Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christmas: facts, fantasies & fabrications

Despite the fact that he was a missionary, he was bold enough to aver that: “The Jesus who came forward publicly as the messiah, who preached the ethic of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven on earth, and died to give his work final consecration, never had any existence.

He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in a historical garb.” Schweitzer, along with one of the most eminent researchers into New Testament history, Johannes Weiss, believe that the critical importance of Jesus does not lie in his historicity but in the eschatological and messianic teachings attributed to him.

The renowned playwright, Bernard Shaw, proclaimed that although there was probably a man called Jesus, his relevance lay in the political, economic, and moral ideas which he espoused.

In Androcles and the Lion, Shaw argued that: “there is a man here who was sane until Peter hailed him as Christ, and who then became a monomaniac…his is a common delusion among the insane…and such insanity is quite consistent with argumentative cunning and penetration which Jesus displayed in Jerusalem after his delusion has taken complete hold of him.

He was a communist…he regarded much of what we call law and order as a machinery for robbing the poor under legal forms.” Josiah Royce, the American philosopher, suggested that the significance of Jesus of Nazareth is attributable to “the vital impetus” his teachings and activities had given to a powerful event, the emergence of Christianity.

According to Royce: “in answer to the challenge, either you must believe that the founder of Christianity was only a man, or else you must accept Jesus as the Christ, the divine man; we must fairly reply…Whatever may be the truth about the person of Christ, and about the supposed supernatural origin of Christianity, the human origin of the christian doctrine of life, and also the human source of all the latter Christologies, must be found in the early christian community itself.

The christian religion in its early form is the work and expression of the christian church. Meanwhile, since the human founder Jesus gave the stimulus, the signal…the vital impetus, without which the christian community…would never have come into existence, we can indeed say that the man Jesus was in this sense the founder of Christianity.

But we cannot say that, speaking of Jesus as an individual man, we know that he explicitly intended to found the Christian church.” Now that we have looked at Christmas and the views of some scholars concerning the status and historicity of Jesus, let us harvest the main fruits of our discourse. First of all, whatever the historical status of Jesus of Nazareth, it is incontrovertible that Christmas, as it is being celebrated worldwide, has no biblical warrant.

It is the crystallisation of superstitious ideas and practices drawn from ancient Rome and other Mediterranean communities, spiced up with some narratives in the Gospels. The Bible does not contain a precise statement of the actual day and month when Jesus was born.

It follows that Christmas celebration is not based on actual historical event. We have noted already how Pope Julius 1 imposed that date on Christendom, although the Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently refused to mark the birthday of Jesus on December 25, or on any other day, because he never commanded his followers to celebrate it.

A devout Christian is likely to consider it sacrilegious if anyone expresses scepticism about whether Jesus of the Gospels actually lived. But Christian dogmatism and sentiments apart, there is no solid evidence to back the claim that he did, or that the narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are historical records of real events. Indeed, there is abundant evidence indicating that Jesus is a composite figure created from the synthesis of ancient Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman mythological traditions, blended with some strand of the messianic tradition in Judaism.

These facts, and more, are well-known to serious students of the New Testament. Therefore, as believers celebrate Christmas, they should bear in mind that the event is more of mythology and fantasy than reality. And no matter how sacrilegious it might appear to them, they should know that there are good reasons for thinking that Jesus Christ, as depicted in the New Testament, is a myth as well.

There might well have been a bohemian Jewish rabbi born around 4 B.C., who taught a form of Judaism different from the conventional version. But all the supernatural attributes and occurrences attributed to Jesus in The Bible were derived from, and are analogous to, superstitions and legends in ancient Mediterranean and Oriental worlds.

Take the story of virgin birth, which is very popular in many antiquated communities. In ancient Egyptian mythology, for instance, the ibis_headed god, Toth, was said to announce the forthcoming birth of a son to the virgin_queen Mautmes.

In Parsee mythology, Saoshyas, the future savior of mankind and conqueror of death, was miraculously conceived by his virgin_mother from the seed of Zarathustra, who himself was born of a fifteen year old virgin, Dughdova, after the latter had been visited by a shaft of light from the supernatural realm.

Indian mythology proclaims that Krishna was born from the rib of a virgin who belonged to the royal line of Devaci. Even Buddha was said to have been born through divine intervention, not through the natural process. In short, the myth of the virgin birth of Jesus is not unique to Christianity.

Rest Here:

OCU Women Blast Oklahoma Christian

Leading by ten at halftime, the Oklahoma City women's basketball team exploded in the second half, outscoring Oklahoma Christian 50-21 to win easily, 94-55 Saturday night at Abe Lemons Arena in Oklahoma City.

The second-ranked Stars (13-0 overall, 8-0 Sooner Athletic Conference) used a 20-5 run early in the first half to open a double-digit lead.

Oklahoma Christian (8-8, 2-6) scored the first seven points of the second half to cut the Stars' lead to three, but OCU responded with nine straight points and added another 9-0 run to push the lead to 68-47 with 10:57 remaining.

Oklahoma City added insult to injury when they ended the game with 12 straight points.

Starr Fairbanks led the Stars with 20 points and eight rebounds while Lauren Gober and Donica Cosby each added 13 and Desiree Jeffries scored 12.

Krista Stevens led Oklahoma Christian with 14 points. Ayanna Jackson scored 13 and Katy O'Steen added 11.

OCU out-rebounded the Eagles 45-27, forced 27 turnovers and limited Oklahoma Christian to just 34-percent shooting.

OCU will return to the court Thursday night at home against 16th-ranked Southern Nazarene. Oklahoma Christian also plays Thursday night at Oklahoma Baptist.

Mussa rejects intervention over Christian attacks

Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa rejects the potential "exploitation" of attacks on Christians in the Arab world as a pretext for intervention by outside powers, he said in Iraq on Saturday.

"Exploiting these events for intervention is something we cannot accept," Mussa said at a news conference in response to a question about attacks on Christians potentially being used as a pretext for outside intervention.

"We should be clear while talking to any power who has something to say in this, because there is a difference between being interested and being compassionate, and the exploitation of the issue," Mussa said.

"What happened is of great concern for us," he said of a January 1 bombing that killed 21 people at a Coptic church in Egypt's second city Alexandria, and a spate of attacks on Christians in Iraq.

Christians "are of the Arab world, and we should provide them with security. Everyone was opposed to the terrorist acts, and these acts confirm that public opinion in the Arab world is against these terrorist crimes," Mussa said.

On October 31, militants stormed Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad, leaving 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel dead in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda's local affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq.

Ten days after the church massacre, a string of bomb and mortar attacks targeting the homes of Christians in Baghdad killed six people and wounded 33.

And on December 30, at least two Christians were killed and 16 others were wounded in a wave of bombings on Christian targets in Baghdad.

Mussa also addressed recent threats made by Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist group, against countries taking part in an Arab summit planned for Baghdad in March.

"Those who are threatening attacks have accused the Iraqi government of being non-Arab oriented. What do they want? To turn their back on Iraq, or isolate it?" Mussa said.

"These threats should push Arab leaders to convene and discuss the differences" between them, he said, adding that differences of opinion should be respected.

Iraq has not hosted an Arab League summit since 1978, although an extraordinary meeting of leaders took place there in 1990.

Emmaus-Nicopolis/Imwas

The first modern site identification of Emmaus was by the explorer Edward Robinson, who equated it with the Palestinian Arab village of Imwas. Before its destruction in 1967, the village of Imwas was located at the end of the Ayalon Valley, on the border of the hill country of Judah, at 153 stadia (18.6 miles) from Jerusalem via the Kiryat Yearim Ridge Route, 161 stadia (19.6 miles) via the Beth-Horon Ridge Route and 1,600 feet (490 m) lower by elevation.

Eusebius was probably the first to mention Nicopolis as biblical Emmaus in his Onomasticon. Jerome, who translated Eusebius’ book, implied in his letter 108 that there was a church in Nicopolis built in the house of Cleopas where Jesus broke bread on that late journey. From the 4th century on, the site was commonly identified as the biblical Emmaus.

Archaeologically, many remains have been excavated at the site of the former Palestinian village, now located inside Canada Park, which support historical and traditional claims. Five structures were found and dated, including a Christian basilica from the 3rd century, another basilica from the 6th century and a 12th century Crusader church. Emmaus Nicopolis is a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church.

Emmaus in the New Testament

The author of the Gospel of Luke, at Luke 24:13-27, writes that Jesus appeared to two disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which is described as being 60 stadia from Jerusalem (10.4 to 12 km depending on what definition of stadia is in use), after his resurrection. One of the disciples is named as Cleopas in verse 18, while his companion remains unnamed.

The author of Luke places the story on the evening of the day of Jesus' resurrection. The two disciples have heard the tomb of Jesus was found empty earlier that day. They are discussing the events of the past few days when a stranger asks them what they are discussing. "Their eyes were kept from recognizing him." He soon rebukes them for their unbelief and gives them a Bible study on prophecies about the Messiah. On reaching Emmaus, they ask the stranger to join them for the evening meal.

When he breaks the bread "their eyes were opened" and they recognize him as the resurrected Jesus. Jesus immediately vanishes. Cleopas and his friend then hasten back to Jerusalem to carry the news to the other disciples, and arrive in time to proclaim to the eleven who were gathered together with others that Jesus truly is alive. While describing the events, Jesus appeared again to all who were there, giving them a commission to evangelize. Then he took them out as far as Bethany and blessed them before ascending back into heaven.

A similar event is mentioned in the longer ending of Mark, but this is believed to be a late addition derived from the gospel of Luke and the incident is not mentioned in the gospels of Matthew and John.

The Emmaus Mystery

For centuries, scholars have tried to work out where Emmaus was: where, in other words, the risen Christ walked, ate and revealed himself. It is a crucial location in the map of Christian belief, and one of the great missing links of Christian archaeology, which has foxed excavators and biblical detectives for more than a millennium and a half.

Where is the true site of the astonishing event recorded by St Luke? Three suggested sites have been put forward. Emmaus-Nicopolis, which is too far from Jerusalem to fit the story and was a regional capital rather than a village. Emmaus-Aby Gosh, which the crusaders believed to be the true site, but was not called Emmaus in the 1st Century AD and must be ruled out.

Finally, Emmaus El Qubeibe which was favoured by the Franciscans as the true site after the Fifteenth Century, but again was not called Emmaus in the 1st century. The trail went cold long ago, or so it seemed. Now, Thiede has produced his most dramatic find to date. His work remains highly confidential and will cause a storm in the archaeological world when it is disclosed. The lost site of Emmaus is rising once again from the soil. Readers will be astonished by this extraordinary book.