Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth?

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I was on holidays for a week and didn’t have a chance to check back on AtheismTV‘s website until today, and BAM! There it was!

(I skipped ahead through the announcements. I trust that no one will mind.)

The sound quality and lighting are unfortunate, but that’s the price we paid for an affordable space that could seat the number of people who came (and we quite filled up – if I recall correctly, we had about 100 people turn out to a non-religious event about Jesus on a Saturday night, which is a miracle in itself!).

I’ve already posted my initial impressions of the event, and I haven’t had a chance to re-watch with the ability to pause and look up claims/references so I don’t have much to add now. If you have a chance to watch it, though, I’d be very interested in hearing your impressions of the debate.

This was a fantastic event, and I would like to thank CFI-Ottawa for supporting my odd little hobbies and for not backing away slowly with widened eyes when I propose these sorts of events. You guys are wonderful! And very very tolerant! While included under the organizational heading, I would also like to specially thank all the volunteers who worked like Clydesdales to make this happen. I know a lot of you are nervous about your names getting out in cyber-space, but you know who you are and you know how much I appreciate you.

And, of course, I must thank Richard Carrier and Zeba Crook for doing such a fantastic job and for putting on such a fabulous show. High fives all around!

Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth (First Thoughts)


I mentioned that I was helping to organize a debate between mythicist Richard Carrier and historicist Zeba Crook. Well, it finally happened!

Crook was delightful, as always. I hadn’t heard Carrier speak before, but he was quite good as well. A little snarky at times (though far less so than in his blog), but the material was interesting enough to get through that.

Jesus of Nazareth

One of my pet peeves in debates, generally, is that the person who machine-gun fires the most nonsense tends to come out looking like the winner. To get around that, we the speakers share their notes ahead of time. The result was absolutely perfect, exactly what I wanted to see! Even better, in fact! Both speakers seemed to work together to lay the groundwork for the subject, and then both were fully prepared (with slides!) to address their “opponent’s” arguments during the rebuttal section.

The chemistry between the two speakers was very friendly, very respectful. They both seemed to approach the question from the idea that there isn’t a whole lot of evidence to work with and that it’s a legitimate debate to have, simply differing on which data points to give more weight to and how to interpret their meaning. Coming out of it, I have a lot more respect for the mythicist position (Carrier’s form of it, anyway – even he admitted that the bulk of the position’s proponents are dogmatic to an extreme. I believe the word used was “crazy”).

Unfortunately, I was doing the time-keeping, so I wasn’t able to take notes. There was a lot of evidence presented, on both side, that I’d like to be able to evaluate when I have the sources (and time) at my disposable. Thankfully, the AtheismTV team was there to film the debate, and should be posting the footage to their YouTube channel within the next couple weeks. I’ll post it as soon as I see it.

It was all round a magnificent event. I had so much fun that it took eons to fall asleep when I got home, I just just too buzzed from all the excitement.


EDIT: The video is now online!

Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth

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I’m helping to organize a debate/discussion between Richard Carrier and Zeba Crook on whether or not Jesus was a real, historical figure. The debate will be held on April 5, in Ottawa, ON, and you can see the Facebook event page here.

Jesus of Nazareth

There’s a few aspects of this event that I think really make it special. Perhaps the most obvious is that neither guest will be taking a position of faith (and, in fact, both are personally atheists). We are also asking both guests to provide their speaking notes to the other guest at least two weeks before the event so that responses can be more informed and considered – since one of my pet peeves about the debate format is that the ability to think on one’s feet scores more points than having the more informative response for the audience. We’ve also tried to pick fairly evenly matched guests, so it won’t be a professional against a crank, for example (though Earl Doherty is local and would have been quite a bit cheaper to get!).

I’m very excited about this event, and doing just about everything in my power to make sure that it will be recorded and – eventually – posted online (I will, of course, post links here once that happens). If you happen to be in the Ottawa area, or can make it, I hope that you’ll come out!

And if you make it out, please do make sure to stop by any of the info/merch desks and let them know that you follow this blog. I’d love to meet readers!


EDIT: The video is now online!

The Problem of the Good Samaritan

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I’ve only caught a few sketches from That Mitchell and Webb Look on YouTube, but they’ve all been terribly funny. And, better yet, most of them have successfully drawn attention to issues in ways that I’d never thought of them before. Their sketch about the parable of the good Samaritan is no exception:

Book Review: The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, annotated by Steve Wells

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I’ve been linking back to The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible quite a bit and, apparently, my track back spamming has succeeded in getting the attention of the site’s author, Steve Wells. He was nice enough to send my a physical copy of the SAB book to review.

(So, obviously, full disclosure, I did get a freebie, but I’ll try to be as honest as I can be in the face of free stuff.)

But first, some thoughts on the site:

My process when I’m reading a chapter in the Bible is first to read through it once quickly. This is just to give me an idea of the angle I want to take with my post. My next step is to read through more slowly as I take notes on more specific things that I want to say. Then I hit the external sources.

Image Credit: SAB

Image Credit: SAB

I have a number of websites and books that I consult on a regular basis – I’ve linked to many of the websites at one time or another, and the books can mostly be found on the Texts page (the one-offs only get in-post mentions). These sources help me flesh out my own impressions, or give me new issues to consider. Some of them also help me answer the questions that I’ve been asking. This is where the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible comes in.

The site is a very broad net, and that can be dangerous. I find myself having to think quite hard (and check the verses in their context), because I feel like the site’s author was, in a sense, trying to find problems. Often, he does find legitimate problems, but just as often he seems to be creating them by ignoring connotations of words, ignoring context, or accepting the problematic translation choices of the King James Bible (which makes complete sense for his purposes, but isn’t so useful for me), etc. I find myself disagreeing with his assessments just as often as I agree.

But I still find the site to be an invaluable resource. It is hands down the best concordance that I’ve found. When I read something that I kinda feel contradicts something I saw earlier – maybe months earlier – I could easily waste hours reading back trying to find a passage. But the SAB just gives it right to me. I don’t credit the site in these instances because that would make absolutely no sense whatsoever, but I really do want to acknowledge just how useful I’ve found it in writing for this blog.

It has, like all such resources, its own biases and agendas. But it’s such a thorough tool that it more than makes up for them.

And now for the book:

The book is a very good attempt to cram all the information from the website onto paper. The King James Bible is reprinted in its entirely with SAB‘s annotations in the margins, just as they appear on the site.

In addition, each book of the Bible is prefaced with a list of highlights – which I imagine would be very useful for an atheist who needs to look up a particular passage quickly while in the middle of engaging with a believer. The inside covers are used in the same way, listing a few of the more theologically troubling stories of the Bible for easy reference.

There are also two appendices: one is a list of all the apparently contradictions in the Bible, and the other is a list of every time God kills someone.

All in all, I found the hard copy version of the SAB very well organized for easy referencing, and the edition is quite aesthetically pleasing. If you are a fan of the website and want a version you can carry around with you, put on your shelf, or give as a gift, it’s a good buy.

If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.

Book Review: Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman

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ehrman-bart-misquoting-jesusIt is often said that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God. But which Bible?

In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman takes the reader through some of the changes that have been made to the Bible over the years, both deliberate and not, and the techniques scholars can use in an attempt to uncover what the original might have said. He does an amazing job of making some pretty complex material accessible to a lay reader.

My first encounter with Ehrman was through his textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. I was a Christian at the time, and, while I knew that the Bible had been translated and that it was therefore subject to the manipulations inherent in translation, I had no idea just how deeply the transmission errors lie.

As I read through Ehrman’s textbook and studied the material in class, I found my faith deeply challenged. Just as Ehrman describes in his introduction, our way of knowing God is through scripture. And if scripture is flawed or inaccessible, what can we truly say we know about God?

This thinking put me on a path that eventually led to my deconversion.

Misquoting Jesus is every bit as challenging as The New Testament. I find it rather interesting that the most damning argument against Christian belief comes from the Bible itself – from reading it, from understanding it within the context of its writing, and from learning just how fragile texts can be.

But Ehrman never argues against the Christian faith. He is by no means a Dawkins or a Hitchens. Rather, he simply presents the research and allows it to stand, or fall, for itself.

Lost in Translation #1: Spacing the Bible

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It often surprises people to know that the Bible they hold in their hands may deviate in some rather significant ways from the Bible as it was originally composed. The text evolved (teehee) in a number of different ways, but the one I want to briefly go over today is mostly an issue for the New Testament.



In the original Greek, there was no punctuation. Also, every letter was capitalized (called “majuscule” – the lower case letters I’m using now were unheard of until the Carolingian minuscule script invented in the 8th century). Worse yet, there were no spaces between words!

So the 9th century scribe trying to convert the text of the Bible into the newfangled script had quite the task in front of him. This poor hapless fellow, born to the wrong generation as far as scribes are concerned, had to try to figure out where to put in spaces.

Now, most of the time, this was probably pretty easy. Even if there were several possibilities, the right interpretation could usually be guessed from the context. But sometimes, it wasn’t so simple.

To illustrate this point, Bart Ehrman often uses this example: lastnightatdinnerwesawabundanceonthetable. How do you read this? Is there a lot of food, or is it just frisky?

When I was in university, the best professor ever used this example: GODISNOWHERE. You can see how something as simple as putting spaces in the right place can have a pretty significant theological impact!

Book Review: Testament by Nino Ricci

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ricci-nino-testamentIf there was a historical figure of Jesus, who was he? Where did he come from and what did he really believe and preach? Ricci explores these questions by composing four new gospels. Although independent stories, and largely covering different points in Jesus’ life, there is some overlap and quite a few “ah ha! That explains it!” moments as events are told from different perspectives.

Testament imagines a human Jesus, a Jesus who is mythologized and divinized by followers who loved and depended on him and who were lost when he was suddenly ripped away from them. Jesus is also a presented as a complex individual who comes to mean different things to different people. Those around him struggle to understand him, to fit him into simplistic models, but of course these cannot accommodate real personalities (which tend to be multi-facetted and even contradictory).

I generally dislike books written from multiple perspectives. Invariably, the author’s own voice shows through, making each account too similar (minus the occasional superficial difference, such as the use of phonetic accenting). But in Testament, each narrator feels like a completely separate entity. They have their own interpretations of events and pay attention to only those details that are of interest to them. Mary’s story feels like a female, world-weary, and maternal narrator, while Mary Magdalene’s story feels like a love-struck, hero-worshipping young girl. The construction of psychically real characters is clearly Ricci’s strong suite.

Testament is a continuing story. By this I mean that while only four stories are actually told, there are many other characters throughout the novel who hint at having their own interesting perspective to talk about, their own stories. The book could easily have been far longer, but instead Ricci chose to merely hint at these other stories, to provide food for the reader’s imagination long after the novel itself has been finished.

A great deal of research clearly went into the writing of Testament. It was a fun little game for me to try to identify which theory Ricci was calling upon at any given moment. While I don’t personally agree with all of his choices, he did certainly manage to collate many diverse theories into a cohesive whole and, more importantly, a historically believable story.

I found this to be a very enjoyable read. Not only is in entertaining and interesting, it is also intellectual (as far as these things go). It is a book that feeds the brain without the reader even noticing and, as such, can easily be enjoyed on a number of different levels. It certainly ought to be required reading for all Atheists and doubters from a Christian tradition.

Book Review: Lamb by Christopher Moore

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moore-christopher-lambThe story is written from the perspective of Biff, Jesus’s best friend. In the modern day, an angel raises Biff from the dead so that he can write a new gospel. It follows Jesus from the time Biff met him as a child up until their deaths. It shows us Jesus’s early training as a stonemason, his travels into the East, and his eventual ministry.

Lamb is an absolutely hilarious comedy about Jesus that, surprisingly, manages to remain almost completely inoffensive. I loved reading it. It was very funny with a writing style similar to Carl Hiaasen’s, but lacked Hiaasen’s flaws (like the awfully disappointing endings). It was clever where it needed to be, sensitive where it needed to be, and funny where it needed to be. The characterizations of Jesus, Biff, and Mary Magdalene were stunningly constructed.

There were two portions that I felt a little let down by. The first is when Biff and Jesus get to Calcutta and see a ritual dedicated to the goddess Kali. The scene was important to the story, but it felt dry. It was too descriptive, like an anthropological study. I do understand that it’s supposed to be horrifying, so the humour of the rest of the story would have been out of place. But it needed something different. Reading the Afterward, Moore mentions that he had learned about the ritual from Joseph Campbell, which goes a way to explain the tone of the passage. Unable to use his normal humour, Moore had resorted to Campbell’s more academic writing style.

I was also a little disappointed that the story skipped over much of Jesus’ ministry. The reason given in the book is that the real gospels already tell that story, but I would have liked to have heard Biff’s perspective. I understand that it would have been more difficult to write about that portion without offending people and without getting preachy, but the pacing just didn’t match up with the rest of the story. It felt like the last few chapters ended the book with a bit of a “plegh.”

These two complaints are very minor, though. The book was awesome and I highly recommend it for pretty much anyone. Having studied the New Testament a bit, I found a lot of references to theories about Jesus and a lot of jokes that asked for a certain familiarity with the Bible to get and my previous knowledge enriched my reading. But friends who had no previous interest or understanding found no difficulty in following the story. I also think that reasonable Christians won’t find it at odds with their faith. There’s something for everyone.

Christ’s crucifixion nails found!

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Or perhaps not…

For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,
Which that he seyde was Oure Lady veyl:
He seyde he hadde a gobet of the seyl
That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente
Upon the see, til Jesu Crist hym hente.
He hadde a croys of latoun ful of stones,
And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.

-Chaucer, General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

There’s nothing new about selling relics. Charlatans discovered long ago that people will pay far more than is seemly to touch something that was once worn by or part of a hero. While today’s consumers might prefer to buy an air guitar once played by JFK, the saints’ knuckle-bones market has long been considered an investor’s safe bet.

These saint-oil salesmen have embraced new technological developments. Where the pardoner could only sell his pillowcase once, modern peddlers can use TV to sell the same relic to millions of viewers at the same time. This is precisely what Simcha Jacobovici is doing with the conspicuously timed announcement of his new movie, The Nails of the Cross (via Skepchick).

This isn’t a surprising move from Jacobovici, who hosts a TV show called The Naked Archeologist – a show that, according to its Wikipedia page, “reviews Biblical stories, then tries to find proof for them” (which, by the way, is the most precisely backwards way of doing archeology). In his new movie, he claims that some nails that were actually and truly used to crucify Jesus have been found in what may be (but likely isn’t) the tomb of Caiaphas.

[Caiaphas is the Jewish priest who, according to Matthew and John, organized the plot to kill Jesus. According to Jacobovici, he was also a Dexter-like collector of tokens from his victims.]

The find is bunk, of course, and XKV8R does a fairly good job explaining why. But isn’t it interesting that the scams Chaucer complained about over 600 years ago are still with us and going strong?

John Calvin once complained that there were enough pieces of the True Cross in churches across Christendom to fill a ship – and now we have the nails to go with them!


Reposted from the CFI-Ottawa blog.

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