Archive for December, 2009
According to the Christian Bible: a clear Yes
From typical historical reconstructions: local Jewish leadership only
Christian Biblical texts
All four gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John (in order of authorship) as well Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians clearly show that the early Christians held the Jews responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, even wanting his death ahead of a convicted murderer. Christian biblical quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation. I have highlighted the relevant passages.
Paul’s letter – 1 Thessalonians 2 (50CE)
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
Gospel – Mark 15:6-15 (65-70CE)
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. 7 The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8 The crowd went up and began asking him to doas he had been accustomed to do for them. 9 Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead.12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” 15 Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
Gospel – Luke 23:13-25 (85-90CE)
13 Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 “No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. 16 “Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 17 [Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]
18 But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” 19 (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.)20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, 21 but they kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” 22 And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.” 23 But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail.24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted.25 And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.
Gospel – Matthew 27:15-26 (85-90CE)
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.
19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. 21 But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!”23 And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; seeto that yourselves.” 25 And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.
Gospel – John 18:39-19:16
39 “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.”5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” 6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”
8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
Most Christians today downplay these clear biblical accusations with remarks about social context and need for early Christians to separate from the rejecting Jewish majority. So why is today’s twenty-first century morality superior to that of the spirit-filled writers of Christian sacred texts, when most Christians believe that morality depends on God – no God and there is no morality? But are not the scriptures inspired by God? Christians are free to adjust their Christian scriptures whenever the morality becomes unacceptable. It seems fair for a skeptic to ask when do the human writings end and the sacred text begin? In reality the final decisions are human ones and not by some updated revelation.
Secular historical reconstruction
Many scholars have proposed historical reconstructions of Jesus’ life – all are speculations as there is effectively no non-Christian evidence available. Here is one plausible approach.
Jesus, like many others, was a self-declared Jewish apocalyptic prophet who preached the overthrow of the corrupt Jewish and Roman ruling elite with the coming kingdom of God. The ‘son of man’ would imminently herald in a new kingdom to replace the leaders of the day. Incidentally this should have happened some 2000 years ago according to Jesus’ own predictions. Publicly Jesus was vague on this son of man though he may have named himself privately to his inner circle of followers. This may have been the secret knowledge betrayed by Judas. While preaching in rural areas, Jesus was unnoticed by the Jerusalem elite. However his apocalyptic preachings during Passover in Jerusalem- sensitive times for the Romans as a celebration of Jewish freeing from foreign captivity – ultimately lead to his perfunctory execution as a trouble-maker. This was the fate suffered by many and was seen as of little consequence to the authorities. History proved them wrong.
On a historical account the Jewish people have no more responsibility for his death than any other peoples for the unfortunate deaths of millions of others in the past. The charges in the Christian Bible were simply, though dangerously, propaganda by Christian biblical authors used to attack Jews. This arguably provided the unfortunate moral backdrop for European antipathies towards Jews, culminating in the acceptance of the Jewish Holocaust during WWII.
Alex McCullieNo comments
Andrew Denton, a popular Australian interviewer and comedy writer, spoke to Richard Dawkins as part of Denton’s Elders series. It was probably one of the worst interviews I’ve seen for some time. Denton repeatedly tried to take Dawkins where he didn’t want to go – talking about his inner feelings.
Dawkins explicitly rejected opportunities to disclose personal feelings and that’s his right. Denton asked for word definitions like ‘wisdom’ as a way of getting Dawkins to talk about himself. This obviously made him uncomfortable – he kept saying use a dictionary instead. I found, surprisingly, Denton continued this line of questioning instead of then changing direction to make the interview more effective. The whole aim of this type of “celebrity” interview is to garner as much information as possible – let the interviewee talk.
Finally the interview finished and Dawkins had virtually left before the final wrap-up.
Here’s the link to the ABC. The transcript or video isn’t there yet. ABC televison pageNo comments
Torture is wrong. Female circumcision is wrong. Are these necessary universal truths or expressions of opinions and personal feelings or something else? Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights an agreement by most countries to abide (or attempt to abide) by some general principles of how to treat each other as opposed to the protection of necessary human rights?
Ethical relativism is dismissed by most as advocating “anything goes” morality. “What about Hitler and the Holocast? He thought it was okay. Therefore I suppose you don’t think it was immoral?“, is the common response from the critic. Most introductory philosophy books dismiss relativism as the short-term obsession of philosophy 101 students who confuse relativism with cultural and social tolerance. They often refer to the in-built contradiction of believing in relativism as a ‘universal’ principle.
However the opposite position of universal truths seems unsupportable for a naturalist. How can we get any necessary moral truths in a physical world? For a long time I rejected relativism but have observed many cultural and social variations of behaviour that highlighted my prejudices. What made my opinions correct and how can there be any universality to moral behaviour?
A naturalist needs to be highly suspicious of a priori knowledge. Unfortunately, experience is always particular and only leads to generalised, probable knowledge – contingent by nature. We can have universal knowledge in artificially constructed systems with fixed rules – games like chess, mathematics, logic, and so on. But it is hard to see how moral rules or laws can be separate from the processing of humans within a physical world, surely not Platonic forms? So a naturalist needs to question the actuality of many ethereal concepts like human rights and objective moral rules (or worse still, laws). Perhaps the most a naturalist could accept is that we evolved deep seeded pre-dispositions about fairness and empathy for others for survival. Given our social nature then knowledge is likely to be really socially-based agreements and understandings. Recent researches in behaviour seem to support this.
Ultimately we still want to assign higher motives or qualities to our behaviour – human rights, moral laws, consciousness, free-will, concept of independent self – that keeps us closer to the divine and farther away from the mundane physical world. We may have developed more sophisticated ways of being ‘more than animals’ but it is still very much illusionary.
Alex McCullieNo comments
“Popes have had no problem voicing their opinions when we wanted contraception or divorce. No problem criticising The Da Vinci Code. No problem criticising Naomi Campbell for wearing a bejewelled cross. Yet when it comes to the evils done by paedophiles dressed as priests they are silent. It is grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. They stand for nothing now but evil.”
(Sinead O’Connor, Independent)
as quoted by National Secular Society (UK).
Alex McCullieNo comments
It looks likely that I shall be running a new course in Melbourne – Seeking the Historical Jesus – What do we know? in the first-half of next year at CAE.
My thinking is for six nights. The course would a survey of the efforts to date to understanding the historical person of Jesus, separate from the figure of devotion. Such as course could cover:
(1) Review of research over the last 300 years with particular emphasis on last 100 years since Albert Schweiter’s book ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’ (1906).
(2) Nature of historical research, including use of Christian and non-Christian sources and treatment of miracle claims with a close look at the Resurrection story.
(3) Society, politics, and religions of early first century Palestine and Middle East.
(4) How Jesus, the man, is profiled by today’s scholars – disagreements and consensus.
(5) Criticisms and future directions of the Jesus research
Alex McCullieNo comments
Defenders of Christianity often escape criticism by referring to atheist ignorance of true Christian beliefs. Even though their beliefs vary more than Christians like to acknowledge, we can have some “showy” knowledge of the New Testament to throw into the conversation. Christians are surprisingly ignorant of their own sacred texts.
The New Testament, essentially a new covenant with God, is a disparate collection of 27 books written in Greek somewhere between 70CE and 150CE. Most believe Jesus was executed about 30CE. The collection of books was canonised, made the measure of true Christian beliefs, some 300 years later. Our English translations come from scholarly reconstructions from Greek documents and fragments as well as later Latin and Coptic translations. Ironically the most popular English translation, the Authorised Version or King James Version, is considered one of the most unreliable.
Do we have the ‘original versions’?
No, we only have only copies of copies of copies and so on. P52 is the earliest fragment, in Greek, of John 18:31–33 and dated around 125CE. We also have later fragments or pages as well a limited number of books or codices, such as Codex Sinaiticus, dated around 350CE. These later codices contain writings that partially correspond to today’s New Testament. For example, Codex Sinaiticus contains the earlier Latin translation of the Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures), much of the New Testament, and extra non-canonical writings like Epistle of Barnadas, a very anti-Jewish text.
What were the first and last writings of the New Testament?
Interestingly, for most Christians, it was one of Paul’s letters, 1 Thessalonians, written around 50CE. The last was probably 2 Peter around 150CE. Most scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark was the first of the gospels, not Matthew as printed in the New Testament. Mark’s gospel was written around 70CE.
Who wrote the gospels?
Most scholars agree that the gospel writers are anonymous, despite the traditional church assignments to apostles or companions of apostles. We can speculate that they were reasonably well-educated Greek-speaking Jews living somewhere in the diaspora, Jews living away from ‘Palestine’. Jesus and his immediate followers would have spoken Aramaic, the common semitic language of Palestinian Jews since the Babylonian captivity some 500 years previous. Like 90% or more of local population, Jesus and his followers were probably illiterate.
More next time…
Alex McCullieNo comments
According to The Independent Donal Murray, an Irish Bishop who has been a professor of moral theology, has essentially been forced to resign as a report on the handling of child sex abuse cases in the Irish Roman Catholic Church “concluded that he had acted “inexcusably” in one case, and that he had handled other complaints and suspicions badly. ”
Alex McCullieNo comments