Sunday, 30 December 2012

Birth of a Myth - Mary The Virgin

Here is an interesting Judeo-Christian sect from the first century CE. Interesting that is not so much because of what they believed in general but because of what they believed in one particular. For people who want to believe that the modern Christian Bible was all written or inspired by the Christian god and so is the gospel truth, this sect represents a major problem.

The sect is the Ebionites whose name is believed to derive from the Hebrew word 'Ebyonim' ('the poor', 'poor ones') reflecting their ascetic life-style, having obeyed Jesus and given all their possessions away. Some scholars think they may have been one and the same as the 'Nazarenes', also an early Judeo-Christian sect.

James the Just, 'brother of Jesus'
The basic belief of the Ebionites was that the Laws of Moses, traditionally believed to have been handed down by Yahweh to Moses in Sinai, were sacrosanct and that Jesus was the Messiah, so anyone who wanted to follow Jesus had to be Jewish and had to follow Jewish laws and rites (and so must be circumcised - I wonder who else can see the misogyny there). In fact, the Ebionites are believed to have been amongst the earliest followers of the 'new' sect of Jesus, of which James the Just (= 'James the brother of Jesus') and Peter (Simon "The Rock" Peter), both early church fathers in Jerusalem. The sect is thought to have arisen around the time of the destruction of the Temple in about 70 CE.

As devout Jews, the Ebionites were strict monotheists and, as such, denied the divinity of Jesus, acknowledging him only as a human who, because of his righteousness, had been chosen by Yahweh as the Messiah. They acknowledged Joseph and Mary as Jesus' natural parents and never claimed Mary was a virgin or that Jesus' father was anyone other than Joseph. It was only when Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist that Yahweh 'adopted' him as his son.

Meanwhile, of course, Paul had been assiduously marketing his sect to anyone and everyone and had been keen to stress that:
  1. It wasn't necessary to be Jewish to be a Christian;

  2. It wasn't necessary to be circumcised;

which was diametrically opposed to everything the Ebionites were saying.

So why was there this disagreement?

Didn't the Ebionites have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to read so they could see for themselves that Mary was a virgin impregnated by Yahweh, and so Jesus was a manifestation in human form of the Jewish god? Isn't that what the Bible is for - to relate the truth and settle these sorts of disputes, and aren't two of the four canonical gospels clear on the subject of the virgin birth - the only two which bother to cover it?

You might think that from the beginning, Christianity was always basically one thing: a religion descended from Jesus, as interpreted by Paul, leading to the church of the Middle Ages on down to the present. But things were not at all that simple. About a hundred fifty years after Jesus’ death we find a wide range of different Christian groups claiming to represent the views of Jesus and his disciples but having completely divergent perspectives, far more divergent than anything even that made it into the New Testament.

Ehrman, Bart D. (2009-02-20). Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible
(And Why We Don't Know About Them) (p. 191).
Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
The short answer, is, "No they didn't!". In fact, probably from their formation in around 70 CE, the Ebionites had their own 'Gospel' - the 'Ebionite Gospel' - which may have been very similar to the Gospel of Matthew minus it's first two chapters - the ones telling of Jesus' birth as the literal son of Yahweh, through a virgin. The author of 'Matthew', you may recall if you've read my blogs on the stories of Jesus' ancestry and birth (Christmas! Which Christmas?, Which Genealogy of Jesus? and Pull The Other One Matthew!) was the most Jewish of the Gospel writers who stretched credulity often beyond breaking point to shoehorn the Jesus myth into Jewish prophesy, and on ocassion misrepresenting the 'prophesies', to make it look like Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah.

Why would a devout early sect which purported to follow the teachings of Jesus, and which appears to have arisen from the very area in which Jesus is alleged to have lived, taught and died, have the 'wrong' gospel?

The answer is obvious. They had an early form of a gospel. Possibly one of the sources of the four 'canonical' gospels, or even an earlier version of the Gospel of Matthew, before the story of the virgin birth had been added to the myth and incorporated into the Christian sect which Paul had invented almost single-handedly, and the version which 'won' the struggle to be the 'right opinion' or 'Orthodox' version when the Emperor Constantine I adopted it as the state religion in an attempt to hold his disintegrating empire together by taking control of the peoples' religions and merging them into one manageable official one.

Quite simply, the Ebionites had a 'gospel' to which a lot more mythology was yet to be added in the coming century or two to meet the needs of the priesthood and political classes, including the myth of a virgin birth to bring it into line with public expectations of the birth of gods in the Roman Empire, especially the Hellenistic Eastern part. It's an intriguing thought that James 'the brother of Jesus' and Simon 'The Rock' Peter, upon whom the Catholic Church claims to have been built by Jesus himself, may have been early founders of a sect which denied the virgin birth and the divinity of Jesus and which insisted that we can only follow Jesus if we are devoutly observant Jews.

As losers in the struggle, the Ebionites, together with their 'Gospel' went the way of all the other 'heresies' such as the Gnostics in the ferocious purge of 'heresies' which was unleashed throughout the Eastern Empire as soon as the Pauline sect won the struggle to be the official version of the doctrine we now call Christianity. So today all we know of them is in the condemnatory writings of the winners - those who wrote and rewrote their preferred versions of these 'gospels', and the odd scrap of an ancient document which had been carefully hidden by a losing sect to avoid the paranoid purge and destruction by those who were terrified of being contradicted.

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Saturday, 29 December 2012

As Read In The Vatican

Closet Atheists can be hiding just about everywhere!

Just imaging being Pope and suddenly realising it's all been a lie. What would you do? Give up all that wealth, adulation and power, and the servants who come with the post, or would you be honest to yourself and to everyone else?

The Catholic Church had survived schisms, multiple papacies, corrupt gangsters, debauched gluttons and thieves, violent psychopaths, murderers and even (allegedly) a female imposter Pope, but could it survive an honest Atheist Pope, or would world-wide Catholicism shatter and crumble if an honest Pope told the world that he had come to realise that the 'faith' was founded on lies and that Jesus was just a myth based on Bronze-age superstitions and stories concocted for political purposes.

Or is an honest Pope just a dream too far?

[Update] A couple of weeks after I posted this, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, citing, amongst other things, "hard questions of faith". I'm sure it must have been a coincidence...

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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Was Jesus Against Capitalism?

Casting out the money changers, Giotto di Bondone, 14th C.
Cappella Scrovegni, Padua, Italy.
What on earth was Jesus up to when he used violence against the money changers and traders in the Temple? What was it that made him lose his temper so publicly and so spectacularly?

All four of the canonical gospels have stories about Jesus 'cleansing' the Temple so we can be sure the tale appears in the earlier sources which Bible scholars assume to pre-date the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - the so-called 'Q' and 'M' sources - so the story might well relates to something that really did happen involving Jesus or someone else upon whom the myths are partly based, and is not something which the authors inserted to serve their own political ends, as so often seems to be the case, especially where the tales differ markedly, as in the nativity, the resurrection and Jesus's ancestry.
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.

And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
First a little background:
The Temple was the focal point of all Jewish worship, as established in the Jewish Scripture. In Jesus’ day, Jews from around the world would come to Jerusalem to perform the animal sacrifices prescribed by the law, which had to be done in the Temple, nowhere else. Of course, people coming from long distances would not be able to bring sacrificial animals with them; these had to be purchased on site. But they could not be purchased with normal Roman currency: Roman coins were stamped with an image of the emperor, who in parts of the empire was thought to be a divine being. For Jews there was only one God, and so they were not inclined to bring the image of Caesar into the holy Temple. In addition, the law proscribed the use of any “graven images,” another reason that Roman coins could not be used. Some other kind of money had to be made available, and so there had to be a kind of currency exchange, where Roman coinage could be traded for Temple currency, which did not bear the image of Caesar. The Temple currency could then be used to purchase the necessary animals.

There were money changers who made these currency exchanges.

Ehrman, Bart D. (2009-02-20). Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) (p. 166).
Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.
Of course it could be that the original source for this tale could have been merely attempting to graft an earlier story from Jewish history onto the Jesus myth. A symbolic purification of the Temple-centred Jewish religion.

In the Book of Nehemiah we have:
And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.

But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.

And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.

But if we take the Jesus story at face value, it seems Jesus took exception to a trade which was only necessary because of the laws of his own religion concerning sacrifices, blasphemy and the making of graven images. This trade existed for no other purpose. We aren't talking about loan sharks or black marketeers but about people carrying out a legitimate trade, even a service to facilitate Jewish religious observance in a Roman Empire with differing customs and traditions - a kind of necessary interface between the secular state and religious devotion.

It is very unlikely that Jesus would have taken exception to the exchange of Roman coinage for 'Temple money' as such. Nor would he have taken exception to the purchase of livestock for sacrifice - a perfectly understandable practice to avoid carrying livestock such as doves during the long journey to the Temple.

So what was his objection here?

Certainly John leaves no doubt that it was merchandising itself that Jesus took exception too with "make not my Father's house an house of merchandise" which the other three writers equate to a den of thieves. It is generally accepted by Bible scholars that John is the last to be written of the Canonical Gospels so, presumably, this author saw merchandising as thievery.

Could Jesus's objection be the profits the money changers and the traders in livestock were making? These traders needed to make a living themselves so a fair profit on each transaction would have been necessary and perfectly legitimate.

Apparently, the Temple precinct at that time was the size of about twenty-five football pitches, so there would have been no shortage of space for traders to set up their stalls and consumer choice would have been wide. According to a basic laws of economics - the 'Laws of Supply and Demand' - competition between the traders would have keep the prices low, unless there was a cartel operating or unfair trading terms and conditions were being imposed by the Temple authorities - in which cases Jesus's anger was misplaced and should have been directed at the authorities and/or organisers of the cartel, not the traders.

In microeconomics, supply and demand is an economic model of price determination in a market. It concludes that in a competitive market, the unit price for a particular good will vary until it settles at a point where the quantity demanded by consumers (at current price) will equal the quantity supplied by producers (at current price), resulting in an economic equilibrium for price and quantity.

You could understand Jesus's objection rather better if the traders had been selling goods made in their factories or workshops and were, in Marxist terms, misappropriating the surplus value of their workers' labour, but there are no manufactured goods involved here.

So, unless Jesus completely misunderstood the basic laws of supply and demand, and the need for a trader to make a fair return in order to earn his living and stay in business - something which as the (adopted) son of a carpenter who earned his living by doing just that, he should have understood - what exactly was he objecting to here?

Was he objecting to the entire Capitalist system - the very idea of earning a living by making a profit from servicing the needs of the people? Did he think the Temple authorities should have been providing this service free of charge as some sort of quasi state-run operation? Was Jesus in fact demonstrating that he thought the entire Capitalist system was corrupt and should be violently overthrown and replaced by a form of early Communism with state control of the means of production, distribution and exchange?

If so, how ironic that in America and elsewhere, fundamentalist Christianity is now firmly in bed with the conservative right, those implacable enemies of Socialism and stout defenders of Capitalism and the right of those with money to make as much as possible through unfettered trade, free from state regulation and interference.

How the biblical Jesus would have loved them and they him...

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Münchausen Ministers?

Are religious clerics suffering from a form of Münchausen syndrome by proxy? This question is not as strange as it may seem.

Firstly, the parallels between the Abrahamic god of the Jews, Muslims and Christians and the personality disorder known as Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) are really quite striking.

The god of the Bible, according to its followers, created humans then immediately rigged a 'sin' by putting temptation in their way before letting them have the ability to tell right from wrong, which anyone with the IQ above that of a plank could have worked out was going to result in them yielding to temptation and so falling into their putative creator's trap. Muslims believe Satan tempts us to disobey Allah and, although Allah is infinitely merciful, he won't forgive you unless you are strictly obedient and submissive. Although Muslims say we aren't born with 'sin' like Christians and Jews claim we are, nevertheless we have a character flaw which makes us tend to yield to 'temptation'. If someone can split that hair for me, I'd be grateful.

So, having metaphorically harmed those in its care, the Abrahamic god then poses as the hero by 'saving' them from the consequences of this deception and demands love and adoration, and above all, attention and praise, for being such a loving, hunky super-hero.

This situation is an exact analogue of someone cutting you so they can sell you a bandage.

MSP is a variant of Münchausen syndrome in which the sufferer feigns illness as a form of attention-seeking behaviour.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of child abuse in which a parent induces real or apparent symptoms of a disease in a child.

This syndrome almost always involves a mother abusing her child by seeking unneeded medical attention for the child. It is rare and poorly understood. The cause is unknown.

The mother may fake symptoms of illness in her child by adding blood to the child's urine or stool, withholding food, falsifying fevers, secretly giving the child drugs to make the child throw up or have diarrhea, or using other tricks, such as infecting intravenous (given through a vein) lines to make the child appear or become ill.

These children are often hospitalized with groups of symptoms that don't quite fit any known disease. Frequently, the children are made to suffer through unnecessary tests, surgeries, or other uncomfortable procedures.

The parent is usually very helpful in the hospital setting and is often appreciated by the nursing staff for the care she gives her child. She is often seen as devoted and self-sacrificing, which can make medical professionals unlikely to suspect the diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Her frequent visits unfortunately also make the child accessible to her so that she can induce further symptoms. Changes in the child's condition are almost never witnessed by hospital staff and almost always occur only in the mother's presence.

Munchausen syndrome occurs because of psychological problems in the adult, and is generally an attention-seeking behavior. The syndrome can be life-threatening for the child involved.

In one such case in England a low-grade nurse killed 4 children, attempted to kill three others and seriously injured a further six children over a period of 59 days. She is currently serving thirteen life sentences in a secure psychiatric unit.

The term MSP is normally confined to the medical and related manifestations of the syndrome but in its broader application, it could equally apply to anyone who creates a problem in order to 'solve' it, especially by heroic efforts, such as a fire-fighter who starts fires.

How often do we hear gods being praised for saving the odd victim of a hurricane, flood, earthquake or volcano by those who also give it the 'credit' for causing the disaster in the first place? What would this be if not Münchausen By Proxy if done by a person other than a god?

The similarity between the actions of a person suffering from MSP and the Abrahamic god in causing us harm so that it can demand love and adoration for 'saving' us, is too close to be a coincidence. But whatever would induce this god's advocates to present it as having a potentially dangerous personality disorder?

The answer is probably to be found in yet another parallel, by considering answers to three simple questions:
  1. Who exactly tells us that we have the problem which needs to be solved?
  2. Who exactly offers us the solution for this problem?
  3. Who wants us to believe we need their help (and so admire them for their skill and humanity)?
The answer to all three questions is the same: the priesthood of course.

The priesthood tells everyone that that we have a problem which needs urgent attention. The priesthood are the heroes who shoulder the burden of solving the problem and the priesthood expect to be admired for their skill and humanity in having dedicated themselves to caring for us. This is especially true in rigidly hierarchical Catholicism where the priests are the only people with the self-proclaimed power to 'cure' us with absolution.

In reality, of course, there is no problem other than one of their own invention. That sounds a lot like Münchausen syndrome by proxy to me.

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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Cam And Jerusalem

The Plough Inn,
Cadsden, Buckinghamshire
Followers of UK politics may remember the fuss when our upper crust Tory Prime Minister, David "Call Me Dave" Cameron announced that Britain was a Christian country, and so alienated even more people from his euphemistically, but accurately, named 'Nasty Party'. However, browsing the Christian Bible the other day, I came across a tale from Jesus' boyhood and was struck by the er... striking... similarity between the 'Holy Family' and Jesus' own putative parents.

To recap the events of last June: Samantha and 'Dave' Cameron, were staying at Chequers, the country home of our PM, when, along with their normal train of Special Branch and Diplomatic Protection Squad officers and a coterie of friends and assorted offspring, they descended on the Plough Inn in the near-by village of Cadsden for Sunday Service on the Sabbath, i.e, Sunday lunch. I can testify to the excellence of this little hostelry myself, having partaken of Sunday Service there several times, before the neighbourhood took a turn for the worse.

Joseph and Mary Cameron
On arriving back at Chequers and doing a head count they realised they were a sprog light, having left their unfortunate eight-year-old daughter Nancy in the bar.

To quote a Plough Inn 'insider':
"Pub staff found their daughter in the toilet and didn't know what to do... It's frightening the prime minister of Britain can forget something so important as his own daughter."
Well quite!

This story really chimed with us Brits whose perception of the upper classes is that they are cold and heartless people, only too keen to be rid of their children, entrusting them to nannies and packing them off to boarding schools as soon as they can - which in turn breeds another generation of unloved and unlovely people who see compassion as a weakness to be exploited in others and who populate the ranks of the Nasty Party, eager to show the lower orders just who's in charge around here.

The Temple,
Jerusalem, Judea
So what has this to do with the Bible and with Britain being a Christian country?

It seems 'Dave' and Samantha are not the only parents to mislay a child. Mary and Joseph were prone to it too.
Now his [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
So, the Camerons are not the first upper-crust family to lose count of their offspring and leave one behind. Luckily, it wasn't a whole day before they missed Nancy and it didn't take three days to find her, nor was she unfortunate enough to have been found by priests or Heaven knows what might have happened.

Maybe Mary and Joseph just didn't have any body guards.

I do hope for young Jesus sake that this was merely an unfortunate coincidence and doesn't speak of a closer parallel between the two blessed families, but it could explain Jesus' general contempt for parents expressed in:
And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
I know the Tories like to imagine they have a close personal relationship with God, who frequently seeks their advice, and 'Dave' has just appointed an old school chum to head their church, but perhaps the Camerons are closer to being a Christian family than they think.


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Saturday, 22 December 2012

Believing In Belief

From what we read on Twitter and other social media like Reddit, it's only too obvious that most theists, especially Muslims and Christian, don't really believe what they claim to believe but actually believe in other people believing.

I accept that this is not a scientific sample and that they rarely appear to be very bright but it's also obvious that they don't believe in any god that resembles the one they purport to believe in as this random sample of Twitter tweets shows.

On the left is just a small sample of their contribution to rational debate.

The logic in the first cluster appears to be, "If I shout abuse and obscenities that will teach Atheists a lesson and then they'll believe in Allah and start doing what I tell them. Of course I don't need to behave decently or in a civilised manner because I know there isn't really a god watching me who will punish me for my wrong-doings, but it's important for people to think there is or they won't do what I say". The intent is clearly to use a god as a weapon.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Was Jesus Just Another Doomsday Nutter?

It's ironic that many Christians will be chortling about the failure of the Mayan "End Of The World" prophesy today when the evidence suggests the putative founder of their religion, if he existed at all, may have been just another in a long tradition of failed doomsday apocalyptic "prophets" himself, or maybe an amalgam of several different ones all given the later name 'Jesus'.

It's long been accepted by Bible scholars and historians that the earliest of the so-called 'Gospels' later incorporated into the Christian Bible was that attributed to 'Mark', a legendary companion of Paul of Tarsus. However, the so-called 'synoptic' Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all appear to draw on an earlier, now lost, source - called 'Q' which may have been a collection of sayings of the, by then, legendary Jesus. So 'Q' is probably the earliest written account of Jesus and so likely to be closer to what was actually being talked about at that time.

One of the reasons why Jesus's immediate circle never actually wrote anything down probably include the fact that they thought the end of the world was close, so there was not going to be any posterity to preserve anything for. Another reason of course could have been that, if they actually existed at all, they were probably illiterate - the normal state of ordinary people in those days.

So what evidence is there in 'Mark' that Jesus was a doomsday merchant?

Firstly, right after the curious account of John baptising Jesus, which, given the tradition that the more righteous one baptises the less righteous one and that baptism cleanses sin, tells us that in the earlier tradition, Jesus was a mere human 'prophet', not a manifestation of the Jewish god.

Then we find:

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Mark 1:14-15

So right off, Mark makes a link between the executed John and Jesus with Jesus taking up the reins as apocalyptic prophet in chief. He maintains this link with the tale about Herod:

And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.

Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.

Mark 6:14-18

The author of Mark is in no doubt that he is writing about someone who is prophesying the imminent Day of Judgement. At the end of Chapter 8 we have:

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Mark 8:38

Followed immediate in Chapter 9 by:

And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

Mark 9:1

Strange how Jesus is talking in the third person about the 'Son of Man' - when he comes in the glory of his Father.... Some might think that Jesus isn't talking about himself here, especially when he is clearly the object of the first clause of that sentence - and my words...

To find out who this 'Son of Man' is we need to delve into the Old Testament, to Daniel in fact:

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

Daniel 1:13-14

So it's not at all clear here whether Mark is writing about someone who is merely prophesying the fulfilment of Daniel's vision, especially when earlier we had been told:

And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

Mark 9:7

where Mark seems to be distinguishing between Jesus, the Son of God, and Daniel's Son of Man.

But that's a side issue. The important thing here is how Mark confidently had Jesus saying that some of those present will see the 'kingdom of God' come with power, clearly within their own lifetime. Maybe not tomorrow but real soon.

He says it again later, as though to emphasise the point:

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near: So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.

Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.[my emphasis]

Mark 13:24-30

Again, no doubt at all that this is about to happen in the lifetime of some of those present.

Saint Paul is also in little doubt that he is preparing people for the impending apocalypse, as he says to the Romans:

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?[my emphasis]

Romans 8:16-24

So there we are. There is little doubt that, in the early days of the nascent Jesus myth, starting with John the Baptist and continuing through whoever the later scribes decided Jesus Christ was, and continuing with Saint Paul, that what was being taught was an impending apocalypse; the very thing that all manner of charlatans and phoney prophets have been regularly predicting ever since, and which has never yet happened.

In many ways, the myth seems very similar to the Millerite cult of America in the 1840s when a charlatan managed to convince a band of followers that the end was to occur on October 22, 1844. When it failed it led to 'The Great Disappointment' but undaunted, Miller and a loyal band decided that God had postponed the apocalypse because he had been so impressed by their piety, so they went on to found the Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalist Christian cult.

Amazingly, Christianity seems to stagger along from one apocalyptic prediction to another, never phased by yet another failure and being taken in by yet another in a long line of false prophets going right back to Jesus and beyond, and this, despite being specifically warned about false prophets in their holy book, allegedly by Jesus himself with:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Matthew 7:15-20

Oops! Maybe someone should have reminded Jesus; "Know thyself"

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Thursday, 20 December 2012

If God Was Real You Wouldn't Need Prayer.

Praying Hands, Albrecht Dürer c.1508
Nine months ago I asked what the purpose of prayer was. I have been repeatedly inviting answers on Twitter ever since. So far, I have had not a single answer.

This is not a scientific study but one would have expected at least one Christian or Muslim who believes in prayer to be able to say what it's for and what it does.

Of course, there are explanations for why religious people meet up for prayers to be found in psychology. Maslow's 'Heirarchy of Needs' explains it in terms of social or affiliative needs, etc., and Skinner's experiments with operant conditioning with pigeons showed how they become 'religious' and develop rituals when a rewarded is randomly associated with behaviour, so it's not hard to see the attraction of gathering together to pray.

There is also a psychological explanation for private prayer. It's one of Maslow's needs of course - the need for the esteem of others; an affiliative need again. The same reason some lonely children have imaginary friends. Someone to talk to (or rather to talk at, because there is never any reply) as a way of understanding something. Putting it into words often makes it more understandable because you have to analyse the problem in order to explain it. People have reported similar help from talking to a computer program.

The Christian version, the Muslim version and the Jewish version of the Abrahamic god are all supposed to be omniscient and to have plans for the universe. They are also supposed to be omnibenevolent. Muslims refer to their version as infinitely just and infinitely merciful - not that it can logically be both, but that's never stopped them - and not many Christians or Jews would dare to suggest their version is any less perfect that the Muslim one.

It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.

Robert G. Ingersoll
If this is true, these versions of Abraham's god would both have devised perfect plans of which pain, suffering and misery would either not be part, or they would be there for some ultimately good reason (though why a perfect omnipotent god can't create ultimate goodness without some un-goodness on the way remains one of religions' many ineffable mysteries by which these little logical difficulties are avoided).

Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

There can only be one reason to pray to an omniscient, omnipotent god: you are telling it you think its plan is imperfect and that you have a better idea.

But what are you actually praying to a god for at all? If the Christian, Jewish and Muslim versions of their god is as they claim there would be nothing to pray for.

The only reason religious people think prayer is necessary is because their god doesn't exist and so isn't creating a perfect universe. The perceived need for prayer is good evidence that there is no god.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Oh Creation! Scientists Find 'Habitable' Planet

Creationists! Have you started work on your excuses for when science finds evidence of life on other planets yet? Maybe now would be a good time to start because there was something you might find interesting in the Independent today:
Scientists find 'habitable' Tau Ceti planet.

Scientists have discovered a ‘habitable’ planet that orbits a sun visible to the naked eye. The world is just 12 light years away, is between two and six times bigger than the earth, and is thought to be circling Tau Ceti, a star almost identical to our sun.

The planet is one of five orbiting Tau Ceti, and lies within the star's habitable zone. It is thought to have five times the Earth's mass. Also known as the “Goldilocks zone”, the habitable zone is the orbital region that is neither too hot nor too cold to allow liquid surface water and, potentially, life.

Details of the discovery are to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Because of the difficulties involved in detecting extra-solar planets, most found so far have had high masses. The Tau Ceti planetary family is thought to be the lowest mass solar system yet detected. Read more...
Of course, merely being in the 'Goldilocks zone' is a far cry from this planet actually being suitable for the evolution of living organisms but it shows that planets developing in this zone with respect to their suns is by no means unusual. This one was found, on a cosmological scale, in our back yard and orbiting a star which was thought to be an unlikely candidate for a planetary system.

But how will the world's major religions of Christianity and Islam react if we ever find evidence of life having arisen and evolved on another planet in another solar system?

For one thing it will put paid to any notion that somehow the formation of the first replicators is so unlikely as to be practically impossible, and so, even if the rest of evolution is accepted, some form of intelligence must have been involved. In fact it will show that it's not only possible but has happened at least twice, and in this small area of a vast Universe.

But of course, the entire basis of both Islam and Christianity is that a god created an entire Universe for somewhere to create this one special planet for humans so they could worship and obey him. What on earth will they make of it if they find there are other sentient beings living in a different part of the universe? Will their god have created them as something else to worship and obey him? Even if there are no sentient beings who could worship a creator, how will creationists explain them when, according to the Bible, a god created animals on earth for humans. What will it have created them on other planets for?

And how will Creationists explain away the self-evident fact that, once life gets going on another planet, it leads to diversification which will inevitably be different to the way it diversified on earth but in ways which are entirely amenable to reason given the principles of Darwinian Evolution in a different environment with a different history?

There are a couple of verses in the Bible that always embarrass Bible literalists:
And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.

What's embarrassing is that somehow, in the 'Land of Nod', Cain managed to find a wife. Where did she come from? Was there another creation in a neighbouring valley; a creation which the author of Genesis forgot to record? And did these people also 'fall from grace' in another Garden of Eden and need to be saved? Did this happen a lot in those days?

With a distance of only 3.7 pc, HD 10700 [Tau Ceti] is the third closest star reported to be a host to a putative planetary system after Epsilon Eridani (Hatzes et al., 2000) with a distance of 3.2 pc and α Centauri B (Dumusque et al., 2012) with a distance of 1.3 pc, though both of these remain to be confirmed and Zechmeister et al. (2005) have cast considerable doubt on the existence of a planet around Epsilon Eridani. This makes HD 10700 an ideal target for future direct-imaging missions. The signals we find, which suggest the presence of low-mass planets, are consistent with both current theoretical models for low-mass planet formation and extant observational evidence for the presence of low-mass planets in the immediate Solar neighbourhood.

How much more embarrassing is it going to be to explain yet another creation, this time not just in a nearby valley but in a different part of the galaxy? How will it affect the 'special and personal relationship' they like to imagine they have with the creator of the universe who naturally created it all for them?

Imagine having to re-write Genesis in view of the fact that this supposed creator god had created not just one planet with a dome over it from which two lamps hang, but billions of them, each with a lamp or two hanging from their own domes.

Will they each have had an Adam and Eve, talking snake, original sin and a flood, or will the creator have arranged things differently there? Will there have even been sin and a need to be 'saved' by the grotesquely barbaric act of nailing someone to a cross, or will people on other planets have eternal life and freedom from pain and misery with no need to look forward to going to Heaven?

Or will the creator have rigged things there too, so the people have to turn to a priesthood to be told how to be made safe from a bogeyman in the sky and a future of unimaginable horror for eternity?

There will be a need to re-write Genesis, though undoubtedly there will be forlorn Creationists, religious apologists and others whose livelihood depends on people believing these old Bronze Age myths, who will make increasingly desperate attempts not to have to, or to construct some laughable reinterpretation of it to make it look like multiple creations are really what it's all about after all.

But the simplest and most dignified recourse will be to bin the whole thing and consign it to the dustbin of history with other primitive myths, where it is long overdue. One wonders if they will ever find the self respect and dignity to accept reality, do the sensible thing and look for an honest way to earn a living.


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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Something Nasty For Creationists

Here's a nice (or rather nasty) example of evolution. You probably know someone who has been involved with it recently. If not, the chances are you will soon. It's a nasty little example of a seemingly pointless parasite which, if there was an intelligent designer, would be evidence of its malevolent intent. Not even the defence of callous indifference can be offered. It does nothing but make us feel unwell and inconvenience us in rather alarming and embarrassing ways, striking often with little prior warning.

I'm talking about norovirus, also called the winter vomiting virus because it tends to be prevalent in winter.

The name 'norovirus' is derived from Norwalk virus. It is thought to be responsible for 50% of foodborne gastroenteritis in the USA. Between 600,000 and 1 million people in the UK catch norovirus every year.

The virus, which is highly contagious, causes vomiting and diarrhoea. As there is no specific cure, you have to let it run its course, but it should not last more than a couple of days. If you get norovirus, make sure you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and practise good hygiene to help prevent it from spreading.

Symptoms especially include forceful vomiting and watery diarrhoea. They may also include general malaise, headache, raised temperature and aching limbs. Although unpleasant, most people recover completely within two or three days. Hospitalisation is rarely necessary and deaths are very rare.
Noroviruses are a genetically diverse group of single-stranded RNA, non enveloped viruses in the Caliciviridae family. The viruses are transmitted by fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, via aerosolization of the virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces.
Norovirus 'Family Tree'
Normally, humans and other animals become resistant to infections, especially to viral infections, by making anti-bodies which attack and destroy subsequent infections before they can gain hold. However, norovirus very rapidly mutates and changes so that anti-bodies formed against one strain are ineffective against other strains. The virus is able to evolve in response to changes in its environment (i.e your intestines). Because of this rapid evolution norovirus exists in a bewildering array of different genotypes and strains. The prevalent genotype in humans (GII) has some nineteen different strains alone.
Reports have shown a link between the expression of human histo-blood group antigens (HBGAs) and the susceptibility to norovirus infection. Studies have suggested the viral capsid of noroviruses may have evolved from selective pressure of human HBGAs.[1]
Studies have shown how the RNA from different strains and even different genotypes frequently recombine to produce new forms.
Histo-blood group ABO(H) antigens with a terminal fucose act as receptors for human norovirus in the gastrointestinal tract. A single nucleotide mutation (G428A) in the fucosyltransferase gene on chromosome 19 provides strong protection from infection in 20% of the white population,[2] although some norovirus genotypes can infect persons carrying this mutation.

So, there we have a superb example of two organisms in an evolutionary spiral: a parasitic virus and its host, in this case, us. The virus has evolved a strategy for... well... evolving quickly to overcome its host's defences, which places a huge selection pressure on the virus so it's adaptation has had to be profound. However, because the parasite doesn't cause much harm in terms of our ability to survive and reproduce, adaptation in us has been quite small. In fact, there is some indication that some otherwise harmless mutations in a protein in the human intestine makes the carriers slightly more susceptible to norovirus infection. But, twenty percent of some human populations have a mutation which gives them complete protection from most, though not all, strains.

There is no specific treatment for norovirus.

It's best to let the illness run its course and your body usually fights off the infection within a couple of days. You don't need to see a doctor.

It is important to have plenty to drink and, if you feel the need, paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains.

Try to eat foods that are easy to digest, such as soup, rice, pasta and bread. Babies should continue with their normal feeds.

To reduce the risk of passing the virus on to others, wash your hands regularly and stay at home until you are clear of symptoms for 48 hours.
So why only twenty percent? Why hasn't this beneficial, protective mutation spread throughout the human gene-pool the way beneficial genes are expected to do, according to Darwinian evolutionary theory? And why haven't the mutations making us more susceptible been eliminated?

Quite simply because a nasty bout of D&V for a day or two doesn't put any significant evolutionary selection pressure on us because it doesn't affect our ability to have and nurture children to any appreciable extent. To the virus though, its very survival depends on it. It uses us to spray itself around, literally.

But imagine what would happen if a chance mutation turned a strain of norovirus into a virulent killer. How would those twenty percent of immune people fare and what would the proportion of people carrying the protective mutation be once the lethal epidemic had blown its course? Who are going to be the ones to survive and produce the next generation of humans?

That folks, is evolution!

It really IS that simple, and we can see it in progress right now. Fortunately, it's the virus, or rather the RNA it's a carrier for, which is having to evolve like crazy to stay alive.

What is the norovirus for exactly? The norovirus exists simply because it exists. It has no purpose and no function other than producing noroviruses and so perpetuating a strand of RNA through time. Its prevalence throughout the world testifies to its outstanding success in that endeavour. It outnumbers the human population of earth probably by several orders of magnitude. If the norovirus could have a point of view it would see the universe, and its hosts, including us, as being there for its convenience with no function other than helping it to make more copies of its RNA.

If it were intelligent enough to think, though not intelligent to think well enough, and it believed in a creator god, it would undoubtedly believe its god created the world including us, for its benefit. If argued purely on numbers it could well be challenged in that belief by other viruses, bacteria, fungi and some other single-celled eukaryote organisms, and possibly some nematode worms, but no mammal, including man, would come anywhere close to these numbers.

In terms of intelligent design and especially intelligent design by a benevolent designer who created everything for the benefit of humans, noroviruses make no sense at all, unless the 'intelligent designer' enjoys seeing humans gushing noxious liquids from both ends and feeling rather dreadful for a few days.

Darwinian Evolution, on the other hand, positively predicts them, without resorting to magic and infinitely multiplying magic entities.

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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Which Genealogy Of Jesus?

If you're trying to convince yourself that the Christian Bible is somehow the infallible word of God, Matthew (once again) and Luke bowl you a curve ball with their attempts to construct a genealogy for Jesus. It is quite simply impossible to reconcile the two different versions. At least one of them must be wrong. To get past this and still believe the Bible is inerrant, you have no option but to knowingly lie to yourself and pretend two mutually exclusive things are both right - things like people having two different fathers.

So, the next time you come across someone telling you the Bible is the infallible word of an omniscient god, you can be sure of one of two things:
  1. They have lied to themselves and are lying to you.
  2. They haven't read the Bible.

I'll go through the two genealogies in a moment but first, there is the traditional excuse offered up by Christian apologists - that one genealogy is for Joseph and the other for Mary. Unfortunately, the authors of Matthew and Luke have to be ignored to get away with that one.

And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Matthew 1:15-16

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph.

Luke 3:23-24

So, neither of the authors of these two different genealogies had any doubt they were writing about Jesus's genealogy through Joseph - which is itself strange, since they are both at pains to stress that Joseph wasn't Jesus's father, God was.

The first problem we see here is that Joseph appears to have had two different fathers - Jacob (Matthew) and Heli (Luke) - which should raise at least a suspicion or two that something is amiss.

Let's press on and see what a muddle the Bible is in (time for you to stop reading if you're a wanabee Bible literalist. It gets even more frightening).

First, Matthew's attempt (I'll count the generations. We'll see why in a moment):

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king;...

Matthew 1:1-6
So, that's Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judas, Phares, Esrom, Aram, Aminadab, Naason, Salmon, Booz, Obed, Jesse and David.

14 generations in all from Abraham to King David.

Why does the author of Matthew start with Abraham? As we saw in Christmas! Which Christmas? Matthew is keen to stress the Jewishness of Jesus and how he fulfilled the Jewish prophecies. For Matthew, Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, plain and simple, so he has to be a descendant of the first Jew, Abraham, otherwise his credentials would be less than impeccable.
...and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:

Matthew 1:6-11
That's Solomon, Roboam, Abia, Asa, Josaphat, Joram, Ozias, Joatham, Achaz, Ezekias, Manasses, Amon, Josias and Jechonias.

14 more generations from King David to the Babylonian exile.
And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Matthew 1:12-16
Salathiel, Zorobabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Sadoc, Achim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph, Jesus.

13 Generations.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:17
Eh? Er... no Matthew. That's two fourteens and a thirteen.

Not clear what point the author of Matthew is trying to make here but obviously counting isn't one of his strong points. Surely he wasn't hoping no one would check, was he?

So, the author of Matthew has tried to make some obscure point about the number fourteen and has messed up. I wonder what other mistakes he made. Fortunately, it's easy to check his source to see where he went wrong. It's the Bible itself.

Let's see:

Now these were the sons of David, which were born unto him in Hebron; the firstborn Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; the second Daniel, of Abigail the Carmelitess: The third, Absalom the son of Maachah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur: the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith: The fifth, Shephatiah of Abital: the sixth, Ithream by Eglah his wife.

These six were born unto him in Hebron; and there he reigned seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years.

And these were born unto him in Jerusalem; Shimea, and Shobab, and Nathan, and Solomon, four, of Bathshua the daughter of Ammiel: Ibhar also, and Elishama, and Eliphelet, And Nogah, and Nepheg, and Japhia, And Elishama, and Eliada, and Eliphelet, nine.

These were all the sons of David, beside the sons of the concubines, and Tamar their sister.

And Solomon's son was Rehoboam, Abia his son, Asa his son, Jehoshaphat his son, Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, Amaziah his son, Azariah his son, Jotham his son, Ahaz his son, Hezekiah his son, Manasseh his son, Amon his son, Josiah his son.

And the sons of Josiah were, the firstborn Johanan, the second Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum. And the sons of Jehoiakim: Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son. And the sons of Jeconiah; Assir, Salathiel his son, Malchiram also, and Pedaiah, and Shenazar, Jecamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah. And the sons of Pedaiah were, Zerubbabel, and Shimei: and the sons of Zerubbabel; Meshullam, and Hananiah, and Shelomith their sister: And Hashubah, and Ohel, and Berechiah, and Hasadiah, Jushabhesed, five.

And the sons of Hananiah; Pelatiah, and Jesaiah: the sons of Rephaiah, the sons of Arnan, the sons of Obadiah, the sons of Shechaniah. And the sons of Shechaniah; Shemaiah: and the sons of Shemaiah; Hattush, and Igeal, and Bariah, and Neariah, and Shaphat, six. And the sons of Neariah; Elioenai, and Hezekiah, and Azrikam, three. And the sons of Elioenai were, Hodaiah, and Eliashib, and Pelaiah, and Akkub, and Johanan, and Dalaiah, and Anani, seven.[my emphasis]

1 Chronicles 3

Hmm... so Matthew has dropped a few generations between Joram and Ozias (Azariah) the father of Jotham, and all to make some obscure point about the number fourteen, which he then fumbles anyway.

Some genealogist he turned out to be.

Clearly, when he was writing his 'Gospel' the author of Matthew had no inkling that it would one day be included in the same book as the Jewish books of myths and legends so his cavalier treatment of the ancient 'prophecies' could be easily seen.

Like so much else with the author of the 'Gospel' of Matthew, he turns out to be more an embarrassment than a help. The surprise is that his effort got included in the Bible in the first place. If the compilers hadn't managed to convince themselves, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that it was written by Matthew, a reputed disciple and companion of Jesus, there seems to be no earthly reason this catastrophic blunder of a book was included in the Bible in the first place.

Let's see if the author of Luke can make a better fist of it. He starts with Jesus and works backwards. It's not the most gripping section of the Bible but bear with me, please:

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph, Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge, Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda, Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er, Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim, Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David, Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson, Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda, Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor, Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala, Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech, Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan, Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Luke 3:23-38
To summarise then, and going backwards from Abraham, so we can compare it with Matthew's effort:

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Juda, Phares, Esrom, Aram, Aminadab, Naasson, Salmon, Booz, Obed, Jesse, David, Mathan, Mattatha, Menan, Melea, Eliakim, Jonan, Joseph, Juda, Simeon, Levi, Matthat, Jorim, Eliezer, Jose, Er, Elmodam, Cosam, Addi, Mechi, Neri, Salathiel, Zorobabel, Rhesa, Joanna, Juda, Joseph, Semei, Mattathias, Maath, Nagge, Esli, Naum, Amos, Mattathias, Joseph, Janna, Melchi, Levi, Matthat, Heli, Joseph, Jesus.

That's fifty-six generations then, between Abraham and Jesus. But, even allowing for his crass blunder in dropping three generations, Matthew only makes it forty-four. Luke has discovered another twelve generations somewhere.

Once you start asking yourself questions like, "How do I really know there is a God?" you are already on the path to unbelief. During my documentary on St Paul, some experts raised the possibility that his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus might have been caused by an epileptic fit. It made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.

Jonathan Edwards, Olympic Gold Medallist, Atheist.
Former Evangelical Christian and presenter of BBC TV religious programmes.
It makes you wonder if this is the same Joseph - he of two different fathers, let alone the same Jesus. Taken together with the irreconcilable differences between Luke's and Matthew's account of the events surrounding Jesus' birth and early childhood, when they can't even agree when it happened, or anything at all apart from that it was somewhere in Bethlehem, one might think they were writing about two entirely different Jesuses.

As we have seen in Christmas! Which Christmas?, Matthew's author bends over backward, often stretching credulity beyond breaking point, to emphasise the Jewishness of Jesus and how almost everything about him fulfils the ancient Jewish prophesies, whilst the author of Luke, who was reputed to have been a companion of Paul who was pushing the new cult to non-Jews, is emphasising a wider appeal (hence tracing Jesus's origins all the way back to Adam (why was it necessary to go beyond Noah?). Matthew is having none of that.

What neither author ever intended was that their 'Gospels' would appear together in a book claimed to be the inerrant word of God, otherwise they might have made more of an effort to get their accounts to line up. Just as Matthew is caught out by us having his source to hand in the same book, so these two authors of the 'synoptic' Gospels are hoist on the petard of later charlatans who were hoping to foist their efforts on us as gospel truths - something they were never intended to be.

Further reading:
Ehrman, Bart D. (2009-02-20). Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them). Harper Collins, Inc.

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Rosa's Laws Of Religion.

Rosa's Laws of Theodynamics.

The Zeroth Law of Theodynamics

If two religions are both in equilibrium with a third religion, they will all claim to support freedom of speech and conscience.

First Law of Theodynamics

Gods can be created out of nothing and will disappear without trace.

Second Law of Theodynamics

In an open system, religions tend to disorder and form an ever-increasing number of sects.

Third Law of Theodynamics

Gods disappear completely when the number of believers in them reaches zero.

Rosa's Laws of Theological Relativity.

First Law of General Theological Relativity

Believers invariably have the same gods as their relatives.

Second Law of General Theological Relativity

False gods are the ones your relatives don't believe in.

Third Law of General Theological Relativity

You might have nothing against people who believe in false gods but you wouldn't want your daughter to marry one.

First Law of Special Theological Relativity

The power of gods to explain expands so as to fill the ignorance available to them.

Second Law of Special Theological Relativity

The power of gods is directly proportional to the mass of their believers.

Third Law of Special Theological Relativity

Tolerance for other religions is inversely proportional to the power of a god's supporters. As their power becomes absolute their tolerance reaches zero.

Combined Law of Special Theological Relativity

Intolerance is inversely proportional to the amount of knowledge in a social system.

Rosa's Laws of Religious Inheritance.

First Law of Religious Inheritance.

Every religious individual receives just one religion from their parents.

Second Law of Religious Inheritance.

All traits of the one religion are inherited together. No mixing occurs.

Rosa's Laws of Religious Interaction.

Law of Constant Religious Conflict.

When two religions come into contact, the violence of the reaction is directly proportional to the strength of belief. May often become explosive with or without a catalyst.

Law of Magnified Difference.

When two or more religions come into contact, small differences assume major significance.

Rosa's Law of Religious Elasticity.

First Law of Religious Elasticity.

All religions believe in freedom of conscience until they acquire the power to abolish it.

Second Law Of Religious Elasticity.

Morality can stretch as far as needed to facilitate clerical privilege and church income.

Rosa's Laws of Internet Religion.

First Law Of Internet Debate.

The validity of a religious argument is inversely proportional to the number of exclamation marks following it.

Second Law of Internet Debate.

Gods forgive any lie provided you put the magic word 'FACT!' after it.

Third Law Of Internet Debate.

Gods don't mind how you behave towards people you can't see because morality only applies when people can physically hit back.

Fourth Law Of Internet Debate.

All debates can be won with passive-aggressive threats, bigoted condescension and/or indignant flounces.

Fifth Law of Internet Debate.

First one to mention Hitler, Nazis, Stalin, Mao, Communism or Pol Pot wins. No one mention Martin Luther, slavery or witch burning! Okay!

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