“Sources” A Myth or A Man. Part Two.

By David Russell

Welcome back to the Union blog.  In this addition, we will begin to examine early sources and evidence that point to whether Jesus is a myth or a man.  In the last article, we talked about some of those sources including Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, and Josephus. These sources are considered “hostile” sources because they discuss Christianity in an opposition sort of way.

One of the biggest arguments mythicist put forth is that there is no actual independent evidence for Jesus actually existing. So, in this article, we are going to examine the independent evidence of Pliny the Younger coupled with what the mythicist have to say about him. Let’s dive in.

Pliny the Younger, is considered the earliest Pagan to mention “Christ” and Christians.

“Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo(61 – c. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger(/ˈplɪni/), was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny’s uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him” (Wikipedia)

In the early second century Pliny wrote to emperor Trajan for advice on how to deal with Christians. The letter reads:

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

The mythicist claim a few things about this letter ranging from interpolation, forgery, Christ as a title (not referring to an actual person), and early Christians having a “hand me down kind of faith.” But does this best explain the data? Most historians hold to a method to best explain whether or not something is historical. These criteria are: 1. Explanatory scope. 2. Explanatory power. 3. Plausibility. 4. Not adhoc. 5. In accordance with accepted belief. 6. Out strips competing hypotheses.

With this in mind, let’s examine the mythicist claims. There are ten books containing letters from Pliny, most historians think they are authentic. Pliny was a prolific writer and had a wide range of styles. However, there has been debate about interpolations about book ten, the one containing the letter above. Over the years, the debates have always ruled in opposition to interpolation. Recently though, this debate has resurfaced. In 2016, a stylometric analysis done by Enrico Tuccinardi, raised this question yet again. What it told us was the same, that there where stylistic differences in book ten and the conclusion he suggests is interpolation.

But in examining critiques of his method, I have found that his method of stylometric analysis is in its infancy and should be taken with caution. This is not to say his conclusion is false, but it is to say, that we have to examine other lines of evidence to see if it holds up.

In my research, I still have confidence in its authenticity and here’s why:

1. Pliny lived in a time where the educational system trained and valued the ability to vary your writing style and imitate that of another’s. This you found all through out book ten in different Latin styles, forms, and topics. It is also known that Pliny edited his own letters before publication. (Information gleaned from Fredrico Gamberini and Larry Hurtado)

2. We have six folios of Pliny’s letters from the fifth century surviving today in the Pierpont Morgan Museum in New York. Which curiously contain, according to Roger Pearse “one of the indices (to Book 3) which are a special feature of the Ten-Book tradition”

3. Tertullian references the letter which provides a truly early source. Not to mention we have Trajan reply.

4. Finally on interpolations Hurtado says it best. “Further, if there are interpolations in a given text (not an impossibility by any means), it is crucial that they be specified (which Tuccinardi says that he can’t do). This is usually done by identifying anachronisms, or other irregularities that raise our suspicions about this or that bit of a text.” So, we don’t even know if there are any? Or which are interpolations. So there is no actual evidence.

All this leads me to believe that this is not an interpolation. As far as a forgery, this to has been debunked over the years by some of the aforementioned evidence in regards to interpolation. But more so, we see that Pliny describes the first and early second century well. He recorded in detail the eruption of Vesuvius, the volcano that destroyed Pompeii. Recent radiometric dating confirms Pliny’s date and scientist say his description of the volcano plume, matches the type Vesuvius was.

So, to examine the rest of the claims let’s move on to what Pliny has to say about the Christians. One section here, is critical in establishing my point. The mention of singing hymns to Christ as to a god.
“They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god,”

Does this mesh to the notions that Christians has a hand me down faith? Maybe, but it’s early enough to say, due to the distinction of Christ as to a god, to postulate that the hymn was sung to an actual person. These early Christians believed that Christ was an actual man. We also see them worshiping him as deity.

To the last point, is it plausible that this mention is just a title of a mythic deity? That this name could apply to any messianic figure or mythological spirit being? This claim we will cover, in another cumulative case, as we examine the rest of our sources. But for now, we can claim that this reference matches with what we know about early Christianity. It is not unfamiliar to to refer to a person by their title. This is evident in history with people like Cesar or Genghis Khan. By this time, Jesus was known as Christ even in the epistles. The name stuck. To claim it’s some mystery guy would be as bad as saying each gospel was talking about another man named Jesus because it was a common name. We can also say, that this is in reference to a man. Christ is a direct play on the Jewish Messiah and no matter what the mythicist thinks, all Jews believed that the messiah would be an actual man.

In conclusion, I think we are well beyond reason to say that Pliny is a good independent source. Although a kind of sad letter, it’s one that we can rely on. We can see early persecution and martyrdom and that Jesus was considered divine. In our next addition, we will cover Tacitus and his Annals. Until then, God bless you all.

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A MYTH or A MAN?

jesus smiling By David Russell

 

Welcome back to the Union blog!  There seems to be a growing number of internet Atheist, along with some scholars, flocking towards the Jesus myth theory.  It now seems to be a growing movement.  I have heard debates, ranging from PhD’s to YouTubers, arguing in favor that the historical Jesus never existed.  To them, he was made up, invented, lumped in the same category as Hercules and Orion. They also claim that Jesus was most likely an adaptation, or even a borrow of the Horus myth (Egyptian Mythology).

Due to the nature of this article, I am probably going to make it a series.  There is much evidence to go over, arguments to cover, and explanations to be given.  To limit this to one post wouldn’t be fair or intellectually honest.  So, I invite you to stay connected and join me in a series that will hopefully help you understand the Mythicist movement, help you navigate the claims, and give you a firm foundation of why we claim Jesus was indeed a man, and more than just a man.

The first article in “A Myth or A Man” will lay the foundation of not only, why I think the historical Jesus was a man, but why the main body of historical scholars think he was a man.  From there we will discuss the evidence piece by piece.  I will list, for example, the secular source evidence and then examine each piece of that evidence; let’s dive in.

Among the vast array of historians scattered across the third rock from the sun there is a general consensus concerning Jesus of Nazareth, he existed.  From atheist scholars, such as Bart Erhman and Tim O’Neill to Christian scholars like Gary Habermas and Daniel Wallace, have all come to varying ideas on the historical Jesus, but all of them discuss it from the notion that, the actual man, existed. But in recent years, there has been a growing number pushing back against the consensus.  Championed by Richard Carrier and Robert M. Price, both holding PhD’s, and a number of internet Atheists hosting YouTube channels and blogs, push back to the point of having Myth-cons!

But even though there is, what seems like, a new movement going on, mythicicsm is not new.  Proponents will point out that the theory can be traced all the way back to 180 CE, with the idea of Docetism.  But the more modern view comes from the 1790’s with Constantin-Francois Volney and Charles-Francois Dupuis views that evolved into what we see now.  Though, to me, we see this movement come and go.  It’s like a weird trend that seems to pop its head in every 100 years or so.  My opinion is that, due to the amount of evidence presented by historians and current discoveries in Archaeology, the theory only survives for a short time then fades away.  The arguments seem so far fetched, it never stays around long because it’s quickly shot down. But even with all that said, the arguments presented must be taken seriously and, as a Christian, must be dialogued respectfully.

As we move further on we will discuss some key claims the mythicist make, but to conclude this blog we will lay the frame work to defend the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth as an actual man.  This will include defending a number of the dozen or so early secular sources like, Lucian, Tacitus, Josephus, the Talmud, and Suetonius etc. I will then move to the early Christian sources which will include Clement, Ignatius, Papius, and Polycarp.  From there we will move into the significance of the Archaeological data, looking into the debated James bone box, the Nazareth decree, and Pilate stone.  Finally, we will conclude with the New Testament documents and creeds.  All of these categories listed are some reasons why I believe so strongly in Christianity.  So, Buckle up, its going to be a fun ride.

HYPER….What?

18382152_423792921319228_2911289585264754688_nBy David Russell

The new buzz that has been gaining much attention on the internet lately is Hyperianism.  I first noticed it about a month ago and saw the attention it was getting, I decided to investigate.  Founded or represented, because it doesn’t really tell you, by a guy named Morgue.  Morgue is a performer of wild tricks like swallowing swords or a huge metal ball without choking to death on it.  He also runs hooks through his nose and out his mouth, in which I got to say, Ouch!  Though a talented performer in his field, he then takes himself out of that field to make wildly outlandish videos.

Backed by a worldview called Hyperianism, Morgue takes to the Internet, blasting religion, telling us we are brainwashed, and promoting his new religion.  He claims he is taking humanity to the next level, whatever that really is?  But at the end of the day its just the same old self worshiping, postmodernist, new age jargon we’ve all heard before.

Welcome back to the Union blog! We are in the process of wrapping up our series on apologetic arguments for the existence of God.  But before we do, I felt, I had to speak on this.  I rarely write about these things but I felt that this was needed.  Lewis told us to answer bad philosophy with good philosophy, so that is what I am going to do.  We will examine Hyperianism and write a refutation to this entire worldview.  So buckle up, your in for a ride!

Human or Hyperian, that is the question?  Hyperianism claims to be “Not a belief system, a knowledge system”.  To be a member, you must reject all mainstream western religions, embrace your shadow, and sign a pledge.  For that you get access to the secret library, if your awake,  and hidden videos.  You get to learn about mental sex and all the other big questions of life.  The first question Hyperianism tries to answer is, Why are you alive?  It sets up a presupposition that all we do is live in a static pattern or that we live in some unsatisfying way and are born into a slave system.  We have no Will of our own and that a certain cast of people put this in place to blind us from the truth of reality. Whatever that actually means?  It then offers its answer, just like most other faith based worldviews, it offers you hope, by shattering the illusion of this presupposed reality.  That it is the only one that has this understanding and with it, can help you maximize your power, understand your purpose, and transform the universe.

This is where my first contention lies.  Hyperianism does the same thing all other belief systems do.  By claiming that we live in this static pattern of routine or an unsatisfied hamster wheel, it derives a truth claim about reality.  But how could Morgue possibly know this, has he interviewed every person?  I know some people that have incredibly fulfilling lives and live in a state of perpetual joy. So my contention comes in the way of belief.  The contradiction lies in the belief that there is something wrong with the world.  That a slave system is better than a free system.  That a mundane existence is not how we ought to live.  Morgue has to believe these things to be actually true in order for his worldview to get off the ground and to believe it makes his system a system of belief.   Now, this is also where we have some agreement.  I disagree with Morgues approach and his conclusions, but I do agree that there is something wrong with the world. Which leads to my second contention.

Hyperianism claims to reject traditional morality but is opened to a evolving morality.  Rejecting the notion of good and evil, right and wrong.   Doing this though makes Hyperianism a relativistic system.  Relativism in itself is self contradictory.  It has no ground to stand on.  If right and wrong do not exist, how can Morgue say that mainstream religion is part of the problem? What problem? Problems are inherent to something actually being wrong. If he is imposing ethical relativism then he runs into the problem of saying that slavery in America 200 years ago, because it was ethically accepted, was okay.  Now, since morality evolves, it is not okay.  If it is acceptable again in 200 years, will it be okay?  Does truth contradict itself?  There is another problem with ethical relativism pointed out by Matt Slick, he says,

“Within ethical relativism, right and wrong are not absolute and must be determined in society by a combination of observation, logic, social preferences and patterns, experience, emotions, and “rules” that seem to bring the most benefit.  Of course, it goes without saying that a society involved in constant moral conflict would not be able to survive for very long.  Morality is the glue that holds a society together.  There must be a consensus of right and wrong for a society to function well.  Ethical relativism undermines that glue.”

Rejecting some of the universal truths objective morality brings, plunges society in even more of a conundrum that retreats from the line of logic and into the abyss of irrational decay.  Theism offers such a better view.  We claim that there is an objective standard of good and that this standard leads to discovering values that require of us certain duties to enact toward one another.  All this on the basis of being human.  For many years this was what was called Natural Law.  It is self-evident and many of these laws you’ll find in every society today.  Even Hyperianism can’t stray from these values in which it promotes.  Ones like equality and freedom.  For all the religious bashing Hyperianism does, it also does well in stealing its values from the Judeo-Christian value system.  This leads to my third contention, rejection of mainstream religion.

Hyperianism rejects mainstream religion and falls into the same trap as all other anti-religious pundits.  Instead of judging a religion on its abuses, Hyperianism should do the logical thing and judge it on its merits.  But the hyperian gets cought begging the question frequently when they assess Christian belief. For example, saying Christianity is oppressive toward women, because you read a verse you think you understood, couldn’t be further from the truth.  Christianity gave woman stature and equality with men. Christianity has long held the notion of freedom, equality, mercy, courage, justice, love for one another, grace, and knowledge.  It has inspired documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  It inspired Wilberforce to fight and end the Dutch slave trade.  Why? Because Christianity believes that we are all made in the image of God and, because of that, we have intrinsic value given to us by the One who is ultimate value itself.  But again, none of  this matters.  Why? Because all reality is an illusion to the Hyperian.  Unless its mathematical reality…..?

This brings me to my last real contention.  Besides the logical fallacies we’ve already gone over, this is the worst.  To claim that reality is an illusion, makes the Hyperian belief system illusory.  The Hyperian claims you can’t trust your senses because they have evolved to survive and deceive you.  But, if I cannot trust my senses how can anyone trust that Hyperianism is the truth.  You need your senses to observe that what you claim is true.  Its like needing the self to tell the self that there is no self.  Its incoherent jargon.  Then it goes further.  Claiming that Mathematics is alive, we are mathematical beings.  I am no mathematical philosopher but I do know that whether your a realist or an anti-realist, both claim that mathematics is causally inert.  Even more so, Mathematics can’t be the ontic referent.  Hyperians don’t claim anything about the beginning of the universe, but everything I gather suggest they believe it is eternal.  But the universe can’t be eternal. Logic dictates there can be no such thing as an infinite regress.  All evidence and reason point to a COSMIC BEGINNING.  Mathematics can only exist within the universe, and many say its a human invention or a useful fiction.  But this idea has been debated for years, never proven.  Morgue never mentions the limitations of Mathematics and its bearing on the physical world or its failures in predictions. He assumes everything he is preaching, which speak volumes about his faith in mathematics.  I kind of take the anti-realist view on this, but defer to the ancient philosopher Philo’s position, he maintained, as William Lane Craig points out, “That God created the physical world on the mental model in His mind.”  That’s the reason math can be done.

Mathematics, because I am more of an anti-realist (meaning mathematical objects don’t exist in the ether), is at the end of the day, information.  Information always implies intelligence. If there is no universe, then there is no math.  But because there is a universe there is a blueprint, an expression of the grand architect.  Also, because it is causally inert, it cannot provide meaning, eternal destiny, or purpose. Theism has way more explanatory power when solving the big questions.  Origin, purpose, morality, and destiny can all be answered coherently by the Christian faith.  It answers the reason for the structure we find in nature.  It answers what is wrong with the world.  It gives us a better hope than any other worldview available.  And at last, it has the evidence to back it all up without pointing to secret libraries or videos.

In conclusion, Hyperianism is another faith, taking on more of a cultist/occultist type of behavior and view.  It is not a knowledge based system but, as I have demonstrated, a belief system that contradicts itself over and over again unto incoherence. Says much for a system that claims to be of logic and reason.  At the end of the day, to answer the question, Hyperian or Human?  I would stick with human all day long.  Don’t drink the Kool-aid folks.

The question of LIFE?

5a5a634524d14a000198b950_when-does-life-beginBy David Russell.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Welcome back to the Union blog.  In a recent conversation I had with a friend the question of when life begins came up.  I have dealt with this topic over and over again.  It often ranges in content, like rights, consciousness, and many more.  It opens up rabbit trails the deeper you go.  One thing I find common in this debate is that there is an underlying thread, no matter what trail we go down there is an essential element in this topic we all come around to.  It is the same thread that makes it an important topic. Its the idea that human life is valuable and at some point, due to the very nature of the conversation, it is wrong to kill another human being without just cause.

The truth is we could write a book about this topic, I can’t do that here but I can offer a simple argument that we can break down and discuss.  There is a question I ask anyone to think about when discussing this topic and it goes like this; when is it ever okay to take an innocent human beings life?  I base my whole argument around this question and don’t let up on redefining what makes a human life a human life, why?  Because this isn’t a matter of feelings, its a matter of science and fact. From there we move on to my argument.

  1.   Everyone has unalienable rights based, solely, on being human.
  2. According to empirical facts in embryology (scientist discipline) human life begins at fertilization (conception).
  3. Therefore, the unborn have unalienable rights.

This simple argument is what I use when debating this topic.  The person arguing against you must disprove the first two premises otherwise the conclusion follows necessarily. So lets examine the first two premises to make our case.

What do I mean when I say everyone has unalienable rights based solely on being human? The founders of the United States believed strongly in natural rights.  That all human beings possessed intrinsic worth solely based on being human.  This claim, they declared, is self evident.  That it is properly basic and that government had a duty to ensure it for all its citizens.  Beyond the United States we see the idea expressed in every civilization.  When violated we see the need for justice and when the need is abducted, usually rebellion or revolt.  No matter how often you look through out history, mankind has always expressed a sense of self worth.  In western civilization we have an answer.  That answer resides in our creator.  That he made us valuable by creating us in his image.

Beyond this, there really is no bases for this philosophical notion of rights, in an objective sense.  We can go around with social contracts, human flourishing, and social evolution.  But at the end of the day, social contracts fail because they expire. No one contract is really better than the other.  Human flourishing doesn’t say much in the way of justice, for the simple fact that exacting justice violates one individuals flourishing over another. All the while social evolution can’t define what rights are really rights.  The notion of objective rights come with a standard.  It’s a moral argument.

Bad Religion?

Truth-logo-200By David Russell.

Welcome back to the Union blog.  I hope everyone is enjoying the new spring season.  On my end it has been crazy.  With house projects and family time, I haven’t been into that much on the writing side.

In this article I am going to examine something that has been bothering me.  You have seen it throughout my blogs.  That is the assault on truth.  I have learned that when a person can’t dispute the truth and logic of a claim they quickly begin to dispute truth itself.  In today’s society, and maybe throughout mans history, people have the hardest time accepting truth.  This doesn’t just apply to the God debate, but simple truths as well.  We live in an age of pure conjecture and one line quips.

Recently, I engaged in a debate about the world without religion. Where the same old adage was claimed.  They argued that religion is responsible for, basically, all the wars and conflicts man has faced.  Is that true? Check this out,

Moreover, the chief complaint against religion — that it is history’s prime instigator of intergroup conflict — does not withstand scrutiny. Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored “God and War” audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history’s most lethal century of international bloodshed.

So, what leads to this kind of conjecture? Is it a lack of evidence? Is it the fault of internet MEME’s? No, its the fault of those not wanting do the homework and settling for the status quo.

In response to this data, all I got was; “you have your beliefs and I have mine.”  Shocked, at the out right dismissal of evidence and the blood shed of the last century by the hands of the anti religious, all I could do was shake my head. Belief has nothing to do with it.  As Ben Shapiro puts it “facts don’t care about your feelings.”  So true when it comes to truth.  The sad notion is that even with truth staring us in the eye for some reason it is rejected. Why?

Sometimes TRUTH isn’t fashionable.  Sometimes truth is unaccepted because it isn’t pretty.  Pascal says it best, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”  In today’s Post Truth America, people would rather believe the skin of the truth stuffed with a big lie.  This explains the data that the Barna Group collected in 2015 and 2017.  In 2015, they found that a large number of people believe that truth is something felt, not something known.  In 2017, they found that people, one-third of Americans, didn’t trust anything but their own instincts.  This goes far in the way of saying “Ignorance is bliss. It expounds on the notion that people would rather believe the lie than except the truth.  With truth regarded as relative people fixate on what feels good or sounds good.  Who wouldn’t? But as Aldous Huxley so eloquently said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” 

Sometimes TRUTH isn’t what “MOMMA said,” or claimed.  Sometimes what we have been taught isn’t how things actually are.  Some people will cling onto things passed down by family they really respect, even if untrue.  This is seen across an American church culture.  We have a right to the freedom of religion, which means we deal with the good and the bad of that position.  People can start a church, in this country, with only blind faith.

These are just a few ideas I encounter on a normal basis.  The most alarming issue I found in the Barna study are those that never thought about it.  Among the trend of this post-truth culture, I am finding the numbers of the unthinking rising.  This is frightening, and as an Apologist, hard to tackle.  If we don’t even give thought to the nature of truth, how could we possibly build a better reality?

I think as the goal of an Apologist we must build relationships and include apologetic’s in our evangelism.  I also think we have to listen more than we talk.  People need to know how much you care before caring for how much you may know.  Wisdom, knowledge, and character all need to be present when engaging with people.  This also works towards presenting your case because you can then formulate questions and guide the conversation. So, stay encouraged and keep putting stones in peoples shoes.

The Easter Assault!

bunny1

By David Russell,

Well, it’s that time of year friends.  The time for bunnies and eggs and all the MEMEs telling us of Christianities pagan roots.

Welcome back to the “Union blog!”  In this installment, we will examine Easter tradition and come to terms with what we celebrate!  Every single year we see MEME after MEME telling us that we stole from the pagans or we’re rooted in pagan traditions.  Easter specials hit the digital screen projecting documentaries that pro-port bad history and conjecturing puns! Movies and shows reflecting our current cultural norms while projecting its version of moral grandstanding.

On our most celebrated holiday we get no release from the assault the enemies and pundits of our faith throw at us.  But is there any truth in what they report? Is Christianity wrought with pagan custom?  Simply put, no.

No, because of the nature of Easter alone.  Christians worship on Sunday, because of the resurrection of Christ.  We celebrate the actual event and have since as early as the second century.  The whole faith is built on the resurrection of Christ and without it; it wouldn’t exist.  So, what about the traditions? This is where we will spend most of our time and after reading, I hope you will have a better understanding of why its okay to celebrate this.

There is something we often forget.  In today’s society, for some reason, we are obsessed with borrowing.  Just look at the national debt…or your own. Joking.  In history, we see this trend as a set practice, at least when it comes to YouTube and wiki scholars.  If there is any similarity, then it must be borrowed.  If borrowed, the early source must be where it came from.  We are obsessed with this line of argumentation.  But I approach things a little bit different.  I believe for many things in life we have a common source, especially in the way of important events.  We also have a common reality.  For example, we all share the notion that butterflies exist.  They are caterpillars who morph into beautiful flying insects.  As people, we use this in all sorts of illustrations.  Just because a Pagan religion used it in a description of fertility and new life doesn’t mean a Christian can’t use it to describe the resurrection.  The Pagan doesn’t have a patent on the metamorphosis of the butterfly or the lessons it brings.

The worst mistake is to commit some sort of genetic fallacy.  Let’s take the Easter egg and examine it closely.  Pagan religions used the egg often as a sign of fertility and new life.  Did the Christians use it because the Pagans did?  Since we live in an age where we worship sex as a god then maybe you can conclude that, but I like the truth, so let’s go there.  Eggs are common to us all, hens start laying down a bunch during the spring.  The Christians have many traditions surrounding them.  Let’s  start with the ones associated with Mary Magdalene.  One tradition says, that on her way to Jesus’ tomb she brought eggs to munch on with the ladies.  On discovering the stone rolled away, the eggs in her basket turned red.  Another account reports that when on trial, the official claimed that the likelihood that Jesus rose was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red.  Mysteriously, the egg turned red.  More than likely, the truth is what we see in history.  Christians fast during “Lent” for a time they have no meats, eggs, or dairy.  Towards the end of the fast the eggs where multiplying so they would gather them and paint them red and eat them to celebrate the ending of lent and Pasch.  What is Pasch?

1. Passover. 2. Easter. [Middle English, from Old French pasche, from Late Latin pascha, Passover, Easter, from Late Greek paskha, from Aramaic pasḥā, Passover, from Hebrew pesaḥ; see Pesach.]

Long before Easter was celebrated, this is what it was called and still is in some parts of the world today, more on that later.  From this tradition they started all sorts of things like, the Easter egg hunt and roll.  All games designed to convey a theological importance.  The hunt would represent the joy found hidden in Christ.  The Easter egg roll would represent the the stone rolling away from the tomb.

One thing often forgotten is, Christians are not just Israelite’s but converted gentile Pagans.  We are people that have grown up with family traditions, some, very loved traditions.  With Paul’s mandate in Colossians 2:16-17,

16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

we can easily conclude that people may have kept some of those old traditions and gave them new meaning.

But what do we have evidence for?  Well, when it comes to the root of Easter being pagan it’s quite slim.  As stated before, it wasn’t called Easter until hundreds of years later.  So where did this notion that Christians are celebrating Eostre? A Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the British Isles’ orignally called Ostara.

It comes from the famous “Brothers Grimm”.  No seriously, “the fairy tale guys” Jakob Grimm, a German folklorist, writing in the 1830’s, interpreted the writings of an eighth century monk named Bede.  Bede wrote in his “De Temporum Ratione” (Reckoning of Time)

“Eosturmononath has a name which is now translated as “Paschal month,” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.
Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/naturessacredjourney/2016/03/a-brief-history-of-ostara/2/#Ur7vXyQPqyrqBHVz.99″

 Before for this, there is so little evidence of an actual Eostre that linking any Easter customs with these Pagan customs are simply conjecture.  Matter of fact, we have no Ostara or Eostre before 725 AD.  Even today historians like Ronald Hutton wonder if the deity ever even existed and that Grimm just misinterpreted Bede.

Even our beloved Easter bunny doesn’t invade our tradition until 1772 when German professor Gerog Franck Von Franckenau spoke of a tradition in which a bunny stole eggs and hid them from children in a garden.

All this to say, we know some things are absorbed and rivaled.  We also know we aren’t rooted in paganism.  So when you see the MEME’s and the ridiculousness hit the internet don’t be alarmed.  I am going to make my own tradition when it comes to some of these things.  So, celebrate his death and rising, breathe new life in old traditions, and don’t let the idealists or pundits slow you down.  God bless you all.

Hooked on Disciples works for me!

Jesus

By David Russell

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  (Acts 4:13)

I am often baffled from arguments I hear skeptic scholars make, from silence.  Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to a debate between Michael Licona and Bart Erhman.  One of the claims Bart often makes is that the disciples were Aramaic speaking only and were illiterate.  He then tries to justify his position and claims in his book forged,

“We know for certain of only two (1st century) authors in Palestine who produced literary works (in Greek)…Josephus…and a man named Justus (p 73).” He even says “it is highly probable that [Peter] could not write at all” (p.75).”

In the debate he said that, but in summary.  If his claim is true, he is arguing from silence.  Just because there is evidence absent doesn’t mean it’s evidence of absence. As the saying goes, “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence” What about Paul? He holds to at least seven epistles being written by him.  But on the whole, is this claim true?

So, first of all, we see a contradiction in his own thinking.  Second, I believe there is evidence to the contrary.  Coupled with the evidence, I try to use common sense to make an inference.

I am going to examine a few characters and some recent findings.  Let’s start with Jesus.  Jesus was, by trade, a carpenter and craftsmen before he was a preacher.  Common sense tells me, that to conduct business, he probably had a general literacy.  He was probably bilingual so he could conduct business with Hellenized Jews and people visiting from all over the empire (considering Nazareth’s geographical location). Today, we call English, “the language of the business world”  because, by and large, America and Western Europe are the largest consumers in the world.  Also, during his ministry, he is often cited, asking others, “Haven’t you read” statements, which imply he’s personally familiar with the text.

John and James’ father owned a fishing fleet.  They were also tradesmen that would have had to keep records for employment purposes, taxes, etc.  For any father passing that type of business to his kids, they would also have to have a general literacy of some sort, I’d also venture to say some sort of training in money matters.

Paul was trained formally and wrote epistles in which seven are considered authentic by almost every known scholar to date.

Matthew, a tax collector, would have had to keep books/records for his job.

In 2011, Peter’s house was unearthed.  The size of his home was very large. He was a fisherman by trade and by the size of his house, successful.

All this to say, we have good evidence of a general literacy.  Before 70 AD, we see that it was encouraged among tradesman and craftsmen.  After 70 AD, we see it becoming a mandate.  During my research, I discovered a common thread in which the above careers had in common.   Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein also noted this in their work called the Chosen few,

“If Jewish children and adults learned to read the Torah in Hebrew (as their religion required), they could read other texts written in the same language (such as letters, contracts, account books, business records and other non-religious texts). Thus “religious literacy” (the ability to read the Torah in Hebrew) helped acquire “general literacy” (the ability to read any text). Back 2,000 years ago (and still many centuries later), general literacy was almost useless to farmers (Jewish and non-Jewish), but it was very valuable to craftsmen and merchants often in need of writing letters and business contracts and to keep account books.”

General literacy. That’s the common thread. We also find that there were books of the law in the possession of private citizens in pre-Christian times as Emil Schürer says,

  “It was therefore at bottom only the interest in the law, which made instruction in reading pretty widely diffused. For since in the case of the written Scripture (in distinction from oral tradition) great importance was attached to its being actually read (see below on the order of public worship), elementary instruction in the law was necessarily combined with instruction in reading. A knowledge of reading must therefore be everywhere assumed, where a somewhat more thorough knowledge of the law existed. Hence we find even in pre-Christian times books of the law in the possession of private individuals. ”(Schürer, Emil (2017-02-01). A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 10404-10408). Capella Press.).

To further this, we find that literacy was on the rise in the ancient world, which before this study, we had almost no evidence for.  This study from Tel Aviv reported and published this,

Now, a cross-disciplinary team of nine Israeli scientists from Tel Aviv University has taken a fresh look at a collection of inscriptions from circa 600 BCE, and—with the help of a machine-learning computer algorithm—has concluded that literacy was already on the rise in the ancient Kingdom of Judah (a.k.a. Judea) in the years prior to the Babylonian conquest in 587 BCE. And that, they argue, points to an “educational infrastructure” that would have made the writing of the Biblical texts possible. Their study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This led Arie Shaus, a Ph.D. student in applied mathematics at Tel Aviv University to quote, “Now there’s “very good evidence that hundreds of people, maybe more, could read and write.”

So why is mainstream scholarship against this, such as Bart Erhman?  I don’t know but Nazareth was close to a major trade route of the Roman Empire.  We have even found an artifact posted with a warning not to rob graves? Who was that for? I think there is also evidence in Luke’s gospel which implies general literacy and is commonly dated in the first century.

  16:6 The man replied‘A hundred measures of olive oil.’ The manager said to him‘Take your billsit down quicklyand write fifty.’ 16:7 Then he said to another‘And how much do you owe?’ The second man replied‘A hundred measures  of wheat.’

New Testament scholar Dan Wallace, thinks that the disciples were probably Bilingual as well due to the nature of the great commission. I have found that Jesus had disciples with Greek names, ministered in dominate Greek speaking places, and Galilee was often called “Galilee of the gentiles”.  I don’t know why the skeptics hold on to this notion in the face of the mounting evidence.

Finally, to deal with the passage I started with you can do it two ways.  First, no, the disciples referred to in Acts didn’t have a formal education.  Never went off to university.  Maybe they had a general literacy, maybe they learned to fulfill the great commission and bring the gospel to all nations, or maybe Jesus taught them.  My conclusion is this, I think to survive and prosper, the tradesmen and craftsmen would have a general literacy, probably bilingual to conduct business, and not illiterate, at least the men, even though there is some evidence in the Mishnah encouraging girls to learn Greek. The farmers probably did get the short straw, but all that changed after 70 AD.

 

MAGIC!

godless engineerBy David Russell

 

Welcome back to the Union blog my friends!  Yes, we have another YouTube scholar spouting off at the mouth again.  You know I don’t usually do this but I have to write about what I just saw.

I have followed the Godless Engineer for awhile now.  I first encountered his videos when I was researching Hyperionism.  I found it funny but horribly crude. I kept listening in to see if he’d ever give an actual argument against theism.  It seems the more I listened the more smoke he blew up the ears of all his expecting fans.  Again, I don’t usually go after a single person but I think its high time he was answered.

Last month he produced a video entitled,

5 Backwards Christian Concepts Explained || Anti-Atheism Debunked”

to which he declared, (which he sounded like he was in a drunken stupor) that theist think “Bass Ackwards”.  He starts by claiming that theist think the universe comes into being out of literally nothing, that there was God and then there was the universe. “Fair”  But he claims that our nothing is different than a scientific nothing.  This idea comes from a recent push by atheist to redefine the word “nothing.”  “Nothing is just that, Nothing” anything else is, actually, something. Matter of fact, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theory confirms the theist’s idea of an absolute beginning out of nothing. Furthermore, they still deny a creator by appealing to the physically unintelligible and metaphysically dubious device of “imaginary time” or “pre-existent laws.”

Fitting with this, he also stated that there is cosmic evolution, whatever that looks like, which got me thinking he was proposing a Chaotic inflationary model, but just like the models before it, falls short.  Vilenkin, again, points out “Although inflation may be eternal into the future, it cannot be extended indefinitely to the past.” This tells us of an absolute beginning to everything, leaving us to wonder about the fine tuning of all those initial conditions wrapped up in constants and quantities.  The truth is, one can’t escape the explanatory power and the plausibility of an unembodied mind with immense power creating the universe.  Also, claiming that there are natural explanations, as the Godless Engineer does, for the beginning of the cosmos is akin to me saying “If I give it time, I’ll give birth to my mother.”  It simply doesn’t work.

He quickly moves to asserting that we have transitional forms and that evolution is true. Tell this to Daniel Dennett, an atheist who quotes “The Darwinian theory is the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century.” He continued on by saying, “there are transitional forms” or fossils which made me think he was holding, flimsily, to a punctuated equilibrium model, which was proposed due to a lack of transitional forms in the fossil records. One of the main promoters of this idea, Niles Eldridge, actually had this to say about the initial Darwinian theory,

 “No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seems to happen. Assiduous collecting up cliff faces yield zigzags, minor oscillations, and the very occasional slight accumulation of change–over millions of years, at a rate too slow to account for all the prodigious change that has occurred in evolutionary history. When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else. Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution.”  Niles Eldridge, Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995), p. 95.”

So, if he wants to hold to that theory, he will have to do it in spite of believing in a very slow process of macroevolution.

After this he focuses on Christianity by ridiculing the bible and its miracles.  I am not sure if he gets that if God exists, miracles are possible. He calls it magic, but you can rant and rave about the claims it makes all you want, until you produce a good argument, it’s just rhetoric.  Let’s discuss weather the bible is reliable.

He then runs a muck!

He goes into the absurdity of life and moral argument, which confused me.  He claims he has value but can’t justify where that value comes from.  Sure, he can subjectively value anything he wants, but is it “actually valuable?”  Considering that this is the argument theist make.  We claim that there is “actual and objective” value to life. Again, don’t assert value without actually making an argument.  He then moves on to purpose, again, spouting a subjective purpose, totally missing the mark. We argue that there is “an objective purpose” and that if there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to life, then that’s just it, no OBJECTIVE meaning or purpose.  This goes a long way in saying that his views are mere delusions of grandeur.

Finally, we get to his idea of justice.  He doesn’t deny that there is justice, although it must exist in the ether somewhere. He claims it’s imperfect, whatever that means. Unaware, this “imperfect system” implies that justice is an objective moral value, something I have never heard an atheist elude to.  Seems like progress to me, but I don’t mind evoking an actual standard, he has no basis for his claim that there is.

At the end of the day he can bash Christianity all he wants.  But don’t expect us to take the heat laying down.  We believe in justice and responsibility and made laws and systems which revolutionized western thinking.  Our only escape comes from the grace God gives us through Christ when we go to him.  My suggestion, understand the theology before you make yourself look bad.

 

 

Mentonymy

12_illiteracyBy David Russell,

 

Does God hate sinners or do we need to understand literature?

Welcome back to the Union blog.  I just wanted to throw that right out there! You get many questions doing apologetics. Every so often you’ll get a fellow believer positing something like this.  First, they often act haughty thinking the have some new kind of secret knowledge or revelation.  This makes it hard to engage because they have already committed to the notion. This becomes evidently clear when they approach you and phrase it in a “I told you so” kind of way.

This question usually comes out like this, “What do you think about the phrase, God loves the siner and hates the sin?” Next they’ll ask you “Can you find it in the Word?” Springing the proverbial trap, they believe they got you cornered.

How do you respond, when they then tell you that God actually hates the sinner and throw the book at you?  Today, I want to tackle this problem because it is a symptom of a preexisting condition.  My goal is not to belittle my brothers and sisters in Christ but to expose a problem under girding the church today.

My first response is not to fall for the trap.  I try to employee Jesus methodology. Ask a question with a question.  Do you believe the bible contradicts itself? This usually dismounts the person from their “Metaphoric” high horse bringing them eye level.  I then will jump straight to a scripture that seems to contradict the ones they threw out at me, which are usually: Psalms 5:5 (The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.You hate all who do wrong;), 11:5 (The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.), Proverbs 6:18-19 (a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.), and Malachi 1:2-3 (“I have loved you,” says the Lord. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”).  I use this scripture first because the sinner here is engulfed with Idolatry.

Mark 10:17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

If you noticed, this man was in opposition to God and continued in his idolatry and rejection.  Yet what do we see? Jesus loved him!

This gives way for the knock out blow in Romans 5:6-8,

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This really broadens the discussion.  One is left puzzled by this, or if proud, offended.  They can’t deny any passage and remain consistent in their summations.  But why is this? I think it is a symptom of a chronic disorder that underlies many in the church.  Scriptural Illiteracy!  One of the main reasons I do apologetics is to aid me in discipleship.  I want to have good answers, I love the truth, and I believe in equipping the saints.  To make a formal defense I need to know how to read the bible.

For far too long the church has allowed this disorder to become chronic. Barna research group now calls it, “a crisis”.  People simply don’t know how to read the bible for all it’s worth.  This can lead to all sorts of confusions like the one stated above.  If there is one thing you take away from this, “Begin to hunger for the word”. I say this because it will open doors you never knew existed.  It will reinforce your faith and deepen the relationship you have with God.

But, back to the answer.  We see that God does love sinners.  So we need to take a look at what it means when the word hate is employed in the Old Testament language.  In our culture today we often look at literature in a wooden literal sense.  This serves us in our current milieu well.  But when reading scripture, we must learn the intent and the style of language the ancients used.  They used many figures of speech to convey their points.  Even the language was really expressive.  One thing they employed was the use of “me·ton·y·my” which is the title of this article.  This figure of speech is defined as “the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example suit for business executive, or the track for horse racing.” (Google dictionary)

We can see this used elsewhere in the preceding verse in Proverbs, 6:17 states “(God hates) haughty eyes, and a lying tongue”.  This doesn’t mean God literally hates a physical tongue muscle or eye balls.  It’s what comes out of the tongue and the pride the person has reflected in those eyes. This leads us to our next inquiry with the original word used for hate in these passages. The Hebrew word for hate here is,

    “Sänë´ (שֶׂנֵא)”. “It “expresses an emotional attitude toward persons and things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship.”2 This is not hate out of ignorance or animosity; rather it is a righteous God’s opposition to wickedness. (Warren Nozaki)

With this I’ll close. Being mindful of literacy employed through the texts and learning to do an objective study of the text,  putting to the test of correlation,  goes a long way in understanding the text.  God doesn’t hate the person. He hates the sin the person is putting in opposition to His purpose.  There is an eternal hope that we all have and it’s because of God’s divine love He lavishly hurdles upon us.  Remember that and go in peace knowing that nothing can separate you from the love of God.

 

Mo·der·ni·ty

MODERNBy David Russell

 

Welcome back to the Union blog.  I have been absent for most the month of January and the beginning this month.  Life can sure keep you busy.  Since my last post my car has broken down twice, I got robbed, and lost my bank card.  My wife lost her wallet, but praise God, it was recovered with nothing stolen.  The guys that robbed my car got caught on my neighbors camera and my car broke down in non-hazardous areas.  So, God graced me with just having to deal with the fixes and replacements.  Although it has been busy, it could have been much worse.

As many know, I have been trying to get questions for an interactive blog.  To date, I have had three.  I thought, “What a disappointment.” Over the last month and a half,  I asked people numerous times, the more I asked, the more I got a sense of a new monster.  This monster is Apathy.

What is the cause? Why does it seem that people just don’t care about things that involve the purpose of life?

My findings led me to one thing…… Modernity!

In that one phrase we can some up so many things but I want to hone the edge upon distractions that often numb us, making us apathetic.  I think the trappings of these days really distract us from what is important.  We don’t sit and think anymore, or better yet, ponder and glean.  Technology has made us to comfortable. the television tells us what to think or just mindlessly entertains us.  We traded an escape through prayer, or a good book, to an escape in a virtual world.

We now socialize through our phones neglecting the beauty of developing physical relationships.  I have often times seen the phone take away too much family time.  We wonder what’s happening to this generation, look into the mirror and ask yourself how much time have you been investing in your kids.  I know there are times when I have been so into my phone that my kids tell me something and I totally miss it.  When I think back on it, It breaks my heart.  But they also follow that example.  Next thing you know, they are doing the same and the cycle continues.

Technology is definitely a good thing in moderation.  The problem is, we never  moderate. We are so easily distracted that you’d rather unwind watching your favorite show than to get quiet and read a book.  I have always told my kids that the brain is a muscle and needs exercise.  The issue is this problem has already spun out of control.  It is to the point that over fifty percent of Gen-Z people think the church isn’t important while another forty-eight think they can find God elsewhere.

This is a major blow to anyone involved in ministry.  Even among the apologist’s, there’s  absolutely nothing we can do when the distractions numb us beyond the scope of consideration.  This will be one of the greatest battles of our ages.  The only thing I can advise is to moderate.  Keep pressing on.  I have learned that if you get a person engaged the light bulbs start lighting up.  It won’t last if you move on though.  You have to invest. Investing in people is one of the greatest parts of discipleship.  Through that investment a relationship solidifies. Then just maybe you can pull them out of that apathetic state.

In conclusion, I will continue to battle on.  May God bless you all and keep you.