Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jonah vs. Nahum

The entire Book of Nahum can be summed up in a single sentence: God is going to destroy Nineveh because it's wicked. Nahum isn't satisfied with just saying that however. He wants us to know that Nineveh is a dirty whore and God is going to strip her naked and smear filth over her:

Horsemen charging,
     Swords flashing, spears gleaming,
     Many slain, a mass of corpses,
     And countless dead bodies--
     They stumble over the dead bodies! 
All because of the many harlotries of the harlot,
     The charming one, the mistress of sorceries,
     Who sells nations by her harlotries
     And families by her sorceries. 
"Behold, I am against you," declares the Lord of hosts;
     "And I will lift up your skirts over your face,
     And show to the nations your nakedness
     And to the kingdoms your disgrace. 
"I will throw filth on you
     And make you vile,
     And set you up as a spectacle. 
"And it will come about that all who see you
     Will shrink from you and say,
     'Nineveh is devastated!
     Who will grieve for her?'
     Where will I seek comforters for you?"
(Nahum 3:3-7)

I kind of get the impression that Nahum doesn't care for Nineveh very much. And really, who can blame him? Nineveh was the capital of Assyria which was oppressing the Jewish people.

Jonah is a fellow Nineveh-hater. When God commands Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, he gets on a ship going to Tarshish which is in the opposite direction. He doesn't want Nineveh to be saved. God punishes him for his disobedience, however. Jonah gets tossed overboard and swallowed by a fish. After three days, he relents:

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. [...] And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. (Jonah 3:4-5, 10)
Naturally, this pissed Jonah off:
But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, "Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. "Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life." (Jonah 4:1-3)

The Book of Jonah ends with Jonah still wishing he were dead. The point of the story is not to be prejudiced against other nations. Basically, don't be a Nahum.

According to tradition, the people of Nineveh repented in Jonah's time, but generations later, they became wicked again and were destroyed during Nahum's time. However, modern scholars consider Jonah to have been written in response to Nahum.

Nahum and Jonah both contain prophecies about the city of Nineveh and both describe the inhabitants of the city as wicked. They both quote Exodus 34:6 which describes God as slow to anger (Jonah 4:2, Nahum 1:3) and they both end with a question (Jonah 4:11, Nahum 3:19).

Nahum has no reference to Jonah, which is kind of strange if it was indeed written generations later. However, Jonah does seem to contain a reference to Nahum. In Jonah 3:10 where God repents of the evil he said he would do to Nineveh, the verb for repent that is used is the same verb from which the name Nahum is derived.

Nahum expresses a hatred of foreigners while Jonah urges his readers to be compassionate towards them. Basically, Jonah was written by a cosmopolitan and Nahum was written by a xenophobe. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Galatians vs. Acts

In the Pre-Nicene New Testament, Robert M. Price points out that the first two chapters of Galatians seem to be a response to Acts. This would mean it was written after Acts.

When was Acts written? We know that Acts was written by the same person who wrote Luke. Since Luke-Acts is dependent on the works of Josephus, it had to be written after 100 AD. Since Luke is addressed to Theophilus (Luke 1:3) who was made Bishop of Antioch about 170 AD, this is the most likely date of composition. This is much later than the traditional dating of 80-130 AD, however as there is no solid evidence that Acts was written before this time, this later date is just as likely, if not more likely than the traditional dating.

While Galatians was likely written approximately 130 AD, the earliest existing copy of it (Papyrus 46) is from about 200 AD, so it's entirely likely the first two chapters were added on in the intervening decades.

According to Acts, after Saul (later known as Paul) received his vision, he was struck blind and had to be healed by Ananias:

So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus (Acts 9:17-19)

This implies that Paul learned about Christ from the disciples. Paul disagrees:

For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

According to Acts, God wasn't too pleased with Paul:

For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake. (Acts 9:16)

Galatians gives us a different view:

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16)

Did Paul go to Jerusalem right after he was converted? Acts and Galatians once again differ:

When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27)

Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) (Galatians 1:17-20)

I'll admit I actually thought Paul was lying to us until I read that last part where he said he wasn't. Note that the passage in Galatians presupposes Acts since Paul says he returned once more to Damascus, yet this is the first time Damascus is mentioned in Galatians.

According to Acts people were trying to kill Paul:

And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30)

Paul tells it differently:

Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." And they were glorifying God because of me. (Galatians 1:21-24)

Acts claims that Paul went back to Jerusalem to settle a debate, while according to Galatians, it was because of a vision he had:

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. (Acts 15:1-2)

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. (Galatians 2:1-2)

According to Acts, Peter (also known as Cephas for some reason) was the one who received the revelation that gentiles need not get circumcised or keep kosher:

But Peter raised him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am just a man." As he talked with him, he entered and found many people assembled. And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. (Acts 10:26-28)

The way Paul tells it, Peter changed his tune as soon as the pro-circumcision gang showed up:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14)

Even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy? Not Barnabas! So who's lying? Galatians or Acts? You be the judge. Personally, I'm putting my money on Acts being the liar since we have evidence in  Galatians 1:20 that Paul isn't lying.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Today, Onanism is synonymous with masturbation, but when we turn to the Bible, we find that the sin of Onan wasn't masturbation at all:

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. (Genesis 38:6-10)

Onan wasn't struck dead by the Lord for masturbating. His sin was refusing to ejaculate into the womb of his dead brother's wife. According to the law of Moses, if your brother died without fathering a son, it was your duty to get his widow pregnant:

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

Onan didn't want to get his sister-in-law pregnant because the child would not be considered his, but rather his brother's. Of course, this commandment contradicts another commandment:

Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother. (Leviticus 18:16)

But hey, who ever said the Bible was consistent? So, if Onanism isn't really masturbation, does the Bible condemn masturbation anywhere? The closest the Bible comes is calling it unclean:

When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Any clothing or leather that has semen on it must be washed with water, and it will be unclean till evening. When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both of them must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. (Levitius 15:61-18)

Okay, so if a man masturbates, he's just got to take a shower, waiting until evening, and he's clean again. What does Jesus have to say about all of this?

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:28-29)

This is not technically a condemnation against masturbating. While looking at a woman lustfully can certainly lead to masturbation, it's not the masturbating that's the sin, but rather the looking.

So, in summary, masturbating is only a sin if you twist the words of the Bible. Some people consider masturbating a sin equal to abortion since you are preventing a life from being born. If this is so, masturbation is a sin only for men, not for women. But what does the Bible say about abortion?

While the Bible never specifically condemns abortion, it does use terms such as son, daughter, and baby when referring to an unborn child, so one could make the argument that a fetus was considered a person. For example, the fetus of John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother Elizabeth's womb:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:41-44)

However, saying that the Bible forbids abortion because it refers to fetuses as babies is reading a lot into it. Just because mothers refer to their adult children as babies doesn't mean that they are literally infants. So too when a pregnant woman refers to her pregnancy as a baby.

Some people cite the Epistle of James which says, "The body without the spirit is dead." Since a fetus isn't dead, it must have a spirit and therefor killing it is murder. However, we can see that's not what James had in mind when we put the scripture in context:

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26)

The point James is making is that belief without good deeds is not really faith, just as a body without spirit is not really alive. Here's another scripture that's not really about abortion but people twist around to make it seem like it is:

But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. (Deuteronomy 12:23)

This little scripture simply means that eating rare meat is not kosher, however it's been interpreted in all sorts of different ways. Jehovah's witnesses interpret this to mean that blood transfusions are not allowed, while others think it condemns abortion. Since a fetus has a bloodstream at about four weeks and blood is the life, some think that getting an abortion after four weeks of pregnancy is murder. A character in the popular television program CSI quotes this scripture in a 2005 episode, although another character responds by telling him that the Pope in the 14th century said life doesn't begin until the mother feels the embryo move, which would be about the fourth month, long after four weeks.

So if we take the Bible at face value without trying to read our own modern day beliefs into it, what are we left with? The closest the Bible ever comes to discussing abortion is the follow passage:

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she has a miscarriage but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:22-25)

Causing a woman to lose a pregnancy demands a fine, but is not considered a serious injury. Killing a fetus does not demand a life for a life, so it was obviously not considered murder by the Bible.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Who was Jesus's Daddy?


Other than declaring him "made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3) and "born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4) Paul tells us nothing about the parentage of Jesus.

One wonders why Paul would tell us that Jesus was born of a woman without mentioning his mother's name. It's kind of like telling us Jesus had two arms and two legs. Why insist that Jesus was "born of a woman" unless there were people who said that he wasn't? Why insist that Jesus was made "according to the flesh" if he was known to be an actual historical person? The only reason Paul has for stating this is to counter claims during his time that Jesus didn't come in the flesh.


Jesus's mother doesn't get named the first time she's mentioned in the Gospels either:

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! (Mark 3:31-34)

Here, Jesus seems to be disowning his biological family in order to make his followers his new family. It's interesting to note that Mary doesn't appear at the crucifixion or at the tomb of Jesus in Mark. The only other time Mark mentions her he implies that she disowned Jesus:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. (Mark 6:3-4)

Jesus tells his followers he is without honor among his own kin. If we only read Paul and Mark, the only thing we know about Jesus's family is that he didn't get along with them. Mark has no birth story and no mention of who the father of Jesus was. In fact, Mark implies that Jesus was an illegitimate child by calling him "the son of Mary". During this time, men were always called the son of their father even if their father was dead. The only time they were called the son of their mother was if it was unknown who their father was.


The Gospel of John also implies that Jesus was a bastard:

I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father.

Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father.

Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. (John 8:38-41)

Many scholars agree that the Jew's reply to Jesus that "We be not born in fornication" implies that Jesus was.

However, unlike Mark, John does call Jesus "the son of Joseph", but only in passing (John 1:45, John 6:42). John also contains no birth narrative however, so we have no information about the father of Jesus except his name.

Matthew and Luke

The only time Joseph is mentioned in Matthew and Luke are in the birth narratives and when Jesus is taken to Jerusalem at the age of twelve.

Mark says that Jesus is a carpenter. Matthew changes this to Jesus being the son of a carpenter:

Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. (Matthew 13:55-57)

The reason Matthew changes Jesus from a carpenter into a son of a carpenter is to avoid calling him "the son of Mary" like Mark does. Matthew wants Jesus to seem legitimate.

In his first chapter, Matthew gives a genealogy for Joseph, the "father" of Jesus which is completely different from the genealogy given in Luke. Jewish genealogies usually just list the male ancestors, but for some reason, Matthew includes four women. The women Matthew choses to include are all of ill repute. These women are Tamar (or Thamar), Rachab (or Rahab), Ruth, and Bathsheba.

Judah (or Judas) married his firstborn son Er to Tamar, but God killed Er for being wicked. Judah then had his son Onan marry Tamar, but Onan refused to get her pregnant, so God slew him as well. Judah didn't want any more of his sons to be killed, so he refused to marry any more of them to Tamar. In order to become pregnant, Tamar then dressed up like a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law (Genesis 38:6-30).

Rahab was a prostitute who lived in Jericho who helped the Israelites destroy her city (Joshua 2:1-24). Ruth was a Moabite, an enemy of Israel, yet she married a Judaean and had a close (some might say lesbian) relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi. (The Book of Ruth) Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittie who was seduced and impregnated by King David. When David discovered Bathsheba was pregnant, he sent Uriah into battle with orders that he should be killed. Bathsheba later became the mother of Solomon. (2 Samuel 11:1-27)

Why does Matthew include a prostitute, two women who got pregnant out of wedlock, and a possible lesbian in the genealogy of Jesus? He seems to be pointing out that just because these women weren't sexually pure doesn't mean their sons were tainted. The reasoning seems to be that since Solomon and other great Jewish heroes had mothers who weren't sexually pure, it's OK that the mother of Jesus wasn't sexually pure either.

Joseph may not have been Jesus's real dad, but what do we know about him? Mark and Paul don't mention him at all and John only gives us his name. How about Matthew and Luke?

Matthew seems to have based his Joseph on Joseph from the book of Genesis. Both Josephs had fathers named Jacob, both had numerous prophetic dreams, and both saved their families by bringing them down to Egypt.

Luke, on the other hand, seems to have based his nativity story on 1 Samuel 1-3. When God tells Hannah (the mother of Samuel) through a priest that she would have a child, she responds "Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight" (1 Samuel 1:18). When God tells Mary through an angel that she will have a child, she responds, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). They sing a similar song. Hannah's song begins with "My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord" (1 Samuel 2:1-10) while Mary's song begins with "My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:46-55). Also, both Jesus and Samuel are taken to the Temple when they are of age (1 Samuel 1:22, Luke 2:41-50). Thus, in Luke, Jesus's grandfather isn't named Jacob as in Matthew, but rather Eli (Heli in Greek) after the grandfatherly priest Samuel served.

Outside Sources

Jewish writings including the Talmud and the Tosefta state that Jesus was the illegitamate son of a Roman soldier named Panthera. Celsus, a second century Greek philosopher also made this claim. The 4th century Christian apologist Epiphanius tries to explain this away by claiming that the name "Jesus son of Panthera" is actually a nickname for Jesus's grandfather!

According to the Toledoth Yeshu, a Jewish document written between the 4th and 9th centuries based on an earlier oral tradition, Jesus lived during the reign of Queen Alexandra (about 100 BC) and was the illegitimate son of Yosef ben Pandera.

In Conclusion

The evidence seems to indicate that Joseph, the father of Jesus, is a fictional character. Mark, Paul, and John tell us nothing about him while Matthew and Luke base their portrayal of him on characters from the Old Testament. Jewish and Pagan sources accuse Jesus of being illegitimate outright, while the Gospels merely imply that he is.

So what does all this mean for the question of the historical Jesus? The fact that Jesus was illegitimate was embarrassing for the early Christian church, so using the criterion of embarrassment, doesn't that mean he really existed?

Not necessarily. As we have seen, the Jesus of the Gospels is largely based on Old Testament characters and many Old Testament characters had questionable parentage. Jesus being illegitimate may have originally been a midrashic creation that later Christians found embarrassing and tried to change.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. (Philemon 1:10)

In the Epistle to Philemon, Paul is writing on behalf of Philemon's runaway slave, Onesimus. He asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus and take him back. But does Paul have a hidden agenda?

Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. (Philemon 1:11)

Onesimus means "useful." Paul is engaging in a bit of wordplay here. Notice that Onesimus is useful not only to Philemon, but also to Paul.

I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. (Philemon 1:12-14)

Now we see what's in it for Paul. Paul wants Philemon to give him his slave. Paul seems to be saying, "Hey I could just take him, but I'll give him back to you, so that when you give him to me it will seem voluntary." Talk about coveting your neighbor's manservant! Doesn't Paul realize he's breaking the Tenth Commandment here?

Philemon is traditionally dated between 50-60 AD, although there's no reference to it until about hundred years later. The epistle is first mentioned by Tertullian, (c. 160 – c. 220 AD) who said it was included in Marcion's canon (c. 130 AD). The earliest known manuscript of the Epistle to Philemon is Papyrus 87 which has been dated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century based on hand writing analysis. The traditional dating of 50-60 AD is based on the assumption that the events described in Acts are genuinely historical. However, no Christian had access to any of Paul's letters before the gnostic Marcion. When we consider that all of Paul's letters appear at the same time in a single collection, it's quite likely that Marcion wrote the letters of Paul. All available evidence indicates that Philemon, including all of Paul's epistles, were written in the second century and the historical Paul may actually have been Marcion.