Monthly Archives: December 2008

Did Jesus Even Exist?

Well, Christmas celebrations are now giving way to New Year’s revelries. So, perhaps it is now a “safer” time to ask the most basic question concerning Christianity: Did Jesus even exist?
Here’s a reprint of a recent article in the Toronto Star that deals with the question. It focuses on a group of scholars that is seeking an objective, non-partisan answer to that questions based on an exhaustive and methodologically sound historical investigation.
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christ
THE JESUS PROJECT

TheStar.com | Ideas | For scholars, a combustible question: Was Christ real?
For scholars, a combustible question: Was Christ real?

New effort aims to avoid circus of ‘Jesus Seminar’ while probing deeper than past attempts
Dec 27, 2008 04:30 AM

SPECIAL TO THE toronto STAR

Earlier this month, just before most Christians would mark the birth of their saviour, a group of scholars gathered in Amherst, N.Y. to begin pondering a simple yet combustible question: Did Jesus exist?

It’s an issue heavy with theological baggage and poised to offend more than a few Christians: Polls by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby in his latest book The Boomer Factor show two out of three Canadians believe Jesus is the divine son of God.

By now, the whole question might seem tired, almost banal. Former Toronto Star religion writer Tom Harpur certainly won recognition, and notoriety, for arguing in his explosive 2004 book The Pagan Christ, that Jesus was a legend rooted in Egyptian myths thousands of years before the Gospels were written (though that was not a new position).

But over the past 150 years of efforts to find the historical Jesus, the vast majority of scholars have settled on the baseline belief that a Jewish teacher from Galilee named Yeshua did indeed live some 2,000 years ago, and spoke about the Kingdom of God.

Even so, the Jesus Project is proceeding from point zero, billing itself as “the first methodologically agnostic approach” to the question of Jesus’s historical existence. It promises “the most rigorous methods, data, and open debate.”

An initiative of the Center for Inquiry, an Amherst-based secular think tank, and its Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER), the project is an extension of the no-less controversial Jesus Seminar, which has been convening twice annually for 23 years.

There’s one key difference: Whereas the Seminar has operated on the premise that Jesus was an actual person – it was what he said and did that is up for grabs – the scholars in this latest effort regard Jesus’s existence as a “testable hypothesis.”

With a core group of 20 scholars, the project is the first joint effort by historians, biblical scholars, archeologists, textual authorities, theologians and other experts to determine “what can be reliably recovered about the historical figure of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his activities, utilizing the highest standards of scientific and scholarly objectivity.”

Like judges in a courtroom, project members will sift through mountains of material to ascertain what evidence is admissible, stripping away theological and mythical accretions.

“We believe in assessing the quality of the evidence available for looking at this question before seeing what the evidence has to tell us,” writes project chair R. Joseph Hoffman, an historian of religion at State University of New York, on the initiative’s website.

The scholars say they do not believe their task is to produce a “plausible” portrait of Jesus prior to considering the motives the Gospel writers had in telling his story, and their intended audience.

At least two Canadian scholars are involved: Arthur Droge of the University of Toronto and Philippa Carter of McMaster University in Hamilton.

To run for five years, the project will inevitably risk comparison to the controversial Jesus Seminar, a think tank founded in 1985 by New Testament scholars John Dominic Crossan and the late Robert Funk, and which became famous, Hoffman charges, “for all the wrong reasons.”

Among other oddities, the Seminar was known for its unusual voting methods: Fellows used coloured marbles to determine whether Jesus said or did something attributed to him in biblical texts. Red was for “virtually certain,” pink for “probably reliable,” grey for “possible but unreliable, and black for “improbable.”

The results stunned – and angered – millions. The scholars decided Jesus uttered just 31 sayings, or 18 per cent of what is attributed to him in the Bible. A similar rate was found for the deeds ascribed to him: Just 29 of 176 acts were certain or likely.

The Seminar also rejected the very foundations of Christianity: There was no virgin birth, no resurrection or transfiguration, and Jesus performed no miracles. He was little more than an itinerant Jewish sage who preached a social gospel using parables and aphorisms.

Many Christians derided the Seminar’s findings as the product of liberal scholars, and even a little silly. Undeniably, it was media-friendly, and whetted the public’s appetite for more on the historical Jesus.

But to Hoffman and other scholars, the Seminar reduced Jesus to “a talking doll with a questionable repertoire of 31 sayings. Pull a string and he blesses the poor.” The Jesus Project plans a more comprehensive and sober approach – with no marbles – that extends to examining the history, literature and culture of Jesus’s time and place.

The project aims to examine and date all relevant sources – not just the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but also the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1948, and the “lost” or Gnostic Gospels, unearthed at Nag Hamada, Egypt in 1945, and which depict a very different Jesus than the New Testament.

Classical sources with tantalizing references to Jesus and nascent Christian communities, such as the writings of Flavius Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger, will also be considered.

Christians, evangelical and otherwise, should be guarded about this new quest since such searches for Jesus “are usually marred by guesswork, bias against miracles and a reductionist approach to history,” argues James Beverley, a professor at Toronto’s evangelical Tyndale Seminary.

Belief that Jesus existed “is not a matter of faith alone,” Beverley claims, and Christians have nothing to fear from “solid, careful historical work.”

But the new quest will only succeed only if it is “open to the clear historical presence of Jesus in the New Testament, the earliest documents about him.”

German scholars of the 19th century were among the first to raise questions about the historical veracity of the Bible and Jesus. So why this endeavour now, and why Jesus?

After 2,000 years, Jesus remains “the most fascinating figure of Western civilization,” enthuses project member James Tabor, and scholars at the beginning of the 21st century are uniquely positioned to take advantage of a plethora of new texts, sources, and methods.

But what does the Jesus Project mean for the larger, secular society in which the carpenter from Nazareth still plays an important role? As a review of Harpur’s book on these pages noted, Jesus (or Christ), after all, is a universal archetype known essentially by all humanity. Will this effort re-mythologize or de-mythologize him?

Hoffman replies that even the fiercest critics of Christianity have viewed the historical Jesus, or traditions and myths about him, as essentially benign or even beneficial.

There’s one sure thing in a field fraught with uncertainty: This won’t be the final word on the subject.
Ron Csillag is a freelance writer in Thornhill, Ontario.

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A Mother’s Anguish – A Personal Story

Hi there. Well, this blog entry will be a bit different. I am in the early stages of writing a memoir focusing on my transition from a fervant fundamenatlist to a free-thinking atheist.Today, I am going to post one of the stories that will likely be in the book.

My mom passed away on January 1, 2005. So, rather than posting an entry that talks about her death on what is supposed to be a joyous celebration, I have decided to post it today.

I look forward to your comments (and editorial critiques if you wish!). Here’s the story – it’s called, “Mom’s Anguish”

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The insidious growth of Mom’s brain tumour was having its predictable effects. Now in the palliative care wing of St. Peter’s hospital in Hamilton, she was increasingly tired and confined to bed. Her voice was weak, her body emaciated and her lucidity sporadic. Death was relentlessly creeping closer and would claim her in just a few weeks.


As is common in cases of brain cancer, Mom’s personality had shifted radically as the cancer had grown. Once the consummate Scottish stoic, the ballooning tumour had turned my mom into a weepy, gushing sentimentalist who now would proclaimed repeatedly “I love you, oh, I love you, I love you, I love you,” all the while stroking me with her bony hands. Words I had longed to hear all my life were now uttered profusely. But it wasn’t my mom who was speaking – it was a brain tumour.

What had not changed were my mom’s religious convictions. In fact, death’s approach only served to heighten them.

Our family was part of the fundamentalist tradition that originated in the late 1800s in North America. We had the Baptist version of the disease and I had grown up convinced that the Bible was the literal word of God, Jesus was the Son of God who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and that salvation involved a conscious decision to repent of one’s sins and ask Jesus into your life. The necessary corollary was that those who didn’t accept Jesus, or worse, who had but then turned away from the truth (the dreaded term that described this was “apostasy”), were doomed to eternal suffering and punishment in hell. This was fervently preached in the church in which I grew up and as a child and young adult, I fervently believed it. Indeed, as a pastor in the Baptist church, I fervently preached it.

However, between the ages of thirty-five and forty, I had gone through a traumatic and troubling process of de-conversion. No longer able to suppress the doubts that had been emerging at a glacial pace since my mid-twenties, at thirty-five, I began to acknowledge to myself that I wasn’t really sure if I believed in the Bible as the authoritative word of God. In 1994, I left the church where I was pastoring to give myself time to figure things out. I was never to return.

By the age of forty, I had become a full-fledged agnostic. A couple of years later, I had come out of the closet, both to myself and to others, and admitted that, for all practical purposes, I was, in fact, an atheist. I hadn’t told my mom and siblings about it, but they knew that I was no longer attending church and that religion seemed very far away from my life. From this, they concluded, correctly, that I was now an apostate.

This knowledge brought great anxiety to my mom as she lay dying in her hospital bed.

One Saturday in late November, 2005, I had made the journey from Toronto to Hamilton for a visit with my mom. My sister, Wendy, and her husband, Wayne, both of whom are still fervent believers, accompanied me. As soon as we entered the room, we could tell Mom was not in a good place emotionally. She was agitated and crying. I went over to the bed to comfort her and, with all the strength she could muster, she grabbed my hand and proceeded to ask me through her tears, “Why don’t you believe in Jesus anymore?”

The question caught me off guard. One of the chief rules of our family had always been “DO NOT TALK ABOUT ANYTHING UPSETTING TO ANYONE!” The fact that my Mom asked me this question was proof that this was not my mother speaking, but the cancer. She went on, “I don’t want to go to heaven without you. I can’t stand thinking that you are going to be in hell. Why don’t you believe in God anymore? Why aren’t you going to church?”

I am sure that most people would simply have lied at this point and said something like, “Of course I still believe, Mom. I’m just taking a break from church, that’s all.” But after all the anguish and torment that my journey to apostasy had caused me, I couldn’t simply pretend otherwise. So, even though my heart was breaking for her, for the next forty minutes I tried a variety of tactics that would calm her down without lying to her. I tried distracting her with news about my sons. I tried reassuring her by telling her everything was okay. I tried bringing Wendy and Wayne into the conversation since she was steadfastly ignoring them.

Nothing shook her laser-sharp focus on me. I could see that she was getting more and more agitated. My inner conflict was growing. Finally, I decided that her comfort was more important than my sense of integrity and after being asked for the umpteenth time, “Why don’t you believe in Jesus anymore?” I responded, “I do believe, Mom. I do believe.”

The relief that flooded over my Mom was immediate. Her body relaxed. Her tears ceased. The creases of fear and worry that had crowded her brow disappeared. She patted my hand and whispered, “So you’ll go back to church?”

It was a command, not a question.

“Yes, Mom,” I replied, “I’ll go back to church.”

“Next Sunday?”

“Yes, Mom. Next Sunday.”

By this time, both my mom and I were spent. Wendy and Wayne, uncomfortable onlookers during this love-inspired, faith-based interrogation took over and tried to engage Mom with small talk. Mom barely responded. She was ready to sleep.

I felt a mixture of relief and defeat.

As I sat in the back seat of Wayne’s car making our way back to Toronto, anger welled up inside me. “What kind of religion causes this anguish for its followers? What kind of God would say he loves us and then threaten us with eternal torture if we reject that love? Why couldn’t I see that for so many years?”

My mom died a few weeks later. Her funeral was a glorious Christian celebration filled with comforting words of Scripture and hymns celebrating the love of Jesus, capped off by a sermon extolling the bliss that my Mom was supposedly now experiencing in heaven.

Afterward, as people milled around during the reception, I did my best to graciously receive people’s condolences, wrapped as they were in the garb of Christian theology. “Well, your mom finally has her eternal resting place with Jesus.” “She’s happy with the Lord now.” “God knew her work on earth was finished and wanted her home with him.” “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Once again, I felt the tension of wanting to respond truthfully but being constrained by the setting. So, I just nodded and thanked them for coming.

My mind drifted back once more to our hospital conversation. The same faith that was now being voiced to me as words intended for my consolation had been the source of exquisite anguish for Mom that day. I couldn’t suppress a wry smile to myself. Even in grief, irony can shine through.

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President-Elect Obama: Do the Right Thing and Un-Invite Rick Warren

When President-Elect Obama was getting heat over his relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, he decided that the best thing to do was to formally disassociate himself from Wright.

The controversy began with the revelation of Wright’s statement “God damn America” made during a sermon Wright had preached years earlier. (When I listened to the whole sermon and heard that phrase in its context,  I actually thought it was a very powerful statement that highlighted the past and ongoing discrimination against and mistreatment of blacks in America.)

Later, at a press conference in Washington, Wright reiterated two of his controversial views:  (1) that the American government might have created AIDS as a way of wiping out minorities, and (2) that Louis Farrakhan, the head of Nation of Islam, was one of the most important voices of the 20th century. He also stated that Obama’s then recent speech in Philadelphia on racial relations was merely political in intention.

Hearing those things, Obama decided to formally severe his relationship with his former pastor.

So, now we have a man, Rick Warren, who has compared gay marriage to incest and pedophilia, compared women who get abortions to Nazis, compared the pro-life movement to Holocaust denial, being asked to invoke the blessing of God on Obama at the upcoming inauguration.

Rick Warren recently gave a 22 minute video address to his congregation about his views and it is worth watching for what it reveals about this man and his beliefs (you can find it at http://www.saddlebackfamily.com/blogs/newsandviews/index.html).

Rachel Maddow, commentator on MSNBC, has a great disection of Warren’s views and his most recent video post to his congregation. I encourage you to watch it below. It’s only 9 minutes long.

It’s time for Obama to sever his connection to Warren and un-invite him to the inauguration.

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Non-Religious Inspirational Thoughts On This Christian Holiday

I thought I would share a few quotes that I find inspirational, that have nothing to do with virgins birthing, cattle lowing, angels singing or shepherds watching. I hope you find them inspirational too!


To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”

George Bernard Shaw
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Helen Keller
The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.”
Arthur C. Clarke (who, sadly, passed away this year)
It has been my philosophy of life that difficulties vanish when they are faced boldly.”
Isaac Asimov
Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.”
Emo Philips (comedian)

He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.

Abraham Lincoln
Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.”
Samuel Johnson
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Enjoy the day!

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Happy Horus Day! – The REAL Reason for the Season – Part II

ATTENTION SHOPPERS: ONLY THREE MORE DAYS ‘TILL HORUS DAY.

Horus? Who’s Horus?

Horus was one of the most important of ancient Egypt’s panoply of gods and goddesses.

So, what does Christmas day have to do with him?

The answer is this: The story of Christmas (and the rest of the story of Jesus) as presented in the gospels has tremendous parallels with the myths of Horus (who predated Jesus by centuries).

B. A. Robinson has written a helpful article available at http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa5.htm which documents many of these parallels. Here’s a useful summary chart from his article:

Event Horus Yeshua of Nazareth, a.k.a. Jesus
Conception: By a virgin. There is some doubt about this matter By a virgin. 8
Father: Only begotten son of the God Osiris. Only begotten son of Yehovah (in the form of the Holy Spirit).
Mother: Meri. 9 Miriam (a.k.a. Mary).
Foster father: Seb, (Jo-Seph). 9 Joseph.
Foster father’s ancestry: Of royal descent. Of royal descent.
Birth location: In a cave. In a cave or stable.
Annunciation: By an angel to Isis, his mother. By an angel to Miriam, his mother. 8
Birth heralded by: The star Sirius, the morning star. An unidentified “star in the East.
Birth date: Ancient Egyptians paraded a manger and child representing Horus through the streets at the time of the winter solstice (typically DEC-21). Celebrated on DEC-25. The date was chosen to occur on the same date as the birth of Mithra, Dionysus and the Sol Invictus (unconquerable Sun), etc.
Birth announcement: By angels. By angels. 8
Birth witnesses: Shepherds. Shepherds. 8
Later witnesses to birth: Three solar deities. Three wise men. 8
Death threat during infancy: Herut tried to have Horus murdered. Herod tried to have Jesus murdered.
Handling the threat: The God That tells Horus’ mother “Come, thou goddess Isis, hide thyself with thy child. An angel tells Jesus’ father to: “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.
Rite of passage ritual: Horus came of age with a special ritual,  when his eye was restored. Taken by parents to the temple for what is today called a bar mitzvah ritual.
Age at the ritual: 12 12
Break in life history: No data between ages of 12 & 30. No data between ages of 12 & 30.
Baptism location: In the river Eridanus. In the river Jordan.
Age at baptism: 30. 30.
Baptized by: Anup the Baptiser. John the Baptist.
Subsequent fate of the baptiser: Beheaded. Beheaded.
Temptation: Taken from the desert of Amenta up a high mountain by his arch-rival Sut. Sut (a.k.a. Set) was a precursor for the Hebrew Satan. Taken from the desert in Palestine up a high mountain by his arch-rival Satan.
Result of temptation: Horus resists temptation. Jesus resists temptation.
Close followers: Twelve disciples. There is some doubt about this matter as well. Twelve disciples.
Activities: Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. He “stilled the sea by his power.” Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. He ordered the sea with a “Peace, be still” command.
Raising of the dead: Horus raised Osirus, his dead father,  from the grave. 10 Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave.
Location where the resurrection miracle occurred: Anu, an Egyptian city where the rites of the death, burial and resurrection of Horus were enacted annually. 10 Hebrews added their prefix for house (‘beth“) to “Anu” to produce “Beth-Anu” or the “House of Anu.” Since “u” and “y” were interchangeable in antiquity, “Bethanu” became “Bethany,” the location mentioned in John 11.
Origin of Lazarus’ name in the Gospel of John: Asar was an alternative name for Osirus, Horus’ father, who Horus raised from the dead. He was referred to as “the Asar,” as a sign of respect. Translated into Hebrew, this is “El-Asar.” The Romans added the prefix “us” to indicate a male name, producing “Elasarus.” Over time, the “E” was dropped and “s” became “z,” producing “Lazarus.10
Transfigured: On a mountain. On a high mountain.
Key address(es): Sermon on the Mount. Sermon on the Mount; Sermon on the Plain.
Method of death By crucifixion. By crucifixion.
Accompanied by: Two thieves. Two thieves.
Burial In a tomb. In a tomb.
Fate after death: Descended into Hell; resurrected after three days. Descended into Hell; resurrected after about 30 to 38 hours (Friday PM to presumably some time in Sunday AM) covering parts of three days.
Resurrection announced by: Women. Women.
Future: Reign for 1,000 years in the Millennium. Reign for 1,000 years in the

Isis and Horus / Mary and Jesus

Isis and Horus Mary and Jesus

What are we to make of these parallels between the story of Jesus and the story of Horus (and that of other ancient gods — such as the Persian god, Mithras)?

Well, if I were a professor and one of my student’s submitted a paper that contained numerous exact copies of ideas, terms and statements, I would conclude it was a case of plagiarism.

So, what does that tell us of the source of the Jesus myth?

And what does it tell us of the REAL reason for the season?

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President-Elect Obama, I am SO disappointed with you.

Have you heard this news? President-Elect Obama has chosen Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration ceremony.

An invocation prayer is a long-standing tradition at the ceremony, and that is troubling enough to anyone who takes the separation of church and state seriously. But to pick Rick Warren?????

Some of you may not know much about Pastor Warren, the head minister at Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, California. He is the author of the best-selling evangelical book, The Purpose-Driven Life (for a wonderful rejoinder see Robert Price’s, The Reason-Driven Life). This past summer, he hosted televized interviews with both McCain and Obama at his church asking them questions that highlighted concerns of the

Pastor Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren

evangelical, right-wing Christian community. But here are some other things about Warren that make his involvement at Obama’s inauguration troubling to this secular, progressive ex-fundie:

  • Warren is anti-abortion, referring to someone who is pro-choice as a “holocaust denier”
  • Warren believes that Roe v. Wade is equivalent to genocide
  • Warren has compared women who get abortions to Nazis
  • Warren is anti-gay and exhorted his followers to vote for Proposition 8 in California which rescinded the right for gays and lesbians to marry
  • Warren calls opposition to homosexuality a ‘humanitarian issue’ because “God created marriage for the purpose of family, love and procreation”
  • Warren likens homosexuality to incest and statutory rape
  • Warren is a creationist, denying the science of evolution
  • Warren believes that the presence of homosexuals disproves evolution
  • Warren has stated that he could never vote for an atheist
  • Warren urged the murder of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on public television
  • Warren recently referred to the social gospel – the late 19th- and early 20th-century Protestant movement that led a religious crusade against poverty and inequality – as ‘Marxism in Christian clothing’
  • Warren believes the lives of non-Christians to be ‘spiritually empty’
  • Warren believes that Muslim, Jews, Hindus, atheists, Buddhists and every other non-Christian will spend eternity in hell

I am deeply disappointed at the pandering of Obama and the Democrats to the evangelical, right-wing Christian community and it’s implicit slap-in-the-face to those who support equal rights, science and free-speech.

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Santa Versus God

Here’s a cute comparison of Santa and God from the blogger, Unreasonable Faith (http://unreasonablefaith.com/2008/12/15/santa-vs-god/)

santa_vs_god

So, what do you think? Anything to add? Anything to dispute?

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