CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

One of the most interesting passages in Mark’s Passion Narrative, from a historiographical perspective, is Mark 15:21:

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country and they forced him to carry the cross.

First let us compare the passage to its parallels in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew (it does not appear at all in the Gospel of John).

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:26.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.

Matt 27:32.

Matthew and Luke retain the reference to Simon as well as describe him as being from Cyrene, but drop the reference to Cyrene being “the father of Alexander and Rufus.”

It is notable that Mark identifies Simon by name. This is rare for Mark unless the author is referring to the disciples and some family or notable persons such as Pilate. Usually, the people with whom Jesus interacts are more generally referenced: "a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit,” “Simon's mother-in-law,” “A man with leprosy,” “Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic,” “a man with a shriveled hand,” "Jesus' mother and brothers,” "a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him,” “a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit,” "a man who was deaf and could hardly talk,” "some people brought a blind man,” “A man in the crowd,” “a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him,” “One of the teachers of the law,” and “the centurion.” Many other times Mark is just as vague about Jesus’ interaction with groups, such as “teachers of the law” or “Pharisees” and “chief priests.” In the aforementioned examples, Jesus interacts with the person or group at least as much as with Simon of Cyrene, if not more so.

There are a few notable exceptions other than Simon of Cyrene, such as “a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus)” and “reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper.” But the case is nevertheless made that Mark only sparingly refers to what we might call incidental or supporting characters in his narrative. Simon, as well as Bartimaeus and Simon the Leper, appear to carry an importance to the tradition that exceeds the part they play in the narrative itself.

The cross-carrying Simon, of course, is not identified by his name alone. There are other Simons in Mark’s text: Simon called Peter, and Simon the Zealot, both of whom are disciples of Jesus. As a result, aside from any other reason to do so, Mark had cause to distinguish Simon the cross-carrier from the other Simons in his narrative. The identification of Simon as being “of Cyrene” adequately fulfills this purpose. Mark elsewhere refers to a person’s place of origin to distinguish the person from others of the same name, such as with “Simon the Cananite,” and “Joseph of Arimathea.” Elsewhere Mark identifies an otherwise unidentified woman by her place of origin: “The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.” This kind of identification is common practice in other ancient writings, including the other Gospels.

As Matthew and Luke’s treatment of the passage suggests, however, Mark’s reference to Simon being “of Cyrene” is sufficient to identify and distinguish Simon the cross-carrier. Cyrene was a Greek colony -- a port city -- in what is modern day Libya. There was a Jewish community in Cyrene, as attested by Acts 2:10 (noting the presence of Jewish diaspora from Cyrene in Jersualem for Pentecost) and Josephus’ Against Apion 2.4 (noting that Ptolemy invited Jews to settle in Cyrene to strengthen his support base there). Given that this knowledge was apparently widespread and Cyrene was not an obscure region, as well as the dropping of the identification by the other canonical Gospels, the reference to Cyrene would have adequately served the purpose of identifying Simon and distinguishing him from the other Simons in the Gospel of Mark.

So, the reference to Cyrene makes sense as a distinguishing reference and follows Mark's practice in other passages. What is strange about the passage, therefore, is that it further describes Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” Nowhere else in Mark that I have found does the author identify anyone by reference to their geographic origin and familial relationship (though the information may be reported in the narrative it is not strung together, such as “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph"). This alone makes the passage stand out. But there is more. Another odd feature of Mark’s reference to Simon is his identification of Simon as the “father” of two sons, rather than as the “son” of his father.

Mark often identifies the men he names in his narrative by reference to their fathers: “Levi the son of Alphaeus,” “James the son of Zebedee,” “James the son of Alphaeus,” “James and John, the sons of Zebedee,” and “Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus.” One man in Mark is identified in this way by his brother: “John the brother of James.” However, the extended reference is actually to “James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James.” So Mark has identified James by reference to his relationship with another known character in the narrative and by indirect identification of his father (he shared the same father as his brother James).

But what about the identification of women in Mark’s narrative? No woman is identified as being “x, the daughter of” in Mark’s text. There are identifications of women as the “the mother of” particular persons: “Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome,” “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid,” and “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.” But Mark never extends the practice to the many instances of identification of male figures by their familial relations. Nor does he do so after identifying the woman by her place of origin.

All told, there is a convergence of at least three unusual identification practices in this one reference. Mark identifies a tertiary character by name, identifies him both by his place of origin and his familial relationships, and takes the further unusual step of identifying a man by reference to his two sons, by name. What is the reason for this convergence? It is not even clear why Mark would refer to him by name, rather than referring -- as he does many other places -- to “a man in the crowd” being forced to carry the cross. There is something special about Simon that prompted the extended reference. Or, perhaps, what is special is not Simon per se, but his sons, Alexander and Rufus. If Mark’s audience was familiar with Alexander and Rufus then the string of convergences makes more sense. It would explain why Simon is singled out for identification by name and by place of origin, as a lead into clarifying for the audience, like saying “this is the father of the Greek Jews already known to you, Alexander and Rufus.”

Many scholars conclude that the reason Mark refers to Simon by name and identifies him as the father of Alexander and Rufus is because Alexander and Rufus were known to Mark’s audience, likely as members of the Roman church. At the very least, they were known as witnesses of the event or transmitters of their father’s experience. See, e.g., James A. Brooks, Mark, NAC, page 256 (“The obvious reason for the mention of ‘Alexandria and Rufus’ is that Mark’s readers/hearers knew them.”); James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, page 471 (“The names are presented as though Simon is unknown to Mark’s readers, but that Alexander and Rufus are known to them”); Robert H. Grundy, Mark, A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, pages 943-44 (“The personal names also imply that Alexander and Rufus are known to Mark’s audience, to the audience of the pre-Marcan tradition, or to both of these audiences (and they might have been the same”); Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, page 9 (“In Mark 15.21 Simon of Cyrene, the man who bears the cross, is identified -- quite unusually -- not by his father’s name but by his sons Alexander and Rufus, probably because these are still known to the audience of the Gospel. Matthew and Luke, however, omit both names; they no longer know what to make of them.”); C.S. Mann, Mark, The Anchor Bible, page 645 (“Only Mark tells us that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, and again we assume that they were known either to Mark or to the community for which he was writing.”); Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark, page 394 (“Only Mark mentions his children (cf. Matthew), and this seems to suggest their familiarity to Mark’s audience.”). Notably, in Romans 16:13 Paul mentions a Rufus who was a member of the church in Rome -- the most commonly concluded place of origin for Mark's Gospel. This further buttresses the likelihood that at least one of the sons of Simon became a member of the young Christian movement.

Richard Bauckham believes that Mark’s use of their names and relations here is intended to signal that the event is reproduced from eye witness reports:

The case is not parallel to that of Mary the mother of James the little and Joses (Mark 15:40), where the sons serve to distinguish this Mary from others, because Simon (very common though this name was) is already sufficiently distinguished by reference to his native place, Cyrene. Matthew and Luke, by omitting the names of the sons, show that they recognize that. Nor is it really plausible that Mark names the sons merely because they were known to his readers. Mark is far from prodigal with names. The reference to Alexander and Rufus certainly does presuppose that Mark expected many of this readers to know them, in person or by reputation, as almost all commentors have agreed, but this cannot itself explain why they are named. There does not seem to be a good reason available other than Mark is appealing to Simon’s eyewitness testimony, known in the early Christian movement not from his own firsthand account but through his sons. Perhaps Simon himself did not, like his sons, join the movement, or perhaps he died in the early years, while his sons remained well-known figures, telling their father’s story of the crucifixion of Jesus. That they were no longer such when Matthew and Luke wrote would be sufficient explanation of Matthew’s and Luke’s omission of their names.

Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, page 52.

I think Bauckham may overcomplicate the issue. By signaling that Mark’s audiences knows Alexander and Rufus he is obviously signaling that his account can be verified by them and therefore is affected by eyewitness input to the tradition. I am inclined to agree with this conclusion. It is the best explanation for the unique convergence of so many rarities in Mark’s gospel: the naming of participants in the event, the identification of a tertiary participant by location and familial relation, and the use of his sons (again by name) as further identification.

An additional factor that leads me to conclude that Mark is signaling an eyewitness account by a person or persons known to his audience is the nature of the account itself. Mark does not need the narrative about Simon taking up the cross to establish his principal aims. Simon carries Jesus’ cross for a while, but the event has no particular theological or narrative significance. Nor is Simon a pious example meant to inspire early Christians in “taking up their” cross or serving Christ in some way. Simon does not offer his services. He is not moved by compassion or love for Jesus. He is drafted into carrying the cross. According to Mark, “they forced him to carry the cross.” In any event, Mark recounts plenty of other stories in his gospel that could be said to contain more important theological or narrative importance without naming the participants (much less naming them in such a unique way).

Further, there is no suggestion that Simon nor his children are witnesses to Jesus’ death, his burial, the discovery of the empty tomb, or any resurrection appearance. For his death, Mark refers to witnesses, again -- unusually for him -- identifying them by name: “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40). For the burial, Mark again lists the witnesses by name: Joseph of Arimathea, as well as -- again “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses.” (Mark 15:43-47). For the discovery of the empty tomb and the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection, Mark again lists his witnesses: “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.” (Mark 16:1-8). So, the important events -- both from a narrative and a theological point of view -- are covered by other witnesses.

There is obvious significance to concluding that Alexander and Rufus were known to Mark's audience and that their reference by name indicates eyewitness shaping of the tradition. As has often been noted, the existence of eyewitness participants in the early church during the transmission of the gospel tradition and authorship of the Gospels would have acted to control the tradition and prevent or mitigate the fabrication or exaggeration of stories in the narrative. Mark's reference to Simon, Alexander, and Rufus is evidence that just such controls existed. At the very least, the reference to Alexander and Rufus impacts the dating of the Gospel of Mark. "[T]he reference to these two children of Simon strongly suggests that this Gospel had to have been written during those children’s lifetimes, while they would be known by Mark’s audience. All other things being equal, this favors a date for this Gospel prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.” Witherington, The Gospel of Mark, page 394.

I had been going to springboard from my original post on the third edition of the Humanist Manifesto, into a broader discussion of its principles and the logical coherency thereof; but when I read a recent review of the 1980 film Wolfen (here on AICN) by someone who had never watched it before, I thought... hey! Halloween's coming up, we should do a Halloween post, right? And I'm a big fan of both the film and the book (by Whitley Strieber). And the reviewer makes explicit a point about the movie that always rather bothered me in the background. And, hey!--that happens to tie into my recent post on the Humanist Manifesto and the logical coherency of its principles thereof!

I love it when providence comes together. {gggg!}

And then I got sick with the pseudo-flu and missed posting it, not only for Halloween, but for several weeks. I did manage to get it posted in time for Thanksgiving weekend! Barely! I’ll try to make some relevant connection to that later.

So: first, some background on the movie and the book, for context. (The book has been out of print forever, but it should be easy to find a used copy somewhere, such as at the Amazon link above, or by library interloan. The DVD is in stock at Amazon, amazingly. There is also a 2008 novel by the same name written by someone else, with no real connection to the plot so far as I know--it’s a paranormal romance werewolf novel instead.)

The basic concept is the same in both the book and the movie, although the plot and execution are somewhat different: a certain race or species of wolf (movie and book respectively) evolved in parallel with humanity, up to human levels of intelligence. But because of their superior physical senses and capabilities they never had a need for culturally developing technology, the way humans did. (Also, the movie wolves are physically just regular wolves, except for being much smarter than usual.) When humans back in medieval times began to displace other more easily hunted animals in the habitats of the wolfen packs, the packs naturally started preying on humans instead; and by the modern day, they have adapted to preying on humans almost entirely.

However, it’s also obvious to the packs that humanity is a huge danger to their existence (due to our vastly greater numbers, and our technology which they haven’t ever bothered to understand). So the packs secretly hunt and kill only humans that aren’t going to be missed by other humans. In the modern world, that means they hunt and eat the homeless who can be found in sufficiently large numbers in the largest human cities. (In the book there are also wolfen packs who still live in the wild, away from humans as much as possible, but they aren’t who the story is about.)

In both the movie and the book, trouble comes when a New York City pack kills some people who will be missed, attracting the attention of police investigators. The pack starts subsequently hunting and executing every human connected with the investigation who seems to have figured out what’s going on.

In the book, the wolfen are physically as well as mentally evolved: they can operate briefly on hind legs, their faces are more humanlike (due to larger brains and the need for more complex communication with each other), and they’ve developed opposing thumbs. So they’re a lot more like ninjas when they hunt and kill; and part of the terror in the book (from the humans’ perspectives) is the shock that these alien creatures are hunting them so efficiently in the city. Also, in the book the trouble happens when two adolescents from a particular pack panic a little when two cops show up as they’re hunting and killing some homeless people at a garbage dump (the cops are there for some other investigation), and they kill off the cops. The father of the pack is told by other pack leaders that it’s his responsibility to fix the problem. So despite the fact that he sympathizes a little with the humans, he leads his family in trying to do the only thing he can think of that might work: kill off every human investigating the case. This fails, as he fatalistically expected, but he sacrifices his life at the end giving it his best shot (while his remaining family watches, sending him love and moral support). The author is very effective at moving back and forth between the humans and the wolfen point of view: the wolfen are frightening and alien to the humans, and so are frightening to us (the readers) when we’re “riding along” for their chapters. But the wolfen are sympathetic and even heroic when we’re “riding along” for their chapters.

The movie (originally made in the early 80s by Michael Wadleigh, who did a fine job but then retired from directing movies for some reason) operates under major technical restrictions, as can be imagined, but it makes the best of what was available at the time, including the newly invented Steady-cams and electronic solarization filters (for the wolves’ p-o-v night-vision). One obvious result is that the wolves are just wolves physically (which makes it difficult to explain how they can show up at the top of skyscrapers, or decapitate victims with a charging leap!) But a less obvious result is that the filmmakers couldn’t really get into the minds of the wolves. So the story was changed somewhat.

In the movie’s story, the pack (only one pack is ever mentioned or shown) is living peacefully in the New York slums, killing homeless people for food, when an industrialist decides to renovate the area by knocking down all the buildings. The wolfen naturally take this as a threat because he’s going to remove their food supply and hunting range, so they hunt him down and kill him (along with his wife and their bodyguard/chauffeur) one night. The police think terrorists are behind the murders at first, so a specialist on terrorist psychology is brought in to help the grouchy old detective on the case, who is played by Albert Finney (the protagonists are rather different from the novel); but when the detective learns too much the wolves target him and his crew, too. Meanwhile, a tribe of Native American high-steel workers (some of whom have ties to terrorist groups, and who become suspects in the killings for various reasons) helps provide the detective, and the audience, with some of the internal perspective of the wolfen.

(As a trivia note: the younger of the two tribesman characters is played by Edward James Olmos, who would go on decades later to play Commander Adama in the remake of the Battlestar Galactica series! Also, the movie’s musical score was written by James Horner, and would soon be largely recycled for his score to James Cameron’s Aliens.)

This technical difficulty in trying to give the audience some sympathy for the wolfen, leads to an unexpected narrative result. In a beautifully poignant finale, Finney makes peace with the wolfen by managing to communicate to them that he has no intention of continuing his prosecution of them: so they’re safe and can go back to their way of life without fear of further interference from human authorities. It’s a great scene, and leads out to a wistful ending monologue from Finney’s character as the wolves gallop joyfully back through city streets in the early morning light, to the ruined church where they live, ending with another of the movie’s signature ‘wolfen-view' sequences (shot with that newfangled steady-cam thing and the electronic solarization effect) soaring through the church, up the stairs, into the attic where the sun shines through broken stained glass and doves fly out and around, to the strains of Horner’s gorgeous and unique music. And everyone lives happily ever after, in union with nature!

Except for the homeless people the wolves are killing for food.

The movie accidentally (or conveniently?) forgets about that part; which led the AICN reviewer to a burst of what story tropers today like to call Fridge Logic. (The term’s invention is often attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, although he called it “the icebox moment”.) 'On the way to the refrigerator' after the movie (i.e. shortly after finishing it), the reviewer suddenly realized that the movie was basically saying it was not only perfectly okay and even morally beautiful for those wolves to be killing homeless people, because they weren’t wanted anyway, but also that if the wolves had only kept killing the desperately poor minority people instead of upscaling to the ultra-rich white guy (well at least he had an ex-Ton Ton Macoute bodyguard), there would have been no problem at all! (Gregory Hines, more-or-less prefiguring his role a few years later as a sardonic New York police detective with Billy Crystal in the needlessly vulgar but otherwise very underrated Running Scared, makes some biting quips along this line. But don’t worry, he’s sacrificed to the plot long before he can deflate the upbeat Implied Holocaust ending of the movie. Um, spoiler.)

The book, by contrast, presents the two species at eternal odds with one another. There can’t be peace between them, because evolutionarily they’re in a life and death competition. Sure, the father of the pack may have a few liberal tendencies of pity and sympathy for the humans. Which are richly played for dramatic effect when he refuses to risk his family any further and mounts a final assault by himself to kill off the last humans who know what’s going on: he firmly puts aside his nascent sympathy for the humans, and his distant wish that something more could be had between the two groups, and goes up the side of that skyscraper to do what needs to be done. Because that’s just how things are, and they can’t realistically be any different.

And in terms of the moral grounding underlying the story (whether book or movie), he’s exactly right. It’s a survival of the species situation. There can be no compromise, because the humans cannot and should not (despite the movie’s ‘Lost Aesop’ ending) be expected to tolerate this kind of threat living among them--even if that threat usually only goes after humans the other humans don’t want around. Because there’s no way to guarantee that the threat won’t occasionally go after humans the other humans do want around (especially themselves!) instead.

The only other option is to just accept the sacrifice of undesirables, like the last of the Mohicans do in the movie--even if you might be one of the undesirables yourself someday. (But, hey, keep your own head above water and maybe you won’t be considered expendable prey! Otherwise, sucks to be you, but that's how it is.)

I’m sort of amazed the movie even got made: is it really possible, today, twenty-fiveish years later, that someone would dare to make an arguably mainstream movie where, for all practical purposes, the film ends with Simba and his fellow lions singing about the glory of “The Circle of Life” when the prey animals on the bottom end of that circle are homeless humans!?

(What’s even more amazing, the only other movie directed by Michael Wadleigh I’m aware of, was that famous film about the Woodstock concert, which he shot first. Peace, love and red riding hood baby!--make wolfen, not war! If I was the sort to write short stories, and if I was a little more evil, I’d run a parody homage with a pack of wolfen picking off stragglers for food at the fringes of the concert while it was going on. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t have been far from the truth in some ways.)

In part 2 (four years later on Christmas Eve 2014...), I'll explain why I thought of the Humanist Manifesto when, in my appreciation of the review, I took a moment to remember and reflect on the story (movie and book, both variations) -- since I'm pretty sure that Wolfenism, and its aspirations, wasn't on the minds of its drafters. (Hopefully!)

Meanwhile, if there are any super-intelligent wolves in New York City who happen to have advanced up to reading the internet: this is all fiction, I don't believe you exist, and I'm sure you had a Happy Thanksgiving, too! (White or dark meat, either one. With leftovers. Ahem.)

This quotation, from a response by William Sanday to the book Supernatural Religion, perfectly sums up my own thoughts on apologetics (my own emphases in bold), and I think it speaks for itself:

Ideally speaking, Apologetics ought to have no existence distinct
from the general and unanimous search for truth, and in so far as
they tend to put any other consideration, no matter how high or
pure in itself, in the place of truth, they must needs stand aside
from the path of science.

But, on the other hand, the question of true belief itself is
immensely wide. It is impossible to approach what is merely a
branch of a vast subject without some general conclusions already
formed as to the whole. The mind cannot, if it would, become a
sheet of blank paper on which the writing is inscribed by an
external process alone. It must needs have its "praejudicia"
i.e. judgments formed on grounds extrinsic to the special matter
of enquiry--of one sort or another. Accordingly we find that an
absolutely and strictly impartial temper never has existed and
never will. If it did, its verdict would still be false, because
it would represent an incomplete or half-suppressed humanity.
There is no question that touches, directly or indirectly, on the
moral and spiritual nature of man that can be settled by the bare
reason. A certain amount of sympathy is necessary in order to
estimate the weight of the forces that are to be analysed: yet
that very sympathy itself becomes an extraneous influence, and the
perfect balance and adjustment of the reason is disturbed.

But though impartiality, in the strict sense, is not to be had,
there is another condition that may be rightly demanded--resolute
honesty. This I hope may be attained as well from one point of
view as from another, at least that there is no very great
antecedent reason to the contrary. In past generations indeed
there was such a reason. Strongly negative views could only be
expressed at considerable personal risk and loss. But now, public
opinion is so tolerant, especially among the reading and thinking
classes, that both parties are practically upon much the same
footing. Indeed for bold and strong and less sensitive minds
negative views will have an attraction and will find support that
will go far to neutralise any counterbalancing disadvantage.

On either side the remedy for the effects of bias must be found in
a rigorous and searching criticism. If misleading statements and
unsound arguments are allowed to pass unchallenged the fault will
not lie only with their author.
(From The Gospels in the Second Century)

No, of course this isn't going to be a huge apologetic argument. But I used it last Wednesday night at a study group for purposes of illustrating one particular apologetic point, so I thought I would share. First, though, some background.

The topic for the study group that night was supposed to be the second chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but the teacher quickly moved along off that to discuss Lewis' Trilemma: Liar, Lunatic, Lord. (The bridging topic was Christ's humanity and divinity, testified to in chp 2, although moreso on the humanity side in that chapter. Chapter 1 is hugely devoted to Christ somehow sharing ultimate original divinity with the Father while being personally distinct compared to the Father. I missed that night, unfortunately, due to pseudo-flu, but we didn't get into much discussion of the theological precepts here.)

I am of course entirely aware (as was Lewis, for that matter) that matters are a little (or even a lot) more complex than that; but still, once various other positions are either granted or established, the Trilemma does make for a handy summary of the basic options.

We split into three groups, each of which was tasked with coming up with practical answers to imagined sceptical questions on one of the three Trilemma points. My group dealt with this imagined sceptic: "Jesus was no different than any other crazy person who claimed to be the Messiah; I can't believe in someone who claims he was born of a virgin and was resurrected from the grave."

I pointed out to our group that, depending on what else our imagined sceptic was willing to accept, he had already sort of shot his own point in the foot: if I come up to you and tell you that I was born of a virgin (though incidentally Jesus is never presented as doing so in the Gospels), then you might think I was crazy or (in various ways) lying to you. But if you think I've been scourged, crucified, stabbed and (in some sense) "covered over" (as St. Paul puts it--his word for burial is the same word we still use for talking about crawfish etouffé, by the way, as I like to point out for fun sometimes {g}), then I'm probably not just being crazy if afterward I tell you that I was "resurrected from the grave". Because there I am, talking to you, afterward. I might be mistaken about exactly what happened to me afterward, or I might be lying to you again (the whole thing being some kind of ruse, including details you've gotten around to believing for yourself regarding my crucifixion etc.). But you wouldn't have much grounds for thinking I'm crazy per se in this situation.

(Not that sceptics would be at all likely to say this, as I pointed out to my group. I just wanted to train them a little in spotting logical tics--in this case one inadvertently created by the teacher trying to come up with what 'a sceptic might say' on this topic. I promise, I'm getting to the Iron Man part of this journal entry soon, by the way!)

Well, we went over some other things among ourselves, and then someone gave a summary when it was our group's turn to report. But I wasn't sure an important point had been covered very well in the summary, and so after giving anyone else in the group a chance to add something for a few moments, I spoke up:

"Personally, I'd ask them if they've ever seen the movie Iron Man!"

Confused laughter from the group at large.

"I'm serious," I continued. "How many people here have seen the movie, raise your hands?" About half. "Okay, and you remember the plot of the movie, right?

"So: how many of you would say that the authors who wrote the plot for that movie are crazy? I mean crazy to the point of thinking they created all of reality; that it all still hangs together because of them; that they have the authority to forgive things that person X has done against some other person Y, regardless of whatever person Y might have to say about it; that they're older than Abraham and in fact that Abraham saw them when he was seeing 'God'; and that one day they'll judge all humanity, including you, deciding as the final authority on whether you'll be rewarded or punished, and why, and how? How many of you think the authors who wrote the movie Iron Man are that level of crazy?--raise your hands."

No one did.

"Well, around 2/3 of the most important plot elements of that movie were borrowed directly from stories attributed to Jesus. Two of those stories are widely regarded as the most famous stories in the world: the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There's also at least one more parable from Jesus in there, though it's less well-known; the one about the rich man who decides he's spend his money to build things to help him just become richer, and who's really satisfied with himself after he does so, but then learns that night that 'You fool! Tonight your soul is being required of you!--and then, these things, whose will they be?!'

"The parables of Jesus, especially those two most famous ones, are hugely respected as pieces of moral sanity all over the world, even by people who don't even think God exists. They've been so influential throughout history, that here in the 21st century a superhero movie, of all things, can be made where the most important points are borrowed directly from their plots!"

(I didn't bother to point out that the Iron Man comics have been using at least the Good Samaritan parable as origin plot since the 60s; after all, the writers of the movie could have just gone some other way, or not built in little signposts in the dialogue to show they they dang well knew what they were doing. "I give you... THE JERICHO!" Tony Stark says, boasting about his new weapon system--right before being ambushed in the desert, critically wounded so that he would have died, and then sacrificially nursed back to life by a good man whom we might have expected to only be one of 'the enemy'.)

"So," I continued, "you've got basically two options here. Either this guy you agree made these crazy, monstrously egotistical claims also came up with stories, or uniquely unexpected variations of stories, that have been recognized as examples of moral sanity for the past 2000 years; or else some anonymous moral geniuses who were following after him, treating him as the lord of their lives, invented those things and attributed them to him--and why exactly were paragons of moral sanity, of all people, following that guy as their supreme authority!?

"Which of course," I went on to mention, since I figured they might need to know--and since I hadn't heard anyone else bring this up yet (except me, briefly, in the small group), "is precisely why most sceptics don't in fact go this route. They think Jesus came up with the sane moral parables, if he existed at all (as most of them agree that he did), and then some crazy followers of his invented (or distorted by drastic misunderstanding) the wildly egotistical authority and identity claims attributed to him in all four Gospels."

That hardly settles any apologetic issues, of course. Mainly it's useful for getting a perspective on one of the oddities of the case. But I had been meaning to make use of the Iron Man connection ever since the movie came out, so I was happy to finally get around to it.

And hey!--I write for an apologetics journal, as it happens! {g} Thus, today's article.

(Next up on my list of things to do: using Wolfen, the book and the movie both, to illustrate a point about naturalistic ethics. Seriously: I had meant that to be our 'Halloween episode' this year, but got sidetracked by the pseudo-flu. So, since in a way it's about super-intelligent wolves being thankful for the existence of humans as their main prey animals, maybe I can put that up this Thanksgiving weekend! {lol!} We'll see.)

I had heard that a new Shroud book was on the way this autumn, but I hadn't heard any real details on it yet. The Associated Press has now released an article on at least one main new claim from historian Barbara Frale's book: the identification and translation of scribbled letters in Greek, Latin and Aramaic detected over (or near) the head of the Shroud.

The letters (or anyway the appearance of letters) have been known about for some time; the last I had heard, the prevailing theory was that they were due to coins on the eyes: specifically a Roman coin with a shepherd's staff and the Greek inscription TIBERIOU CAISEROS (known to have been minted between 29 and 32 CE) on the right eye, and a Julia lepton on the left eye. (Both coins would be 'leptons' of different sorts.)

The AP article, however, reports that high resolution photos of the Shroud taken in 2002 showed no evidence of coins; thus undermining what, until then, had been a long-running theory with a lot of progressing inductive confirmation through successive studies with better technology. (Which disconfirmation evidence I hadn't heard about myself, though I hardly bother to keep entirely up to date on Shroud studies either.)

Dr. Frale, pressing the issue, now hypothesizes that the letters she detects come from a death certificate that would have been placed over the face of the deceased by Roman officials until the body was claimed by the family.

Antonio Lambatti, a church historian and author of other books on the Shroud, rejects the idea that a Roman authority would have provided a death certificate for the body, since Jesus had been crucified and so would have more likely been unceremoniously dumped in a common grave. Of course, all the Gospels are unanimous (with various details) that a high-ranking Sanhedrin member petitioned Pilate for the body and received permission to bury it. So the real issue here would seem to go back to the plausibility of Joseph of Arimathea's side of the story. (As well as the existence of a possibly sympathetic centurion in charge of the execution.) Without JosArim, or someone effectively like him (Nicodemus, for example), a major portion of the Gospels' accounts of what happened to the body (and why) are in serious trouble anyway, including having any kind of shroud at all for the body of a crucified man. On the other hand, if Frale's analysis holds any water, this could add plausibility to the claim of the existence and actions of JosArim, or someone like him. (Though of course both appeals shouldn't be circularly attempted at once.)

The AP article dutifully reports scepticism based on the carbon-dating results, though it doesn't report much scepticism based on direct criticism of Dr. Frale's analysis (yet). The article also neglects to mention the significant amount of scientific criticism of the carbon-dating test (including from the two scientists who invented both kinds of carbon-dating processes in the first place.) But the reporter may not have known about that.

Professor Luigi Garlaschelli briefly weighs in with the information about the coins not being found in the 2002 high-res photos after all. Dr. Garlaschelli recently made headlines (as discussed here on the Cadre Journal, back in October) for purportedly reproducing the weird discoloration effects of the Shroud's image using methods available in the 14th century. This article posted at Freerepublic goes into far more detail about the Dr.'s experiments, and the results, than anything else I've found so far. (It's only been a month and a half-ish since Dr. G's announcement of his results, so there isn't much out yet. I was pleased to find something with so much detail this early!) Commenters are welcome to post links to any more detailed analyses they know of, pro or con; ditto for Dr. Frale's claims, of course.

(The Cadre's quasi-official position on the Shroud, by the way, is... chocolate chip cookie! {g} It's fun to chew on--I find the wealth of detail personally very interesting myself, as well as the analytical debates back and forth--but it isn't a meal.)

Recently, on the Last Laugh, blogger Laughing Boy published a short article about the advertisement that some atheists have placed on buses around England. The article, entitled Dick says, "Enjoy your life" showed a photo of a nattily-dressed Mr. Richard Dawkins (obviously enjoying the money he has made from the sales of his books and probably enjoying standing next to Ariane Sherine, the beautiful young lady in the photo who was responsible for starting the bus ad campaign) in front of a London double-decker emblazoned with the slogan, "There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Quite a motto. It's probably the first time that a religious philosophy has been adapted from a satirical magazine. Alfred E. Neumann would be proud.

I begain to wonder where the photo came from, and found that the photo had come as part of a press event about the atheist ad. had a video taken of Richard Dawkins discussing the bus advertisment with Polly Toynbee of the Guardian. The video is both sad and hilarious at the same time. I mean, consider the following exchange between Dawkins and Toynbee concerning the wording of the atheist ad that "God Probably Doesn't Exist."

Dawkins: It's funny. It gets people to talk about it. And if we said there's definitely no god, you can't say that. You can't say there's definitely no Father Christmas. And so it gets people to think.

Toynbee: You and I get accused a lot of being real haters of religion....

Dawkins: Yeah, we're strident and shrill and (mumbled). Isn't it amazing that you say the mildest thing against religion and it's automatically strident. You ever notice that?

Toynbee: It's strident, it's offensive, people are automatically outraged...

Dawkins: Outraged.

Toynbee: ...they're offended. And what I think is good about this campaign is that nobody could call it offensive.

Dawkins: No, Oh, they will, they will.

Toynbee: I get offended when they acuse us of being soulless spirits, spiritless, emotionless, dry rationalists and brutal haters. I'm very offended. But then I don't expect them to respect my offense. I'm expect my....

Dawkins: You stand up for yourself. Exactly.

Toynbee: Yes. Stand up for myself. Why can't they? Why do they need special....

Dawkins: Because they've got nothing really to stand up for. They've got nothing....they've got no decent arguments. They have to take offense; it's the only weapon they've got.

Never has so short a video been so short on credibility. I can't believe that they even remotely believe what they are saying in the video. "Isn't it amazing that you say the mildest thing against religion and it's automatically strident" C'mon. I mean, listening to Dawkins claim to have said mild things against religion is like listening to Hitler telling Himmler that he had treated the Jews with respect.

By no stretch of the imagination can Dawkins claim to be someone who has said mild things about religion. Consider the following from Dawkins' awful The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
~"The God Hypothesis", The God Delusion, p. 31

This is not an isolated statement by Dawkins. (I certainly hope no one is claiming that the quote is taken out of context -- the context is quite clear from the sentence.) Mr. Dawkins has made outrageous claims about Christians and others who hold religious views, such as:

When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When a million people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion.

So, for Dawkins to posture in the video like he is Clark Kent subjected to the bullying of the evil Christians despite saying nothing offensive, he is simply suffering from a delusion much deeper than the one he claims religious people to be suffering.

But that isn't the only disconnected thing that Dawkins and Toynbee say in this short video. The more egregious statement is the claim that religious people "got nothing really to stand up for. They've got nothing....they've got no decent arguments. They have to take offense; it's the only weapon they've got." Dawkins must have spent a lot of money on his blinders for them to be so incredibly effective.

I encourage Dawkins to read God and the New Atheism: A critical Response to Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens by John F. Haught. In a few short pages (only 124 pages including footnotes), Haught shreds the arguments made by Dawkins (and similar arguments put forward by his equally mild-mannered atheist cohorts). Still, even with this book it doesn't surprise me that Dawkins believes his work has been unanswered -- he is not the least bit interested in looking beyond his shallow understanding of religion. After all, he can't maintain his strawman approach if he is presented with a theology that has substance to it. Haught points this out in the introduction to his book. After indentifying a number of serious Christian thinkers like Paul Tillich, Alfred North Whitehead and Wolfhart Pannenberg, Haught writes,

Clearly the new atheists [which includes Dawkins] are not familiar with any of these religious thinkers, and the hostility to what they call "theology" has almost nothing to do with theology as I use the term. Occasionally our critics come close to suspecting that there may be a whole other world of relevant religious thought out there, but they want to make things easy for themselves and their readers, so they keep theology, at least in my sense of the term, out of their discussion altogether. Their strategy is to suppress in effect any theological voices that might wish to join in conversation with them. As a result of this exclusion, the intellectual quality of their atheism is unnecessarily diminished. Their understanding of religious faith remains consistently at the same unscholarly level as the unreflective, superstitious and literalist theology of those they criticize. * * *

Ideally, the authors of the books I shall be evaluating will also peek into the following pages, but since their own writings so far show no interest in theology, it is probably to much to expect that they would wish to tune in now.

Dawkins may be a mild-mannered man in his personal life. He may carry himself calmly and be an absolute gentleman. But, like so many atheists who populate the Internet, his writings reflect a boisterous, intolerant man who makes his case by first ignoring and then denying true Christian thought and charity.

But don't worry, ignorance is bliss after all.

Thanksgiving is somewhat of a forgotten holiday. Nestled tightly between Halloween and Christmas, there is little consumer demand for the Thanksgiving items which usually occupy only a few small shelves in most stores. I guess its understandable. There isn't nearly as much call for wooden Pilgrims as there is for skeletons or nutcrackers. Yet, while Thanksgiving isn't as important on the Christian calendar as Christmas (and it goes without saying that Halloween isnt' exactly a favorite among Christians), Thanksgiving holds a great deal of meaning for Christians. It is one day set aside specifically to give thanks to God (so many people forget the highlighted part) for the blessings He has bestowed upon us and our country.

But it is that "to God" part of the equation that seems to cause people to want to debunk the holiday -- especially the first Thanksgiving in 1621. For example, the History News Network at George Mason University has published a short sheet of the Top 10 Myths About Thanksgiving. Several of the myths noted by the article have little to do with Thanksgiving itself, but relate to the lives of the people we now call Pilgrims generally. Thus, the article notes that the Pilgrims didn't live in log cabins (for those of you who confused the Pilgrims with Abraham Lincoln), that the Pilgrims didn't always wear black (apparently, they preferred earth-tones -- something that would have let them fit in nicely in Oregon), and that Puritans didn't hate sex (for those who thought that the Pilgrims were not really human beings).

Similarly, Mayflower Myths on mostly points out several myths about the pilgrims that don't seem to have any impact on the celebration of the holiday itself. Some, in fact, don't even seem like myths at all. I know that I had never heard that the Pilgrims had brought furniture from England on the Mayflower, so the busting of that myth wasn't too disappointing. (Although, I have to admit my extreme disappointment to learn that the Pilgrims didn't wear those really cool buckles on their shoes....)

Not surprisingly, the myth article with the most critical eye towards the Pilgrims was entitled Deconstructing the Myths of "The First Thanksgiving" by Judy Dow (Abenaki) and Beverly Slapin. Abenaki is a Native American name -- it is the name of a subdivision of the Algonquian nation of northeastern North America. Still, even this myth article includes at least one myth that isn't very myth-y, i.e., the well-known fact that the Pilgrims didn't actually originally set foot on Plymouth Rock. (Heck, I didn't think that anyone really thought that....)

Who was first?

A few of the alleged myths on the three pages involve Thanksgiving, but have little impact on the essentials of the celebration. For example, two of the three pages note that the Pilgrims didn't actually hold the first Thanksgiving. According to the debunkers, thanksgivings have been held for centuries. In America alone, the English settlers held an earlier day of thanksgiving in Jamestown in 1619. The Spanish held thanksgiving celebrations in 1598. And, of course, who knows exactly how many thanksgivings that the Native Americans held in the thousands of years they occupied the continent before the arrival of the English invaders. According to the Deconstructing article, "for Native peoples, thanksgiving comes not once a year, but every day, for all the gifts of life. To refer to the harvest feast of 1621 as 'The First Thanksgiving' disappears [sic] Indian peoples in the eyes of non-Native children."

While I don't mean to denigrate the thanksgiving for all the gifts of life celebrated by the Native peoples every day, Christians have also been giving thanks to God for everything for centuries as well. (When I sit at the dinner table and say a prayer with my family before eating I am engaging in a thanksgiving in that sense.) Harvest feasts are (and have been) common not only on the North American continent, but around the world. Still, no one is saying that people didn't have thanksgiving celebrations before the 1621 wingding by the Pilgrims. The reason that this particular feast is referenced as the first Thanksgiving feast is because it is the first feast held by a Christian people giving thanks to God for the general bounty that he had provided in America. And regardless of your opinion of the good or bad that has come of it, since the English speaking immigrants from Europe have become the dominant culture of the United States, it is important that it was a feast of thanksgiving by the Pilgrims.

Turkey, anyone?

Another myth that concerns what actually happened at the first Thanksgiving (which I will continue to call it, myth or no) but which is exceedingly silly is the question of whether the Pilgrims and the Native Americans had turkey at that feast. The HNN article says: "No one knows if they had turkey, although they were used to eating turkey. The only food we know they had for sure was deer." While my Thanksgiving celebration will not hinge on knowing exactly what the Pilgrims feasted upon, I do find it interesting that this myth should be allegedly debunked by an admission that no one knows the full menu of what was eaten. In fact, we have good reason to believe that turkeys may have been on the menu based upon William Bradford's account of what was happening around that same time in his book Of Plimoth Plantation where Bradford says:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

So, if the Pilgrims had a "great store" of wild turkeys, why would one suspect that they would withhold them from the general feast? (This is pure speculation, but perhaps historians are going with the "what we expect to find if X happened theory." For example, historians certainly say that if turkeys had been served at the first Thanksgiving, then Edward Winslow's earlier account would have included them on the list of items served. In a similar way, perhaps historians note that if turkey had been served at the 1621 feast, we would expect to find records of complaint about turkey leftovers, but these are notably absent from the histories.)

Giving thanks to God isn't religious?

But the most egregious myths are those directed at the Christian motivation of the Pilgrims. They claim ulterior motives for the Pilgrims than those that have historically (ironically) been believed. For example, HNN article claims that Thanksgiving was not about religion. (Actually, I agree it was not about "religion", but I suspect that he would lump into the "religion" category the heartfelt desire to give thanks to God for his bounty so let's go with it.) The HNN article argues:

Paraphrasing the answer provided above, if Thanksgiving had been about religion, the Pilgrims never would have invited the Indians to join them. Besides, the Pilgrims would never have tolerated festivities at a true religious event. Indeed, what we think of as Thanksgiving was really a harvest festival. Actual "Thanksgivings" were religious affairs; everybody spent the day praying. Incidentally, these Pilgrim Thanksgivings occurred at different times of the year, not just in November.

Jeremy Bangs, another historian and former Chief Curator of the Plimouth Plantation, responds in his article entitled The Truth About Thanksgiving Is that the Debunkers Are Wrong:

Responding to this in reverse order:

(1) that Thanksgivings were not limited to November does not mean that the first one held by the colonists in Plymouth (presumably in September or early October) was not a thanksgiving.

(2) The modern idea that in a religious thanksgiving “everyone spent the day praying” is inconsistent with the only description of the specific activities of a definitely identified thanksgiving day in early Plymouth Colony -- the thanksgiving held in Scituate in 1636 when a religious service was followed by feasting. (See my book The Seventeenth-Century Town Records of Scituate, Massachusetts (Boston: NEHGS, 2001), vol. 3, p. 513.)

(3) That "what we think of as Thanksgiving was really a harvest festival" (as if that meant it could not have been a thanksgiving) repeats Deetz’s incorrect opinion that an English harvest festival was non-religious or even irreligious.

(4) That the Pilgrims "would never have tolerated festivities at a true religious event" presumes a narrow definition of what a true religious event was before arriving through circular argument at a denial that what the Pilgrims did was such an event, because it differed from the axiomatic definition. (Ever been to a midwestern church picnic? Did tossing horseshoes and playing softball make it non-religious?)

(5) The Pilgrims attempted to pattern their religious activities according to biblical precedent. The precedent for a harvest festival was the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkoth (Deut. 16: 13-14), lasting seven days. The biblical injunction to include the "stranger" probably accounts for the Pilgrims' inviting their Native neighbors to rejoice with them. Besides Sukkoth, the Pilgrims’ experience of a Reformed Protestant thanksgiving every year in Leiden probably contributed to what they considered appropriate. The October 3 festivities commemorated the lifting of the Siege of Leiden in 1574, when half the town had died (an obvious parallel with the experience of the Pilgrims in the winter of 1620-21). Leiden’s ten-day festivity began with a religious service of thanksgiving and prayer, followed by meals, military exercises, games, and a free fair. The common assumption that the Pilgrims’ 1621 event should be judged against the forms taken by later Puritan thanksgivings - whether or not those are even correctly understood - overlooks the circumstance that the Pilgrims did not have those precedents when they attempted something new, intentionally based not on old English tradition but on biblical and Reformed example.

Welcoming guests, invited or no

The Deconstructing article (which is extremely negative towards the Pilgrims who are accused therein of stealing corn from the natives without restitution and coming to America to take the lands already inhabited) claims that the Pilgrims didn't invite the natives to the feast.

According to oral accounts from the Wampanoag people, when the Native people nearby first heard the gunshots of the hunting colonists, they thought that the colonists were preparing for war and that Massasoit needed to be informed. When Massasoit showed up with 90 men and no women or children, it can be assumed that he was being cautious. When he saw there was a party going on, his men then went out and brought back five deer and lots of turkeys. (8)

In addition, both the Wampanoag and the English settlers were long familiar with harvest celebrations. Long before the Europeans set foot on these shores, Native peoples gave thanks every day for all the gifts of life, and held thanksgiving celebrations and giveaways at certain times of the year. The Europeans also had days of thanksgiving, marked by religious services. So the coming together of two peoples to share food and company was not entirely a foreign thing for either. But the visit that by all accounts lasted three days was most likely one of a series of political meetings to discuss and secure a military alliance. Neither side totally trusted the other: The Europeans considered the Wampanoag soulless heathens and instruments of the devil, and the Wampanoag had seen the Europeans steal their seed corn and rob their graves. In any event, neither the Wampanoag nor the Europeans referred to this feast/meeting as “Thanksgiving.” (9)

First, let's be clear: there is no record of the Pilgrims inviting the natives to the feast. Here's what Edward Winslow's account says about the natives:

they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Keep in mind that this account and William Bradford's later more general account in Of Plimouth Plantation are, according to the Plimouth Plantation, the "only" two "primary sources for the events of autumn 1621 in Plymouth." Thus, we don't know how the natives came to be among the Pilgrims. Certainly, it is possible that they were attracted by the gunshots (and such a claim is consistent with the Winslow's account which associates the "exercise[] of our Arms" with the arrival of the native peoples).

At the same time, the basis for the claim that the natives thought that the Pilgrims were preparing for war as stated in the Deconstructing article is fairly flimsy. The claim is based upon a nearly 400 year old apparently unrecorded oral tradition which comes to the authors through a National Geographic publication for kids. As near as I can find in Internet research, this claim is not made in any of Ms. Bruchac's articles which are available on-line. The idea that only men arrived is consistent with Winslow's account but may be accounted for by the practice at the time (in our admittedly male-centered past) was to speak of the men and not the women and children.

Still, it is apparent that regardless of how the natives arrived and for what reason, they were invited to participate in the feast and did so for three days -- including providing deer for the festivities. But here's the bigger issue: were the natives most likely invited for political purposes, i.e., for "one of a series of political meetings to discuss and secure a military alliance"? What evidence is there that the Pilgrims had less than charitable motives at this time? They were having a celebration of the bounty that God had bestowed and admitted that the natives had assisted their survival through the hard, cruel winter and assistance in farming and hunting methods.

Obviously there was mistrust between the two peoples. The Pilgrims were originally quite frightened by the natives who they expected to attack them. The Wampanoag (in the words of the Deconstructing article article) "had seen the Europeans steal their seed corn and rob their graves." But this viewpoint tends to disregard the fact that friendly gestures based on a true Christian motive of love for neighbors could overcome these initial obstacles. In other words, the real motivation that should be questioned is the motivation of the people who make claims that the Pilgrims had to have some ulterior motives in welcoming the natives to their Thanksgiving feast.

So what's at the core?

Certainly, the truth claims of Christianity do not rise or fall on the story of the First Thanksgiving. But I think that we can say that the debunkers have not really successfully struck at the heart of the account: the Pilgrims, thankful to God for their survival and the bounty of harvest (helped in large part by the Wampanoag natives), held a feast to give thanks to God. During the feast, which lasted three days, the Wampanoags arrived and were welcomed in Christian charity and fellowship to the feast by the Pilgrims. The Wampanoags not only accepted, they hunted and brought additional provisions to make the feast even better. Yes, the relationship fell apart (largely due to the later influx of settlers with more profit than the teaching of the Great Prophet in mind), but for this one small sliver of history, Christian settlers, practicing Christian love for their neighbors consistent with their beliefs and the Wampanoags, apparently acting in friendship towards the settlers, co-existed in friendship.

That (together with the expected annual drubbing of the Detroit Lions) is something to celebrate.

I saw that on the back of a shirt last night, where I was eating dinner. It seems kind-of brilliant; though on the other hand I'm still coming off the tail-end of having had the pseudo-flu, so it might only be the snot in my head pressing the wrong part of my brain-sack (or whatever it is that holds my brain in place and keeps it from leaking out my nose. Not that that has made much difference in recent weeks, or so it seems sometimes...)

Anyway, it seemed, y'know, soteriological. {g!} So, discuss!

(My immediate thought is about the widow and her two cents, and how she was ahead of the Pharisee in the kingdom. As a Phariseeish kinda guy, I love that little pericope a lot. :D But then, it has a lot of romantic connotations to me personally, too--I don't mean in its original context. So I admittedly have some bias there.)

I originally planned to write just two posts analyzing the physiological swoon theory, one devoted to the a priori arguments (see here) and one to the a posteriori. But upon further reflection I realized that the a posteriori arguments raise issues regarding the interpretation of the Gospels that are too involved to be dealt with in just one post. So I will deal with each of those arguments in a separate post each, starting with one of the lynch-pins of most conspiracy theories about Jesus' death: that the drink he was given on the cross was 'spiked' with some kind of drug that caused him to lapse into unconsciousness, so that he would only appear to have died, allowing Joseph of Arimathea and his fellow conspirators to take him down early from the cross and help him recover.

First, a few words about the proper interpretation of the Gospels is in order. Obviously for this or any other conspiracy argument to work, we have to assume that the Gospels essentially give us thoroughly detailed snap-shots of events in the life of Jesus, such that if we were to travel back in time and watch those events, they would unfold exactly as described in the Gospels. However, scholars have known for a long time that, even though the evangelists had the will and the means to convey accurate historical information about Jesus, ancient biographical conventions were quite different than modern ones. Ancient biographers were not interested in the same sorts of details as are modern scholars, and the details they did include were heavily shaped by the author's literary (or in the case of the Gospels, theological) concerns. The aim of ancient biographers was to illustrate the words and deeds of their central character in order to give their readers a full understanding of who that person was through their characteristic words and deeds. This could be done by narrating events and sayings which may not have unfolded exactly as described, but instead were characteristic of the person. We should be cautious, then, about assuming the eyewitness veracity of every single detail in the Gospel narratives, even if ultimately the Gospels were (and I believe they were) based on eyewitness information (for more on the Gospels as ancient biography see David Aune, The New Testament in its Literary Environment, pp. 17-76 and especially Richard Burridge, What Are The Gospels?).

In the case of the Passion narratives we can assume that the evangelists did want to convey accurate and detailed information about those events, as they explain most fully the nature of Jesus' mission and why he was killed. We have to keep in mind, however, that these narratives are also saturated with Biblical symbolism, as the early Christians found great scriptural significance in Jesus' death (Paul tells us that Jesus died for our sins "in accordance with the Scriptures," 1 Corinthians 15:3). Raymond Brown offers the following caution about doctors and other researchers who are not biblical scholars and who try to either diagnose the exact cause of Jesus' death on the cross or infer that he may have survived: "Often the medical writers have expressed their conclusions without recognizing that any or all of these features might embody theological symbolism rather than historical description." (R. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Vol.2, p.1089)

Was the drink Jesus was offered on the cross a historical event or theological symbolism? There is evidence for both views. On the one hand, in Psalm 69:22 we have a complaint from the suffering just man about his enemies: "And they gave for my bread gall, and for my thirst they gave me to drink vinegar," suggesting that the evangelists are alluding to a scriptural motif. On the other hand, an offering of wine mixed with myrrh (as in Mark 15:23) is attested as a common practice before an execution. Talmudic sources tell us of a rabbinic dictum: "When one is led out to execution, he is given a goblet of wine containing a grain of frankincense, in order to benumb his senses...And it has also been taught; The noble women in Jerusalem used to donate and bring it." (Tractate Sanhedrin 43a; this could account for Luke's reference to the 'daughters of Jerusalem' accompanying Jesus to the cross). I think it's likely that this event actually happened and that the Scriptural allusion (made explicit by Matthew in his replacement of Mark's myrrh with the biblical 'gall' or χολη) was added over it. At first glance this might appear to increase the plausibility of Jesus' drink having been spiked, but there are more exegetical issues to be considered.

There are three separate narratives of Jesus being offered a drink recorded in the Gospels: an initial offering just before the crucifixion (Mark 15:23; Matthew 27:34) which Jesus refuses to drink (Mark says simply that Jesus refused, while Matthew adds that Jesus first tasted the drink before refusing it); a second offering after Jesus' cry of desolation (Mark 15:36; Matthew 27:48) or simply at some point before Jesus' death (Luke 23:36); and a third offering, recorded only in John 19:30, which Jesus actually requested himself and accepts. It is clear that each account has been decisively shaped by the individual literary interest of the evangelists, but noteworthy for our purposes is that only John has Jesus explicitly accept a drink at any point in the Passion narrative, and this was simply the sour, vinegary wine that was probably on hand for the soldiers to drink, not wine mixed with myrrh or any other suspicious substance.

I think the most likely harmonization of the accounts is that there were two offerings, the first of which Jesus did not accept and the second of which he did as in the Gospel of John. Matthew, Mark and Luke do not actually say whether Jesus accepted the second offering or not, they simply note the offer and then continue with Jesus crying out loud and then dying. But here another important factor must be considered: the differing motives behind each offer. The initial offering can be interpreted either as an act of mercy in line with the rabbinic tradition quoted above, or as part of the soldiers' ongoing mockery of Jesus as the 'king of the Jews': Pliny tells us that "The wines that were the most esteemed among the ancient Romans were those perfumed with myrrh" (Natural History 14.15), so the soldiers may have been offering such prized wine, certainly fit for a king, in order to carry on their parody of Jesus' kingship. If the offered sweet wine was an act of mercy, Jesus probably did not drink it because of his commitment to drink the full cup of suffering his Father had ordained for him (e.g. Mark 14:36; cf. Brown, Death, pp. 941-942). If the wine was an act of mockery Jesus refused to drink obviously because he would not feel like assenting to it. This explains Matthew's detail that Jesus tasted the wine before refusing it. The wine may have been particularly bitter and, once Jesus realized what was going on, refused to drink any more. Whatever the interpretation, Jesus rejected this first offering.

The Synoptics have either a passerby or a soldier offering Jesus the wine the second time, whereas in John Jesus specifically requests the drink. Again the reasons for this discrepancy are probably to be found in the individual literary and theological interests of the evangelists. In Matthew and Mark a passerby offers Jesus the drink after his cry of dereliction ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"), so the person offering the drink presumably did so as a spontaneous reaction to a victim's apparent cry for help. In John Jesus requests the drink "in order to fulfill the scripture." It is unclear exactly what Scripture would be fulfilled, but in any case the difference remains. Following the hypothesis of this post, Jesus probably drunk the second time a drink was offered, just before his death.

It might seem a little suspicious then that Jesus died right after accepting this second drink. Could it be that the drink was laced with some kind of drug that rendered Jesus unconscious, only seeming to be dead? The probability of this is close to zero for several reasons.

First of all, the only offered drink in which specific additives to the wine are mentioned is the first, which Jesus refused to drink, and in any case myrrh does not have analgesic or anesthetic properties (Brown suggests that the anesthetic quality of the myrrh-wine offered to condemned persons was more due to the wine itself than the myrrh; Brown, Death, p. 941). The second drink, which Jesus accepts, is described as nothing more than sour wine (οξος), the vinegar-wine the soldiers had on hand for their own thirst (John specifically says that Jesus' drink was taken from a jar of wine already there). Why he drank it is not clear, but it sure wouldn't have knocked him unconscious.

But suppose that there was a successful conspiracy (perhaps involving Pilate or the centurion in charge of the crucifixion) to slip some narcotic into the sour wine, unbeknown to most of the observers, including the sources of the evangelists, who simply describe the drink as sour wine without knowing what it was really made of. We know that the Greeks and Romans, as well as other ancient peoples, were aware of the anesthetic effects of substances like mandrake, hemlock and henbane. Medical writers like Dioscorides as well as novelists like Apuleius recounted stories of potions given to people which sent them into a deep sleep. Did Roman medicine have at its disposal a substance which could safely have rendered Jesus unconscious, millenia before the advent of modern anesthesia?

The answer is an unqualified no. While historians believe that some ancient peoples experimented with anesthetics like the above, they also caution that "How far knowledge of the use of mandragora, opium or alchohol was applied for the relief of pain of surgery in classical times can never be known with certainty." (The History of Anaesthesia, p.25) For one thing, just as there was folklore about supernatural creatures there was folklore about medical substances, and stories regarding the latter seemed to have been passed on uncritically from one writer to the next (Craig Keener notes that Apuleius' novel Metamorphoses is "full of magic herbs that can do almost anything"; Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol.2, p.1180). Therefore we have no idea how effective infusions of mandragora really were in alleviating the pain of surgery. But we have reason to think that they were not very effective, as complaints about the pains of surgery and admiration of doctors who could operate as quickly as possible persisted well into the modern period.

The biggest problem, however, was that it was impossible without modern distillation and measurement techniques to control the dosage. This meant that its application was very dangerous. As Keith Sykes and John Bunker note, "a drug powerful enough to produce unconsciousness could just as easily produce death." (Anesthesia and the Practice of Medicine, p.6) This concern is born about by a description of the effects of mandragora's active ingredients (mostly hyocyamine and hyocine): "Small doses decrease and larger doses increase the heart rate. Larger doses may also cause drowsiness, arrhythmias, muscle paralysis, restlessness, fatigue, confusion, giddiness, hallucinations, delirium, dilated pupils, skin flushing and can easily cause death by respiratory paralysis." (Frederick Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry, p.160; cf. also The History of Anaesthesia, p.39) These effects are the last thing Jesus, in his heavily traumatized state on the cross, would want in order to have a chance of surviving his ordeal!

We should also note that the ancient literary references to narcotics all involve an infusion being given to a patient before surgery-in order to induce sleep or at least numb the pain-and their effectiveness was dependent on the delicacy and speed of the surgeon. But the drugged drink would have been given to Jesus after he had already been hanging on the cross for several hours, intense neuralgic pain shooting through his limbs from the nails in his hands and feet, open wounds from the scourging festering on his back, opening up every time he tried to breathe, grating against the wood of the cross. If anesthetics were already only of limited effectiveness when the patient was treated with the utmost care and speed, they couldn't possibly have had any effect on a person already in excruciating pain. The comments of Dr. Frederick Zugibe, forensic pathologist, are apropos:

In view of these facts, the question must be asked, "Would a preparation of mandrake given to Jesus on the cross be capable of rendering Jesus unconscious so that everyone would believe he was dead?" The answer is "not on your life." Jesus suffered some of the worst pains ever experienced by man. The hyocine and hyocyamine in the mandrake wouldn't touch this degree of pain, particularly with the weight of the body still on the nails. The amount and degree of pain would have rendered Jesus' body immune to the sedative effects of the mandrake. High doses of the mandrake preparation would have nullified the sedative effects, increased the degree of restlessness and confusion, and could easily have been lethal considering the degree of shock Jesus was experiencing...It is my opinion that if mandrake had been given to Jesus, instead of alleviating his pains and/or placing him into a coma or deep sleep, it would have hastened his death.

(The Crucifixion of Jesus, pp.160-161)

So we conclude that it is highly unlikely, even impossible, that Jesus could have survived the crucifixion by being given some anesthetic potion that made it appear he was dead. The sources say that the drink Jesus finally accepted was nothing more than common vinegar-wine, and if there could have been a successful conspiracy to give Jesus a narcotic there were no drugs available to Roman medicine that could have safely rendered Jesus unconscious.

I recently read The Battle of Salamis, by Barry Strauss. The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle in which the Greeks defeated a much larger Persian fleet, saving the Athenian people -- and perhaps Greek civilization -- in the process from domination by Xerxes' Persian Empire. The Athenians constituted the largest part of the Greek fleet, though many other Greek states contributed and the fleet's formal leader was a Spartan. The Persian fleet greatly outnumbered the Greek fleet and was made up of diverse sea-fearing nations and states who were part of the Persian Empire. Nevertheless, the Greek fleet was able to destroy the numerically superior Persian fleet. This resulted in the retreat of the bulk of the Persian army and the eventual defeat of the forces left behind at the Battle of Plataea.

The reason for the Greek victory is attributed to many factors, including greater Greek motivation and stouter ships. Another important factor was that the Persians fought after a long night of rowing whereas the Greeks fought a much shorter time and distance from their base. They were, comparatively, much fresher than the Persians; no small advantage when dealing with man-power-intensive rowed vessels of the day. What brought about this curious timing of the battle? According to Herodotus, the leader of the Athenians -- Themistocles -- sent his servant, Sicinnus, to the Persians to warn them about an attempt by the Peloponnesian members of the Greek fleet to set off for their homeland and avoid a conflict. Since this would have resulted in the abandonment of the Athenian people who had fled the destruction of their city, Themistocles hoped to prompt the Persians to sail early, surround the Greeks, and force a battle. Sicinnus's "betrayal" was believed by the Persians, causing them to act quickly, forestalling the division of the Greek fleet and forcing the battle on terms more favorable to the Greeks.

Some have doubted the story, noting discrepancies and improbabilities in the source material. Strauss goes through the sources, analyzes them, and concludes the story authentic. His analysis stood out to me because it is more involved many others I have read in books on Classical History and bears some similarities to New Testament Studies. Students of the New Testament cannot help but be familiar with the kinds of tools used to analyze the early Christian source material, such as the criteria of multiple attestation, dissimilarity, coherence, and embarrassment, with emphasis given on genre and literary style.

I have seen varied criticisms of the methodology of New Testament scholars ranging from attacks on the criteria as unique to New Testament studies to claims that their application of historical methodology lacks the vigor or sophistication of that of classical historians. Some have dismissed their efforts as mere apologetics. While the limitations of such historical methodology should be explored, it has not been my experience that New Testament scholars are less zealous or sophisticated in their application of the tools of historical methodology. To the contrary, New Testament scholars seem to obsess about the use of formal methodology more than classical and other historians. Nor is it true that the tools employed by New Testament scholars are unique to their field and unemployed by classical and other historians. While many of the historians I have read do not employ these tools as often or with the rigor as do New Testaments scholars, there are many instances where these non-New Testament historians consider the number of sources (multiple attestation), the fit of the account with more established accounts (coherence), the inclusion of facts that are not well-suited to the author's goal (embarrassment), the impact of genre, and the "vividness" of accounts to evaluate historical probabilities.

Strauss' discussion of the historicity of Sicinnus is an example of a classical historian employing some of the same tools as New Testament histories on a questioned episode. Some have doubted the historicity of Sinnicus' warning the Persians of the Greeks' intent to flee and avoid battle. Against those who would claim that the episode is improbable on its face, Strauss responds, "that is a poor argument, since history is full of the improbable." Strauss notes that three sources contain the account: Herodotus, Aeschylus, and Plutarch. Because Plutarch wrote so much later, he focuses on the first two, noting that "Not just Herodotus, a Halicarnassian who wrote two generations after the events of 480 B.C., but Aeschylus, and Athenian who wrote in 47 B.C., confirms Sicinnus's deed."

His sources do not seem to agree in all their details. Yet, as many New Testament scholars have noted regarding the early Christians sources, apparent discrepancies or real disagreements are not necessarily decisive arguments against historicity. As stated by Struass, "They differ about the details, but reports of secret missions often do conflict, and besides Aeschylus and Herodotus wrote in different genres (respectively, tragic poetry and history), for different audiences, and for different purposes. Stark disagreements between the two should not surprise us."

In addition to employing the criteria of multiple attestation and evaluating genre to determine historicity, Strauss employs what could be called the criteria of coherence. He notes the Persian's acceptance of Sinnicus' story -- a Greek or Greeks betraying their people to the Persians -- coheres with their prior experience and expectations. It also coheres with the manipulate genius accredited to Themistocles in other accounts:

Themisctocles knew how badly Persian wanted to hook a big Greek traitor. And so he sent the Persians Sicinnus. Themistocles knew how the Persians had used traitors at Thermpolyae in August and in the naval battles at Lade and off Cyprus about fifteen years earlier.

Given this track record of Greek betrayal preceding Persian victories, the initial "improbableness" of the episode recedes and the coherence of the account with other, more established historical knowledge raises the probability of the account.

Obviously this is not a full throated defense of New Testament studies or the methodology employed pursuant thereto. Any methodology can be misapplied and properly employed methodology may have significant limitations. But it is an example of how history inquiry is done, in this case by a classical historian but using tools also used by New Testament scholars.

(All quotes from The Battle of Salamis, by Barry Strauss are from Chapter Six).

Of course, skeptics challenge the Biblical teaching of the resurrection of Jesus. In doing so, they challenge virtually every aspect of the teaching. They challenge the idea that Jesus actually died on the cross, that he was buried in the tomb, and that the tomb is empty. In addition, they challenge the idea of the post-resurrection appearances on several grounds. One ground (raised in the horrendous book, The Empty Tomb) is that those who saw the risen Christ suffered from a mass hallucination.

Of course, if a skeptic is going to rebut the post-resurrection appearance accounts on the basis that the disciples and witnesses of Jesus suffered a mass hallucination, it seems reasonable to expect that there would be some scientific study that concludes that there is such a thing as a mass hallucination. My problem (and, therefore, the problem for skeptics) is that I don't find any such studies. Instead, I see pages by bloggers and skeptics with either unsubstantiated accounts of supposed massive trances or arguments that conflate mass hallucinations with common delusions (which are not the same thing).

Here's what I am seeking from our readers: I am seeking a link to a scientific study that concludes that there is such a thing as mass hallucinations. I am not interested in a link to some other blogger's web page making an argument that people do have mass hallucinations. I am not interested in stories about multiple people viewing apparitions which are labeled (in a gross example of prejudgment) as mass hallucinations. I want a study of mass hallucinations which concludes that not only are such a thing possible, but which sets forth a theory as to how they happen.

Can anyone help?

Michael Sudduth is one of the sharpest, most erudite and innovative philosophers of religion writing today. He has just come out with a massive study of The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology which is required reading for anyone interested in arguments for the existence of God, and whether and what kind of natural theology is a proper Christian activity.

Given his 'empirical' orientation to natural theology it is no surprise that he would be interested in possible empirical traces of the supernatural. He recently updated his website with an absolutely marvelous resource:

Postmortem Survival

Here you will find a thoroughly comprehensive examination of afterlife ideas in history, philosophical examination of the concepts of disembodied survival, resurrection, reincarnation, etc. as well as a brisk overview of the best empirical evidence for psi, mediumship, NDEs, etc.

I think it's no exaggeration to say that this resource is one of a kind. Controversy over the scientific validity of parapsychology rages unabated, heated rhetoric dominates and the best literature in the field is mostly unknown (hands up if you've never heard of Stephen Braude). So it is so refreshing to have such a sensible, measured, penetrating examination of a huge range of literature at one's fingertips.

OK...I need to stop fawning over Sudduth...but seriously, if you're at all interested in parapsychology, afterlife or NDEs his website is one-stop shopping.

Jerram Barrs has put a 26 lesson course on Christian apologetics on-line. The course, entitled Apologetics and Outreach is described as:

An analysis of the philosophical, religious, and scientific beliefs and ideas that have shaped different cultures and are now reshaping our multicultural and pluralistic society. Differences in attitudes toward the value and purpose of life, sexual identity and roles, racial and cultural differences, God, good and evil, superstition, etc., are all discussed with the goal of learning how to better communicate the Gospel in our society.

The course has sessions on Postmodernism, Missions and Apologetics. The course comes courtesy of the Covenant Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Church in America seminary. Each lesson has a PDF of the lecture and a study guide.

Other courses available include Ancient and Medieval Church History, Biblical Theology and Christian Ethics.

In doing a little research, I came across a long article on Answering Infidels which reviewed Richard Carrier's book, Sense and Goodness Without God. The article, Good ‘n’ Senseless Without God: A Critical Review of Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God by David Wood, covers several pages and points out numerous flaws in Carrier's thinking.

One chapter of the article deals with Carrier's views on Jesus' resurrection. I will leave Woods' article to speak for itself because it makes its point very nicely.

In his debate with Mike Licona, Richard laid out his case against the resurrection (in more detail than we find in Sense and Goodness). His case may be summed up as follows. Jesus died on the cross. His disciples, longing to make sense of the tragedy, searched the scriptures and concluded that his death had meaning. Several of Jesus’ followers experienced grief hallucinations, in which they saw visions of the risen Christ, telling them that everything was okay. For some reason (Richard never explains why), these disciples concluded that Jesus had been resurrected without his earthly body (a radical concept for first century Jews). When Christianity began to spread, Saul of Tarsus, a devout Pharisee, attempted to destroy Christianity. Nevertheless, he also experienced a hallucination in which Jesus told him to convert to Christianity. Strangely, Paul also adopted the radical view that Jesus’ earthly body wasn’t resurrected. A few decades later, some Christians made up the empty tomb story to illustrate their belief that Jesus’ body was empty of his spirit, but they forgot to tell everyone that it was only a story. Later Christians took the invention seriously and concluded that there really was an empty tomb, and that Jesus’ body must have been involved in his resurrection (the normal Jewish view). Thus, the followers of Christ came full circle, believing first in the Jewish idea that the body that dies is the same body that rises, second in the unorthodox view of a completely different, spiritual resurrection body (Note: given the Jewish understanding, a “spiritual resurrection” was practically an oxymoron), and third in the Jewish idea that the body that dies is the same body that rises. That seems problematic, considering the overwhelming amount of evidence against such a position. (For more on this, see my review of the Carrier-Licona debate.) Nevertheless, Richard’s problem is far greater than mere evidence, which he is free to twist to his liking. The main problem with his view is that it is completely inconsistent with his belief that Jesus never existed.

Prior to his debate with Licona, Richard said, “Jesus might have existed . . . But until a better historicist theory is advanced, I have to conclude it is at least somewhat more probable that Jesus didn't exist than that he did.”[ix] Then, at the debate, Richard argued:

There are many theories contrary to what Mr. Licona has argued, but there isn’t time tonight to look at them all. I will instead present the one theory I think is most probably correct, which I only have time to summarize. Shortly after the death of Jesus, his disciples prayed, meditated, and searched the scriptures for some meaning to justify the tragedy and some way to preserve and promote the noble program of moral reform Jesus had died for. As a result, some had prophetic dreams or visions in which Jesus appeared to them, reassuring them, and telling them just what they wanted to hear.[x]

Since the debate, Richard has again argued that Jesus never existed.[xi] Thus, we have a problem. Richard believes that Jesus probably never existed. He also says that the theory he thinks is “most probably correct” is that Jesus’ disciples experienced visions of him after he died. Putting these views together, we arrive at Richard’s true position on the resurrection of Jesus. As incoherent as it may seem, he apparently believes something like the following:

Jesus never existed. Nevertheless, he had close companions who did exist. (If you’re wondering how a person who didn’t exist could have followers, you may be forgetting that nonexistent people can be very, very crafty.) These followers became extremely distraught when Jesus (who didn’t exist) was tortured and crucified by Roman soldiers (who did exist). Jesus (who didn’t exist) may or may not have been placed in a tomb (which may or may not have existed). In light of the death of their nonexistent leader, the minds of these followers were so overcome by emotion that they soon experienced grief hallucinations, in which they saw visions of the risen Jesus (whom no one had ever seen to begin with). Strangely, these disciples came to believe that Jesus was resurrected without his body (probably because nonexistent people don’t have bodies). This caused them to become bold evangelists of the risen Lord they had never seen. James (who did exist), the brother of Jesus, also experienced grief hallucinations when he heard that his brother (who didn’t exist) had been nailed to a cross (many of which did exist). James joined the other followers, and the group became so bold that it attracted the attention of a man named Saul (who did exist). While Saul wanted to destroy Christianity because it went against everything he believed in, he was overwhelmingly attracted to its humble message of social reform. Thus, in the midst of a murderous rampage against Christianity, Saul also hallucinated and experienced a vision of Jesus (who never existed). The Apostle Paul (who previously existed as Saul) later met with Jesus’ followers to make sure that his teachings were in line with those of Jesus. He was pleased to learn that his teachings indeed matched up with the words of the non-existent Jesus, and he continued to spread Christianity throughout the Roman world.

Yeah, that sums it up pretty nicely.

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