extent if you wish to take it seriously. This is the same reasoning any assassin may use to defend him or herself in court. He or she could say to the judge: "But your honor, no one was there during the murder. By what authority does the district attorney claim that I am a murderer? He wasn’t there!" And the judge will say: "Oh geez! You’re right! Let him loose".
Why doesn’t this happen in court? Because neither the judge, nor the attorneys, not even defense lawyers would accept it. No one was there, of course, but there can be evidence left in the scene of the crime which can be used to point out who is most probably the assassin. If the knife the murderer used was left accidentally, he or she might have left fingerprints on it, or maybe a bit of his or her blood. We can notice his or her modus operandi. The district attorney and the defense may argue whether the man is innocent or guilty, but the evidence will state with high probability or conclusively one or the other.
Scientists use exactly the same approach. No scientist "was there" when the Earth was formed, but the evidence science has accumulated decides with high probability or conclusively whether the Earth is young, or billions of years old. My intent in this article is to show the reliability of how scientists have concluded that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.
Response to (2): Well, all of that might be true. Science has changed its theories over time. What previously was believed to be true is no longer true now. This is due to our limitations in knowledge, but the best part is that science has a self-correcting mechanism in its social dynamic.
However, I want to ask the people who have argued like this to please pick better examples. Some of those examples show how science triumphed over Bible literalism. In ancient times, there are parts of the Bible that seemed to hold that the Earth is flat (take the phrase "four corners of the Earth", or "borders", or "ends" of the Earth: Num. 15:38; Is. 11:12; Ezek. 7:2; Job 37:3; 38:13), while there are others that state that the Earth is round (Is. 40:22; Prov. 8:26), yet it was science, not the Bible, that not only showed that the Earth is round, but showed how you can measure its actual size. Eratosthenes, at the time, using simple rules of geometry, inferred the size of the Earth which was very close to the actual size. There have been clever attempts to reconcile these contradictory passages of the Bible, but, the problem is they want to stretch the meaning of the original Hebrew words so that it turns out that "corners", "borders" or "ends" don’t really mean corners, borders or ends. However, they miss the fact that most of those passages that talk about the four corners of the Earth came from earlier writings than those which say the Earth is round. The book of Numbers and Proto-Isaiah (Is. 1-39)were probably composed around 715-686 B.C., while Ezekiel as composed during the sixth century B.C. Deutero-Isaiah (Is. 40-55) was composed (later than 550 B.C.), and the final version of the Book of Proverbs seems to have been compiled before 200 B.C.). Job seems to have been composed in the fourth century B.C., or perhaps earlier, but seems to have a language that is ancient (compare with Gen. 6, composed about the ninth century B.C.) and the language of later books of wisdom (such as the Books of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes). It may well be that Job assumed much of earlier language while the cosmovision was changing.
And the thing about the Earth being the center of the universe? This was fiercely defended by Bible literalists in Galileo’s time. Did Galileo go to space to see the Earth orbiting around the sun? No. All he did was to use more or less the same approach used by Eratosthenes … a mathematical approach. Using mathematical principles, he did show that Copernicus was most probably right. His convictions were reinforced when he saw through the telescope that planets were not bright stars, but spheres … and that there were moons orbiting some of those spheres. Galileo strongly advised against taking the Bible literally, and the Catholic Church that condemned him learned that lesson the hard way.
Anyway!!! … Young-earth creationists are the ones who have to design an experiment and show scientifically how can you determine that the the Earth is "young", and that the Bible is literally right. However, many of the creationists I have challenged to do this said either that they were not interested in doing it, or that even if confronted with the evidence, they would believe the Bible regardless. In that case, you lose all moral and ethical rights to state your opinion on the subject. Of course, from a juridical standpoint you are free to believe whatever you want, even that the moon is made of cheese and can be eaten with syrup; but at the end of the day, you are not apt to make a decision regarding what should be taught as science in the schools. Science is based on evidence, and a person who likes to disregard evidence on purpose should not make any decisions concerning what should be taught or not in a science classroom. And if someone says that he or she is 100% sure that the Bible is literally true and that all of what it says is exactly what happened … I would ask that person: "Were you there?"
Response to (3): We have to clarify some things. Carbon-14 has a half-life of approximately 6,000 years (or more precisely 5,730 years). However, it can be used to date organic material less than 60,000 years old. Of course, you can never infer the age of the Earth from Carbon-14, and in this sense I agree with young-Earth creationists. For that very reason, Carbon-14 is never used to measure the age of the Earth.
This is a straw man argument which rests on a confusion. It confuses half-life of radioactive isotopes with Carbon-14. Certainly, Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope, but not all radioactive isotopes are Carbon-14. Whoever is scientifically literate cannot make this mistake. The best advice is to first understand how the Earth’s age is measured, and then make an opinion.
Response to (4): Scientific evidence has absolutely nothing to say about God’s existence. This is a point stressed by many scientists and philosophers of science today. Of course, it can refute some particular notions about God, such as the one which states that He created the Earth 6,000 or 10,000 years ago. But Christians who have no attachment to Bible literalism, and do consider much of what the Bible says just at a symbolic level, or as a reflection on the mentality of the people at the time, have no problem with an Earth that is billions of years old, nor evolution as the means used by God to make living things appear, including us. I happen to be that kind of Catholic who holds only the metaphorical and symbolic meaning of creation in Genesis, just as John Paul II did, and just as today’s Pope Benedict XVI does (see John Paul II, 2006, pp. 138-139, and Horn & Wiedenhofer (2008)). There are Protestant churches and denominations everywhere which have absolutely no problem embracing evolution, and there are even organizations dedicated to somehow explore the theological implications of evolution. Some of these are: the Biologos Foundation, Christians in Science, American Scientific Affiliation. I also have to mention the fact, that many of the partisans for Intelligent Design do favor an old-Earth creation view of the world.
Science is not "atheistic", but methodologically naturalist. This means that what makes science science is the search for natural explanations to phenomena on Earth. This is indeed fruitful in terms of our knowledge about the world. During Galileo’s time, no one could explain how the planets moved around the sun, so they attributed that motion to God Himself. This is argumentum ad ignorantiam, that is, they used God as a way to "fill in" a gap in the knowledge of why planets move. This is the famous "God of the gaps" argument. Then came Isaac Newton and showed that if you assume that gravity is what prevents planets from being released to empty space, and that motion is caused by its momentum, then you can explain perfectly why planets move around the sun without using God as the argument. Of course, Newton did not know how did this odd "action at a distance" called "gravity" worked, so he assumed that God was creating gravity and holding things together miraculously. Then came Einstein, and showed that gravity is nothing more than the result of the way space-time warps around massive objects.
Many Catholics and Protestants see this methodological naturalism as extremely important, because it has enabled us to understand the world much better. You can embrace methodological naturalism because that corresponds to the nature of science as an enterprise. That does not mean that you have to embrace a naturalistic philosophy as your own way or thinking, or as your own view of the universe. In fact, I think that theology’s embrace of evolution will represent a great advance in our respective religious beliefs.
What are Half-Lives of Isotopes?
In order to understand how old is the Earth, we need to understand the basics of half-life.
As you all know, matter is composed ultimately of atoms, which are the smallest units of matter. That does not mean that this unit is not made up of other units. There are the nucleus, made up of protons and neutrons, while it is surrounded by a cloud of electrons, which orbit in different energy levels. At least, not many young-Earth creationists dispute this fact (as far as I know).
If you look at the periodic table, you will notice that each element has two numbers. In the illustration I linked to, the number at the top is called "the atomic number", the number at the bottom is the "atomic mass". The atomic number consists of the number of protons that the atoms of such elements have. In the case of hydrogen (H), for instance, it has only one proton. In the case of helium (He) it has two protons. However, the atomic mass consists of the amount of mass the nucleus has (mass of proton + mass of neutron).
Finally, the properties of the elements are not determined by protons, but by the electrons, because they are precisely orbiting around the nucleus. The atom usually is electrically balanced. This means that the proton, which has a positive electric charge, will attract an electron, which has a negative electric charge. This neutralizes the charge of the atom. If there are less electrons than protons (positive ion), or more electrons than protons (negative ion) in an atom, then usually the atom will "search" (so to speak) to neutralize itself electrically. The way electrons organize in energy levels can determine the properties of an element: i.e. solid, liquid or gas at certain temperatures, or what color it will be, or the way it crystallizes, or the way it will chemically react with other elements or compounds, etc.
In the case of neutron, the story is a bit different. Because the neutron is electrically neutral (it has no electric charge) the amount of neutrons in an atom can vary. Hydrogen (H) in its natural state has no neutrons at all, but you can add a neutron (deuterium) or even two neutrons (tritium). It will behave exactly as usual hydrogen, except that it will be radioactive, and later I will explain why. Helium normally has two protons and two neutrons, but it can have more or less neutrons.
Elementary knowledge in electricity will make you ask the following question. A positive charged object will repel another positive charged object. If this is true, how do protons "stick together" in a nucleus along with the neutrons. The answer is that there is a force recognized and measured by scientists called strong-nuclear force. The energy released when an atom divides during a nuclear fission is in part due to the fact that this force is released. It can give you an idea of how strong this force might be.
On the other hand there is a weak-nuclear force. Neutrons have a peculiar trait that makes them different from protons … they tend to degrade. Neutrons are slightly heavier than protons. When they degrade, they release a beta particle (literally an electron), and the neutron becomes a proton. That means that, for instance, if you have a carbon atom, and one of its neutrons degrades into a proton, it ceases to be carbon and becomes nitrogen. It literally changes the atom from one element to another.
Such degradation of neutrons is not expected when atoms are stable, that is, when there is a stable amount of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. However, some amounts of neutrons can make the atom be unstable, leading to radioactive decay. For instance, a stable atom of Carbon-12 usually has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. Carbon-14, on the other hand, has 6 protons and 8 neutrons. This combination usually makes it unstable, leading it to radioactive decay, which makes Carbon-14 transform into a stable Nitrogen-14. When an atom is unstable in this manner, it is said to be a radioactive isotope, also called radioactive nuclide.
Now we are in a position to explain what is a half-life of a radioactive element. If you take, let’s say, a large or small sample of pure Carbon-14, it will decay at a predictable rate. A half-life has to do with the time it takes for a radioactive element to decrease in half. Size, in this sense, does not matter. You may have 10 kg. of Carbon-14, or 4 kg. of Carbon-14, and the radioactive element will decrease in half at a predictable rate: 5 kg. and 2 kg. respectively. For instance, Carbon-14 has a half life of 5,730 years. If that is true, then that means that it will take 5,730 years for half of our chunk of Carbon-14 to degrade into Nitrogen-14. In another 5,730 years an additional fourth of our original chunk will have degraded, then an eighth, and then a sixteenth, and so on.
However, Carbon-14 is not a very good to measure the Earth’s age for two reasons. First, the one stated above, Carbon 14 is only good to measure up to 60,000 years old organic material. Secondly, there is Carbon-14 produced every day in the troposphere and the stratosphere due to bombardment of neutrons outside the Earth (cosmic rays) and their interaction with nitrogen atoms. Usually nitrogen’s interaction with a neutron coming from cosmic rays will produce Carbon-14 and Hydrogen.
How Can We Use Half-Lives to Get a Hint of How Old the Earth Is?
I won’t show in this part of my article how do I know that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, just that it is older than 80,000,000 (much older than 4,000 B.C. or 6,000 B.C.). We’ll leave the 4.5 billion years old evidence for Part II of this article. The following is a very, very simple demonstration made by Kenneth Miller (2004, pp. 70-71).
If we can’t use Carbon-14 for our purposes of establishing the age of the Earth … which other radioactive isotopes may we use? There are radioactive isotopes that are not produced constantly in the Earth, but have been in the Earth all along. Let me give you a list of the half-lives of these isotopes and organize them from longest half-life to shortest:
Vanadium-50 —- Half Life: 6.0 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 6,000,000,000,000,000 years)
Neodymium-144 —- Half Life: 2.5 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 2.500,000,000,000,000 years)
Halfnium-174 —- Half Life: 2.0 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 2,000,000,000,000,000 years)
Platinum-192 —- Half Life: 1.0 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 1,000,000,000,000,000 years)
Indium-115 —- Half Life: 6.0 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 600,000,000,000,000 years)
Gadolinium-152 —- Half Life: 1.1 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 110,000,000,000,000 years)
Tellurium-123 —- 1.2 x 10¹³ years (i.e. … 12,000,000,000,000 years)
Platinum-190 —- 6.9 x 10¹¹ years (i.e. … 690,000,000,000 years)
Lanthanum-138 —- 1.12 x 10¹¹ years (i.e. … 112,000,000,000 years)
Samarium-147 —- 1.06 x 10¹¹ years (i.e. … 106,000,000,000 years)
Rubidium-87 —- 4.88 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 48,800,000,000 years)
Rhenium-187 —- 4.3 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 43,000,000,000 years)
Lutentium-176 —- 3.5 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 35,000,000,000 years)
Thorium-232 —- 1.4 x 10¹? years (i.e. … 14,000,000,000 years)
Uranium-238 —- 4.47 x 10? years (i.e. … 4,470,000,000 years)
Potassium-40 —- 1.25 x 10? years (i.e. … 1,250,000,000 years)
Uranium-235 —- 7.04 x 10? years (i.e. … 704,000,000 years)
Plutonium-244 —- 8.2 x 10? years (i.e. … 82,000,000 years)
You may ask: "Hey! How do scientists know that these are the half-lives of all of these radioactive isotopes? These scientists have not been around THAT long to measure them!" The answer is that scientists have taken these isotopes in nature, and have measured the rate they decay in seconds, which gives them a clue as to how long their half-lives are.
You may ask: "But … but … these millions, billions, trillions of years are such a long time. Certainly there can be gazillion factors which may alter the whole half-life period." Unfortunately, this statement is false. These and other isotopes found in nature have been subjected to every single natural influence imaginable, from electricity, to radiation, to many other factors. … Guess what?… They will not affect at all the decay rate of these radioactive isotopes. Simply speaking, these elements will decay at their own predictable rate, regardless of outside natural influence.
If this is true, we are not talking about a "mere opinion" scientists have on half-lives of elements. We are talking about solid, hardcore science.
Now, look at the data above. Remember that these are radioactive isotopes found in nature, we are not talking about isotopes found in space or created in labs… they are found on Earth. We can see in the list the longest (Vanadium-50) and the shortest half-life found in nature (Plutonium-244). Are there radioactive isotopes found in nature which are shorter than Plutonium-244. The answer is: there may have been, but none of them are found.
What does this mean? Simple!
- The Earth is not infinitely old: if that were the case, we would find no radioactive isotopes intact in nature.
- The Earth is not young (10,000 or 6,000 years old): if that were the case, we would find radioactive isotopes in nature younger than 80,000,000 years old (such as Halfnium-182 or Lead-205).
- The Earth is not younger than 80,000,000 years: which is what the half-life of Plutonium-244 implies.
This fact alone shows that Young-Earth Creationism is wrong! The world is not 10,000 years old, nor 6,000 years old. The half-lives of these isotopes found in nature reveal a very old Earth, whose age is older than 80 million years and is younger than 6.0 x 10¹? years.
Horn, S. O. & Wiedenhofer, S. (2008). Creation and evolution: a conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
John Paul II. (2006). Man and woman he created them: a theology of the body. Boston: Pauline.
Miller, K. (2007). Finding Darwin’s God: a scientist’s search for common ground between God and evolution. New York: Harper Perennial.
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Did Saint Paul Hate Women?
I consider myself a feminist, but give me a break! Give me a quarter for every time I have had read or heard feminists complaining against St. Paul ad nauseam. Sometimes, it gets to the point of outright demonization of the guy. In the best of cases, they say that St. Paul was "ambiguous" regarding women.
The extreme way of dealing with this is what I call the "tabloid approach": "Was St. Paul gay?!" Yes, "tabloid" because that is the basic question every show-business news-reporter asks about famous artists. "Is Tom Cruise gay? Is Megan Fox lesbian?" I reply: "Who cares? Get a life!" Apparently these people have nothing more intelligent to ask.
Of course, there is an academic version of this, of academics who ask if St. Paul is gay or not. There is also an element that GLBTT communities have asked this question. I have nothing against the GLBTT communities, and I am in favor of gay marriage … but please, to further your cause you don’t have to make everyone famous in history gay. Sometimes, if I show signs that the person in question is more probably not gay, then the answer I receive from some of them is the annoying "you never know". Please, leave that kind of answer to the X-Files and the Twilight Zone, and out of historiography!
Why would he be gay? They argue, because St. Paul was celibate (1 Cor. 7:8), complained about a "thorn on my flesh" constantly bothering him (2 Cor. 12:7-10), and that he supposedly "hated women". Wow! I don’t know if this sort of question will ever help the GLBTT community by spreading the false stereotype that gay men hate women, and that lesbians hate men. Such stereotypes serve little to history or historiographical research about anyone, much less St. Paul, and they definitely do not serve to advance GLBTT causes.
But, where is the evidence that St. Paul hated women? Well, the passages are not difficult to find. Take, for instance, this passage:
But I should like you to understand that
the head of every man is Christ,
the head of woman is man,
and the head of Christ is God.
For any man to pray or to prophesy with his head covered shows disrespect for his head. And for a woman to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered shows disrespect for her head; it is exactly the same as if she had her hair shaved off. Indeed, if a woman does go without a veil, she would have her hair cut off too; but if it is a shameful thing for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, then she should wear veil. But for a man it is not right to have his head covered, since he is the image of God and reflects God’s glory, but woman is the reflection of man’s glory. For man did not come from woman; no, woman came from man; nor was man created for the sake of man: and this is why it is right for a woman to wear on her head a sign of the authority over her, because of the angels.
Decide for yourselves: does it seem fitting that a woman should pray to God without a veil? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but when a woman has long hair, it is her glory? After all her hair was given to her to be a covering.
If anyone wants to be contentious, I say that we have no such custom, nor do any of the churches of God. (1 Cor. 11: 3-10; 13-16).
Geez! Now that sounds discouraging and degrades our view of St. Paul. We could show further evidence:
As in all churches of God’s holy people, women are to remain quiet in the assemblies, since they have no permission to speak: theirs is a subordinate part, as the Law itself says. If there is anything they want to know, they should ask their husbands at home: it is shameful for a woman to speak in the assembly. Do you think that you are the source of the word of God? Or that you are the only people to whom it has come? (1 Cor. 14: 33b-36).
Ouch! There is more!
During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I give no permission for a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. A woman ought to be quiet, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. Nevertheless, she will be saved by child-bearing, provided she lives a sensible life and is constant in faith and love and holiness (1 Tim. 2: 11-15).
And last, but not least:
Wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, since, as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church is subject to Chris , so should wives be to their husbands, in everything. Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy by washing her in cleansing water with a form of words, so that when he took the Church to himself she would be glorious, with no speck of wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless (Eph. 5:22-27)
Maybe there is no passage that subordinates women to men than this passage! In this article, though, I wish to make a daring claim: St. Paul did not hate women, had deep respect for them, and he encouraged women leadership. After all the evidence I just presented, is there any possibility to rehabilitate St. Paul in such a way? On trial he should be condemned for misogyny … an open and shut case! Is it?
The Case of the Post-Pauline Letters
There is a problem taking some of these passages as expressing St. Paul’s real opinion on women, especially when some of the letters quoted above were not written by him. This is the case of the post-pauline letters. These are letters in the corpus paulinum which scholars, for different reasons, consider that were not written by St. Paul, but made later by members of the communities he established.
There are different criteria to determine the difference between the post-pauline and genuine letters. The history of how these letters were adopted shows that at the very beginning, when they appeared, they were not considered genuine by Christians in the first-place. For example, during the second century, only ten letters of the corpus paulinum were considered genuine letters, with the exclusion of 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews. By the end of that century 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were included, but Hebrews was still excluded. It was not until the third century that Hebrews was integrated to the corpus paulinum, first in the Eastern Churches, then in the West. By this history, we should take into consideration the fact that 1 and 2 Timothy were excluded in the first-place, which means that they were not considered genuine Pauline letters by Christians of the first half of the second century.
There are other indicators that 1 and 2 Timothy were not written by St. Paul. First, the style is completely different, and reflects the reality of the end of first century and beginning the second century C.E. For instance, 2 Timothy makes an explicit reference to the Gnostics, a group that did not exist until the second century C.E., which places 1 and 2 Timothy’s composition in that same century:
My dear Timothy, take great care of all that has been entrusted to you. Turn away from the godless philosophical discussions and the contradictions of the ‘knowledge’ [gnóseos: ???????] which is not knowledge at all; by adopting this, some have missed the goal of faith. Grace be with you (1 Tim. 6:20-21).
This means one very important thing: the opinion we find in 1 Timothy about women shutting up is not St. Paul’s opinion, but that of some of his communities long after he died.
The same happens with the Letter to the Ephesians. If we notice the letters to Colossians and Ephesians, which came from one sole source, they deal with a growing problem of the Christian churches at the very end of the first century C.E. There is already a growing influence of proto-gnostic groups, especially the radical dualist views on God and the cosmos, and extreme ascetic practices. Look, for instance at these passages: Col. 2:8, 18, 23. Ephesians builds on the worries of Colossians, and both letters elaborate a conception of the Cosmic Christ that is an alternative theology to these proto-Gnostic groups, but consistent with much of genuine Pauline theology: Col. 2:14-15; 3:2,5-6,9-10; Eph. 2:13-16; 4:9-10,15-16; 5:8,10-11,14. Scholars have also identified an unusual vocabulary compared to the known authentic Pauline letters. This means that Ephesians does not necessarily represent St. Paul’s views either, but instead of that of his communities long after he died.
An Interloper …
Of course, even if we say that 1 Timothy says that women should shut up is not a genuine Pauline letter, there is still a problem within a genuine Pauline letter: a passage where St. Paul seems to say that women should shut up in assemblies (1 Cor. 14: 33b-36). Yet, most scholars have recognized this passage as an interpolation in the genuine text. The problem is, how do we know? Let’s look at the whole passage again, and I’ll highlight the controversial passage:
Let two prophets, or three, speak while the rest weigh their words; and if a revelation comes to someone else who is sitting by, the speaker should stop speaking. You can all prophesy, but one at a time, then all will learn something and all receive encouragement. The prophetic spirit is to be under the prophets’ control, for God is a God not of disorder but peace.
As in all the churches of God’s holy people, women are to remain quiet in the assemblies, since they have no permission to speak: theirs is a subordinate part, as the Law itself says. If there is anything they want to know, they should ask their husbands at home: it is shameful for a woman to speak in the assembly. Do you really think that you are the source of the word of God? Or that you are the only people to whom it has come?
Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have any spiritual powers must recognise that what I am writing to you is a commandment from the Lord. If anyone does not recognise this, it is because that person is not recognised himself (1 Cor. 14: 29-38).
Don’t you get the distinct feeling that the highlighted passage is actually interrupting the original subject? Let’s read it without it:
Let two prophets, or three, speak while the rest weigh their words; and if a revelation comes to someone else who is sitting by, the speaker should stop speaking. You can all prophesy, but one at a time, then all will learn something and all receive encouragement. The prophetic spirit is to be under the prophets’ control, for God is a God not of disorder but peace. Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have any spiritual powers must recognise that what I am writing to you is a commandment from the Lord. If anyone does not recognise this, it is because that person is not recognised himself (1 Cor. 14: 29-33a,37-38).
And, as we shall see later, this passage is completely inconsistent with St. Paul’s genuine regard for women leadership in Christianity. This shows that the controversial text in 1 Cor. 14 is a later interpolation, most probably by the same guy who wrote 1 Tim. 2:11-15.
Women, Cover Your Heads!
Now, there is also this passage 1 Cor. 11:3-10, 13-16 which was written by St. Paul, no question about it! First it is known that St. Paul was influenced by several Hellenistic philosophies, among them Judeo-Hellenistic philosophies. Remember, he was born in Tarsus, lived in Damascus, and was plenty acquainted of both Jewish and Hellenistic thinking. This controversial passage is a very clear example of one aspect of Judeo-Hellenistic philosophy which conceived a hierarchical authority in the world. This can be seen in passages implying the hierarchy of God-Christ-man (1 Cor. 3:23). Since according to Genesis, women came from men, then the order of authority should be God-Christ-man-woman. Also, the authority he is talking about is only stated within the relationship of wife and husband.
Let’s not be deceived. St. Paul did hold a male-centered conception of man-woman relationship. This is the reason why he advised women to cover their heads. For a former zealous-Jew, this is not surprising at all. Every hard-core Jewish man would hold this male-centered view of women.
What is not expected, though, is that this male-centered view would be so mild. What do I mean? Despite the fact that in a way he sees women inferior to men, he feels uneasy supporting such male-centered view, and he later seems to correct it. Immediately after saying that women should cover their heads because woman came from man, he thinks it over and says:
However, in the Lord, though woman is nothing without man, man is nothing without woman; and though woman came from man, so does every man come from a woman, and everything comes from God (1 Cor. 11:11-12).
Wow! That one is unexpected!
But it gets better than that . . .
St. Paul’s Respect and Deep Love for Women
The New Testament has a Letter to the Ephesians that was not written by St. Paul, and another letter to the Ephesians that is! Of course, it is not called "St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians", but it is attached to one of St. Paul’s genuine letters. I’m talking about Romans 16:1-16;21-23, which itself was an independent letter which a later editor attached to the rest of the Letter to the Romans. How do we know this? If you follow the passages I’ll quote later, you realize that a lot of the people he greets in this passage did not live in Rome, so it is highly unlikely that he would send a letter to the Romans to people who lived too far from it. It’s like sending a letter to a community in Washington D.C. so it sends greetings to friends who live in London.
This letter was written probably in A.D. 54 or 55. He was about to deliver the collected money to the Church of Jerusalem. Phoebe was a deaconess of the Church of Cenchreae, a place in Corinth which serves as port. St. Paul has been staying in her house, and she is about to travel to Ephesus to deliver a letter. How do we know that it is addressed to Ephesus, in Asia Minor? Because much of the people he greets in the letter are from Asia, and some of them were living in Ephesus (e.g Rom. 16:5, see also Acts 18:1-2,18-21,24-26; 20:16-17; 1 Cor. 16:19).
This letter is a gem! It lets us see in all its glory the deep love and affection that he had for women, especially those who served as Church leaders. Let’s take a look at it.
He wants Phebe, a deaconess of the Church of Cenchreae to deliver this specific letter, and says: "give her, in the Lord, a welcome worthy of God’s holy people, and help her in with whatever she needs from you — she herself has come to the help of many people, including myself (Rom 16:2)
Next, he greets "Prisca and Aquila", apparently a married couple. The interesting part about these names is that the woman appears first. At that time, who appears first in the order of names meant a superiority in leadership. It is simply unusual to find the wife mentioned before the husband. This is repeated in another letter of St. Paul (1 Cor. 16:19), and even the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 18:18,26). Apparently St. Paul in this letter is not only respecting her leadership, but also says: "my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks to save my life; to them, thanks not only from me, but from all the churches among the gentiles, and my greetings to the Church at their house (Rom. 16:3b-5).
The next woman who appears is a certain "Mary" who is described as the one "who worked so hard for you" (Rom 16:6).
Then he greets another couple … a very interesting couple: Andronicus and Junia, the latter being the name of a woman. St. Paul describes them as "those outstanding [among] the apostles . . . my kinsmen and fellow-prisoners, who were in Christ before me" (Rom. 16:7). A woman apostle???!!! Now, THAT is interesting!
He also greets Tryphaena and Triphosa whom he says are very hardworking in the Lord (Rom. 16:12a).
Next he greets Persis, whom he describes as beloved friend and hard-worker for the Lord (Rom. 16:12b).
He even greets Rufus’ mother, whom he loves her as if she were his own mother (Rom. 16:13b).
He also greets a certain "Julia" and also someone who is "Nereus’ sister" (Rom. 16:15).
The evidence is not limited to this brief letter to Ephesus, but in other genuine letters, he expresses loving concern and admiration for other women leaders, such as in the case of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), and about Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3).
Finally, let’s not forget that at one point even St. Paul complained that he was not being allowed to have women missioners with him, and says: "[Have we not] every right to be accompanied by a Christian wife, like the other apostles, like the brothers of the Lord, and like Cephas [Peter]?" (1 Cor. 9:5).
If St. Paul is a woman-hater, then Paris is Venezuela’s capital.
P. S. …
- Why was St. Paul celibate? Answer: Because like every Christian at that time, he was waiting for Jesus Christ to arrive soon, and did not want his attention divided between things of the Lord and addressing the needs of a wife and kids. If you don’t believe it, read again the passage where St. Paul talks about his celibacy within context (1 Cor. 7:1-9).
- About the thorn of the flesh that bothered St. Paul (2 Cor. 12:7b-9a), it is most probably an illness of which he asked God to be healed from. It is not a sexual problem. Among the weaknesses he mentions later, he explicitly mentions illnesses and makes no allusions to any temptation of the flesh, such as a sexual problem (2 Cor. 12:10).
- Even when St. Paul supports a mild male-centered view of women, he also implies in his theology that before the eyes of the Lord, men and women are equal (Gal. 3:28).
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(This is the continuation of the first article on this subject)
Saint Paul has been accused of all sorts of things. I have known authors who have blamed him for the Great Fire of Rome, but this is impossible given that recent Bible scholarship has established solid chronology locating his death in the year A.D. 58, long before the Great Fire (A.D. 64). There are others who have accused him of creating a struggle between Judaism and Christianity, which, as we saw in our earlier article, is not the case. Some, like Robert Eisenman, accused him of being "the Teacher of Lies" whom the Dead Sea Scrolls talk about, which is impossible, because the texts in question have been dated all the way before Christ was born using carbon-dating. There are other more outrageous theories which compare him to Simon Magus (and it is something very interesting which I plan to write about in the future), or that he is somehow related to Herod’s family (the Idumean Dinasty). This shows how much St. Paul fires the passions and the imagination of scholars and not-so-scholars.
This does not mean that Bible scholarship is made up of people with outrageous claims. Quite the contrary, it has made significant progress regarding the corpus paulinum, making a critical evaluation of the Acts of the Apostles, and creating a better philosophical and theological profile of St. Paul. I will share only part of the most recent profile in this article.
For purposes of research, I will only take into consideration his genuine letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemo and Philipians. The rest of the letters are post-Pauline, written after St. Paul died, and are not helpful for our task: 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Hebrews.
St. Paul: the Anti-Semitic?
One of the most widespread criticisms against St. Paul is that he supposedly hated the Jews, and that he made explicit anti-semitic statements. This is not surprising when we find such passages in the corpus paulinum like these:
[The Jews] put the Lord Jesus to death and the prophets too, and persecuted us also. Their conduct does not please God, and makes them the enemies of the whole human race, because they are hindering us from preaching to the gentiles to save them. Thus all the time they are reaching the full extent of their iniquity, but retribution has finally overtaken them (1 Thes. 2:15-16)
Beware of dogs! Beware of evil workmen! Beware of the castrated! We are the true people of the circumcision since we worship by the Spirit of God and make Christ Jesus our only boast, not relying on physical qualifications, although, I myself could rely on these too. If anyone does claim to rely on them, my claim is better. Circumcised on the eighth day of my life, I was born of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents. In the matter of the Law, I was a Pharisee, as for religious fervour, I was a persecutor of the Church; as for the uprightness embodied in the Law, I was faultless. But what were once my assets, I now through Christ Jesus count as losses. . . . Brothers, be united in imitating me. Keep your eyes fixed on those who act according to the example you have from me. For there are so many people of whom I have often warned you, and now I warn you again with tears in my eyes, who behave like the enemies of Christ’s cross. They are destined to be lost; their god is the stomach; they glory in what they should think shameful, since their minds are set on earthly things. but our homeland is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure the wretched body of ours into the mould of his glorious body, through the working of the power which he was, even to bring all things under his mastery. (Phil. 3:2-7,17-21).
Not only that, but we know many episodes in the Acts of the Apostles where St. Paul was victimized by the Jews: Acts 18:12-17, 22:1-29, 23:29-30. And even Saint Paul himself talks about how he was chastised and mistreated by Jews: Gal. 5:11; 2 Cor. 11:24, 26.
He even has some angry discussions with the part of the Church which favors a more Jewish approach to the Law (Gal. 2:1-14). He even refers to them as the false brethren (Gal. 2:4). The reasoning of many people who read these passages is as follows: "Saint Paul was persecuted by the Jews, and hated the most Judaizing sector of Christianity, hence he hated the Jews. He became a rabid anti-semitic."
Is this true?
Conflicts with the Jews: Are They Guilty of Everything?
It is far more complicated than that. Christianity was at first one branch of Judaism. Jesus did not intend his movement to become another religion, since He wanted the conversion of Israel and establish God’s Kingdom (Matt. 10:5-7). This view contemporary Christians have that Judaism persecuted Christianity just because it followed Jesus is a bit exaggerated. There was no doubt that a confrontation between Jesus and Jewish authorities existed, but after Jesus died there were two main branches of Christianity which existed many years before St. Paul converted: one was a Christianity which wanted to preserve the ways of Jewish Law, and a Christianity which did not adhere to many aspects of Jewish Law. The latter established itself outside of Palestine, for example, in places like Damascus or Antioch. This was the sector of Christianity which was most persecuted by Jewish authorities. If you think of the first martyr to die in the hands of the Jews, St. Stephen, shows this is true. The name "Stephen" is not Jewish, it is Greek: ????????. St. Paul himself, as we have discussed in the previous article, was born outside Palestine with a strong Jewish background, but surrounded by gentility. It is highly probable that the reason why he persecuted Christians in Damascus was because they didn’t adhere to Jewish Law. I don’t deny that Jewish authorities also persecuted Jewish Christians, but they were limited to chastisements. In St. Stephen’s case, it went as far as death.
Despite this, Christians, especially those who adhered to the Law, continued assisting to Synagogue meetings, and kept worshiping in Jerusalem’s Temple. All of that changed after A.D. 70, when Christians were banned from Synagogues, and in many cases were persecuted by Jewish authorities. In this case, the relationship between Christians and Jews became very bitter, and this can be seen very clearly in the Gospels of Luke and John, two of the latest Gospels, where Jews are almost always on the losing side, and sometimes refer to them in very strong words (e.g. John 8:44).
The Acts of the Apostles was presumably the same author of Luke’s Gospel, and the antagonism between Jews and Christians is displayed all over that writing. He wants to display St. Paul as a respected and eminent person before Christians and the authorities, but presents the Jews as antagonistic. Hence, we must be critically evaluate what it says.
For instance, in three passages of the Acts, St. Paul seems to remind authorities of his citizenship when he’s about to be whipped: Acts 16:37-38; 22:22-29; 23:27. In the last two of these texts, the problem originated with the Jews and the authorities backed off due to his citizenship. Indeed, any form of whipping or torturing Roman citizens was strictly forbidden by the lex Porcia. Yet of these three occasions only in the first one (Acts 16:37-38) he says he was whipped despite him being a Roman citizen. Saint Paul in his letters revealed he suffered far more than that. Without a doubt he suffered under the hands of the Jews and gentiles alike. Among the sufferings he went through we can mention: five times he was given thirty nine lashes, three times he was beaten with sticks, and once he was stoned (2 Cor. 11:24-26), practically contradicting the claim of the Acts that he was a Roman citizen, or that he constantly recalled it to the authorities.
Also St. Paul reveals in his letters that, unlike the claims of the Acts, much of the suffering Christians endured came from the authorities themselves, not the Jews per-se. For instance, the Acts of the Apostles says that the Jews were planning to kill him in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25), yet St. Paul says that this persecution came from the Damascene ethnarch Arethas, not the Jews (2 Cor. 11:32-33).
What was Saint Paul’s Real Relationship with the Jewish Tendency in the first Christian Church?
St. Paul’s relationship with the Judaizing sector of the Church was not easy, but that does not mean he hated it. On the contrary, he tried his best to recognize the authority of the Jewish Church authorities in Jerusalem, and to have a conciliatory approach with much of his opponents. This is apparent in many of the passages we find in Saint Paul’s letter, where he recognized St. Peter, St. James and St. John as being the pillars of the Church (Gal. 2:9). He even complained because of some of the divisions of leadership that appeared within the Church, which he feared would lead to disparate Churches not joined together in Christ (1 Cor. 3).
However, to understand well the relationship between St. Paul and the Jewish sector, we have to take a look at the Acts of the Apostles. It basically presents the Church as an organization where there are differences, but where the solution could be reached almost with ease. For instance, Acts says that the controversy regarding circumcision was discussed, leading the Church authorities to be convinced of St. Paul’s arguments against it, and submitting a letter to be followed by Antioch’s community and its missions (Acts 15:1-29). Following the meeting, St. Paul returned to his community in Antioch, where they finally received the letter, everyone was very happy and the Jerusalem party went back home (Acts 15:30-35). However, the meeting at Jerusalem and Antioch were far from peaceful.
St. Paul says that he discussed his case against circumcision and other issues in the Jerusalem Council, and then privately with the recognized leaders. However, he refers to the "false brothers" who accused St. Paul of subverting Christianity by saying that gentiles should not fulfill Jewish Law (Gal. 2:1-5). Yet, there is a problem with his account, apparently at the end of that passage he interrupts the sequence of events. For scholars, this silence is a sign that St. Paul lost the argument that day. The Jerusalem Council, contrary to what Acts claimed, was a total failure due to the irreconcilable position of the most fundamentalist Jewish sector within Christianity, which wanted it to require gentiles to follow the Law, and the Antioch community represented by Saint Paul and St. Barnabas. The letter that Acts is talking about was not written that day (Acts 15:23-29). St. Paul was not the one who was being intolerant to the Jewish sector of Christianity, but in this case we find the very extreme fundamentalist Jews in Christianity who were intolerant … the ones he calls "false brothers". This was the reason St. Paul wanted to discuss these issues later privately with the Church authorities.
There, they went into a process of mutual discovery of each other, which St. Paul describes as the recognition of St. Peter as the one in charge of the mission among the Jews in Palestine, and that it was up to St. Paul to be in charge of the mission among the gentiles. They also reached an agreement of solidarity, of Antioch should contribute to the Church in Jerusalem. This is due to the fact that by the years AD 47-48, there was lack of food in Palestine, during the Sabbath year.
Although the conflict seemed to be over, it was not so. St. Paul tells us in Galatians:
However, when Cephas [St. Peter] came to Antioch, then I did oppose him to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong. Before certain people from James came, he used to eat with gentiles; but as soon as these came, he backed out and kept apart from them, out of fear of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews put on the same act as he did, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.
When I saw, through, that their behavior was not true to the Gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all of them, ‘Since you, though you are a Jew, live like the gentiles and not like the Jews, how can you compel the gentiles to live like the Jews? (Gal 2:11-14)
Apparently the most fundamentalist Judaizing Christians from Jerusalem’s Church (whose head was St. James) went to Antioch, and their show of force was so strong that even St. Peter felt he should Judaize despite his acting like a gentile before they arrived. What was the problem?
If you look at the letter as shown in Acts (15:23-29) it states that gentiles are no longer required to be circumcised, but it says the following: "you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from illicit marriages. Avoid these, and you will do what is right" (Acts 15:29). In other words, "you don’t have to circumcise yourselves, but have a Jewish diet". Before the Jerusalem party arrived, St. Peter participated in the meals with the gentiles. After the Jerusalem party arrived and read the letter, he was forced to not share some of their meal, and required the Antioch community to abide to this Judaizing determination. St. Paul was not happy. The intriguing silence after telling the story reveals again that St. Paul lost this meeting as well.
Despite his anger at the whole situation, especially at the "false brothers", the rest of his missionary life was marked by his allegiance to Jerusalem’s Church, by collecting money which he finally delivered to Jerusalem in A.D. 55, when he was accused, which led in the end to be condemned to death in A.D. 58.
Saint Paul’s Real Views about the Jews
While many authors entertain the idea that Saint Paul hated the Jews, a close look at his attitude shows that this is not the case. For him, Jews should be saved through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross along with gentiles.
Let us look at the two quotes we mentioned in the first section of this article: 1 Thes. 2:15-16. The letter to the Thessalonians is presumably the first letter written by St. Paul (A.D. 51) and the first Christian writing that we have available. If we take a very good look at this passage, we become aware of two interesting things. First, it interrupts the flow of the text only to say that the Jews were the ones who killed Jesus Christ and the prophets. Secondly, it says that "retribution has finally overtaken them". What does this mean exactly? What kind of retribution? The only thing that comes to mind is the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, yet this happened years after St. Paul died. The interruption of the text, the harsh tone of the passage, and this little detail leads us to believe that 1 Thes. 2:15-16 has the traits of being interpolated in St. Paul’s original letter by a later copyist (presumably from a Pauline school during the last two decades of the first century C.E.). This passage, then, does not reflect St. Paul’s actual opinion about the Jews.
Let’s take a look at Phil. 3:1b-4:1, where St. Paul apparently refers to Jews with extremely harsh words: "dogs", "castrated", etc. But there are some things in this passage that seem too out of character for St. Paul. For instance, nowhere in the genuine letters St. Paul offers himself as a universal ethos or ethical example to be followed universally by Christians. The term "Pharisee", as I explained in our earlier article, is used to mean a pious Jew, which is a meaning developed by Christians after A.D. 70, after they were banned from all Synagogues and excluded by Jews. This long passage also interrupts the flow of the text between Phil. 3:1a and Phil. 4:2. Once again, we are at a piece of text which was not written by St. Paul, but interpolated within the original text of the letter to the Philippians. This interpolation does not count to find out Saint Paul’s views about the Jews.
To look at his real views, I suggest looking at his letter to the Romans. There are some reasons for that. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the latest letter he wrote (approximately A.D. 55), which means that he wrote it after having so many conflicts with the Jews, after being chastised and mistreated by them, and after his conflicts with Judaizing Christianity. Let’s see what he has to say:
This is the truth and I am speaking in Christ, without preference, as my conscience testifies for me in the Holy Spirit; there is a great sorrow and unremitting agony in my heart; I could pray that I myself might be accursed and cut off from Christ, if this could benefit the brothers who are my own flesh and blood [the Jews]. They are Israelites; it was they who were adopted as children, the glory was theirs and the covenants; to them were given the Law and the worship of God and the promises. To them belong the fathers and out of them came Christ according to the flesh. God is above all, may He be praised for ever! [Psalms 41:14] Amen (Romans 9:1-5).
So, for St. Paul, the Jews have an extremely important place in the history of salvation, and for that reason they should be respected as children of God. They were the chosen people where Jesus Christ came from.
There is still another very important passage regarding this subject:
What I am saying is this: it is possible that God abandoned his people? Out of the question! I too am an Israelite, descended from Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God never abandoned his own people to whom, ages ago, he had given recognition. . . . What I am saying is this: Was this stumbling [Jews not understanding the Gospel] to lead to their final downfall? Out of the question! On the contrary, their failure brought salvation for the gentiles, in order to stir them to envy. And if their fall has proved a great gain to the world, and their loss has proved a great gain to the gentiles — how much greater a gain will come when all is restored to them!
Let me say then to you gentiles that, as far as I am an apostle to the gentiles, I take pride in this work of service; and I want it to be the means of rousing to envy the people who are my own blood-relations and so of saving some of them. Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their re-acceptance will mean. Nothing less than life from the dead!
. . .
As Scripture says:
From Zion will come the Redeemer,
he will remove godlessness from Jacob,
And this will be my covenant with them,
when I take their sins away.
As regards to the Gospel, they are enemies, but for your sake; but as regards those who are God’s choice, they are still well loved for the sake of their ancestors. There is no change of mind on God’s part about the gifts he has made or of his choice. (selections from Rom. 11:1-32)
I invite people to read the whole passage of Rom. 11:1-32, perhaps one of the most beautiful ever written by St. Paul. One thing about it is clear, St. Paul was definitely not anti-semitic in any sense. He may have had harsh encounters with them, but this letter, the latest written by St. Paul, reveals that he feels a very deep love towards the Jews. His belief is that their failure to recognize the Gospel as coming from God prevents them from knowing the truth, but that in the end they will recognize Jesus as the Christ (the Messiah), and that through faith in Him God will forgive all of their sins.
Equality of Jews and Gentiles in Christ
According to St. Paul, Jews and Christians should never be distinct from one another in the eyes of God. Immediately after talking about the disagreeable incident in Antioch and his disgust at St. Peter’s actions, he expresses the reasons why he is so angry at the decision reached by the Jerusalem Church:
We who were born Jews and not gentile sinners have nevertheless learnt that sometone is reckoned as upright not by practising the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ; and we too came to believe in Christ Jesus so as to be reckoned as upright by faith in Christ and not by practising the Law; since no human being can be found upright by keeping the Law. (Galatians 2:15-16).
Later, he elaborates:
But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the Law, locked up to wait for the faith which would eventually be revealed to us. So the Law was serving as a slave to look after us. So the Law was serving as a slave to look after us, to lead us to Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a slave looking after us; for all of you are the children of God, through faith, in Jesus Christ, since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ.
There can be neither Jew nor Greek,
there can be neither slave nor freeman,
there can be neither male nor female
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And simply by being Christ’s, you are that progeny of Abraham, the heirs named in the promise (Gal. 3:23-29).
Are these the words of an anti-semitic?
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