August 21, 2019

Jesus Predicts His Passion & Death / Judgment Day / God’s Mercy / God as Cosmic Narcissist?

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “‘Great’ Bible Texts…that Really Aren’t So Great: Extreme religion in disguise” (2-22-19).

Moreover, the cult was dead certain that Jesus would soon (not ‘any century now’) descend through the clouds to set up a Kingdom of God on earth reserved for the lucky few (the members of the cult) Everyone else would be killed off; that was Jesus’ view on how it would all unfold.

Really? How odd, then, that all these passages are in the Bible, from Jesus’ own lips. I see nothing about His quick (“soon”) return, followed by judgment (except for saying that He would rise again in three days, and allusions to His post-Resurrection appearances):

Matthew 16:21 (RSV) 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.

Matthew 17:22-23 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, [23] and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. 

Matthew 20:17-19 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, [18] “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, [19] and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 

Matthew 26:1-2 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, [2] “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 

Matthew 26:31-32 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ [32] But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 

Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 10:32-34 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; [34] and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 12:1-11 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. [2] When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. [3] And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. [4] Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. [5] And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. [6] He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ [7] But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ [8] And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. [9] What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. [10] Have you not read this scripture: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; [11] this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Luke 9:22 . . . “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 

Luke 9:44 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” 

Luke 18:31-33 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. [32] For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; [33] they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 

John 2:19-21 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 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 

John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, . . . 

John 10:15, 17-18 . . . I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . [17] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” 

John 12:23-24 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 

John 12:31-33 “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; [32] and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what death he was to die. 

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (cf. 14:18-19, 27-29)

John 16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; . . . (cf. 16:7, 16-22, 28; 17:13)

See also the excellent article, “Passion Predictions,” by Paul Zilonka, C.P.

I dealt with this nonsense that only a very very few would be saved, according to Jesus (like during Noah’s Flood), in my paper, Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming.

But after Paul had departed the scene, the gospel writers took on the task of inventing the Jesus story, . . . Mark conjured the figure of Jesus that has become so familiar to us. 

Oops! I forgot about that . . . 

How does this [parable in Mark 12] square with Mark 4:10-12, where we read that Jesus told parables to prevent people from understanding his message.

Explained that here: Madison vs. Jesus #7: God Prohibits Some Folks’ Repentance?

As the next section of chapter 12 illustrates. Mark does not give his Jesus a lot of ethical teaching, but in verse 31 we find the ‘second’ great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But Mark’s primary concern in the final portion of this chapter is to coach the cult, explain what is expected of the followers. And here we find a demand (it’s called the first commandment) that is a marker of extreme religion:

“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.”

Heart, soul, mind, strength. All. Focused on God. This is not the way even most believers function in the world—nor do they want to—and begs the question of why a self-sufficient god wants or needs unrestrained adoration. But cults thrive when people can be coaxed to this dark side; when they can be roped into zealotry. The reward promised by the Jesus cult was eternal life; but, as is usually the case, there must have been ego satisfaction for the cult leaders, including a propagandist like Mark.

The folks in the pews have been so used to hearing, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, yada, yada, yada,” in sermon and song, seeing it in stained glass and embroidery—well, don’t they just expect that sort of thing from the preacher? So it’s hard to notice just how jarring, how bizarre it really is.

I disposed of this hogwash, in my reply: Madison vs. Jesus #6: Narcissistic, Love-Starved God?

***

Dr. Madison’s critique of Mark 13 contains nothing new. He merely regurgitates fallacious arguments that I have already refuted in this series of rebuttals or the previous one. When he can’t come up with anything new, he recycles his trash. Likewise; his critiques of chapters 14-16 are primarily a reiteration of radical biblical skepticism (complete with ample citation from the intellectually suicidal Jesus mythicists): which I have explained in my standard introductions in this series (see above) why I won’t enter into. So this concludes my series of (total of eleven) rebuttals, as regards the Gospel of Mark.

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Photo credit: The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1880), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 20, 2019

Two Donkeys? / Fig Tree / Moneychangers

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “The Day Jesus Cursed a Fig Tree: …and followed the deed with bad theology” (1-25-19)

The theological agenda of the gospel authors included Jesus as a fulfillment of scripture—everybody knows that, right?—so they frequently quoted OT texts out of context.

Dr. Madison doesn’t, alas, tell us how he thinks Matthew cited Zechariah 9:9 out of context, so there is nothing here to refute. It’s simply one of his gratuitous and groundless swipes at Jesus and the Gospel writer.

Matthew failed to grasp the technique of the parallelism in Hebrew poetry (line 1: say something; line 2, say the same thing using a different word), and reports that Jesus rode on two animals, a donkey and a colt. (Matthew 21:7) Yes, Matthew could be that goofy . . . 

Matthew does not report that Jesus rode on two animals. He wrote: “they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon” (Mt 21:7, RSV). He can hardly have sat on (let alone ride) two animals at once.  Does Dr. Madison think Matthew was trying to present Jesus as a circus stunt rider? How silly are we gonna get? There must be some other sensible meaning. But then, what does “them” mean in this verse? And why two animals? It does seem strange at first glance. Apologist Eric Lyons, in a comprehensive article on this very issue of the colt and the ass, writes:

Mark recorded that Jesus told the two disciples that they would find “a colt tied, on which no one has sat” (11:2). . . . 

Mark, Luke, and John did not say that only one donkey was obtained for Jesus, or that only one donkey traveled up to Jerusalem with Jesus. The writers simply mentioned one donkey (the colt). They never denied that another donkey (the mother of the colt) was present. . . . 

[W]en Matthew’s gospel is taken into account, the elusive female donkey of Zechariah 9:9 is brought to light. Both the foal and the female donkey were brought to Christ at Mount Olivet, and both made the trip to Jerusalem. Since the colt never had been ridden, or even sat upon (as stated by Mark and Luke), its dependence upon its mother is very understandable (as implied by Matthew). The journey to Jerusalem, with multitudes of people in front of and behind Jesus and the donkeys (Matthew 21:8-9), obviously would have been much easier for the colt if the mother donkey were led nearby down the same road. . . . 

Greek scholar A.T. Robertson believed that the second “them” (Greek αυτων) refers to the garments that the disciples laid on the donkeys, and not to the donkeys themselves. In commenting on Matthew 21:7 he stated: “The garments thrown on the animals were the outer garments (himatia), Jesus ‘took his seat’ (epekathisen) upon the garments” (1930, [Word Pictures in the New Testament], 1:167).

Two Bible translations, whose purpose is to provide an exceptionally literal rendering of the Greek biblical text: Amplified Bible and Wuest Expanded Translation, concur with this interpretation:

They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their coats upon them, and He seated Himself on them [the clothing].

And they placed upon them their outer garments. And He took His seat upon them [the garments].

New American Standard Bible also brings out this more specific meaning:

and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid on them their garments, on which He sat.

“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.”

D. E. Nineham, in his 1963 commentary, noted: “This story is one of the most difficult in the Gospels, for it approximates more closely than any other episode in Mark to the type of ‘unreasonable’ miracle characteristic of the non-canonical Gospel literature.” (p. 298) C. F. D. Moule, in his 1965 commentary: “It is very odd that Jesus should condemn a fig-tree for having no fruit when it was not even the season for fruit.” (p. 89)

Apologist Kyle Butt offers a plausible explanation:

One prominent question naturally arises from a straightforward reading of the text. Why would Jesus curse a fig tree that did not have figs on it, especially since the text says that “it was not the season for figs”? In response to this puzzling question, skeptical minds have let themselves run wild with accusations regarding the passage. . . . 

When Jesus approached the fig tree, the text indicates that the tree had plenty of leaves. R.K. Harrison, writing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, explains that various kinds of figs grew in Palestine during the first century. One very important aspect of fig growth has to do with the relationship between the leaf and the fruit. Harrison notes that the tiny figs, known to the Arabs as taksh, “appear simultaneously in the leaf axils” (1982, 2:302) This taksh is edible and “is often gathered for sale in the markets” (2:302). Furthermore, the text notes: “When the young leaves are appearing in spring, every fertile fig will have some taksh on it…. But if a tree with leaves has no fruit, it will be barren for the entire season” (2:301-302).

Thus, when Jesus approached the leafy fig tree, He had every reason to suspect that something edible would be on it. However, after inspecting the tree, Mark records that “He found nothing but leaves.” No taksh were budding as they should have been if the tree was going to produce edible figs that year. The tree appeared to be fruitful, but it only had outward signs of bearing fruit (leaves) and in truth offered nothing of value to weary travelers. . . . 

[I]n a general sense, Jesus often insisted that trees which do not bear good fruit will be cut down (Matthew 7:19; Luke 13:6-9). The fig tree did not bear fruit, was useless, and deserved to be destroyed: the spiritual application being that any human who does not bear fruit for God will also be destroyed for his or her failure to produce.

Jesus did not throw a temper tantrum and curse the fig tree even though it was incapable of producing fruit. He cursed the tree because it should have been growing fruit since it had the outward signs of productivity. Jesus’ calculated timing underscored the spiritual truth that barren spiritual trees eventually run out of time. As for personal application, we should all diligently strive to ensure that we are not the barren fig tree.

Upon arriving at the Temple (v.15): “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.”

What provoked Jesus to do this? Why was he upset about money-changers and dove-sellers? Jesus himself had once told a man he’d healed to “offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded,” meaning the sacrifice of a bird (according to Leviticus 14). The Temple existed for this form of devotion.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges provides an answer:

the tables of the moneychangers] The Greek word signifies those who took a small coin (Hebr. Kolbon, Grk. κόλλυβος, perhaps a Phœnician word) as a fee for exchanging the money of the worshippers, who were required to pay in Hebrew coin. This exaction of the fee was itself unlawful (Lightfoot). And probably other dishonest practices were rife.

Encyclopedia Judaica (“Money Changers”) confirms that this interest-taking was contrary to Jewish Law:

In the period of the Second Temple vast numbers of Jews streamed to Palestine and Jerusalem “out or every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), taking with them considerable sums of money in foreign currencies. This is referred to in the famous instance of Jesus’ driving the money changers out of the Temple (Matt. 21:12). Not only did these foreign coins have to be changed but also ordinary deposits were often handed over to the Temple authorities for safe deposit in the Temple treasury (Jos., Wars 6:281–2). Thus Jerusalem became a sort of central bourse and exchange mart, and the Temple vaults served as “safe deposits” in which every type of coin was represented (TJ, Ma’as. Sh. 1:2, 52d, and parallels). The business of money exchange was carried out by the shulḥani (“exchange banker”), who would change foreign coins into local currency and vice versa (Tosef., Shek. 2:13; Matt. 21:12). People coming from distant countries would bring their money in large denominations rather than in cumbersome small coins. The provision of small change was a further function of the shulḥani (cf. Sif. Deut., 306; Ma’as Sh., 2:9). For both of these kinds of transactions the shulḥani charged a small fee (agio), called in rabbinic literature a kolbon (a word of doubtful etymology but perhaps from the Greek κόλλυβος “small coin”; TJ, Shek. 1:6, 46b). This premium seems to have varied from 4 percent to 8 percent (Shek. 1:6, et al.). The shulḥani served also as a banker, and would receive money on deposit for investment and pay out an interest at a fixed rate (Matt. 25:27), although this was contrary to Jewish law (see below; *Moneylending ). . . .

The activity of the Jewish banker, shulḥani, was of a closely defined nature, as his transactions had to be in accordance with the biblical prohibition against taking interest (ribit).

John Lightfoot’s commentary on Matthew 21:12 adds more relevant information:

[Overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.] Who those moneychangers were, may be learned very well from the Talmud, and Maimonides in the treatise Shekalim:– . . .

At that time when they paid pence for the half shekel, a kolbon [or the fee that was paid to the moneychanger] was half a mea, that is, the twelfth part of a penny, and never less. But the kolbons were not like the half shekel; but the exchangers laid them by themselves till the holy treasury were paid out of them.” You see what these moneychangers were, and whence they had their name. You see that Christ did not overturn the chests in which the holy money was laid up, but the tables on which they trafficked for this unholy gain.

Note that Jesus specifically concentrated on two groups: the moneychangers and those who sold doves. This was mentioned in the current account from Mark (above), and in the parallel stories (Mt 21:12-13; Jn 2:13-16). His anger at the moneychangers has just been explained. They were unlawfully extracting interest, which would hurt the poor the most. Why did He go after the dove sellers? It’s a similar reason. The Experimental Theology blog explains:

As most know, the preferred sacrifice to be offered at the temple was a lamb. But a provision is made in the Levitical code for the poor:

Leviticus 5.7 Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.

By going after the dove sellers we see Jesus directly attacking the group who were having economic dealings with the poor. When the poor would go to the temple they would head for the dove sellers.

The point being, while we know that Jesus was upset about economic exploitation going on in the temple, his focus on the dove sellers sharpens the message and priorities. . . . Jesus’s anger is stirred at the way the poor are being treated and economically exploited.

Hence, He described this scenario with these people who exploited the poor, a “den of robbers” or “den of thieves.” Dr. Madison asked why Jesus was upset. I have provided an answer, through these excellent commentaries. Now Dr. Madison knows more than he did (so do I).

He blends wording from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, which have no relevance whatever to this incident—but Mark knew that he could get away with it.

• In Isaiah 56, the prophet looks forward to the day when all nations will bend the knee to his own god, Yahweh, and in that sense only will the temple be a house of prayer for all nations, i.e., when they have converted. Nor is this verse (7) a denunciation of the gory business of the temple; the text reads: “…their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

All Jesus cited was “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Mk 11:17), which is from Isaiah 56:7. The point is that this is its central purpose: a place of worship and praise and prayer and ritual sacrifice: not of collection of unlawful interest and exploiting the poor, contrary to the Jewish Law. That’s all Jesus was saying.

It doesn’t follow (as with partial analogies) that every jot and tittle of a prophecy must be applicable to the situation about which it is cited. New Testament citation of the Old Testament is a long and complex subject in and of itself (see one article that gets into that). The same Isaiah 56:7 refers to “my house of prayer” (God speaking) before it says it will be called the same.

• In Jeremiah 7:11, the prophet blasts the wickedness of the people of Israel, and no amount of worship at the temple can cancel that reality. Thus the temple is a sham: “ Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” Den of robbers seems to have been an allusion to the sin that annulls the value of worship, not to the practice of selling animals and exchanging currency.

Here is the passage and some context as well:

Jeremiah 7:9-11 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, [10] and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, `We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? [11] Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD. 

The moneychangers and sellers of doves were stealing by extracting unlawful interest and excessive prices for items sold to the poor (the birds). 7:6 also states: “do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow”. So the passage is exactly applicable. The passage in its larger context lists a bunch of sins: two of which applied to the temple situation in Jesus’ time (stealing and exploitation of the less fortunate), and so He cited it accordingly. Yet Dr. Madison claimed that both passageshave no relevance whatever to this incident.” Poppycock!

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Photo credit: Entry of the Christ in Jerusalem (1897), by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 20, 2019

Christian Biblical Ignorance / Jesus vs. Marriage & Family? / Divinity of Jesus 

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “SO MUCH Bad Theology in ONE Bible Chapter: Who’s the culprit? His initials are J.C.” (12-7-18)

We can be sure that, most of the time, believers descend into a fog of piety when they pick up their Bibles to read the Jesus stories. It’s as if critical thinking is suspended or even cancelled as they reverently plod or skim through the gospels. That has allowed the church to get away with a lot.

Right. I guess that explains why I am happy to link to all of these hit-pieces on Jesus and the Bible on my site: quoting many of Dr. Madison’s words, and giving readers a critical take on them, while Dr. Madison has now ignored all twelve of my critiques of his podcasts against Jesus, and so far, five of these ongoing series of critiques: because he is rational and confident, and the irrational Christian (yours truly and apologists like me), has no answers to his gibberish.

If he claims to have the superior reasoning and logical capability and understanding of the biblical texts, let him come out from hiding (if he is still alive and kicking out there somewhere) and defend his ideas. He’s been informed of every single one of my counter-replies, underneath his own papers. But he doesn’t (zilch so far). Why is that (dear reader), do you think? 

We read in Mark 10:1 that Jesus taught the crowds that followed him; in fact, here he departed from his main message about the coming Kingdom of God to respond to a question from the Pharisees. Thus in vv. 5-12 we find Jesus’ disastrous pronouncement about divorce. Of course, we can’t fault his belief that the Creator set things up for humans to reproduce: “…from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (vv. 6-8)

But then we come to verse 9: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Yes, God meant for men and women to get together. But it does not follow at all that God himself has been the matchmaker for every couple ‘since the beginning of creation.’ This idea would undermine the precious concept of free will that theists rely upon so heavily; but even if we allow that couples have been free to marry whom they chose, Jesus seems to be saying here that God then makes that choice irrevocable; it is binding—forever. There is a heavenly tyrant who can’t admit that a mistake has been made.

Indeed, when we consider how many bad marriages have been made for so many bad reasons for so many centuries, then God would have to be at fault for bungling things endlessly: “…what God has joined together.” Followed by the tyranny: “Let no one separate.” How can this not be bad theology? This is one of the consequences of intensely personal theism: God is spying, meddling, controlling. Jesus only made matters worse when he explained privately to his disciples, vv. 11-12: “He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” This severe unbending legalism falls far short of being great moral teaching.

I already dealt with this line of reasoning in my paper, Madison vs. Jesus #4: Jesus Causes a Bad Marriage?

We descend into cult goofiness, and Jesus leads the way.

Far from having to worry about being rich, Peter responds (v. 28), “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Which prompts one of the most bizarre statements attributed to Jesus (vv.29-30):

“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

How can this not be the ultimate phony promise? If you give up your house, all your family and your fields for the sake of the cult leader, you’ll get back all of it—ALL of it—a hundred times over, both in this life and the life to come. It’s as if Jesus endorses the grotesque plot of the Book of Job.

Why don’t Christians snap out of it when they read this text? This is Jesus—or Mark who wrote the script—being weird, and it is not great moral teaching. Is it any wonder that (v. 32), “…they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” Yes, anyone who raves nonsense can have that impact.

I dealt with a recycled version of this argument here: Madison vs. Jesus #5: Cultlike Forsaking of Family?

It would appear that two of the disciples spotted an opportunity in Jesus’ promise that there would be great abundance in the life to come. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, decided to put in a request (v. 37): “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark has given Jesus a script heavy with cult-code (vv.38-40):

“’You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized. But to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’”

Is it case that the Galilean peasant preacher had succumbed to this delusion, i.e., that God had already worked out the seating arrangements in the new Kingdom of God—and his central place in the scheme? Or is all this the product of Mark’s imagination? Keep in mind the fresh perspective that I recommended at the outset, i.e., looking at the gospels in their context.

See: Jesus Said He Was God: Reply to Ex-Christian Atheist

***

Photo credit: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, 1515, by Raphael (1483-1520) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 19, 2019

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

[Dr. Madison’s critique of chapter 8 was so silly, repetitive, insubstantial, and non-exegetical that it deserved no reply, so I passed over it]

Dr. Madison called this installment: “Jesus the Cult Fanatic, At It Again: Christians pretend not to notice…” (11-16-18)

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, suddenly disappears, verse 42: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” Wow. Anyone who obstructs belief in the cult leader deserves a grim fate. This is script for the fanatic who was Mark’s hero.

Huh? All He’s saying is that if one messes with the innocent, trusting faith of little children, they are in a very bad spiritual place.  My RSV reads: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin . . .” It’s protecting children: hardly a “controversial” notion or example of Dr. Madison’s so-called “bad Jesus.” This would arguably cover pedophilia and other forms of child abuse, too. This kind of polemics is over-the-top ridiculous. Dr. Madison seems to make ever-more lousy arguments as he goes along.

But it gets worse. Priests and preachers wave off the next few grim verses (43-48) as metaphor or hyperbole, but couldn’t a compassionate Jesus have chosen his words more carefully? Unless you chop sin out of your life—literally—you aren’t a good bet for making it into the Kingdom.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”

It’s my guess that if many Christians ran into a street preacher shouting these words, they would cross the street to get away. But why is it okay when Jesus says these things, solemnly recited as part of the white noise on Sunday mornings?

The self-mutilation metaphor cannot be considered appropriate for sane religion; moreover, Jesus declines to specify exactly what he has in mind, i.e., the sins that hands, feet, and eyes can commit to deserve severe punishment. This has given license for preachers for centuries to fill in the details, according to their own personal biases about sin.

This is, of course, non-literal hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration to make a point. I dealt with it as a common phenomenon in Scripture in my paper, Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #1: Hating One’s Family?

Please don’t tout Jesus as greatest ethicist who ever lived if he taught that, for their mistakes, fallible human beings could end up in a place where the punishing fire never ceases. Our role models for morality cannot be mean and vindictive.

An eternal hell can easily be defended as a just notion, and I have done so many times:

Replies to Some Skeptical Objections to the Christian Doctrine of Hell (“Religion Is Lies” website) [5-24-06]

Biblical Annihilationism or Universalism? (w Atheist Ted Drange) [9-30-06]

Dialogue w Atheists on Hell & Whether God is Just [12-5-06]

Hell: Dialogue with a Philosophy Graduate Student [12-26-08]

Dialogue: Hell & God’s Justice, Part II [1-2-09]

Can Hell Actually be Defended? My Shot … [10-7-15]

Atheism & Atheology (Copious Resources, including on hell) [11-5-15]

A Defense of Hell: Philosophical Explanations of its Plausibility, Necessity, and Factuality [12-10-15]

Exchanges with an Atheist on Hell & Skepticism [12-17-15]

How to Annihilate Three Skeptical Fallacies Regarding Hell [National Catholic Register, 6-10-17]

Hell as a Deterrent: Analogy to Our Legal Systems [10-3-18]

As I mentioned earlier, Jesus had given his disciples the ‘authority’ to cast out demons (one aspect of magical thinking found in the gospel). But it turns out that they weren’t always up to the task. In the heart of chapter 9 we learn about a demon that resisted their magic. A father had brought his mute, deaf son to be healed; Jesus was furious that they had failed. Instead of calming asking what might have gone wrong, he lashed out: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” (v. 19)

We can see that the text never says that Jesus was “furious.” That’s simply wishful thinking on Dr. Madison’s part: always desperately and vainly looking for “bad Jesus.”

The father reported that his son had been like this since childhood: “It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him…”

Now comes one of the most poignant texts in the gospel. The desperate father pleads, “…but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus had snarled at the disciples,

He merely rebuked them for lack of belief (and He later explains why: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer”: 9:29). And so Dr. Madison calls this reply of Jesus, “a smug, smart-ass answer.”  Really? There are times when Jesus gets truly angry (righteously indignant), such as his encounter with the moneychangers at the temple and with the Pharisees (Matthew 24). This is not one of them; nor is it “proof” that Jesus was sinfully angry at all. It’s just one of the innumerable “Madison myths.” Dr. Madison adds:

Gee, the disciples hadn’t tried that [prayer, to remove the demon]?

Probably, but just not enough: is also a reasonable interpretation. To offer an analogy, it would be like saying that “getting over the death of a loved one comes through crying.” There is momentary crying and there is extended, anguished soul-level weeping and wailing. All of us who have experienced great tragedy, including loss and grieving know the difference well. That’s how prayer is, too. It’s a matter of degree. And this seems to be a plausible take on this incident. The disciples needed to pray more, and with more faith. But they lacked it; hence Jesus’ chastising rebuke (just as all good parents do with children, where necessary for their own good).

now he belittled the father. Jesus said to him, “‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” The poor guy might have wondered if his own lack to belief could have been a factor in his son’s disability. He wants to make amends, “Help my unbelief!”

Again, how is this belittling the father? Dr. Madison is apparently quite the mind-reader: and most of what he seems to observe are alleged “negative” thoughts. The man asked Jesus, “if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us” and  Jesus replied, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes” (9:22-23). I have noted repeatedly in these replies how faith is tied in with healing in Scripture: not always, but probably the great majority of times. So Jesus was saying that it was not merely a matter of His own divine power, but also of the faith of the man (and with use of more hyperbole).

There are two pieces of bad advice—actually bad theology—in this story which have no doubt caused much Christian anguish for centuries.

• Belief is a key to overcoming illness—it just has to be strong enough: “All things can be done for the one who believes.” Jesus condemned “this faithless generation.”

• Add some prayer to that, and the magic will work: the demon could be vanquished “only through prayer.”

The devout who actually do read the gospels for guidance on how to live and survive, and assume that Jesus is telling the honest truth, sense that these are unreasonable expectations. They know that, far too often, belief and prayer don’t work in the face of chronic suffering, and they beat themselves up for failing. This is not healthy religion. Shame on Jesus for this bad advice.

I have dealt with the repetitive, droning theme in Dr. Madison’s overall polemic (which doesn’t become any more true merely by repeating the same tired lies): Madison vs. Jesus #10: Universal Answered Prayer & Healing?

Mark’s gospel is saturated with miracle, magic, superstition, and fantasy: Jesus glowed on a mountaintop while having a chat with long-dead heroes. Such stories emerge from imaginations fired by religious zeal. If only Christians could read the gospels carefully, meticulously, critically—and wise up that they’ve been conned.

[I pass over further slanders and blasphemies against Jesus and the Holy Bible, such as these. One has only so much patience — even by God’s supernatural enabling grace — with this sort of bilge. I ain’t Job]

***

Photo credit: Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple (1610), by Cecco del Caravaggio (1588-1620) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 19, 2019

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “Made-to-Order Stories for the Jesus Cult: But consistency was not a virtue” (9-28-18)

Every missionary who has ever lived has been inspired by the famous ‘Great Commission,’ spoken by the resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Of course, we have a right to be skeptical that a dead man came back to life to give orders, but there are other reasons as well for suspecting that Jesus—even while he was alive—didn’t say this.

Since this gospel was probably written a good fifty years after the death of Jesus, Matthew probably wrote to motivate his readers at the time—and we know that he was an expert at making things up. . . . Moreover his portrayal of Jesus doesn’t hang together very well. In chapter 10:5-6, Jesus sends the disciples out on a preaching mission, with this caveat: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In 15:24, when Jesus declines to help a Syrophoenician woman, he repeats this claim: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

He did not “decline” help to this woman’s daughter, who was healed of demon possession (as even Dr. Madison notes in his critique, three paragraphs later):

Matthew 15:28 (RSV) Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  

So it’s absurd to claim that Jesus somehow didn’t want to heal her daughter. He did, and that shows His will. He was simply making a rhetorical point to draw her out. If He truly didn’t want to heal her, then obviously He wouldn’t have, no matter what she said. Or if this is what the — for Dr. Madison, deceitful, propagandistic — Gospel writer wished to convey, he wouldn’t have reported that Jesus did this (It wouldn’t have fit into the agenda, etc.).  

Besides, being “sent” to the Israelites is a different proposition from “who Jesus decided to heal.” So this is a ridiculous and self-contradictory argument from Dr. Madison: surprisingly lousy even by his low “exegetical” [choke / cough] pseudo-standards. Truly this is an example of what Paul noted: “they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened” (Rom 1:21).

Did he change his mind after the resurrection? Or had the compulsion to ‘make disciples of all nations’ come along by Matthew’s time, certainly under the impact of Paul’s zeal as well. This is a measure of the new cult’s hubris and delusions of grandeur. This never seems to dissipate; it is displayed by today’s fanatical sects, e.g. the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses—“we gotta convert the world”…or at least rescue the remnant. . . . 

In fact, the text in Matthew 15 is the author’s reworking of a story found in Mark 7, which is the focus of this article, . . . 

This dumbfounded insinuation that Jesus somehow didn’t want to help or heal anyone but his own Hebrews / Jews, doesn’t hold water, either. As usual, Dr. Madison misses the forest for the trees, because he can’t trouble himself to see what Jesus actually said and did in this regard, elsewhere. There are many counter-examples that refute his silly theory:

1) Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:5-29) illustrates His view. Here He not only ministered to her with great compassion, but noted at the end that salvation was to extend to the non-Jewish Gentiles as well: “salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (4:22b-23).

2) Matthew seems to not be aware of his own supposed “Jews only Jesus” since he applies an Old Testament passage about outreach to Gentiles directly to Jesus as the Servant and Messiah:

Matthew 12:15-21  Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all, [16] and ordered them not to make him known. [17] This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: [18] “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. [19] He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will any one hear his voice in the streets; [20] he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick, till he brings justice to victory; [21] and in his name will the Gentiles hope.”

3) Likewise, Luke records Simeon saying about Jesus:

Luke 2:30-32 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation [31] which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, [32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

4) Jesus told the Jewish “chief priests and scribes” (Mt 21:15) and “Pharisees” (21:45) that righteous Gentiles will enter the kingdom before self-righteous Jews (like them):

Matthew 21:31b-32 “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. [32] For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.

Matthew 21:42-43, 45  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? [43] Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”  [45] When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

5) Jesus healed the pagan Roman centurion’s servant, commended his faith, and noted that many Gentiles would be saved, and many Jews lost:

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

6) Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37) had as its central message the notion that a non-Jew who helped someone is more of a “neighbor” than a fellow Jew who did nothing.

7) Here is Jesus healing another foreigner: a Samaritan man and commending his faith:

Luke 17:12-19 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance [13] and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” [14] When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. [15] Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; [16] and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. [17] Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? [18] Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” [19] And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

8) Jesus specifically went to the land of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes, east of the Sea of Galilee, to minister to them (very odd behavior if Dr. Madison’s contentions are correct). This was where Jesus sent the demons into the pigs (one of Dr. Madison’s favorite Bible stories): Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39; Mt 8:28-34. Wikipedia, in its article on the region, states:

The name is derived from either a lakeside village, Gergesa, the next larger city, Gadara, or the best-known city in the region, Gerasa. . . . They were both Gentile cities filled with citizens who were culturally more Greek than Semitic; this would account for the pigs in the biblical account.

9) Jesus earlier echoed His message of the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20):

Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come. (cf. Mk 13:10; Lk 24:47)

Thus, Dr. Madison’s “argument” that Jesus wanted nothing to do with the Gentiles falls flat; it is the opposite of the truth. I’ve just proven that with nine biblical examples. And a tenth example that he gave to supposedly bolster his argument, didn’t even do so, when examined closely.

***

Photo credit: Jesus and the Centurion (c. 1571), by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 18, 2019

Supernatural & Miracles / Biblical Literary Genres & Figures / Perpetual Virginity / Healing & Belief / Persecution of Jesus in Nazareth

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “Christianity’s Guilty Pleasure: Magical Thinking: Where’s the Delete Key?” (8-10-18) [Mark chapter 5]

It’s too bad J. K. Rowling didn’t write the gospels. Jesus could have used the Invisibility Cloak on the night he was betrayed; Judas wouldn’t have been able to find him to give him that famous kiss. But the four guys who penned the most famous Jesus stories—whom later tradition named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were no slouches in the magical thinking department.

One of the mysteries of the Christian faith is that devout folks don’t notice this, or don’t grasp it; or, inexplicably, they’re just not too concerned about it. Some evangelicals are tuned in enough to be alarmed by the Harry Potter stories—it’s sorcery, after all—without noticing the irony: Harry is competition; they trade in the same genre. . . . 

I suppose Christians are willing to give a pass to magical thinking when it is embedded in charming, touching stories—or one with ominous qualities, which is what we find in Mark 5. Still, this is no excuse to abandon critical thinking. Just what kind of literature is this?

In Dr. Madison’s critique of chapter 6 (see my replies below) he writes similarly:

So, let’s add to the challenge to Christians that I mentioned at the beginning. Not only how many chapters can they get through without having to make up excuses; but how many gospel verses—be honest now—should be filed under The Messiah’s Magic Tricks? If a ‘miracle’ verse could just as easily fit into a fairy tale, a Disney animated fantasy, or even a Marvel Comics adventure (are there other superheroes who walk on water?), then, fess up, the gospel writers have indulged their weakness for magical thinking.

What I stated in installment #2 of this series, I’ll repeat again here:

I pass over Dr. Madison’s stock atheist objections to Satan, demons (getting also a bit into the problem of evil), and supernatural healing. These are discussions that are very involved, entailing in-depth philosophy and theology, and go far beyond the “textual” arguments that I am concentrating on in my critiques.

Dr. Madison rarely seems to ever make — if ever – an actual argument against the existence of angels, demons, and Satan, and the supernatural and miracles. He simply assumes from the outset that such things are ridiculous and the equivalent of the Easter Bunny and fairies and leprechauns, Harry Potter sorcery, etc. And that’s another distinct reason I refuse to engage him on this particular issue: because there is no rational argument to engage in the first place, since he provides none.

All he gives us is the usual empty-headed, closed-minded mockery (“Jesus chatted with demons. What kind of compromises with reality are Christians willing to make?” etc.): so beloved of so many atheists (especially apostate Christian ones). Yes! The Bible contains miracles and supernatural elements! Like, this is supposed to come as some sort of surprise? My purpose in this series is to do biblical exegesis and commentary, and to refute Dr. Madison’s hostile, fallacious, non-factual claims for the biblical text that can’t withstand scrutiny.

For those who still possess an open mind and are willing to examine scientifically documented instances of healing, I wrote about this in May 2018 in dialogue with an atheist. He chose not to grapple with the evidence presented, and no other atheist has seen fit to do so since, either (what a surprise):

Does God Still Perform Miracles? (Some Evidence)

I’ve written about the philosophical question of miracles many times and have also collected scholarly articles on the topic, but this is beyond my present purview. Whoever wants to read any of my articles on the topic or those of others, is free to do so.

But back to Dr. Madison: literally all he does in this paper is rant and rave, sans rational argument against that which he detests and disbelieves. So there is nothing here to contend with, in terms of exegesis and textual arguments. Thus, I move on to the next attack-piece in the series:

“Jesus and his Team of Traveling Exorcists: Reading the gospels can be a bumpy ride” (8-31-18) [Mark chapter 6]

It would be cool to throw down this challenge to the folks who are sure the Bible is God’s Wonderful Word: See how many chapters you can get through without having to make excuses for what seems to be the plain meaning of the text. We commonly hear, “Well, you can’t take that literally,” or “It’s not as strange/bad/silly as it sounds…” There are plenty of on-line apologist commentaries to help knock off the rough edges and ‘make straight the way of the lord,’ so to speak. Of course, one can breeze through the gospels on the hunt for the familiar, comforting texts, but a careful, thoughtful reading sometimes can put strains on faith.

For discerning readers who are under no obligation to make the story ‘come out right’—with Jesus sane and intact—Mark, Chapter 6 has too many rough edges.

Imagine that! The Bible actually contains lots of non-literal passages, utilizing many many forms and varieties of literary figures, genres, etc. (!!!): all tied into and presupposing a very different ancient near eastern Semitic / Hebrew / Israelite culture: which we also have to learn a bit about (to put it mildly) in order to fully understand the Bible and what it is trying to convey in any given passage or book. These things are not fodder for juvenile jokes and mocking.

They may — who knows why? — come as extraordinarily shocking news to Dr. Madison (a man with a doctorate degree in biblical studies), but it is common knowledge that all languages in every culture and at all times, include these aspects. Ancient Hebrew and Greek as used in Holy Scripture are no different.

In my previous antidote, Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #1: Hating One’s Family?, I mentioned Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger, who described and explained “over 200 distinct figures [in the Bible], several of them with from 30 to 40 varieties.” His 1104-page tome is called, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). It’s available for free, online I have a hardcover copy in my own personal library. It’s endlessly educational and fascinating. That particular reply of mine delved into just one such figure in considerable depth.

Very few people could master all that information and have it in their head. But Dr. Madison is different, you see. He inhabits an entirely different thought-world than us lowly and ignorant, gullible and infantile Christian peasants. He has the brain power and wisdom to immediately know and grasp and comprehend “the plain meaning of” any biblical text, without having to be burdened by such trifles as what Dr. Bullinger writes about, over 1104 pages.  Dr. Madison needs none of it. He knows all things biblical instantly, with no further need of study.

Moreover, the skeptical locals put Jesus in his place: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Catholic theologians, committed to protecting Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, try to nullify the clear meaning of the text: these were actually cousins of Jesus, they claim, or children from Joseph’s first marriage! Theologians assume they can get away with pulling the wool.

First of all, perpetual virginity is not simply Catholic teaching, but also Orthodox and historic Protestant teaching. All of the major “reformers” of early Protestantism held to it: including Martin Luther and John Calvin. And all of these Christians traditions do so for a reason: it was what was passed down in apostolic tradition from the beginning, and it has many biblical and apostolic and patristic arguments in its favor.  I have elaborated upon these many times, and this is not “pulling the wool” but rather, seriously engaging all of the relevant biblical texts:

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Jesus’ “Brothers” Always “Hangin’ Around” Mary … (Doesn’t This Prove That They Are Actually His Siblings?) [8-31-09]
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Biblical Evidence for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary [National Catholic Register, 4-13-18]
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More Biblical Evidence for Mary’s Perpetual Virginity [National Catholic Register, 4-25-18]
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The “clear meaning” of the text Dr. Madison cites (Mk 6:3) is not at all in line with what he casually thinks and assumes, and this is fairly easy to demonstrate, as I have done.
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In verse 5 we find an admission that Jesus was powerless, or nearly so. “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Can we infer that Jesus’ “deeds of power” depended on people believing he could do them? This raises questions about his skills as a showman, and the gullibility of those who were eager to see “deeds of power.”
Mark 6:5-6 (RSV) And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. [6] And he marveled because of their unbelief. . . .
Yes, there is a strong overlap of people having faith and their being healed, but not always (or it’s not always stated: which is a different thing) See my long paper on the biblical view of healing. Three of the Gospels record Jesus saying, “your faith has made you well” six times. Jesus’ power in and of itself doesn’t depend on people’s faith, or else it is absent. He simply wants them to have faith. But I think this particular text isn’t even talking about what Dr. Madison thinks. Jesus couldn’t do a “mighty work” in Nazareth, because He was hounded out of town as soon as He spoke in the synagogue, citing Isaiah and claiming to be the Messiah. That’s made clear in Luke:
Luke 4:28-31 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. [Mk 6:3: “they took offense at him”] [29] And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. [30] But passing through the midst of them he went away. [31] And he went down to Caper’na-um, a city of Galilee. . . .
That’s why He couldn’t do many healings there: which of course has nothing to do with supposedly being “powerless, or nearly so.” See how silly and shallow this typical specimen of atheist “exegesis” is? It’s because anti-theist atheists of Dr. Madison’s type approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. Jesus didn’t have time to do many healings in Nazareth because the townspeople attempted to stone Him as soon as He read in the synagogue. The first part of stoning was to throw a person off of a big cliff, if available. And such a cliff was available in Nazareth. I’ve been there and have seen it. Here is a description from the Jewish Talmud:

One account is given to us in the Jewish Mishnah (multiple oral Jewish traditions combined into a single work). In (Sanhedrin, ch. 6, Mishnah 4) it says this on how a person was to be stoned:

#1. The place of stoning was twice a man’s height (with rocks below).

#2. One of the witnesses pushed him by the hips, [so that] he was overturned on his heart (fell face first on the rocks).

#3. He was then turned on his back.

#4. If that caused his death, he had fulfilled [his duty]; but if not, the second witness took a (large) stone and threw it on his chest.

#5. If he died thereby, he had done [his duty]; but if not, he [the criminal] was stoned by all Israel.

But by far the most embarrassing item in this text is Jesus’ hard-heartedness. Like other cult leaders, he had no patience for those who balked at his message (v.11): “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” When Matthew copied Mark’s text, he made Jesus even meaner (10:15): “Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” The apostles, so says verse 12, “…went out and proclaimed that all should repent.” Presumably some of the folks they accosted, being devout Jews, felt no need to ‘repent.’ But if they turned away these itinerate preachers they deserved destruction. How does Jesus come off as the good guy? I don’t know how Christians can overlook this arrogance; their hero is seriously flawed. If you meet Christians who are okay with this kind of vengeance…well, those are the kinds of Christians to stay away from.

I dealt with the supposedly “meaner” Matthew account and Dr. Madison’s identical argument in my paper, Madison vs. Jesus #9: Clueless Re Rebellion & Judgment. And I took on the general non-“issue” almost five years ago: “Shake the Dust Off of Your Feet”: Mean?
 
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Photo credit: Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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August 16, 2019

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “Please Tell Me Jesus Didn’t Say That: The gospel writer pushed history off the page” (7-27-18)

The Purpose of the Parables

At the opening of Mark 4 we read that Jesus, sitting in a boat, was preaching to a large crowd on the land. In fact, this is the first time that Jesus is depicted telling a parable. It is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower. Jesus points out that some of the seed lands on the path, some in rocky soil, some among thorns—and finally some in good soil, which yields abundant produce. Jesus concludes, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

That’s it? 

The folks in the big crowd probably knew what sowers did, and they might have thought, “Gee, what a sloppy guy. Be more careful where you throw the seed! So, what’s your point Jesus?” We’re told in earlier chapters that many people flocked to see Jesus because he healed a lot of people—they wanted to just touch his garments—and he cast out demons. We hear in Mark 1:27 that they raved about his new teaching.

But this parable of the sower could not have failed to disappoint. Why would his listeners not have said, “So what?”

Church folks, who have probably heard dozens of sermons based on this parable—and its explanation a few verses later—nod knowingly. But the crowd that supposedly heard Jesus wasn’t told the explanation. Bizarrely enough, that’s part of Mark’s plot. In vv. 10-12, we read that, when Jesus was alone with the disciplines and other followers, he told them:

“To you has been given the secret [or 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.’”

Did I read that right? This is even a quote from Isaiah 6:9-10, presumably to give it more clout. Jesus confides to his inside circle that he doesn’t want outsiders to perceive, understand his message and repent. He seems to be referring to the common rabble, those great throngs of people who came out to hear him preach.

But this doesn’t make sense. Jesus doesn’t want them to repent?

This is such a contrast to what we read elsewhere. In Mark 1:38, Jesus says, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And in 2:17 Jesus declares, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Why would he then tell those closest to him that he uses parables to keep people in the dark?

Yes, of course, Mark got it wrong, and seems to have overlooked his blunder. Or maybe not. He might have known exactly what he was doing, and didn’t care all that much about consistency. . . . 

In verses 33-34 he returns to the promise that knowledge of God’s Kingdom is for the few:

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” . . . 

Let’s just hope that no one succeeds in proving that Jesus didn’t want sinners to repent and be forgiven. That would be a setback for the What-Would-Jesus-Do crowd.

I have already thoroughly disposed of this groundless and clueless objection in my paper, Madison vs. Jesus #7: God Prohibits Some Folks’ Repentance?

Apologists can also deal with the challenge of squaring “he did not speak to them except in parables” with John’s gospel, in which Jesus doesn’t tell any parables at all.

Yeah, I did that in installment #1 of this series, but for convenience’ sake, I’ll paste it here again:

That’s correct. 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;”

Then follows this warning, vv. 24-25:

[Jesus] said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

I’ll leave it to the zealous apologists to make Jesus look good on this one. Mark’s script, trying to keep the Jesus cult intact, sets the tone for countless cult leaders to come: folks were expected to give full commitment to the cult, and they will lose everything if they didn’t.

Dr. Madison employs his usual tarnishing of Christianity as a bizarre, mind-controlling “cult.” “Cult” might even very well be his favorite word in the English language. I’m afraid it’s much simpler than that (no one need resort to arbitrary conspiracy theories and poisoning the well). Jesus is merely saying that if we don’t act upon the grace that God gives us, then we are in danger of losing everything: meaning that we will lose salvation and be damned.

This is the whole point of Christianity: ultimate salvation and going to heaven to be in union with God forever: just as God always intended for His children that He created (because this will give us unimaginable — the highest possible — joy and happiness for all eternity, since we were made for it). But He also didn’t want to create robots with no free will; so that free will is what opens up the possibility of rejection of God, and thus (failing repentance) winding up in hell, separate from Him, by deliberate choice, for all eternity.

Mark continues his theme of the seed being the Kingdom of God. In vv. 26-29 he uses the imagery of seed sprouting and growing, resulting in a good harvest, and in vv. 30-32 the Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed that will grow into an enormous bush. He seems to want to assure his followers that their hope for the Kingdom would have a big payoff.

Nonsense. All Jesus is saying here is that evangelism — spreading the Gospel — will bear great fruit. He’s not talking about personal gain (economic or otherwise). What started as a small band of twelve disciples (eventually minus the one betrayer) would grow and grow to the size it is today:

With around 2.3 billion adherents, split into three main branches of Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox, Christianity is the world’s largest religion. The Christian share of the world’s population has stood at around 33% for the last hundred years, which means that one in three persons on Earth are Christians. . . . According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, within the next four decades, Christians will remain the world’s largest religion; and by 2050, the Christian population is expected to exceed 3 billion. (Wikipedia, “Christianity: Demographics”)

How’s that for a true prediction?

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Photo credit: Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea, by James Tisot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 16, 2019

Unforgivable Sin (Blaspheming the Holy Spirit) / Plots to Kill Jesus / Rude Jesus? (“Who is My Mother?”)

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

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Dr. Madison called this installment: “How Come Jesus Didn’t Know Better?: Jesus and the demons” (4-20-18).

[I pass over Dr. Madison’s rant against angels, demons, Satan, and benevolent dead saints. He gives no arguments and merely assumes that such beings are self-evidently false and superstitious (“Mark chapter 3 is a major embarrassment to devout Christians who have learned to think like citizens of the 21st Century,” etc. ad nauseam); hence, nothing in this section to refute or interact with. I deal with arguments, not bald self-assumed infallible and invulnerable ravings]

Perhaps the most regrettable part of this pronouncement comes at the end: You’re not allowed to insult one of the big shots in the spirit world:

• “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” (vv. 28-30)

We have to assume that the Christians who ‘love their Jesus’ don’t pay much attention to this text—or are as heavily into magical thinking as the guy who wrote it. Everything else can be forgiven, but not blaspheming the holy spirit? Of course this makes no sense whatever from the standpoint of rational ethics.

It’s because this blasphemy is rejection of God Himself (Whom the Holy Spirit and Jesus are). It’s calling evil good. Hence, it can’t and won’t be forgiven in the sense that there is no repentance and the person has completely and utterly rejected God (completely hardened their hearts, as the Bible often expresses it). Jesus said this after the hostile “scribes” charged that He was “possessed by Be-el’zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (3:22, RSV; cf. Jn 10:20). They were saying He was either a demoniac or an idol- or devil-worshiper. And so Jesus replied (quite sensibly and logically):

Mark 3:23-26 . . . “How can Satan cast out Satan? [24] If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. [25] And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. [26] And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.”

He completely nailed them for something that made no sense whatsoever: the devil literally fighting against himself by allowing one of his supposed agents / demons to cast out other of his demons. Huh? Then He made the point that lying about God in this way was so evil that it would lead to damnation (the absence of any more forgiveness and the presence of “eternal sin” in hell). Jesus adds in the parallel account in Matthew:

Matthew 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (cf. Lk 11:20: “. . . by the finger of God . . .”)

How in the world this isregrettable” and how it supposedly “makes no sense whatever from the standpoint of rational ethicsis, I’m afraid, beyond me. It would be like calling a doctor who just did a successful eight-hour heart surgery on a patient (saving her life) an “evil man who serves Satan”: as if what he did was a bad thing, only deserving of scorn and derision. That’s a very wicked lie; and it would richly deserve precisely the rebuke that Jesus gave an even more outrageous and vicious lie.

In effect, Jesus was expressing the thought that, “if you call even the benevolent God evil or in league with Satan and demons, then there is no hope for you, as you have rejected the sole source of your possible salvation.” And that is merciful and perfectly rational and ethical. He’s telling them that they are in extreme spiritual danger, just as any caring person would warn another about impending physical danger, if it is potentially present (say, for example, walking out into a powerful hurricane). They were playing with fire. If they didn’t know that, then they did after Jesus informed them.

Mark declared at the opening of his gospel that Jesus was the son of God, so the hushing of the demons helped explain why this status wasn’t as well known as it could have been. Furthermore, Mark needed to explain why Jesus came to a bad end; yes, it was necessary theologically (Mark 10:45: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”), but how was the bad end plotted?

In chapter 3, Mark introduces this theme. After Jesus had once again (as at the end of chapter 2) challenged the religious bureaucrats on Sabbath rules, we read in v. 3:6: “The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

This simple statement reflects the omniscient perspective that novelists enjoy; they can tell the reader what characters are thinking—or in this case, conspiring. Those who want to believe that Mark is history have the burden of explaining how the author could have known what he reports in verse 3:6. Of course, the novelist can write what he wants, but the historian has to gather the facts. If the gospel was composed 40 or 50 years after the death of the protagonist—and after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE—it’s hard to conceive how the author could have documented the plotting of the Pharisees and Herodians. Did they even keep written records of what they were up to? Did such records survive? How would he have had access to them?

It may have been speculative in some sense, I suppose, but if so, it was a quite plausible speculation, since Jesus’ enemies gave many hints that they hated and despised Him: up to and including violent threats and infiltration of Jesus’ own twelve disciples, to get someone willing to betray Him (and the incident I just dealt with, where they accused Him of being “possessed by Be-el’zebul.” After all, all the Gospels (as Dr. Madison never tires of pointing out) were written after the death of Jesus; so they also had the benefit of hindsight. The fact is that Jesus was tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin, in an illegal kangaroo court, complete with absurdly conflicting “witnesses”:

Mark 14:55-59 Now the chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. [56] For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. [57] And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, [58] “We heard him say, `I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” [59] Yet not even so did their testimony agree.

We know at least part of these proceedings were public in nature (such as the incident with the crowd yelling for Jesus’ crucifixion), and so the hatred of Jesus could have been observed. Moreover, there were many other public and observable hints of same:

John 10:31-33 The Jews took up stones again to stone him. [32] Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” [33] The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

That was a public incident, and that is how the Gospel writers could know — fairly certainly — that there was such a plot to kill Jesus. John himself could write what he did elsewhere precisely because of what happened in the incident above:

John 5:18 This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus was threatened with stoning or other bodily harm by the scribes and Pharisees other times as well:

John 8:59 So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

John 11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”

Luke 4:28-30 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. [29] And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. [30] But passing through the midst of them he went away.

If an historian (whether professional or “amateur”) made the statement, “John Wilkes Booth hated Abraham Lincoln and sought to destroy him” or “Lee Harvey Oswald hated John F. Kennedy and sought to destroy him” would they be justified, and accurate? I submit that most would think so, based on the documented facts of the two assassinations. Likewise, with Mark’s speculation.

Now, as for the particular assertion of a pharisaical plot with the Herodians (which is Dr. Madison’s main objection here), this is not implausible at all, to put it mildly. There were several outward indications. Herod the Great was determined to kill Jesus, and had all the male children of Bethlehem two years and under killed in the effort to do so (Mt 2:1-16). Would the mothers of those children forget about this? His son Herod Antipas also killed John the Baptist (Mt 14:3; Lk 9:9). Luke records “chief priests and the scribes” along with Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate all in league against Jesus:

Luke 23:10-12 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. [11] And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate. [12] And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Some good Pharisees were aware of Herod’s plotting and warned Jesus:

Luke 13:31-33 At that very hour some Pharisees came, and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” [32] And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, `Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.  [33] Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.'”

This is more than enough external verification for Mark to surmise as he did (even considered separately from the question of biblical inspiration).

“Oh, this tidbit is based on eyewitness accounts and/or reliable oral tradition.” So say those who want Mark to be history. But that is conjecture, wishful thinking—actually it is a ‘faith’ statement—for which there is no evidence. We have no idea where such information could have come from; it is based on the omniscient perspective of the novelist. He is introducing another component of his plot.

I just showed how it is altogether plausible and hardly a stretch at all to so conclude. But (to play his game for a moment) Dr. Madison, in his manifest sagacity and wisdom, doesn’t want this to be true, and engages in mere conjecture and wishful thinking. As the old proverb goes, “a man convinced against his will retains his original belief still.”

Yet More Embarrassment

Mark 3 ends with another text that many Christians would like to wish away, and has generated apologetic rationalization. It makes it hard to ask What Would Jesus Do?

• “…they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’” (vv. 32-35)

On the most generous interpretation, Jesus is here expanding his understanding of family—but it still sounds like a rebuff of this kin. We wonder how well Jesus and his family got along, based on these verses, also in chapter 3 (vv. 19-21):

• “Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, ‘He is beside himself.’”

James Spencer Northcote provides a great answer to this line of reasoning:

We are quite at liberty to imagine, if we like, that Our Lord, after uttering the words which the Evangelists have recorded, rose up and proceeded to grant His Mother the interview she had asked for; there would be nothing at all strange in such a supposition; on the contrary, it is more possible than not; but it is not certain. All that we are told is that He answered the interruption in these words, “Who is My mother and My brethren? And then looking round about on them who sat about Him, He saith, Behold My mother and My brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, he is My brother, and My sister, and mother.”

I need not say that these words were not really an answer sent to His mother and brethren, but rather a lesson of instruction addressed to those “who sat about Him;” nor can it be necessary to point out to anyone who is familiar with the Gospels, how common a thing it was with our Blessed Lord to direct His answers not so much to the questions that had been put forward, as to the inward thoughts and motives of those who put them; how sometimes He set aside the question altogether as though he had not heard it, yet proceeded to make it the occasion of imparting some general lesson which it suggested. This is precisely what He does now.

Even Dr. Madison almost stumbled into the truth: “On the most generous interpretation, Jesus is here expanding his understanding of family.” Exactly! Jesus took the opportunity to show that He regarded all of His followers (in what would become the Christian Church) as family. Similarly, He told His disciples, “I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). It doesn’t follow that this is “a rebuff of this kin” (i.e., his immediate family). He simply moved from literal talk of families to a larger conception and vision of of families as those who do “the will of God.” Thus, Jesus habitually used “brethren” to describe those who were not His immediate family:

Matthew 5:47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Matthew 23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.

Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’

Matthew 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Luke 22:32 “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

We see that “brethren” is used 191 times in the New Testament, mostly in this sense. So is “brother” (116 times in the New Testament). “Sister” is also used in the epistles, referring to fellow Christians who are female:

Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cen’chre-ae,

1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound.

Philemon 1:2 and Ap’phia our sister and Archip’pus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

James 2:15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,

Arguably, all of this might be thought to have started in the words of Jesus here under consideration. It’s not a rebuff of His mother and father and half-brothers and/or cousins (also called “brothers” in the New Testament; Jesus was an only Son); it’s simply the beginning of the Body of Christ, and the Christian Church being regarded as one large, extended family.

Lastly, Jesus refers to His own mother as the mother of John, when He asked His disciple to watch over her after Jesus’ death:

John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” [27] Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 

And of course, we have the long tradition of calling priests (in Catholicism and Orthodoxy) “father”: the biblical basis for which, I have written about. And female leaders of nuns and religious are called “Mother”; for example, Mother Teresa; now St. Teresa of Calcutta, or Mother Angelica, who founded EWTN. Monks are called “Brother” and nuns, “Sister,” etc.

Never forget this while reading the gospels: they are theological tracts meant to advance the Christ cult at the time of their composition. It wanted followers who would not put family first. This ‘rebuffing’ text in Mark thus aligns well with the infamous verses, Luke 14:26-27:

• “If any one 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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

This text is quite a challenge for believers who want to revere Jesus as a great moral teacher, but it fits perfectly with the cult mentality of the time. . . . Christians say, “Well, Jesus couldn’t have meant that,” . . . It means exactly what it seems to mean.

Not at all, as I showed in a past refutation of the same argument from Dr. Madison, and also a related one, having to do with Jesus’ falsely alleged hostility to families.

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Photo credit: Christ Appearing to His Mother (1496), by Juan de Flandes (fl. by 1496–1519) [public domain / Picryl]

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August 15, 2019

Archaeological Support / Sin, Illness, Healing, & Faith / “Word” & “Gospel”  

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “A Charming Bible Story… and Its Bad Theology: another installment of the fantasy novel” (3-23-18).

It’s no surprise that Jesus was impressed, seeing a man being lowered through the ceiling: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

The religious bureaucrats who heard this were shocked: “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But Jesus would have none of it:

“Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’”

Have you been paying attention? If this were anybody else, we would say, “Such a blowhard”—claiming to heal someone to prove he had authority to forgive sins. But that’s a minor point. The implication of this story is that physical affliction is a consequence of sin, and that, once sin is forgiven, the body can be repaired. While we’re charmed by the image of a paralytic being lowered through the roof to reach Jesus, we shouldn’t suspend critical thinking, even though this is a beloved Bible story (well, especially because it is). It would be good to know where this story came from. Those who believe Mark reports “true stories”—i.e., that the gospels are history—never seem to wonder what Mark’s sources were. 

To the latter question: presumably from the robust oral tradition of early Christianity: energized by abundant eyewitness testimony. I showed in my previous installment that the tidbit about a sick man being lowered through the roof is supported by archaeology. This was after Dr. Madison ludicrously exclaimed that there was “no way—none at all—to determine if there is any history at all in his [Mark’s] narratives.”

Here’s a little helpful tip to those of you interested in either apologetics or logic and debate in general: don’t assert sweeping universal negatives. It will come back to haunt and embarrass you every time. All I had to do to knock this down was find one example of the Gospel of Mark being supported by secular archaeology and historiography. I found six in one article (in about three minutes of Google searching); and so Dr. Madison’s wild statement was refuted.

As to sin being the reason the man was sick, Jesus refutes this notion elsewhere:

John 9:1-3 (RSV) As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. [2] And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [3] Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.

Luke 13:1-5 There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. [2] And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? [3] I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. [4] Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo’am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? [5] I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

This sort of worthless speculation and thinking was disposed of in the book of Job, many centuries earlier. God describes Job: “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8; cf. 2:3). Yet the entire book is about his extreme sufferings. Obviously, the teaching and “moral” of that book is not that he suffered because of his sins, but rather, in a state of extraordinary holiness. I deal with these sorts of issues regarding healing, in-depth, in my paper, Is It Always God’s Will to Heal?: Biblical Refutation of “Hyperfaith” / “Name-It-Claim-It” Teaching.

One thing we do know is that the thinking reflected here—let’s face it, this is bad theology—has caused a lot of damage. It has seeped into Christian thinking that suffering is one of the ways that God punishes us. How much anguish have people suffered—on top of the pain of illness—because they’re sure that God is getting even with them? Double this anguish if people think that God is hurting others as well, to get even.

Yes, this is false theology (I completely agree), but it’s not the theology of Jesus or the Bible. Dr. Madison states thatThe implication of this story is that physical affliction is a consequence of sin” but this doesn’t follow at all. Jesus didn’t say that (and stated the contrary at least twice, as just shown). He simply said to the man, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2:5b). He never said that his sins had caused his paralysis. In fact, the immediate context explains why He said that: because He “saw their faith” (2:5a; cf. Mt 9:2; Lk 5:20).

In other words, saying he was forgiven was due to Jesus’ knowledge and observation that he and his friends were faithful: which state brings about forgiveness and absolution (which has nothing to do with his physical condition). This ties into other similar sayings of Jesus when He healed. He is recorded in the Gospels saying no less than six times: “your faith has made you well” (Mt 9:22; Mk 5:34; 10:52; Lk 8:48; 17:19; 18:42).

So yes, it was cool that a disabled man was lowered through the roof to meet Jesus; yes, it was cool that Jesus healed him (or so the story goes). But linking his paralysis with unknown, undisclosed sins was not cool at all.

If that had actually occurred, I would agree, but of course it did not, as just shown. It’s simply another “Madison myth”: one of a great many that I will be exposing and refuting as I proceed through this long (and tedious) series.

We find one of the most famous sayings of Jesus in the next episode in Mark 2. Jesus recruited the tax collector Levi to follow him, then went to his house, where he was in the company of “sinners and tax collectors.” When religious bureaucrats again raised their eyebrows, Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (v. 17) And, rightly so, this is one of the feel-good saying of Jesus.

I appreciate Dr. Madison’s approbation of Jesus. What would we do without it?

But Mark keeps the message vague. At the outset of the chapter, with all those people crammed into Jesus’ house, we read “…he was speaking the word to them.” (v. 2) And now, in the Levi episode, Jesus says that be had come to “call” on certain people. What was “the word,” and what was Jesus calling people to?

The “word” or “word of God” is equivalent in the New Testament to the Gospel and also “true apostolic tradition” (including Old Testament inspired revelation; the Ten Commandments and other tenets of the moral law): the salvation message of God’s free gift of grace, mercy, and salvation through acceptance of Christ’s work on our behalf. Jesus clarifies much of this in chapter 7:

Mark 7:5-13 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?” [6] And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, `This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; [7] in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ [8] You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” [9] And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!  [10] For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother’; and, `He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’; [11] but you say, `If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) — [12] then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, [13] thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.” (cf. Mk 4:14-20, 33: eight usages of “the word”)

“The gospel” also appears in Mark eight times (1:1, 14-15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15). It’s simply the summation of Jesus’ message, seen throughout the book.

Read the gospel of Mark carefully—and what’s missing? There is little focus at all on ethical teaching. Jesus’ primary message in Mark is the soon-to-arrive Kingdom of God…which never arrived.

I thoroughly dealt with this charge about the kingdom never arriving in the last installment.

So, bottom line: “the word” was probably not moral teaching; Jesus was calling people to commit to his delusion.

It was the gospel, etc., as just explained.

The Son of Man didn’t descended [sic] through the clouds, as was so enthusiastically promised and predicted as well by the apostle Paul. This is one of the big New Testament failures that the church has had to finesse.

Sheer nonsense. These false charges have been dealt in another one of my numerous refutations of Dr. Madison.

Somehow, the idea that abstaining from food, as a way to get right with God, has gained traction in multiple religious traditions.

Fasting and abstinence was long established part of the Jewish religion: continued on into Christianity (especially during Lent). It’s not complicated: the idea is heroic renunciation of good (in and of themselves) physical things in order to concentrate more intensely on spiritual things.

We read in Mark 2:18 that the disciples of John the Baptist fasted—no surprise there, since he was known for his asceticism; but the Pharisees also saw fasting as an essential component of piety. Asked why his disciples didn’t go along with the practice, at least for the present:

“Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.’”

There is a time for everything under the sun (Ecc 3:1-8).

With this Jesus script, Mark introduces a theme that will be developed later, especially in Matthew 25:1-13, i.e., the Parable of the Ten Virgins. There, Jesus displays a nasty streak in his role as the bridegroom. This motif is part of Mark’s message about the coming Kingdom of God.

I fail to see what is “nasty” about the parable. The moral is that we must be wise with the gifts and graces that God has given us. If not, we may be lost in the end (“the door was shut”: 25:10). The choice is ours. It’s no more “nasty” for God to judge disobedience to His laws (and for Jesus, Who is God, to teach this in His parables) than it is for earthly judges  to judge disobeying of legislative laws. It’s just silly to insinuate otherwise.

In the final episode of Mark 2 we find another famous Jesus pronouncement: “And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.’” (v.27) In this scene Jesus had been criticized because his disciples had been plucking grain on the Sabbath, which amounted to doing work. Hey, kudos to Mark/Jesus for this bold statement. This is a progressive outlook, after all, i.e., religious rules are made for the benefit of people, who are not created to conform to divine edict.

But here’s an interesting twist: when Matthew and Luke copied this story, they deleted verse 27…just skipped right over it! Seems they preferred a less radical Jesus. (…so you see, all four gospel writers make Jesus say what they want him to say). But all three synoptic authors included Jesus’ claim in verse 28: “…the son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”

If three people set out to write the same story, they will all include some common details and also have some exclusive to their story which aren’t in the others. This is a no-brainer and a non-starter. The essence of what was being talked about is present in all three accounts. No need to get conspiratorial. But then, what would “atheist exegesis” [choke / cough] be without this sort of inane foolishness?

The same people who habitually (almost by nature) complain and lie about the evangelists and other Bible writers (including Jesus) supposedly lying constantly and conspiring all over the place, constantly do precisely that in their own polemics. This is but one of innumerable unproven, arbitrary examples in Dr. Madison’s ongoing sophistry. How ironic and sad, huh?

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Photo credit: The Disciples Eat Wheat on the Sabbath, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 14, 2019

Why Did Mark Omit Jesus’ Baptism? / Why Was Jesus Baptized? / “Suffering Servant” & Messiah in Isaiah / Spiritual “Kingdom of God” / Archaeological Support

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: Did Jesus Graduate from Hogwarts?: The problems pile on, right from the start (2-16-18).

Problem Number 1: A Big Omission

It has been a source of some anxiety among theologians that Mark begins his story with Jesus as an adult: There is no mention whatever of a virgin birth. Why would Mark leave that out? For starters, of course, he may never have heard this story associated with Jesus. The apostle Paul, who had written a couple of decades earlier, hadn’t heard of it either—at least, he never mentions it.

Apologist J. Warner Wallace deals with this:

While it is true that Mark does not include a birth narrative, this does not mean that he was either unaware of the truth about Jesus or denied the virgin conception. Eyewitnesses often omit important details because they either (1) have other concerns they want to highlight with greater priority, or (2) presume that the issue under question is already well understood. The gospel of Mark exhibits great influence from the Apostle Peter. In fact, the outline of Mark’s Gospel is very similar to the outline of Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost. According to the Papias, Mark was Peter’s scribe; his gospel is brief and focused. Like Peter’s sermon in Chapter 2 of the Book of Act’s, Mark is focused only on the public life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. But Mark is not alone in omitting the birth narrative. John’s gospel is considered by scholars to be the last Gospel written. The prior three “synoptic Gospels” were already in circulation and the issue of the virgin conception had already been described in two of them. Yet John also omitted the birth narrative. Why? John clearly wanted to cover material that the other Gospel writers did not address; over 90% of the material in the Gospel of John is unique to the text. If John did not agree with the virgin conception as described in the Gospels of Matthew or Luke, he certainly had the opportunity to correct the matter in his own work. But John never does this; his silence serves as a presumption that the “virgin conception” has been accurately described by prior authors. . . .

At the same time, Mark does not appear to be ignorant of the “virgin conception”. Note, for example, that Mark uses an unusual expression related to Jesus’ parentage:

Mark 6:1-3 Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown ; and His disciples followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue ; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands ? “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon ? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.

It is highly unusual for the “many listeners” in this first century Jewish culture to describe Jesus as the “son of Mary” rather than the “son of Joseph”. These first century eyewitnesses of Jesus apparently knew something about Jesus’ birth narrative and chose to trace Jesus’ lineage back through His mother rather than through His father (as would customarily have been the case). This early reference in the Gospel of Mark may expose the fact that Mark was aware of the “virgin conception” . . . (“Why Doesn’t Mark Say Anything About Jesus’ Birth?”, Cold-Case Christianity, 12-11-15)

Problem Number 2: Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins

We read in vv. 4-5: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Just what Jesus should do, right? Well, no. Why would the perfect, sinless son of God show up to be baptized? Mark’s naiveté has bothered theologians—starting with Matthew, who maneuvered to avoid this embarrassment. He adds extra script, i.e., that John the Baptist objected (3:14): “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus seems to say, “True, but let’s do it for appearances.” “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness’” (v. 3:15). In John’s gospel Jesus doesn’t even set foot in the water. John says that he saw the spirit descend on Jesus “as a dove from heaven,” and declares, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Catholic writer Kirsten Andersen explains:

Since Jesus didn’t have any sins that needed forgiving (original or otherwise), was already fully himself and fully God’s son and had no need of salvation, baptism would seem redundant . . .

So what’s the deal? Why did Jesus insist on receiving baptism from John, even though John himself flat-out objected, arguing that it was Jesus who should baptize him?

The easy answer is that Jesus was simply setting the example for his followers. “WWJD” bracelets may be out-of-fashion and clichéd, but they do express the rather profound truth that as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, and do what he showed us how to do in both word and deed, salvation can be ours. . . .

[T]he baptism Jesus received from John wasn’t the same sacrament we celebrate today. How could it have been? Jesus had not yet established his Church, so the sacraments didn’t exist yet. The “baptisms” John performed were actually ritual washings (mikveh/pl. mikvaot) given to converting and reverting Jews, symbolizing the death of one’s old, sinful self, and rebirth as a ritually clean Jew.

Mikvaot were commonly performed to cleanse Jews of any sins and ritual impurities before presenting themselves at the temple, . . . (“If Jesus Was Sinless, Why Did He Need to Be Baptized?,” Aleteia, 1-8-16)

Catholic writer Cale Clark cites Pope Benedict XVI (writing before he was pope), explaining another symbolic aspect of Jesus’ baptism:

Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Joseph Ratzinger), in his Jesus of Nazareth [2004] offers some illuminating insights on all this. There’s a whole chapter in the book on Jesus’ baptism, but here are a few of his key thoughts.

First, in antiquity water conjured up two distinct images: death and life. Benedict notes:

On the one hand, immersion into the waters is a symbol of death, which recalls the death symbolism of the annihilating, destructive power of the ocean flood. The ancient mind perceived the ocean as a permanent threat to the cosmos, to the earth; it was the primeval flood that might submerge all life . . . But the flowing waters of the river are above all a symbol of life (15-16).

Even the physical act of baptism, especially baptism by immersion, represents death and new life: the descent into the waters is a form of death and burial; the rising to a new life is an icon of resurrection.

Looking at the events (of Christ’s baptism) in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross. He is, as it were, the true Jonah who said to the crew of the ship, ”Take me and throw me into the sea” (Jon. 1:12) . . . The baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out “This is my beloved Son” over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection. This also explains why, in his own discourses, Jesus uses the word “baptism” to refer to his death (18).

The Eastern traditions of iconography pick up on many of these themes, as the current pope emeritus elucidates:

The icon of Jesus’ baptism depicts the water as a liquid tomb having the form of a dark cavern, which is in turn the iconographic sign of Hades, the underworld, or hell. Jesus’ descent into this watery tomb, into this inferno that envelops him from every side, is thus an anticipation of his act of descending into the underworld . . . John Chrysostom writes: “Going down into the water and emerging again are the image of the descent into hell and the Resurrection” (19). (“Why Jesus Was Baptized,” Catholic Answers, 1-9-18)

Problem Number 3: The Powerful Savior Myth

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord”—“the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me” (v.7). These texts—and many others like them—usher us into the world of delusional thinking that seeks to bend history to fit theology. The Chosen People had been oppressed for centuries—which was inexplicable. What was the way out of this? It’ll be magic: There is a hero on the way, a messiah, one specially anointed by God, who will set things right. Thus one of the main themes of Mark is the proclamation of Jesus that the “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 15).

But that didn’t happen. God has not intervened in human history to make everything better. When hope faded that the Son of Man would descend to Earth to establish the kingdom of God, Christian theologians made the adjustment: it became a “spiritual” reality. But we’re still dealing with a form of hero worship: “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

What? Someone can actually do that? Whether it’s intervening in history to rescue the Chosen People, or “taking away the sins of the world,” it’s wishful thinking, theology denying reality. This is the Superman fantasy, and outside of the ‘messiah’ version of it, nobody takes it seriously. Of course, in our own time, there have been so many spin-off super-heroes; this is fun fantasy, nothing more.

The Jews for centuries had had a dual notion of the Messiah: that of the Suffering Servant and of the conquering king. So this was nothing new. Educated Christians knew the Old Testament. It included Isaiah 53, which is the famous passage of the Messiah suffering. There was no huge [implied, dishonest] “adjustment” made by the time the Gospels were written. Whereas during the time of Jesus it was understandable that some thought that the messianic kingdom was to be established, and the end of the age was near, after He died, of course it was understood that He was the suffering servant, and that the “triumphant” messianism had to await His second Coming. In the meantime, Jesus made salvation possible by His redemptive death; and that is quite enough itself.

Dr. Madison acts as if John the Baptist was proclaiming a superhero and the messianic earthy kingdom: fulfilled in Jesus. If so, how odd that he referred to Him as follows: “”Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29, RSV). That’s the suffering Messiah of Isaiah 53. The Jews at the time couldn’t misinterpret the analogy of the Passover Lamb that was sacrificed. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was also at the time of Passover.

Mark cites Isaiah 40:3: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” Isaiah 40:1-26 is a triumphant passage of hope. God was going to deliver the Israelites. But as always in the Old Testament, such deliverance was conditional upon obedience. And once again, as so often, God didn’t receive that, as the grand narrative of the magnificent book of Isaiah continues. Thus, we see the beginning of this discontent in the same chapter:

Isaiah 40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hid from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? (cf. 49:14: “. . . “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”)

God in effect responds to this rebellion and rejection in Isaiah chapters 41-47. Isaiah 42 describes what could have been, had Israel been obedient. But it was not, and Israel’s exile came about as a result (43:22-28). Then Babylon is judged for opposing Israel (chapters 46-47). Isaiah 48 is God’s response to Israel’s rebellion. God declares:

Isaiah 48:6 . . . From this time forth I make you hear new things, hidden things which you have not known.

The text then highlights the “Servant” (chapters 49-55) which represents both the Messiah and the nation of Israel (prophecies often have multiple applications in Scripture). The Servant’s mission is to Israel first, then “as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). But the “Servant” is also rejected:

Isaiah 49:7 . . . one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations . . .

Isaiah 50:6 I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

Nevertheless the Servant continues to proclaim a message of good news (chapters 51-52). But what happens next is that the full suffering of the Servant is revealed: and its purpose:

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. [14] As many were astonished at him — his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men — [15] so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand. [1] Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? [2] For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. [3] He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. [4] Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. [5] But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [7] He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. [8] By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? [9] And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. [10] Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; [11] he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. [12] Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

All of this, of course, is a prophecy of exactly what would happen with Jesus Christ: God the Son / Son of God. He came as the expected Messiah, but was rejected and killed on the cross. But this was God’s plan to save mankind. Many missed that (included all those who rejected Jesus Christ), but it was there in plain view, in Isaiah (written many centuries before). And this is the backdrop of the Gospel presentation of the life and mission of Jesus. Precisely for this reason, Jesus cited Isaiah in public, in a synagogue, at the beginning of His public ministry, in his own hometown of Nazareth:

Luke 4:16-21 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; [17] and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, [18] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, [19] to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” [20] And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. [21] And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

After He said a bit more, here was the response:

Luke 4:28-29 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. [29] And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.

Jesus was citing Isaiah 61:1-2 and also 58:6. He was thus claiming to be the Old Testament Servant, who was the Messiah. It was all foretold in the Old Testament before any Gospel writer was born. So to make out that they “invented” the whole story because Jesus disappointed their expectations and failed to reign triumphant over all mankind, and was instead tortured and killed, is ludicrous. Mark’s Gospel recounts the same incident, but only in bare outline: Jesus was “in his own country” (6:1), taught in the synagogue (6:2), the people “took offense” (6:3), and Jesus noted that a prophet is not honored in his home town (6:4; cf. Lk 4:24). Matthew’s account (13:54-58) is similar to Mark’s.

[I pass over Dr. Madison’s stock atheist objections to Satan, demons (getting also a bit into the problem of evil), and supernatural healing. These are discussions that are very involved, entailing in-depth philosophy and theology, and go far beyond the “textual” arguments that I am concentrating on in my critiques.]

Problem Number 7: The Message Without Substance 

We’ll be searching for the substance of Jesus’s message as we make our way through Mark, but we don’t get many clues in the first chapter. . . . But what “astounded and amazed” them—other than roughing up the demons? What was the message that he taught with authority? Mark neglects to give us the details.

So what? It’s only the first chapter of sixteen. He’ll get to it. Mark chose in this chapter to highlight his baptism and early healings and casting out of demons. But of course, chapters were only added to the Bible in the 13th century: by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. They first appeared in a Bible with Wycliffe’s English version of 1382. The Old Testament was first divided into verses in 1448, and the New Testament in 1555 (surprisingly, after Martin Luther’s death!).

We observe that Jesus starts revealing more of His mission and message in what we now call chapter 2.

We will see that Jesus talks a lot about the anticipated kingdom of God—which never showed up, by the way.

As with many words and phrases in the Bible, it has more than one meaning. It’s obvious in many passages that “kingdom of God” (and the equivalent “kingdom of heaven”: used only by Matthew) in the New Testament referred to a spiritual reality, as opposed to the physical and “institutional” messianic kingdom to come. Again, this was no cynical “evolution” or rationalization after the fact of an alleged massive disenchantment of early Christians (one of Dr. Madison’s recurring false assertions). It was foreshadowed in the Old Testament in the motif of changed “hearts” that served and followed God: especially in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 32:40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

Also, being inhabited by God’s “spirit” in the Old Testament was a precursor to Pentecost and all Christians being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (essentially, being in the kingdom of God; regenerated, justified, sanctified, etc.):

Numbers 11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”

Psalm 51:11 Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 44:3 I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.

Isaiah 59:21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, . . .” (cf. 63:11)

Ezekiel 36:27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (cf. 37:14; 39:29)

Joel 2:28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; . . .” (cf. 2:29; Hag 2:5)

Zechariah 7:12 . . . the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. . . . (cf. 4:6)

Here are some of Jesus’ many uses of these phrases in a strictly spiritual sense:

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (cf. Lk 6:20)

Matthew 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.”

Matthew 12:28 “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Matthew 19:12 “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. . . .”

Matthew 19:24 “Again I tell you, 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.” [this is the famous “rich young ruler” incident. Jesus appears to define the term as “eternal life” (19:16, 29), or spiritual “life” (19:17), or “treasure in heaven” (19:21), or being “saved” (19:25) ]

Mark 12:34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” . . .

Luke 7:28 “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Luke 10:9 “heal the sick in it and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.'”

Luke 11:20 “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

No matter how confident the faithful are that Mark is telling the “true story of Jesus,” this is not biography. Mark fails to qualify as a historian; we have no way—none at all—to determine if there is any history at all in his narratives. Mark was a theologian who had a talent for the creation of religious fantasy literature.

Why are we not impressed, let alone convinced? [my bolding added, to highlight the sweeping absurdity of the false claim]

Well, I say it’s because he has apparently not read about any of the abundant New Testament archaeological evidences of its accuracy. The following article alone has six archaeological confirmations (i.e., scientific findings, completely separate from religious faith) of the Gospel of Mark (a word-search can locate them):

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

As a second example, archaeologists in 2013 believed that they found the town of Dalmanutha, along the sea of Galilee, mentioned in Mark 8:10. I ran across three articles about it (one / two / three).

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Photo credit: 22Kartika (3-28-14). Located inside Maria Kerep Cave, Ambarawa, Indonesia [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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