Featured Post

Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and al...

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The evidence suggests that something extraordinary happened

Modern archaeology and historical research inform us that the Israelites did not leave Egypt in a great exodus, that there was no conquest of the land of Canaan and that it is very unlikely that the Jews and Israelites were ever really united under Saul, David and Solomon. Instead, the available evidence suggests a loosely organized people that were almost always dominated by the great empires which surrounded them. Indeed, many passages within the Judeo-Christian Scriptures reinforce the portrait of a small and relatively poor group of people subject at various times to Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans.

Of course, most Biblical literalists reject/ignore all of this evidence. Anything that contradicts anything within their sacred book can't be right. They simply bury their heads in the sand and jump on the occasional isolated find/discovery that seems to reinforce something referenced in the book and go on their merry way.

On the other extreme, we have a significant number of people who look at the evidence and conclude that the Bible (and the religions which are based on it) must be rejected/disregarded. For them, the book's lack of historicity and internal contradictions demonstrate that it is not worthy of serious consideration by modern man.

Nevertheless, when I look at the evidence, I am persuaded that something special happened relative to the Hebrews and their God - something still worthy of our attention and consideration. How could I possibly reach such a conclusion based on this evidence?

Allow me to answer that question with a few questions of my own:  How did an insignificant group of people have such a significant impact on the larger world? Why did the religious beliefs of a  people at the crossroads of world empires supplant the well-developed belief systems of the folks who repeatedly defeated and dominated them? And why would those conquerors be interested in adopting beliefs over which they had triumphed and in some cases had actively sought to suppress? How did the YHWH of the Hebrews become THE GOD of a large portion of humanity? And how did an ordinary Jew of questionable parentage, who was rejected by his own people and killed by their Roman overlords, become the Savior of so many billions of people on this planet? Given the discoveries of archaeologists and historians referenced above, none of these developments seems very likely or plausible - do they?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Legitimate or Illegitimate?

Western notions surrounding the legitimacy of offspring are among the cruelest misapplications of God's standards of righteousness that have ever been visited upon humankind. Indeed, those notions were made more onerous by virtue of the fact that the suffering which they inflicted fell heaviest on the most vulnerable part of that population: children.

Christians reasoned that because monogamous, heterosexual marriage was God's standard (as defined by the Judeo-Christian Scriptures*) that only those children who were born of such a union should be considered legitimate in the eyes of society (especially with regard to the church and the law). Over time, the notion developed that only children who were products of such a marriage could be considered as eligible to inherit their father's name, title(s), land(s) and/or wealth.

Any children born outside of that standard were regarded as illegitimate and given the moniker of "bastard." In other words, the onus for the illicit union was placed squarely on the shoulders of the completely innocent byproducts of those unions, not on the actual sinners.

This, however, clearly contradicts the principle laid down in the book of Ezekiel that "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Ezekiel 18:20) In other words, any negative consequences for the wicked behavior should be borne by the person who engaged in that behavior, not by his/her innocent children!

Indeed, if we appeal to the Old Testament for our standard, we must come to the conclusion that Western notions regarding the legitimacy of children were NOT derived from that book. After all, Abraham clearly regarded Ishmael (the son of his wife's servant Hagar, who also happened to be his secondary wife) as his son, and God blessed the boy because he was Abraham's son. Likewise, Jacob's sons by his secondary wives (Bilhah and Zilpah) were regarded as his sons and went on to become patriarchs of Israelite tribes - just like the sons of his primary wives (Rachel and Leah) - see Genesis 30. In similar fashion, the children of Judah's dalliance with his daughter-in-law were clearly regarded as his legitimate heirs - see Genesis 38.  Also, Gideon's "illegitimate" son (Abimelech) was clearly regarded by the Israelites as a potential successor to his father - see Judges 9.

In fact, the term "bastard" only appears two times in the King James Version of the Bible. In Deuteronomy 23:2, we read: "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord." And, in Zechariah 9:6, we read: "And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines."

The Hebrew word which appears in both of these verses is mamzer - see Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. According to Chabad.ORG, "Unlike the English word, 'bastard,' the Hebrew term mamzer does not refer to the child of two unmarried individuals who could theoretically marry (i.e. born out of wedlock). Rather, it refers only to the offspring of people whose relationship would be punishable with karet (excision). This includes many close-blood relatives or a woman who was concurrently married to someone other than the child’s father." --https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4007896/jewish/What-Is-a-Mamzer.htm

Moreover, if we appeal to the New Testament for our standard, we find even less material to support Western notions about legitimacy. Indeed, we are informed there in two gospel accounts (Matthew and Luke) that Jesus Christ's mother was unmarried at the time of his birth. By traditional Western standards, that would make Jesus a bastard and ineligible to inherit his ancestor King David's throne!

It should also be noted that in Paul's epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians that the apostle doesn't make any distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children. For Paul, it is simply the parents duty to refrain from provoking their children and to raise them in the Lord.

While we may be able to understand the feelings of jealousy, resentment and anger which probably engendered Western notions about legitimacy, those notions are certainly not consistent with the principles laid down in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. For the Christian God, there is no such thing as an illegitimate child - there are only children and the parents who are responsible for their nurture and welfare. And we can all thank God that the stigma which was historically assigned to these children has gradually receded into the mists of an ignorant and inhumane past.

*This is the verdict of Traditional Christianity and does not reflect the view of the author of this post.

Friday, May 17, 2019

God, Moby Dick, Herman Melville and The Bible

Although Moby Dick is widely regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time, the case can be made that modern scholarship has demonstrated that all thinking people should regard the book as meaningless, irrelevant and unworthy of serious consideration. From a 21st Century perspective, it is evident that the book has some serious problems.

First, Although Herman Melville has been regarded by many literary scholars as an inspired author, the book's contents make plain that he was very human. Modern scholarship has revealed that he borrowed some of the elements of his story from earlier works which purportedly described actual events related to the Essex (a ship that was attacked by a sperm whale) and the antics of a whale named Mocha Dick off the coast of Chile. He has also been criticized for inserting large amounts of technical material into the narrative.

Second, The book is obviously dated. Much of the book deals with the whaling industry and societal peculiarities of the early 19th Century. Hence, it is no wonder that many folks have questioned the relevance of a book which is so preoccupied with an industry and society that no longer exist. Moreover, history tells us that the book was NOT well-received by Melville's contemporaries (it sold less than four thousand copies when it was published).

Third, There are a number of supernatural allusions in the book which modern science has rightly consigned to the ash heap of history. Miracles, prophecies and fate are concepts without scientific foundation. Likewise, there are a number of allusions to characters and stories found in the Judeo-Christian scriptures (another book that has been thoroughly discredited by modern scholarship). The book alludes to the Christian pulpit and sermon and calls to mind the stories of Ishmael, Ahab, Rachel, Jeroboam and Jonah.

Fourth, The book is subject to many different interpretations. Melville wrote the book in a way that lends itself to the attribution of multiple meanings which largely depend on the perspective and prejudices of the reader. Different people have arrived at widely different conclusions about the symbolism employed in the book (i.e. the significance of the whale, the meaning of the allegory more generally speaking, the relative importance of the man vs nature or man vs God themes, etc.).

Fifth, The book is a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. As previously noted, it is probably based on a couple of stories which relate to actual historical events. Likewise, it has already been noted that the book contains a great deal of technical material related to the 19th Century whaling industry and maritime activity. Nevertheless, as with other works of fiction, Moby Dick is firmly rooted in the author's imagination. The ideas, stories and characters are the creations of Herman Melville.

Sixth, There were a number of discrepancies between the English and American editions of the book. Scholars have counted about six hundred differences between the two editions. Indeed, they have noted that numerous passages that appeared in the American edition were absent from the English one (among them the very important Epilogue to the book).   

Hmmmmmmm, it seems to me that these criticisms of Moby Dick have been applied to another book that has been highly regarded for many years: The Holy Bible! Well, when you put it that way, it seems a bit absurd to completely discount such a great work and say that it has no relevance for us - doesn't it?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What hath God/Nature wrought?

It has been estimated that about 6% (six percent) of all of the babies born around the world enter this life with serious birth defects. https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/birth-defects-causes-and-statistics-863 Fortunately, the number of babies born with birth defects in the United States is about half (3%) of the worldwide rate. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/data.html Unfortunately, those defects account for about 20% of infant deaths in the U.S.! (same source)

Authorities on the subject inform us that "Although some birth defects are inherited, others are a product of harmful environmental factors known as teratogens, and still others are multifactorial, resulting from a complex interaction of genetic and environmental influences." https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/birth-defects-causes-and-statistics-863 We also know that birth defects arising from genetic causes can be attributed to chromosomal abnormalities, single-gene defects and multifactorial causes. (same source)

And, as we have already noted, birth defects make a significant contribution each year to what is commonly referred to as infant mortality ("the death of an infant before his or her first birthday") https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/infantmortality.htm The CDC informs us that "In 2017, the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births." (same source) In addition to birth defects, they tell us that there are four other major contributors to this rate: preterm birth/low birth weight, pregnancy complications, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and injuries. (same source)

What is the point of all of this? That the natural world functions in ways that are not always friendly to us, and that we tend to classify things as aberrant/abnormal that regularly occur in the natural world. Add to the above mentioned phenomena the existence of pathogenic viruses, bacteria and fungi in the natural world and a few questions come to mind: What was God/Nature thinking? OR Is it possible that WE have misunderstood the nature of these phenomena? Is it possible that OUR notions about what is normal or abnormal could be flawed? And, when we seek to ameliorate the impact that these phenomena have on humankind, are we resisting the will of God? If it is good and proper to intervene in these instances by manipulating genetics or formulating other treatments (like drugs and surgeries), is it possible that we might want to rethink the way that we respond to things like psychological problems/mental illness, gender identification and sexual orientation? And, if death and spontaneous abortions occur in nature, does that have any implications for our notions about things like euthanasia and therapeutic abortion? And, if you say that we have to defer to God's judgment in those last two instances, why don't we have to defer to God's judgment in the other instances mentioned above (birth defects and diseases)?   

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Bad Tree CAN'T Produce Good Fruit!

How can you know when someone is a religious charlatan? How can you tell whether or not someone is speaking for/on behalf of God? Do you do this by comparing their message to what is in the Bible? Does God sometimes use bad/wicked/mean people to bring "His" message to others?

Jesus Christ said: "Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions." --Matthew 7:15-20, NLT