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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Debunking the Bible
Posted by Jill | 6:16 AM
It's becoming clearer why the Christofascist Zombie Brigade has such an aversion to science and the development of scientific techniques. They HAVE to deny that global warming is man-made. They HAVE to try to defund embryonic stem cell research. They HAVE to ensure a generation believing that evolution and the Biblical account of creation are equally valid shots in the dark. The alternative is that people may start digging around and find things which show that the things they've taken as gospel (sorry) because they're in the Bible are just not true.

Science, however, is an equal opportunity debunker. Right on the first day of Passover comes this New York Times article in which Egypt's chief archaeologist says that the Exodus story that defines Passover just isn't true:

On the eve of Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the story of Moses leading the Israelites through this wilderness out of slavery, Egypt’s chief archaeologist took a bus full of journalists into the North Sinai to showcase his agency’s latest discovery.

It didn’t look like much — some ancient buried walls of a military fort and a few pieces of volcanic lava. The archaeologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass, often promotes mummies and tombs and pharaonic antiquities that command international attention and high ticket prices. But this bleak landscape, broken only by electric pylons, excited him because it provided physical evidence of stories told in hieroglyphics. It was proof of accounts from antiquity.

That prompted a reporter to ask about the Exodus, and if the new evidence was linked in any way to the story of Passover. The archaeological discoveries roughly coincided with the timing of the Israelites’ biblical flight from Egypt and the 40 years of wandering the desert in search of the Promised Land.

“Really, it’s a myth,” Dr. Hawass said of the story of the Exodus, as he stood at the foot of a wall built during what is called the New Kingdom.


Egypt today, visitors to Mount Sinai are sometimes shown a bush by tour guides and told it is the actual bush that burned before Moses.

But archaeologists who have worked here have never turned up evidence to support the account in the Bible, and there is only one archaeological find that even suggests the Jews were ever in Egypt. Books have been written on the topic, but the discussion has, for the most part, remained low-key as the empirically minded have tried not to incite the spiritually minded.

“Sometimes as archaeologists we have to say that never happened because there is no historical evidence,” Dr. Hawass said, as he led the journalists across a rutted field of stiff and rocky sand.

The site was a two-hour drive from Cairo, over the Mubarak Peace Bridge into the Northern Sinai area called Qantara East. For nearly 10 years, Egyptian archaeologists have scratched away at the soil here, using day laborers from nearby towns to help unearth bits of history. It is a vast expanse of nothingness, a flat desert moonscape. Two human skeletons were recently uncovered, their bones positioned besides pottery and Egyptian scarabs.


Recently, diggers found evidence of lava from a volcano in the Mediterranean Sea that erupted in 1500 B.C. and is believed to have killed 35,000 people and wiped out villages in Egypt, Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula, officials here said. The same diggers found evidence of a military fort with four rectangular towers, now considered the oldest fort on the Horus military road.

But nothing was showing up that might help prove the Old Testament story of Moses and the Israelites fleeing Egypt, or wandering in the desert. Dr. Hawass said he was not surprised, given the lack of archaeological evidence to date. But even scientists can find room to hold on to beliefs.

Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, the head of the excavation, seemed to sense that such a conclusion might disappoint some. People always have doubts until something is discovered to confirm it, he noted.

Then he offered another theory, one that he said he drew from modern Egypt.

“A pharaoh drowned and a whole army was killed,” he said recounting the portion of the story that holds that God parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape, then closed the waters on the pursuing army.

“This is a crisis for Egypt, and Egyptians do not document their crises.”

That seems to be kind of a lame way out, for a water event of that magnitude would leave some kind of historical record.

Meanwhile, this interview with Elaine Pagels in Salon about the discovery of the Judas gospels reminds us just a few days before Easter -- that strange holiday which purports to be about the resurrection which is supposed to prove Jesus' divinity, but is most commonly celebrated in the U.S. with pagan-looking rituals involving eggs and bunnies -- just how speculative and reliant on unprovable accounts the story of the resurrection is as well:

Does this Gospel of Judas reveal something new about early Christianity?

Yes, the Gospel of Judas really has been a surprise in many ways. For one thing, there's no other text that suggests that Judas Iscariot was an intimate, trusted disciple, one to whom Jesus revealed the secrets of the kingdom, and that conversely, the other disciples were misunderstanding what he meant by the gospel. So that's quite startling.

It's shocking to suggest that Judas wasn't just one of the disciples but was actually the favorite disciple of Jesus.

That's right. And also the idea that he handed over Jesus to be arrested at the orders of Jesus himself. This wasn't a betrayal at all. In fact, it was obedience to a command or request that Jesus had made.

But how do we reconcile this with all the other stories we've ever heard about Judas? He's the symbol of treachery and betrayal.

Well, he has become the symbol of treachery and betrayal. But once you start to look at the gospels one by one, you realize that followers of Jesus were trying to understand what had happened after he was arrested and killed. They knew Judas had handed him over to the people who arrested him. The earliest gospel, Mark, says Judas handed him over, but it doesn't give any motive at all. The people who wrote after Mark -- Matthew's and Luke's gospels -- apparently felt that what was wrong with the Gospel of Mark was that there was no motive. So Matthew adds a motive. Matthew says Judas went to the chief priests who were Jesus' enemies, and said, "What will you give me if I hand him over to you?" And they agree on a certain sum of money. So in Matthew's view, the motive was greed. In Luke's gospel, it's entirely different. It says the power of evil took over Judas. Satan entered into him.

I think Luke is struggling with the question, If Jesus is the son of God, how could he be taken by a mere trick, by a human being? And Luke is trying to show that all evil power was concentrated in Judas. So they are very different stories. However, other gospels, like John's, suggest that Jesus not only anticipated what was going to happen but initiated it. The Gospel of John says that he told Judas to go out and do what he had to do, which Jesus knew was to betray him. So the Gospel of Judas just takes the suggestion one step further. Jesus not only knew what was going to happen but initiated the action.

This actually seems to me to be entirely consistent with the notion of Jesus as either a real (if you believe) or self-professed (if you don't) messiah. It puts forth the notion of a man who knows he must be sacrificed and relies on his most beloved disciple to make it happen.

There's something else that's striking about the Gospel of Judas. The writer is very angry, and he's especially angry at the other disciples.

Yes, that's where we realized that it's not just a story about Jesus and the disciples. It's a story about this follower of Jesus -- the Christian who's writing this story, maybe 60 years after the death of Jesus. Even using the name of Judas is a slap in the face to the tradition. You realize that whoever wrote it was a very angry person. And we were asking, What's going on here? Why is he so angry? And we discovered that it's very dangerous to be a follower of Jesus in the generations after his death. You know, they say his disciple Peter was crucified upside down. And Paul was probably beheaded by the Romans. James was lynched by a crowd, and so were Stephen and other followers. So leaders of this movement were in great danger. And other Christians were also in danger of being arrested and killed because they followed Jesus. The question for many of them was, What do you do if you're arrested?

I have to stop again here and put these executions in a contemporary context. The other day, ShakesSis and Feministe wrote about Catholic League head Bill Donohue's latest screeching, this time about the nude Jesus sculpted of chocolate that was supposed to be exhibited at the Lab Gallery in New York. Donohue threatened the artist right on national television, on Anderson Cooper's show, thusly: "You're lucky I'm not as mean [as the Taliban], because you might lose more than your head."

So if you're a Christian, and you believe in Jesus and his disciples, and you know that they died horribly because they dared to question official doctrine, it seems highly iniconsistent, and an indicator that the spiritual descendents of these disciples have become just as corrupt as the people at the hands of whom their forebears suffered -- and isn't that kind of missing the point?

As I've written before, when you're not a believer and you beat on people who profess to be followers of Jesus and then behave in as un-Christlike a manner as is imaginable, you owe it to yourself to occasionally open yourself up to the possibility that the precepts of Christianity are true. So sometimes I think about a Great White Alpha Male in the sky who creates a mortal son to somehow absorb all the sins of man in perpetuity. I also think about some of the crap this particular Great White Alpha Male pulls in the Old Testament; things like telling Abraham to cheat on his wife to conceive a child, then stirring the family pot by allowing his aged wife to conceive, thereby setting up a sibling rivalry for the ages. Then, for good measure, he tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to prove his love for God and at the last minute says, "Kidding! Just wanted to see if you'd do it!" Then I think about what kind of a God this is and he sounds like a sociopathic patriarch of an extremely dysfunctional family; a petty, manipulative God who flies into rages for no reason and does things so monstrous that he is hardly what we would associate with the divine. He is a toxic father that only humans could create.

Pagels wonders the same thing:

This was at a time when all followers of Jesus were struggling with the question, Why did Jesus die? What does it all mean? In the New Testament, the gospels say he died as a sacrifice. Paul says Christ, our Passover lamb, was sacrificed for us. Why? Well, to save us from sin.

But this author is saying, wait a minute. If you think God wants his son to be tortured and killed before he'll forgive people their sins, what kind of God do you have in mind? Is this the God who didn't want animals to be sacrificed in the temple anymore? So this author's asking, isn't God a loving father? Isn't that what Jesus taught? Why are we saying that God requires his son to die for the sins of the world? So it's a challenge to the whole idea of atonement, and the idea that Christians -- when they worship -- eat bread and drink wine as if it were the body and blood of Christ. This person sees that whole thing as a celebration of violence.


You can see why some early Christians would have attacked this gospel. This is very threatening to other Christian accounts of why Jesus died.

It contradicts everything we know about Christianity. But there's a lot we don't know about Christianity. There are different ways of understanding the death of Jesus that have been buried and suppressed. This author suggests that God does not require sacrifice to forgive sin, and that the message of Jesus is that we come from God and we go back to God, that we all live in God. It's not about bloody sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. It suggests that Jesus' death demonstrates that, essentially and spiritually, we're not our bodies. Even when our bodies die, we go to live in God.

And that notion doesn't differ all that much from the Buddhist notion of stepping off the treadmill of reincarnation and achieving enlightenment, now, does it? The notion of returning to God and living in God sounds a lot like achieving Buddha-hood.

For me, the biggest knock against doctrinaire religions is their insistence on unquestioning adherence to a specific orthodoxy. It seems to me that the purpose of spirituality is to try to make sense of a very random universe; an attempt to take the infinite and reduce it to a size that our own little perspective can handle. If you need blind adherence to words someone else wrote, and if requiring that others adhere to the same explanations for the infinite that you do is what you need in order to validate your system's legitimacy, then I would say that you need to examine the questions in your own heart.


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