Monday, 5 December 2016

Isaiah's Prophecy of Jesus?

As Christmas approaches it is interesting to look at the prophecy of a virgin birth in Isaiah.
Isaiah 7:1 Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not [a]conquer it. 2 When it was reported to the house of David, saying, “The Arameans [b]have camped in Ephraim,” his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake [c]with the wind.

3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son [d]Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the [e]fuller’s field, 4 and say to him, ‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands, on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and [f]terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in [g]its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” 7 thus says the Lord [h]God: “It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people), 9 and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you surely shall not [i]last.”’”

10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; [j]make it deep as Sheol or high as [k]heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” 13 Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a [l]virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name [m]Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey [n]at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.
Obviously the prophesy got the name wrong, but explanations for that are a dime a dozen. And the word used for virgin can indicate any young woman (and in any case virgins can can pregnant without any help from God!).

What is more interesting is the context. The nation of Judah was ruled by King Ahaz from Jerusalem, and was threatened by two enemies, Israel (aka Ephraim) and Syria (aka Aram aka Damascus). God has Isaiah tell the king that all will be okay. God then gives a sign to reassure Ahaz: A boy will be born to a young woman, and before that boy has learnt to choose good (i.e., just a few years), the two enemies of Judah will have fallen.

If the author of Matthew is to be believed, this boy was born some 700 years later. If we believe Matthew, then God's reassurance to the king is: Don't worry Ahaz, within 700 years the two nations you fear so much will have fallen.

Which is no reassurance at all!

Israel and Syria did indeed fall, soon after the prophesy supposedly made, to Assyria, from whose control they had just rebelled. The "prophecy" was written a generation later as a warning to Ahaz's son, Hezekiah, advising him not to join other nations rebelling against the Assyrian overlords (advise that was unfortunately ignored).

This supposed prophecy has nothing to do with Jesus; it was made and fulfilled centuiries before. Nevertheless, the author of the Gospel of Matthew pretended it was about Jesus to  support his own agenda, and to this day Christians will cite this text as vindicating their belief in Jesus.

Monday, 21 November 2016

More on Petrine Authorship

Hans Georg Lundahl has replied to my post on Petrine authorship on his blog:

http://notontimsblogroundhere.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/anonymous-author-for-saint-peter.html

I would like to take this opportunity to reply to his comments.
The question is not why an anonymous Christian would want to pass himself off as the Apostle Peter - two works prove fairly well some did or were thought to have done so.
Well it is an important question, but as you seem to concede it is established that it is not an obstacle at all.
The question is how an anonymous author would succeed in passing himself (as author ego) off as the Apostle Peter.
That is a different question, but yes, it is important too. However, as you say, two works prove fairly well that anonymous authors did believe they would successfully pass their works off as that of the apostles.
The rejection of the Gospel and Apocalypse which both bear that name, show that early Christians did have some checks.
Fair point, but these were not rejected out of hand as soon as they appeared. They were accepted by some Christians and were sufficiently well regarded that we still have both works.

If we look at the epistles traditionally attributed to Paul, most modern scholars now consider the Pastoral epistles to be written by another author. Yes, the early church did have some checks, but the evidence is that those checks were not perfect, and some works got through that were attributed to an apostle but written by someone else.
Now, saying that the Apocalypse of St Peter originally was canon is most probably not true. There were some rival canons before all the 27 books were complete in one collection, and that one accepted by all the Church.
That depends on what you mean by canon. If you consider canon to be only those works accepted by the church since ca. 400, then no. However, there is evidence it was considered canon prior to that, i.e., its mention in the Muratorian fragment.
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-mrjames.html

It seems Clement of Alexandria considered it to be scripture, by the way.
So, this books never made it beyond one or two local Churches, either because another one knew it to be spurious, or because one had not sufficient proofs for considering it genuine.
This is just conjecture. We really do not know how many early churches accepted it, or what their reasons for rejecting it might be (it could have been that its theology was not aligned with that church). However, from the above link:

"There is no mention of it in the Gelasian Decree, which is curious. At one time it was popular in Rome for the Muratorian Canon mentions it (late in the second century?) along with the Apocalypse of John though it adds, that 'some will not have it read in the church.' The fifth-century church historian Sozomen (vii. 19) says that to his knowledge it was still read annually in some churches in Palestine on Good Friday."

This suggests it was considerably more popular than it "never made it beyond one or two local Churches" as you would have us think.
And that latter is, considering God has promised to preserve his word and no Church considers Apocalypse as St Peter canon, one sign it is probably not genuine either.
This presupposes God works to preserve his word. Given the amount of evidence of copying errors in the Bible, this seems unlikely to say the least.
http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/5system_moses/dh13_copyistError.aspx
Supposing without proof that Sts Paul and Peter had very diverse theologies.
I thought this was well-established. Acts describes the arguing between Paul and the Christians in Jerusalem. Here are some web pages by, I think, Christians, acknowledging those differences.
http://doctrine.org/jesus-vs-paul/
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/9.25.html
http://www.voiceofjesus.org/paulvsjesus.html

Now, I am assuming Peter followed Jesus theology here, rather than Paul's, but given Peter was with Jesus for three years, this seems a valid assumption.
A letter of exhortation is not a personal narrative.
A valid point... but it hardly proves that Peter was the author.
St Peter can have had ample opportunity to explain the Gospel in terms of his personal memories and corroborated by Gospels like Matthew and Luke - Mark being their conflation, under his dictation - to the adressees on another occasion.
I stand with modern scholarship on this, and belief Mark was the original, and Matthew and Luke are derived from it.
But the reason why he can't have been in such a position is, if he had been, the guys who got this letter from an unknown person would hardly have taken him for Peter the Apostle, just because he said so.
So how do you think these guys did check the authorship? Letters were frequency written by scribes and carried by couriers. If the courier said the letter came from Peter, exactly how would that be confirmed?
The idea of someone succeeding to forge a writing by an apostle and get it accepted by the Church, well, why don't you try to forge an order by President Obama (who is still such) or by subsequent President Trump, just to know how easy it is to do so?
And yet modern scholarship seems reasonably sure the Pastoral epistles atre example of just that!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

This is something I wrote two years ago when challenged to a debate by a guy styling himself "War_Eagle" on CARM. He then failed to show up, pretending he never knew about, claiming to have put me on ignore after issuing the challenge. How very brave of him!

To their credit, CARM were then willing to move the thread to the atheism section, where others could respond. However, they do keep that hidden to casual visitors, so you would eed to get an account to see it.
http://forums.carm.org/vb5/forum/secular/general-secular-and-apologetic-topics/atheism-agnosticism-sec-humanism/28051-biblical-slavery

Slavery in the Ancient world

Slavery was institutional in the ancient world. In many cultures, such as ancient Rome, a slave might have a pretty good life, but many slaves, even in the same culture, were treated badly.

For example in Egypt:

http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/slavery.htm
The least fortunate captives were sent to work as slaves in the dreadful gold and copper mines of Nubia and Sinai, where, according to the Greeks, water was rationed and men died in great numbers from exhaustion and dehydration in the desert heat. On the other hand not all the prisoners were enslaved: some were absorbed into the army, where Sherden for instance constituted a large part of the bodyguard of Ramses II.
And of course Roman:

http://www.trevorbloom.com/2010/12/what-was-it-like-to-be-a-slave-in-ancient-rome/
Slaves had no legal status; they were property, ‘tools with the power of speech’. A master’s power over a slave was absolute. Life as a slave depended on the type of work the slave did and whether they lived in the city or the country. Life as a gladiator or in the mines was especially hard and dangerous.
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/slaveryrome.htm
Most had been captured during the various wars that Rome engaged in. The enemies of Rome were well aware that if captured, their inevitable destination was the slave-market. Many chose suicide as an escape.
http://www.the-romans.co.uk/slavery.htm
Nor does it seem that the treatment of the slaves who worked the vast farmlands of Italy was very much harsher than or different from that meted out to African slaves on the American and West Indian plantations in the eighteenth century

Slavery in the New Testament

The problem with the NT is more of omission. While it fails to say slavery is right, it also fails to say slavery is wrong, even when the opportunity is there. If a book regarded as a moral guide discusses slavery and fails to make it clear that slavery is wrong, then it fails as a moral guide.
Ephesians 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.
Here we see Paul telling slaves to be good, but he fails to tell slave owners that they should free all their slaves, that slavery is morally wrong.
1 Timothy 6:1-2 Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.
Here is clear acknowledgement that Christians were keeping slaves at that time. And what is missing is any verse telling Christians that doing so is wrong. Not even a verse saying Christians should treat their slaves well!
Luke 12:47-48 The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. "But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given."
This is an allegory, so not great evidence, but does suggest Jesus accepted the brutal treatment of slaves as part of life.

Slavery in the Old Testament

The OT has two large sections dealing with how to handle slaves, Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25, but it rears its ugly head as early as Genesis:
Genesis 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
"Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers."

26 He also said,
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth."
Right from the first book of the Bible, we have verses saying that one people are entitled to enslave another.

Instructions for Slave Owners in Exodus

Exodus 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

5 "But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges.[a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 "If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

12 "Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

15 "Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.

16 "Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

17 "Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

18 "If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 "Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

22 "If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

26 "An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
One of the first things to note is the different rules for different types of slaves. A male Hebrew slave was to be freed after six years - but not so female slaves or gentiles.

The issue of female Hebrews slaves is complicated, and it gives the impression that daughters were sold to be a wife. Is this moral? The implication is that the girl would then be obliged to have sex against her will, i.e., rape. It also suggests women are to be considered little more than property. On the other hand, it does ensure a future for the girl in which she is provided for.

Verse 16 is about taking free people and enslaving them, and is a clear prohibition. But read it in context of the whole chapter, and it is clear that owning and trading slaves is fine. What this law does is to protect free people from becoming slaves. The last thing the slaver owners wanted was to become slaves themselves, so naturally they made that illegal.

Indeed, verse 20 makes it clear that brutal treatment of a slave is acceptable; as long as the slave survives the beating, the law has not been broken. Verse 26 goes on to say that also the slave must not lose an eye or a tooth. All very noble.

Instructions for Slave Owners in Leviticus

Leviticus 25:39 "‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

44 "‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

47 "‘If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, 48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. 50 They and their buyer are to count the time from the year they sold themselves up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for their release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired worker for that number of years. 51 If many years remain, they must pay for their redemption a larger share of the price paid for them. 52 If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they are to compute that and pay for their redemption accordingly. 53 They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly.

54 "‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
These instructions also make a clear distinction between Hebrew slaves and gentile slaves. Hebrew slaves appear to be comparable to indentured servants, working off a debt for a limited time. Most of the text is about these Hebrew slaves, but with regards to the gentile slaves, we see in verses 44 and 45 that the Bible permits the buying of slaves, that those slaves become the property of your children when you die and they are slaves for life.

Does The Bible Stand Against Slavery?

There are verses that are quoted as being evidence that the Bible does not condone slavery. I shall take a look at some of them.
Exodus 2:23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
I have seen this verse quoted as though it shows the Bible is anti-slavery. Sorry, I do not get it. God allowed the Hebrews to become slaves in the first place. Here we see God finally remembering his promise. He does not say slavery is wrong, he merely decides it is now wrong for his chosen people to be slaves.

When God has freed his people, they settle down and then in a later chapter, God is giving instructions for how the Hebrews should keep others as slaves. There is no suggest God has a moral problem with slavery at all. Only that he has a problem with his chosen people as slaves.

This is like saying the enslavement of blacks in the US was fine because there were laws protecting the white man!
Exodus 21:16 "Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
This verse is about protecting free men from getting enslaved. Just four verses later, the Bible is saying that it is fine to beat a slave as long as you do not beat him to death, so to claim that verse 16 is a law against slavery is untenable. The same sentiment appears in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy:7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

Exodus 21:26 "An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
This is about as good as it gets, with regards to gentile slaves. If they lose a tooth or an eye, they are to be set free. think about what it is not saying. If you whip your slave, then that is fine, as long as he does not lose a tooth or an eye. The implication here is that brutal treatment is perfectly acceptable, but there are limits.
Exodus 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
Hebrew slaves seem to have been more like indentured servants. just like the slavery in the US, this was based on racism. You treat slaves of your own race well, the rest can be treated as harshly as you like..
Leviticus 25:10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.
This would seem to be about Hebrew slaves too, as it is talking directly to Hebrews ("you") returning to their clans. Verse 46 in the same chapter makes it clear that gentile slaves were slaves for life ("You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life").
Deuteronomy 23:15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.
This is to be applauded. But what it fails to say is that slavery is wrong.

The Epistle of Paul to Philemon

The shortest of Paul's letters appears to be Paul asking Philemon to free his slave, Onesimus. However, this interpretation has been challenged. It hinges on verses 15 to 16:
15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
Allen Dwight Callahan pointed out that this could easily mean they are estranged brothers, and hence brothers in the flesh, as well as the Lord, and now Paul is trying to reconcile them. More here:
https://timgombis.com/2013/07/18/philemon-onesimus-the-consensus/

Let us assume, however, that this is not the case. What we see here is Paul asking a Christian slave-owner to release one slave. What we do not see here is Paul saying slavery is wrong, that Christians should not own slaves, that Philemon should free all his slaves.

There is no condemnation of slavery here, or indeed anywhere in the Bible.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Were The Petrine Epistles Authored By Peter?

Traditionally, Peter was thought to be martyred in AD 64 or 65 by crucifixion, and there seems to be some evidence to support this, include a letter by Clement of Rome written later in the first century, and no reason to suppose otherwise. Much of the argument for Petrine authorship revolves around the dating of the letters. A date later than AD 65 clearly indicates a letter was not authored by Peter.

The issue of motive is an interesting one. Why would an anonymous author want to pass of his letter as that of Peter? The most likely answer is that the author was a sincere Christian, who felt his letter was important, and perhaps was what Peter would have said, and gave it Peter's name to lend it authority within the church.

It is worth noting that we do have a Gospel of Peter, which, like the letters, explicitly claims to be the work of the apostle. Christianity nevertheless rejects the Gospel of Peter, so the church itself acknowledges that some texts that claim Petrine authorship were not actually written by the apostle.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Peter

Similarly, the Apocalypse of Peter is no longer considered canon, although it originally was, despite claiming Petrine authorship.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalypse_of_Peter

1 Peter

There are various reasons for supposing Peter was not the author of 1 Peter. To start with, the theology is Paul's not Peter's.

Secondly, there is no mention of Jesus on a personal level. It does, however, mention the "sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" in a general way (see also 1 Peter 2:21-24 in particular). It reads as someone who knows Jesus suffered, and is aware of the theology, but not as someone who was there at the time. Even 1 Peter 5:1 ("a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed"), where the author claims to be a witness, there is nothing personal; there is no sense of the author drawing on his own experience.

The style of writing and the philosophy exposed is considered by many to be too advanced for a Galilean fisherman. I will acknowledge he could have used a secretary, and his philosophy could have developed over decades in the church. More significant is that he uses the Septuagint as a source for Old Testament quotes, which certainly is bizarre for a Hebrew-speaking Jew.

In 1 Peter 5:1, the author refers to himself as an elder, a position that appeared later in the church, further indicating a later authorship.

In 1 Peter 1:1 the author mentions "the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia," Various sources on the internet (eg here indicate that this sequence of states was established by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72. I have found only limited support for that claim outside articles dating the epistle, so count it as suspect:
http://archive.org/stream/cambridgeancient015566mbp/cambridgeancient015566mbp_djvu.txt

There is no mention of Mosaic law; this was a big issue in the early church, as Acts and the Pauline letters make clear, and that suggests the letter is later, after the issue had been resolved.

The letter finishes "By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you", and some suggest this indicates Peter dictated the letter to Silvanus, which accounts for the good Greek. However, the Greek indicates that Silvanus was the courier, not the scribe.

2 Peter

While scholarship is divided for 1 Peter; for 2 Peter the situation is quite different!

Very, very few people today would argue for Petrine authorship of this book. The Word Biblical Commentary, which is a conservative commentary series, argues against Petrine authorship. Of all of the books of the Bible, this is the one that is most difficult to defend in regard to authorship.
https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/general-epistles-2-peter-authorship/new-testament-acts-revelation/robert-stein

From an article arguing for Petrine authorship:
J. N. D. Kelly in his commentary on 2 Peter confesses that “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.”1 Indeed, from the very start this epistle has had a difficult journey. It was received into the New Testament canon with hesitation, considered second-class Scripture by Luther, reluctantly accepted by Calvin, rejected by Erasmus, and now is repudiated as pseudonymous by modern scholarship.
http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/2peter_kruger.pdf

This is not just a modern view. Here is Origen:
Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of Hades shall not prevail, has left one acknowledged epistle, and, it may be, a second also; for it is doubted.
Why so much doubt? for one thing, 2 Peter 3:15-16 refer to Paul's letters as scripture; the early church would not have regarded them as such, indicating this was written relatively late.

There is some evidence 2 Peter is based on Jude, again giving a later date. This article makes the case that they are similar because both were authored by Jude (so in 2 Peter 3:1, this is the second letter after Jude, not 1 Peter):
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/who-wrote-2-peter

Differences in style and vocabulary indicate 1 Peter and 2 Peter have difference authors.

While 2 Peter was eventually accepted as canon, it was considered "antilegomena" by the early church, i.e., there was much debate as to its status even then.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Justifying Genocide

I came across a series of blog posts by a guy called Clay Jones (D.Min. Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University according to his blog) that attempt to justify the destruction of the Canaanite people. It is illustrative of the lengths Christians will go to to rationalise Biblical atrocities.

An issue from the start is how far we trust the Biblical text. The Bible authors clearly had an agenda here; they were themselves trying to justify their conquest of the Canaanite lands. What they were doing was typical of the time; tribes fought each other, and the winner got the land while the losers got slaughtered. Later the Jews were on the receiving end (and it is notable that the Babylonians were considerably more moral by not doing that to the Jews).

Let us suppose, however, that the Biblical account is accurate, since we are supposing God exists here.

God Ordered the Canaanite Destruction Because of Their Sins

http://www.clayjones.net/2015/03/canaanite-punishment/

The first post says it was not genocide because it was capital punishment:
First, the Lord clearly explains that He ordered the Canaanite destruction because of their sinfulness.
Who said they were sinful? God. What is a sin? Disobedience to God. So what this means is that God ordered the genocide because God said that the Canaaites were disobedient to God.

If Hitler justified killing the Jews using that logic, would we give him a pass? Hitler ordered the genocide because Hitler said the Jews were disobedient to Hitler. Does that wash? Not in my book.

Here is a great quote from the first article:
Israel was a theocracy and in Leviticus 20 the Lord is unambiguous that the above sins were death penalty offenses. (To be clear: I do not think that that any of these sins—except for murdering children—should be capitally punished today.)

So the author freely admits that most of the things the Canaanites were supposedly guilty of should not lead to their death in an article where he is trying to justify their death as punishment for those things.

Here is another damning quote:
The third reason it wasn’t genocide but capital punishment is that God didn’t order the Canaanites’ destruction until their society had become completely depraved.
Why did God not step in earlier to stop the supposed sin? What possible motive could he have for allowing it to get into this state - unless he was planning from the start to wipe them out?

Were There Any Innocent Canaanites?

http://www.clayjones.net/2015/03/innocent-canaanites/

In the second post, the author claims it was right to kill everyone, because they were all guilty. Or to be exact, he claims:
The answer to that is simple: there weren’t any innocent adult Canaanites!
Adult Canaanites. Interesting choice of words.

What of the children? Remember, this is a guy who thinks of all the crimes the Canaanites were accused of, in his opinion only killing children deserves the death sentence.

And yet, when he considers God's slaughter of the Canaanites, he convenient forgets the children! Well, in fairness, he says he will come on to that.

Why Kill the Canaanites’ Animals?

http://www.clayjones.net/2015/03/kill-the-canaanites-animals/
The Canaanites Had Sex with Animals
...
The Sexualized Animal Must Also Die
So there you go. The Canaanites had sex with animals, therefore it was only right to kill all the animals. I guess that fits with the Biblical idea that a rapist has to marry his victim.


Presumably this guy thinks children who have been preyed on by paedophiles should be executed? Of course not! That is different, so he will apply a whole different rationalisation in that case. Remember, these guys are not trying to be consistent; there is no hope of that!

Wait, all the animals? Did the Canaanites have sex with every animal they owned? Really?

The article mentions a female gorilla that apparently tried to regularly initiate sex with men, and uses this to rationalise killing all the dogs, all the goats, all the horses and all the mules.

The argument is that all the Canaanite goats, having suffered bestiality so much at the Canaanite hands, will thereafter being constantly trying to have sex with men. Are all these animals sufficiently alike? If a female gorilla behaves like that, can we assume female goats will too? That really is quite a stretch.

Talk about clutching at straws...

The Horror of Canaanite Children’s “Family” Life

http://www.clayjones.net/2015/04/canaanite-children/

The horror the author dwells on is child sacrifice. Does the killing of children justify killing the Canaanite children? Of course not. And the author admits this:
But, as I said, this doesn’t answer why the Lord would command that these children, who themselves were victims of a depraved Canaanite culture, should be killed or how that could be fair. 
No it does not.

Why Couldn’t Israel Adopt Canaanite Children?

http://www.clayjones.net/2015/05/why-couldnt-israel-adopt-canaanite-children/

The author points out that the Israelite soldiers had three choices, kill the children, leave them to starve or adopt them (clearly God cannot look after them because... er... oh right, he does not exist). But, as he goes on to say, adoption was not an option because "it would corrupt Israelite society". He quotes the Bible:
Deuteronomy 20:16-18: In the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction…. as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.
You see, if an Israelite soldier had adopted a five year old Canaanite girl, she would corrupt him. Clearly this five year old would be a big risk to an all-powerful God, her influence would be greater. Better just to kill her on the spot.

As he says:
There is no logical basis to argue that the children would not have grown up to encourage the Israelites to commit Canaanite sin. If the Lord says, every Canaanite must die to keep Israel from indulging in their sins, then we have no reason to think it would be otherwise.
Turns out that God knew that these children would turn his chosen people away from him, and the only way an all-power God had to avoid that was to kill the lot of them. I guess the end justifies the means when you are God.

So really killing children is perfectly moral if you know they will be sinful in the future. Bear that in mind the next time a Christian trots out the free will argument. God is perfectly happy to curtail your free will when it suits him. Not so much when it is the free will of a rapist about to murder his victim.

Christians often like to trot out abortion when discussing dubious morality of the Bible, and this guy is no different.
Many skeptics will howl over this but it’s important to note that many of the atheists and other skeptics who complain bitterly about the Lord’s ordering the taking of the Canaanite children’s lives are hypocritical when they support abortion for any reason. This stance since 1973 has resulted in the United States suctioning, scraping, or scalding to death over fifty-five million babies!
See? Nothing wrong with the Christian God killing children if abortion is okay. Because a foetus is just the same as a child - well, if you re-label it as a baby. Except that this guy is clearly [i]against[/i] abortion; in his view abortion is morally wrong. So how can abortion make killing children morally right?

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Bashing Babies on Rocks


Understanding Psalm 137


Psalm 137: 9 How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.

For reference, the Hebrew can be found here:
http://biblehub.com/text/psalms/137-9.htm

Why was it written?

Perhaps a bit of historical context is in order. When the Psalm was written, the Jews were in exile in Babylon. Clearly they were not happy about it, and what we read in Psalm 137 is the glee one of the captives feels at the thought of the Babylonian children getting bashed against rocks.

However, as this page makes clear, a lot of good actually came of the exile. The Jewish people developed a strong independence that it is still apparent today, and allowed them to survive the best part of two millennia without a homeland. Furthermore, the Jewish faith was re-made at this time, explain why this tragedy had befallen the people, and to some degree borrowing concepts from the Babylonians (and consequently the Christian faith would be quite different without the Babylonian captivity).

An eye for an eye

One explanation is that the Psalmist was just wanting for the Babylonians what they had suffered. This would fit with the eye-for-an-eye motif of the OT, but the problem is that there is no evidence the Babylonians actually did this.

Just how bad was the captivity?

Probably not that bad, as these pages make clear:

http://www.bible-history.com/map_babylonian_captivity/map_of_the_deportation_of_judah_treatment_of_the_jews_in_babylon.html
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4012-captivity

That is not to say the Israelites would have been happy about it, I am sure they were not, but things could have been much worse. They could have been treated in the manner they had themselves treated conquered nations.

Joshua 6:20-21
Deuteronomy 2:32-35
Deuteronomy 3:3-7
Numbers 31:7-18
1 Samuel 15:1-9

It was not God's word

Of course, someone might argument that the Psalm is just some guy's opinion; it does not reflect what God wants or thinks at all. Well, yes, I agree. That is exactly what I believe. As far as I am concerned the whole Bible is just people's opinions. It in no way reflects God's word, because there is no God. From an atheist perspective, this makes perfect sense.

However this is a big problem for anyone claiming the Bible is sacred, or is God's word. As soon as you say this verse is not really God's word, you loose all authority in the Bible. How many of the other 31,101 verses are you going to decide are inconvenient, and not really God's word? Why not all 31,102 all of them?

Here is an example:
Nowhere does it say that God approves of the Psalmist’s request or that he fulfilled it.  Just because it is recorded that the Psalmist wrote the imprecation, doesn’t mean it was approved by God.
So what parts of the Bible are approved by God? How do we know? And why did God, supposedly all-powerful and all-knowing, allow verses he does not approve to get incorporated?

Maybe bashing kids against rocks is okay!

Or so some Christian apologists would have us think.
Also, the critics need to provide an acceptable, objective moral standard by which they can criticize biblical morality.  It is one thing to complain.  It is another to offer a justification for the validity of the complaint.  By what right and by what objective ethical standard do the critics offer moral condemnation against Biblical morals?
It is an interesting strategy. You cannot objectively show bashing kids against rocks is morally wrong, therefore you cannot show the Bible is immoral. However it is rather throwing the baby out with the bathwater (on to rocks, I guess). Does anyone actually believe bashing kids on rocks is ever morally acceptable?

What we can do is consider it against Christian morality. If bashing children against rocks is immoral in the Christian morality, then the Bible is show to be inconsistent with Christian morality.

Yeah, but atheists support abortion

Yes, many atheist do support abortion, as do many Christians. However, if anyone want to argue that abortion is wrong, but dashing children on rocks is morally right, I look forward to seeing that argument.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

How Fast Do Myths Appear?


In Who was Jesus? A Christian Perspective, William Lane Craig makes this claim:

For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical. This factor is typically neglected in New Testament scholarship, as A. N. Sherwin-White points out in Roman Law and Roman Society tn the New Testament. Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is an eminent historian of Roman and Greek times, roughly contemporaneous with the NT. According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be 'unbelievable'; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.


Is this a reasonable claim? I thought I would look at three modern myths, and see how rapidly they appeared. I do appreciate that this is not an exact comparison. Life today is obviously different to life back then. However, we need to think carefully about whether those differences would allow myths to form slower or faster. I would suggest that myths would have a harder time getting established in a world with better communication.

Eating carrots improves eyesight

This is a myth that was started deliberately by the British during the war to obscure the fact that RAF pilots could find German planes at night using Radar. It is a myth that got established within the timespan of WW2, very quickly indeed, though obviously the fact that the British government was promoting it will have accelerated it considerably.

Aliens at Roswell

In contrast, this is something the US government denied. Nevertheless, since 1947 a mythology involving a crashed alien spaceship and government officials performing an alien autopsy and using alien technology has flourished. The Roswell myth became big in the eighties and nineties, with various books appearing, the first in 1980, just 33 years after the incident. A autopsy video even appeared in 1995, within 50 years.

I think what is interesting about this one is that there were people there who knew what had happened, and this myth developed anyway. People wanted there to be aliens at Roswell, and so were willing to believe anything that supported that view.

Could the same be said of the early Christians? I think so. They wanted to believe Jesus was an incredible miracle-worker - God-incarnate even - and so were willing to believe pretty much anything that supported that idea.

At Roswell, the eye witnesses were constrained by secrecy agreements and the site was off-limits to the general public. At the resurrection, the eye witnesses were dead or scattered by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and the site was too far away (given transport at the time) to make a casual visit possible.

Scientology

Scientology is a religion created by Ron L Hubbard in 1952, with its own bizarre mythology (so bizarre that - before the internet - you have to be in the religion many years before you were ready to hear about it). From wiki:

Among these advanced teachings is the story of Xenu (sometimes Xemu), introduced as the tyrant ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy". According to this story, 75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. Scientologists at advanced levels place considerable emphasis on isolating body thetans and neutralizing their ill effects.

I do not have figures for scientology membership, but it was significant by the eighties, just thirty years after it began.

Angels of Mons

Early in World War 1, the British had to beat a retreat from Mons in Belgium. Some months later a short work of fiction by Arthur Machen appeared in the Evening News, a London newspaper, describing how mystical bowmen had appeared during the retreat to aid the British.

It was less than a year after that that people were claiming these ghostly bowmen were angels, and that they had actually been there!
http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwi/articles/angelofmons.aspx