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February 12, 2021

“The Gospel According to Saint Luke” was written by atheist Vexen Crabtree in 2016. I will examine his “anti-biblical” arguments to see if they can withstand criticism. Vexen’s words will be in blue.

*****

It might be that the character of Luke was based on an old Roman pagan story about the healing God, Lykos, from Greek culture, and hence why the text was given the name Luke

Right-o! I can relate to this, I guess. My name is David, which is based on a King (David), from Hebrew culture. Therefore, I’m not who I am, since I am merely given a title from a mythical Hercules- or Odysseus-like hero who supposedly lived 3,000 years ago.

Out of Mark, 54% is quoted in Luke, and there are a hundred or so versus that, along with Matthew, he took from the source known as ‘Q’. It is surprising that a first-hand eyewitness of Jesus would need to copy so much of other people’s text about Jesus.

Of course, St. Luke never claimed to be an eyewitness of Jesus, so this “point” is completely moot. Luke makes it clear at the beginning of his Gospel that he was not an eyewitness:

Luke 1:1-2 (RSV)  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, [2] just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,

He didn’t claim to see the risen Jesus, either (see Acts 1:2-3).

Luke contradicts the rest of the Bible on quite a few points of theology and gets many elements of Jesus’ life simply wrong (for example, the Roman-decreed census that never actually happened). For these reasons Luke is best not considered trustworthy.

The one who is untrustworthy is Mr. Crabtree (after the ridiculous contention above): projection if there ever was a case. Luke’s trustworthiness has been confirmed again and again by archaeology, and he was an excellent and accurate historian. See:

Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament (Peter S. Williams)

Archaeology and the New Testament (Patrick Zukeran)

Archeology Helps to Confirm the Historicity of the Bible (Sheri Bell)

A Brief Sample of Archaeology Corroborating the Claims of the New Testament (J. Warner Wallace)

The Bible and Archaeology: The Book of Acts—The Church Begins (Mario Seiglie)

Archaeology and the New Testament (Kyle Butt)

Luke also made up the detail of the Romans instigating a census and sending people to the home towns of remote ancestors. This was not Roman policy, and although a local census did occur under Governor Quirinius it happened in 6CE, many years after Herod’s death.

For the question of the census, see:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts [2-3-11]

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Herod’s Death & Alleged “Contradictions” (with Jimmy Akin) [7-25-17]

1. Moral Issues

Luke 11:27-28 is dismissive of the value of motherhood, contradicting Exodus 20:1-2 and Deut. 5:1-23 which says to honour thy father and mother as part of the 10 Commandments.

Luke 11:27-28 As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” [28] But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The claim is nonsense, once the passage is properly understood (which atheists never seem to have the time to even try to do). I wrote an entire article about this passage:

Did Jesus Deny That Mary Was “Blessed” (Lk 11:27-28)? [11-19-19]

I have dealt with this (rather irritating) “Jesus was mean / disrespectful / indifferent to Mary” theme in two other articles also:

Jesus’ Interactions with Mary in Relation to Marian Veneration [10-29-08]

“Who is My Mother?”: Beginning of “Familial Church” [8-26-19]

See also: Jesus’ Use of the Term “Woman” [for Mary. Was it Disrespectful?] (by Jimmy Akin)

One easy way to show that Jesus’ [and/or Luke’s] intent was not at all to be “dismissive of the value of motherhood” is to look at some of the translations of the passage that bring out the meaning in a more accurate way:

NKJV But He said, More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Phillips But Jesus replied, “Yes, but a far greater blessing to hear the word of God and obey it.”

Living Bible He replied, “Yes, but even more blessed are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.”

CEV Jesus replied, “That’s true, but the people who are really blessed are the ones who hear and obey God’s message!”

Williams But He said, “Yes, but better still, blessed are those who listen to God’s message and practice it!”

Jerusalem Bible But he replied, “Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

It’s not a matter of “either/or” or of pitting the blessedness of His mother Mary against something else. He agrees with the point and goes on to make it wider in application, to include others as well (typical biblical and Hebraic “both/and” thinking).

Luke 12:47-48 says something about it being right to punish and beat slaves.

Luke 12:47-48 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating.[48] But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

The Bible also talks about lovingly correcting children through spankings, etc.:

Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

Proverbs 22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol.

Proverbs 29:15, 17 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. . . . Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

That’s an entire issue unto itself (that would take far too long to address in this “101 atheist objections” context). I have dealt with it twice (one / two). The issue of slavery and the Bible is even more complex and multi-faceted. I’ve addressed that twice at length, too (one / two).

Luke 12:51-53 says Jesus has not come to bring peace but a sword, and has come to divide families, backed up by Luke 18:29 where Jesus says that those who have left relatives behind for Christ’s sake will find great rewards in their current life and in the afterlife. So much for family life.

This is another groundless objection, based on ignorance of Hebrew metaphor and exaggeration (hyperbole) to make a point. See:

Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #1: Hating One’s Family? [8-1-19]

Madison vs. Jesus #4: Jesus Causes a Bad Marriage? [8-5-19]

Madison vs. Jesus #5: Cultlike Forsaking of Family? [8-5-19]

David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #9: Chapter 10 (Christian Biblical Ignorance / Jesus vs. Marriage & Family? / Divinity of Jesus) [8-20-19]

Seidensticker Folly #50: Mary Thought Jesus Was Crazy? (And Does the Gospel of Mark Radically Differ from the Other Gospels in the “Family vs. Following Jesus” Aspect?) [9-8-20]

2. Contradictions and Mistakes

The Gospel of Luke amasses quite a series of theological contradictions and historical mistakes

So he falsely claims . . .

For example, Luke argues against the virgin birth of Matthew 1:22-23 and goes to inane length to prove that Jesus is descended biologically from the male line of David (Luke 3:23-38).

It doesn’t follow that he is denying the virgin birth here. Joseph was Jesus’ legal father in terms of Jewish law, whether He was His biological father or not. See:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Contradictory” Genealogies of Christ? [7-27-17]

He manages to contradict himself as a result of stating that Mary conceived Jesus whilst a virgin – although historians note that the oldest versions of Luke did not include the statements of virgin birth as now found in Luke 2:33 and Luke 2:48 (although some Bibles have now restored the original version in their translations). 

There is no contradiction in these passages. It’s just yet more atheist hyper-skepticism based on groundless, evidence-free foregone conclusions and ultra-bias.

All of Luke’s insertions about singing angels, barns and mangers are not mentioned in Matthew’s version of the story and it is hard to see how others would not mention them if they happened. Luke simply didn’t know his facts when it came to Jesus’ birth.

No one is obliged to include every detail. It’s a very weak (indeed logically fallacious) argument to assert that “earlier text a doesn’t include details provided by later source b, regarding the same [larger] story x; therefore, details unique to x must be rejected as fictitious.” Anyone can see that this is manifestly false, with just a few moments of consideration.

But in any event, the Gospel of Mark didn’t intend to include the story of the Nativity. He starts with John the Baptist Jesus’ baptism. Nor does the Gospel of John have the story. Matthew doesn’t claim to include the story of the shepherds. So a claim of “insertion” into an existing story is bogus, because it’s “apple and oranges” in terms of most elements of the two accounts, that are unique to each Gospel.

Mr. Crabtree is in no position to judge who knew the “facts” regarding Jesus’ birth (or who is supposedly making up fake “facts”). It’s arbitrary and irrational analysis. These things are verified and corroborated by archaeology and historiography. So, for example, Jonathan MS Pearce, a prominent online anti-theist atheist, who also likes to tear down the Bible, made the absurd statement recently (on 12-18-20):

This also coheres with Rene Salm’s thesis in The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus, according to archaeological analysis, and not until at least 70 CE.

I immediately shot down this rather ridiculous and outrageous claim with archaeology, noting the article: “New archaeological evidence from Nazareth reveals religious and political environment in era of Jesus” (David Keys, Independent, 4-17-20). It stated:

[T]he archaeological investigation revealed that in Nazareth itself, in the middle of the first century AD, anti-Roman rebels created a sizeable network of underground hiding places and tunnels underneath the town – big enough to shelter at least 100 people. . . .

The new archaeological investigation – the largest ever carried out into Roman period Nazareth – has revealed that Jesus’s hometown is likely to have been considerably bigger than previously thought. It probably had a population of up to 1,000 (rather than just being a small-to-medium sized village of 100-500, as previously thought).

“Our new investigation has transformed archaeological knowledge of Roman Nazareth,” said Dr Dark, who has just published the results of his research in a new book Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and its Hinterland. . . .

The newly emerging picture of Roman-period Nazareth as a place of substantial religiosity does, however, resonate not only with the emergence of its most famous son, Jesus, but also with the fact that, in the mid-first or second century, it was chosen as the official residence of one of the high priests of the by-then-destroyed Temple in Jerusalem, when all 24 of those Jewish religious leaders were driven into exile in Galilee.

This is actually doing science, rather than sitting in armchairs and making historically and archaeologically clueless remarks, as these anti-theist atheist polemicists do (figuring no one will have patience enough to bother challenging them). See also: “Did First-Century Nazareth Exist?” (Bryan Windle, Bible Archaeology Report, 8-9-18; cf. several related articles from a Google search). Did it exist before Jesus’ time? It looks like it did:

The Franciscan priest Bellarmino Bagatti, “Director of Christian Archaeology”, carried out extensive excavation of this “Venerated Area” from 1955 to 1965. Fr. Bagatti uncovered pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1500 BC) and ceramics, silos and grinding mills from the Iron Age (1500 to 586 BC) which indicated substantial settlement in the Nazareth basin at that time. (Wikipedia, “Nazareth”)

That’s science. That is how claims in the Bible are objectively verified by something outside of themselves. Atheists make a ridiculous claim such as that Nazareth didn’t exist in Jesus’ time. Actual verifiable, objective science (archaeology) shoots in down in this instance, and in hundreds of other biblical particulars.

Luke is one of those authors that wrote that the end of the world – judgment day – was to occur in the lifetimes of those alive when Jesus was alive (Luke 9:26-27), but was clearly wrong.

I had dealt with this issue three times:

Debate with an Agnostic on the Meaning of “Last Days” and Whether the Author of Hebrews Was a False Prophet (9-13-06)

“The Last Days”: Meaning in Hebrew, Biblical Thought [12-5-08]

Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming [8-3-19]

Then I was made aware of an online copy of a master’s thesis on this topic by a friend of mine, David Palm, entitled “The Signs of His Coming”: for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois (1993). He wrote it as an evangelical Protestant, later became a Catholic, and recently noted that he would change nothing in it. I summarized his arguments in this paper:

Seidensticker Folly #58: Jesus Erred on Time of 2nd Coming? (with David Palm) [10-7-20]

At the start of the journey to Golgotha to be crucified, Luke has the Romans grab a bypasser (Simon of Cyrene) and make him carry the cross instead of Jesus, whereas in John’s account Jesus carries it all the way (Luke 23:26 versus John 19:17).

John 19:17 never says that Jesus carried the cross all the way. It says, rather, “he went out, bearing his own cross.” This doesn’t preclude Simon of Cyrene; it simply says that Jesus was bearing the cross when “he went out.” It would be like someone saying when they saw me leave my house, “Dave went out from his house on his bike.” Does that explain everything that may have happened afterwards? No, of course not. I could get a flat tire (in which case I would no longer be “on [my] bike”). I could get hit by lightning. I could have a heart attack. I could get mangled by a bear that jumped out of the woods. I could give away my bike and decide to walk back. It could start pouring and I call my wife to come pick me up in the car. A thousand things might happened that are not covered by “Dave went out from his house on his bike.” The only mystery here is why Mr. Crabtree can’t figure these patently obvious things out on his own.

And what was inscribed on the cross that Simon carried?

All four accounts say that it said “king of the Jews”. Matthew and John add “Jesus.” John adds “. . . of Nazareth.” It’s all quite consistent with the secondary details that four storytellers might get differently from each other.

Of the four gospels, Luke’s account is the only one that has the message inscribed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew (Luke 23:38).

Not true. John 19:20 states that “it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.” The other two simply don’t mention that, which is no contradiction. I get so tired of explaining simple elements of logic to anti-theist atheists that I could spit . . .

Whilst hanging on the cross, the gospels record that the two other criminals being crucified both mocked Jesus. But Luke only has one criminal insult Jesus (the one on the left), and the other becomes a follower, and speaks not in the insulting and vulgar manner reported in the other gospels, but instead he speaks in a theologically accurate, respectful and elegant manner. The words of Luke’s right-hand criminal are clearly not spoken by the two criminals reported in the other two synoptic gospels: someone (or two people) are making up conversations.

Mark has: “Those who were crucified with him also reviled him” (15:32). Matthew has “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (27:44). Why Luke has one of them mocking and the other rebuking him could be explained simply by a change of heart of the one criminal. Approaching death has a remarkable way of concentrating a mind and making one more acutely aware of one’s own sins. So this man may have repented and decided to make it right by eventually rebuking the other criminal for what he himself was also doing wrongly not long before.

Matthew and Mark would still be correct: both men indeed mocked Jesus (in this proposed scenario).  If one later repented and stopped, that’s not in contradiction with Matthew and Mark. Luke would have to say something like: “the one criminal never mocked Jesus.” But lo and behold, he never does that, and so this is bogus “biblical contradiction” #9,625.

And what of the most important words of all, that any friend would remember forever? Jesus’ last words according to Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, were to quote Psalm 22, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?‘. But in Luke 23:46, his last words were completely different: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit‘. Luke might have heard that Jesus quoted scripture upon his death, but instead of Psalm 22:1 has him quote Psalm 31:5. Luke doesn’t tell us that he’s unsure which verse was quoted – he states it as a fact, just as the Mark and Matthew state their accounts as fact, even though it is clear that some of them simply didn’t know the truth.

Matthew doesn’t state in 27:46 that these were the last words of Jesus. In fact, he informs us in 27:50: “And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” This proves that Matthew didn’t regard what he recorded in 27:46 as Jesus’ last words. What He “cried again with a loud voice” were His last words. Matthew simply doesn’t record them.

In Mark 15:37 it’s exactly the same: “And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last.”

Luke provides the content what this uttered cry in a loud voice was: “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” The three accounts are completely harmonious with each other.

Jesus dies. Mark 15:39 and Matthew 27:54 both have the centurions say (in different ways) that “truly this man was the son of god“. Luke 23:47 has it differently: “truly this man was innocent“, with no mention at all of Jesus’ divinity.

He said both things. Why is that so inconceivable to the atheists who sit up all night and make up these asinine lists of pseudo-“contradictions”?

Also, in Roman culture the death of a god-man such as Mithras and others was accompanied by miraculous periods of worldwide darkness. Historian Dr Richard Carrier points out that “it was common lore of the time that the sun would be eclipsed at the death of a great king“. Mark:15:33 and Matthew 27:45 both repeat that this happened for Jesus too but Luke makes it a natural darkness by saying it is an eclipse (Luke 23:45). Unfortunately, in doing so, instead of perpetuating pagan stories, he instead contradicts reality: there could be no eclipse at the time of a full moon, and, star gazers who carefully recorded eclipses at that time did not record one.

Luke 23:45 states: “the sun’s light failed.” That’s not necessarily an eclipse. The sun’s light could also fail in midday by dark clouds covering the sky (either in preparation of a big rainstorm or not). It can get very dark in ways other than eclipses. Or God (being omnipotent) could also cause supernatural darkness, if He chose to do so. In any event, the three Synoptic Gospels don’t contradict.

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Photo credit: Saint Luke, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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February 2, 2021

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 70 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

In his post, Defending 10 Atheist Arguments (4 of 5) (2-1-21), Bob opines:

*

7. What is God made of?

Atheist argument: “There is no evidence that spiritual energy exists, so we can conclude that psychics, ghosts, and gods are non-existent. Otherwise, God has nothing to be made of.”

Christian response: “Not this again. An immaterial being, by definition, is not made of material.”

My response: Not this again. You can’t just magic something into existence with a definition. Do you think “God is an immaterial being” is a spell that will create such a being?

Don’t waste our time with, “Well, God might exist” or “You haven’t proven he doesn’t exist.” God’s existence is the topic here, and you need to show it. Yes, I realize that the atheist is making the argument and you’re responding, but responses need evidence, too. Your response is no more compelling than “Because I said so.”

“I’m not going too quickly here, am I? God is not made of anything. God is spirit. God is spirit, but he’s not made of spiritual energy. He’s immaterial, so this is a straw man.”

God is not made of anything, least of all spiritual energy, but he’s made of spirit? Or he is spirit? Or something?

“Not made of anything”—that sounds like your rhetorical weapons. And it sounds like they’re loaded with not-evidence. This is the problem with just handwaving stuff into existence. Your embarrassing ad hoc arguments will mean you’ll no longer be able to sit at the adult table.

So God is not made of matter or (heaven forbid!) spiritual energy . . . but he’s made of something, right? You’re the expert—if not “spiritual energy,” then what? Don’t play Simon Says, just tell us. And whatever you say God is made of, show us that it exists. One atheist responded, “Can someone tell me what the word ‘spirit’ means without saying what it is not?”

How intensely ironic (the last sentence)! It’s our beloved atheist critics who are constantly informing us lowly, ignorant Christians that atheism itself is, alas, not a formulated position, but only the absence of a position (belief in God). It’s not a worldview, etc. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that. It’s not true (see just one reason of many, why I think it isn’t), but we hear it all the time.

Yet lo and behold, now we are immensely privileged enough to witness an atheist complain that we can’t define spirit in a way other than what it is not (matter). It’s precious and a double standard for the ages, for sure. We are “embarrassing” and can’t “sit at the adult table”: so sez Bible-Basher Bob (ever the charitable and fair-minded one), but atheists making the exact same sorts of arguments somehow are not. Maybe one day, some kind atheist will deign to explain to me what the profound logical difference is. Or some logically consistent one can save my sanity and patience alike by conceding that these “arguments” (i.e., actually, bald assertions) are dead wrong.

It’s one thing to challenge theists with producing arguments in favor of the existence of God (we’ve produced dozens; none are ever good enough for hard-core atheists); quite another to make the “argument” that a spiritual being (the very category or notion or hypothetical) is absurd. The latter is what is taking place above, but Bob, logically clueless as usual, couldn’t resist inappropriately mixing in a little of the first question, too (“You can’t just magic something into existence with a definition” / “God’s existence is the topic here” / “And whatever you say God is made of, show us that it exists”). The initial argument, that Bob himself framed (see above), had the following logical structure:

1) Spiritual energy is nonexistent.

2) Gods as well as ghosts consist of such spiritual energy.

3) Therefore, God cannot exist, since he is said to consist of a thing which itself doesn’t exist.

Or, more broadly, as a purely logical thought-experiment:

1) X is non-existent.

2) Y is allegedly entirely composed of X.

3) Therefore Y doesn’t exist.

One thing at a time . . . I am dealing with the question of spirit and the above formulation of Bob’s, not God’s existence per se. He may not be able to comprehend the difference, but I trust that the vast bulk of my readers can. I won’t play the game of bouncing back-and-forth between entirely distinct topics. That’s child’s play and not serious philosophical / theological / scientific discussion.

As usual, the atheist is merely assuming that certain things aren’t true; can’t possibly be true. They habitually do this with miracles and the supernatural. But this is blind faith and not reason. They also do it with the question of whether there is something other than matter. They are philosophical materialists and physicalists, as opposed to dualists. Well, most of them are. Some atheists (and in my opinion, the sharper and more thoughtful ones) are actually dualists. I always mention the brilliant atheist philosopher David Chalmers (four books with Oxford University Press and one with MIT) — who looks like he ought to be the lead singer of a rock band — as one prominent example. His Wikipedia page states about him:

Chalmers argues for an “explanatory gap” from the objective to the subjective, and criticizes physicalist explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist. Chalmers characterizes his view as “naturalistic dualism”: naturalistic because he believes mental states supervene “naturally” on physical systems (such as brains); dualist because he believes mental states are ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems.

But now to the heart of my objection. I shall turn the table by using a scientific analogy (I love doing both things in my apologetics, so I’m having a grand ol’ time). Bob had a field day mocking Christians for believing that God is a spirit, immaterial, composed of spirit, which isn’t a physical thing (with atoms, etc.). Once again, Christians are made out to be anti-scientific ignoramuses, dummies, and imbeciles. It’s Bob’s constant methodology and what motivates him (and his legions of rah-rahing sycophants in his ranting, pathetic comboxes) to get out of bed every morning. I hope he had his fun. Now we shall have ours.

Please keep the above in mind as I make my argument now (as my entire argument is an analogy). Scientists are currently quite excited about new phenomena called dark energy and dark matter. The very notions have only made their appearance over the last 25-30 years or so. The term dark energy was coined by cosmologist Michael Turner in 1998: which is more recent than the life of this blog (1997). But — recent or not — it’s now widely accepted and represents the cutting edge and most fascinating field of study in cosmology and astronomy (superseding black holes). A NASA web page comments upon it as follows:

What Is Dark Energy? More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn’t be called “normal” matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the universe.

One explanation for dark energy is that it is a property of space. Albert Einstein was the first person to realize that empty space is not nothing. Space has amazing properties, many of which are just beginning to be understood. The first property that Einstein discovered is that it is possible for more space to come into existence. Then one version of Einstein’s gravity theory, the version that contains a cosmological constant, makes a second prediction: “empty space” can possess its own energy. Because this energy is a property of space itself, it would not be diluted as space expands. As more space comes into existence, more of this energy-of-space would appear. . . .

Another explanation for how space acquires energy comes from the quantum theory of matter. In this theory, “empty space” is actually full of temporary (“virtual”) particles that continually form and then disappear. . . .

Another explanation for dark energy is that it is a new kind of dynamical energy fluid or field, something that fills all of space but something whose effect on the expansion of the universe is the opposite of that of matter and normal energy. Some theorists have named this “quintessence,” after the fifth element of the Greek philosophers. But, if quintessence is the answer, we still don’t know what it is like, what it interacts with, or why it exists. So the mystery continues. (“Dark Energy, Dark Matter”, no date)

A similar National Geographic page adds in befuddlement:

Now that we see the expansion of the universe is accelerating, adding in dark energy as a cosmological constant could neatly explain how space-time is being stretched apart. But that explanation still leaves scientists clueless as to why the strange force exists in the first place.

So it’s considered to be 68% of the universe, yet it is almost a complete “mystery” and scientists are “clueless” about its origin. And “everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the universe.” So if this is true, it turns out that science in all its glory (the atheist’s epistemological “god” and religion) has been dealing with a mere 1/20th of all that there is in the universe.

Likewise, dark matter (thought to make up 27% of the universe) is “completely invisible to light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, making dark matter impossible to detect with current instruments” (National Geographic). The EarthSky site adds to the collection of “duh!” comments from science on dark energy:

In this case, dark means unknown rather than literally dark, as is the case with dark matter. . . . Dark energy is one of the great unsolved mysteries of cosmology. . . . Dark energy does behave like Einstein’s anti-gravity force, but its nature and origin remain unknown. One of its greatest mysteries is why dark energy started to dominate the rate of expansion of the universe at a particular point in time billions of years after the Big Bang. If it exists now, why wasn’t it there all along?

And yet science is to be regarded as our final appeal, authority-wise? Some think dark energy is “a property of space.” Others think space is “full of temporary (‘virtual’) particles that continually form and then disappear.” Some appeal to Greek philosophy and call the mystery “quintessence.” How interesting. So we have this phenomenon, and it is serious science (which I am not doubting at all; sure, bring it on!). The admitted ignorance is extraordinary.

Yet all that is fine and dandy, while Christians are mocked and derided and considered simpletons simply because we have believed all along that God is an eternal spirit, Who created the world? What is the difference? I’d love for some atheist to tell me and come dialogue, but I know they are very averse to that: having just been banned again from Debunking Christianity because I had the gall to ask someone in the combox if Dr. David Madison (the big cheese on that site, along with John Loftus, who has ignored 23 of my critiques) should or would make any attempt to answer my 44 critiques of his anti-theist bilge, posing as supposed “arguments.”

Moreover, we see that Bob Seidensticker — after directly challenging me to make them — has ignored 70 (yes: seventy!) of my counter-replies, and that Jonathan MS Pearce has just decided to start ignoring my critiques (five or six unanswered now) as well, whereas just a few weeks ago he was gung-ho in debating me. How the mighty have fallen . . .  All four of these men are very prominent, influential, and “vocal” anti-theist atheists online. So any serious, point-by-point reply to this paper is highly unlikely, but it would be nice to engage in serious interaction on a matter like this (pun half-intended).

Lastly: if there is any reply at all, we’ll almost certainly be told that “dark energy is just now being investigated by science. Give it time; science always discovers and explains things in due course.” I don’t disagree all that much. Science does do that: though not as completely as the average atheist would make out (it being his or her religion and idol and [usually] sole epistemological guide).

But even if dark energy and dark matter are adequately, plausibly explained and much better understood by science in the near future, it makes no difference at all as to my present argument. The fact remains that conventionally understood matter makes up only 5% of the universe: so they tell us. Science has had up till very recently, literally nothing to tell us about 95% of the universe: all of which is other (spirit? energy?) than what we have known up till now as “matter”: with protons and neutrons and the whole nine yards.

And yet Christians (along with many reputable philosophers through the centuries, and virtually all religious views) are faulted for having believed that there is such a thing as a non-material Spirit-Creator, for 2000 years: following the ancient Israelites, who believed it for some 18 or more centuries before we did? Obviously, non-material entities or whatever we call them, have been a far more important aspect of the universe than we (least of all materialist atheists) had ever imagined.

And so God fits into this “new” schema very well, just as He fit into Big Bang cosmology, and even quantum mechanics, examined more closely, as well as something like irreducible complexity. Present-day scientific consensus is perfectly consistent with the biblical teaching of creation out of nothing too.  I think the Bible and Christianity are doing pretty darn good, in terms of being consistent with science, as the latter advances. It seems that Christianity understood things (derived from revelation, communicated by God) for 2000 years that science has only recently come to figure out.

Albert Einstein and most scientists in the 1940s believed in an eternal universe (steady state). Einstein initially opposed the findings of the originator of the Big Bang theory: a Catholic priest. Now virtually no scientist denies that the present universe had a beginning (although some posit prior universes, with no hard evidence). Christians had said that the universe came into existence (by God) from nothing all along. And now science seems to be confirming that non-material spirit or “energy” is awfully important in the scheme of the universe as well: to the tune of 68% of all that exists. Better late than never . . .

In closing, I’ll mention another debate that was going on long before dark energy was posited: the nature of light: is it a particle or a wave? This has to do with the question of possible non-physical entities as well (the very thing that Bob mercilessly mocked above). And so a scientific web page dealt with this question, throwing out several competing theories as to what light even is (all bolding in original):

Answer 1

[ . . .]

I’m not sure if I would call light matter or not, however. Certainly it can do some of the things you would think only traditional matter can do – like carry momentum and transfer it in a collision. But it certainly has some properties that are fundamentally different than the stuff that makes up traditional matter (things that are made of atoms).

Answer 2 Light is not matter. Light is just light — it has its own qualities. Light is made up of “things” called photons, and these photons can possess some of the properties of matter. For example, they are always moving, and when they move, they can exert a (usually very small) force on an object (just like moving matter can). But most of the time, light is just light. It is not matter as much as it is energy.

[Dave: how is this a whit different from Christians saying, “God is not matter. God is just God — He has His own qualities”?]

Answer 3

Light is a form of energy, not matter. Matter is made up of atoms. Light is actually electromagnetic radiation. . . .

Answer 4

This is a fun question. There are two main theories of thought about light. The first is that light is a photon and the second is that light is a wave. Neither theory has been proven wrong. It would seem that photons would be matter whereas the waves wouldn’t. It turns out that for both theories light isn’t matter. A photon is not matter because it has no mass. This is different from matter such as electrons and neutrons which have masses. I hope this helps.

Yep. Light ain’t matter, it seems pretty clear. Nor is 95% of the universe matter as we have known and loved it from our chemistry and physics classes (me, I had a chemistry set when I was 12). So the notion of a merely spiritual, immaterial God seems all the more possible and even likely, doesn’t it?: just based on what science tells us: before we even get to philosophy and religion.

Why then is Bob prattling on as if matter (good old-fashioned matter before we get to dark matter and dark energy) is all there is? He needs to crack open any scientific textbook written since Einstein and get up to speed before embarrassing himself (and atheists along with him) further. Who’s against science? Christians have nothing to fear from it at all. It has always confirmed — or has at least been harmonious with — our views, and today it is doing so more than ever.

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Photo credit: AnandKz (8-11-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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January 31, 2021

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 69 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

In his post, “Defending 10 Atheist Arguments (3 of 5)” (1-30-21). Bible-Basher Bob again beats the dead horse of a supposed “henotheism” taught in the Bible. Henotheism is a variant of polytheism (“many gods”), defined as “the worship of a single, overarching god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other lower deities” (Wikipedia). Bob — incredibly — claims that the Bible actually teaches this. I thoroughly corrected and refuted him twice, over two years ago now (I’ll provide those links below), but as we all know, he ignores all critiques from me (can’t be too careful!), and so goes on repeating the same tired, stupid, refuted claims (as if repeating a lie enough times magically makes it true).

In this effort, Bob is opposing Tim Barnett of the Protestant Stand to Reason apologetics ministry. Anyone but me (the one who provides a direct point-by-point rebuttal of his nonsense) . . . Bible-Basher Bob, ever the Bible expert (more than any Christian!) pontificates:

The Bible (at least part of it) imagines a world with multiple gods—not just the Israelites’ Yahweh, but Chemosh, Moloch, Marduk, Baal, and other ancient Mesopotamian deities. And these are (supposedly) real gods—the Bible isn’t saying, “Yahweh obviously exists, but those nutty Moabites worship their invented god Chemosh.” There were multiple choices for a god but no good reason to pick one as preferable over another.

If we’re taking the Bible as true, then these “other gods” were just as real as Yahweh. . . . 

The first Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” doesn’t say that there aren’t other gods or even that they mustn’t be worshipped! It simply says that Yahweh must be the primary god. . . . 

What is clear is that the Bible evolved over time.

The book of Isaiah was written in three parts, and this chapter is in the middle piece, written in the 6th century BCE. It’s true that verse claims God is the only god, but by this time, henotheism had been replaced by monotheism. The Bible evolved.

This claim of “biblical evolution” (in essential aspects, like the nature of God) is poppycock, and I have already refuted it:

Seidensticker Folly #20: An Evolving God in the OT? (God’s Omnipotence, Omniscience, & Omnipresence in Early Bible Books & Ancient Jewish Understanding) [9-18-18]

. . . The Bible itself says that Yahweh is just one of many gods. The Bible documents the evolution of the supernatural from henotheism to monotheism, which shows that Yahweh is no more real than any of the others.

These are all lies, and I have refuted them repeatedly:

Seidensticker Folly #19: Torah & OT Teach Polytheism? [9-18-18]

Loftus Atheist Error #8: Ancient Jews, “Body” of God, & Polytheism [9-10-19]

Do the OT & NT Teach Polytheism or Henotheism? [7-1-20]

The Bible Teaches That Other “Gods” are Imaginary [National Catholic Register, 7-10-20]

Once the Mosaic Law is established, monotheism (one God and one God only) is crystal clear, and remains so throughout the Bible:

Exodus 8:10 (RSV) . . there is no one like the LORD our God. (cf. 1 Chr 17:20; 2 Chr 6:14)

Deuteronomy 4:35, 39 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. . . . [39] . . . the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (cf. Neh 9:6; 2 Sam 7:22; 1 Kgs 8:23; Is 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 21-22; 46:9; 47:8; Hos 13:4)

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; (cf. Mk 12:29; Jas 2:19)

Deuteronomy 32:39 See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Psalm 83:18 Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the LORD, art the Most High over all the earth.

Psalm 86:10 For thou art great and doest wondrous things, thou alone art God.

Isaiah 37:20 …thou alone art the LORD. (cf. 37:16)

Isaiah 43:10 …Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 44:8 …Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any. (cf. 44:6; 45:5-6, 21-22; 46:9; Mal 2:10)

And the Bible also explains beyond any doubt that the other “gods” being talked about are not real (only imagined to be by false worshipers). The Bible refers to them in the sense that they exist in other religious belief-systems: not because they exist in fact or reality. Obviously, these sorts of texts are saying that this is all these supposed “gods” are: wood and stone. They have no conscious existence. It’s classic idolatry: that the Jews were judged for again and again throughout the period of the Old Testament:

Genesis 31:19 . . . Rachel stole her father’s household gods.

Genesis 35:2, 4 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; . . . [4] So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.

Exodus 20:23 You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.

Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 4:27-28 And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. [28] And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of men’s hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. (cf. 29:17; 1 Chr 16:26; Is 2:8, 20; 31:7; 37:19; 44:10, 15, 17; 46:6; Jer 1:16)

Deuteronomy 28:36 The LORD will bring you, and your king whom you set over you, to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known; and there you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone. (cf. 28:64: “other gods, of wood and stone”)

Deuteronomy 32:17 They sacrificed to demons which were no gods, . . .

2 Kings 19:15-19 And Hezeki’ah prayed before the LORD, and said: “O LORD the God of Israel, who art enthroned above the cherubim, thou art the God, thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. [16] Incline thy ear, O LORD, and hear; open thy eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennach’erib, which he has sent to mock the living God. [17] Of a truth, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, [18] and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone; therefore they were destroyed. [19] So now, O LORD our God, save us, I beseech thee, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O LORD, art God alone.” (cf. Is 37:19; 45:20)

2 Chronicles 13:9 . . . Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods.

Psalm 40:4 . . . those who go astray after false gods!

Psalm 96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens. (cf. 97:7; 115:4; 135:15)

Isaiah 37:19 …for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone.…

Isaiah 44:10 Who fashions a god or casts an image, that is profitable for nothing?

Isaiah 44:15 . . . he makes a god and worships it, he makes it a graven image and falls down before it.

Isaiah 44:17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol; and falls down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for thou art my god!”

Isaiah 46:6 Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
then they fall down and worship!

Jeremiah 2:11  Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? . . .

Jeremiah 5:7 . . . Your children have forsaken me, and have sworn by those who are no gods. . . . (cf. 10:14)

Jeremiah 16:20 Can man make for himself gods? Such are no gods! (cf. 51:17)

The New Testament is no different. The existence of these “gods” is denied by St. Paul:

1 Corinthians 8:4-6 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” [5] For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — [6] yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods;

Ephesians 4:5-6 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, . . .

Some also claim that St. John in the book of Revelation is a henotheist or polytheist. I don’t see how. The book of Revelation never includes the word “gods” a single time. Here’s what it teaches:

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

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Photo credit: God the Father, as typically presented with dramatic license in art (since in the Bible He is a spirit) [PixabayPixabay License]

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January 11, 2021

Biblical View of Astronomy, Laws of Nature, and the Natural World

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce is the main writer on the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. His “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.

*****

I am replying to the following portion of Jonathan’s article, “Frank Tipler refuted on his Star of Bethlehem thesis by Aaron Adair” (8-10-12), and a related comment on another of his posts as well (all bolding added presently):

[Y]ou should consider the possibility that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernatural phenomenon. As such, it may have been visible to the Magi only – which would explain why nobody else saw it. We don’t know. But in that case, there would be nothing to prevent it from resting over a house. . . . I don’t know why Christians bother with trying to find naturalistic explanations for something so clearly supernaturalist. The Bible is full of supernaturalism – why plead this is naturalistic and then look for an incredibly ad hoc and uncorroborated naturalistic explanation! [two typos corrected]

Now, if the star is naturalistic, then the whole world could have seen it, and could have interpreted its indicative nature. Why only three or so Eastern Magi did is bizarre. That no one from Jerusalem follows the star with these people is odd. Even if the Jerusalemites were unanimously skeptical (imagine the probability of THAT!) . . . that not a single person ventured three hours south to verify or falsify the claims of the chief priests and scribes is utterly intelligible. So, really, the star must have been supernatural and only appeared to the vision of the Magi. Nothing else is particularly coherent. (12-22-14)

Jonathan has this notion in his head that the star of Bethlehem described in the Bible must have been supernatural.” Any natural explanation is, in his opinion, “incredibly ad hoc and uncorroborated” and not “particularly coherent.”  

Why he thinks this way (what presupposition — who knows what? — allegedly requires it) is anybody’s guess. Atheists have this very odd trait of always seeming to think that they know the Bible much much better than those gullible, ignorant Christians who waste their entire lives studying and being devoted to the Bible (believing to be God’s infallible revelation to mankind). In my case, I’ve done so for over 40 years: the last forty as a Christian apologist, and the last nineteen as an apologist by profession / occupation.

In any event, Jonathan magisterially and dogmatically pontificates that the explanation can only be “supernatural” and that nothing else will do, and that this is, indeed, obvious to any rational person. In fact, Christian scholars and commentators and exegetes have come down on both sides of the question, and have offered both supernatural and natural explanations. That being the case, each interpreter can only provide their own reasons for why they believe as they do, in an effort to persuade others. This is how it is for many Bible passages, that allow for differing interpretations. 

I shall argue here that the natural explanation is not ruled out at all, and is quite plausible, based on the analogy of how the Bible treats natural phenomena: particularly astronomical ones. The Bible expresses an acquaintance with the stars by the ancient Hebrews:

Saturn is no less certainly represented by the star Kaiwan, adored by the reprobate Israelites in the desert (Amos 5:26) [RSV: “You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves;”]. The same word (interpreted to mean “steadfast”) frequently designates, in the Babylonian inscriptions, the slowest-moving planet; while Sakkuth, the divinity associated with the star by the prophet, is an alternative appellation for Ninib, who, as a Babylonian planet-god, was merged with Saturn. The ancient Syrians and Arabs, too, called Saturn Kaiwan, the corresponding terms in the Zoroastrian Bundahish being Kevan. . . . Gad and Meni (Isaias, lxv, 11 [Isaiah 65:11]) are, no doubt, the “greater and the lesser Fortune” typified throughout the East by Jupiter and Venus; Neba, the tutelary deity of Borsippa (Isaias xlvi, 1 [Isaiah 46:1]), shone in the sky as Mercury, and Nergal, transplanted from Assyria to Kutha (2 Kings 17:30), as Mars. . . .

In a striking passage the Prophet Amos (v, 8 [RSV: “He who made the Plei’ades and Orion . . .”) glorifies the Creator as “Him that made Kimah and Kesil“, . . . The word, which occurs twice in the Book of Job (ix, 9; xxxviii, 31) [9:9, RSV: “who made the Bear and Orion, the Plei’ades and the chambers of the south;” / 38:31: “Can you bind the chains of the Plei’ades, or loose the cords of Orion?”], is treated in the Septuagint version as equivalent to Pleiades. This, also, is the meaning given to it in the Talmud and throughout Syrian literature; it is supported by etymological evidences, the Hebrew term being obviously related to the Arabic root kum (accumulate), and the Assyrian kamu (to bind); while the “chains of Kimah”, referred to in the sacred text, not inaptly figure the coercive power imparting unity to a multiple object. The associated constellation Kesil is doubtless no other than our Orion. . . . We may then safely admit that Kimah and Kesil did actually designate the Pleiades and Orion. (Catholic Encyclopedia [1907], “Astronomy in the Bible”; “Astronomical allusions in the Old Testament”)

The Old Testament refers to “constellations” (RSV) four times (2 Kgs 23:5; Is 13:10; Wisdom 7:19, 29). The word in Isaiah 13:10 (“constellations” also in KJV) is the Hebrew Kesil (already noted above; Strong’s word #3685), meaning “a heavenly constellation.” It appears also in Job 9:9; 38:31, and Amos 5:8: translated as “Orion” in the KJV). 2 Kings 2:35 in the KJV renders as “planets” the Hebrew mazzaloth (Strong’s word #4208), which means “constellations, perhaps signs of the zodiac.”

Thus, we find that the ancient Hebrews (Job usually being considered the oldest book of the Old Testament), were quite aware of both planets and constellations, as natural heavenly bodies, created by God.

The Bible (KJV) refers to the “ordinances” of the heavens and the stars. The Hebrew word is chuqqah (Strong’s word #2708), meaning “something prescribed, an enactment, statute.” Just as statutes were part of Mosaic law, chuqqah as applied to the stars and astronomy referred to their natural course across the sky, or, in other words, the “statutes of nature” / laws of nature as applied to the stars in the sky, in these three passages:

Job 38:33 (RSV) Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?

Jeremiah 31:35 Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar . . .

Jeremiah 33:25 Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth,

Hence, other translations have renderings like “laws of the heavens” (NIV and Goodspeed) and “rules that govern the heavens . . . laws of nature on earth” (NEB) for Job 38:33, and “fixed patterns of heaven and earth” (NASB) or “laws of heaven and earth” (NIV) for Jeremiah 33:25. The idea is clearly the laws of nature or scientific laws governing the movement of celestial bodies. The stars have “courses” (Judges 5:20). In other words, it’s a primitive way of expressing a “proto-scientific” understanding in the categories that would be comprehensible to ancient Hebrews. Even so, they came very close to the mark indeed (and of course to the Christian this suggests a divine guiding hand in the authors).

Job 38:32 . . . can you guide the Bear with its children? (cf. 9:9 noted and cited above)

The reference is to the constellation Arcturus, or Ursa Major, in the northern sky. The “sons” referred to are the stars that accompany it, probably the stars that are now called the “tail of the bear.” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible)

Most people in America know these stars by another name:

The Big Dipper (US, Canada) or the Plough (UK, Ireland) is a large asterism consisting of seven bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major; . . . Four define a “bowl” or “body” and three define a “handle” or “head”. It is recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures. . . .

The constellation of Ursa Major (Latin: Greater Bear) has been seen as a bear, a wagon, or a ladle. (Wikipedia: “Big Dipper”)

The Bible — very clearly, and in the opinion of most commentators — refers to both solar and lunar eclipses:

Isaiah 13:10 . . . the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light.

Joel 2:10 . . . The sun and the moon are darkened, . . .

Joel 2:31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, . . . (cf. Acts 2:19-20)

Amos 8:9 . . . I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.

Revelation 6:12 . . . the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood

The ancient Hebrews, like the ancient Greeks, noted the phenomenon of the “morning star”:

Such a first appearance of a star was termed by the Greek astronomers its “heliacal” rising, and the mention in Scripture of “morning stars,” or “stars of the twilight” (Job 38:73:9), shows that the Hebrews like the Greeks were familiar with this feature of the ordinances of heaven, and noted the progress of the year by observation of the apparent changes of the celestial host. One star would herald the beginning of spring, another the coming of winter; the time to plow, the time to sow, the time of the rains would all be indicated by successive “morning stars” as they appeared. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915, “Astronomy, I”)

St. Augustine in the 5th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th, both rejected astrology long before modern science, while even the most prominent modern scientists in the 16th-17th centuries, such as GalileoTycho Brahe, and Kepler firmly believed in it.

The above shall suffice as a crash course in biblical astronomy. For related papers on the Bible and science, see:

Biblical Flat Earth (?) Cosmology: Dialogue w Atheist (vs. Matthew Green) [9-11-06]

Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski) [9-17-06]

Demonic Possession or Epilepsy? (Bible & Science) [2015]

Old Earth, Flood Geology, Local Flood, & Uniformitarianism (vs. Kevin Rice) [5-25-04; many defunct links removed and new ones added: 5-10-17]

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities [9-25-18]

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2 [10-2-18]

Loftus Atheist Error #9: Bible Espouses Mythical Animals? [9-10-19]

Seidensticker Folly #42: Creation “Ex Nihilo” [8-28-20]

“Quantum Entanglement” & the “Upholding” Power of God [10-20-20]

Seidensticker Folly #59: Medieval Hospitals & Medicine [11-3-20]

I’d like to highlight two additional areas where the Bible and the ancient Hebrew worldview was quite empirical and practical, rather than prone to quick supernatural, non-scientific, or so-called “snake oil” explanations.

Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. Nor did medical science until the 19th century. But the hygienic principles that would have prevented the spread of such diseases were in the Bible: in the Laws of Moses. The Bible Ask site has an article, “Did the Bible teach the germs theory?” (5-30-16):

The Bible writers did not write a medical textbook. However, there are numerous rules for sanitation, quarantine, and other medical procedures (found in the first 5 book of the OT) . . . Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865), who was a Hungarian physician, . . . proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 . . . He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Despite various publications of his successful results, Semmelweis’s suggestions were not accepted by the medical community of his time.

Why was Semmelweis research rejected? Because germs were virtually a foreign concept for the Europeans in the middle-19th-century. . . .

Had the medical community paid attention to God’s instructions that were given 3000 years before, many lives would have been saved. The Lord gave the Israelites hygienic principles against the contamination of germs and taught the necessity to quarantine the sick (Numbers 19:11-12). And the book of Leviticus lists a host of diseases and ways where a person would come in contact with germs (Leviticus 13:46).

Germs were no new discovery in 1847. And for this fact, Roderick McGrew testified in the Encyclopedia of Medical History: “The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease” (1985, pp. 77-78).

Some other interesting facts regarding the Bible and germ theory:

1. The Bible contained instructions for the Israelites to wash their bodies and clothes in running water if they had a discharge, came in contact with someone else’s discharge, or had touched a dead body. They were also instructed about objects that had come into contact with dead things, and about purifying items with an unknown history with either fire or running water. They were also taught to bury human waste outside the camp, and to burn animal waste (Num 19:3-22;Lev. 11:1-4715:1-33;Deut 23:12).

2. Leviticus 13 and 14 mention leprosy on walls and on garments. Leprosy is a bacterial disease, and can survive for three weeks or longer apart from the human body. Thus, God commanded that the garments of leprosy victims should be burned (Lev 13:52).

3. It was not until 1873 that leprosy was shown to be an infectious disease rather than hereditary. Of course, the laws of Moses already were aware of that (Lev 13, 14, 22; Num 19:20). It contains instructions about quarantine and about quarantined persons needing to thoroughly shave and wash. Priests who cared for them also were instructed to change their clothes and wash thoroughly. The Israelites were the only culture to practice quarantine until the 19th century, when medical advances discovered the biblical medical principles and practices.

4. Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” (born 460 BC) didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. He thought it was “bad air” from swampy areas. (See also: “Old Testament Laws About Infectious Diseases”)

Moreover, since Jesus observed Mosaic Law, including ritual washings, etc., He tacitly accepted (by His example of following it) the aspects of it that anticipated and “understood” germ theory. The knowledge was already in existence.

The entry on “Health” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology reveals that ordinary medicinal remedies (my second topic) were widely practiced in Bible times. There wasn’t solely a belief that sin or demons caused all disease. There was also a natural cause-and-effect understanding:

Ordinary means of healing were of most diverse kinds. Balm ( Gen 37:25 ) is thought to have been an aromatic resin (or juice) with healing properties; oil was the universal emollient ( Isa 1:6 ), and was sometimes used for wounds with cleansing wine ( Luke 10:34 ). Isaiah recommended a fig poultice for a boil ( 38:21 ); healing springs and saliva were thought effectual ( Mark 8:23 ; John 5 ; 9:6-7 ). Medicine is mentioned ( Prov 17:22 ) and defended as “sensible” ( Sirach 38:4). Wine mixed with myrrh was considered sedative ( Mark 15:23 ); mint, dill, and cummin assisted digestion ( Matt 23:23 ); other herbs were recommended for particular disorders. Most food rules had both ritual and dietary purposes, while raisins, pomegranates, milk, and honey were believed to assist restoration. . . .

Luke’s constant care of Paul reminds us that nonmiraculous means of healing were not neglected in that apostolic circle. Wine is recommended for Timothy’s weak stomach, eye-salve for the Thyatiran church’s blindness (metaphorical, but significant).

Doctors today often note how the patient’s disposition and attitude has a strong effect on his health or recovery. The mind definitely influences the body. Solomon understood this in several of his Proverbs: written around 950 BC (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

Now, all of the above is an elaborate “presuppositional background” to the issue and topic I brought up at the beginning: atheist “biblical expert” Jonathan Pearce’s insistence that the explanation for the star of Bethlehem only makes sense in a biblical context if it is supernatural and not natural. The above suggests quite otherwise: especially the data about biblical astronomy.

I would say that the overwhelming likelihood, given all this related, relevant evidence, is that biblical references (based on sheer volume) to stars and particularly the star of Bethlehem are very likely to be to natural phenomena. With that in mind, let’s briefly examine the narrative about the star of Bethlehem:

Matthew 2:2 . . . we have seen his star in the East . . .

There is nothing at all here that demands a supernatural-only explanation or interpretation of this “star.” It’s all the more unlikely in light of the fact that we know that the Magi (wise men) were highly trained in astronomy and/or some variant of astrology (likely not the “horoscope” nonsense of today). They were not likely to immediately jump to a “supernatural / miraculous” explanation. It simply meant that they interpreted it as having something to do with a king and Jerusalem, — as I have explained in other papers –, based on the symbolism of constellations and individual stars (Jupiter being the “king planet” etc.).

The text doesn’t claim that they followed this star the entire way. That’s merely the artistic license of Christmas cards. I have argued that they simply determined that it was a sign that they should journey west in search of a very noteworthy newborn king. The significant city due west of them in northwest Persia was Jerusalem. They then followed well-established, ancient  routes around the desert to get there.

Matthew 2:9 . . . the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.

This passage refers only to the six-mile journey between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and I have contended that all it means is that a bright star (I believe, Jupiter, in my scenario, backed up by astronomical charts of what was in the sky and where) was at the time in the direction of Bethlehem (that is, over it) from Jerusalem. It would not have “moved” in the perception of the wise men, over a journey of six miles, just as we could say we were traveling west, following the setting sun. It would always “go before us” as we traveled.

It’s phenomenological language, which is habitually used by Bible writers. We use it even to this day by referring to the “sun rising” or “sun going down” etc. Literally (as we understand) it is the earth rotating, thus making the sun appear to move. But we still refer to it in the non-literal way. So does the Bible, about a lot of things.

The other aspect is the clause “it came to rest over the place where the child was.” First of all, the text does not say that this means it shone specifically onto a “house.” Matthew 2:11 (i.e., two verses later) simply says they went “into a house”: not that the star was shining on it, identifying it. We have to get it straight: what exactly any given text under consideration actually asserts and does not assert.

Let’s examine the actual biblical text a little more closely. The Greek “adverb of place” in Matthew 2:9 is hou (Strong’s word #3757). In RSV hou is translated by “the place where” (in KJV, simply “where”). It applies to a wide range of meanings beyond something as specific as a house. In other passages in RSV it refers to a mountain (Mt 28:16), Nazareth (Lk 4:16), a village (Lk 24:28), the land of Midian (Acts 7:29), Puteoli (Pozzuoli): a sizeable city in Italy (Acts 28:14), and the vast wilderness that Moses and the Hebrews traveled through (Heb 3:9). Thus it can easily, plausibly refer to “Bethlehem” in Matthew 2:9.

In RSV (Mt 2:9), hou is translated by the italicized words: “it came to rest over the place where the child was.” So the question is: what does it mean by “place” in this instance? What is the star said to be “over”? And then I noted other uses of the same word, which referred to a variety of larger areas. The text does not specifically say that “it stood over a house.” Yet many atheists (and many able and sincere, but in my opinion mistaken, Christian commentators) seem to think it does.

This is an important point because it goes to the issue of supernatural or natural. A “star” (whatever it is) shining a beam down on one house would be (I agree) supernatural; not any kind of “star” we know of in the natural world. But a star shining on an area; in the direction of an area (which a bright Jupiter was to Bethlehem in my scenario: at 68 degrees in the sky) can be a perfectly natural event.

Matthew 2:9 is similar to how we say in English: “where I was, I could see the conjunction very well.” “Where” obviously refers to a place. And one’s place is many things simultaneously. Thus, when I saw the “star of Bethlehem”-like conjunction in December [2020], I was in a field, near my house (in my neighborhood), in my town (Tecumseh), in my county (Lenawee), in my state (Michigan), and in my country (United States). This is my point about “place” in Matthew 2:9. It can mean larger areas, beyond just “house.” If the text doesn’t say specifically, “the star shone on the house” then we can’t say for sure that this is what the text meant.

I never claimed that hou was a “noun” in my original wording. I was noting that it was referring to place: as indeed it did in Matthew 2:9, since the translation of it in RSV is “the place where.” Therefore “place” is a translation of hou in this instance.

I have found 18 other English Bible translations of Matthew 2:9 that also have “the place where” (Weymouth, Moffatt, Confraternity, Knox, NEB, REB, NRSV, Lamsa, Amplified, Phillips, TEV, NIV, Jerusalem, Williams, Beck, NAB, Kleist & Lilly, and Goodspeed). In all these cases, they are translating hou: literally meaning “where” but at the same time implying place (which is the “where” referred to). The Living Bible (a very modern paraphrase) has “standing over Bethlehem”: which of course, bolsters my argument as well (because it didn’t say “house”).

All these things being understood, all the text in question plausibly meant is that the bright star was shining down on Bethlehem, just as we have all seen the moon or some bright star shining on a mountain in the distance or tall building or some other landmark. A man might see the light from the harvest moon romantically shining on his girlfriend or wife’s face. It need not necessarily mean that this is all they are shining on. It simply looks that way from our particular vantage-point.

All of this is in my opinion, more plausible and straightforward and in line with biblical thinking than positing a supernatural “star.” It’s true that many reputable and observant Christian biblical commentators exist who do argue for that interpretation, and I don’t disparage them. Theirs are honest efforts just as this paper is. Reasonable people can and do disagree. I can only present the reasons for why I hold to my opinion, and for why Jonathan’s assertions of a necessary or exclusively plausible supernatural nature of the star of Bethlehem are less reasonable and likely than my scenario. I have argued it in detail in the following papers:

Star of Bethlehem, Astronomy, Wise Men, & Josephus (Amazing Astronomically Verified Data in Relation to the Journey of the Wise Men  & Jesus’ Birth & Infancy) [12-14-20]

Timeline: Star of Bethlehem, Herod’s Death, & Jesus’ Birth (Chronology of Harmonious Data from History, Archaeology, the Bible, and Astronomy) [12-15-20]

Star of Bethlehem: Refuting Silly Atheist Objections [12-26-20]

Route Taken by the Magi: Educated Guess [12-28-20]

Star of Bethlehem: More Silly Atheist “Objections” [12-29-20]

Pearce’s Potshots #12: Supernatural Star of Bethlehem? (Biblical View of Astronomy, Laws of Nature, and the Natural World) [1-11-21]

Star of Bethlehem: Natural or Supernatural? [1-13-21]

Bible Commentaries & Matthew 2:9 (Star of Bethlehem) [1-13-21]

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Photo credit: mskathrynne (9-14-18) [PixabayPixabay License]

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January 9, 2021

Featuring Confirmatory Historical Tidbits About the Magi and Herod the Great

Atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce’s “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.

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I am replying to Jonathan’s article, “Mental Contortions Required of Christians to Believe the Nativity Accounts” (12-23-19). Although he likely has made each argument in his book on the Nativity and elsewhere, nevertheless, this particular article is in the form of a “gish gallop”: an unsavory argumentative technique or strategy often decried by atheists. Wikipedia explains:

The Gish gallop is a term for an eristic technique in which a debater attempts to overwhelm an opponent by excessive number of arguments, without regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott; . . . It is similar to a methodology used in formal debate called spreading. . . .

During a Gish gallop, a debater confronts an opponent with a rapid series of many specious arguments, half-truths, and misrepresentations in a short space of time, which makes it impossible for the opponent to refute all of them within the format of a formal debate. In practice, each point raised by the “Gish galloper” takes considerably more time to refute or fact-check than it did to state in the first place.

This is not a formal debate, with timing and structure, etc., so I can take all the time I like to refute each point, but the technique itself remains dubious. It was disparaged on Jonathan’s blog by fellow blogger there, Aaron Adair (3-8-13):

. . . putting out a large number of statements in quick succession that his opponent almost certainly could not refute in the time allotted. This has become known as the Gish Gallop, and it has been noted as a technique used by others in a debate: throw out many arguments, your opponents will be able to deal with only so many and not adequately, and you can claim one of your un-refuted arguments stands and that means you are right.

So — again — this is not a formal debate, and Jonathan has written about this stuff elsewhere and can theoretically defend any of those arguments against criticism (I’m not denying that he has done so or that he would be willing to do so). But this paper of his uses the technique. If a Christian did this in any major atheist forum we would be laughed to scorn and mocked (we always are anyway in those places).

I should note, however, that the delightful, informative RationalWiki page, “Gish Gallop” by no means confines the tactic to oral, formal debate. It refers to readers and written exchanges several times, and even includes an entire section called “in written debate”.

Jonathan throws out no less than 28 objections to the biblical Nativity narratives in Matthew and Luke: most only one-sentence long. I’ll play along and make (mostly) short replies (as my time is not unlimited) or provide a relevant link: as I have written quite a bit about Christmas controversies with atheists as well.

As I write, there are still three of my recent papers in reply to Jonathan that he has chosen thus far not to reply to:

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Jesus the “Nazarene” Redux (vs. Jonathan M. S. Pearce) [12-19-20]

I think there are several older critiques of mine from 2017 that he has not replied to, either. I have offered ten critiques of his material altogether, not including this one. I hope he has not now decided to take the “flee for the hills” / “hear no evil” approach of his fellow anti-theist atheists Dr. David Madison (whom I’ve refuted 44 times with no reply), Bob Seidensticker (69 times without any peep back), and John Loftus (10 critiques of his “magnum opus” book, which he has utterly ignored). If he decides to go this route, I will continue critiquing his material, as I desire. No skin off my back. His choice . . .

Suffice to say that, in order for the Christian to harmoniously believe the Nativity accounts, they have to jump through some seriously demanding hoops. In my humble opinion, there is no satisfactory way that they can coherently harmonise these contradictory accounts found in only two of the Gospels.
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The situation is this. I maintain that, to hold to the notion that the accounts are historical, one has to mentally gerrymander to the extreme. . . . 

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In my book,The Nativity: A Critical Examination, I think I give ample evidence that allows one to conclude that the historicity of the nativity accounts is sorely and surely challenged. All of the aspects and claims, that is. There are problems, for sure, if one accepts that some claims are false but others are true. But the simple fact of the matter is that all of the claims are highly questionable.

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Here are the hoops that a Christian must jump through. They are flaming hoops, and the Christian can do nothing to avoid being burnt, it seems.

[in my replies below, I have added numbers to his gish gallop claims. His original words didn’t have the numbers; it had bullet points]

In order for the Christian who believes that both accounts are factually true to uphold that faithful decree, the following steps must take place. The believer must:

1) Special plead that the virgin birth motif is actually true for Christianity but is false for all other religions and myths that claim similarly.

This is true, but it is neither special pleading nor, I contend, controversial at all. Exclusive claims that logically rule out other competing contradictory claims are made in all belief-systems. It’s foolish and irrelevant to single out Christianity for doing this, as if it is objectionable in and of itself. For example, the current consensus in scientific cosmology / astronomy is that the universe had a beginning and that it is not eternal or without a beginning. There were scientists who resisted this for decades (even Einstein did for a time), until the Big Bang Theory became consensus in the 1960s (or 70s at the latest).

There are atheists who resist it today, and argue for a cyclical universe or “multiverse” (minus any compelling evidence). And there are various religious beliefs as to how the universe began. Of course, the Christian view is completely harmonious with the Big Bang. The universe began out of nothing, or ex nihilo, as the old theological phrase had it. Current science and Christianity teach this (though we add God in there as the cause of the Big Bang and science precludes that in its current methodological naturalism). So much the worse for those who disagree (as far as the Big Bang and the beginning of the universe). They’re wrong.

2) Deny that “virgin” is a mistranslation.

It’s not. I have dealt with this issue twice: both in response to Jonathan. He hasn’t replied to the second paper yet:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Mistranslation” of “Virgin”? (Isaiah 7:14) (with Glenn Miller) [7-26-17]

Dual Fulfillment of Prophecy & the Virgin Birth (vs. JMS Pearce) [12-18-20]

3) Give a plausible explanation of from whence the male genome of Jesus came from and how this allowed him to be “fully man”.

It was (obviously, in Christian belief) a miraculous intervention of God. It can’t be explained naturally, by the nature of the case. Now, of course, for an atheist who denies that both God and miracles exist, it’ll be implausible (what else is new?). But that doesn’t prove that it’s untrue. If one offers rational evidences for God’s existence and also of miracles, then it’s entirely possible and able to be believed in by rational thinkers, as an actual event, as God’s revelation claims.

4) Be able to render the two genealogies fully coherent without the explanation being contrived or ad hoc.

I did that, 3 1/2 years ago:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Contradictory” Genealogies of Christ? [7-27-17]

Atheists are fond of saying that everything we offer by way of evidence is “ridiculous” (on a kind day), or “ad hoc” or “implausible” or “special pleading.” And they do because of what I mentioned above: they deny the necessary presuppositions of God’s existence and (flowing from that) therefore the possibility and/or factuality of miracles and the supernatural. Once having denied the possibility or actuality of those two things, then of course they will immediately dismiss all Christian explanations as ad hoc or “implausible” etc.

It’s a way of trying to look impressive without offering any further arguments. But they have to deny such things, according to their atheist dogmas that literally disallow them from believing in anything that is inconsistent with atheism, or even to entertain a theoretical possibility.

5) Believe that the genealogies are bona fide and not just tools to try to prove Jesus’ Davidic and Messianic prophecy-fulfilling heritage.

This cynical sentiment simply flows from atheist hostility and bigotry against the Bible, Bible-writers, and Christians. Christians aren’t obliged to factor that into any of our apologetics or beliefs. We take the Bible at face value, just as we would any other such literature, rather than starting out inveterately hostile to it. That’s not an objective, scholarly approach. Besides, the Bible has had a mountain of evidence from history and archaeology that shows again and again that it is trustworthy in the details that it provides; therefore, can be trusted as a source. Those sots of independent verifications bolster our faith that the Bible is God’s revelation to humankind.

6) Be able to explain the inconsistency of the two accounts in contradicting each other as to where Joseph lived before the birth (without the explanation being contrived or ad hoc).

See:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Bethlehem & Nazareth “Contradictions” (Including Extensive Exegetical Analysis of Micah 5:2) [7-28-17]

7) Believe that a client kingdom under Herod could and would order a census under Roman diktat. This would be the only time in history this would have happened.

8) Find it plausible that people would return, and find precedent for other occurrences of people returning, to their ancestral homes for a census (at an arbitrary number of generations before: 41).

9) Give a probable explanation as to how a Galilean man was needed at a census in another judicial area.

10) Give a plausible reason as to why Mary was required at the census (by the censors or by Joseph).

11) Give a plausible explanation as to why Mary would make that 80 mile journey on donkey or on foot whilst heavily pregnant, and why Joseph would be happy to let her do that.

See:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History [2-3-11]

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Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Herod’s Death & Alleged “Contradictions” (with Jimmy Akin) [7-25-17]

12) Believe that Joseph could afford to take anywhere from a month to two years off work.

This is a foolish query. If necessary, he could save up for “off” months just as virtually all farmers and teachers do. Is that so inconceivable? Or, as a carpenter and likely stone mason as well, he had a skill that was “portable”: so that he could pick up odd jobs while traveling. This is the kind of stuff which vanishes as a supposed “difficulty” with just a moment or two of unbiased, objective thought.

13) Believe that, despite archaeological evidence, Nazareth existed as a proper settlement at the time of Jesus’ birth.

I don’t know what “archaeological evidence” Jonathan is referring to, but there is more than enough to establish the existence of Nazareth as a town during the time of Jesus’ birth and infancy. I already recounted it in a recent reply to Jonathan:

[T]he archaeological investigation revealed that in Nazareth itself, in the middle of the first century AD, anti-Roman rebels created a sizeable network of underground hiding places and tunnels underneath the town – big enough to shelter at least 100 people. . . .

The new archaeological investigation – the largest ever carried out into Roman period Nazareth – has revealed that Jesus’s hometown is likely to have been considerably bigger than previously thought. It probably had a population of up to 1,000 (rather than just being a small-to-medium sized village of 100-500, as previously thought).

“Our new investigation has transformed archaeological knowledge of Roman Nazareth,” said Dr Dark, who has just published the results of his research in a new book Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and its Hinterland. . . .

The newly emerging picture of Roman-period Nazareth as a place of substantial religiosity does, however, resonate not only with the emergence of its most famous son, Jesus, but also with the fact that, in the mid-first or second century, it was chosen as the official residence of one of the high priests of the by-then-destroyed Temple in Jerusalem, when all 24 of those Jewish religious leaders were driven into exile in Galilee. (“New archaeological evidence from Nazareth reveals religious and political environment in era of Jesus”, David Keys, Independent, 4-17-20)

See also: “Did First-Century Nazareth Exist?” (Bryan Windle, Bible Archaeology Report, 8-9-18; cf. several related articles from a Google search). Did it exist before Jesus’ time? It looks like it did:

The Franciscan priest Bellarmino Bagatti, “Director of Christian Archaeology”, carried out extensive excavation of this “Venerated Area” from 1955 to 1965. Fr. Bagatti uncovered pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1500 BC) and ceramics, silos and grinding mills from the Iron Age (1500 to 586 BC) which indicated substantial settlement in the Nazareth basin at that time. (Wikipedia, “Nazareth”)

That’s science. Jonathan has to grapple with the actual findings and not just sit back and deny that there are any such. As it is, that was from one of my reply-papers that he has not found time to reply to these past 19 days (while replying to many others). Maybe he will in due course, since it was during the holidays.

14) Believe that the prophecies referred to Nazareth and not something else.

They do, but they were not from the Old Testament. See:

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15) Believe that the magi were not simply a theological tool derived from the Book of Daniel.

This is a variation of the undue cynicism which I skewered in my reply to #5 above. As such, it can be dismissed as a non sequitur. That said (in principled protest), the factuality of these accounts is completely plausible based on what we know from secular historiography: that there was a group called the Magi, who were were originally a Median (northwest Persian) tribe (Herodotus [Hist.] i.101). They performed priestly functions, perhaps due to Zoroaster possibly having belonged to the tribe (or belief that he did), and studied astronomy and astrology: in part likely learned from Babylon.

Historians note that in Yemen, for example, there were kings who adhered to Judaism from about 120 B.C. to the sixth century A.D. Possibly, then, the wise men were Jewish or at least were strongly influenced by Jews.

If Jonathan or those who think like he does don’t want to take my word for it, then perhaps they will be persuaded by the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Magus, plural Magi, member of an ancient Persian clan specializing in cultic activities. The name is the Latinized form of magoi (e.g., in Herodotus 1:101), the ancient Greek transliteration of the Iranian original. From it the word magic is derived.

It is disputed whether the magi were from the beginning followers of Zoroaster and his first propagandists. They do not appear as such in the trilingual inscription of Bīsitūn, in which Darius the Great describes his speedy and final triumph over the magi who had revolted against his rule (522 BC). Rather it appears that they constituted a priesthood serving several religions. The magi were a priestly caste during the Seleucid [312-63 BC], Parthian [247 BC-224 AD], and Sāsānian [224-651 AD] periods; later parts of the Avesta, such as the ritualistic sections of the Vidēvdāt (Vendidad), probably derive from them. From the 1st century AD onward the word in its Syriac form (magusai) was applied to magicians and soothsayers, chiefly from Babylonia, with a reputation for the most varied forms of wisdom. As long as the Persian empire lasted there was always a distinction between the Persian magi, who were credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge, and the Babylonian magi, who were often considered to be outright imposters. (“Magus: Persian priesthood”)

A visit by such men to the west, based on astrological-type beliefs and star-gazing, using the route through the Fertile Crescent around the Arabian and Syrian deserts that has been taken for many centuries by the Royal Road and the King’s Highway and the Silk Road (as I have recently written about, not in reply to Jonathan) is completely plausible. There is no good reason to doubt the biblical account. Nothing in it (rightly understood in light of the many biblical genres) rings immediately untrue or questionable. Jonathan mentions the book of Daniel. Yeah: that’s accurate, too, as we know that the Magi were in Babylonia at that time as well, as the cited encyclopedia entry above alludes to.

16) Believe that Herod (and his scribes and priests) was not acting entirely out of character and implausibly in not knowing the prophecies predicting Jesus, and not accompanying the magi three hours down the road.

The second thing we can only speculate about, but if the Bible shows itself trustworthy again and again in a host of ways: confirmed by secular archaeology and historiography, then we can trust it regarding such an obscure item that it casually refers to. As to the first question: is it impossible that Herod might not know the prophecy of Micah 5:2? Not at all. He was a very secularized Jew, as a Jewish scholarly article noted:

In his recent book The Herodian Dynasty, Nikos Kokkinos portrayed Herod as  Hellenized Phoenician whose Jewishness was superficial, resulting from the conversion of Idumaea by John Hyrcanus . . . Herod’s departure form the Jewish ethos is manifested by his own deeds contrary to Jewish laws and customs as well as his strong cultural inclination toward Rome. . . .

This impression is nurtured mainly by Josephus’s accounts. (“Herod’s Jewish Ideology Facing Romanization: On Intermarriage, Ritual Baths, and Speeches”, Eyal Regev, The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 100, No. 2, Spring 2010)

That doesn’t strike me (to put it mildly) as the type of Jew who would be all that familiar with a messianic prophecy like Micah 5:2. Maybe he was. But if so, this has to be shown by some convincing argument. The above — as far as it goes (I couldn’t access the entire article) — certainly doesn’t suggest a high likelihood that he would have been. Matthew 2:4 (RSV) states: “assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”
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In light of the above information, I don’t find it implausible at all that he didn’t know this. And not knowing it, he did the logical thing a secular Jew would do: ask the religious Jews (priests) in his court circle about it (just as irreligious Jews today would ask a rabbi about some point of Judaism). It’s completely plausible. Yet Jonathan assumes it isn’t. I wonder why? Maybe because he “has to” be skeptical about everything in Scripture, even when there is no clear reason to be?
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17) Believe that the magi weren’t also merely a mechanism to supply Herod with an opportunity to get involved in the story and thus fulfil even more prophecies.
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18) Believe that the magi were also not a reinterpretation of the Balaam narrative from the Old Testament, despite there being clear evidence to the contrary.
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These two represent more of the merely assumed bald speculation and silly undue cynicism against the biblical text (see my answers to #5 and #15 above). It deserves no more serious consideration. I refuse to play these games with atheists. The burden of proof for such hyper-skeptical / hostile claims is on them, not us.
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19) Believe that a star could lead some magi from the East to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem where it rested over an individual house and not be noted by anyone else in the world.

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I delved into all this in great detail in the last three weeks:

Star of Bethlehem, Astronomy, Wise Men, & Josephus (Amazing Astronomically Verified Data in Relation to the Journey of the Wise Men  & Jesus’ Birth & Infancy) [12-14-20]

Timeline: Star of Bethlehem, Herod’s Death, & Jesus’ Birth (Chronology of Harmonious Data from History, Archaeology, the Bible, and Astronomy) [12-15-20]

Star of Bethlehem: Refuting Silly Atheist Objections [12-26-20]

Route Taken by the Magi: Educated Guess [12-28-20]

Star of Bethlehem: More Silly Atheist “Objections” [12-29-20]

How Do We Understand the Star of Bethlehem Coming to “Rest Over the Place Where the Child Was”? [Facebook, 12-29-20]

20) Believe that the shepherds were not merely midrashic and theological tools used by Luke.

Yet more higher critical hogwash. See my replies to #5, #15, and #18 above. There is no solid reason to doubt this story, either. I recently wrote about one related question: the time of the year with regard to shepherding sheep near Bethlehem:

Jesus’ December Birth & Grazing Sheep in Bethlehem (Is a December 25th Birthdate of Jesus Impossible or Unlikely Because Sheep Can’t Take the Cold?) [12-26-20]

21) Believe that there is (and provide it) a reasonable explanation as to why each Gospel provides different first witnesses (shepherds and magi) without any mention of the other witnesses.

Because I know of no such literary requirement (let alone logical or moral obligation) for each narrator of roughly the same story to include every and all details that the other narrators may have included. The fact that they emphasize different things and omit details that the others include is strong confirmation of authenticity from all four sources.

But there is a factual error here, too: Jesus was a toddler when the wise men visited (based on the Greek word used to describe Him). This didn’t occur at the same time as the birth and the visit of the shepherds. This is what Christians believe, based on the biblical text (which is one reason why our feast of epiphany is on a different day from Christmas: usually on or around January 6th).

Therefore, the wise men are not possible “first witnesses” and there is no conflict in the first place. The text doesn’t claim they were the first to visit Jesus. It’s simply another manufactured pseudo-“contradiction” from our friends, the atheists, who seem to make it their life’s goal to violate (or not comprehend?) elementary-level logic as often as they can.

22) Believe that, despite an absence of evidence and the realisation that it is clearly a remodelling of an Old Testament narrative, the Massacre of the Innocents actually happened.

See my replies to #5, #15, #18, and #20 above.

23) Believe that Herod would care enough about his rule long after his death to chase after a baby and murder many other innocent babies, a notion that runs contrary to evidence.

It’s perfectly in character for a tyrant who murdered two possible royal rivals (see the citation below). Herod was no choirboy. According to one secular source:

The first 12 years of Herod’s reign (37-25 BCE) saw the consolidation of his power. He built fortifications in Jerusalem, Samaria and at Masada, silenced all opposition to his rule and eliminated his Hasmonean rivals, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus II, the brother and the grandfather of his second wife, Mariamme. The former drowned in an arranged swimming pool accident and the latter was strangled.
Mariamme met a bitter end as well, and was executed (a la Anne Boleyn, for “adultery”) in 29 BC. So could Herod conceivably kill a bunch of young infants, out of jealousy over a possible kingly rival? Yes; it’s totally in character. No problem!
The above information was drawn from the record of two prominent historians:
Our chief informant is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-c.100CE), who devoted most of Book I of his Jewish War and Books XIV to XVII of Jewish Antiquities to the life and times of Herod. Josephus uses as his main source the universal history of Nicolaus of Damascus, the well-informed teacher, adviser and ambassador of Herod.

24) Believe that God would allow other innocent babies to die as a result of the birth of Jesus.

This is not the place to enter into a full-fledged Christian explanation of the problem of evil. God grants free will. Otherwise we would be robots (and then this dialogue wouldn’t exist, because in that scenario God simply wouldn’t allow dumbfounded, groundless atheist opinions, and Jonathan would be a Christian because God willed and predestined it to be so, wholly apart from Jonathan’s free will which, of course, wouldn’t exist).

Most evil that human beings commit can at least be partially stopped by other human beings. But we refuse to do so before it’s too late.  One man, Winston Churchill, warned for years in the 1930s about the German build-up of military might. No one listened to him. If they had, World War II (at least in Europe) could very well have been prevented.
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Instead, it happened out of human irresponsibility and a head-in-the-sand mentality (President Kennedy wrote about this in his book, Why England Slept). And then after it did, one of the most popular arguments from atheists was: “why did God allow the Holocaust?” He allowed it, because He doesn’t control us like puppets, but it’s not His fault. It’s the fault of human beings who could have prevented it, but were too naive and stupid and negligent to do so. And so, when human beings fail miserably, what do they do? Blame other human beings or blame God . . . That’s the fool’s way out every time.

25) Believe that the Flight to and from Egypt was not just a remodelling of an Old Testament narrative in order to give Jesus theological gravitas.

See my replies to #5, #15, #18, #20, and #22 above.
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26) Give a plausible explanation as to why the two accounts contradict each other so obviously as to where Jesus and family went after his birth.

Did that:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History [2-3-11]

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27) Explain the disappearance of the shepherds and magi, who had seen the most incredible sights of their lives, and why they are never heard from again despite being the perfect spokespeople for this newfound religion.
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Why should they necessarily be heard from again? On what grounds? The Magi in particular simply returned to their distant home shortly afterwards (Mt 12:12). What were they supposed to do? Make a phone call? Have a Zoom conference to communicate their thoughts on the whole thing? It’s simply a trumped-up difficulty that is none at all. And it deserves no more consideration than to state its essential silliness (with some flabbergasted humor).

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28) Provide a plausible explanation as to why Jesus’ own family did not think he was the Messiah, given the events of the nativity accounts.

There is no reason to believe that Mary and Joseph didn’t know this all along. As for His extended family, see:

Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers”? (Jason also claims that “Mary believed in Jesus,” but wavered, and had a “sort of inconsistent faith”) (vs. Jason Engwer) [5-27-20]

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Once the believer in the accuracy of these accounts can do all of the above, in a plausible and probable manner, then they can rationally hold that belief.

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I’ve done so, and so I can rationally hold that belief (i.e., by the criterion of Jonathan’s internally contradictory and incoherent standards).

I would contest that it is rationally possible to ever hold such a belief.

I would contend that my (and many others’) replies to his objections render them null and void and of no impact or import. If Jonathan disagrees, then let him counter-reply.

. . . it has been shown that every single claim can be soundly doubted under critical examination . . .

Hogwash!

[W]e have no real evidence for the claims that Jesus is the Messiah and is derived from Messianic and Davidic heritage.
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The Messiah: Jewish / Old Testament Conceptions [1982; revised somewhat on 2-19-00]
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Isaiah 53: Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Is the “Servant” the Messiah (Jesus) or Collective Israel? (vs. Ari G. [Orthodox] ) [9-14-01, with incorporation of much research from 1982]
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Photo credit: cocoparisienne (9-15-16) [PixabayPixabay License]
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December 30, 2020

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University.  I have replied to his videos or articles 43 times as of this writing. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him  (from 8-1-19 to 12-29-20). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, the atheist author, polemicist, and extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the ultra-insulting Debunking Christianity blog. Dr. Madison made his cramped, insulated mentality clear in a comment from 9-6-19:

[T]he burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked. . . . I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.

John “you are an idiot!” Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, so that he and Dr. Madison could avoid replying to yours truly, or even see notices of my replies (er, sorry, rants, rather). Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue.

Presently, I am replying to his article, “Bible Blunders & Bad Theology, Part 4: The perils of comparing the gospels” (10-16-20).

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The Gish gallop is a term for an eristic technique in which a debater attempts to overwhelm an opponent by excessive number of arguments, without regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott; . . . It is similar to a methodology used in formal debate called spreading. During a Gish gallop, a debater confronts an opponent with a rapid series of many specious arguments, half-truths, and misrepresentations in a short space of time, which makes it impossible for the opponent to refute all of them within the format of a formal debate. In practice, each point raised by the “Gish galloper” takes considerably more time to refute or fact-check than it did to state in the first place. The technique wastes an opponent’s time and may cast doubt on the opponent’s debating ability for an audience unfamiliar with the technique, especially if no independent fact-checking is involved or if the audience has limited knowledge of the topics. (Wikipedia, “Gish gallop”)

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus comes out of nowhere to be baptized in the Jordan River, . . . 

Mark simply chose to start the story from the vantage-point of the average Jew at that time, observing that this man named Jesus had appeared on the scene after being unknown. Dr. Madison wants to make an issue of this: as if it is a supposed contradiction with other Gospels. It’s not. The four evangelists offer stories and accounts of the same overall events from different perspectives: emphasizing selected things as they choose and please.

Many atheists seem to possess this goofy, silly notion that all four of them must be exactly the same, or else (if not!) they are allegedly endlessly “contradictory.” Well, that’s a dumb and groundless presupposition in the first place, and in fact the Gospels do not contradict, as I have demonstrated innumerable times, as have many other Christian apologists and theologians. And in fact, almost all of the alleged “contradictions” brought up by anti-theist atheist polemicists are simply not contradictions, from the criteria of logic itself.

Here Jesus is portrayed as an apocalyptic prophet . . .

Yes; as He is in all four Gospels. But there are, as I said, different emphases, so this is a relatively minor point.

he promises those at his trial that they will see him coming on the clouds of heaven.

Yep, just as He does in Matthew 24:30 and 26:64 and, in effect, Luke 22:69, where the clause, “Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (RSV) is obviously the same reference as Mt 26:64: “Son of man seated at the right hand of Power”: just without the added mention of the “clouds.” All three passages clearly allude to Daniel 9:12-14: one of the most famous messianic passages. There is no rule or requirement that every Gospel writer must cite complete prophecies and can never cite part of them.

And (need I mention it?), such selective citation does not mean there is logical contradiction, merely as a result of differential citation. It’s like people citing different portions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. They don’t contradict. Anyone even slightly familiar with American history knows what’s being cited. That’s how it was with messianic prophecies.  Jesus in the Gospel of John expresses the same notion (both the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and His Second Coming) but in a different, more personal way (expressed to His twelve disciples only, at the Last Supper): 

John 16:5, 10  But now I am going to him who sent me . . . [10] . . . I go to the Father . . . [i.e., “at the right hand of the power of God”] (cf. Jn 7:33; 8:21; 14:2-4, 12, 28; 16:7, 17; 17:11, 13)

John 14:18, 28 I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. . . . [28]. . . I will come to you . . . 

Mark also portrays Jesus as an exorcist.

So do the other two Synoptic Gospels. Mark mentions (in RSV) “demon[s]” or “demoniac” etc. 17 times, but Matthew mentions these words 19 times, and Luke, 24 times.  But there is also the description of “unclean spirit”: which Mark references 13 times, Luke 5 times, and Matthew twice. Luke also uses “evil spirit” twice (and four more times in Acts 19, but we won’t count those). So the grand total, including all three terms are:

Luke: 31

Mark: 30

Matthew: 21

Thus, we can say that Mark emphasizes this element a bit more — being much shorter than Luke (which is fine and dandy), but it’s certainly no “contradiction” compared to Matthew and Luke.

Moreover, he puts far less emphasis on Jesus’ teaching role; Mark says that people were astounded by his message, but little of the content is provided.

This is untrue, and it’s amazing that Dr. Madison could claim that it is. We can observe the term “astounded” used once in Mark (6:51), “astonished” (five times), and “amazed” (eight  times). In all but three of the 14 cases, or 79% of the time in Mark, preceding context makes it clear what they were amazed / astonished / astounded at. Jesus taught them either by word or by deed (miracles send quite a “message” too!):

Mark 1:22: unspecified

Mark 1:27: Jesus had cast out a demon (1:23-26)

Mark 2:12: Jesus had forgiven the sins of a paralytic and healed him (2:3-11)

Mark 6:2: unspecified

Mark 6:51: Jesus has just walked on the water and stilled the wind (6:48-51)

Mark 7:37: Jesus had just healed a deaf man with a speech impediment (7:32-36)

Mark 9:15: unspecified

Mark 10:24: Jesus had just taught about the relation of riches to serving God, in his encounter with the rich young ruler (10:17-23)

Mark 10:26: this is the same reaction as in 10:24, for the same reason. He had added: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (10:24-25)

Mark 10:32: Jesus had said to them specifically that they would “receive a hundredfold . . . and in the age to come eternal life” as a reward for their great sacrifices in being His disciples (10:27-31)

Mark 11:18: Jesus had just cleared the temple of the moneychangers and explained that the temple was for “prayer” rather than “robbers” (11:15-17)

Mark 12:17: Jesus had just taught about paying taxes and “rendering unto Caesar” (12:13-17)

Mark 16:5: the dead Jesus was no longer in His tomb (16:5), then the angels says, “do not be amazed” (16:6) 

How odd, then, that Dr. Madison thinks “little of the content is provided.” Granted, it’s another fairly minor point, but it does illustrate Dr. Madison’s relentless quest to find supposed “contradictions” where there are none, and how he is consistently wrong, even on smaller issues. No one (except an apologist like myself) would have neither time nor desire to “check” him on this matter (which is precisely the desired result of the unsavory Gish gallop method of “argumentation”). But this is why I do what I do. I have both time and desire to deal with all of these things, so that others, reading, can get on with far more important matters, and not let Dr. Madison’s nonsense be a stumbling-block to them.

By some estimates, its story of Jesus could have taken place in just two or three weeks . . . 

By comparing it to the other Gospels, it becomes clear that this isn’t the case.

Matthew, indeed, proved to be a master of invention. Other cults felt that virgin-birth was an appropriate credential for their sons of god, so Matthew decided to add that to Jesus; he goofed when he used a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 to slip virgin birth into his story.

I dealt with and disposed of this objection:

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: “Mistranslation” of “Virgin”? (Isaiah 7:14) (with Glenn Miller) [7-26-17]

Dual Fulfillment of Prophecy & the Virgin Birth (vs. JMS Pearce) [12-18-20]

But Matthew added troubling Jesus-script (10: 37), unknown to Mark; how does this rank on any scale of moral teaching? “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” We can infer from this that, by Matthew’s time, cult fanaticism was trending in the Jesus sect. As we shall see, Luke made this text worse. . . .  Moreover, he [Luke] felt that Matthew 10:37, was too mild, i.e., “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” He changed Jesus’ words to: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (14:26) You have to hate your own life. 

This is classic cult fanaticism; today we recommend deprogramming for people who get suckered in.  The devout are rightly shocked by Luke 14:26 and assume that surely it’s a misquote. But this verse provides insight into Luke’s agenda: he didn’t want people in the Jesus cult who had divided loyalties. Of course, this text has been a challenge to professional defenders of the faith: How to tone it down? The editors of the English Standard Version use the heading, “The Cost of Discipleship,” for this section, instead of, say, “Jesus the Cult Fanatic.” Most decent Christians would reject hatred of family as a “cost” of discipleship. 

Dealt with already:

Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #1: Hating One’s Family? [8-1-19]

Madison vs. Jesus #5: Cultlike Forsaking of Family? [8-5-19]

When Luke got to work on his gospel, he knew that Matthew had to be corrected as much as Mark did. 

Right. Now, I dare to ask (sorry for being rational and logical): how could anyone possibly “know” such a thing, unless Luke expressly stated it? This is, of course, the fallacy of the argument from silence.

What a dumb idea—he must have thought—having Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Egypt, so he deleted that from his birth narrative.

See my previous paragraph. This is the “dumb idea” here: not what the Bible describes about Jesus’ infancy.

But he had the even dumber idea of an empire-wide census that required people to travel to the home of their ancestors to sign up. No other historian of the time mentions any such thing; major chaos would have resulted from such a decree. 

Dealt with here:

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts [2-3-11]

Reply to Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce: Herod’s Death & Alleged “Contradictions” (with Jimmy Akin) [7-25-17]

Luke did include the Sermon on the Mount, but he shortened it, broke it up, altered the wording—and said it took place on a plain.

Dealt with:

Sermon on the Mount: Striking Topographical Facts (9-16-15)

His Jesus had been present at Creation, so he [John] left out the virgin birth; . . . 

This is beyond idiotic. All four Gospels teach the divinity / Godhood of Jesus (the incarnation). They all teach that He is eternal, and the Creator. The virgin birth doesn’t contradict the deity of Jesus. It’s simply the way that God became man. See:

Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

Deity of Jesus: Called Lord/Kurios & God/Theos [10-24-11]

Seidensticker Folly #55: Godhood of Jesus in the Synoptics [9-12-20]

Mark had claimed that Jesus taught only in parables (4:34), but John has no parables.

But Jesus does talk (as recorded in the Gospel of John) in many metaphorical or proverbial (non-literal) ways that bear resemblance to the synoptic parables. For example:

John 2:19-21 (RSV) Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he spoke of the temple of his body.

John 3:8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.

John 4:13-14 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, [14] but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (see also 10:1-10, 12-18, including Jesus calling Himself “the door” three times)

John 11:12-14 But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” [11] Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, “Our friend Laz’arus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” [12] The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Laz’arus is dead;”

But before we even get to that, one must properly understand Mark 4:34: “he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” This does not teachthat Jesus [all the time] taught only in parables.” And it doesn’t because we have to understand whether the statement was referring only to the immediate context or to all of Jesus’ teachings whatever. It’s patently obvious by reading the Gospels, that Jesus did not always teach in parables. So that isn’t even in question. Only a totally biased skeptic and apostate like Dr. Madison could even think that it is. He must twist his mind into a pretzel to believe such a ridiculous thing.

Secondly, even when Jesus used parables a lot, it doesn’t follow that He could never use other teaching methods (it’s not a mutually exclusive situation). Mark 4:34 could simply mean, “Jesus often included a parable when He taught.” The Bible uses a lot of hyperbole as well. Even in this passage, it says, “privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” But that’s not literally true, either. It’s only broadly true. So, for example, Jesus said to His disciples: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (Jn 16:12). In another instance, when Jesus started explaining that He was to be killed, and that this was God’s plan, Peter didn’t understand, and disagreed. Jesus rebuked him, but didn’t further  explain:

Matthew 16:21-23 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. [22] And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” [23] But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” (cf. Mk 8:31-33)

Here’s another similar example:

Luke 9:44-45 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” [45] But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

This was not a parable, but rather, a literal a prophetic statement about what was to happen, and Jesus did not explain it to His disciples.

There is no Eucharist in John’s; instead he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. 

It’s not stated, but we know that it took place, because this was the Last Supper, which was the Jewish Passover (a meal), incorporated into the new understanding of the Eucharist, instituted by Jesus. Since the three Synoptic Gospels mentioned the institution of the Eucharist, John didn’t necessarily have to. He concentrates on other things Jesus said during the last Supper. What Dr. Madison seems to think is a “contradiction” and a big concern, is none at all.

John also left out the Sermon on the Mount, . . . 

Technically, he didn’t “leave out” anything. He wrote exactly what he wanted to write in his account. If three accounts of something already exist, why have a fourth? Sometimes John also records events from the Synoptics, but he is under no obligation to do any of that. Only atheists seem to have this ludicrous idea that all four evangelists must always write exactly the same about everything, lest it is one of their endless pseudo-“contradictions.” Because of this warped, illogical, irrational mentality, Dr. Madison can write a ridiculous statement such as this, in conclusion:

With these examples, I’ve just scratched the surface. A careful study of the gospels—especially using a gospel parallels version—shows that, right from the start, the authors of the Jesus story couldn’t get the story straight, and it was a blunder to publish the four conflicting accounts side-by-side. Given this mess—so many different ideas from which to pick and choose—it’s hardly a surprise that Christians are so deeply divided. The bigger blunder, of course, was conferring “Word of God” status on these ancient novels. That’s an added layer of magical thinking.

The Bible truly describes people like Dr. Madison:

Proverbs 15:2 . . . the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Proverbs 15:14 The mind of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

Proverbs 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to himself.

Ecclesiastes 10:13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is wicked madness.

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Photo credit: netkids (3-22-16) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]

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December 29, 2020

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University.  I have replied to his videos or articles 42 times as of this writing. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him  (from 8-1-19 to 12-29-20). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, the atheist author, polemicist, and extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the ultra-insulting Debunking Christianity blog. Dr. Madison made his cramped, insulated mentality clear in a comment from 9-6-19:

[T]he burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked. . . . I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.

John “you are an idiot!” Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, so that he and Dr. Madison could avoid replying to yours truly, or even see notices of my replies (er, sorry, rants, rather). Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue.

Presently, I am replying to his article, “Bible Blunders & Bad Theology, Part 7″ (12-18-20).

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Proverbs 26:11 (RSV) Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly.

2 Peter 2:22 . . . the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.

Proverbs 1:22 How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

Proverbs 9:7-8 He who corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. [8] Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

*****

The gospel of Mark is a good place to start. Do Christians really want the Jesus depicted here? In an article I posted here in January 2018,Getting the Gospels Off on the Wrong Foot,” I said this: “If you accept the Jesus of Mark’s gospel, you are well on the way to full-throttle crazy religion. No slick excuses offered by priests and pastors—none of their pious posturing about ‘our Lord and Savior’—can change that fact.” 

In the fifth chapter, for example, Jesus encounters a mentally ill man, and by a magic spell he transfers the guy’s demons into pigs. Most of us today wouldn’t agree that mental illness is caused by demons, or that a holy man could send them into pigs. That’s a sample of the superstition we find in Mark. Yes, we can chalk this up the naiveté of ancient thinking, and it’s too bad the Word of God didn’t rise above that.

But we find something even more troubling in Mark 4, an alarming text that should alert Christians that something is amiss. After Jesus has told the Parable of the Sower, 

“When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4:10-12)

Devout scholars have been wringing their hands about this text for a long time. How can it be that Jesus tells parables to prevent people from repenting and being forgiven? On what level does that make sense?

I thoroughly refuted this pseudo-“objection” (so-called “blunder” and “bad theology”) over a year and four months ago:

Madison vs. Jesus #7: God Prohibits Some Folks’ Repentance? [8-6-19]

But since Dr. Madison deliberately ignores any critique of his contentions that I provide, he simply returned to his vomit and wallowed in the mire yet again.

Sometimes the cult-centric texts sound nice, for example, Mark 12:30, a command from Jesus: “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” How can a loving God require this level of devotion and subservience? Divine narcissism is fueled by the certainty that worshippers love at this all, all, all, all level. 

But what’s the point? Indeed most Christians—at least those who don’t choose monastic seclusion—have families, jobs, hobbies and pastimes that require major commitments of their hearts, souls, minds, and strength; they are not as fanatically obsessed with God as Jesus commands in Mark 12:30. Very few take this text seriously.

I thoroughly refuted this pseudo-“objection” (so-called “blunder” and “bad theology”) over a year and four months ago:

Madison vs. Jesus #6: Narcissistic, Love-Starved God? [8-6-19]

But since Dr. Madison deliberately ignores any critique of his contentions that I provide, he simply returned to his vomit and wallowed in the mire yet again.

And it gets worse. Mark 12:30 is a preamble to train wreck verses in Matthew 10; when Christians read these, why don’t they cancel their memberships?

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (verses 34-36)

And then Jesus the cult fanatic—Matthew’s version—puts the frosting on the cake: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  (verses 37-38)

Luke, however, wasn’t satisfied with even this. He added hate to the formula: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (14:26) 

Not only hatred of family, but hatred of life itself.

I thoroughly refuted this pseudo-“objection” (so-called “blunder” and “bad theology”) over a year and four months ago:

Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #1: Hating One’s Family? [8-1-19]

But since Dr. Madison deliberately ignores any critique of his contentions that I provide, he simply returned to his vomit and wallowed in the mire yet again.

For quite a while now I have used the term Ancient Jesus Mystery Cult to describe Christianity. Indeed the early followers of Jesus were in competition with other cults in the first century, others that celebrated resurrected gods and knew secret formulas for achieving eternal life. Sacred meals were sometimes part of the package, and the Jesus cult was not to be outdone, especially in the theology imagined by the author of John’s gospel. 

So we come to the final train wreck verses to examine here—perhaps a highpoint of bad theology. The sacred meal proposed by John included Jesus’ body parts. After all, according to John, Jesus had been present at creation; he was “one with the father,” so how could his body not have magical properties? John invented this Jesus script:

“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”  (John 6:53-57)

This is an extreme—and disgusting—example of magical thinking; making it a “sacrament” adds to the disgrace. When Christians are asked to pretend—to simulate—drinking blood, that’s the time to head for the exit!

I thoroughly refuted this pseudo-“objection” (so-called “blunder” and “bad theology”) over a year and four months ago:

Madison vs. Jesus #8: Holy Eucharist as “Grotesque Magic”? [8-7-19]

But since Dr. Madison deliberately ignores any critique of his contentions that I provide, he simply returned to his vomit and wallowed in the mire yet again.

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Photo credit: Mark Peters (9-26-10). Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

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December 18, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce’s “About” page states: “Pearce is a philosopher, author, blogger, public speaker and teacher from Hampshire in the UK. He specialises in philosophy of religion, but likes to turn his hand to science, psychology, politics and anything involved in investigating reality.” His words will be in blue.

*****

Jonathan wrote a paper called “On Harmonising Biblical Contradictions” (7-23-17). I replied with “Gadarenes, Gerasenes, Swine, & Atheist Skeptics” (7-25-17). He then counter-replied with “The Demons! The Demons! Replying to Armstrong on Biblical Contradictions” (7-29-17). This is my reply to the latter.

Problem 2 – one or two demons

Problem 2

I will start with Problem 2 because Dave appears not to have even read my original piece, deferring to the very argument I decry. . . . 

The number of demons are multiple in all accounts (Mk 5:9-12; Mt 8:31; Lk 8:30-33), so that is a non-issue as well. Why, then, does Jonathan wonder about “one or two demons”? It’s neither. It is “many.”

Wow. Okay, so he starts out by attacking my logic, and then says that they all state many. But the passages are very explicit, as I quoted them:

[he then merely reposts the passages as he did in his first piece: Mark 5:1-2; Matthew 8:28; and Luke 8:26-27]

Note that at this point in the argument he is discussing how many demons were mentioned in these stories, not men (that comes later). He claims I didn’t even read his arguments, but I did, which is why I denied that the issue of either one or two men and one or more demons involves technical logical contradiction. Hence, in the larger citation of my words one can see how I included both:

The “one or two” [men / demons] supposed “contradiction” is clearly not one at all, by the rules of logic.

But (again) here at this point, following Jonathan’s own progression of argument, he mentioned only the numbers of demons. Readers will note that the passages I list, having to do with the incident, are from the latter parts of the accounts, where all mention multiple demons. That‘s what I was referring to. Mark 5:9 (RSV, as throughout) has the demons saying “we are many”. 5:12-13 add “they begged him” /  “Send us . . .  let us  . . .” / “he gave them leave” / “unclean spirits”. So there are multiple demons involved, not one. Matthew 8:31 (and 8:32) are very similar, mentioning “demons” and using plural forms of words several times. Luke 8:30-33 is also the same, mentioning “many demons” and “the demons” etc.

This was my reply to “one or two demons.” Even that is an inaccurate way to describe the passage. The question is whether there was one demon or many. All three gospels fully agree that there were many. So Jonathan’s query as to supposed contradictoriness is literally nonsensical. There is no “problem” here. It may be, however, that Jonathan was mistakenly using the term “demons” to refer to the men. The proper term to use is “demoniacs” or “demon-possessed men.”

Then right after citing his three passages (needlessly, since I saw them already in his first piece), he goes right into the supposed “contradiction” of one or two men (depending on which Gospel report one reads):

Whether you like it or not, Jesus was either met by one man or two. I couldn’t give a withered fig as to whether this is remotely important or not, but it is a contradiction.

Once again, it is not a contradiction, and I explained why in what he already cited from me. He doesn’t seem to grasp it, so here it is again:

Mentioning one is as easily explained as saying that one writer drew from a (non-infallible) oral tradition in which one was mentioned, and the second from a tradition that mentioned two. Even those weren’t necessarily contradictory. In order to be, one account would have to say “only one” and the other “two.” That would be a logical contradiction. But they don’t . . .

This basic fact of the nature of a numerical contradiction remains true, no matter how much Jonathan prattles on about how folks ought to talk about numbers (“bastardisation of the English language” etc.). He also wastes much ink arguing with another apologist, J. P. Holding. He’s more than able to defend himself. I defend my own arguments, thank you.

But there are additional observations about this that may be helpful: having to do with emphasis. The Thy Word is True website (“Demoniacs: One or Two?”) gives a perfectly plausible explanation that I think Jonathan hasn’t considered (nor did I myself before I read it; but it makes perfect sense):

[I]n Matthew 8:28, it is giving an extra information, that there was a second demon-possessed person. One was the leader of the two. Of course, one of the two was possessed by “Legion”. Yet, it is also possible that these “legion” of demons possessed both of the unfortunate men. Whatever the case, the thing is that only one of the two demon-possessed men responded to Jesus Christ after He set them free from the demons and cast the demons into the group of swine.

[I will use RSV for the Bible citations in this quote]

Mark 5:18-19 And as he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. [19] But he refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Luke 8:38-39 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, [39] “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

This is why only Mark and Luke mention only one demon-possessed person because only he was of significance to the story. Only he gave thanks to Jesus Christ our Lord for setting him free from Satan’s minions. The other was not mentioned because he probably gave no thanks to Jesus Christ and ran off still stuck in his evil ways. Now look at the man who did respond to Jesus Christ.

Luke 8:35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

Matthew does not mention that this man expressed appreciation and a desire to follow and be with Jesus. So the key to the difference is “Mark and Luke mention only one demon-possessed person because only he was of significance to the story. Only he gave thanks to Jesus Christ . . .”

Gleason L. Archer, author of the wonderful (but to atheists, notorious and infamous) Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982) approaches the same question differently, but still similarly:

Mark and Luke center attention on the more prominent and outspoken of the two, the one whose demonic occupants called themselves “Legion.”

As a seminary professor I have occasionally had small elective courses containing only two students. In some cases i remember only one of them with any distinctness, simply because he was the more brilliant and articulate of the two. If I were to compose a set of memoirs and speak of only one of my two-student class, I could hardly be charged with contradicting the historical fact that there were actually two of them in the elective course. (p. 325).

Likewise, Mark and Luke don’t contradict the other two because they mention only one man anymore than a baseball player contradicts himself in reminiscing: “I distinctly remember a person who expressed extreme gratefulness when I gave them my autograph on opening day.” He may also mention scores of others who were also there getting his autograph or he may not. But in any event, it’s not a contradiction to mention one person only. It would be only if he said, “this person was the only one there that day getting my autograph.”

Luke takes the same approach in the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Archer elaborates:

Matthew was concerned to mention all who were involved in this episode . . . Matthew is content to record that actual scene of healing, whereas Luke gives particular attention to the entire proceedings, from the moment that  Bartimaeus first heard about Jesus’ arrival — a feature only cursorily suggested by Mark 10:46 — because he is interested in the beggar’s persistence in request before the cure was actually performed on him. As for the second blind beggar, neither Mark nor Luke find him significant enough to mention; presumably he was the more colorless personality of the two. (Ibid., p. 333)

Jonathan then moves onto the “Gadarene / Gerasene / Gergesene” issue. Here, he chose to ignore the subtlest and most detailed portions of my argument: mostly citing experts. Therefore, I’ll post it again (between the two sets of five asterisks) — repetition being a great teacher!:

*****

Here are the actual descriptions (RSV):

Mark 5:1 . . . the country of the Ger’asenes.

Luke 8:26 . . . the country of the Ger’asenes . . .

Matthew 8:28 . . . the country of the Gadarenes . . .

Note that the texts don’t say Gerasa or Gadara, so they aren’t necessarily referring just to one of the cities. They all say “country of . . .” (in the sense of region, not “nation”). “Gerasenes” could have had a sense of reference to the entire region (as well as to a city: just as “New Yorker” can refer to the state or city), and “Gadarenes” likely was a reference to the most prominent city of the region at the time. Smith’s Bible Dictionary provides what I find to be a quite plausible explanation (not “special pleading” at all), and analogous to how we still use place names today:

These three names are used indiscriminately to designate the place where Jesus healed two demoniacs. The first two are in the Authorized Version. (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26) In Gerasenes in place of Gadarenes. The miracle referred to took place, without doubt, near the town of Gergesa, the modern Kersa, close by the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and hence in the country of Gergesenes. But as Gergesa was a small village, and little known, the evangelists, who wrote for more distant readers, spoke of the event as taking place in the country of the Gadarenes, so named from its largest city, Gadara; and this country included the country of the Gergesenes as a state includes a county. The Gerasenes were the people of the district of which Gerasa was the capital. This city was better known than Gadara or Gergesa; indeed in the Roman age no city of Palestine was better known. “It became one of the proudest cities of Syria.” It was situated some 30 miles southeast of Gadara, on the borders of Peraea and a little north of the river Jabbok. It is now called Jerash and is a deserted ruin. The district of the Gerasenes probably included that of the Gadarenes; so that the demoniac of Gergesa belonged to the country of the Gadarenes and also to that of the Gerasenes, as the same person may, with equal truth, be said to live in the city or the state, or in the United States. For those near by the local name would be used; but in writing to a distant people, as the Greeks and Romans, the more comprehensive and general name would be given.

The Biblical Training site (“Gerasenes”) elaborates:

The fact that Matthew places the healing of “Legion” in the “country of the Gadarenes” whereas Mark and Luke place it in the “country of the Gerasenes” may be harmonized on the historical grounds that geographical boundaries overlapped, and on the exegetical consideration that “country” embraced a wide area around the cities.

It’s simply alternate names for the same area: thus not contradictory at all. I think the coup de grâce is to look up the Greek word for “country” in these passages, to see what latitude of meaning it has. In all three instances the word is chōra (Strong’s word #5561). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “the space lying between two places or limits . . . region or country.” The Sea of Galilee was clearly one of the limits.

In Luke 2:8 it is applied to the city of Bethlehem; in Acts 18:23 to Galatia and Phrygia. In Mark 1:5 it is used of “the land of Judaea” (KJV) and in Acts 10:39,to “land of the Jews” (KJV). In Acts 8:1 we have the “regions of Judaea and Samaria” (KJV), and in Acts 16:6, Galatia alone. Thus it is not always used of one specific country (nation), but rather, usually to regions or areas of either small (Bethlehem) or large (Judaea and Samaria) size, including regions surrounding large cities.

All of this sure seems perfectly consistent with calling the same area the “country” (chōra) of either the Gerasenes or the Gadarenes, after the two major cities.

*****

Maybe this time Jonathan will grapple with these portions. His blithely passing over all this material is a classic example of what I meant when I wrote on his blog two days ago:

think what happened in 2017 is that I saw that you were not addressing my arguments in full, but rather, taking shots at a few carefully selected ones and ignoring the others. And so I must have decided (one makes such decisions when there are many possible topics to write about) not to reply further. It looks like you only addressed (at all) two of my four Christmas-related posts and blew off my papers on “Contradictory” Genealogies of Christ? and Bethlehem & Nazareth “Contradictions”.

Obviously, then, you selected what you would spend time on, just as I did. I do give you credit, on the other hand, for at least doing that, in light of the behavior of many of your cohorts like Seidensticker, Madison, Loftus et al, who absolutely refuse to engage, other than with insults. And you haven’t banned me. Kudos!

Just for good measure, I’ll add a bit more material that Jonathan can choose to either again ignore or actually address. Gleason Archer tackles this “problem”:

[I]t is entirely possible that the political control of this region was centered in Gadara as the capital city. Hence it would be called “the land of the Gadarenes.” . . . (Ibid., p. 325).

 

The site Evidence for Christianity focuses on the different intended audiences for the Synoptic Gospels:

On the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee (actually to the Southeast) there are two cities. One is Gadara.  The other is Gerasa.  Gadara is the chief Jewish city of the area, so the more Jewish-oriented Matthew naturally calls this the region of the Gadarenes.  The principle Graeco-Roman city in the area known as the Decapolis, was Gerasa . . . The more Roman-oriented Mark and the more Greek-oriented Luke naturally call the region, Gerasa and tell us the demoniac came from the region of the Gerasenes. Both cities are to the Southeast of the Sea of Galilee.  Gerasa is larger, but is farther from the Sea. It was the chief city of the area. Gadara was closer, but not as significant a city.  There is no contradiction here.  If someone lived in the city of Norwalk, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, some would say that the person lived in Norwalk.  Others would say that he or she lived in Los Angeles.  If speaking to someone from Europe, surely they would say Los Angeles, but if speaking to someone from LA county, they would say Norwalk.  This is not contradiction. It is a different description of the same facts, adapted to the audience of the facts.

Apologetics Press basically concurs:

Matthew, Mark, and Luke were writing of the same general area. The Roman city Gerasa was a famous city that would have been familiar to a Gentile audience, but Gadara, as the capital city of the Roman province of Perea, was the chief of the ten cities in Decapolis . . ., so even those who lived in Gerasa could have been called Gadarenes. The stamp of a ship on Gadarene coins suggests that the region called Gadara probably extended to Galilee . . .

Logic & Light comes at it from a different (and fascinating) angle:

Dr. Timothy McGrew persuasively argues that “country of the Gerasenes” refers not to Gerasa, but to the town of Kursi (which was in the region of Gadara).  [Alleged Historical Errors in the Gospels, published online, 2012, pg. 52-53] He makes this argument based on the fact that the original Aramaic names for Gerasa and Kursi would have been spelled very similarly if not identically.  Therefore, the identification with Gerasa is potentially due to an early copyist mistake or misinterpretation of Kursi.

Dr. McGrew’s theory is strongly supported by the geography of Kursi and early church history.  Kursi is on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and has a steep hill that runs directly into the water . . .

In addition, the early church, through the 3rd century church father Origen, identified Kursi as the town in which this miracle occurred.  Further, an early 5th century Christian monastery was built in Kursi and seems to have been located there to commemorate this event.

I think all these attempts to harmonize the seeming contradiction are plausible and respectable. Jonathan will likely disagree. But then it gets down to an extremely complex discussion of why and how people differ on relative plausibility. In any event, I think the language Jonathan uses in his second post on the topic towards Christians who may believe explanations like the above (“disingenuous” / “scenarios that are unbelievably unlikely”) is unwarranted. As always, I appeal to fair-minded readers, attempting to be rational and objective, to make up their own minds. Both sides have been presented here.

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Photo credit: Map of the Decapolis; Nichalp (12-14-05) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license]

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November 25, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . 

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But b10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 64 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 10-17-20: “Every engagement with him [yours truly] devolves into pointlessness. I don’t believe I’ve ever learned anything from him. But if you find a compelling argument of his, summarize it for us.” And again the next day: “He has certainly not earned a spot in my heart, so I will pass on funding his evidence-free project. Like you, I also find that he’s frustrating to talk with. Again, I evaluate such conversations as useful if I can learn something–find a mistake in my argument, uncover an error I made in Christians’ worldview, and so on. Dave is good at bluster, and that’s about it.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blueTo find these posts, follow this link: Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

Today’s critique is a case study in a person who is utterly unwilling to be instructed (certainly not by one of us lowly, ignorant Christians!). I observed Bob railing about supposed unresolvable contradictions in Ten Commandments accounts in the Bible, in one of his comboxes. In this instance, a Christian (“Scooter”) was there trying to talk sense into Bob, who would have none of it. Undaunted, he simply kept up his pitiable anti-Bible polemics and rhetoric:

Read Exodus 34. This is Moses getting the second set of tablets (remember that he smashed the first set).

Ex. 34:28 says: “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”

After you’ve done that, tell us what you’ve found. (11-20-20)

ScooterI note that quite often your responses suffer from the “I’ve got my mind made up, don’t confuse me with the facts” syndrome. So I encourage you to read Deuteronomy 5 again that debunks the idea that there were 2 different sets of Commandments. (11-21-20)

As Greg noted, don’t whine to us about who has his mind made up.

Ex. 20 and 34 have two very different sets of 10 Commandments. Or is God’s holy word something that you don’t bother reading or understanding?

The Documentary Hypothesis very neatly explains this and other conflations of two stories in the Bible (Flood, Creation, and others). (11-21-20)

ScooterThe Documentary Hypothesis and the arguments that support it have been effectively demolished by scholars from many different theological perspectives and areas of expertise. Read Ex.34 verse one very carefully. (11-21-20)

[W]hen you read the 10 Cs in Ex. 34 and compare that with “the words that were on the first tables” in Ex. 20, you find two very different sets of commandments. (11-21-20)

Since you refuse to address my point about the 2 incompatible versions of the 10 Commandments in the same book of the Bible, I’ll assume that you agree that it’s a problem.

As for the Documentary Hypothesis, it has been tweaked, but the core idea is unchanged: the Pentateuch that we have is the mixing of a number of different traditions. If you want to attack this, give me a reference. (11-22-20)

Happy to oblige:

Documentary Theory of Biblical Authorship (JEPD): Dialogue [2-12-04]

Silent Night: A “Progressive” and “Enlightened” Reinterpretation [12-10-04; additionally edited for publication at National Catholic Register: 12-21-17]

Documentary Theory (Pentateuch): Critical Articles [6-21-10]

“Higher” Hapless Haranguing of Hypothetical Hittites (19th C.) [10-21-11; abridged 7-7-20]

C. S. Lewis Roundly Mocked the Documentary Hypothesis [10-6-19]

The Bible states:

Proverbs 1:22 (RSV) How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

Proverbs 13:16 In everything a prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.

Proverbs 15:14 The mind of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

Proverbs 26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly.

Sirach 21:18 Like a house that has vanished, so is wisdom to a fool; and the knowledge of the ignorant is unexamined talk.

2 Timothy 3:7 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

This is Bob’s problem. He won’t accept any instruction or even clarification from Christians. He knows all. He knows better than Christians (even scholars) who have devoted their lives to studying and understanding the Bible. He thinks that he’s virtually infallible (judging by his constant words and actions), when it comes to the Bible and Christian theology, even though he himself at least honestly admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” How impressive . . . 

I thoroughly refuted his “two contradictory sets of Ten Commandments” schtick over two years ago: Seidensticker Folly #16: Two Sets of Ten Commandments? A person who was confident of his positions and interested in open-minded, interactive dialogue would have welcomed such an opportunity.

But because Bob refuses to learn anything about the Bible (or read or respond to any of my 65 critiques), he simply repeats his same old stupid errors. He has no interest whatsoever in constructive dialogue. This is (to put it very mildly) not an impressive or constructive intellectual “place” to be. The true thinker is always willing to dialogue, be corrected, and learn. It’s the blind leading the blind. Bob offers up yet more slop on almost a daily basis, and his sycophants and cheerleaders sop it up, no matter how noxious or toxic his “stew” is.

All we Christian apologists can do is offer reasonable counter-explanations and refutations and shake our heads at the silliness and sheer impervious irrationality of what goes on on a regular basis at Cross Examined and many other anti-theist “bubble” venues like it (such as John Loftus’ Debunking Christianity site).

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Photo credit: paulbr75 (8-30-18) [PixabayPixabay License]

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November 23, 2020

vs. Dr. Steven DiMattei 

Dr. Steven DiMattei is a biblical scholar and author, formally trained in the New Testament and early Christianity, with M.A degrees in Classics and Comparative Literature as well. Rumor has it that he is an atheist, but I haven’t been able to confirm that on his site. He put up a website called Contradictions in the Bible. It seems inactive now (or he has lost interest or moved onto other things: who knows?), but the themes are things I really enjoy discussing and debating, and his articles are still online for all to see; thus fair game for critique — and stimulating food for thought, too. There is almost nothing I like to discuss and think about more than the interpretation of the Bible. Steven wrote in a post dated 5-7-16:

One of my reasons in choosing the word “defend” to describe my aims as a biblical scholar and author was in part to attract Christian apologists to my work and hopefully to get them to read these ancient texts on their terms and from within their own cultural contexts and to create a conversation around the biblical texts, their authors, and their competing beliefs, messages, worldviews, theologies, etc. As you can imagine this has proven quite difficult, nay impossible. Many Christian apologists and fundamentalists just cannot read, or simply identify, the text on its own terms separate from the beliefs and assumptions about the text handed-down through this collection of ancient literature’s title, “the Holy Book.”

Here  I am: an apologist quite willing to engage in conversation. It takes two. So we’ll see if Steven is willing to follow through on his stated desire. I have had my own long history (in almost 40 years of apologetics) of “difficult, nay impossible” attempts to discuss matters with many people who tend to be of a few particular belief-systems, though I have no problem talking with anyone who is civil and can stick to a topic. I don’t just say this, I have a demonstrable record of doing it, which is evident on my blog, with its 1000+ dialogues. But as I said, dialogue takes two, and I would add that it also requires a degree of at least minimal mutual respect. Steven’s words will be in blue.

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I am critiquing two related articles of his, on alleged “biblical contradictions”:

#159. The Golden Calf OR the Golden Cherubs? (Ex 32:4 vs Ex 25:18-20, 37:7-9)

#157. Is the festival associated with the Golden Calf a festival to Yahweh OR to other gods? (Ex 32:5 vs Ex 32:1, 32:4, 32:8)

I shall deal with #159 first, because its errors are more basic, groundless, and indefensible.

What is the difference between these golden cherubs and the golden calf? Why is it permitted to fabricate golden cherubs and not the golden calf? 

Short answer: because one was intended to be gross idolatry (the calf) and the other was a permitted non-idolatrous religious image, sanctioned by God. I have written about the details of the outrageous and blasphemous idolatry of the golden calf and the nature of idolatry as the Bible defines it:

Is the Mass Equivalent to OT Golden Calf Worship? [1996]

Biblical Idolatry: Authentic & Counterfeit Conceptions [2015]

On the other hand, there are many examples of permitted images in Old Testament worship, including the temple and ark of the covenant (in other words, not all images were forbidden “graven images” or idolatrous):

Veneration of Images, Iconoclasm, and Idolatry (An Exposition) [11-15-02]

Bible on Holy Places & Things [1-8-08]

Bible on Physical Objects as Aids in Worship [4-7-09]

Biblical Evidence for Worship of God Via an Image [6-24-11]

The Bronze Serpent: Example of Proper Use of Images [Feb. 2012]

“Graven Images”: Unbiblical Iconoclasm (vs. John Calvin) [Oct. 2012]

Worshiping God Through Images is Entirely Biblical [National Catholic Register, 12-23-16]

Statues in Relation to Bowing, Prayer, & Worship in Scripture [12-26-17]

Biblical Evidence for Veneration of Saints and Images [National Catholic Register, 10-23-18]

Crucifixes & Worship Images: “New” (?) Biblical Arguments [1-18-20]

Is Worship of God Through an Image Biblical? (vs. Luke Wayne) [11-10-20]

The ark of the covenant, which included the two golden cherubim on top, was never intended to be a representation of God. One can search the Bible in vain and never find the slightest hint of any such thing. God gave elaborate instructions for the construction of the ark and its use. I recently engaged an anti-Catholic Protestant who correctly noted that these two cherubim were not to be worshiped, but that God appeared in the space between the two of them (as the Bible states several times). But there was a permitted image involved (a cloud), as I detailed:

Luke makes a clever and interesting argument that the space between the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant, where God says He is present and to be worshiped (despite being surrounded by carved cherubim [angels]) is “empty space” and “imageless space” and “with no image.” But this is untrue, as the Bible informs us:

Leviticus 16:2 and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is upon the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.

This cloud was visible, just as in other passages above, like Exodus 13:21; 19:18; 24:16; 33:10 (“the people saw the pillar of cloud”), and others like Numbers 16:42 (“the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared“) and Deuteronomy 31:15 (“And the LORD appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud“). The very word “appear” in Leviticus 16:2  and the last two passages also proves it. God doesn’t just say that He will be “present”, but that He will “appear” in this cloud.

The Bible draws a big distinction between a permitted, non-idolatrous image and idolatrous images deliberately intended to be idols.

Aren’t they both idols? Furthermore, why would Yahweh’s most Holy of Holies contain two golden cherubs? Were these representations of the god? Was the golden calf a representation of the god?

These are remarkable questions: asked by one who is highly educated in Bible study. It’s amazing to have to answer such questions at all. But here I go. I dealt with the golden calf in depth 24 years ago. Here are some highlights:

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In Exodus 32:1, the NRSV reads, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us……” (cf. 32:23)

Exodus 32:4-5 informs us:

    He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.”

It is, therefore, clear that this is idolatry and otherwise sinful, on many counts:

1) It represents not even the one God, but “gods,” so that it falls under the absolute prohibition of polytheism which was known to any observant Hebrew (see, e.g., Ps 106:19-23; cf. Hab 2:18).

2) Nowhere are the Jews permitted to build a calf as an “image” of God. This was an outright violation of the injunctions against “molten images” (Ex 34:17; Lev 19:4; Num 33:52; Dt 27:15: all condemn such idols, using the same Hebrew word which appears in Ex 32:4, 8, 17: massekah).

3) Aaron built an altar before what the people regarded as “gods,” thus blaspheming the true God.

4) Lies were told and believed about “gods,” not God, liberating the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery.

6) NASB and NKJV read “god” at Ex 32:4 (not even capitalized), so that is clearly not intended as a reference to the one true God, YHWH, according to the accepted practice of all Bible translations. NRSV, KJV, RSV, NIV, NEB, & REB have “gods.” In either case, the view is not monotheistic, nor is it at all analogous to the belief and practice of those Christians who accept the Real Presence.

[as to even the early portions of the Bible (and all portions) being monotheistic, see:

Seidensticker Folly #19: Torah & OT Teach Polytheism? [9-18-18]

Seidensticker Folly #20: An Evolving God in the OT? [9-18-18]

Loftus Atheist Error #8: Ancient Jews, “Body” of God, & Polytheism [9-10-19]

Do the OT & NT Teach Polytheism or Henotheism? [7-1-20]

The Bible Teaches That Other “Gods” are Imaginary [National Catholic Register, 7-10-20] ]

Exodus 32:1 (cf. 32:23),. . . is revealing as to the state of mind of these idolaters. They ask Aaron to “make” them “gods.” Obviously, they could not have YHVH in mind at that point, since I imagine they at least knew that He is not “made by hands” and is eternal. Then they say these gods “shall go before us.” In my opinion, , the most straightforward interpretation of that is the golden calf being carried before them. How could they think (even in their debased state of mind) that YHVH Himself could be compelled to “go before them?” Therefore, they must have regarded the calf as a pure idol of their own making, not as a mere representation of the true God, because these contextual verses make clear that they didn’t have YHVH in mind.

If the above data isn’t sufficient, surely Psalm 106:19-21 nails down my case (NRSV):

    They made a calf at Horeb and worshiped a cast image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt.

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If the biblical writers regarded the golden calf as an idol and condemned propitiating it or any image, then why is not the same upheld for these golden cherubs?

See the above. Short answer: the cherubim were never conceived as representative of God (or even “gods”), let alone worshiped as such. God said that He appeared between their wings, in a cloud. The golden calf, on the other hand, clearly was conceived as, and worshiped as an idol, in place of the true God.

Steven attempts to argue that Jeroboam’s similar idolatry could be seen as some kind of permissible worship by ancient Hebraic standards (partly derived from practices of surrounding or prior cultures):

It is quite possible that the calf altars that Jeroboam constructed, of which the golden calf story is a parody (#157), were throne seats as well. There is ample evidence from the ancient Near East of deities seated upon bulls. Scholars have certainly started to envision Jeroboam’s calf altars as just that—not representations of Yahweh, but his thrones. In this case, the calf-altar cult of the north rivaled the southern temple in Jerusalem. The depiction of the golden calf as an idol, or as gods, was part and parcel to the propaganda and polemic of the pro-Jerusalemite scribes who wrote it. In the end, however, these cultic symbols were no different than the cherubim that stood in the Holy of Holies and also served to represent the deities presence.

This is all arbitrary speculation, of course (as is much of documentary theory, which has long since been discredited). The actual biblical texts show quite otherwise. Ahijah spoke the word of the Lord concerning Jeroboam’s sin:

1 Kings 14:9 (RSV) . . . you have done evil above all that were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and molten images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back.

Also:

1 Kings 12:28, 32 So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” . . .

. . . and he offered sacrifices upon the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made.

Note: this is not intending “Yahweh to be worshiped through” the graven images, as you claim, but rather (according to God Himself, Who knows all things) “other gods.” Jeroboam himself refers to “gods”: a rank polytheism and idolatry indeed. We know that he sacrificed to these stupid molten images. It couldn’t be more clear than it is.

The New Bible Dictionary (edited by J. D. Douglas, 1962), in its article on Jeroboam, noted:

They threatened true religion by encouraging a syncretism of Yahweh worship with the fertility cult of Baal and thus drew a prophetic rebuke. (p. 614)

Likewise, in its article on “Idolatry”:

[I]t is a most significant thing that when Israel turned to idolatry it was always necessary to borrow the outward trappings from the pagan environment . . . The golden calves made by Jeroboam (1 Ki 12:28) were well-known Canaanite symbols, and in the same way, whenever the kings of Israel and Judah lapsed into idolatry, it was by means of borrowing and syncretism. (p. 552)

Albright, in his discussion of the bulls of Jeroboam, noted:

So Jeroboam may well have been harking back to early Israelite traditional practice when he made the “golden calves.” It is hardly necessary to point out that it was a dangerous revival, since the taurine associations of Baal, lord of heaven, were too closely bound up with the fertility cult in its more insidious aspects to be safe. The cherubim, being mythical animals, served to enhance the majesty of Yahweh, “who rides on a cherub” (II Sam. 22:11) or “who thrones on the cherubim” (II Kings 19:15, etc.), but the young bulls of Bethel and Dan could only debase His cult. (From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2nd edition, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1957, 301)

The brilliant biblical scholar F. F. Bruce draws a similar comparison and contrast:

It may be asked whether there was any difference in principle between the use of bull-calf images to support Yahweh’s invisible presence and the use of cherubs for the same purpose in the holy of holies at Jerusalem. The answer probably is that the cherubs were symbolical beings (representing originally the storm-winds) and their images were therefore not “any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” [note: Ex. 20:4; Deut. 5:8], whereas the bull-calf images were all too closely associated with Canaanite fertility ritual. It appears from the ritual texts of Ugarit that El, the supreme God of the Canaanite pantheon, was on occasion actually hypostatized as a bull (shor), and known as Shor-El.  (Israel and the Nations, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1963; reprinted 1981, 40-41)

I move on now to Steven’s paper alleging a “biblical contradiction” #157:

[T]he people clamor for gods who “will go in front of us” since Moses has apparently disappeared. Aaron abides by their wishes, and melting the peoples’ gold jewelry down he “fashioned it with a stylus and made a molten calf,” and then proclaimed: “these are your gods Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” As our first textual anomaly, we notice that one calf is made, yet the text proclaims “gods” in the plural. Why?

Now Steven is making the orthodox Christian argument for us. Thanks!

Second, and largely illogical in the larger narrative context, merely days after the Horeb revelation, the giving and acceptance of the laws by the people, one of which stipulated no images, and apparently only a short time after witnessing Yahweh’s “signs and wonders” in his destruction of Egypt, their land, livestock, plants, and all firstborns, and the parting of the sea of Reeds, it is these new gods who are proclaimed as the gods “who brought you out of Egypt.” There is much that initially does not make any sense here.

Idolatry and rebellion against God never does: yet it is the constant, continual pattern of the Old Testament.

Lastly, Aaron builds an altar before the molten image and proclaims “a festival to Yahweh tomorrow!” And then we’re told that “they got up early the next day and made burnt offerings and brought over peace offerings”—that is, common sacrificial offerings to Yahweh. So, what or who exactly is being celebrated: Yahweh, the golden calf, or the “gods” who apparently brought Israel out of Egypt? Additionally, what is the relationship, that the text firmly implies, between Yahweh, the Golden Calf, and the “gods” of which it speaks?

It was an heretical mixture of orthodox and heterodox elements (as heretical departures invariably are). Aaron refers to “gods” as supposedly the ones who liberated the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery, builds an altar to the calf who represents them, then speaks of a “festival to the LORD” (Yahweh): Exodus 32:4-5. It’s classic heterodox syncretism: that Judaism and Christianity have been “blessed” with since time immemorial.

Even more puzzling, this all occurs right on the heels of the Exodus, the miraculous crossing of the Red sea, the witnessing of Yahweh’s ten terrifying signs and wonders by which means he destroyed Egypt and redeemed the children of Israel. The story of the Golden Calf makes no sense within this literary context. Even granting the people’s inclination, if you like, toward disobedience, it still makes no sense following the array of Yahweh’s awesome signs, wonders, miracles, and theophany, as well as their own verbally expressed consent to be Yahweh’s people and uphold his covenant. Like so many of the murmuring stories in Exodus and Numbers, the stories have little historical semblance and make no sense in their literary contexts . . . 

Again, rebellion and heterodoxy never do make any sense; and they don’t because they aren’t rational to begin with, and originate in grace-deprived hearts filled with disbelief, lack of faith in and gratefulness to God, and rebellion. Steven doesn’t get it because he himself suffers from the acceptance of scores of false presuppositions and false conclusions drawn from same.

Rather, the Golden Calf episode was written as an independent story with a specific message to a specific audience. It was later inserted, rather poorly it must be said, into its current literary context in Exodus.

Faced with this evidence of irrational behavior of the ancient Jews, Steven does what all biblical skeptics do: he starts to construct imaginary interpolations into the text, from different writers in different times. There’s no proof (I dare bring up!) of any such thing. It’s all completely arbitrary speculation.

So what is the purpose and message of the Golden Calf narrative?

Don’t forsake the true God with blasphemous and downright silly and foolish idolatrous beliefs and practices . . .

Here is an example of the ridiculous speculation that adherents of the documentary theory habitually make:

The statement in 1 Kings 12:28 is claimed to have been said by Jeroboam I, the northern kingdom’s first king after its secession from Solomon’s tyranny. It must also be borne in mind that this is what the author, most likely the pro-Solomonic southern Deuteronomist, says Jeroboam says. It’s certainly a discriminating remark, and was used despairingly to depict Jeroboam as an apostate. This was, no doubt, the Deuteronomist’s intention.

Note that (as always), he attempts to provide no actual evidence or proof of these contentions. None is needed in this mindset. Baseless speculation reigns supreme!

Both the Golden Calf incident as well as the Deuteronomist’s account portray Jeroboam and his Aaronide lead cult as apostates. 

Perhaps (I merely suggest) this is because (duh!) they actually were that!

The only question remaining is: why is Aaron depicted as the one leading the Israelites into sin?

Maybe — just maybe — because he actually did?!

This is a perfect example of how ancient scribes wrote archaized stories as polemical attacks on contemporary rivals.

And how does one prove such a thing in biblical particulars? We hardly if ever see such explanations in the skeptical / atheist anti-biblical polemical narrative fictions.

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Photo credit: BrunoMarquesDesigner (5-15-20) [PixabayPixabay License]

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