Bible Blunders #568

Zechariah

Over Christmas I heard again the account in Luke, chapter 1, of Mary and Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancies. The story includes one of the most laughable blunders in the bible.

In what is clearly a re-write of the story in Genesis 17 about Abraham and Sarah, John the Baptist’s father-to-be, Zechariah, is told by an angel that his elderly wife will soon become pregnant. Zechariah, like Abraham, has his doubts and is immediately struck dumb because of his lack of his faith. When the child is born, Elizabeth announces he will be called ‘John’ as per the angel’s instructions. However, according to Luke 1.61-63 ‘the people’ (which people?) thought this a bad idea and said to Elizabeth:

“No one in your family has ever been named John.” So they motioned (‘made signs’ in the NIV) to Zechariah to find out what he wanted to name his son. Zechariah asked for a writing tablet.

Wait – they motioned to Zechariah? Why? He’s been struck dumb – he’s not deaf; he’s perfectly capable of hearing them. Then he asks for a writing tablet. He asks? He doesn’t ‘motion’ for it like the others have just done? It seems he can speak again suddenly – but in that case, why does he need the writing tablet?

Looks like Luke got a might confused here, forgot ol’ Zech had been rendered speechless and thought, for these two verses only, that he’d made him deaf.

And this, brethren, is the Inspired Word of God™.

 

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The Virgin Birth: what really happened?

mary2

Menachem Av: Month 2

I’ve missed twice. No pains or discharge now for two months. I thought the first time I was just late. I’ve not been having the uncleanness for long so it could have just been things not working like they should. That happens right? But then a second time. Not so good. And then I started to show. How as I going to explain it – to the family, the village and most of all to Yossef who they’ve decided I’m marrying?

It wasn’t him. We haven’t, you know, done anything. I’ve only met him a couple of times. He’s older of course, nearly twice my age. He seems nice enough, though it wouldn’t make any difference if he wasn’t. He’s going to be my husband. I’m going to be his wife. Or I am if I survive this.

So what am I going to say? Can’t tell them who it really was. Thaddaios, Shim’on the builder’s boy. Same age as me. We just got to messing about. I didn’t want to, knew it was wrong. Knew it would land us, specially me, in trouble one way or another. But I did want to do it too. It was nice. Nice being touched under my clothes. He was gentle and kind.

But then there was blood and mess. The blood was mine, the mess was his. I wasn’t expecting that – the blood, I mean. I was shocked. I touched it and cried. Touched myself after I’d touched him. That’s when it must’ve happened. Some of his mess found its way inside me, off my fingers, and that’s how the seed of his baby began to grow in me.

Technically, though, I’m still a virgin. I can tell Yossef that: ‘technically I’m still a virgin’, ’cause technically that’s true. Thaddaios never put his thing in me. I wouldn’t let him even though he wanted to, ’cause I know how important it is I’m a virgin on my wedding night. Yossef’s family could do bad things to me if they found out I wasn’t. But I am. Technically anyway.

So that’s the story. I’m a virgin but, you know, with child. Yeah, doesn’t make sense. Yossef’s going to have trouble believing it. I know I would. Maybe I can tell him the Lord had a hand in it somewhere. The Lord’s hand instead of my fingers! Maybe. He might go for that. His family’s very orthodox.

Ellul: Month 3

‘Come off it, Miriam,’ Yoseff said when I told him. ‘Who was it?’ But I stuck to my story. So he prayed about it and said the Lord told him he’d to stand by me, so he has done. He says that when it comes everyone’ll thinks it’s his and he’ll just let them. He’s not such a bad sort. It could be a lot worse. But, he says, it’d be best if we took off somewhere, away from all the questions, to hide my shame, he said, when I really begin to show So we’re trekking off to some God-forsaken part of the country where he has relatives or something.

Nissan: Month 9

So that’s how we ended up here, in one room where the animals come in at night. It could’ve been worse, I suppose. His aunt or whoever she is delivered it. The baby that is. It went okay, if you think having your body just about ripped in two is okay. The baby was fine though and I’m recovering. After, his aunt held it up; a bloody mess, arms outstretched. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it won’t change the world, but you have a fine healthy baby.’ I might’ve smiled then. She cleaned it up and wrapped it in the swaddling. I looked and thought, maybe it’s not too bad.

Yoseff came in and peered at it.

‘So,’ he said, as if he was interested, ‘what you going to call her?’

 

Christmas Quiz Answers

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1. In what year was Jesus born?   a) 4 BCE (when Herod the Great was king)   b) the year 0     c) 6CE (when Quirinius was governor of Syria)

Matthew’s gospel claims Jesus was born when Herod the Great was king (Matthew 2.1) while Luke says it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2.2). But Herod died in 4BCE and Quirinius didn’t become governor of Syria until ten years later, in 6CE. So JC couldn’t have been born when both men were in their respective positions. Neither was he born in the year 0, because there wasn’t one (the Gregorian calendar goes from 1BCE to 1CE). Most scholars think Jesus was born around 4BCE, just before Herod’s death (as Matthew’s gospel suggests). Award yourself a splash of myrrh if you got this right.

2. When was Jesus born?  a) December 25th?   b) April 1st   c) in the summer

Not December 25th (see my post Jesus Is The Reason For The Season below) which was the date usurped from the pagan festival of Saturnalia; April 1st, maybe, as there’s something about this that takes us all for fools, but if the story is to be believed, it’s most likely he was born in the summer when shepherds would be out on the hillside with their sheep – if the story is to be believed. In short, we don’t actually know. If you said this, reward yourself with three hail Marys.

3. Who was Jesus’ father? a) God himself   b) Joseph, so that Jesus was descended from King David   c) one of Mary’s one night-stands

a) and b) rule each other out: see my post Jesus was born of a virgin… er, no was descended from David, er… below.  There were much later rumours that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier called Pantera, and certainly Jesus’ legitimacy is called into question by early critics of Christianity. This may be reflected in the gospels themselves where Jesus is referred to as his mother’s son, not his father’s as would have been customary (Mark 6.3). Treat yourself to Susan Boyle’s rendering of ‘Silent Night’ if you knew this.

4. How often did the Romans make people return to their ancestral home to be counted?  a) never   b) it was one-off   c) only when the gospel writer needed to get them to Bethlehem

Answer is c). While the Romans did carry out a census in 6CE, i) Jesus was born ten years earlier and ii) there is no record of the Romans forcing people to return to the home of their ancestors.

5. How did Mary get to Bethlehem?  a) on foot   b) on a donkey   c) by being a character in a contrived story

The answer is c). Luke’s nativity story, the only one to have them travel to Bethlehem, doesn’t say how she got there. Leave a carrot out for Santa’s reindeer if you answered correctly.

6. Where was Jesus born?  a) in a stable   b) in a cave   c) at home in Nazareth

Again, Luke’s Bethlehem account doesn’t say. Matthew implies Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem all along (Matthew 2.11 & 16) making the whole ‘no-room-at-the-inn’ scenario superfluous. Sprinkle yourself with frankincense for saying so.

7. According to Matthew’s gospel, how many wise-men visited the new-born babe?  a) none   b) three   c) they weren’t wise-men, they were astrologers

The answer is c) and the number isn’t specified.

8. What did the angels say to the wise-men when they told them of Jesus’ birth?  a) you will find him in a manger   b) nothing   c) follow that star

b) is correct. According to the story the angels spoke to the shepherds, not the wise-men. Deck the halls with boughs of holly if you fell for this one.

9. Where did the magic star shine?  a) over the stable where Jesus lay   b) over his house   c) since when do stars shine over specific objects here on Earth?

Looks like c) again, though Matthew, who is the only gospel writer to mention it, claims in Matthew 2.9-11 that it was b), over his house.

10. When did the wise-men visit the infant Jesus?  a) when he was a toddler   b) while he was still in the manger   c) after the Christmas rush

Matthew says Jesus was a child when the so-called wise-men visited him at home (Matthew 2.9-11 again). Given their encounter with Herod (Matthew 2.16), who thinks Jesus could be anything up to two years old, it’s likely JC was a toddler at this point in the fabricated story. Don ye now your gay apparel if you knew this.

11. When did Herod massacre all the little boys, hoping to kill the baby Jesus?  a) later that same week   b) a few years after the birth   c) there is no record of him having done any such thing

Yup, c) again.

12. How many shepherds visited the baby Jesus?  a) all of them  b) two old men and a young boy   c) none

The number isn’t specified, though Luke suggests all of them went (Luke 2.15-16). In fact it was ‘none’ because none of this actually happened.

13. What gifts did the shepherds bring?  a) a lamb   b) a lamb kebab   c) a pair of hand-knitted socks

It doesn’t say. You can have a new pair of hand-knitted socks yourself if you said so. Or a kebab.

14. Which animals were present at the birth?   a) a horse (c’mon, it was supposed to be in a stable)   b) an ox and ass   c) an ox, an ass, the wise-men’s camels and the shepherds’ sheep

No animals are mentioned.

15. After the birth, where did Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus go?  a) to Egypt   b) home to Nazareth   c) nowhere

According to Matthew (2.13-18) the family went to Egypt following the visit of the wise-men and, after hiding there until Herod died, made their home in Nazareth (Matthew 2.19-23). According to Luke, however, they lived in Nazareth before the birth (Luke 1.26) and simply went back there once they’d had the baby circumcised (Luke 2.38); no mention of the holiday in Egypt nor of Herod, who’d been dead for ten years according to Luke’s chronology. It’s kinda neat the way the Bible tells such a consistent story, don’t you think?

16. Where will you find the Christmas story in the Bible?  a) in Genesis (because the answers are always in Genesis)   b) in all four gospels   c) in only two of the gospels, which have conflicting accounts

The answer is c); only in Matthew and Luke, each having a completely different take on things.

Feel entitled to sacrifice two turtle doves for making it this far.

A short Christmas quiz…

Nativity

How well do you know the Christmas story? See how you fare in this exciting nativity quiz. Answers in the Bible (and posted soon here);

1. In what year was Jesus born?

a) 4 BCE (when Herod the Great was king)   b) the year 0   c) 6CE (when Quirinius was governor of Syria)

2. When was Jesus born?

a) December 25th?   b) April 1st   c) in the summer

 3. Who was Jesus’ father?

a) God himself   b) Joseph, so that Jesus was descended from King David   c) one of Mary’s one night-stands

4. How often did the Romans make people return to their ancestral home to be counted?

a) never   b) it was one-off   c) only when the gospel writer needed to get them to Bethlehem

5. How did Mary get to Bethlehem?

a) on foot   b) on a donkey   c) by being a character in a contrived story

6. Where was Jesus born?

a) in a stable   b) in a cave   c) at home in Nazareth

7. According to Matthew’s gospel, how many wise-men visited the new-born babe?

a) none   b) three   c) they weren’t wise-men, they were astrologers

8. What did the angels say to the wise-men when they told them of Jesus’ birth?

a) you will find him in a manger   b) nothing   c) follow that star

9. Where did the magic star shine?

a) over the stable where Jesus lay   b) over his house   c) since when do stars shine over specific objects here on Earth?

10. When did the wise-men visit the infant Jesus?

a) when he was a toddler   b) while he was still in the manger   c) after the Christmas rush

11. When did Herod massacre all the little boys, hoping to kill the baby Jesus?

a) later that same week   b) a few years after the birth   c) there is no record of him having done any such thing

12. How many shepherds visited the baby Jesus?

a) all of them   b) two old men and a young boy   c) none

13. What gifts did the shepherds bring?

a) a lamb   b) a lamb kebab   c) a pair of hand-knitted socks

14. Which animals were present at the birth?

a) a horse (c’mon, it was supposed to be in a stable)   b) an ox and ass   c) an ox, an ass, the wise-men’s camels and the shepherds’ sheep

15. After the birth, where did Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus go?

a) to Egypt   b) home to Nazareth   c) nowhere

16. Where will you find the Christmas story in the Bible?

a) in Genesis (because the answers are always in Genesis)   b) in all four gospels   c) in only two of the gospels, which have conflicting accounts

Good luck. Answers here soon.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 13: Jesus was born of a virgin… er, no, was descended from David, er…

XmasMessage

That most fallible of books, the Bible, often wants it both ways. Never more so than when it’s trying to add spin to its central character. It wants us to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, with no human male involved, and, at the same time, that he was physically descended from King David on his dad’s side.

He’s got to be born of David’s line, you see, because the prophecies say the Messiah will be just that. The writer of Acts (‘Luke’) knows this and tells his readers that God promised King David that through ‘the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne’. (Acts 2.30, KJV; my emphasis). The reference is to 2 Samuel 7:12, where Yahweh does indeed appear to tell David that he ‘will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his Kingdom’. This is to be a physical descendancy and is the reason for all those ‘begats’ at the start of some of the gospels; they are there to establish Jesus’ (supposed) royal descent on his father’s side. This is why, in his gospel, Luke contrives to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth: ‘Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David‘ (Luke 2.4). That’s Joseph who was descended from David. Not Mary, not Jesus’ uncle Charlie and not the Almighty himself. Joseph.

Perversely, it is also Luke who insists that Jesus is the product of divine impregnation and a virgin birth (Luke 1.32-35). Why doesn’t he realise that if Jesus was virginally conceived, he cannot be the fruit of any human male’s loins? Luke includes the virgin conception and birth in his nativity story while insisting, in both his gospel and in Acts, that Jesus is the Messiah precisely because he is a physical descendant of David (see, for example, Luke 1.27, 1.32, 1.69, 2.4, 2.11, 3.31, 18.38, 20.41). But Jesus can’t be both a physical descendent of David through Joseph and the result of the God helping himself to a nice young girl. Could it be the two conflicting accounts were written by different fantasists?

So, is Jesus the ‘Son of God’ because he was created by the Almighty’s impregnation of Mary or is he the Messiah because he’s King David’s descendant ‘according to the flesh’? Either Jesus is physically descended from David or he is a being conceived through divine rape, like other mythical god-men of the ancient world.

He cannot be both – though he could, of course, be neither.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 9: The supernatural exists

Madeup

If you follow any Christian blogs, you’ll know that what many of them enjoy most is slagging off other brands of Christianity. They take the odd swipe at the heathen and at gay people, of course, but most of their bile is reserved for each other. They dispute the smallest matters of doctrine and principle that they are sure other groups of believers haven’t got quite as right as they have. To the outsider, it’s like arguing about whether the tooth fairy’s dress is pink or green while overlooking the fact that there is no tooth fairy.

It’s curious too because there are more similarities than differences between the varieties of Christianity. They have much more in common with each other than with the rest of us.

Most significantly, they all believe in supernatural beings. This, for me, is the greatest difference between myself and those who profess a faith. I see no evidence for supernatural creatures, places or events. The supernatural has no independent existence outside the human imagination. It is the human mind that, over the millennia, has constructed innumerable gods and their attendant mythologies, just as it has created more recently the inhabitants of Narnia, Middle-Earth and Hogwarts.

Being a Christian requires you believe in not one, but a myriad of supernatural beings, events and locations:-

While believers are adamant that there’s one God, they insist at the same time he is made up of three individuals: a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit.

They believe in angels who wait upon God the Father in Heaven – a supernatural place they mistakenly believe they’ll be going to when they die – and who, some maintain, aid them here on Earth. How many angels are there? We are told in the Bible there’s a ‘host’ of them, which sounds like quite a lot.

There are also seraphim (Isaiah 6.2) and cherubim (Hebrew 9.5 etc), third-rate special-effects creatures who act as God’s heavies.

In addition to them, there are characters from the early days of Judaism – Moses and Elijah – who have survived death and hang about somewhere or other. They make a surprise return visit to Earth in Matthew 17.3. For some, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is another of this elite group of Eternals.

And what about all of the ordinary believers Christians say have already gone to Heaven? That’s millions of dead people who enjoy supernatural existence. Roman Catholics even believe you can chat with these heavenly ‘saints’ and they’ll argue your case for you with the Big Boss.

There’s the cast of characters from the dark-side too: God’s nemesis the Devil (aka Satan, aka Lucifer – though confusingly this last title is also used of Christ in Revelation 22.16) and his armies of demons and evil spirits who have nothing better to do than take over gullible human minds. This lot live in another supernatural place, Hell, though no-one seems to know where this is either (in Luke 10.15, Jesus implies it’s inside the earth, but it isn’t).

And last but not least are the supernatural events that supposedly took place in the real world: talking animals (Genesis 3.1; Numbers 22.28), sticks that turn into snakes (Exodus 4.3), corpses rising from graves (Matthew 27.52) and a man who magically beams up to Heaven (Luke 24.51), to name but a few.

So, Christians, argue all you like about what makes your version of Christianity better than others, but don’t forget all varieties of the faith depend on believing that these supernatural characters and events are real. In fact, they’re no more real than the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses who inhabited Olympus, and at least they were interesting.