Sketches on Atheism

“Of course what you say is true, but we should not say it publically”

Would you Lie“Would you willingly lie to your children?” asks Rabbi Adam Chalom, Ph.D.  “Would you say this is what happened when you know this is not what happened? There’s an ethical question there.” The lie Rabbi Chalom is referring to is the continued maintenance of the popular belief that the Jewish foundation narrative detailed in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) chronicles actual historical events, when in fact it’s been known among biblical archaeologists for nearly three generations that the Five Books of Moses (the Torah) and the Deuteronomistic History of the Nevi’im (including the books of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel) are no more a literal account of the early history of the Jewish people than J. R. R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings, is a literal account of World War 1. “The truth is out there,” continues Rabbi Chalom. “They’ll find this archaeological, evidence-based version of Jewish history… and then they’ll say, why did you lie to me?”

On first inspection Rabbi Chalom’s explicit dismissal of the veracity of the bible might seem an aberration to many not versed in biblical criticism, an odd and unfamiliar voice in the dark, but he in fact represents the consensus position of rabbis in all but orthodox movements of Judaism who today concede (although rarely publically announce) not only that the Patriarchs tales are simple mythology, but also the more intrusive admission that the Israelites were never in Egypt, that Moses was a legendary motif not found in history, that there was never an Exodus, and that there was never a triumphant military conquest of Canaan. It is a deeply pervasive confession and strikes to the heart of what will be for many outside of Judaism one of the most profoundly uncomfortable historical readjustments this century will likely witness. Redefining the early history of the Jewish people means, after all, also redefining the very foundation slab of two of the world’s most popular theological systems – Christianity and Islam – and when words like “historical,” “genuine,” and “actual” are replaced forever with words such as “fiction,” “fable,” and “myth” worlds will invariably collide, and they will do so regardless of anyone’s sensibilities.

Facts are Facts“The Pentateuch is the Jewish Mythology,” stated Rabbi Nardy Grün speaking to me recently from Israel; one of over sixty rabbis from every movement in Judaism I reached out to for this essay and whose thoughts concerning the authenticity of Jewish scripture and its problematic relation to the actual early history of the Jewish people are, in part, detailed here. “My duty as a Rabbi is to interpret the Bible and consider it as my Mythology,” Grün continues, “as the founding story of the people of Israel, of course not to take it literally… it is not a book of facts, but a myth.” An “extended metaphor” is how Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism described the view of the bible held by most rabbis today. “The Torah is not a book we turn to for historical accuracy,” noted Newsweek’s Most Influential Rabbi in America (2012), Conservative Rabbi, David Wolpe; one of the leading figureheads in Judaism’s largest single denomination. “Most Reform rabbis and Jews agree that the biblical text is not to be taken literally or word-for-word,” confirmed Reform Rabbi Victor Appell. “My sense is all liberal seminaries and the vast majority of Jews assume the Bible isn’t literally true,” asserted Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of The National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership, adjunct at the United Theological Seminary, and also one of Newsweek’s Most Influential Rabbis. “The Pentateuch is filled with wonderful mythology of our beginnings,” attested Rabbi Robert Schreibman. “The Torah is a piece of human literature,” professed Humanistic Rabbi, Jeffrey Falick of The Birmingham Temple.  “Its stories are fictional and that is how I teach them.”

“Some people are surprised, even upset, by these views, yet they are not new,” wrote Rabbi Wolpe in a 2002 article, Did the Exodus Really Happen? “Not piety but timidity keeps many rabbis from expressing what they have long understood to be true.” Wolpe, who was also named one of the Fifty Most Influential Jews in the World by the Jerusalem Post (2012), was among the first rabbis to publically address the awkward, but unignorable, corporeality of biblical authenticity against the backdrop of archaeological discoveries when in his now famous 2001 Passover Sermon he told his unsuspecting 2,300 strong congregation at Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple that Moses and the exodus he supposedly led was little more than a work of inventive fiction, and that “the rejection of the Bible as literally true was more or less settled and understood among most Conservative Rabbis.”

Of course what you sayUnderstanding something does not, however, necessarily translate to that same thing being enthusiastically embraced. In a recent conversation Wolpe confirmed to me an eyebrow lifting anecdote in which he recounts a (nameless) Jewish scholar who while scolding him publically in print for his disclosures at the time took him aside over a lunch one day and privately confessed: “Of course what you say is true, but we should not say it publically.”

What this nameless scholar was admitting to be true but which he deeply bemoaned being spoken aloud was in fact nothing more than what the world’s leading biblical archaeologists had been saying for decades, and what they’d been saying was most economically summarised by famed Israeli archaeologist, Professor Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University in the foreword to his 1999 essay, Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho: “The patriarchs’ acts are legendary stories, we did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, we did not conquer the land… Those who take an interest have known these facts for years.” Reviewing Herzog’s paper, Professor Magen Broshi, archaeologist at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, endorsed the essays startlingly blunt opening remarks, stating, “There is no serious scholar in Israel or in the world who does not accept this position. Herzog represents a large group of Israeli scholars, and he stands squarely within the consensus. Twenty years ago even I wrote of the same matters and I was not an innovator. Archaeologists simply do not take the trouble of bringing their discoveries to public attention.”

Archaeology is a difficult science to be so confident about, discovered artefacts rarely line up in such a way to paint a complete picture of ancient eras, and the unusual solidness of the consensus here reflects a century of exhaustive archaeological work conducted across Israel and its environs, including the Sinai into which archaeologists poured following Israel’s capturing of the peninsular in the 1967 Six Day War. It was work that steadily, albeit un-expectedly,  shattered the thesis present at the beginning of the 20th century which, perhaps mostly because of familiarity with the stories, accredited the biblical narratives with an assumed historical validity that many believed needed only to be unearthed to be confirmed. It was a position that even in the gentle hands of biblical advocates such as the American archaeologist, William Albright working in the first half of the 20th Century, proved disturbingly elusive. “Slowly, cracks began to appear in the picture,” explained Herzog in his essay. “Paradoxically, a situation was created in which the glut of findings began to undermine the historical credibility of the biblical descriptions instead of reinforcing them. A crisis stage was reached when the theories within the framework of the general thesis were unable to solve an increasingly large number of anomalies. The explanations became ponderous and inelegant, and the pieces did not fit together smoothly.”

The reasons why the thesis collapsed was relatively simple to explain: the greater part of the Masoretic Text was a work of 7th and 6th Century BCE fiction conceived of and promoted to service 7th and 6th Century territorial and theological ambitions, not document actual historical events, rather invent them in a legendary time so as to fit the contemporary geopolitical needs of Judah and its Yahwehist priests after the sacking of Mamlekhet Yisra’el (Kingdom of Israel) by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

“There is no archaeological evidence for any of it,” declared renowned Israeli archaeologist and professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, Israel Finkelstein. “This is something unexampled in history. They [Judah] wanted to seize control of the territories of the kingdom of Israel and annex them, because, they said, `These territories are actually ours and if you have a minute, we’ll tell you how that’s so.’” In a sentence, for Joshua’s purported 12th Century BCE conquest narrative to make sense to a 7th and 6th Century audience a period of enslavement and rightful (miraculous) return was invented, and for that chapter to bear faculty an ancestral origin tale was constructed and put to ink. “The goal was to create a myth saying that Judah is the centre of the world, of the Israelite way of life, against the background of the reality of the later kingdom,” explains Finkelstein. “The people of Judah started to market the story of Joshua’s conquest of the land, which was also written in that period, in order to give moral justification to their territorial longings, to the conquest of the territories of Israel.”

Blue_Orange “Scholars have known these things for a long time, but we’ve broken the news very gently,” explained one of America’s leading archaeologists, Professor William Dever. What Dever, a one time Christian seminary student and biblical maximalist to many, was referencing was the provocative yet conclusive collage of archaeological evidence that when superimposed over settlement patterns, population data, and comparisons of biblical and Egyptian texts did not tell the story of a once enslaved people returning to Canaan, rather a people who never left; hill-people, refugees from Canaanite coastal states who created a culture and economy that would ultimately be unified as the nation of Israel. As the historian and biblical archaeologist Professor Carol Meyers of Duke University stressed, “no archaeological evidence of a massive migration of Jews from Egypt across the Sinai Peninsula to Israel has been found and the biblical account of Jewish origins is, at best, historical fiction: sometimes plausible, but generally imagined.” To this point Robert Coote, Senior Research Professor of Hebrew Exegesis at San Francisco’s Theological Seminary, was far more pronounced, stating, “The period of the patriarchs, exodus, conquest, or judges as devised by the writers of Scriptures… never existed.” Even Orthodox Rabbi, Shalom Carmy, granted to me that “Outside the Bible and the literature it engendered, we do not presently have direct reference to Moses;” a concession mirrored in the second edition Encyclopaedia Judaica which concludes that the entire Exodus narrative was “dramatically woven out of various strands of tradition… he [Moses] wasn’t a historical character.” 

“We looked for evidence for the Exodus in the Sinai Desert and found there was nothing in the Sinai Desert,” explains Rabbi Chalom. “We looked at the Patriarch stories and the times in which they supposedly lived, and it didn’t seem to match. Then we looked at the stories of the Patriarchs in the time they were apparently written, historically, and that matched much better.” “The Torah reflects the attitudes of the people who wrote it, and their attitudes are a reflection of the times in which they lived, no more and no less,” affirmed Rabbi Falick. “Biblical tales are not so much descriptions of real events as they are propaganda for political and religious arguments which took place many centuries after the presumed events took place,” wrote Rabbi Wine in his posthumously published book, A Provocative People. “The story of Abraham has less to do with 1800 BCE, when Abraham presumably lived, than with 700 BCE when his story was created.”

Against the tide of contradictory evidence, is it at least provisionally plausible that there are kernels of truth lurking behind these narratives, obscure waypoints from which the larger theatrical epic was hung? Even staunch minimalists are unwilling to rule out the possibility of seeds; no story, real or imagined, develops wholly in isolation and groups such as the Hyksos (expelled from Egypt in 1560 BCE) might indeed be the artistic bridge between the actual and the adapted dream sequence retold by villagers in the Canaanite hills, but it must be underscored that of the biblical descriptions and their application to the authentic historical Jews nothing matches. Nothing, that is to say, without a great deal of sometimes jaw dropping imaginative manoeuvring, like the idea forwarded by an Orthodox Rabbi who suggested the reason why the Sinai was so conspicuously free of evidence was because Yahweh had (obviously) deputised a tribe to clean it all up; an idea which Professor Herzog would no doubt call an inelegant explanation.

Ju MythThe strength of this new understanding of the less adventurous, more pedestrian early history of the Jews – a history that even objective biblical maximalists today reluctantly admit has no appreciable resemblance to the scriptural narrative up until the period of Babylonian captivity – is in fact so overwhelming that the word “myth” has now even breached the rigid walls of Orthodox Judaism. In early 2012 Orthodox Rabbi Norman Solomon published his book, Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith, in which he presented the case that the concept of Torah Mi Sinai (the claim that the Five Books of Moses were dictated by the god Yahweh to Moses on Sinai, itself a legendary location that has never been found) was not rooted in reality but was rather a “foundation myth;” an origin dream, not a descriptive historical fact. The admission sent shockwaves through the Orthodox world not felt since the one-time candidate for Chief Rabbi of Britain, Rabi Louis Jacobs, contested the validity of Torah Mi Sinai by delicately suggesting that it was a “complex idea with textual, historical, and philosophical problems that needed to be addressed;” a seemingly benign statement, but one which ultimately cost him the position and standing in the Orthodox community. Fifty years later Solomon’s conclusions have drawn analogous and strikingly harsh criticism from influential Orthodox groups including the Vaad Harabonim, a cluster of Canada’s most prominent Orthodox rabbis, who publically denounced the British rabbi and accused him of ‘kefiroh baTorah’ [heresy].

Writing in the Huffington Post, Yoni Goldstein said of the incident: “[The rabbis response] reveals how terrified the Orthodox hierarchy is by the idea of modernizing religion to correspond to new revelations from the academic world. What Solomon is suggesting is no less than a direct threat to the future of Orthodox Judaism. If the principle that god dictated the Torah to Moses at Sinai is false, then the entire movement begins to unravel. If that isn’t true, what else isn’t true? Most Orthodox Jews’ beliefs would be shattered in an instant, and Solomon’s notion of “foundational myth” is not going to be much of a consolation prize.”

Such severe criticism is however thoroughly contrasted by Conservative Rabbi Steven Leder who said in 2001, “Defending a rabbi in the 21st century for saying the Exodus story isn’t factual is like defending him for saying the Earth isn’t flat. It’s neither new nor shocking to most of us that the Earth is round or that the Torah isn’t a history book dictated to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.”

For the Orthodox, retreating into a theological redoubt from which they can preserve a literal interpretation of the Bible is what Rabbi Karen Levy described to me as being “radically un-self-aware,” yet for many Orthodox rabbis the inexplicable contradictions have meant a choice between participating in the evidence-based world or that of the poetic, unsubstantiated narrative. As Orthodox Israeli rabbi and scholar Mordecai Breuer wrote, “Unable to withstand the contradiction most men of faith consciously avoid biblical scholarship in order to safeguard their traditional belief.”

Wilful ignorance, like the nameless scholar’s plea to Rabbi Wolpe to not talk publically about already well-established facts, is an unsustainable and ultimately unacceptable response. “The truth is out there” attested Rabbi Chalom, and this truth does not only press upon religious Jews. Accompanying them down this rabbit hole where the familiar quickly becomes the unfamiliar are those bound to both the Christian and Islamic faiths; religions whose foundations are rooted to the history of the Jewish people, and as that substructure shifts so too will the superstructure of all Abrahamic religions shift with it. How, after all, does an Abrahamic theology reconcile itself with the news that there was no Abraham, no Moses, no Exodus, and no Conquest? How does one re-categorise a revealed religion when there evidently was no revelation? How do Christians and Muslims harmonise their faiths in light of the tremendously awkward realisation that their central figures of devotion, supposedly inspired sages, were unable to distinguish between historical fact and inventive fiction?* Indeed, at what point do librarians delete “historical” forever from their call cards and re-type “mythological”?

It is a far-reaching, deeply penetrating catechism that will weigh heavily on 21st century Western (and Middle Eastern) religious practice and, ultimately, redefine its validity and reception in our societies. And with that we return to the question posed at the beginning; a question that will become increasingly difficult to avoid as popular culture catches up to the educated, evidence-based position of the majority of Jewish rabbis today who concede that the foundation narrative upon which all Abrahamic faiths are built is little more than a handcrafted human myth: Would you willingly lie to your children? Would you say this is what happened when you know this is not what happened?

 *In Islam, Musa (Moses) is considered a prophet and is named 136 times in the Qur’an. Abraham is named 69 times. In the New Testament, Moses is mentioned 85 times with Jesus naming him in Luke 3:8, John 5:45 and twice in Matthew. Abraham is mentioned 75 times with Jesus specifically identifying him eighteen times in John 8 alone.

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181 thoughts on ““Of course what you say is true, but we should not say it publically”

  1. I am against telling willfull lies to children. So I will never tell to my kids that Santa Claus (or dutch: Sinterklaas) is real. If parents are telling lies to their children, and they later find out they will learn that lying is okay. That’s a very bad thing.

    • I don’t see a problem telling small children that there is a Santa, and then explain, or have them figure out that Santa is not real. Kids see and hear a lot of stories that aren’t true, such as fairy tales, cartoons, movies, adventure and fantasy books, but still serve a purpose. I mean, outside of fairy tales, how often does good really prevail over evil, and how often does evil get its punishment? In that context, Santa is an educational supplement that at least for a few years can be used to teach children the value of good behavior – unlike (non-existent) God who tends to dispense rewards and punishments more or less at random and totally mess up the parental work.
      And as a bonus, once a child learns that Santa and unicorns aren’t real, it will be easier to talk about the Bible as another work of fiction.

      • Not so sure about that X. Teaching good behaviour by promising trinkets in return seems a little perverse. Still, I wholly agree with you regarding the value of fairytales, fables and lore… Santa included, up to a point. The deeper the tale the better. Take the Pied Piper; it’s left open, but the chance is he murdered all those children. Now THAT is a great children’s story… dark, mystical, enchanted, moral, immoral. Far better than some Dorothy skipping down a yellow brick road. Kids can handle the dark and work it out better than I think most adults give them credit for. Ultimately, what’s important is knowing it’s a fable, a story. The stories in the Tanakh (which actually have no real value to anyone but the Jewish people) are sold to kids as true, and that’s just wrong. They’re not in a position to question the authority telling them this stuff.

      • I remember reading something that said that until a certain age, children do not understand the difference between lie and truth. So until that time, every fairy tale is absolutely true to them. I don’t have children of my own yet, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out in practice. :)

    • “I will never tell to my kids that Santa Claus (or dutch: Sinterklaas) is real.” I decided the same thing. Then my 2 year old came home from nursery and announced she was going to be a good girl so Santa Claus would give her a sticker book for Christmas. It’s a difficult position to be in both to steal her happy thought from her and to actually explain it to her.

  2. Well chuff me, Mr. Z That is the most masterful summation I have ever read on this topic.
    I have a fair idea what this took to put together, but doubt many others will.

    I am singularly impressed, John. Truly, well done.

    “And for the next act….Heeeeeere’s, Johnny!”

    Christians and Muslims run for cover.

    • A lot to cram in, but i think it’s something Christians should see. Takes the wind out of their sails. Will do some follow ups and get a rabbi to do a guest post, too. That should be interesting.

      • I am eager to read a Christian take on this. It would be most interesting to have the views of an ‘unklee’ for instance?
        Or even Bart Ehrman,( though not quite ‘Christian’ any more)

        Would a Christian be willing to offer a crit or POV on these Jewish revelations I wonder?

      • The oral tradition thing, which I am wading through, is very interesting.
        As you state in the post, the OT is all phooey and they actually sat down and wrote a story, much as I would, why is it impossible to conceive that the writers of the NT did not do the same thing?
        Especially in light of Jesus referencing Moses and the Patriarchs.

        Was that possible, I wonder? Could they have literally just wrote a story?

      • I’m still of the opinion that it was all a Judean metafictional narrative that was enormously misinterpreted by the northern diaspora. That just seems to make sense, it was fertile ground, and the ball got rolling. I really don’t think there was a conspiracy… Humans just aren’t that smart. It was a mistake, an accident, but when people like Eusebius started looking for some actual evidence, and found none, they clearly thought they better make some. That part of the story is patently clear, and poor old Josephus was the tool.

        The reason why it happened are however as common today as they were 55 generations ago: the horse had already bolted, Rome had adopted Christianity as its state religion, and the cash registers were ringing. Bernie Madoff, gave almost exactly the same explanation to a prison counsellor when asked how it had all happened:

        “People just kept throwing money at me.”

      • Ark, STEPHENPRUIS says:

        Arkenaten, if you want to know who really wrote the NT and why, read “Caeser’s Messiah” and all will be clear. Most of the wierdness and ambiguities in the NT disappear when you reexamine it in this way. (Teaser Alert: Yep, it’s fiction, too.)

      • “but i think it’s something Christians should see. Takes the wind out of their sails.”

        Indeed. Would a real “son of God” attest to a myth as being a fact?

      • LBWOODGATE asks “Would a real “son of God” attest to a myth as being a fact?” You mean because the genocidal Old Testament god was such a peach that his son must have been a real mensch?

  3. The problem is, you need to be comfortable with cognitive dissonance if you’re going to be religious in the first place, so anybody devout and intelligent will take all this evidence, nod their head, agree with the history… and carry on believing. Just as Christians did when Genesis unravelled in the face of biology.

    • This is true, but as the Jews jettison the belief it does pull the rug out from under both Christians and Muslims. Their real problem is that both Jesus and Mo named the heroes of the Pentateuch on multiple occasions which is clear “evidence” they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. Making an excuse for how god didn’t know history is a tad tricky.

      • Siince JC was most likely a fictional character, it is no wonder why the creators of his story put other fictional characters into his speeches. Gives the audience a point of reference. Mo on the otherhand, as a real world ambitous fellow, was just being plain Machiavellian, using what he knew to be myths to win friends and ‘influence’ people by giving himself credibility.

      • You think Mo would have known? I’d say he was just as ignorant as the anonymous authors of the gospels. I haven’t yet found a Christian who can explain away this blunder, though. They’re only recourse is to say Moses and Abraham were real and Jews are just doing all this because they hate Jesus.

      • John, you are probably right that Mo would have believed historical accuracy the myths like most of his contemporary tribesmen. However, I was amusing myself with the possibility that he was a Stalinesqe manipulator that used every tool available to gain and keep power.

      • Then, when that happens we shall wait to see the house of cards fall.
        Imagine the pope apologising to his congregation gathered at the St. Peter’s square that this whole thing has been a big lie and we are sorry we have told you not to use contraceptives based on it! This will be a glorious day

      • It’d be great, but it won’t happen that way. Mithraism (the last great religion to fall by the wayside, if we don’t count paganism) didn’t die overnight. These things will just fade into obscurity as fewer and fewer children can be corrupted before they know better…. then the next book of packaged nonsense will arrive ;)

  4. It’s not just Jews, of course. When I studied history as a subject in ACE, Bible stories and the patriarchs were a major part of it. The Bible was taken absolutely uncritically as a wholly accurate historical record.

    I’m actually more pissed off about this than I am about being taught creationism, mostly because creationism is widely debunked, but no one ever talks about this. I expect there are tons of ex-ACE students who now realise creationism is wrong but still think the Exodus happened.

    • Precisely. It’s an extreme failure on the part of popular culture. These things have been known for decades yet most people (skeptics included) still ascribe a certain truth to events like the Exodus and characters such as Moses and Abraham. Moses birth story, for example, is lifted straight from the tale of King Sargon of Agade, 1,000 years before Moses alleged life.

      “My mother…bore me secretly. She put me in a basket of rushes and sealed me in with asphalt. Then she put me into the river…. The river held me up, and carried me to Akki, a man who drew water from the river for the people. As he dipped his jug into the river, Akki carried me out. He raised me as his own son.”

      It was good to learn the Jews are way out ahead of Christians on this. Seminaries teach the real history of the bible, who wrote it, when, and most importantly, why.

  5. John, you got paid for writing this, yes? You sold it to a Sunday Supplement or other before posting this, didn’t you? John?

    As to what’s stopping the Christians, you mean “stopping the Evangelicals,” and to them faith is stronger than facts. What the believe is more real than reality. Examining why one believes what one believes is a fool’s errand because their faith is a gift from their god. Tough nut to crack, that.

    • Indeed tough, and we have to admit the adults are mostly beyond help. The kids aren’t beyond help, though… and learning that the Jews know its all myth will ultimately undermine attempts to corrupt their heads with nonsense. If the custodians of the tales don’t back it then all credibility flies out the window… and i’m going to hit this home mercilessly ;)

      Nah, haven’t sold it, but that’d be nice. You got an oped slot open in your mag? We can slap on a few archery pics to make it relevant :)

  6. Arkenaten, if you want to know who really wrote the NT and why, read “Caeser’s Messiah” and all will be clear. Most of the wierdness and ambiguities in the NT disappear when you reexamine it in this way. (Teaser Alert: Yep, it’s fiction, too.)

  7. “The reasons why the thesis collapsed was relatively simple to explain: the greater part of the Masoretic Text was a work of 7th and 6th Century BCE fiction conceived of, written, and promoted to service 7th and 6th Century territorial and theological ambitions, not document actual historical events,”

    A wonderful example of historical revisionism at work. A lesson we can all use when reading the interpretations of the Tea Party and their view of the founding fathers here in the states.

      • Something like that. In Texas school books, Jefferson has been demoted while Joseph McCarthy has been elevated to cultural hero status. Everywhere else, unlimited assault style weapons were clearly a consideration of the founding fathers when they belatedly added the 10 Commandments, er, amendments to the Constitution

  8. Impressive, the diligence of your effort here. If only believers could be diligent in seeking reality based upon information rather than simply rushing to defend what they already believe! Being sure you know ‘what is’ the enemy of learning ‘what is’. I am sure the Chialphagirl and Unklee types can find ways of being unfazed by this material. Fatuity is sooo comfortable!

    I have the Atwell book. The amount of correlation between the sequences of events of the actual Titus Flavius and the hypothetical Jesus is very impressive, but then most conspiricists build pretty impressive cases. I reserve judgement (I am really not qualified – and Ark is right in his understanding that more rigorous historians like Carrier deride Atwell) as to how likely Atwell’s scenario is, but it is pretty plausible and an engrossing read. One point about the Atwell criticisms I am so far aware of: it has in large part consisted of the deplorable and only too prevalent tactic of attacking his credentials rather than his arguments, though I do think Atwell is likely straining a bit sometimes to force correlation.

    • You know, it was remarkably easy to research this. A few weeks ago Ark and I were chatting and we realised that no one has actually asked the Jews what they think. Long story short, I went out and asked. In all truth, i wasn’t expecting the uniformity of disbelief among rabbis. Only the Orthodox rabbis (15% of all Judaism) actually believe the bible is true… but even that once solid facade is now under pressure.

      “I am sure the Chialphagirl and Unklee types can find ways of being unfazed by this material”… To be sure. I had a Christian the other day tell me straight out that Jews are doing this deliberately because they hate Jesus. You can’t rationalise with that sort of mindset. They’ve made a choice to not participate in the real world, and there’s nothing you can do for people like that.

    • Oh, I like that! That seems to be the exact message i got from many rabbis, too. The story isn’t true, but the ideas inside can be. Rabbi Steve Greenberg (Director, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) put it this way, which I found very thoughtful:


      “There are different ways to see a leaf, in plastic arts, biology, literature, even music and physics. None of them are false but eminently incompatible with one another.”

  9. I think history shows time and again, most creationists are immune to the facts. They will blaze forward as ignorant as ever, quite sure of their assumtions. Those on the fence, or those capable of rational thought however, have more and more facts, at times on a daily basis, to sway them towards the reality we live in. I look forward to the day when the flag of reason flies over humanity. I doubt I will live to see it, but one can hope.

    X-ian rationalization to make it all go away..”the debbil wiped out the evidence to test our faith”

    Nicely done article.

    • Honestly, i’ve seen a Christian present the case that the magical bugaboo, Beelzebub himself, buried the dinosaur bones to fool scientists. That type of madness should be viewed only from the safety of 50cm thick perspex glass.

  10. Truth, truth, truth. Is it really so important? We all swear allegiance to it, but in fact, isn’t that just cultural brainwashing about what we are supposed to say? Truth is not comfortable; it is impractical and has proven to be unnecessary. Ok, some of us happen to have developed a taste for it, but should we demand that everyone like truth as much as we do? I like pistachio ice cream, but most people do not and I accept that without complaint.

    • You are, of course, correct. Truth should not be rammed down anyone’s throat. If people wish to be ignorant that’s they’re right. The problem arises when those who’ve chosen to be ignorant try to ram said ignorance down other people’s throats…. Like creationism in schools. When ignorance starts hollering about like a madman, drawing attention to itself, meddling in society and corrupting children then it must be greeted with the truth.

      • Of course Creationists say, “No, we aren’t the rammers; you are. We just want the alternate theory of Creationism to have equal footing with actual truth. Then the children can decide for themselves which they like better while they are singing ‘Silent Night’ at our Christmas pageant.” So you are wrong…but of course I agree with you. I mean I disagree with you, but you are right.

  11. When I was growing up, the church of my surrounding was the Lutheranians. I think both the pastors and the thologists in the universities had assimilated the results from both archaeology and philology and any literalist interpretation of the bible had been dumped, at least among the people I knew. The bible was taken as mythology, useful maybe for allegories, but here christianity had changed into something not very unlike deism. Even in the catholoc church that dominates in other parts of Germany, an attitude like that has obviously been spreading. If you look at it from here, literalist interpretations of the bible seem to be a thing of the past, with only some small sects clinging to it. However, this deism-like christianity looses its grip on people and many become freethinkers of some kind or atheists. In the 2009 elections, a “Partei Bibeltreuer Christen” (party of bible believing christians) received 0.09% of the votes. So it is the consensus of the broad majority here that these stories from the bible are mythology.
    As a child, I got to know the US as the country of science that could send people to the moon. I was quite baffled later when I learned that not only a large majority of Americans are christians but many of them hold literalist interpretations of the bible, something you hardly find here at all, something I had thought was really a thing of the past. I still find it strange and requiring an explanation that despite all scientific evidence, so many people in the US believe in such things the way they do. It seems strange to me that you still have to fight this battle. But keep it up!

    • I grew up Catholic in Australia and you’re absolutely right, there was no such thing as literalism. Like you, I was utterly shocked when i heard there were people in the States who actually believed in Creationism. I thought it was a joke at first. I honestly couldn’t believe people could be that dumb. That’s when i started learning about the evangelical churches. They’ve penetrated Brazil and are eating into the once almost homogeneous Catholic population here. It’s quite scary, and they’re unbelievably active in politics. It’s a frightful thing for Brazil because here we have the double whammy of an under-educated and highly superstitious population. For evangelicals that’s happy hunting grounds.

      • Sounds familiar. They are also spreading in Africa, among people of low education (what is called in West African Pidgin “habook” (half-book, i.e. the people who are out of the traditional culture but have only received a shrunken version of western culutre. The best we could do might be to campaign for free school for every child on the globe (I believe that would be relatively easily financable).

    • Yes American religiosity is a little bit embarrassing, but it is a topic of conversation for us when we are in Germany. You are all so much more aware of what goes on in America than we Americans are of your events that we get away with nothing. We cannot go to a party in Germany without being teased about Santorum and our millions of Bibeltreuers. At least our cars are better than yours…oh wait, they aren’t, but our refrigerators are bigger.

      Americans are rather isolated from the rest of the world (German friends recall being asked in Los Angeles if they had driven there) but it is normal that pockets of resistance to change persist in certain backwaters. No one can change the fact that Darwin killed God and eventually we will all notice, even if there are some outbreaks of Creationism in underdeveloped areas in the meantime.

      • I have faith!

        In America once I was asked where I was from. “Australia,” i said. “Ah,” nodded the kindly looking man, “Do you get to London often?” I smiled and just said “Not as much as I’d like to.”

      • To some extent I think the high concentrattions of evangelicals in America and the comparatively low numbers here are connected. Many of them left Europe during the 19th century. So we kind of exported the problem. Most of this stuff was invented in Europe.
        I must confess I used to be quite ignorant of America when I was younger. I have been in the state once. During my university time, I had never bothered to get a drivers licence because I could get wherever I wanted by bike and public transport. I had the wrong idea that any developed country was like that. I had simply not thought about it because wherever I had been in Europe, conditions where similar in this respect. I ended up totally stuck in one place, unable to go anywhere because I could not drive. However, I could spend most of the time fishing, so it was quite recreational in the end and in a way quite interesting. :-) I did my driver’s licence only later, when I was 30.

  12. The bad part about me reading this is despite how much I agree, is knowing that no matter how much sense it makes, the people that need to consider it aren’t willing to read and process it. It is absolutely frustrating when people tell me that i am in a bad place or they feel bad for me because I don’t believe in the hoopla. In fact, not believing in fairy tales allows one to build coping skills to believe in reality. What a relief it is to no longer be befuddled trying to justify belief in a Heavenly father that allows illness, hatred, relentless cruelty and suffering. Without religion to cloud judgement, people can make better health decisions. For instance, somewhere in the world, a Jehovah Witness might live longer if they were to receive a transplant that their religion forbids. But like I said, every point I make, I’m preaching to the choir.

    • I’m just chatting with a Christian on another blog about this post and they have already presented their excuses. The filter devises they have in-play to avoid reality are almost “supernatural.”

  13. must be a disappointment to Christians that at least some Jews find their religious book nothing more than fiction. kinda shoots the whole “it’s prophecy, it’s prophecy” nonsense when it comes to predicting JC. If no one went to Egypt, then Joe and Mary didn’t “recreate” the event.

    • Actually, Club, it’s far more than just a “some” Jews. I didn’t speak to a single rabbi outside of the Orthodoxy who actually accredited any historical value to the bible. Granted, they varied in the level of their rejection of it (some outright, others thinking a version of truth was found in the metaphors), but on the whole they know its all myth.

      • But see, that’s exactly why they are so bad and wrong. What should fundamentalist Christians care about Rabbis? Jews took an evil turn when they rejected our Lord of Thorns. If Rabbis believed in the Bible, that would mean the Bible was wrong. Once you get everything in the right box and sprinkle with faith, it all makes sense.

      • The US evangelicals are quite bipolar, aren’t they? Channeling tens of millions of dollars to Israel every year, then hating them on the other hand for being the “Christ killer.” Odd people. So detached from reality that its quite scary.

      • It does seem to be that way. I’m guessing Christianity will follow Judaism in deciding that their nonsense is just metaphor too, in a decade or two.

        You did a wonderful piece of work, John. I’ve seen things called “carnivals” that have links to bunches of good atheist essays. Yours should be in one.

  14. Maybe I am missing something here, but I don’t see why any of this should matter to someone who is religious and devout, but who is not a scriptural literalist. (These “revelations” are simply not very earth-shaking, in other words.) I don’t reject Aesop’s fable because they have talking animals in them and animals don’t talk in real life. Those stories are meant to illustrate concepts, not describe biological facts. Jesus’ parables are stories that he made up to help illustrate the religious points he was making. The various teaching stories, allegories, and metaphors in the Bible I find to be quite useful. (Basically, I want to understand God and God’s kingdom in the way that Jesus apparently understood them.)

    My religious faith is not based on, or focused on history, archeology, biology, or literary criticism. If I want to study those areas, I will study those areas for what they have to offer, but if I am interested in learning more about God, I am not going to focus on the description of the anatomy of a frog, the sequence of battles in a war, what pottery shards were found where, or anything like that. (I actually do enjoy the study of those areas, and they do offer useful knowledge in their own right, but their intrinsic focus is not on God.)

    The point is, God is either real to a person or God is not real to a person. If real, nothing else is needed. (I can turn to God wherever I am under any circumstance because I concluded quite some time ago that I can trust in God.) If not real, nothing else will make a difference. (Will the knowledge that someone found a cast off Hebrew sandal or pottery shard 3500 years old really offer me comfort in my hour of need? I think not.)

    Religion and faith in God, at least to me, is not a dry academic exercise, it is a deeply personal practice. I appreciate and admire solid research in the areas I mentioned above, but the last time I looked, God was not described as being material. Thus, matter is not a component of, nor does it under-gird, my religious faith.

    (And just for the record, I am a Christian, but very non-mainstream, so many commonly known Christian theological concepts are rather different from what I was taught.)

    My 2 cents.

    • Hi ctcss3h, thanks for commenting.

      It’s interesting that you didn’t see the problem, because it is a rather large one; namely the god you’re talking about is fiction, and this is the proof. The entire foundation narrative of all Abrahamic faiths is a 6th and 7th Century invention. You cannot have a “revealed” religion if there was no “revelation.” It’s all a fabrication, a human myth. It’s the equivalent of someone starting a new religion 300 years from today based on Batman comics. This is also ruinous to Christianity (and Islam) because neither Jesus nor Muhammad were able to identify the myth. If they were “inspired” teachers then surely they must have known Moses, for example, was a legendary character, a literary hero invented by human minds. What would have been truly miraculous (and therefore proof Jesus was actually who he said he was) was if he said Moses was fictional and explained the truth of the story then and there, rather than saying on multiple times that Moses existed. If he’d done that then 2,000 years later we could look at this evidence and say, “Well, I’ll be! He was right!” Sadly, he didn’t… he thought Moses was real, which does not speak too highly of his knowledge or authority. In fact, its proof he (if he existed) was just another 1st Century Judean crisis cultist; a simple charlatan who said nothing new or even marginally useful.

      • Well,it would seem that we need to agree to disagree. You seem to be presuming that in order for God to exist and to be considered real by a person, God must be somehow based on academic proof and nothing less will suffice. I hardly think that if a person were alive in the first century and following Jesus around and marveling at the works that Jesus was doing, that they would reject what Jesus was saying about God because he hadn’t thoroughly proved (or disproved) the existence of people who figured prominently in the existing scriptural texts. To me, that would be that person missing the forest for the trees.

        Jesus referred to the writings that the people had familiarity with. He was teaching the Jews about their God and used their writings to bring out a clearer and higher sense of the divine. In Bible terms “they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” They had heard a lot of this stuff all of their lives, but Jesus was making what they had heard much more relevant by not just preaching, but doing works as well. Jesus apparently made the whole subject of God a lot less academic and a lot more real to them.

        As I said, I admire and respect the hard work by the people you wrote about. But if I find myself in deep trouble in my life, I am not likely to go to them for help because they, like you, will most likely point to what they consider to be authoritative academic evidence and say that God doesn’t exist, so don’t bother looking to Him for help. The thing is, I have spent my life very much arriving at a very different conclusion.

        The point being, each of us have rather different life experiences that we use to help us gauge our future footsteps. I would hazard a guess that you (and they) have not encountered anything in life that makes God seem like something that can be trusted. I (rightly or wrongly) feel that I have. So do I trust someone else’s blog entries (or archeological/historical/literary criticism work) to help guide my future path? Or do I go with what I have learned through experience to trust on my own dime? (Wow, that expression really dates me.)

        As I said, God is either real to someone or He is not. We all have to come to our own conclusions on the matter. And that’s as it should be.

      • Hi ctcss

        You say you’re a Christian so you believe in one particular god, the Middle Eastern god detailed in the Pentateuch: Yhwh. Your entire faith is bound to the Pentateuch, for without that you have no god. It is the sole source for this thing you are calling god, yet temporally speaking, that god is entirely absent from all but the last 1.25% of human history, and even after its literary debut in the 7th Century BCE failed to register as anything other than a minor Middle Eastern artistic anomaly envisaged by no other culture on the planet. It didn’t materialise independently in mainland Europe, emerge unassisted on the British Isles, or rouse a single word across the entire Far East. It inspired no one in any of the 30,000 islands of the South Pacific, energised nothing across the African continent, stirred naught in North America, and didn’t move anything or anyone in Central or South America. No one across the vast Indian Great Plains or Russian steppes ever heard of it. No Azorean fisherman suddenly spoke of it, no Scandinavian shipwright carved its name in a stone, no Japanese mother ever thought she’d heard it speak in whispered tones, and no Australian aborigine ever dreamed of it. Outside the pages of the bible there is positively nothing in the natural or anthropological landscape which might even remotely lead a person blissfully ignorant of the claims made in bible to suspect that that particular Middle Eastern god has ever inspired anything except the imaginations of a few linguistically specific Iron Age Canaanite hill tribes looking to add a little supernatural spice to their otherwise perfectly terrestrial lives.

        As I have demonstrated, the Pentateuch is myth, even Jewish rabbis admit it, so the god you believe in is false… a creative invention, and Jesus not knowing this actual history is physical proof he was a charlatan.

        May I ask you something: can you name something new or actually useful Jesus said? Something never said before by anyone…

      • How does finding a flaw in Jesus prove he said nothing new or marginally useful? Jesus is a like a fish. Eating the whole thing is a mistake, but once you scrape off the scales, you can find some tasty meat on the bones.

      • The first thing has nothing to do with the second, but i do like your analogy. Nicely done! Jesus’ historical bungle is just evidence he (if he lived) wasn’t “inspired,” rather simply another Judean crisis cultist. Now, if you actually look you’ll find he said absolutely nothing new, or anything even remotely useful. It’d all been said before by the likes Confucius, Laozi, Siddhartha Gautama, and multiple Greek philosophers. If you can produce something I’d be surely impressed, but I already know you’ll fail. Nothing he said was revolutionary.

        Most Christians will of course point to the Golden Rule, but that predates Jesus by well over a 1,000 years. The concept dates back to the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE) “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you.” It also emerged in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1780 BCE), as well as in the Mahabharata (8th Century BCE) “The knowing person is minded to treat all beings as himself,” in Homer’s Odyssey (6th century BCE), “I will be as careful for you as I will be for myself in the same need,” 6th century BCE Taoism, “Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss,” in 5th century BCE Confucianism, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself,” in 4th century BCE Mohism, “For one would do for others as one would do for oneself,” and was articulated by the Greek, Pittacus (640–568 BCE), who said: “Do not do to your neighbour what you would take ill from him.”

      • Perhaps Jesus was a Joseph Smith type of charlatan, or he may have been just a guy who delivered some homilies with no claim of originality…or he may be the product of the imagination of a writer who cobbled together some existing ideas and possibly some new ones. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that the Jesus oeuvre includes some useful stuff that shouldn’t be thrown out with the baby Jesus bath.

      • Of course it can be thrown out, and it should if it doesn’t contain anything new or useful. Name something said by Jesus truly worthy of keeping and promoting for the betterment of our societies… Something which hadn’t been said before, and probably said much better by Confucius, Laozi, Siddhartha Gautama, the Greeks, and a host of others. Just one thing…

      • You make an interesting point and it would make a good article if you could back it up. Jesus did not say that much in the bible and you could probably reduce it all to a limited number of talking points, then show how each had an historical antecedent.

      • I researched it a while ago and was actually a little surprised. Figured i’d find some minor but at least original nugget… Nothing. Even the talk about justice (balance) all hypes back to well established eastern ideas of karma. Still, an article might indeed be in order. It’ll have to stand in line, though.

        Why don’t you have a blog?

      • John

        We apparently have a rather different model of God in mind. You seem to be referring to a “personal” concept of God. I was taught to regard God in an impersonal way. Your quick “world tour” cites the absence of the tribal God of Israel in all of those times and places you mentioned. You could also have cited the absence of the theory of relativity in those same areas of time and space. Nonetheless, that concept discerned by Einstein was in operation all the while, just not discerned. The Bible relates many instances of “so-and-so begetting so-and-so” but relatively few instances of “and so-and-so walked with God”. Discernment of things that are not necessarily obvious to most people is rather important throughout human history. That’s why it is helpful for those few people, once they feel that they have discovered something helpful and useful, to try to spread the news of it to others.

        And no, you haven’t demonstrated that God is false. You are simply citing fairly well known facts about the genesis of the scriptures throughout the history of the Jewish people. You even refer to the fact that this stuff wasn’t likely to have been created out of whole cloth. The question then remains, is there something useful to to be discerned in all of this? You would say no. I would say yes. Many decades ago one of my church members gave a Bible study report on the book of Daniel and noted that it was actually written much later than the period in which it was set. And yet, despite the fact that it was not a stenographic transcript of events that occurred in the book, I still find those stories to be very helpful to me.

        And I think you have answered my original question as to whom this “earthshaking revelation” would most likely concern. You keep bringing up text (books, citations, or sayings) as somehow being the whole basis of my faith. That is incorrect. They are texts that I study. But the basis of my religious faith is a perception that God exists and is available to me here and now. I am simply trying to make the effort to discern more about God and God’s kingdom as Jesus appeared to have taught about them. In essence, I am simply trying to follow Jesus’ teachings about God (however far removed they are from me in time, and despite the fact that they are not stenographic transcripts of everything contained in his ministry) in my own stumbling way. (I figure if his own disciples didn’t “get” everything he taught on the first go round, I can cut myself some slack in this area, too.)

        So your question of whether or not Jesus said anything earthshakingly different (as though he were somehow just a philosopher or moral teacher of some sort) doesn’t say much to me. I am not just interested in Jesus’ words, but the works which he did that seemed to back them up.

        So we, once again, need to agree to disagree. (But you already knew that, right?)

      • Hi again ctcss

        It’s fine to agree to disagree, but I do have to disagree with you again :)

        From what you’re writing it seems you’re a Deist, not a Christian. If you are a Christian then your god is Yhwh. There is no two ways around this. It either is, or it isn’t. Now, it’s fine to be a Deist, the concept is far more logically acceptable than a personal omni-everything god, but do please be honest about it. Good use of the theory of relativity to make your point, but you’re of course forgetting these peoples across the planet ALL had gods, gods in every shape and form… and none were your god; the god detailed in the Pentateuch. That god only emerged in one place, in one culture, and it only popped up in the 7th Century BCE.

      • John

        Nope, definitely a Christian, not a Deist. Every time someone brings up the Deism claim, I go look it up to see if I am missing something. Deism just doesn’t fit what I think or do, or was taught. I think your confusion stems from the fact that most versions of Christianity consider a personal trinitarian God to be part of the mix. I was never instructed in such a view. Which then would probably prompt you to say “Deist” again. The problem is, Deism can be any number of things, just as Theism can. It’s way too convenient for someone to pigeonhole someone else with a label that they personally like.

        Wikipedia notes that “Deism is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a God, accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge.” Revelation is most definitely part of my religious beliefs. Observation of the natural world to determine God’s existence or God’s nature is not. And although I very much believe in reason as an important part of my religious effort, I think that most thoughtful Christians (and Jews, for that matter) would also consider reason to be very much a part of their religious effort. As I said in my first post, I am very much a non-mainstream Christian, but I am very much still a Christian. I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. I believe in his virgin birth. I believe in his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. I have no trouble accepting the healing works that he did as factual.

        So very definitely, not a Deist.

        And once again, you seem to be missing my point about your world tour of god beliefs. Many people throughout time and in different locations around the world had their particular views of that which they considered to be divine. The question is, were their views of the divine accurate or not? (The same goes for the Jewish view of God as YHWH, or even the mainstream Christian view of God as Jesus.)

        God is God. Only God’s view of Himself is the completely accurate view. Every other view is simply someone’s best understanding of what it is that God is, mine included. The human view of God for individuals (and even for religions) can change over time. So you can go on and on about how my God is actually YHWH, but my view of God does not conform to the standard view of YHWH as God, nor does it conform in many ways to the mainstream Christian view of God. That said, does my view of God contain any commonalities with the Jewish view and the mainstream Christian view? More than likely. (It also, as you noticed, has some commonalities with the Deistic view. But none of this makes me Jewish, a mainstream Christian, or a Deist.)

        So once again, we find ourselves in disagreement. Which is hardly a big thing since whether one is a believer or a non-believer, one’s view of the divine is very likely to differ among groups and even among individuals within a group.

    • @CTCSS

      As I said, God is either real to someone or He is not. We all have to come to our own conclusions on the matter. And that’s as it should be.

      I agree 100% . The books are there, the archeology is there, the preachers, rabbis, imams
      vicars, pastors, ministers, fathers, popes, nuns are all there.

      And they should be ready to receive any and all enquiries with as honest interpretation of what they believe.
      So, please tell me why the need to proselytize? Why the need to inculcate vulnerable children?
      Why the urgent clamour of missionaries to spread the word across China and Africa?

      If this all encompassing religious marvel is so fine, so beautiful why have so many died because of it?
      Why does your Omniscient god…and the god of every other believer require His puny Creation to spread the glorious Word on HIs behalf?

      Why can’t he do it Himself?

      • Sorry Arkenatan, I didn’t literally mean you and your masturbation, though I see now that it does read that way. I meant “you” as in, you know, “one.”

        Nice to know that I did begin with a little bit of credibility. Is that like when they give you a couple of free chips at the casino so you can get started losing?

      • “So, please tell me why the need to proselytize?”

        I’m afraid you’ll have to ask someone who is into evangelism. I was never taught that in my religious upbringing. And I am not sure who you are referring to when you say “vulnerable children”. Personally, I rather value what I was taught about God by my mom and my Sunday School teachers. (But then, my religious instruction didn’t include threats of eternal punishment. We were taught universal salvation.) And now that I, in turn, teach Sunday School, I try my best to help my students understand more about God. But it is entirely up to them as to whether or not they find what I teach to be useful.

      • This is the god Yahweh/Yeshua who wiped out humanity in a flood bar one soon-to-be-incestuos family, and
        instructed Joshua to liquidate all life in Canaan.

        Just exactly what do you tell the kiddies at sunday school?

      • ARKENATEN

        I am always somewhat amused that the non-believing view often skews towards scriptural literalism. As I said to John, I am a very non-mainstream Christian and literalism is not part of what I was taught, nor is it what I teach others.

        The Noah’s flood story (yes, I said story), as I understand it, is about the protection one can obtain if one is listening to God and trying to be in harmony with God. In other words, the story is not about a cruel and heartless deity wreaking havoc on an innocent populace. Rather, it is about the fact that the world is not a nice or safe place necessarily, and the best way for someone to proceed in such a case is to pay attention to God’s guidance. (Think, for instance, Psalm 23 or 91.)

        Yes, the text of this story seems to say something rather different, but that’s another point where I differ quite considerably from the mainstream. I view the actions and understanding of the people in these various stories as reflecting their current understanding of God, thus the fact that the stories are recorded showing whatever viewpoint was held by either the characters, the author, or both. (Many of the characters are often are seeing “through a glass, darkly”, in other words.) A not-so-helpful understanding of God will lead to less than helpful outcomes for the people in the stories. A more helpful understanding will lead to more helpful outcomes. Jesus understood God extremely well, and thus was able to demonstrate to his followers how this better understanding of God could bring healing to troubling human situations. (Remember, Jesus said “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” His ministry, at least as I understand it, was about overcoming the troubles that the world often seems to impose on people.) And in the theology I was taught, God never sends evil, nor does He ordain anything but good for anyone. (In other words, there is no “Little Jimmy had to die because of some unknown purpose God had in mind for Jimmy or his family”.)

        In other words, my epistemology regarding the scriptures is probably considerably different than the epistemology that you might be familiar with. And that, in turn makes my Sunday School teaching rather much friendlier and encouraging. I believe in a God who is entirely good, so I have no problems teaching this view of God to children. (Or to adults, for that matter.)

      • And you, apparently, are deciding that simplistic labels define a person, rather than the actual thoughts that govern the person. Reading the scriptures in an intelligent way (a discerning way) is no more cherry picking than picking up the newspaper and reading the stories therein in an intelligent an discerning way is cherry picking.

        Neither is a question of cherry picking, it’s a question of trying to understand. Would you rather that a religious believer, or a person reading the news, accept the things in the text blindly, or would you rather that they try to do their best to bring understanding to what it is that they are reading?

        Epistemology is all about making the effort to know. You appear to be endorsing blind ignorance as a way of approaching any subject as a virtue. That fact that each of us has a different take on things is no guarantee that either of us is correct. Thus, the need for everyone to do their best to try to bring understanding about in their lives. I am trying to do this in mine, whether you can appreciate it or not.

      • No, I judge that what a person express in writing to be an extension of their thought process.
        You already have a label that is self imposed which defines you: you are a Christian,

        And now you are not only cherry picking but displaying crass arrogance to boot.

        Reading the scriptures in an intelligent way (a discerning way) is no more cherry picking than picking up the newspaper and reading the stories therein in an intelligent an discerning way is cherry picking.

        And how would you discern which is real and which is fake when it came to deciding the merit of any particular text?

        And remember, some people still believe in a literal understanding of the ext, and who are you to say they are wrong?

        If the miracles in the Old Testament seem somewhat far-fetched – parting of the Red Sea for example – why would something like Walking on Water, or Raising from the Dead be seen as perfectly acceptable?

        How about the Virgin Birth? A fundamental part of the Christian Faith yet has been clearly demonstrated to be a fallacious interpretation of Isaiah. which brings into question the integrity of the compiler of Matthew.

        There are five different accounts of the resurrection!

        Please explain to me how this is not cherry picking?

    • “The various teaching stories, allegories, and metaphors in the Bible I find to be quite useful.” Why do you think there are “teaching stories, allegories, and metaphors” in the Bible? isn’t this just a recent repositioning of lies that Bible writers have been caught at? Is there any evidence that early readers of the Bible understood it as anything other than literal?

  15. It’s gone too far and is too ingrained for mere facts to knock it out of the ring.

    For comparative example perhaps—everyone knows there ain’t no Santa Claus but everyone still does Christmas~! And that, as they say, is the Bible truth …

  16. Excellent piece. I don’t have children, they’re a pain in the arse and way too expensive to bring up. BUT…if I did have children why wouldn’t I lie to them? When my niece was a little ‘un I used to lie to her as much as possible, so much fun. She’s in her early twenties now and I still lie to her at every opportunity. The fact that I’m her only uncle doesn’t detract from the fact that I’m her favourite uncle.

      • I revel in the title. My favourite was chewing up a chocolate biscuit until it was a brown paste then spitting it into my hand and telling her it was a lump of…well you get the picture. She doesn’t scream as much as she used to but it never gets old that one.

    • And Dan… I’m making sure Santa delivers a Kindle, and then i will finally read your book. Haven’t ordered the hard copy because postage to Brazil is outrageous. Bought a US$10 book from Amazon earlier this year (just after they started operating here) and the delivery fee was US$90. I kid you not.

      • $90 for delivery of a book from Brazilian Amazon? Punch your postman! I just hope after all this anticipation you actually like what I’ve written. If you do like it then I want to read a review off you, just to get the atheist’s point of view you understand.

      • Deal. The books aren’t in Brazil, rather the States, hence the colossal delivery fee. Sort of negates the whole process. Still, a Kindle will be nice.

      • And I thought NZ Post was outrageous~!

        But the Kindle would be worth it, you can download a whole library (classics and such) for free from Amazon and Gutenberg.

      • Calvin (& Hobbes) made comment on Santa once—his habit of watching all that we do, to the effect:

        “What is Santa? Kindly old elf or CIA spook?”

        Jury is still deliberating …

  17. It is a bit like, as if we the Finns would claim, that the goddess Ilmatar created the world, because our national epic Kalevala demands so. But, since we recognize the heroes of Kalevala are mere myths, then what can be said about Ilmatar? That she still has to be the creator of the world because nobody can disprove she is not?

    Even so, if the heroes of Kalevala were proven to be historical characters and their deeds actual events, the idea that Ilmatar created the world would still need evidence. Even the historicity of the other characters would not turn her into the creator of the world and universe. Would it?

    Perhaps the main invention of the ancient Hebrews was not so much the idea of monotheism (as it is an invention typical to nomadic cultures like for example the Mongols, since it is hard to carry around a bunch of gods when you are on the move all the time), rather the idea of nationalism. That there is this unifying myth to a certain group of people dispite of their system of government. A powerfull, but easily abused tool. As it easily leads to patriotism = tribal moralism.

    • Indeed, Raut, Humanstic rabbis in particular say monotheism wasn’t the most important thing invented by the Jews. Rabbi Wine wrote this, which I found very interesting:

      Many historians have difficulty dealing with the Jews as a normal people who function in the natural world in which most other nations seem to exist. Because the mythology of the Bible is so familiar to the reading public, mythical figures like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are simply accepted as real. If the mythology were Chinese, an objective and skeptical approach would be more easily accepted. There is a tendency in the Jewish and Christian worlds to defend the indefensible because the indefensible is our very own….Traditional history may be a denial of what the Jews really were and are. Monotheism and the Chosen People idea may not be the most important beliefs that defined Jewish power and suffering.

  18. John Zande, you wrote ” …peoples across the planet ALL had gods, gods in every shape and form… and none were your god; the god detailed in the Pentateuch. That god only emerged in one place,…” This is a very interesting way of looking at it. Can we convict Pentateuch God of genocide, and positively identify any god of living Christians as being the same entity? Or can Christians exonerate their God by saying your prosecution might work on humans, but not on something non-substantial that does not require public continuity of existence? And on the atheist side, doesn’t our proof of a modern God’s ongoing guilt require we admit that he is real (at least up until recently)? Otherwise how do we hold him accountable for his ancient sins?

    Perhaps light on this subject can be shed by considering a similar issue of identifying “which” god is which. The Mormon’s Jesus “is” the brother of Lucifer and the physical son of a Homo Sapiens god. Mormon Jesus inherited Dad’s power and became the Jehovah of his own planet, Earth, then appeared as Quetzalcoatl to Native American Hebrews during the middle ages. Doesn’t this seem like a COMPLETELY different guy from standard-issue, 1/3 Trinity Jesus who just happened to have the same name? If so aren’t Mormons wrong in saying that they are Christians too? I mean they are Christians, but only in the same way that I had sex with Madonna… I did, but it was not THAT Madonna… and “I” might be just a fictional character with no verifiable contemporaneous record of actual existence.

    • (sorry, Producto, my first reply to this was before coffee had worked its wonder)
      I think the important point to be made here is that no one can hold any god responsible for anything because no gods exist. Beyond that point everything else is pretty much moot. That said, Mormon’s are hilarious. I’ve always wanted to ask a Native American Indian what they think about being called a “stained” and cast out Hebrew tribe. My guess is they’re not too happy with the label.

      • Here’s to your coffee…powerful stuff, apparently! Yeah, Mormons are a hoot. I was very sorry that the press was so scared of religion that they never mentioned all the bizarre things Romney believes. Why should religion be off limits? Mormons get to run for president, but devout Mormonism is a perfectly good reason for judging someone to crazy to vote for.

      • “Thank you, candidates. First question to Governor Romney. Mr. Romney, provided you have enough Mormon credits, do you believe you’ll get your own planet to rule over as a god in the Celestial Kingdom when you die?”

      • Second question, When you get to the Celestial Kingdom will you be one of the few righteous men who steps up and takes on plural marriage with some of the excess righteous women who were never sealed and still need a husband to get into the first class section of heaven, and if so, how does Anne feel about polygamy?

      • Question three… Governor Romney, just how many “spirit” babies do you intend on fathering as you orbit Kolob? Also, a follow up question from the audience… As POTUS what policies will you enact to combat Satan’s control over earths water?

      • And just to be fair, “President Obama, you once made a contemptuous comment about people clinging to guns and religion. In fact aren’t you an atheist who just does a Christian dance for political reasons?”

        I think he was really the one who had the most to lose in an honest discussion of religious beliefs. Romney may have been planning on being god of his own planet with a bunch of spirit babies and baby mamas, but at least he wasn’t a despicable atheist!

      • It’s a shame Obama can’t come out and just say he’s an atheist. In Australia we just had an atheist Prime Minister, and in Brazil we presently have an atheist President… although she’s such a conniving political beast that she now calls herself a “cultural catholic.”

      • It is in a sort of way a minor complimentary piece to the Rabbi/Old T. piece you wrote.

        Based on recent evidence there is no reasoning with the likes of some of the visitor’s/people, we know who we mean, and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.

        They will remain fair game until they are prepared to look at such nonsense critically. Or at least be honest and state there is no evidence but they wish to retain their faith and shut up about it.

        But it is a nice thought that no matter the intransigence
        the walls are truly crumbling. :)

      • I like the groups conclusion that Christianity did not begin in Jerusalem. If we start being truthful about this particular fact and acknowledging it was a movement born inside the northern diaspora (Syria and Turkey) then we start to truly see the picture for what it is.

        You going to buy the book?

      • I will wait until it has received several reviews and been praised/trashed by all and sundry before parting with my hard earned shekels.

        It won’t make a difference to the armoury against the dogmatists, as we all know that even if JC hisself were to be in the room the Crispyans would ”kill” him again.
        But because that won’t ever happen simply because they too know it is myth they are safe to prattle on ad nauseum! lol…

        It will be interesting, no doubt, but will likely only strengthen what common sense already tells me – and the same for you I suspect.

      • Common sense tells me a charlatan named Saul started selling a messianic tale (perhaps an adaption of one he’d overheard from a wandering Gnostic crisis cultist) to Jewish refugees in Syria… and even he was astonished at how willing they were to suspend reality and buy into the tale. The rest, as they say, wrote itself.

      • Well, the Jews accepted the nonsense of the Old T.

        And Mithraism was believed so why not Christianity?
        Stick a real live human bean in the mix and whoopee.
        All it took was a little underwriting from Constantine etc and Bob’s your uncle.

      • It would be quite funny if it were not true.
        The argument is sometimes put forward that in “those days” people were more gullible as they firmly believed in a lot more nonsense, but history shows this has not turned out to be the case.
        In fact, that we have so much technology and access to so much information it is quite baffling that people even countenance this crap at all
        And yet they willingly embrace an ever increasing array of bullshit dogma and adamantly cling to it even when it is clearly shown t be rubbish.
        As you quote…”People just kept there money at me..”

        Terry Pratchett has a character named Reacher Gilt who exclaims something similar, where he is flabbergasted that even though he makes no bones about being a scoundrel and a fraud people would wink, nod and tap their nose and think he must be genuine.

      • Here’s a direct quote from Rabbi Kula who I was chatting to a couple of weeks ago about American evangelicals:

        “…As more American evangelicals go to college there will be less biblical literalism”

      • But that still leaves a helluva lot of, well, er, yes, maybes running around.

        Should we consider the ones who espouse on the blogs: Prayson, Clapham, unklee Logan…even Chi, etc are some sort of Vanguard, or a representative bunch of the majority or the dross flying off of a metaphorical ISON that may just burn up as it heads toward the sun?

        (how’s that for a metaphor! lol….

      • Oh, they’re highly unrepresentative. I suspect the average I LOVE JESUS Christian in the deeply superstitious pockets of the US today are the ones CNN interviewed the other day outside Cosco… the one’s with their eyes darting about while their heads wobbled like a New Delhi salesman agreeing upon a price of a rather nice sitting chair: “Oh, it’s not fiction… It’s the word of god.”

      • And there goes the case for “Luke” being the traditional author.
        Yet will the Jesus adherents clinging so desperately to the apron strings of conservative dating agree?

  19. Pingback: Jesus’ Appalling Credibility Problem | the superstitious naked ape

  20. “… it is not a book of facts, but a myth.”

    More precisely, I would say, it is a political manifesto masquerading as revisionist history, wrapped in mythology. Like most of our religious tomes.

  21. Pingback: Consensus or confirmation bias? « Enquiries on Atheism

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    • Thanks, Marry. Whether correct or not, Rabbi Wine suggests antisemitism springs from the Jews being a “provocative people” which is rooted, in part at least, with their notions of being “chosen.” Interestingly, the Reconstructionists flatly reject this notion in their 1986 Platform, which reads:

      The idea that God chose the Jewish people for any purpose, in any way, is “morally untenable”, because anyone who has such beliefs “implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others”.

  25. You lost me when you said “J. R. R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings, is [not] a literal account of World War 1″. I saw all 3 of the Ring movies, and if that wasn’t WW 1, you need to reread your history. While everything else you said is most likely true, The Lord of the Rings is the bedrock to which I cleave. Are you purposely trying to shatter my faith?

  26. Late to the table, I know, but I would add this: when I grew up regarding myself as orthodox, I took evolution for granted. Our rabbi used a “missing link” argument to claim that man was a separate creation, but we all regarded him as a bit of a fuddy-duddy over this. Now I find that the virus of biblical literalism has infected orthodox Judaism, putting it back some time before Maimonides. We even have objections to the teaching of standard biology in a Jewish school in London, and I have read of meetings between orthodox Israeli rabbis and the abominable Haroun Yahya. As the old centre fails to hold, the groups on either side move further apart.

    • There’ll always be an antagonistic response from the more rigid quarters, but in researching this i was well-impressed with the overall intellectual honesty of the captains of Judaism. My mind still does little summersaults when i say “atheist rabbi”

  27. Top piece of research there! It would make a great documentary, I hope you’re pitching it to someone. I did read it while on my blog break and in my apathetic state was just left thinking that religions bend with any major piece of news like this (e.g. the Earth is flat and isn’t the centre of the universe, deities don’t live in the sky). I think Christianity could survive unscathed even up to and including the point that Jesus never existed. If people want to believe in the Christian god God, the Bible can easily all be mythical stories a deity planted to give clues to its existence. I mean, let’s be honest, if Joseph Smith can build a successful religion like Mormonism on the back of Christianity, we have a clear indication that anything is acceptable to our washable brains!

    • You read it while on sabbatical? How on earth did you find the time between tracking the migration patterns of Minke whales along the eastern coast of Tasmania and collecting Nepalese mountain honey with mystic Theravada monks? Impressed I am, Violet!

      You know you’re absolutely right: even if/when Jesus is found to be a mythological creation, an amalgam of 1st century Jewish crisis cultists hopes, there’ll still be Christians. Fr Thomas L. Brodie in his book, “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery,” openly admits the mythicists are probably right, there was no Jesus the man, but that Christianity can survive as a wisdom tradition. When you have priests already trying on the new hat and writing books telling other Christians it fits snugly (even if the style is a little unusual) then we’ve seen the true bedrock of all religion: it’s a welcomed delusion. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a security blanket for very frightened, but otherwise quite sane, adults.

      • Hmmm, I’m concerned that you’re such a seasoned stalker you know such intimate details of my life. You’re almost as bad as Ark.

        That Brodie books says it all. The only comfort we can get from movement in this direction is that they can’t quote the literal word of the god God to justify being nasty to people. :)

      • Christians. Fr Thomas L. Brodie in his book, “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery,” openly admits the mythicists are probably right, there was no Jesus the man,….

        This was quite something to read. Worthy of a post, methinks. The perfect accompaniment to your Rabbi series.
        Or pitch it to the Beeb? Narrated by Stephen Fry.

        I mentioned to Stephen (the other one) that any deviation from the original that forces these apparent mindless religious sycophants to change mental gears is a good thing.

        Eventually someone is going to jam the car into reverse while motoring blithely along at 100kph and then the whole bloody engine is going to drop out.

        Oooh, I love a good metaphor!

      • Have you read it? I just read Godfrey’s posts on it, which were superb. If we want to be mischievous we could use the good Fathers ideas to drive a fairly sizable wedge between the Paulians and the Christians: the latter become the wisdom traditionalists, and the former become the followers of a man.

  28. Pingback: A Better Bible, and a Better Jesus: a Republican Jesus® | the superstitious naked ape

  29. Very interesting.
    I realize that I am being simplistic, but the Torah, to these predominantly liberal scholars, is simply a geopolitical myth that was written to justify the political wants and needs of people around 700 BCE? These scholars have regulated it to mere propaganda thus undermining the faith of millions of their fellow Jews for at least a little over 2 millennia?

    • Yes, but the Rabbi’s are merely responding to the archaeological consensus. Only Orthodox Rabbis today still contend the Pentateuch (and much of the Deuteronomic history) is factual, yet as you can see, even some Orthodox rabbis are beginning to admit its historical fiction. The thing is, the archaeology is just that overwhelming that disagreeing with it just can’t be logically maintained. I wouldn’t however categorise it solely as “propaganda.” There is some wonderful wisdom traditions in there, and the idea behind the Exodus narrative (freedom) resonates even today.

      You might not be aware, but nearly half of the Israeli population today is secular/atheist. I’ve seen a poll which has that figure as high 64%, but others around 54%. Orthodox only make up 10 to 15%. The traditions seem more important than the narrative. Well, that was the feeling i got.

      • Do you really think that? The universal idea of freedom is important and, although a myth, Exodus is at times a good telling of that theme. Some of it, though, is atrocious. Even though it never happened, in Numbers 31:17 Moses commands “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every women that hath known man by lying with him.” Murdering pregnant women, that’s ghastly. I guess in many ways it’s a relief to many that these events never transpired.

      • I don’t disagree that such things seem atrocious, but one must take the narrative as an entirety to understand the whole message. Which is the premise of reading from beginning to end as I am on my blog.

  30. Pingback: The Exodus, courtesy of Arch. | A Tale Unfolds

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