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THE NEXT DISTRACTION
Politics and Passions - Winter 1995-96

Part 30
Conflicting Beliefs and Interpretations

Durant's words about the "multitude of...conflicting theologies, each appealing to both Scriptures and reason" strongly suggest the Scriptures themselves must be subject to scrutiny.

Among those beliefs crucial to Christianity, few are of greater importance than that of the Resurrection. The apostle Paul went so far as to allege the very foundation of Christianity rests upon its occurrence. "But if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching amounts to nothing and your faith is futile...you are still in your sins. (I Corinthians 15:14,17)

Yet why should the Resurrection be of such significance? Elijah raised a child from the dead (I Kings 17:17,21-22); Samuel said to Saul, "Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up" (I Samuel 28:7,11,15); Elisha raised the dead son of a Shunamite (II Kings 4:32,34-35); a dead man being lowered into a grave revived when he touched the bones of Elisha (II Kings 13:21); Moses and Elijah revived at the time of Jesusí Transfiguration (Luke 9:28,30); Jairusí daughter rose from the dead (Matthew 9:18,23-25); the widow at Nainís son rose from the dead (Luke 7:11-15); Lazarus rose from the dead (John 11:43-44); and the saints arose at the time of Jesusí death on the cross (Matthew 27:52-53). People not only rose before Jesus, but after him as well. Peter raised Tabitha and Paul raised Eutychus.

The four canonical gospels, moreover, give us contradictory accounts of Jesusí crucifixion and resurrection:

Matthew 27:28 says they stripped him and put on a scarlet robe, while Mark 15:17 and John 19:2 say it was a purple robe. John 19:1-2,15 says the robe was put on Jesus during his trial. According to Matthew 27:26-28 and Mark 15:15-17, however, the robe was put on after Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified.

According to Matthew, Jesus was given wine mixed with gall, when they reached the site of crucifixion. Jesus refused the drink after tasting it. According to Mark, however, Jesus was offered a drink of wine flavored with myrrh, which he refused to accept. (Mark 15:23) According to Luke and the Fourth Gospel, Jesus was given only vinegar to drink. (Luke 23:36; John 19:29-30) Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24 and Luke 23:34 record Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesusí garments, while John 19:23-24 says they cast lots only for his coat.

The accounts given in Matthew and Mark place Jesusí crucifixion at the third hour. (Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:25) Luke, however, places Jesusí crucifixion just before the sixth hour (Luke 23:44), while the Fourth Gospel places the crucifixion after the sixth hour. (John 19:14-16)

Luke 23:39-40 states that only one of the two criminals being crucified alongside Jesus reviled him, while Matthew 27:44 and Mark 15:32 say they both reviled him. Matthew 27:55-56 names Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedeeís children as the women observing Jesusí crucifixion. Mark 15:40 mentions Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the less and Joses and Salome, and John 19:25 mentions Jesusí mother, his motherís sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

Lastly, the first three gospels (Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:49) all record the women observing Jesusí crucifixion from afar, whereas the Fourth Gospel places them at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25)

After the close of the Sabbath came the night and the dawning of the first day of the new week (Sunday). Matthew 28:1 says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to visit Jesusí tomb. According to Mark 16:1, it was Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, while Luke records Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women. John 20:1 says Mary Magdalene came alone. Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:2 say they visited the tomb during sunrise. Luke 24:1 mentions early dawn, while the Fourth Gospel says it was still dark (John 20:1).

Matthew 28:1-2 states that the tomb was closed upon their arrival. The other gospels, however, record the tomb as already opened. (Mark 16:3-4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1) Matthew 28:2 says the women encountered an angel at the tomb; according to Mark 16:5, it was a young man. The Gospel of Luke records two men (Luke 24:4), while the Fourth Gospel mentions two angels (John 20:11-12).

According to Matthew 28:2, these personalities were outside the tomb, but the other gospels say they were inside the tomb. (Mark 16:5; Luke 24:3--4; John 20:11-12) The Gospel of Luke says they were Standing (Luke 24:4), but the other three gospels say they were sitting. (Matthew 28:2; Mark 16:5; John 20:12) Matthew 28:9 says Mary Magdalene recognized the resurrected Jesus when he first appeared to her; John 20:14 says she did not recognize him.

According to Matthew, the women ran at once to inform the disciples. (Matthew 28:8) According to Mark, they told no one. (Mark 16:8) In the Gospel of Luke, they told everyone (Luke 24:8), while the Fourth Gospel differs completely from all the others.

In Matthew, the resurrected Jesus meets the women on their way to tell the disciples the good news. He tells them to proceed to Galilee, where the disciples meet him upon a mountain. (Matthew 28:9,16) In Mark, they presumably remained in Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Luke, the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until "clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)

In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, "I am going to ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." He meets with his disciples in Jerusalem, tells them to "receive the Holy Spirit," and empowers them to forgive sins. (John 20:17, 21-23) Jesus later appears before other disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, calling them back to spiritual life. (John 21) According to Luke 24:50, the resurrected Jesus ascended to heaven at Bethany. Mark, however, places the assumption in a room, presumably in Jerusalem.

In his monumental work, The Story of Christian Origins, Dr. Martin A. Larson writes, "The Assumption itself is dismissed with half a dozen words. Such cursory treatment and fantastic contradictions prove that the whole story was a garbled invention."

The only threads of consistency running through all four canonical gospels are Jesusí own words foretelling his death and resurrection, and the empty tomb where his body was lain to rest.

"...and going inside they did not find the body of the Lord JesusÖThen they recalled his sayings and, returning from the tomb, they told everything... they and the rest of the women told these things to the apostles.

"But these reports seemed nonsense to them; they did not believe the women. Peter got up, though, and ran to the tomb and, stooping down, saw the linen clothes lying by themselves; then he went away wondering what had happened."

---Luke 24:3, 8-12

There are several verses in the New Testament stating that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesusí birth and that Joseph did not have contact with her until afterwards. (Matthew 1:18,20,24-25; Luke 1:34 35). However, other verses say Jesus was Josephís son. (Matthew 13:55; Luke 2:27,33,41,43, 3:23, 4:22; John 1.45, 6:42) Even Mary said Joseph was Jesusí father (Luke 2:48).

Itís difficult to imagine Paul, who emphasized the miracle of Jesusí resurrection ignoring an equally miraculous birth. Paul makes no mention of a divine conception and birth, but does say Jesus had a natural birth according to the flesh (Romans 1:3, 9:5).

According to the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38, Jesus was a descendant of David through his father, Joseph. This was required of one claiming messiahship. (Jeremiah 23:5; II Samuel 7:12-13; Psalms 89:3-4, 132:11) But Joseph couldnít be the father of Jesus and Jesus couldnít be of Davidís seed (Acts 13:22-23; II Timothy 2:8; Revelations 22:16) "according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3, 9:5) if he was miraculously conceived and born of a virgin.

The genealogies are themselves contradictory. According to Matthew 1:16, Joseph was the son of Jacob. According to Luke 3:23, Joseph was the son of Heli. There are 28 generations between David and Jesus in Matthewís gospel, but 42 generations in Luke.

According to Matthew, Joseph was a permanent resident of Bethlehem, and Jesus was born and remained in a house there, where the wise men came to see him. According to Luke, Joseph was a resident of Nazareth (a city which did not exist during Jesusí lifetime). In response to a decree by Augustus that "all the world should be taxed"-- a decree unknown in Roman history -- Joseph went to Bethlehem to register. Jesus was born in a stable, where shepherds came to pay him homage.

Matthew further states that Jesus was born before the death of Herod, which occurred in 4 B.C. Luke contradicts him by stating he was born during the registration under Cyrenius in 7 A.D. Moreover, the gospels depict both John the Baptist and Jesus as contemporaries of Herod during their adult lives.

Matthew 2:14-15 says Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to escape Herodís persecution. Upon Herodís death, Joseph returned to the Galilean region, settling in Nazareth, so that an Old Testament prophecy which no one can find (Matthew 2:23) might be fulfilled.

According to the 2nd chapter of Luke, Joseph and Mary had no knowledge of the destiny of Jesus. When the shepherds tell them of their vision, "they wondered...But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:18-19) Similarly, when Simeon calls Jesus "a light for revelation to the gentiles and a glory to Your people, Israel," Jesusí mother and father "were wondering about the things spoken..." (Luke 2:32-33)

And at the age of 12, when Jesus is admonished for causing his parents worry, he responds, "Did you not know that I ought to be in my Fatherís house?" His parents donít understand, but "his mother treasured all these matters in her heart." (Luke 2:49,51)

Had Mary truly received angelic tidings and a miraculous conception, as described in the 1st chapter of Luke, neither she nor Joseph would have had cause to wonder.

If Joseph was the natural father of Jesus, then Jesus was born illegitimately, as a bastard. Joseph and Mary were engaged, but not married. (Luke 2:5) From the apocryphal Acts of Pilate 2:4-5 we learn that in early Christianity, the theological debate was not whether Jesus was fathered by Joseph or the Holy Spirit, but whether he was born in wedlock or of fornication.

However, even if Joseph were Jesusí natural father, and Jesus were of the seed of David, he still would have had no claim to the throne of David. According to Jeremiah 22:28-30, there could be no king in Israel who was a descendant of King Jeconiah. Matthew 1:12 states that Joseph was from the line of Jeconiah. If Jesus had been fathered by Joseph, he could not inherit the throne of David.

Matthew 1:22-23 attempts to show Jesusí miraculous conception and birth as the fulfillment of prophecy given in Isaiah 7:14: "...Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Translators continue to debate the use of the word "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14, which came from the Hebrew word "almah."

Hebraic scholars say "almah" means a "young woman" and not a virgin. As proof of this, they cite Genesis 24:43 and Exodus 2:8, where "almah" refers to a young woman, not a virgin. The Hebrew word for "virgin" is "besulah," especially in classical biblical usage. A completely different word.

Moreover, the prophecy given in Isaiah 7:14 has nothing to do with Jesus. It is directed at King Ahaz, and speaks of the birth of King Hezekiah, rather than the Messiah. Isaiah 8:4 says when the child is yet an infant, the riches of Damascus and Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria. These events actually happened in 742 and 721 B.C. The child was to be called Immanuel, and Jesus is never referred to as "Immanuel" throughout the New Testament. On the other hand, the gospels specifically state he would be called "Jesus." (Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:31)

Jesus has been called the "Son of God." God adopted Israel as His son; Israel is called the son of God in the Bible. (Exodus 4:22-23, Hosea 11:1) With the establishment of monarchy, the king was also identified as a son of God. His coronation was the occasion on which he became the adopted son of God. (Psalm 2:7, II Samuel 7:14)

In the Book of Job (1:6, 2:1, 38:7), the angels are called sons of God. In the Epistle to the Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, God proclaims, "Thou art My beloved son, this day I have begotten thee." Hebrews 2:10-13, John 1:12 and Romans 8:16-19 all describe God bringing many sons to glory.

These texts were all written with the understanding that each of us is a child of God. The doctrine of Jesus having any actual literal sonship to God, that there can actually be two Gods -- a Father God and a Son God, and these two are simultaneously one yet different

-- violates the fundamental Jewish concept of God's unity and universality. In the Jewish (and later Islamic) tradition, God is a solitary and omnipresent Being who has no equal.

Because God has no equal, the Jewish (and later Islamic) tradition simultaneously rejects religious devotion to other human beings, such as redemption through the acceptance of a savior or even the veneration of saints and spiritual teachers, because they consider it blasphemous to worship anyone other than God.

Because God is perfect and complete, the forms and attributes of this phenomenal world must exist within the body of God. In a departure from platonic idealism which dictates that the forms of this world are but a fleeting and temporal reflection of a higher reality, Judaic (and later Islamic) monotheism depicts God as a solitary and omnipresent Being who has no equal.

According to Jewish (and later Islamic) tradition since the time of Maimonides (1135-1204), God is immeasurable, inconceivable, and therefore completely incorporeal. Consequently, He cannot be confined to representation and worship in the form of physical images (such as statues or pictures) which are limited. The doctrine of the divine incarnation of God in human form is thus foreign to Judaism (and Islam)

''God appears, and God is light
To those poor souls that dwell in night
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in light of day"

---William Blake

The doctrine of a virgin birth -- God mating with a human woman to produce a god-child -- is also foreign to Judaism (and Islam). These beliefs were widespread, however, in the pagan world in which Christianity developed.

The epic Hindu poem Mahabharata describes the gods mating with earthly women and producing noble and heroic children. Bacchus, the son of Jupiter in Greek mythology, was begotten by intercourse with Semele. Having been torn in pieces and having died, Bacchus rose again, and ascended to heaven. Aesculapius was a healer and the raiser of the dead. Perseus was born of a virgin.

In Persia, both Zoroaster and his mother Dukdaub were said to have been born supernaturally, and the three expected Messiahs of Zoroastrianism were expected to come into the world through virgin births. Plato was the reputed son of Apollo, the sun god. The gospel tales of Jesus bear a strange resemblance to those of Dionysus, Hercules, Theseus, and countless other pagan demigods.

Miraculous births themselves are not alien to Judaism or Christianity. Adam was never born to begin with; he came into the world as a full-grown adult. (Genesis 1:27) Isaac was born to an aged woman, Sarah, who no longer menstruated. (Genesis 18:10-11) Samuel was born to a woman, Hannah, whose womb had been closed by the Lord.

(I Samuel 1:5, 2:21). John the Baptist was born of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was barren, at a time when Elizabeth could no longer bear children. (Luke 1:5-17) The virgin birth of Jesus, however, creates numerous theological and scriptural difficulties.

According to the Bible, hares chew the cud. (Leviticus 11:6). A hare does not divide the hoof. (Deuteronomy 14:7) Camels donít divide the hoof. (Leviticus 11:4). The bat is a bird. (Leviticus 11:13,19; Deuteronomy 14:11,18) Some fowls are four-footed. (Leviticus 11:20-21) Some four-legged animals fly. (Leviticus 11:21) Some creeping insects have four legs. (Leviticus 11:22-23)

The earth rests on pillars. (I Samuel 2:8) The earth wonít be moved. (I Chronicles 16:30) The earth has ends or edges. (Job 37:3) The earth has four corners. (Isaiah 11:12; Revelations 7:1)

I Chronicles 3:19-20 says there were five children of Zerubabbel, but lists seven males and one female. Joshua 19:2-6 describes 13 cities of an inheritance, but lists 14 cities. Joshua 15:21-32 says 29 cities belonged to the tribe of the people of Judah in the extreme south, toward the boundary of Edom, yet lists 36 cities.

I Chronicles 3:22 says there were six sons of Shemaiah, but lists only five. I Chronicles 25:3 makes the same mistake in listing the six sons of Jeduthun. Joshua 15:33-36 speaks of 14 cities in the lowland, yet lists 15.

Ezra 2:64 says 42,360 returned from the Captivity. The number of people in each tribe that returned from the captivity, however, are listed from Ezra 2:3 to Ezra 2:60. They add up to 29,818. Nehemiah 7:66 also says "the whole congregation together was 42,360." Yet the figures listed between Nehemiah 7:8 and Nehemiah 7:62 add up to 31,089. Ezra 1:9-11 mentions 5,400 vessels of gold and silver, yet the figures given add up to 2,499. Numbers 3:17,22,27-28,33-34 list the numbers of Levites, and they add up to 22,300. Numbers 3:39, however, says there were 22,000 Levites.

I Kings 7:23 describes a molten sea ten cubits in diameter and 30 cubits in circumference--a physical impossibility, given that pi is 3.14159. II Chronicles 21:20 says Jehoram began to reign at age 32, and reigned for eight years before dying at age 40. According to II Chronicles 22:1-2, his youngest son, Ahaziah, was then made king, and was 42 when he began his reign. The son was two years older than the father!

I Kings 16:23 says Omri began his reign in the 31st year of Asaís rule, and that he reigned for twelve years. I Kings 16:28-29 however, says Omri died and his son began to reign in the 38th year of Asaís rule. This would mean Omri reigned for only seven years.

I Chronicles 22:14 describes Davidís expenditures for the house of the Lord as 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000 talents of silver. This is the equivalent of $3 billion in gold and $2 billion in silver. Are we to believe David had more bullion than was held by the Roman empire at the height of its power? The Romans received $22.5 million from their Asiatic provinces. I Kings 10:14 describes Solomon receiving 666 talents in gold per year. This is the equivalent of $20 million--close to what Rome took in.

In Ezra 1:2, Cyrus, the king of Persia, says God has given him all the kingdoms of the world. Cyrus never ruled over the entire world, or even what was then the known world. II Chronicles 13:17 records 500,000 Israelites slain. Is this figure accurate? This is ten times greater than the number of American casualties in Vietnam.

I Kings 6:1 says there were 480 years between the time the Israelites left Egypt and the fourth year of Solomonís reign. Yet the Bible also states, "...He gave unto them judges about the space of 450 years until Samuel the prophet." If judges ruled in Israel for 450 of the 480 years between the Exodus and Solomonís reign, then Saul and David could only have ruled for a total of 30 years. Yet II Samuel 5:4 records David reigning for 40 years.

Exodus 23:19 says, "The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God." Yet God had no house before the construction of the temple in 1004 BC--some 447 years after Moses. When David proposed building a house for God, He forbade it and said He had never lived in a house since they left Egypt. "Whereas I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle." (II Samuel 7:6)

Numbers 14:33 says, "Your children shall wander in the wilderness for 40 years." If "wander" means "lost", how could they be lost for 40 years in an area only 400 miles wide in its widest part? II Chronicles 13:3 describes a conflict between Abijah and Jeroboam. The conflict took place in Palestine, a nation about one-fourth the size of New York. Yet 1.2 million soldiers were put to battle. This suggests a population of 10 to 12 million, which is absurd. At best, Palestine would have supported 2 million.

Exodus 1:15-16 describes the king of Egypt commanding Shiphrah and Puah to kill all Hebrew male children. Shiphrah and Puah are identified as Hebrew midwives.

Would the pharaoh have entrusted these midwives with an order to kill their fellow Hebrews, especially if the safety of his kingdom depended upon the order being carried out? The names Shiphrah and Puah are Egyptian. The Jewish historian Josephus says they were Egyptian. (Antiquities B2, Ch. 9:2)

Genesis 11:26 says Terah was 70 years old when Abram was born. Genesis 12:4 says Abram left Haran at age 75 after his father Terah died. (See also Acts 7:4) This means Terah lived to be 145. Yet Genesis 11:32 says Terah lived to be 205 and died in Haran.

Genesis 11:1-9 says the earth was of one language and one speech, and God confounded mankind at the Tower of Babel by dividing them into many languages. Yet Genesis 10:5 says, "By these were the isles of the gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue." Genesis 10:20 and 10:31 also say "after their tongues." How could different languages be created at the Tower of Babel when Genesis 10 shows they already existed?

Genesis 5:32 says Noah was 500 years old when he begat Shem. Genesis 7:6 says Noah was 600 years old at the time of the Flood. This means Shem was 100 years old at the time of the Flood. Yet Genesis 11:10 says Shem was 100 years old, and not 102, when he begat Arphaxad, 2 years after the Flood.

II Chronicles 21:12 describes Jehoram receiving a letter from Elijah the prophet. Yet II Kings 2:11 says Elijah went to heaven, while II Kings 8:16 says it was not until the 5th year of Joram that Jehoram began to reign. How could Elijah send Jehoram a letter when Elijah went to heaven before Jehoram appeared?

Exodus 12:40 says the sojourning of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt lasted for 430 years. Paul, however, in Galatians 3:16-17 says, "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspringÖThis is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward (after the promise) does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God."

If Paul's words are true, then Abraham got the Covenant at the same time the Israelites entered Egypt. This is impossible. Some try to solve this problem by quoting the Septuaqint, which says, "...they sojourned in Canaan and in Egypt 430 years." If this account is to be believed, it would require 430 years from the time Abraham entered Canaan until the Exodus from Egypt.

Abram was 75 when he left Haran. (Genesis 12:4) Abram was 99 when the Lord appeared to him and God said Isaac would be born the following year. (Genesis 17:1,21) This means there were 25 years from Abram's entering the land until Isaacís birth.

Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born. (Genesis 25:26) Jacob was 130 when he entered Egypt. (Genesis 47:9) Adding 25 + 60 + 130 yields 215 years, which would leave 215 years for the actual sojourning in Egypt; not 430 years.

Acts 7:6 reads: "And God spoke to this effect, that his (Abrahamís) posterity would be aliens in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and ill-treat them 400 years."

However, Paul says in Galatians 3:16-17: "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring...This is what I mean: the law which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God..."

How could they have been in Egypt for 400 years if the law was given 430 years after Abraham received the covenant? This implies all the events between Abraham receiving the covenant and the Jews entering Egypt occurred within a span of 30 years.

Exodus 12:40 says the sojourning of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt was 430 years. Jacob's grandson Kohath lived 133 years. (Exodus 6:18) Kohathís son Amram lived 137 years. (Exodus 6:20) Amramís son was Moses (Exodus 6:20) who was 80 years old when the Israelites left Egypt. 133 + 137 + 80 = 350 years. This means the Israelites could not have been in Egypt longer than 350 years.

I Samuel 17:54 says David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, however, was a Jebusite city. The battle between David and Goliath occurred in 1062 B.C., while the conquest of Jerusalem occurred in 1047 B.C. II Samuel 5:6-7 describes the conquest and occupancy of Jerusalem by the Israelites as having occurred years later. How could David have taken Goliath's head to Jerusalem when Davidís people did not conquer the city until much later?

Daniel 5:2 calls Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar. But Nebuchadnezzar was not the father of Belshazzar. The Modern Language Version of the Bible concedes this point and calls Nebuchadnezzar his grandfather...

In 1929, when a rabbi wrote to Albert Einstein and asked him if he believed in God, Einstein replied that he believed in the God of Spinoza (pantheism). Einstein identified God with nature. On one occasion he admitted, "Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much of the stories in the Bible could not be true."

Go on to: Part 31: Revealed Religion
Return to: The Next Distraction

We welcome your comments and questions

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