CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

At the tail end of the book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success, by Rodney Stark, there is a very interesting quote that I wanted to share. Mr. Stark attributes the quote to a book by David Aikman entitled Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming the Global Balance of Power.

Introducing the quote, Mr. Stark reiterates the major thesis of his book, i.e., that a significant factor in the acknowledged pre-eminence of Western Civilization over any other civilization in history--a rise that found its foundation in the many advances in technology, science, culture, economics and government in the period of time incorrectly called the "Dark Ages"--is "inseparably linked" to Christianity. Mr. Stark then uses the quote from Mr. Aikman's book which initially comes from one of China's leading scholars, who says:

One of the things we wre asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.

Now, one might say that Mr. Stark holds to the thesis of his book because he is a Christian. (I don't know that to be the case, but I suspect that it's true.) But what about this Chinese scholar? What was his motivation to make such a claim?

I think that this quote ought to cause any thinking person to reconsider the bombastic statements by such non-luminaries as Christopher Hitchens who make the audacious claim that religion (usually focusing on Christianity) ruins everything. The simple fact is this: but for Christianity, there is a significant likelihood that many of the advances we take for granted--and which atheists assume would be in place if the Greek and Roman cultures had never fallen--would not ever have occurred.

Christianity has not retarded progress--it is the foundation of much of the progress in culture, economics, science, technology and politics that allows people like Hitchens to make his ridiculous claims and have them actually heard outside of the hovel he might otherwise be living in.

Retopping this message after the live debate.

Popular author and Christian apologist David Marshall (whose interview with the Cadre on the topic of the New Atheism can be found here) discussed Jesus Myth theories with popular author and anti-Christian apologist Dr. Robert Price, on the Infidel Guy radio webcast, Thursday night, March 27, 2008. David's a pleasant and entertaining speaker, and Dr. Price is, well, colorful to say the least. {g} How substantial either side was in a limited radio discussion, eh, hard to say. But radio shows are more for entertaining snapshots of positions, as an introduction to authors' opinions on topics (typically meaning "go buy the book" {g}); and that was apparently accomplished with elan.

There doesn't seem to be a link up yet; but that might be a few days. When-if-ever the podcast is put up for free (Gold, i.e. paying, members have faster access to all archived shows), it'll most likely be found here.


It is time for one of my periodic reports updating events regarding the trial of Oded Golan and whether the James Ossuary owned by him is a fraud. For previous updates, see here.

The Trial

The fullest account I have found of recent trial developments is a piece from Herschel Shanks of the Biblical Archeology Society. It must be remembered that his magazine has a lot of credibility tied up in the James Ossuary, but he and others have good access to the court proceedings in Israel. That being said, here is the news.

There were originally five defendants, including Oded Golan. Charges against two were dropped by the prosecution. One reached a plea deal to what has been characterized as a minor offense unrelated to forgery. Golan and a Raymond Deutsch, an antiquities dealer, are defendants in the ongoing trial.

The trial has been going on for three years and the prosecution, having called 70 witnesses so far, is apparently close to resting its case. As soon as the prosecution rests, we can expect the remaining defendants, including Oded Golan, to file a motion to dismiss arguing that the government failed to make its case. If that fails, the defense will then present its case, including documents and witnesses.

The Ossuary

There has been some new information and developments regarding the dispute over the authenticity of the James Ossuary unrelated to the trial.

Something I had not seen before is a lecture by Joseph Fitzymer. It appears to date from 2005. Fitzmyer expresses caution about the IAA results and reports the finding of other experts who still accept the James Ossuary as genuine. Fitzmyer does not whole heartedly endorse the Ossuary, but states, "the last word has not yet been uttered on this new ossuary inscription."

On his blog, Ben Witherington recently stated in a comment, "I am pleased to say that every single epigrapher, including Ada Yardeni of the IAA and Andre Lemaire, that affirmed the authenticity of that inscription five years ago, still does--- and so do I."

Depending on your views on the Biblical Archaeology Society, perhaps the most significant news about the authenticity of the James Ossuary is the results of the Jersualem Forgery Conference. In January 2007, the BAS sponsored a conference with many leading scholars in attendance. The purpose of the conference was to assess the authenticity of various artifacts that at least some have labeled forgeries. The James Ossuary was one artifact under consideration. The "overall judgment" of the conference participants is that "the James Ossuary inscription is very probably authentic." You can download the full report and appendix of evidence and opinions, here.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
~Matthew 28:6

When the angel said these words to the women who came to see Jesus in the tomb, the angel was making the point that Jesus is not in the tomb. Rather, He has risen victorious over death, and through His death we are redeemed. The women could enter the tomb (as Peter and the other disciple did) and see that his burial cloths were still in the tomb, but Jesus was no longer lying there. This great event has been the center of the Christian faith ever since -- Jesus is not there and His tomb would never contain Him.

2,000 years later, a certain group of filmmakers led by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron, tried to put Jesus back into the tomb by speculating that the bone box that they found in a tomb near Jerusalem (the Talipot tomb) was actually the tomb of the Jesus who Christians have faithfully proclaimed rose from the dead. Using evidence found in the tomb, they tried to make the case that the Talipot tomb was the Jesus family tomb -- a tomb that also contained the remains of Mary Magdalene.

Many people and organizations (of which the CADRE was a minor but proud contributor), including many scholars, immediately responded by pointing out numerous flaws in the evidence and the logic that led Mr. Jacobovici and Mr. Cameron to reach such a staggering conclusion. But despite the on-rush of objections, there always remained the test of time: would history vindicate Jacobovici, Cameron and their seemingly outrageous claims?

Well, history rarely renders its judgments very quickly, but it certainly can give a strong indication as to which way it will go. In the case of the Talipot tomb, an article in the National Review Online entitled Not Dead Yet: The Lost of Tomb of Jesus — one year later by Thomas Madden demonstrates fairly conclusively that it is extremely unlikely that history will be kind to Jacobovici. The article notes many of the reasons that the community strongly came out and rejected the arguments of Jaocobici and Cameron. It notes how scholars whose work was used in the documentary made written responses claiming that "their remarks had been mischaracterized or falsified."

Ultimately, the Jesus Family Tomb theory found little support by any significant groups. It's most viable potential audience -- people who believe all kinds of religious conspiracy theories -- were already committed to the belief that Jesus never existed in the first place so they couldn't back the idea that the Talipot tomb was the tomb of the actual Jesus of Nazareth without admitting that He was an actual person. In short, the film and book were pretty much considered (as Mr. Madden correctly notes) the religious version of "cold fusion."

Madden goes further and notes that the Jesus tomb is now a year old, and the situation hasn't improved for Jacobovici and Cameron's theory.

Over the past year, the scholarly consensus on the tomb has become virtually unanimous. As Dr. Jodi Magness of the Archaeological Institute of America wrote, the documentary’s claim is “inconsistent with all of the available information - historical and archaeological — about how Jews in the time of Jesus buried their dead, and specifically the evidence we have about poor, non-Judean families like that of Jesus. It is a sensationalistic claim without any scientific basis or support."

The article goes on to conclude (quite appropriately):

In time, though, the Lost Tomb of Jesus and its parent, The Da Vinci Code, will fade away, joining the long parade of past pseudo-history fads like Erich Von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods? and Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision.

Many skeptical critics of Christianity fancy themselves as devotees of reason and dispassionate inquiry. From this perspective, it is those Christians and their apologists whose analysis should be distrusted because of their bias. The myth of the unbiased skeptic was challenged in an excellent book by Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism. His theory is that atheism as a philosophical movement was at least in part a reaction to perceived oppression. A state church linked to oppressive regimes was part of the problem and the denial of God’s existence struck at the heart of its authority. This would explain why atheism enjoyed more popularity in Europe, with its established churches, than in America, with its separation of church and state.

I had not thought about McGrath’s theory for a while. Then I started reading Jesus, In History and Myth, ed. by R. Joseph Hoffman and Gerald A. Larue. This book is published by Prometheus Books, the “go to” publisher for anti-Christian and atheist literary efforts. It was commissioned by the “Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion.” Its goal is not original research but to “disseminate the results of scholarly investigation of the Bible.”

This talk of simply disseminating the results of modern scholarship into religion calls to mind “The Soviet League of the Militant Godless,” whose mission was to stamp out religious belief in the Soviet Union. In their hands, so-called scholarship and science was used as a propaganda weapon against Christianity. The League even changed its name after World War II to the more benign sounding, “All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge.” Apparently, as demonstrated by the latest “brights” self-branding, militant atheists have not yet mastered the fine art of public relations.

In any event, back in the 80’s, the Committee for Scientific Examination of Religion decided to publish a book on the historical Jesus. What caught my eye and reminded me of McGrath’s book was the frank explanation as to the Committee’s motivation. What prompts free-thinking individuals to spend so much time studying religion? No doubt there are a range of motivations and I have no knowledge about how many members of the Committee might be atheists, but as the Chairman of the Committee admits in the Preface, “it was, in part, in response to these threats to free and open inquiry from the fundamentalist right wing that the Bible project had its beginnings.” Id. at 8. The threat posed by “the fundamentalist right wing” includes insisting on the acceptance of Bible ethics, threatening the free choice of reading materials at public libraries and the teaching of evolution, and the freedom to enjoy a variety of sexual behaviors. Id. It was these perceived political threats -- threats of oppression -- that motivated the Committee to critically examine early Christianity. While members of the Committee would no doubt claim that their efforts are genuine and scholarly, the bias inherent in their motivation is undeniable.

This is not to say that all of the contributors to the book are consumed with the same bias. There are some decent articles from a variety of viewpoints (to the Committee’s credit), by – among others -- Morton Smith, David Freeman, and Robert M. Grant. But the more “skeptical” contributors often reveal the same pervasive bias as the Committee.

We learn from one contributor that an improperly scientific examination of the Bible is apparently responsible for “frontal attacks on the secular state” that threaten our “democratic republic.” Id. at 55. Also, na├»ve faith in the Bible is responsible for Ronald Reagan’s defense build up and Harry Truman’s foreign policy. Id. at 56. The same author’s scientific inquiry also reveals that the Protestant Reformation was at its core nothing more than “a gloss supplied by intolerant practitioners of religious exclusivism.” Id. at 61.

Another contributor writes about “the all-male theological establishment” proclaiming “an inherent sexism.” Id. at 73. Next, John M. Allegro – whose claim to fame (I am not kidding) is his work “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross” – warns of “the strangely compulsive nature of a faith that can turn sinners into saints, and charming old men into ‘born-again’ politicians not entirely averse to blasting the rest of the world into philosophical conformity in the name of the Lord.” Id. at 90.

The Committee was nice enough to give the last word to a Christian contributor. Of course, the purpose of his article is to voice common purpose with atheists against “retarded adult” evangelicals. Id. at 211. The author has “grown out of” fundamentalist Christianity and is now interested in joining forces with atheists to oppose the “extreme conservative” evangelical attempts to teach creationism and impose “worship” in schools. Id. at 211-12. He expresses contempt for those who actually believe in the virgin birth and endorses an attack on Margaret Thatcher as “un-Christian.” Id. at 216.

The sheer volume devoted to the perceived threat posed by right-wing fundamentalists to liberal political goals compared to more straightforward notions of intellectual inquiry is revealing. The criticism is often not that the right-wing fundamentalists must be opposed because they get the Bible wrong, but because they take it so seriously that they might let it inform their vote on political issues. But if you destroy the Bible as a source of authority, you eliminate the threat to your own philosophical or political perspective.

Some of the same authors of the above-mentioned book remain active today. Other contemporary skeptics and Jesus Mythers share many of the political fears of their predecessors. For example, the political discussion board at Internet Infidels is a hotbed of far left political perspectives. One Jesus Myth crusader, Early Doherty, took a hiatus from his historical writings to focus on politics. His website still refers to the re-election of George W. Bush as the greatest catastrophe in American political history that will deal severe setbacks to “rationality and the struggle against the ignorance and superstition.” He expresses fear that conservatives will oppose attempts to promote gay marriage, stem cell research, and other "liberal progressive ideas."

How does this fit into McGrath's theory about atheism as in part being a reaction to perceived oppression? It seems that Jesus, In History and Myth and the examples of more contemporary skeptics (who may not necessarily be atheists) provide more specific examples of McGrath's general point. By their own admission, they possess a deep fear of the effect they think orthodox Christian beliefs will have on their philosophical or political agendas. Whether well-grounded or not, the effect is that orthodox Christianity is styled as an oppressive regime that must be resisted. How best to fight against such oppression than challenging its source of authority? If arguments can be crafted that the Bible is untrustworthy historically and, better yet, if Jesus may not even have existed, then these skeptics will have an effective way of combating the threat of oppressive, orthodox Christianity.

So the next time a skeptic complains about the bias of Christian scholars or apologists, recognize that they likely have their own deep and heartfelt biases with which they are contending. The perceived resistance to oppression discussed above may be one of them, but there are others.

Skeptics sometimes assert that theists have no more reason to accept the supernaturalist worldview of Christianity than that of any other kooky belief system the world over. Why not accept the 330 million gods of Hinduism, for example, or Zoroastrianism? The implicit assumption is that, outside of scientific naturalism, all worldviews are pretty much created equal, and are all equally likely (or unlikely).

But that's just not so. There's a good reason why a skeptic like Paul Draper believes that the choice of compelling worldviews really comes down to Christian theism or scientific naturalism (see the introduction to Divine Hiddenness: New Essays, in Part 3). It is simply that not all worldviews have proven as accomodating to scientific advances as has Christianity. Science may underdetermine the possible metaphysical explanations of existence, but it does put severe constraints on them which to the best of my knowledge only some form of monotheism, out of the available supernaturalist options, accomodates.

There is a good historical example of this to be found in St. Augustine's Confessions. Before embracing catholic Christianity, Augustine was a devotee of the teachings of Mani, considered a heretic by the Church. Not only did Mani's theology diverge substantially from orthodoxy, but he also developed a rather elaborate, fanciful cosmology in which eclipses, for example, were the means by which the sun and the moon veiled horrific cosmic battles from human eyes. (p.xv) As Augustine began to read the writings of natural philosophers and treatises on astronomy, he began to question Mani's cosmology because he thought that "the philosophers' teachings seemed to be more probable than what the Manichees said" and he goes on: "Many years beforehand they have predicted eclipses of sun and moon, foretelling the day, the hour, and whether total or partial. And their calculation has not been wrong. It has turned out just as they predicted." (pp.73-74)

Although Augustine castigates these philosophers for failing to recognize that the intellect they use to investigate these things is a gift from God the Creator, nevertheless he acknowledges that they made "many true observations...about the creation itself" and that he "compared these with the sayings of Mani who wrote much on these matters very copiously and foolishly...he was not in agreement with the rational explanations which I had verified by calculation and had observed with my own eyes." (p.75) On this basis he concluded that since Mani "was convicted of ignorance by those who really understand these things...from this one can clearly know what understanding he had in other matters which are harder to grasp" (p.76), such as theology, and that a Christian should not stubbornly insist that "his view of nature belongs to the very form of orthodox doctrine and...obstinately...affirm something he does not understand" (p.77)

What is noteworthy here, besides the picture of a devout Christian operating in a clearly skeptical, scientific frame of mind, is that Augustine rejected the worldview of the Manichees, not because he was brainwashed into accepting orthodoxy, but because the Manichees foolishly insisted on making their fanciful cosmology part of their essential doctrine, and upon scientific and philosophical examination this cosmology failed to hold up. This, then, is a very important criterion for judging between worldviews: whether they make outlandish cosmological claims which do not square with the findings of science.

P.S. Science, of course, has a track record of changing dramatically over the centuries. Augustine accepted a neo-Platonic cosmology which is just as defunct now as the Manichee cosmology was then. But the point is that Augustine made every effort to square his worldview with the best knowledge available at the time. That's all that matters for our purposes.


I am starting a series on bogus atheist social science. I find a whole passel of atheists, some academics, some not, trying to do their own studies, all of which suck. Their aim is to show that religion is bad for society. This is a fools errand as a ton of good data shows otherwise. But here is one example. I think you really have almost no chance of doing good social science if you can't read a statistical table.

Boyd, not so swift

One attempt at this bogus atheist social sciences is a site by Boyd Swift. Swift, thought he would be a wrote the bureaus of prisons for stats, but unfortunately he doesn't know how to read a table.

His table demonstrates different percentages of religous faths among in mates. I will not reproduce the whole table, but Christians show up as:
Catholic............... 29267.......39.164%


So based upon this statistic Boyd makes his conclusion. Now what is interesting is the sats at the bottom that are not on the table:

Total Known Responses 74731 100.001% (rounding to 3 digits does this)

Unknown/No Answer 18381

Total Convicted 93112 80.259% (74731) prisoners' religion is known.

Held in Custody 3856 (not surveyed due to temporary custody)
---------------------------- Total In Prisons 96968

What is this information actually telling us? In the table he lists "athiests" along with all the others. Its' a tiny number. But then below there's a number of those:

"Unknown, no answer."

the letter he quotef from sent to him by the Bereau of prisons says:

The Federal Bureau of Prisons does have statistics on religious affiliations of inmates. The following are total number of inmates per religion category:

Obviously, this the percentage of inmates who put "atheist" in the blank asking them for their religious affiliation. this is not a record of all inmates who don't believe in God, but of those who were either smart asses and put "atheist" to the religion question as a sarcastic joke, or who are ideological enough to think of atheism as their actual religion!

you have this larger number listed below which is not even part of the table, because the table only measures those who listed atheism as their religion. The larger number is for "unknown or no answer. what is that number?

Unknown/No Answer 18381

out of:

---------------------------- Total Convicted 93112

So in other words, the actual number of atheists is about a quarter as high as the Christians. It's not this tiny 0.something percent, it's actually pretty high.
atheists have reading comprehension problems, I've noticed this for a long time! I'm always finding that atheists misread evdience. This guy cant' read a table! He either purposely distorted it or was just too stupid interpret statistics intelligently.

Atheists (at least people who no religious affliation) make up almost 20% of the whole.
That's in addition to those who check other affiliation. not all of that 93,112 are Christians, only 75% or so.
About 20% of all inmates could be atheists, but that's of the whole not counted in the 75% of those who checked affiliation. So they have to be added to Moslims, and other faiths as well.

Of course no attempt is made to measure depth of belief among those inmates who say they are Christians. No attempt is made to say weather or not these are strong believers or just people who say "I don't know what I believe, but my parents were Presbyterian, so I guess I am too."

The atheist assumption is that religion is a like a disease and if you catch it does back things to you, so they don't see any need to think deeply about what people actually believe, or even to example any kind variables that might complicate the issues.

Swift, in breaking down Christian stats says:

Now, let's just deal with the nasty Christian types, no?

"Judeo-Christian Total 62594 83.761% (of the 74731 total responses) Total Known Responses 74731

Not unexpected as a result. Note that atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%)."

Of course he's forgotten that he's not dealing with the whole population and has to as the 24% not Christian religious people to the 20% of the whole who didn't answer. that's gonna through off his circulations by a factor of several

Here is the analysis of Chris Price, a friend of mine and member of the CADRE apologetics group:

Priceless comments

CADRE Comments, Oct 16,2007

First, I note that when atheists are trying to emphasize their numbers, they include agnostics and nonbelievers and skeptics among their ranks. But when they want to deemphasize their involvement in negative social characteristics, they take a more limited approach to the data. This study only mentions atheists, not unbelievers, irreligious, unbelievers, skeptics, etc. So, you may think there are more “atheists” in the United States than the data supports. Most stats at, for example, puts the number of “atheists” at less than 1%.

Second, atheists tend to be more privileged than the rest of the population, especially the prison population. They are predominatly white, more educated, and middle class. These are typically the result of birth, which is not something for which their atheism can claim credit.

Third, the study tells us nothing about the timing or strength of religious identification. There is a strong motive to “clean up your act” in prison, complete with visits by prison chaplains and evangelists working to reform the inmates. Add to this the fact that religious conversion may be a good way to signal to others—such as the warden or parole board—that the inmate has reformed, there are ample reasons to find increased religious identification among inmates.

Fourth, your review of the data is oversimplistic. For example, you ignore the fact that Protestants make up a much smaller percentage of the prison population (35%) than they do the population at large (53%). Mormons make up about 2% of the population, but are a negligible portion of the prison population. Now, this may also be linked to other issues such as income, race, or education levels.

...Actually, if you compare church attendance (and thus exposure to the preaching of Christian values) you get plenty of improved morality. This article by a self-styled "secular liberal" who is also an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia admits that "surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people."*

The article Price sites is The Third Edge


JONATHAN HAIDT: who is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Prices comments are "priceless," but its worse than he thought. He assumes the atheist is fudging by just not including unbelievers and those who have no opinon as atheist, as they usually do. I think it's that this guy didn't understand what the stat tables were telling him in the firrst place. I've seen other atheists make this very same mistake. There was, about eight years ago, someone who tried the same trick on Secular Web with British prison stats.

counter data
there's plenty of it:

* [] Sixth through twelfth graders who attend religious services once a month or more are half as likely to engage in at-risk behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual excess, truancy, vandalism, drunk driving and other trouble with police. Search Institute, "The Faith Factor," Source, Vol. 3, Feb. 1992, p.1.

Church attendance is a primary factor in preventing substance abuse and repairing damage caused by substance abuse.* Edward M. Adalf and Reginald G. Smart:* "Drug Use and Religious Affiliation, Feelings and Behavior." * British Journal of Addiction, Vol. 80, 1985, pp.163-171.* Jerald G. Bachman, Lloyd D. Johnson, and Patrick M. O'Malley:* "Explaining* the Recent Decline in Cocaine Use Among Young Adults:* Further Evidence That Perceived Risks and Disapproval Lead to Reduced Drug Use."* Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 31,* 1990, pp. 173-184.* Deborah Hasin, Jean Endicott, * and Collins Lewis:* "Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Patients With Affective Syndromes."* Comprehensive Psychiatry, Vol. 26, 1985, pp. 283-295. * The findings of this NIMH-supported study were repilcated in the Bachmen et. al. study above.

* [] Church attendance lessens the probabilities of homicide and incarceration. Nadia M. Parson and James K. Mikawa: "Incarceration of African-American Men Raised in Black Christian Churches." The Journal of Psychology, Vol. 125, 1990, pp.163-173.
*The presence of active churches, synagogues, or mosques reduces violent crime in neighborhoods. John J. Dilulio, Jr., "Building Spiritual Capital: How Religious Congregations Cut Crime and Enhance Community Well-Being," RIAL Update, Spring 1996.
*[] Church involvement is the single most important factor in enabling inner-city black males to escape the destructive cycle of the ghetto. Richard B. Freeman and Harry J. Holzer, eds., The Black Youth Employment Crisis, University of Chicago Press, 1986, p.354.

In honor of Good Friday, here is a link to Chris Price (Layman’s) excellent entry from 2006, redated last April to 2007, “Why is it called Good Friday?”

I haven’t finished the indexing of the “King of Stories” entries, or hyperlinking all the entries together in sequence, but here is a brief list of entries especially relevant to Good Friday and Easter weekend:

The End Begins (roughly midnight Friday)
Into the Trials (before sunrise Friday morning)
The King of Trials (very early after the first hint of sunrise on far-off Mount Hermon)
The Passing (Friday until sundown)
And On That Day He Rested (from Friday after sundown to Saturday evening)
Anastasis (early Sunday morning)
Returns (Sunday and afterward)

God’s grace to all our readers, across the world, this Easter weekend!

Jason Pratt

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

Lots of plotnotes to this entry, for various reasons; starting with some observations helpful in understanding what happens up in Syro-Phoenicia.

Tyre and Sidon were two major port cities of the old Phoenician Empire, along the southern Syrian coast of the Mediterranean Sea, north of the Galilee region of Palestine. The cities were under Roman Empire rule at that time, of course, along with everything else around "the Sea Amid the Land". These cities still exist and are still major ports for the nation of Syria.

In deep antiquity, traders from Phoenicia established port cities further south along the Mediterranean Coast, forming the semi-independent territory of Canaan (Hebrew for 'trader'); often warring with the Hebrews, and eventually defeated and assimilated.

At the time of this story, Canaan no longer existed--although the major port city Joppa still did, near modern Tel Aviv--but the Israelites still remembered their ancient foes with distaste... and still remembered where they had originally come from.

Some further things to keep in mind for the following story:

1.) By the best chronology I can figure (established on grounds prior to this story), this story takes place soon after Jesus' promise during the Feast of Tabernacles that He would call sheep from 'other folds', and that He was going where His opponents could not follow. Some of the listeners wondered, somewhat incredulously, if Jesus meant He was going to the synagogues of the Diaspora, not merely to reach the Jews but teach the Greeks. This is, in fact, precisely where Jesus is going (anyone north of Palestine on the Mediterranean coast, not a Roman, would be generally regarded a 'Greek').

2.) This takes place after numerous examples of Jesus reaching out, sometimes with approval, to people who might easily be classified as 'pagan'. Similarly, before this point Jesus has shown little reluctance about talking to women in public, even though by tradition a rabbi of all people shouldn't be doing that.

3.) Pilgrims from Tyre and Sidon both, have been mentioned before as being among the crowds down in Galilee, to hear the preaching of Jesus and be healed by Him.

4.) The Twelve Apostles included the lesser-known Simon, nicknamed 'the Zealot'. While the Zealot party had not yet officially formed, followers of the principles of Judas the Galilean would still be around, waiting and hoping for a Messianic military overthrow of Rome (and primed to join his son and grandsons during the Jewish War in the late 60s). Zealots were fierce nationalists, often outright hostile to 'pagan' foreigners. Canaanites, or the descendants of their ancestors, would likely be highly despised by a Zealot, not merely on principle, but also for tradition.

5.) Zelotes (boiler) translated to Hebrew happens to be Kananaios (Greek spelling).

6.) The Hebrew word for someone living in this area of Syrophoenicia was Chananaion (Greek spelling), "Canaanitish": ironically, a close pun to Kananaois in common Greek.

7.) Although the Greek word for dog is 'kynos', the Greek word for puppies (used in both versions of the story) is... kunarion! Again, a close pun to a couple of words relevant to this story. Strictly speaking, the word is a diminutive form of the word for 'teeming'; as in 'crawling with/like lots of vermin'. (Dogs were not mostly well-regarded in this time and place, although anyone might agree that puppies had some cuteness to them...)

So: we have Jesus going north to cities of another fold; bringing with Him on the journey at least one man who could be expected to be hostile about being in a city teeming with derided Chananaion, whose nickname (in which he would take great pride as any good Zealot) happens to be a pun for the people they are going to visit--which is not likely to make him any happier about it, especially if any of the other disciples ever teased him along the way (hypothetical but not impossible).

Facts 1-7 at least help shed light on what is happening (and probably is not happening) in the following story...

To the 'Puppies'!

Now rising up from there (says the Follower and the Disciple, picking up the story--'there' meaning the house Jesus had been staying in down in Judea when He declared all foods to be morally clean)...

He came away into the distant countrysides of Tyre and Sidon.


Jesus wants no one to know, but He cannot elude them for--now look! A Canaanitish woman, a Greek native of Syro-Phoenicia, hearing about Him, coming out from the countryside, cries out, saying, "Be merciful to me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly demonized!"

[Plotnote: 'Son of David' is a militant Messianic title; and so another factor now comes into play: the territories being visited incognito by Jesus were traditionally regarded as being part of God's gift to the Israeli people (which is one reason why problems still occur so frequently there today.)]

Yet He answered her not a word.

But approaching, His disciples asked Him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying behind us!"

Yet He, answering (them?), said, "Am I not sent with a mission but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?"

[Plotnote: there are two options here, depending on whom Jesus is addressing with the answer--which is not exactly as clear as often expected in the text! Jesus could in fact be addressing the woman, in a fashion intended to remind her that yelling out a militant Messianic title in the middle of a city full of traditional cultural enemies to the Hebrews (who claimed the territory as theirs in principle), is not necessarily as much of a compliment as she thinks it is! Indeed, her use of the title in this situation might be considered evidence of an attack on Him of sorts: the woman has heard about a Jewish Messiah operating down south in Palestine, who does healing, but she can only think in terms of an oppressive military threat. In that case, her shout would be a complex desperation of a couple of kinds: ‘help me or I will expose you here in your weakness!’ Or, perhaps, ‘so you think you can come up here and scout out your occupation plans? Fine; but if you expect me to acknowledge you as my king, then prove first that you’ll be a good king by helping me!’

Traditionally, of course, the question is regarded as being asked of the disciples; in which case the question (based on prior story contexts) would have to be a rhetorical retort--Jesus is echoing a common sentiment that He has been fighting against during His whole ministry, including among His disciples. This pitiable hopeless scene, He is implicitly showing them, is the result if He did come only for Israel. In an honor/shame culture, He is shaming them; also He is treating them as a rabbi would treat disciples, giving them an indirect point and expecting them to figure it out.]

Now Jesus enters a house, and the woman enters, and goes straight to Him, prostrating toward His feet, saying, "Lord, help me!"

But He, answering, said: "Let the children first be satisfied; for it is not the best thing to be taking the children's bread and casting it to the puppies."

Yet she answered!--and is saying to Him, "Yes Lord... for the puppies also under the table of their masters are eating the scraps, falling from the little children at the table."

[Plotnote: she recognizes the affectionate diminutive pun--and replies in a witty fashion, as a rabbinic student would be expected to do toward his teacher! She may have bested Jesus' own disciples in meeting this test.]

Then answering, Jesus said to her, "O woman! Great is your faith! Let it happen with you as you wish, because of this saying!--go, the demon has come out of your daughter!"

And from that hour, her daughter was healed; and when the woman came away to her own house, she found the little girl lying on the couch, and the demon gone.


Now going back out of the district of Tyre, He went through Sidon; and proceeded from there to the sea of Galilee within the Decapolis district.

[Plotnote: this indicates a roundabout route up north again along the coast, then east along the road toward Damascus, then down south again, possibly past or through Caesarea Philippi where Philip the tetrarch reigned--and now somewhere on the eastern shore of Galilee Lake. This trip must have taken several weeks, and all through 'pagan' territory--though also through the northern extent of territory traditionally claimed as given to Israel by God.]

And (says the Follower) they are bringing to Him a deaf man who stammered, and they are pleading Him to place His hand on him.

Now, taking him privately away from the crowd, He thrusts His fingers into his ears; and, spitting, touches his tongue; and, looking up into heaven, He groans--and is saying to him, "Ephphatha", which means (says the Follower) "Be opened!"

And immediately his hearing opened up, and the bond upon his tongue was loosed straightway; and he spoke correctly.

Now, He cautions them (who brought the man) that they may not tell anyone; but as much as He warned them, they rather proclaimed it exceedingly more.


Now going up a mountainside (says the Disciple along with the Follower), He sat there; and there came to Him vast throngs bringing with them the lame, the blind, the mute, the maimed, and many others--tossing them at His feet; and He cures them, so that the crowd marvels because the mute are speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame are walking, the blind observing!

And they were astonished most superexceedingly!--saying, "He has done all things ideally! The deaf He makes to hear, and also the mute to speak!"

And they praise the God of Israel.

[Plotnote: as the 'puppies' would not normally be inclined to do!]


In those days, there being a vast throng again not having anything to eat, Jesus, calling His disciples to Him, is saying: "I have compassion on the throng, for they are remaining with Me already three days, and they have nothing to be eating. Now, I am not willing to send them away to their homes, fasting, lest they will be fainting on the road!--for some of them came from afar."

And His disciples answered Him: "Where can we find so much bread in such a wilderness, to satisfy such a crowd?!"

But Jesus is saying to them: "How many breadcakes do you have?"

And they said: "... seven. And a few small fish."

Now He is giving orders to the crowd to be reclining on the ground.

And taking the seven breadcakes, giving thanks, He breaks them--and gave to His disciples, that they may put the food before them. And they placed them before the crowd.

And blessing the few small fishes, He said to place these, too.

And they all ate--and were satisfied.

Now they pick up the extra fragments, seven large hampers full; and those eating were about four thousand, apart from women and little children.

And He sends them away.

[Plotnote: see first comment below for an extended comment here.]


Now stepping into the boat (after sending the crowds away, the Follower and Disciple both report), He went straight into the region of Dalmanutha, into the city-limits of Magadan.

And out come the Pharisees and Sadducees!

[Plotnote: the latter group probably means a deputation from Jerusalem, trying to find Him after the things He said to them during His last trip there. The Dalmanutha region of the southeast Galilee lakeshore would be the closest 'northern Gentile == Greek-by-loose-association' territory to Jerusalem, and would be just across the river from the Galilean border. It's the least and safest effort for the Sadduceean deputation to go; compared to the weeks of Jesus' travels through hostile territory the Sadducees themselves would have considered Israel's own!

Dalmanutha itself likely refers to the 'little bay' of Tarichaea, which featured an ancient fort thus colloquially 'Magadan'. This was also the prime fish salting depot of the region, and so would be well-known to fishermen including as a place to re-provision. Many subsequent texts, however, 'correct' this reference back to 'Magdala'; the terms are roughly equivalent, but this is not the ancient tower of Gennesaret, south of Capernaum on the western side of the Lake.]

And they begin discussing with Him, testing Him, inquiring to have Him show them a sign out of heaven...

But sighing in His spirit, He is answering them and saying: "Why is this generation seeking for a sign!? Truly I tell you, if there shall be given to this generation a sign--!!

"A wicked and adulterous generation for a sign is seeking; but a sign will not be given to it... except the sign of Jonah." (i.e. repent, or face destruction.)

And leaving them, stepping into a boat again, He went away to the other side (north, back to the 'pagans'...)

[Plotnote: this incident has interesting but very quiet parallels to a tragic event that would happen later during the Jewish War. For the route chosen by Jesus along Lake Galilee also became the route of the Roman armies of Titus and Vespasian, flanking the nationalistic Galilee territory in their march toward Jerusalem. Eventually a great battle was fought on the southeastern shoreline near the fort of Tarichoea, known today as Kerak, placed to guard where the river Jordan exits Lake Galilee. After the defeat of 6500 defenders of the fort, their bodies were thrown into Lake Galilee, bloodying the water--which may be why many later manuscripts report a saying of Jesus here concerning how sailors rightly fear a coming storm by red clouds; yet these men cannot read the sign of the coming times. (Incidentally, the historian Josephus, a general of the Israeli troops, betrayed refugees from this battle by suggesting they take refuge in the 'circus' of nearby Tiberius, allowing them to be trapped, the weak and old slaughtered, and the rest sold into slavery by the Romans whom he joined.)]


Now the disciples forgot to get bread, and except for one breadcake they had none in the boat with them.

And Jesus said to them in warning: "Look here! Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees--and the yeast of Herod!"

Now they reasoned toward one another, saying, "...we brought no bread."

But knowing, Jesus said: "Why are you reasoning that we have no bread!? You of little faith! Do you not see or understand yet!? Do your hearts still have calluses?!? 'Having eyes, you do not see! And having ears, you do not hear!'

"Yet do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you pick up?"

They are saying to Him, "... twelve."

"And when I broke the seven breadcakes for the four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you pick up?"

And they are saying to Him, ""

And He said to them: "How is it that you do not understand already!?! I did not speak to you about bread!!

"But--beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!!"

Then they understood (so the storytellers say), that He did not say to beware the yeast as of breads, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

('yeast' being, however, a Passover symbol for 'sin'...)

Matthew 15:21-39
Matthew 16:1-12
Mark 7:24-37
Mark 8:1-21

[Next time: the Resolution of the King]

Was listening to Dennis Prager's radio program and just heard that he will be debating Bart Ehrman about whether the Bible explains the problem of evil on his program today. Tune in quick if interested, though a podcast may be available later.

A few days ago, I wrote a brief post about the use of the phrase "we're all atheists" by atheists who want to try to say that the belief in less than the full pantheon of gods that have ever been invented by the fertile minds of man is simply one step short of the belief in no gods or God. As I lay in bed last night, my own fevered imagination thought of the following analogy to further illustrate the problem with this mindset.

Imagine two air traffic controllers alone in a tower of a little used airfield late at night somewhere in the Rocky Mountain states. No flights are expected for the evening, and the two air traffic controllers are there mainly to communicate with flights heading towards busier destinations and to handle any potential emergency situations. Bored, the two like to pass the time by playing cards. This particular evening, something unusual happens: the radar picks up an object in range. Imagine the following conversation.

"Hmmm," the first air traffic controller murmurs as he looks at the radar screen. "Looks like the radar is picking up a plane in the area."

"Don't be ridiculous," the other says shuffling the deck for another hand of Rummy. "There aren't any planes out there."

"But there's something out there; the radar's showing it."

"Probably just a bird, or perhaps a weather balloon. After all, people are always mistaking those for UFOs -- so why can't our radar pick it up as a plane."

"What are you talking about?" the first air traffic controller said with more than a hint of agitation. "There's something showing up. Why are you so convinced it isn't a plane?"

"Because," the second responded dealing the cards, "there aren't any planes out there at this time of night. There aren't any scheduled until morning and none of the other airports are close enough that we would be picking up one of their planes."

"But the signal on the radar . . . ."

The second air traffic controller picked up his cards and began organizing them in his hand. "Okay, let's see if I can't make this clearer for you. Do you think that's flight 236 from Xenia?"

"Flight 236 from where?"


"Xenia, Ohio?"

"Yeah, Xenia, Ohio."

"Of course not."

"Well, why not?"

"Uh . . . to start with, we don't have any flights travel to this airport from Ohio. Second, unless they've built one recently, Xenia doesn't even have an airport."

"Exactly. So, if you can understand why I don't think that's flight 236 from Xenia, you can understand why I don't believe that's there's any airplane out there at all. Hence, you don't believe there's any airplane out there either."

The logic is the same. There is no logical justification to say that because I don't believe that a particular doesn't exist, it means that I am close to believing that none of the set of things of which the particular was a member doesn't exist. In fact, there is a huge difference between the belief that a particular thing doesn't exist and the belief that none of a thing exist. I can believe that Sherlock Holmes doesn't exist, but still believe that detectives exist, can't I?

No, this line of reasoning is simply silly. I would like to say that I'm surprised that so many atheists seem to adopt this saying as if it is somehow profound, but I'm not.

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

The GosLuke incidents reported in this chapter had no specific time/place tags--Luke implies very generally, by putting them where he does, that they happen during Jesus' final tour of Galilee on the way back to Jerusalem to die. Which still fits the general timeframe I am assigning them here; but since Luke isn't more explicit about the linkages, I've ported them over to fill a chapter while Jesus and His disciples are on the way north into Syria from Jerusalem.

Plus, if crowds are following Jesus after the spats He recently had, with Pharisee disciples/supporters of His bowing out--and with His knowledge of where He's going, which soon becomes a key topic in preparing His disciples--then I can easily imagine Him nipping the crowd's enthusiasms by implicitly comparing them with the failed Pharisaical disciples: this is what discipleship entails, people... this is what following Me entails. Count the cost.

Which is what Jesus Himself is doing, too...


Now great multitudes went together with Him (says the Scholar).

But He turned and said to them:

"If anyone comes to Me and is not hating his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters--and yet more, his own soul besides!... he cannot be My disciple.

"And whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.

"For which of you, wanting to build a tower, would not first sit down to count the cost, to see if you can do it?--lest at some time you lay a foundation and cannot finish, and all who observe it begin to mock you saying, 'This man started to build, but wasn't strong enough to finish!'

"Or what king, setting out to meet another king in battle, won't sit down and ponder whether with ten thousand troops he can encounter his opponent--who is bringing twenty thousand!? Otherwise, while still far off, he sends ambassadors to ask the terms toward peace!

"So then: not one of you who doesn't leave behind all your possessions, can be My disciple."


Now all the tax-collectors and the sinners would come near Him to be hearing Him; and the Pharisees and scribes both grumbled, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and is eating with them!"

But He told (the Pharisees and scribes, along with others perhaps) this parable, saying:

"Which man of you, if he had a hundred sheep yet losing even one of them, does not leave all the ninety-nine, (even) in a mountain pasture, and go searching for the lost one until he has found it?

"And then when he finds it, he is placing it upon his shoulders, rejoicing!

"And when he comes home, he calls his friends and neighbors to him, saying to them: 'Rejoice together with me!--for I found my sheep which had been lost!!'

"So I say to you: in just this way there will be joy in heaven over one repenting sinner, more than over nine and ninety justice-lovers who have no need to repent.

"Or what woman, having ten day-wager silver coins, losing one, does not light up her lamp and sweep the house and search with care until she finds it?!

"And when she has found it, she then calls her women-friends and neighbors all together saying: 'Rejoice together with me!--for I found the coin which was lost!

"So I say to you: in just this way the angels in the sight of God rejoice when they see even one repenting sinner!"


And He said,

"A certain person had two sons. And one of them, the younger, told his father, 'Father, give me all that I am owed from your estate!' (as if the father had already died)

"So he divided up his life among them. (becoming legally dead though still alive; the older brother now controls the household as the heir.)

"But a few days afterward, the younger son packed up all his inheritance and went out on a journey to a distant land.

"And there, he wastes all his inheritance (the lifegift of his father)--doing anything he wanted.

"Now when he had spent everything, a famine hit that land severely, and he starts to be in want.

"And so he went and ‘joined himself’ unto one of the citizens of that far country; and he sent him out into the fields to feed his hogs. (possibly referring to two of the things that would disgust a Jewish audience most about Gentile habits...)

"And he yearned to even eat the little carob pods eaten by the hogs, to satisfy his belly--and no one gave to him.

"But coming to his senses, he declared: 'How many of my father's bondsmen actually are bored with bread!--yet I am dying here of famine!!

"'I will rise, and go back to my father and declare to him: "Father, I have sinned against the heaven (meaning God) and in your sight! No longer am I worthy to be called your son--make me one of your hired men!"'

"And rising, he came toward his father.

"Now while he was still far distant, his father saw him--

“--and he has compassion!

“--and (abandoning any Middle Eastern dignity for a patriarch) running, he embraces him and fondly kisses him!

"Now the son does say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against the heaven; and also in your sight! No longer am I worthy to be called your son--'

"Yet the father said toward his slaves: 'Speed!!! Bring the first robe out here! Put it on him! Give a ring into his hand! Put sandals on his feet! And bring the grain-fed calf, and sacrifice it, so that eating we may celebrate!--for this is my dead son who lives again!--he was lost, and has been found!!!'

"And they began to celebrate!

"Now, his elder son was in the field, and as he comes and nears the house, he hears the music, (even) choral dancing!

"And he called a servant-boy to him, in order to inquire what this might be!

"Now he said to him, 'Your brother is arriving; and your father sacrifices the best calf, seeing that he got him back entire!'

"But he was furious, and would not enter. (a mortal insult to the father...)

"Yet his father, coming out, entreated him.

"Now he, in answer to his father, said: 'Look! For all these years, I have been slaving for you, and I have never passed aside a single order that you gave--and you have never given even one young goat to me that I might have a celebration with my friends! Yet when this son of yours comes, who has devoured your life with prostitutes... you sacrifice for him the grain-fed calf!!!'

"But he said to him; 'My child... you are always with me, and all the things I have are yours. Yet it is necessary that we should rejoice and celebrate--for this, your brother, had been dead and lives again...

"...and he was lost; but has been found."


Now He said to His disciples also:

"There was a certain rich man with a steward.

"But an adversary told him that this steward was embezzling his possessions.

"Now calling him, he said to him: 'What is this I hear about you!? Give up the accounting sheet of your administration: for you cannot be my steward any longer!' (a relatively light punishment according to the laws of the time; the man could have been sold into slavery with his family or even executed as a traitor.)

"But to himself the steward said: 'What shall I be doing?!--for my master will be wresting my administration from me! I cannot dig, I am not strong enough; and I am too ashamed to beg... ... ... Now I have the knowledge what to do!--so that whenever I may be deposed from office, they shall be receiving me into their homes!'

"Now calling to him each one of the debtors owing to his master interest money, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' And he said to him, 'A hundred baths of oil.' Now he said to him, 'Receive your bills!--and sit yourself and quickly write out fifty!' (i.e. the debtor will be visibly complicit in the fraud, but the fraud will also benefit the rich man in public standing.)

"Then he said unto another, 'Now, you!--how much are you owing?' And he said, 'A hundred kors of grain.' And he is saying to him, 'Take your bills, and write down eighty!'

"Now--the Lord applauds the unjust steward: because he acted shrewdly! For the sons of this, the eon, are more shrewd above the sons of light in their own generation!

"But: is this what I am saying to you?--'Make your friends with the security of injustice, so that if you ever fail then they, the unjust, shall be receiving you into the tabernacles of God's own'??!

"He who can be trusted in a very little thing, is faithful in much also; and whoever is unjust in very little things, is also unjust in the much.

"If, therefore, you cannot be worth trusting even in the unjust security, who will entrust the true to you!?

"And if you never come to be trustworthy in another's things, then who will give you what is yours!?

"No house-slave can serve two masters: either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will uphold one, and despise the other.

"You cannot be serving security, and also God."

[Footnote: Mammon--a Hebrew word, related to the word for trust or truth, carrying the context of security, and commonly applied to the security of wealth. Notice the use of 'trust' and 'trustworthiness' themes in this parable also.]

Now (the Scholar says) the Pharisees--who by nature loved their money!--also heard all this; and they were blowing out their lips in mockery! (literally 'out-noise-izing')

But He said to them:

"You are the ones who are justifying yourselves in the sight of the people! (i.e., well, now everyone here has heard your defense, from your own lips! With a defense like that, why should I add anything more??)

"Yet God knows your hearts, for the high among people is an abomination in the sight of God! (i.e., had you given an epic defense, the people might be impressed, but God would still know the despicable truth; how much more despicable is that truth in relation to that vulgar defense then!)

"The Law and the Prophets were (preached, most recently by the Pharisees, scribes, lawyers and priests in the Temple and synagogues) until John (the Baptist); since then, the good news of the kingdom of God is being!

"But everyone rapes it (is ‘violently forcing into it’, for their own pleasure and benefit).

"Yet it is easier for the heaven and the earth to pass away, than for a single stroke of a letter of the Law to fail! (As an example how diamond-hard the Law really is:) Everyone sending away his wife and marrying another, commits adultery. And everyone marrying her who has been dismissed from a husband commits adultery.

"Now--there was a certain rich man, and he dressed in purple and fine linen, making merry every day in splendor. (Thus voiding the Sabbath by making his servants work to serve him on that day.)

"And there was a certain poor man named... Lazarus! (‘God-helped’)--who had been cast off toward his door, having ulcers (probably being a leper), and yearning to be satisfied by any scraps which might be falling from the rich man's table. But the wild dogs came and licked his ulcers (being helped by them in pity.)

"Now the poor man came to die--and he is being carried off by angels into Abraham's embrace!

"And the rich man also died... and was entombed.

"Yet existing in torments, in the unseen (literally in Hades, or the state between the death and resurrection), lifting up his eyes... he is seeing Abraham far off, embracing Lazarus. (much as the father in the previous parable had embraced the stricken repentant son.)

"Now shouting out he said, 'Father Abraham! Be merciful to me!--and send Lazarus that he should dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am pained in this flame!!'

"But Abraham said: 'Child... remember that you received your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise the evil things; yet here he is now being comforted, but you are agonizing!

"'And so in all these things, there has been fixed a mighty chasm between yourself and us, so that whoever wants to cross from here toward you may not be able; nor yet those from there may cross to us.'

"But he said, 'Father I am asking you then, that you would send him into the house of my father--for I have five brothers--so that he may verify the facts to them, lest they may also come into this place of torment!'

"Now Abraham is saying to him, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' (i.e. in regard to the charity the rich man should have showed but didn't.)

"Yet he said, 'Not!--father Abraham! But if a dead man went to them, then they will willingly change their hearts!'

"But he said to him:

"'If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded...

...even by one who rises from the dead.'"

Matthew 6:24
Luke 14:25-33
Luke 15:1-32
Luke 16:1-31

[Next time: To the Puppies! (which has an interesting topical link to at least one of these parables...)]

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." ~ Stephen Roberts

For reasons that aren't quite clear to me, some people actually believe that this is some type of profound statement. Whenever I read or hear this statement, I wonder why someone would be foolish enough to think that believing less than all of a thing is somehow equivalent to believing none of the thing.

Oh, sure, I understand that it is simply a statement designed to show that if I can fail to believe in certain gods, than I should be able to understand why an atheist rejects all gods. I get that. But that isn't what the statement says -- it says we are both atheists.

Well, our friend William F. Vallicella, Ph.D., over at the Maverick Philosopher has taken on this issue in a post entitled Christopher Hitchens and the "We're All Atheists" Canard. Using the same basic claim about how we're all atheists as made by atheist Christopher Hitchens, Dr. Vallicella notes:

The idea is that since we are all atheists about some god or goddess, we should be atheists about all gods. A howling non sequitur, of course. Consider this parallel 'argument':

We are all anti-scientific about some scientific claim or other in the sense that all of us deny some scientific claim or other and with justification. Thus I deny, and I hope you do as well, Dalton's assertion that water is HO and the pre-Michaelson and Morley contention that light requires for its propagation a medium, the so-called luminiferous ether. Examples could be multiplied indefinitely. But presumably no one will think that one ought to be anti-scientific about every scientific claim.

No one thinks that because many once well-established scientific assertions have been abandoned as false that all scientific assertions ought to be abandoned as false or will be. No one takes the Hitchens-Dawkins 'further step' when it comes to scientific claims. Why should it be any different in matters of religion?

Yup, that's it.

But I personally welcome atheists to continue to make this same claim over and over. It will just remind me, when I read this same claim repeated on website after website, exactly the extent of the free thinking that is actually occuring by those who don't believe in God.

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

The Death of the Year

(The Evangelist continues:) Now there came to be the winter Feast of Dedications in Jerusalem; and Jesus walked among the Temple columns in the portico of Solomon.

The Jews (meaning Jewish leaders, per the Evangelist's standard usage) therefore surrounded Him and said to Him: "If you are the Anointed King, then tell us plainly!"

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you don't believe.

"The works which I am doing in My Father's name are testifying to Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep--just as I have told you.

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them; and they are following Me. Now I am giving them God's own life, and they shall by no means be dying-into-the-eon.

"And no one shall be snatching them from My hand!

"My Father, Who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one has the power to be snatching them out of My Father's hand!

"My Father and I are a unity." [Footnote: using the term from the Shema: Hear O Israel the Lord your God the Lord is One!]

So the Jews picked up some stones again to stone Him.

Jesus answered them: "I have shown you many good deeds from My Father! Which of them shall you stone Me for?!"

The Jews replied to Him: "We do not stone you for any good deed, but for blasphemy--that you, being a human, make yourself out to be God!!"

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written your law, (actually in the Psalms, though often colloquially treated as one with the Torah) 'I say you are gods'? If he to whom the Word of God came, said that these (of whom he spoke) were gods--and the Scripture cannot be made nothing!--are you saying to the One the Father hallows and sends out into the world 'you are blaspheming', because I said, 'I am Son-of-God'?

[Footnote: notably, the ones of whom the Psalmist was speaking, were rulers of the earth who had been abusing their power--and so the verse continues: "but ye shall die like mortal men..." A common rabbinic superiority tactic is to quote part of a verse and expect the other rabbi to pick up the point by emphasis from the rest of the saying.]

"If I do not perform My Father's works, then don't believe Me! Yet if I do them and you still can't trust Me, then at least believe the works!--so that you may be knowing and be trusting that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father."

So they sought once more to seize Him for arrest; but He evades their hands.


Now He goes away again (says the Evangelist), beyond the Jordan (River to the east), where John had been baptizing; and He stays there.

Many came to Him however, and they said, "John indeed did not perform one sign, and yet whatever John declared about this one was true!"

And many trusted in Him there.


Now there was a certain sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, where Mary and her sister Martha lived. And Mary is the one who rubbed the Lord with attar, wiping His feet with her hair--whose brother Lazarus was sick. [Footnote: this hasn't happened yet in GosJohn, which means the Evangelist is referring to another text-or-tradition his audience will be familiar with where a woman has done this, such as in GosMatt.]

The sisters therefore sent (a message) to Him saying: "Master, look, the friend you love is sick!"

But when Jesus heard it, He said, "This infirmity is not to death, but for God's own glory, that through it the Son of God be glorified"; yet Jesus did love Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.

This is why, however, when He hears that he is sick, He does indeed remain where He is at for two more days.

After this He said to His disciples, "Let us go into Judea once again."

The disciples say to Him: "Rabbi! The Jews (i.e. the rabbis) have just now sought to stone you--and you're going there again?!"

Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks by day, he does not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. But anyone who walks by night is stumbling, for the light is not in him."

This He said, and after that He said to them, "Lazarus our friend is now at rest; but I am going, to awaken him from sleep."

The disciples therefore said to Him: "Master, if he now is resting, then he shall be saved!" Now Jesus had declared that he was dead; but they figured He was speaking of a rest of sleep.

So Jesus told them bluntly: "Lazarus is dead!

"And I rejoice for you--I was not there, so that you may believe!

"Now let us go to him..."

So when Jesus came He found that Lazarus had been entombed four days.


Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles or so; and many Jews had come to comfort Martha and her sister Mary for their brother.

Then as Martha hears of Jesus coming, she goes out to meet Him; Mary still is sitting in the house, however.

Martha therefore says to Jesus, "Sir! If you had been here... my brother wouldn't have died!!

"yet... I still believe whatever you ask of God, God will give you."

Jesus is saying to her, "Your brother will rise again."

Martha is saying to Him, "... I know that in the resurrection, in the final day, he will rise again."

Jesus said to her: "I AM the Resurrection and the Life!

"Whoever trusts in Me, he shall be living, even though he dies; and everyone who lives and trusts in Me shall by no means be dying-into-the-eon. Do you believe this?"

She is saying to Him, "Yes, Master, I have believed you are the Anointed King, the Son of God coming into the world."

And saying this she went away and summoned Miriam her sister, saying secretly: "The Rabbi is here and is summoning you."

And at hearing this, she swiftly stood and came toward Him.

Now Jesus hadn't come into the village yet, but remained outside, in the place where Martha met Him. So, when Mary quickly stood and went outside the house, the Jews with her supposed that she was going to the tomb to weep, and followed her to comfort her.

[Footnote: either this is a case where the Evangelist abandons his normal use of the term Jews--or else he's implying that Lazarus, i.e. Elizear, was himself a prominent rabbi, well-loved among his peers!]

As she came where Jesus was, seeing Him, Mary falls toward His feet, saying to Him:

"Master!--if you were here, my brother would not have died!!"

Then Jesus, as He saw her wailing, and the Jews wailing as they came toward her, growls in His breath!--shaking Himself!

And He said, "Where have you placed him?"

They are saying to Him, "Sir, come and see."

Jesus weeps.

The Jews then said, "Look!--how fond he was of him!"

Yet some said, "Couldn't he who opened up the blind man's eyes, also make it so this man would not be dying...?"

Jesus, deeply growling within Himself, is coming toward the tomb. Now, it was a cave, and a stone was laid against it.

Jesus is saying... "Remove the stone."

Martha, the sister of the deceased, is saying to Him: "Sir!!--he is already smelling, for it has been four days!"

Jesus is saying to her, "Did I not tell you, that if ever you should be trusting, you would see the glory of God!?"

So they take away the stone; and Jesus lifts His eyes, and said:

"Father, I thank You that You heard Me. And I know You always hear Me; but I said it for the people standing round nearby, that they may trust that You did send Me."

Now having said these things, He loudly cries: "Lazarus! Come...! ...OUT!!"

...and out came he who died... bound hand and foot with winding sheets, and with his face wrapped in a cloth!

Jesus is saying to them: "Set him free, and let him go!!"

Many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did, trust in Him.

But some of them went away and told the Pharisees what Jesus did.


So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of their theocratic branch of government, but subject now to occupying Rome); and were saying...

"What are we doing?!?

"For this man does too many signs! If we let him keep doing this, everyone will put their trust in him--and then the Romans will unseat us and obliterate our nation!"

But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest of that year (appointed by the Romans for political expediency; but also son-in-law of Annas, the 'properly' appointed high priest of the Jews), said to them:

"You all know nothing in the least!--nor do you consider: it is better for us, that one man should die for all the people, and not all the nation die instead."

But he didn't say this on his own initiative (explaining the Evangelist), but being high priest for that year he prophesied that Jesus would be dying for the nation--

and not only for the nation; but so that He may be gathering together all God's scattered children into one!


So from that day onward, they made plans that they should kill Him.

Jesus then no longer walked among the Jews (the Jewish leaders) plainly, but went from there into the countryside and wilderness, lodging (first) with His disciples in the town (and district) of Ephraim.

(before departing further north, to carry His disciples in among the sheep not of His fold, as He had promised that He would...)

John 10:22-42
John 11:1-54

[Next time: Administrations]

Richard Carrier has an article, Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire, which discounts the Gospel accounts about Jesus given the credulity of those in their cultural context. I have responded to the article in part, here. I will address one other example he raises in this post, and if time permits, deal with others in future posts.

The first example Carrier offers to show that “Miracles were also a dime a dozen in this era” is an account Plutarch gives of a speaking statue:

The biographer Plutarch, a contemporary of Josephus, engages in a lengthy digression to prove that a statue of Tyche did not really speak in the early Republic (Life of Coriolanus 37.3). He claims it must have been a hallucination inspired by the deep religious faith of the onlookers, since there were, he says, too many reliable witnesses to dismiss the story as an invention (38.1-3).

Those less schooled in the classics than Carrier will probably lack some important details about this comparison. Whereas the Gospels and Paul's letters were written during the lifetimes and under the influence of Jesus' followers, Plutarch wrote more than 500 years after Coriolanus supposedly lived (unlike with Jesus, there is doubt among historians as to whether he was anything more than one of the myths about the founding of Rome). Even if we date the Gospels near the end of the first century, they are still greatly closer in time to the events they describe than Plutarch is to Coriolanus. One is a matter of years, the other is a matter of centuries. Indeed, Paul's citation of eyewitnesses to the resurrection is considered by most scholars to trace back to the early Jerusalem Church only five years or so after Jesus' death and resurrection.

Which leads to another important distinction. Carrier speaks of Plutarch mentioning “too many reliable witnesses” for the story of the speaking statue to be an invention. But just what is Plutarch's basis for this claim? What witnesses is he aware of more than 500 years later? None that he identifies. But Paul identifies witnesses to the resurrected Jesus within a few years of the event: Paul, the Twelve (likely an existing group of known men), James, various others, and himself. The Gospels also identify other, and some of the same, witnesses. Most were still living during the formation and spread of these traditions.

The next significant difference is the number of sources. Plutarch refers to the “tradition” that has been handed down. As far as Carrier indicates, Plutarch is our only source for this “tradition.” Even if there were others from around Plutarch's time, after more than 500 years separating out multiple sources would be problematic. On the other hand, with the early evidence for Jesus' resurrection and miracles, we have multiple sources: Paul's letters, the Gospel of Mark, the special M and L material, the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the references in Josephus, the early Church traditions preserved in Acts, and the rest of the New Testament documents.

Other differences are also of significance, including the different religious and cultural settings of Jesus' Jewish context, the importance placed by early Christians on eyewitnesses (such as Luke's prologue and Hebrews 2:1-3), and the suffering many of the early witnesses endured for the affirmation of Christian tradition.

All told, the comparison of Plutarch's mention of the talking statute to the miracle and resurrection accounts in the early Christian writings is a feeble one. If Carrier is merely trying to show that some Gentiles may not have been all that skeptical in evaluating the claims of Christian missionaries, he may have something of a point. I am not sure what he thinks that would accomplish, however, since to do so would still leave the origins of those stories in the early Christian context unexplained.

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

Another main dramatic climax in this chapter. Keep in mind that the Feast of Tabernacles is also known as the Feast of Light and Water.

Of Light and Water... and Tenting Among Us

After awhile, midway through the Feast (of Tabernacles, says the Evangelist), Jesus went up into the Temple and taught.

The Jews (i.e. leaders among the Jews) therefore were marveling, saying, "Where has this man learned his letters, not having been taught (i.e. formally by a rabbi)??"

So Jesus answered them and said, "My teaching isn't Mine, but His Who sends Me!

"If anyone ever wants to do His will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or (whether) I am speaking from Myself.

"He who speaks from himself, seeks his own glory; but He Who seeks the glory of the One Who sends Him, this One is true, and has no injustice in Him. Hasn't Moses given you the Law? Yet not one of you is keeping the Law! So why do you seek to kill Me?"

The group answered, "You are demented! Who is seeking to kill you?!"

Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one deed (probably meaning the healing of the man born blind); and all of you are astonished.

"So! Moses has given you circumcision--not that it is from Moses but rather from the fathers (i.e. the patriarchs of the Jews back to Abraham, 400 years before Moses)--and on a Sabbath you circumcise a man.

"If a man receives the circumcision (cutting off the foreskin from his penis) on a Sabbath, lest the law of Moses be made nothing; then why are you about to vomit seeing I made an entire man whole on a Sabbath!?

"Do not judge according to the look of things, but judge fair judgment!"

Some of the people of Jerusalem said therefore, "Isn't this the one whom they are seeking to kill?" "Yet look!--he is speaking boldly! And they are saying nothing to him!" "Perhaps the chiefs know truly that this is the true Anointed King??"

"But we know where this man comes from (said others); yet whenever the Anointed King may come, no one knows where he will be from!"

Jesus (still) teaching in the Temple, therefore called out, "You know Me and you also know where I am from!--yet I have not come of Myself! But He Who sends Me is true... and you do not know Him! I know Him, for I am from Him, and He has sent Me with a mission!"

This (sort of thing) is why they sought to arrest Him (says the Evangelist); but no one laid a hand on Him, for not yet had His hour come.


Now many in the crowd believe in Him, saying (in retort), "The Anointed King--'whenever He may come'!--will not be doing more attesting works than this man does, will he!!?"

But the Pharisees hear this murmuring of the crowds concerning Him; and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers (Temple Levite soldiers) to bring Him along (i.e. by force if necessary).

Jesus therefore said (probably to the rabbis who were on His side for now), "For a little longer I am with you; but I will be going off toward the One Who is sending Me! You will be seeking Me, but shall not find Me; and where I am, there you cannot be coming!"

So the Jews said to themselves: "Where is he about to go, that we shall not be finding him? He is not intending to go to the dispersion (of Jews) among the Greeks and teach the Greeks-- he?!

"What does He mean by saying, 'You will seek Me but will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come'?"


Now on the last day, the Great Day of the Feast (says the Evangelist), Jesus stood (in the Temple) crying out:

"If anyone is thirsting--let him come to Me and drink, whoever trusts in Me, as the Scripture says (meaning Isaiah speaking of God)! From his belly shall rivers of living water gush!"

Now this He said concerning the Spirit (explains the Evangelist to his audience), which those believing in Him would soon receive; for not yet had the Holy Spirit been given, for Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Some of the crowds, hearing these sayings, said: "This truly is the Prophet (whom Moses promised would be sent)!"

Others were saying, "This is the Anointed King!"

But others said, "(No!) For the Anointed King will not come out of Galilee! Hasn't a scripture said the Christ will come from David's seed and out of David's village Bethlehem??"

So there was division in the crowds because of Him. And some of them wanted to seize Him; but not one lays a hand on Him.

The officers then went to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who said to them: "Why did you not lead him here?!"

But the officers answered, "Never speaks anyone like this!"

So the Pharisees answered them, "Surely you are not also deceived! None of the chiefs believe in him, nor any of the Pharisees! But this crowd that doesn't know the Law is cursed!!"

Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) is saying to them, "Our law does not judge anyone, unless it first is hearing him and knowing what he does."

They answered him and said, "Are you from Galilee, too?!? Search and see!--the Prophet will not rise from Galilee!!"


So Jesus spoke to them again (apparently going to the Pharisees, in a private meeting, either at this time or shortly after saying this), saying, "I am the Light of the world! Whoever follows Me shall absolutely never walk in darkness, but will have the light of Life!"

The Pharisees said to Him therefore: "You are (only) bearing witness of yourself! Your testimony is invalid (and so cannot be accepted)!"

Jesus answered and said to them:

"Even if I ever should be testifying of Myself (as He soon would do at His trial), My testimony still is true! (His testimony does in fact count as 'two or three witnesses in perfect conjunction', although they don't understand this yet...) For I know where I came from, and where I am going.

"You all are judging by a worldly standard ('according to the flesh'); I am not judging anyone (like that, or yet). Yet when I shall be judging, I shall be judging truly; for I am not alone: but I, and He Who sends Me.

"Even in your Law it has been written, that the testimony of two men is valid.

"I am He Who testifies about Myself!--and the Father sending Me also testifies about Me." (Notice that the first statement is practically the same as the tetragrammaton, I Am That I Am.)

So they said to Him, "Where is your father?"

Jesus answered, "You know neither Me, nor My Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father, too."

He spoke these declarations in the treasury (i.e. in private session with leading Sanhedrin members) while teaching in the Temple (adds the Evangelist); and no one seized Him yet, for still His hour hadn't come.

So again He said to them: "I go away, and you will seek Me... and in your sin you shall be dying. Where I am going, you cannot come."

The Jews were saying therefore (in sarcasm), "Maybe he will kill himself!--since he is saying, 'Where I go you cannot come'!" (implying He should go to hell)

But He said to them, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

"So I said to you, that you will die in your sins.

"For unless you trust Me, that I AM, you shall be dying in your sins."

Then they said to Him (having heard Him claim yet more clearly the ultimate name of God, though still not quite directly): "... ... Who are you?!"

Jesus said to them: "The same as I have been saying--'from the beginning'!

"I have many things to speak--and to judge--concerning you. But He Who sends Me is true; and what I hear from Him I speak to all the world."

They do not know He spoke to them of the Father (adds the Evangelist).

So Jesus said:

"When you shall be lifting up the Son of Man, then you will know I AM. Yet I am doing nothing on My own initiative; but as My Father teaches Me, these things I say.

"And He Who sends Me is with Me; He leaves Me not alone, for I am always doing what is pleasing to Him."

As He spoke these things, many (of the leaders) came to believe in Him.


Jesus said then to the (leaders of the) Jews who had trusted Him: "If you will remain in My Word, you are truly My disciples; and you will know the Truth; and the Truth will make you free."

They answered Him: "We are Abraham's descendants; we have never been the slaves of anyone! Why are you saying, 'You shall be freed'?!"

Jesus answered them:

"I promise, I promise, I tell you the truth: everyone who commits sin is a slave; and a slave does not remain in the house (or family) forever. A son does remain forever.

"If therefore the Son shall ever make you free (and not a slave), you shall be free indeed!" [See first comment below for a footnote here.]

"I know you are Abraham's descendants!--yet you seek to kill Me, for My Word has no room in you. I am speaking what I have seen with My Father; thus you also are doing what you hear from your father."

They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father!"

Jesus said to them, "If you are children of Abraham, then do the deeds of Abraham! Yet now you are seeking to kill Me, a Man Who has spoken to you the truth which I hear from God--Abraham doesn't do this!

"You are doing the deeds of your father."

They said to Him, "We were not born of prostitution!" (a figure of idolatry here, spiritual 'adultery'; though perhaps obliquely referring to Jesus’ mother, too.) "Our Father is One--God!" (a variation of the Shema declaration)

Jesus said to them:

"If God was your Father, you would have loved Me--for out of God did I come forth and am arriving! Nor have I come on My own authority, but He sends Me with a mission!

"Why do you not understand what I am saying!?

"Because you cannot hear My Word: you are of your father, the Adversary (Satan), and you are desiring to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, for truth is not in him. Whenever he speaks the lie, he speaks from his own, for he is a liar, and the father of lying.

"Yet I--because I am speaking the truth, you are not believing Me. Which one of you can expose Me in sin?! If I am telling the truth, why will you not believe Me!?

"He who is of God is hearing the words of God. So you are not hearing: because you are not of God."

The Jews (among the leaders who had believed in Him up to now, or perhaps nearby rabbis watching and listening to this exchange) answered and said to Him: "Do we not say rightly--that you are a demented Samaritan!!"

Jesus answered and said: "I have no demon; but I am respecting My Father, and you are disrespecting Me. Now, I am not seeking My own glory: He is the One Who is seeking and judging!

"I promise, I promise, I tell you the truth: whoever keeps My Word, he shall under no circumstances ever be seeing death-for-the-eon."

The(se) Jews said to Him, "Now we know you have a demon! Abraham died; and the prophets also; and yet you say 'If anyone ever keeps my word he shall absolutely not taste death forever'! You are not greater than our father, Abraham--who died! The prophets died, too! Who are you making yourself out to be?!!"

Jesus answered: "If I ever do glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. My Father--of Whom you are saying He is your God--is Who is glorifying Me. And you do not know Him, but I know Him; and if I ever said I am not acquainted with Him, I would be a liar like you.

"But I am acquainted with Him; and I am keeping His Word.

"Abraham, your father, exults that he will see My day; and he did see it, and rejoiced!"

So the Jews said to Him: "You are not even fifty years old!--and you have seen Abraham!"

Jesus said to them:

"I promise, I promise, I tell you the truth...

...before Abraham came into being...

...I AM!!"


So they picked up stones to throw at Him.

But Jesus was hidden; and went out of the Temple.

(...and going through the midst of them, He went His way, and so passed by...)

John 7:14-52
John 8:12-59

[Next time: The Death of the Year]

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