Sunday, February 22, 2009

Two comments over at John Kenneth Muir's blog

As I have posted before, I am a great fan of John Kenneth Muir's The House Between. On his blog, Mr. Muir reviews Religulous, a movie I've not seen yet. Even so, I had to react to a couple of Mr. Muir's assertions. Go over to his blog to see the post and his comments, but here's mine:

I haven't yet watched Religulous, although I have had it on my "round tuit" list. If you don't mind, I may post a second comment about Bill Maher.

I wanted to focus on your comments about the Bible itself. (I'll use italics to quote you John.) After all, the Bible was written, re-written, and translated into new languages... The last 100 to 125 years has been very kind to Biblical scholars, especially the collecting of manuscripts in electronic form. Scholars have not only found Greek New Testamet manuscripts that can be dated back to the 400s and 500s, but quotes of the New Testament from the early Christian church writers that can be dated into the first three centuries AD (or CE, if you insist).

The truth is opposite of how can I overlook a thousand years of interference in this supposedly sacred text from monks, popes and other avaricious schemers. The Bible has been protected because there have been so many copies held by so many different sources. The Dead Sea Scrolls are essentially identical to the Hebrew Codices (like the Leningrad Codex) that date to ~1000 AD. We have multiple sources for the Greek New Testament that come from multiple branches of the church, and translations that date from well before AD500.

One of the biggest argument in textual analysis right now is whether Luke added an extra line "the son of Cainan" into Jesus' genealogy, or if the Septuagint was modified, or if there's an error in the Hebrew manuscripts. (See ). The concept that the intent of the book authors hasn't been conveyed down to us is IMHO over.

Now, as you also state, that's hardly the end of the religious discussion. We can't "prove" that 4 guys named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were in the vicinity of Jerusalem in AD30-AD90 writing these books. We have somewhere between 0.001% and 0.1% of the books that were written in that timeframe available to us (this shouldn't surprise a student of film, considering how much of the films of the early 20th century we've already lost), and all of the Jewish genealogy records that would have been stored at the Temple are gone.

I can't absolutely prove to you that the Jesus Seminar was blowing smoke when it tried to decide "what Jesus really said". (I can say that it was hardly original; read what Jefferson tried to do in that area.) I can say that they weren't true to the text. The authors intended to tell you about a Jewish man who was somehow also God; a man who died on the Cross, and as such could forgive your (and my) sins.

Now, the text isn't "in sync" like some might want. It was written by a bunch of men over 2000 years (counting the Hebrew Scriptures). The Gospels were written by 4 people talking to 4 different audiences, with 4 different forms of accuracy, and 4 different set of sources of information. Then you have the Letters, written by multiple men with differing ideas at differing times.

There are differences. I personally think most can be resolved by people reasoning things out. I don't pretend to know all of them, but I doubt any one person can.

Mr. Muir comments on my post, so I reply again:

...Okay, accepted. But that means The Bible is not the literal Word of God then (as some people take it to be), but the word of man; or of men, rather. Right?

No, not at all. I find it fascinating that 30-40 men, in different times in different situations, are essentially consistent in describing a single story. The fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell similar but not identical stories is realistic: 4 people telling the exact same story are just copying.

There has been a lot of debate about the exact nature of how God's "inspiration". Some want to say that the Holy Spirit wrote every word. I am more inclined towards an alternative theory: humans wrote the texts, but the Holy Spirit ensured that they were accurate. I think that they can be shown logically equivalent, and I'm working on that post on my blog, but that's going to be a while....

I think that the Bible (outside of minor scribal errors) is historically accurate, accurately describes Jesus' actions and statements (including those implying or stating that he was divine), and accurately documents that multiple persons saw Jesus after his crucifixion. To misuse Fermet, the proof is too small for this margin. ;)

I could argue this stuff for hours and hours, so I'd better stop here. :)

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