A Critique of Richard C. Miller and Mark’s Empty Tomb

A popular theory that some hold to is that Christians invented Jesus based off of earlier pagan deities such as Osiris, Horus, Mithras, Romulus, and many others in the seemingly endless list of gods these people produce. Almost all of them having been refuted by now, and so the pool of available options to produce a predecessor to Jesus has become strikingly small. Any reader of the four Gospels and epistles of Paul will clearly realize that the primary literary source of information and inspiration for the accounts of the Christians were obviously the texts of the Old Testament, not the Iliad or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Nevertheless, many persist. Recently, in academia, two such claims have arisen. The first is from the scholar Dennis R. MacDonald, who has extensively written arguing for the claim that Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad formed the hypotext, the key to the composition of Mark’s Gospel on the basis of the application of methodologies he formulates like mimesis and transvaluations (his first book on this was published in 2000). Shortly after the publication of MacDonald’s works, he was refuted by a number of scholars, including the scathing critiques of scholars like Margaret Mitchell and Karl Olav Sandnes. Recently, Daniel Gullotta has also demonstrated numerous problems everywhere throughout MacDonald’s thesis (see pp. 336-340 of his paper).

Even more recently, however, another position has risen up to replace this one. In 2010, the scholar Richard C. Miller published a paper titled Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity in 2010 to the Journal of Biblical Literature, arguing that the entombment and resurrection narrative in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:1-8) was ultimately based off of the legendary Roman deity Romulus, acclaimed to have been the founder of Rome who was subsequently translated into heaven. Miller argues that the widespread influence of Hellenism and Greco-Roman culture on the authors who composed the Gospel accounts would have allowed them to be familiar with these myths. I have to applaud Miller on the point that his work presents the most well-argued case for pagan influence on the Gospels yet available, including his dense collection of the relevant material that he is working with and his cogent research into the Greco-Roman world throughout the centuries. Miller’s work has not changed the nature of scholarship on the Gospel of Mark or the historical Jesus. As early as 1993, Craig Evans wrote in a paper titled Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology that “the New Testament Gospels are now viewed as useful, if not essentially reliable, historical sources. Gone is the extreme skepticism that for so many years dominated gospel research” (pg. 14). So, while Miller’s thesis must be judged on its merits (just like MacDonald’s work was), the merits of his thesis, to be successful, would require a significant reworking of all the data that has lead to this conclusion. Greco-Roman influence undoubtedly influenced the Gospels, and to importantly note for the ongoing discussion, the standard work in the field on the genre of the Gospels is Richard Burridge’s What Are the Gospels? (Eerdmans, 2nd ed. 2004) which argues that the Gospels were written under the genre of Greco-Roman biography, such as Plutarch’s Lives, which contrasts to Miller’s position which states that they were written and received as fiction.

Miller begins by outlining a widespread pattern, or topus of elements that belonged to pagan deities by which he later seeks to impute onto the picture of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. By adducing numerous examples throughout Greco-Roman literature, he successfully establishes that many deities were regularly thought to have (1) suddenly vanished and then (2) get translated into heaven where they (3)  undergo deification (become a god) and (4) are worshipped. They vanish immediately before or right after their death because “the body must not see decay, lest the remains demonstrate in perpetuity the mortal status of the hero” (pg. 764). Miller then starts providing numerous sources where this occurs in pagan literature;

The ubiquity of this topos, as Pease did aver, persists, yielding a robust array of literary instances throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Once Herakles had ascended his martyr’s pyre, as Diodorus Siculus and Lucian attest, Zeus sent his mighty thunderbolt consuming Herakles, wood, and all in conflagration. The bystanders afterward, being unable to find Herakles’ charred bone remains amid the ash, declare that he had been translated and had achieved the rank of the demigods (Diodorus Siculus 4.38.14; Lucian, Cyn. 13). Statius and Herodianus tell of the body of Homer’s deceased Ganymedes having disappeared at Zeus’s decree that he be deified so as to become his heavenly court cupbearer (Statius, Silvae 3.4.12–18; Herodianus Historicus 1.11.2). Pindar tells of Amphiarus having disappeared along with his horses and chariot within an opened fissure in the earth, having achieved heroic status (Nem. 10.14). Dionysius of Halicarnassus, likewise, records the disappearance of Aeneas, the epic hero of Virgil’s Aeneid, while in battle near Lavanium; the Latins built a “hero shrine” to him there with the inscription “To the father and god of this place, who presides over the waters of the river Numicius.” Because of his disappearance, they said that Aeneas had been “translated to the gods” (Ant. rom. 1.64.4–5). (pg. 764)

And Miller goes on and on and on. He also produces a lengthy citation of Plutarch’s Life of Romulus which contains the myths of Romulus that he posits that Mark directly borrowed from (Plutarch himself does not consider these myths to be true). However, from the outset, Miller’s thesis encounters a significant obstacle: the primary literary source for Mark and the other Evangelists, including Paul and every other Christian writer of the first century, was the works of the Old Testament, not any classical pagan/Greco-Roman mythology or writings. In fact, this is how the Gospel of Mark begins:

Mark 1:1-3: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

The opening/editorial of the Gospel of Mark immediately begins with an overt citation of the Old Testament scriptures. As the scholar Rikke E. Watts writes, “In keeping with the role of the opening sentence in literary antiquity, Mark’s sole explicit editorial citation of the OT should be expected to convey the main concerns of the prologue and, therefore, his Gospel” (pg. 90, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark). In other words, Mark explicitly tells us that it is the scriptures of Israel that is his main source and concern. This is why scholars are incredibly skeptical of the postulation of pagan sources, rather than Jewish sources, as the basis of any literary story in the New Testament. Of course, Miller knows about this fact and responds;

Several factors, in my view, conspire, prohibiting a clear understanding of how such a text would have likely performed in the ancient Mediterranean world. First, scholars tend to subsume Mark under a Judaic literary domain, thus seeking its primary semiotic indices and cultural conventions within early Jewish literature. There appears, however, to be little basis for this appetence, except a rather non-scholarly insistence on a “pristine,” “non-pagan” well from which the academy ought to draw nearly all cultural, literary, and ideological antecedents. (pg. 1)

Little basis? Actually, there is an overwhelming basis for why scholars do such a thing. Mark cites and alludes to numerous events, narratives, and people of the Old Testament, and forms a prophetic basis for a number of the things he reports about Jesus. Not only did Mark do this, however, but all the Evangelists, including Paul, did. This reflects the clear Jewish paradigm under which the life of Jesus proliferates by, which we see develops all throughout his ministry. Paul Eddy writes that “one of the most characteristic forms of Jesus’ teaching style-the parable-has no real Cynic parallels and is a fundamentally Jewish form” (pg. 461, Jesus as Diogenes? Reflections on the Cynic Jesus Thesis, italics not mine). There are literally hundreds of citations and allusions in the New Testament to the Old Testament, and not a single quotation, citation, allusion or reference in the New Testament to a single work of pagan mythology or pagan hero.

When producing many of the deities and examples Miller outlines to establish his topus, he refers to the authors that write about these pagan myths. These writers include Diodorus Siculus, Lucian, Plutarch, Statius, Herodianus, Pindar, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Vergil, Strabo, Sophocles, Aelian, Pausanius, Eusebius, and others. A problem to note here is that, while acknowledging the early existence of this topus, many of these authors couldn’t have been a source or influence of Mark since they were written decades or even centuries after Mark. Lucian, Aelian, Pausanius, Eusebius, Statius, Herodianus and many other sources Miller cites all wrote in the 2nd century and later, and Statius wrote in 80’s or 90’s, and therefore could not have been a source for Mark. Even Plutarch’s Life of Romulus, which is supposed to contain the primary myths that Mark supposedly drew from was written about half a century after Mark himself!

Finally, we must take a look at Miller’s putative parallels. The legible features of pagan mythology Miller cites are, as I shall argue, either not legible, and if they are, can be traced to either the Old Testament or Greco-Roman biographical accounts rather than the writings regarding pagan mythology. One of the primary tenets of the myth pattern Miller adduces is that the hero becomes a god after they vanish at the end of their earthly lives and are translated into heaven. In Mark however, Jesus possesses divine status before his death throughout the course of the Gospel. When the High Priest asks Jesus “Are you the Messiah, Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus responds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:60-62), for which Jesus is condemned to death on the charges of blasphemy. In Mark 1:9-11 God appears from heaven and declares “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” In Mark 6, we’re told that Jesus sees his people as “sheep without a shepherd”, which is a major intertextual echo to Ezekiel 34, a passage where Israel is portrayed as a scattered flock where the Lord God Himself looks on them and seeks to become their shepherd. Once Jesus finally dies after the crucifixion, the centurion confesses that “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (15:39) all along. So Jesus never becomes a god after His death, Jesus already was one.

Also troubling is that Jesus is also never translated into heaven in the Gospel of Mark. After the women find Jesus’ tomb empty, the angels tell them that Jesus is risen and going ahead to Galilee! Miller also tries to draw a parallel from Romulus and other deities suddenly vanishing and the women finding Jesus’ tomb empty. However, this parallel too is superficial. In Plutarch’s Life of Romulus, Romulus’s body “disappeared suddenly, and no portion of his body or fragment of his clothing remained to be seen” (Plutarch, Rom. 27.4.5). On the other hand to Romulus’s sudden disappearance, Jesus is captured by the authorities, tortured, and crucified for all to see. After his death, Joseph of Arimathea eventually requests and receives permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’ body, and after he is buried, the women come a few days later to find the tomb empty. In contrast to Romulus’s sudden vanishment, Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb is a clearly gradual process. Furthermore, the function of the disappearance of the body is also different in Mark than in Plutarch’s work. In Plutarch, Romulus disappears for no apparent reason, whereas in Mark, Jesus’ body disappears because Jesus has been resurrected from the dead, and the empty tomb plays a function to indicate to the women that Jesus is no longer dead and is resurrected. Is this a parallel?

Earlier, we’ve seen one part of Miller’s topus according to Miller is that “the body must not see decay, lest the remains demonstrate in perpetuity the mortal status of the hero”. This is exactly the opposite of what happens with Jesus. Not only does Jesus fail to suddenly disappear when he is threatened with death, but Jesus is interrogated, beaten and tortured, mocked, and crucified in front of entire crowds, where Jesus body remains there for hours until he finally dies. Additionally, Jesus constantly predicts his imminent death (8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 14:27-28) and even his resurrection (14:28) so much so that this is one of the primary themes of the Gospel of Mark. Yet, this is the opposite of what we would expect if Mark was basing his account off of a myth where one of the primary patterns is that the “mortal status of the hero” is not demonstrated. If Mark were trying to make it appear as if Jesus wasn’t mortal, he has done a terrible job. Every single major theme in Mark’s Gospel is nowhere to be found in Romulus or other Greco-Roman deities, and every major theme of the stories of Greco-Roman deities is nowhere to be found in Mark. Miller’s entire arguments rest on parallels that seem to be, at times, indistinguishable from non-existence (for example, see pp. 772-3 where he lists parallels like “taken away in a cloud” which appears a single time in Acts 1:9, and anyways, this likely parallels the OT, cf. Exodus 16:10, 13:21-22; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Kings 8:10-12, Nahum 1:3, etc, and especially 2 Kings 2:11 where a whirlwind takes Elijah away to heaven). Miller claims that the account of the earthquake and darkness over the earth after Jesus dies reflects pagan sources (Ovid, Metam. 14.816–22; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Ant. rom. 2.56.2–6; Plutarch, Rom. 27.6–7), resulting in him missing the real intertextual echo for this account, namely where the Old Testament prophecies an earthquake and darkness over the earth in the days of King Uzziah:

Amos 8:8-9: Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.

Miller also posits that the claim that a work that claims to be the derivative of eyewitness testimony also constitutes evidence that it borrows from pagan mythology since apparently, pagan mythology claims that the information it contains has been transmitted through eyewitnesses, and thus the claim of eyewitness testimony is included in Miller’s topus of elements. Miller, however, cannot maintain this since works of Greco-Roman historiography and biography stress eyewitness accounts far more greatly than those of mythology do, which is reflected across many ancient historians, including Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus, etc. According to William Campbell, “Thucydides … establishes strict criteria for the historical reliability of the events of the war to be included, claiming a preference for those that he observed personally or that were reported by eyewitnesses” (pg. 391, The Narrator as “He,” “Me,” and “We”: Grammatical Person in Ancient Histories and in the Acts of the Apostles). Polybius himself writes in his works “… because of the significance of events . . . but most of all because I have been not only an eyewitness to most of them, but of some a participant and of others even an administrator, I was persuaded to write” (3.4.13). One of Miller’s references to where the New Testament proclaims eyewitness testimony is in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11, however in this Pauline passage, scholars have long noted his use of the words “received” (greek parelabon) and “delivered” (Greek paredoka) are the equivalent to the rabbinic terms for the passing on of tradition (which further shows this passage draws from Jewish rather than pagan thought). A powerful alternative to Miller’s thesis, as reflected extensively in our ancient Greco-Roman biographies (the primary genre historians consider the Gospels to reflect), is that the Gospels incorporated claims of eyewitness testimony as this was considered a reliable medium by the ancients to transmit information.

Towards the end of his paper, Miller produces a citation from the works of Justin Martyr (c. 150 AD), an early Christian who wrote that what the Christians proclaimed about Jesus, such as his virgin birth and death, is no different from what the pagans believed in their own deities, and so Miller takes this as a prima facie admission from Justin that the earliest Christians patterned their beliefs off of the Greco-Roman accounts. Of course, there are several historical and critical problems that disallow any such conclusion. To begin with, Justin’s account is evidently wrong when he says that “we are conveying nothing new”. By actually comparing any of the accounts of any of the legends Justin compared to Jesus, numerous dissimilarities quickly proliferate. Secondly, Justin, who wrote long after the doctrines of the New Testament had been written, simply didn’t know how the origins of these doctrines had ever came about, and so he is too unreliable when it comes to determining the origins of the belief in the virgin birth, crucifixion, etc. In some cases, we know some of the things Justin cites have no derivative from pagan ideologies, such as the virgin birth, which actually came from the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 (LXX). Finally, Justin had a clear apologetical agenda by trying to make the Christian beliefs sound similar to the Greco-Roman beliefs — his entire argument is dependent on the fact that the Christians are very similar to the pagans, and therefore the pagans should not oppress or persecute them (1 Apol. 24), something that commonly occurred throughout the 2nd century AD (e.g. Pliny’s letter to Trajan). Miller also claims that Origen, Tertullian, Minucius Felix and Arnobius made similar admissions, however reviewing the citations he gives to these writers, they simply make no such comment, and at best say that there are some commonalities in the general ideology between Christians and pagan religion. Sometimes, these writers actually even rebuke supposed similarities (Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 55; Tertullian, Apol. 21; Origen, Cels. 3.23, 25). And to add on, Justin Martyr even said that while the demons tried to imitate the prophecies of Jesus Christ, they ultimately failed and thus did not actually replicate Jesus.

When they [wicked demons] heard it predicted through the prophets that Christ was to come, and that impious men would be punished by fire, they put forward a number of so-called sons of Zeus, thinking that they could thus make men suppose that what was said about Christ was a mere tale of wonders like the stories told by the poets… But, as I will make clear, though they heard the words of the prophets they did not understand them accurately, but made mistakes in imitating what was told about our Christ. (1 Apol. 54)

These are some of the problems I have with Miller’s thesis. I recommend everyone evaluates Miller’s arguments themselves, including reading his article and recent book Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity (Routledge 2015). Wherever we are today, the evidence will unequivocally lead the future.

UPDATE: Richard C. Miller has responded to this post here on his Facebook page by accusing me of lunacy and delusion. He says during our email exchange I “eventually disclosed” that I was the author of the blog — in fact, I did so almost right away. He misclaims I see myself as “distinctly gifted” and “adopted the role of the Christian Defender of the Galaxy.” I tried engaging with this post and a few of the comments by requesting that everyone reads Miller’s arguments and my arguments for themselves and come to their own conclusions, although Miller just deleted all my comments and then blocked me.

In our email interactions, he accused me of deliberately maligning him and misrepresenting his arguments literally everywhere (and eventually swore at me). When I asked him to clarify, he just sent more of said emails. So I invited him to personally rewrite any sections of my portrayals of his arguments he thought was inaccurate, but I was just accused again of maligning his character (I made over a dozen edits to try helping this out, including adding positive comments about his work, distancing his work from fringe theories, and removing any comments he might have taken as offensive, but I couldn’t do any more after this point).

Miller did not try to address any of my arguments or requests for thoughts, instead saying he would rather see me look like a fool. He also likens my response to him responding to a member of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, although I have published in a professional historical encyclopedia before and so this would not be the most apt analogy. I can say nothing more since my arguments were not addressed, this update simply reflects my thoughts on his harsh-toned (one may borrow Miller’s words, maligning) post on what I wrote.

UPDATE 2: After further conversation and debate regarding specific arguments and elements on the nature of this discussion, me and Dr. Miller seem to have agreed to disagree (the conversation eventually included too many points at once) and, in the way I see it, let the evidence speak for itself once it has been unbiasedly reviewed from both viewpoints. To that, I say Amen.


Top 10 Biblical Discoveries of 2017

This was a big year for biblical archaeology. Here, I’m going to gather up several archaeological findings that bear archaeological relevance (and even importance) to the historical world of the Bible and the early church. Numerous discoveries have been made, and I must certainly refer to Todd Bolen’s collection and ChristianityToday’s list of the top 10 biblical discoveries this year (which will be a lot different from my own). Let us begin! But before that, let’s consider some runner-ups this year.

Sixteen hundred-year-old frescos found in catacombs in St. Domitilla depicting Jesus welcoming the dead. After ISIS destroyed the traditional site of Jonah’s tomb, archaeologists dug into it and actually discovered it was the location of the palace of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, renovated by his son Esarhaddon, discovered in the ancient city of Ninevah. Both kings are mentioned in the Bible and are pivotal opponents of Israel. Although not an archaeological discovery, genetic testing on ancient Canaanite’s has confirmed that the Canaanite’s have survived to this day, and their descendants are in Lebanon. Lastly, after thoroughly excavating and ploughing through an ancient dump in Jerusalem dating to the time of Jesus, the dig revealed the diet of the local Jews of Jerusalem during Jesus time, and it was strictly kosher. Sheep, pigeons, various plants, but not a single pig or non-kosher bone found in the entire site. On to the top 10!

10. The earliest manuscript of the apocryphal First Apocalypse of James in the original Greek language announced at the Society of Biblical Literature. This marks an important discovery in our Gnostic literature, as we had, previous to this, no copies of any Gnostic text in its original, Greek language predating the Nag Hammadi Archive.

9. Mortar sampled from the surface of the limestone tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre dating to the early 4th century AD, confirming it is the site Constantine’s mother visited in the 4th century AD and constructed over in that time believing it was the location of Jesus’ burial. The significance of this discovery is that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, widely famed to be the burial tomb of Jesus (it’s located in Jerusalem) is thought to have been the burial site of Jesus from at least the early 4th century AD where Constantine’s mother went there in order to try to verify the legendary church for herself. This is quite important for our understanding of church history, and who knows if it was truly that place. For all things considered, it’s empty.

8. First chalkstone quarry and workshop used to build stone vessels discovered in Galilee for the purposes of religious purity laws such as purification discovered dating to the time of Jesus (Jesus is reported to have turned water into wine in six stone vessels in Cana, Galilee, in John 2:6). Previous to this, actual stone vessels had been discovered in Galilee, but the actual chalkstone quarries and workshops that provided the function of manufacturing these in Jesus’ day were yet unknown.

7. Archaeologists discover the twelfth Dead Sea Scroll cave at Qumran, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research. It has been over half a century since another cave of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been discovered, and so this is an important contribution to our current knowledge. Furthermore, it may provide clues on locating further caves that may possibly exist. Unfortunately, all the scrolls in this cave had been looted decades earlier.

6. Discovery at the West Bank site, at Qumran, reveals more archaeological evidence that the site was occupied by a group known as the Essenes. In effect, archaeological research in this area reveals its inhabitants were heavily disproportionately male, corresponding to what we know about the Essenes; a group of highly devout Jews who gave up all worldly possessions and concepts (including sex and women) waiting for God to ultimately return and overthrow the Roman Empire and vindicate them to a glorified state. This evidence affirms it was this community who produced and read the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran caves, an important fact of ancient history and one that has been highly debated.

5. Mosaic in Western Galilee dating to the 5th century reveals the role of women in the early church; woman donated and funded church and was memorialized independently of any men or males. This reveals that in the early church, even up until the 5th century after Christianity had conquered Rome, women continued in their affluency, power and equality to men under the leadership of church powers, itself perhaps including a significant female power.

4. New evidence confirms Jerusalem was burned by the Babylonians during the 6th century BC. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah recorded that the Babylonian invasion of Israel involved the burning down of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC, and recent excavations in the City of David, Jerusalem, have finally confirmed this major detail in the biblical accounts of the Babylonian invasion.

3. Writings of the Latin Christian Fortunatianus of Aquileia, dating to the 4th century AD, rediscovered and published by De Gruyter for free. The discovery of a major early writer of Christianity is of fundamental importance, especially since it illumines the discovery of an early church writer (predating even Augustine) in a very long time. Furthermore, Fortunatianus’s works now represent the earliest commentary we have in possession of the fourth Gospel, and they help us better understand the comments of other early church writers, such as Jerome, who commented on Fortunatianus and his works. It is also of great importance to how we know Latin Christianity came to be.

2. Within ancient Jezreel, local economy found to have been a major source of wineries, and therefore vineyards as the story of Naboth’s vineyard alludes. According to the biblical accounts of Naboth, Naboth was a man living in Jezreel who possessed an important. The texts of the Bible documenting this about Naboth were written later, however archaeological discoveries have now confirmed, in accordance with the biblical account, that Jezreel was an important location for the production of wine and vineyards in ancient Israel.

1. Vast copper mines discovered in the southern tip of Israel discovered at the Timna Valley dating to the time of Solomon, reputed to be King Solomon’s mines. This is certainly the most important archaeological discovery of the year, revealing that an entity in modern day Israel (very close to the Israelite kingdom during Solomon’s time) was producing copper at an industrial scale, which deals an enormous blow to the claim that the Israelite kingdoms in this time, or other kingdoms in this time, remained living in an agrarian and highly rural state. This claim had been maintained for a long time in order to claim that in the time of David and Solomon, there was no possibility of their maintaing a kingdom. It is with great probability that Solomon’s kingdom possessed control over these copper mines, which would likely demonstrate that the kingdoms of David and Solomon had significant power and were not confined to an agrarian existence — in other words — David and Solomon really may have possessed a kingdom.

EDIT: Towards the very end of 2017, yet another two more major biblical archaeology advancements were made almost immediately made before the year ended, so I’ll note them here as I’ve now written articles about them. Out of all the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the middle of the 20th century, two still remained undeciphered, until this year when the second last manuscript was finally published — I’ve written further about it and its implications here. Secondly, another major finding was made concerning the finding of a seal dating to the 7th century BC in Jerusalem, which confirms the title that the Bible tells us was used for the leader presiding over Jerusalem in this time. I’ve written more about this here as well. A great year of discovery, let’s hope the next one gives us just as much.

The Gospel of Judas

Recently, I have read Bart Ehrman’s book The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look At Betrayer and Betrayed (Oxford University Press, you can find an online digitized version of Ehrman’s book here for free). Bart Ehrman is a great scholar who has, unfortunately, made a number of errors regarding the New Testament and many things about it, and in this book, while he reconstructs the historical Judas, I found myself disagreeing with a number of things. However, regarding the actual Gospel of Judas, I have found Ehrman’s contribution to my knowledge invaluable. Ehrman was one of the principal figures in authenticating the Gospel of Judas, which was originally published in 2006, making it the most recently discovered and published Gnostic text.

To be quite honest, although I have put much effort in understanding Gnosticism before, I’d never really succinctly gotten it. I’ve read the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s ridiculously long explanation of this second-century Christian phenomenon, but in my opinion, it was so overcomplicated that the information simply slipped my mind. However, Ehrman is a fantastic communicator and I now understand the state of early Christianity much better than I did before reading the book (which took me less than three days). So, I will be able to write a little about this text here.

The text of the Gospel of Judas was discovered in the early 1970’s by accident. After moving from numerous owners and possessors over the years, and undergoing tremendous damage, it finally entered into the hands of scholars and started getting preserved in the early 2000’s. National Geographic got interested in this not-yet-announced discovery, and so with National Geographic’s resources, things quickly got underway. National Geographic assembled a number of scholars to authenticate the text (of course, no reason to make a financial investment if its a fake), and Bart Ehrman was one of them. After being authenticated, it was finally published to the National Geographic Society in 2006, the translators being Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, in collaboration with François Gaudard (although I have used Mark Mattison’s translation). Ehrman also published his book on the Gospel of Judas in 2006 (although I think Ehrman writes that the authoritative work on the Gospel of Judas, at least in relationship with Gnosticism, was written by Martin Meyer, see pg. 103). The Gospel of Judas is, if nothing else, a Gnostic text. The Gospel is a Gospel about Judas, not a Gospel according to Judas, as we see in the last line of Judas, which says “The Gospel of Judas.” Compare this to the Gospel of Thomas, which ends in the words “The Gospel according to Thomas.” Unlike any other ancient text of the ancient world, it actually portrays Jesus’s relationship with Judas from Judas’s perspective. Judas, in this second century writing, is the good guy, the only one who really understands Jesus, even in the betrayal. I will explain this in the time coming. The entire document is inundated with heresy but is very important for understanding early Christianity.

As I said earlier, the Gospel of Judas is, if nothing else, a Gnostic text. What is Gnosticism? Ehrman explains this very succinctly;

In its broadest terms, Gnosticism refers to a number of religious groups from the early centuries of Christianity that emphasized the importance of secret knowledge to escape the trappings of this material world. The name Gnostic itself comes from the Greek word for “knowledge,” gnosis. Gnostics, then, are ones who are in the know. And what do they know? They know the truth that can set them free from this world of matter, which was created not by the one true God but by lower, inferior, and often ignorant deities who designed this world as a place of entrapment for elements of the divine. Gnostic religions indicate that some of us have a spark of divinity within us, a spark that longs to be set free from the prison of our bodies. These religions provide the secret knowledge that allows us to transcend our mortal, material bodies to return to the heavenly realm whence we originally came, where we will once again live with the gods. (pg. 58)

Essentially, it is the view that the material world is an entrapping of which we can only escape by acquiring secret knowledge. Only people with the divine spark can learn this secret knowledge, and those who do not have it will never know (I don’t know if Gnostics derived this concept from Jesus words in the Gospel of Mark, where he says that His teachings can only be understood by those with eyes to see and ears to hear and similar sayings). Gnostics believed that the original, ultimate God did not create this world. Rather, by merely thinking, He personified His own characteristics into other beings. For example, He had wisdom, and so He created a divine being called Wisdom. These deities, in turn, created other deities. Who in turn created other deities. Who in turn created other deities. All of this was happening in the great divine realm of the Pleroma. One time, the Gnostics believe, one of these deities, Sophia, the lowest emanation was birthed apart from the Pleroma and itself birthed the Demiurge (sometimes named Yaldaboath, a name that might be derived from the Old Testament title “Yahweh Lord of Sabbaths”) who existing outside of the Pleroma, and thinking on his own,  created our world. This was not the true, original God who is the ultimate Creator, but rather a lower, inferior and ignorant deity far removed from the original God who does not inhabit the Pleroma that created this world.

That is why this world, created by this ignorant and stupid deity, contains so much suffering and evil. This world is made by an evil deity, and we are trapped in this evil world, and we can only escape by turning to the original Pleroma where the true God is. How can we do this? By acquiring secret knowledge, the gnosis. Some of us have a divine spark within us, which is actually part of Sophia entrapped into the world by the Demiurge, and so by acquiring this knowledge, or self-knowledge about ourselves, we can learn how to escape this world and return to the Pleroma after our deaths (those who do not have the divine spark are like animals, they cease to exist after death). This is Gnosticism. Many Gnostics believed that the secret knowledge was revealed to this world through Jesus Christ himself, and only few will be able to truly understand His true message — Jesus, in fact, is not the son of the god who created this world, who is an ignorant and evil god, Jesus is of the divine realm, the Pleroma, of the true God residing in the Pleroma. Christian Gnostics believed that some people, who didn’t have the divine spark within them but had faith in Christ, are able to have a small portion of salvation after their deaths in contrast to those who simply ceased to exist. In the Gospel of Judas, when Jesus followers say that he is the son of the god of the created world, this is how he responds:

Judas 33-34: … One day he was with his disciples in Judea. He found them sitting together practicing their piety. When he [came up to] his disciples 34 sitting together praying over the bread, [he] laughed. The disciples said to him, “Master, why are you laughing at [our] prayer? What have we done? [This] is what’s right.” He answered and said to them, “I’m not laughing at you. You’re not doing this because you want to, but because through this your God [will be] praised.” They said, “Master, you […] are the Son of our God!” Jesus said to them, “How do [you] know me? Truly [I] say to you, no generation of the people among you will know me.” ….

This is quite strange indeed. Jesus enters a room of his disciples praying, and he laughs at them! In the entirety of the Gospels, Jesus never laughs, however this happens four times in the Gospel of Judas (a relatively short text in comparison to the Gospels). However, Jesus laughing is actually a common feature in Gnostic texts. Besides the several times Jesus laughs in the Gospel of Judas, Jesus also laughs in a Gnostic text called the Second Treatise of the Great Seth. See:

As for me, on the one hand they saw me; they punished me. [But] another, their father, was the one who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They were hitting me with the reed; another was the one who lifted up the cross on his shoulder, who was Simon. Another was the one on whom they put the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the riches of the archons and the offspring of their error and their conceit, and I was laughing at their ignorance. (Second Treatise, 56, quoted in Ehrman pg. 110)

Jesus also laughs in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter. After taking important note of this, and all these texts, Ehrman explains why Jesus is laughing:

And notice again that Jesus is laughing. His laughter is directed against the ignorance of the world, which thinks it knows him. Those in this world, who know him “in the flesh,” don’t know him at all—any more than the disciples know him in the Gospel of Judas, where they are subject to Jesus’ laughter when they assume he is the Son of the God who created this world. (pg. 111)

Jesus is laughing at the ignorance of either his followers, the world, or the foolish and inferior gods. Essentially, Jesus laughs when confronted with the ignorance about this world of the true God, and when they give reverence to the low god who made this world. That’s why, in the Gospel of Judas when he finds his disciples praying to their lowly god, and sees that this is how this deity is supposed to be praised, he laughs at this lowly act and them not realizing they are only acknowledging a lowly deity. As Ehrman writes, “Jesus finds it laughable that the god who provides bread—the material creator of this material world—should be praised” (pg. 89).

In the end of the Gospel of Judas, Judas betrays Jesus. But this is why Judas is actually the good guy in this mythological text. According to this Gospel, Judas actually, in a way, helps Jesus by turning him over to the authorities so he can be killed. But how? As we’ve seen earlier, gnostics believe that this world, this material world is a trapping which we will transcend after our deaths to the Pleroma once we’ve gained the secret knowledge, gnosis. By handing Jesus over to the authorities, Judas, in fact, saves Jesus from this material world. That is why in the Gospel of Judas, Jesus tells Judas “But you’ll do more than all of them [Judas], because you’ll sacrifice the human who bears me”. In Rodolphe et al’s translation, this line runs ““You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me” (56:17–21).” To add, the author of the Gospel of Judas also believed that our bodies, themselves, are material trappings of this world, and our true selves are the divine sparks contained within them. That explains why Jesus says here that you will “sacrifice the man that clothes me.” That Judas actually helps Jesus by handing him over to the authorities is a very novel (and heretical) view of Christianity in the 2nd century AD. Ehrman, in my opinion, gets most of his historical reconstruction of Judas wrong, even drawing imaginary contradictions on why the Gospels say Judas betrayed Jesus.

The tradition goes straight down from there. In Matthew Judas betrays Jesus because he wants the cash; in Luke he does so because he is inspired by the Devil; in John it turns out that he himself is a devil. (pg. 138)

In fact, all the Gospels write that Judas exchanged money for turning Jesus over to the authorities, which undoubtedly implies that Judas did it for the money, regardless Ehrman’s frustration over these points. Ehrman says that in Luke we are told Judas is inspired by the devil, and so this is contradictory to doing it for the money — but, in fact, Ehrman is creating an artificial distinction between doing it for the money and being inspired by the Devil. It’s probable that they thought it was both, Judas wanted money for handing Jesus over because the Devil had influenced him. John just rhetorically calls Judas a devil for betraying Jesus.


The Death of Mythicism?

Mythicism is the view that Jesus did not exist (of which I have written about earlier here). To typical mythicist discontent, I will note before I continue that all real historians think Jesus definitely existed and that mythicist theories are thoroughly unconvincing.

“I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing.” -Bart Ehrman, Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“The view [that Jesus didn’t exist] is demonstrably false. It is fuelled by a regrettable form of atheist prejudice, which holds all the main primary sources, and Christian people, in contempt. …. Most of its proponents are also extraordinarily incompetent.” -Maurice Casey, Emeritus Professor at the University of Nottingham

Recently, a lot of fuss has been going on about mythicism, and someone named Jose asked me to write about it, so here I am. I will talk about some recent things going on for mythicism, all of them which are happening to the discontent of mythicists. First of all, I’ve learned that, even though there are no professors in any relevant historical field that don’t think Jesus existed, I have found out that in our time, there actually have been a number of professors in unrelated fields that have thought Jesus didn’t exist. Indeed, in a discussion on Biologos forums, a contributor came up with the full list of professors who have actually concluded Jesus didn’t exist:  George Wells, Robert Price, Michael Martin, Alvar Ellegård, Jerry Coyne, and Jay Raskin. The problem seems to me, as I looked into these names, these advocates are literally dying off. George Wells died this year (not before giving up mythicism after reading the work of James D.G. Dunn), Michael Martin died in 2015, and Alvar Ellegård died in 2008. DM Murdock, another important figure of the mythicist world, also died in 2015. Furthermore, a number of other key figures in the mythicist movement (including Earl Doherty and Thomas Brodie) have simply left the conversation all together, apparently giving up without actually rescinding in their mythicism. To my knowledge, the entire population of important mythicist contributors is now Richard Carrier, Robert Price, Neil Godfrey and Raphael Lataster (I would include David Fitzgerald but he’s lost his mind), effectively meaning mythicism is on its last legs, although its most vocal contributor (Carrier) is still kicking. Robert Price is in terrible health, though, it seems, and he’s in his late 60’s as well. Neither Godfrey nor Lataster have any relevant qualifications to discuss history and they get ignored for the most part.

That’s the first thing to note. Secondly, as it has happened, another major historian of early Christianity has written a number of scathing posts about mythicism on his blog: Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor at the University of Edinburgh. His important posts can be found here, here, and here. As an influential voice in New Testament studies, this is another travesty for mythicism, especially considering just how unconvincing Carrier’s responses to Hurtado were. Furthermore, in the most recent issue (15.2-3) of the international Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, the first published engagement of Richard Carrier’s book on the historicity of Jesus was published by Daniel Gullotta (Stanford). I have read this critique, and it is quite devastating in a number of ways to Carrier’s thesis (I’ve read Carrier’s response, and I’ve refuted it here and here). Also, Bart Ehrman recently destroyed Robert Price on a debate about the historical Jesus. The defeat was so bad that I will post the debate so that everyone can have an opportunity to watch it.

In these recent discussions, a number of important developments have arisen to my knowledge. Every single one of them resulted in mythicism becoming more improbable. For the continuation of this discussion, I will note some of them.

To note, Richard Carrier’s arguments are the last legs of mythicism, literally. Every other theory and version of the mythicist paradigm has been refuted. In other words, once he goes down, mythicists will either be sent back to the drawing board or the idea will die altogether. Anyhow, into the ideas.

Carrier is someone who genuinely can’t believe scholars don’t take him seriously much. After a scathingly critical academic review of his book appeared in the journal Relegere by Christina Petterson, Carrier on his blog claimed that it was “highly evangelical” and Petterson is a “fawningly Christian” person. Deane Galbraithe, a scholar and at the time one of the editors of Relegere have responded by pointing out that Petterson … is an atheist. Carrier genuinely cannot believe that scholarship disregards him for the most part. One of Carrier’s theories is that, before Christianity existed, there was an archangel in some Jewish mythology named Jesus. This archangel Jesus, according to Carrier, is what the first Christians believed in, and later Christians historicized this archangel, and there you go, that’s how Christianity as we know it came into being. The problem is, of course, there was no such archangel named Jesus. Carrier’s key text is Philo of Alexandria’s reading of a passage in Zechariah 6. Philo of Alexandria was an ancient Jewish author living in the 1st century AD, a contemporary of Jesus. Zechariah of course is one of the books of the Old Testament. I will produce the passage in full:

Zechariah 6:9-14: The word of the Lord came to me: 10 “Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. 11 Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua [Jesus] son of Jozadak.12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two. 14 The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. 15 Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord, and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. This will happen if you diligently obey the Lord your God.”

This passage mentions two different figures. Firstly, Joshua (Hebrew Joshua is the equivalent of English Jesus) son of Jozadak, and secondly, the Branch, or anatole in the Septuagint Greek. Philo says this anatole is rising, is the Son of God, and an archangel, etc. These (Joshua and the anatole) are two different figures in the text as shown by the part I bolded (“And there will be harmony between the two“), however, Carrier claims that Philo thought they were the same person. However, the text clearly has these two as different figures, and Philo never equates the rising archangel anatole with Joshua (Jesus). Thus, Philo doesn’t mention an archangel named Jesus.  Here is the relevant part of Philo’s On the Confusion of Tongues 62-63:

I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!”{18}{#zec 6:12.} A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. (63) For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.

Very simple, Joshua is never identified with the anatole here (nor does Philo conflate the anatole with Joshua in Confusion of Tongues 145-147). So, Zechariah doesn’t mention an archangel named Jesus, nor does Philo of Alexandria. Therefore, there was no such archangel. Also, as Daniel Gullotta has demonstrated in his published review, there are further damning problems with this thesis. As Gullotta writes;

The most damning argument against Carrier’s claim is that there is no literary or archeological evidence within the entirety of the Mediterranean world and Second Temple period that validates the existence of this pre-Christian celestial Jesus. Scholars have long noted that Second Temple Judaism marks a pivotal shift in how some Jews began to understand angels, and one of these changes is the use of distinctive names when they are addressed or referenced. In surveying references to angels during this time, one of the most common features in the names of angels is the appearance of the element of ‘el’. This survey reveals that the most common angelic characters of this period were named Michael, Gabriel, Sariel/Uriel, and Raphael.54 In other words, a prosopographical analysis of the names of the particular angels known to Jews in the Second Temple period shows that the name Jesus does not conform to the way angelic beings were designated as such. Because the name Jesus is never associated with an angelic figure, nor does the name conform to tropes of celestial beings within Judaism, Carrier’s assertions are unconvincing. (pp. 326-327)

In other words, not only is Joshua different from the anatole in Zechariah, and not only is there no clear evidence that Philo conflated these two, but there are further significant problems with the thesis of this archangel named Jesus ever existing. The problem is, of course, that there isn’t a single strand of archaeological evidence in the entire Mediterranean world mentioning such an archangel named Jesus. Not a single one. Furthermore, the archangels of whom have names that we do know have something distinctive about their names: they contain the theophoric element El, one of the divine names of God from the Old Testament. Jesus does not have this element. Thus, Jesus is unlikely to have been ever used as a name for any archangel. At this point, Carrier tries to resucitate his thesis by appealing to Matthew 1:23 where Jesus is called ‘Emmanuel‘, however this is laughable because 1) this is in the Gospel of Matthew which obviously depicts Jesus as a human and not an angel, and it is never mentioned in a single Pauline epistle, and 2) the name Emmanuel, as Carrier knowns, derives from the prophecy Isaiah 7:14 which also has not a thing to do with angels. So why does he mention it? Finally, Carrier’s thesis is heavily dependent on Paul’s letters showing no knowledge of an earthly Jesus. They do obviously, as everyone but Carrier realizes, but that can be reserved for later discussion. Since Paul is the earliest Christian writer we know, Carrier claims that Paul believed that Jesus was an archangel rather than an earthly human. This is also something Bart Ehrman believes, and he has made this claim in his book How Jesus Became God. To note, Ehrman is not a mythicist — he is the closest thing from a mythicist. Although he makes this claim. Larry Hurtado, whom we have met before, is a major contributor to early christology and has written a scathingly critical review of Ehrman’s book, effectively refuting it. When it comes to this point, Hurtado points at a text from Paul’s letter that unambiguously distinguishes Jesus from any created things, including angels, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul did not think Jesus was an angel.

Romans 8:37-39: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul tells us that nothing created can separate us from the love of God in our Lord Jesus, including created beings like angels. Thus, they are not the same thing, Paul did not believe Jesus was an angel — Paul thought Jesus was the eternal Son of God and Messiah. Paul also tells us Jesus was a man (ἀνθρώπου) like Adam and Moses were (Romans 5:14-15), so how could he have been an angel? Considering everything we’ve seen, it can be realized that there was no archangel named Jesus prior to Christianity, nor did Paul believe Jesus was an angel, thus sinking another mythicist argument.


Social science on religion: a paradigm shift

While reading Rodney Stark’s incredible scholarly book The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, I have learned of a paradigm shift has ensued in social scientific theory. Rodeny Stark is a world-renowned sociologist and Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington, who has used his vast expertise in the social sciences and impressive learning of the historical academic literature to present a very, very persuasive monograph accounting for the rise of Christianity.

Rodney Stark documents how the social sciences has had, from the beginning, an axe to grind against religion. Almost every religious motive that appeared under the study of social scientists, they explained through an appeal to religious irrationality. Some of these confused social scientists had ascribed the ability of early Christians to take on persecution to be evidence of masochism! The irrationalist theory, however, has been uprooted in recent decades of social scientific research, finally, and a paradigm shift has occurred in these studies that actually, and in my opinion convincingly, accounts for religious thought through appeal to rationalist (rather than irrationalist) understandings. Stark explains:

Rather, from the beginning, social scientific studies of religion have been shaped by a single question: What makes them do it? How could any rational person make sacrifices on behalf of unseen supernatural entities? The explicit answer to this question nearly always has been that religion is rooted in the irrational. Keep in mind that the imputation of irrational religious behavior by social scientists is not limited to extraordinary actions such as martyrdom. Rather, they have been content to apply the irrationalist argument to such ordinary activities as prayer, observance of moral codes, and contributions of time and wealth. For whether it be the imputation of outright psychopathology, of groundless fears, or merely of faulty reasoning and misperceptions, the irrationalist assumption has dominated the field. The notion that normal, sophisticated people could be religious has been limited to a few social scientists willing to allow their own brand of very mild, “intrinsic,” religiousness to pass the test of rationality. Thus, until recently, the social scientfiic study of religion was nothing of the sort. The field was more more concerned with discrediting religion than with understanding it. This is clear when it is realized that only in the area of religious belief and behavior have social scientists not based their theories on a rational choice premise. Indeed, my colleagues and I recently showed that antagonism toward all forms of religion and the conviction that it soon must disappear in an enlightened world were articles of faith among the earliest social scientists, and that today social scientists are far less likely to be religious than scholars in other areas, especially those in the physical and natural sciences (Stark, Iannaccone, and Finke 1995). Nevertheless, despite the enormous weight of learned opinion that created and sustained it, the irrationalist approach to religion recently has fallen upon evil times–beset by contrary evidence and by the unanticipated theoretical power of rational choice theories imported from microeconomics and modified appropriately. This chapter represents another step in that direction and extends my efforts to establish a scientific, rather than a polemical and political, basis for studies of religion. In it I shall attempt to show that, when analyzed properly, religious sacrifices and stigmas–even when acute cases are considered–usually turn out to represent rational choices. Indeed, the more that people must sacrifice for their faith, the greater the value of the rewards they gain in return. (Stark, The Rise of Christianity pg. 167)

Stark later goes on to say that “This suggests why the recent introduction of rational choice theories in the social scientific study of religion has been recognized as a major shift in paradigms (Warner 1993)–the irrationalist position is in full retreat” (pg. 178). Boom! I can see that the atheistic takeover of academia has literally lasted for hundreds of years. In our most recent decades, as new advances, theories and defenses have arisen, as well as the simple decline of atheistic ability to continue offering their own defenses in light of the most recent advancements and discoveries, it looks as if a new age is finally coming to light in the academic world, and the fact that the actual defenders of atheism are in a way, disappearing. In 2011, Christopher Hitchens died. Victor Stenger passed away in 2014. James Randi is 89 years old. A new day can be seen, and a new sun is rising out of the darkness.

God’s condemnation of child sacrifice

Many people know that in ancient societies, there was a prevalence of the idea of child sacrifice. In order to demonstrate your devotion to the deity, or perhaps to cover for a corruption that has been committed, you were to offer your child as a sacrifice. Recently, as I was reading through the Book of Jeremiah, a verse came out and took my attention:

Jeremiah 7:31: And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

The Book of Jeremiah is one of the major prophetic books of the Old Testament that’s mostly devoted to condemning the evil and sins of God’s people, similar to other prophetic books (like Amos). Anyhow, as God was listing the sins and evil of the Israelite’s in Jeremiah, he mentions yet another one: they were sacrificing their own children. God says He never commanded this to them, nor had it even entered His mind. If God made no such command, why were the Israelite’s doing it? Well, the passage makes it clear, the Israelite’s were going to the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom where they sacrificed their children. Throughout the Old Testament, this is a location in particular where Israelite’s who followed pagan and Canaanite religions would go to in order to burn their children alive (child sacrifice) to deities like Molech and Baal.

2 Kings 23:10: He defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech.

The continuation of the passage from Jeremiah above is worth quoting in full where God declares He will destroy this practice by turning Topheth into a desolate wasteland:

Jeremiah 7:31-34And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away. 34 And I will bring to an end the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bride and bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for the land shall become a waste.

Topheth is also mentioned in Jeremiah 19:6; 19:11-14, and Isaiah 30:33. The implication is clear, God seriously condemns child sacrifice. It is popular on the internet in anti-religious circles to argue that God commanded child sacrifice with regards to Abraham and Isaac, where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his child Isaac to him. However, scholars consider this ridiculous. God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac in the end, and the entire event is meant as an event to see whether or not Abraham would do the most extreme thing had God commanded it. Consider Abraham’s circumstances. God had told him earlier that he would become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5), and that Abraham was the one to whom God promised the promised land for his descendants (Genesis 15:18) and that through his descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). However, Abraham’s wife, Sarah (her name Sarai at the time), is barren, and her age is ninety years old. However, God tells Abraham that through Sarah, he will bring Abraham a son, and he will name that son Isaac, and it will be through Isaac that God establishes His covenant with Abraham and through Isaac that his descendants will become a nation, etc etc. God miraculously gives Abraham and Sarah the ability to have Isaac. However, all of a sudden, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The entirety of God’s plan with Abraham’s descendants, everything God has put Abraham through in his entire life was for this one moment: for Isaac to live on and make way for the future of Abraham’s promise and covenant with God. Yet God commands Abraham to give Isaac’s life for God’s sake. This was the ultimate command God could have given Abraham, and one that established Abraham’s trust in God to the very end. Abraham succeeded, and in the end, God made sure that Isaac did not die and in fact fulfilled His promise to Abraham. This does not condone child sacrifice in any way, and we have seen from previously mentioned verses, among many others that child sacrifice is not only an evil, but one of the greatest reasons why God utterly destroyed the Canaanite’s (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

God is a God of righeousness, and Jeremiah made that very clear when he wrote “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”” (Jeremiah 33:16).

Many ancient Christian texts being discovered

Recently, a growing number of discoveries are being made in regards to ancient Christian texts, especially Gnostic ones. With at least two discoveries in the last several months, one of which I’ve already written about, I’ll document the others a little more here as well.

The first to mention has already gained widespread fame in scholarly and even popular circles, that being the Gospel of Judas. It’s a 2nd century Gnostic text, obviously not written by Judas the brother of Jesus. It was published in 2006. I’ve yet to read the text, but in contrast, the Gospel of Thomas was discovered in the Nag Hammadi collection back in 1945 along with the majority of Gnostic discoveries.

Then, perhaps a much more important discovery was made, of which I’ve written more about here. The discovery of the writings of Fortunatianus of Aquileia was discovered, an author in the mid-4th century AD, whose writings predate even those of Aristotle and Jerome. His work had previously been known about through brief mentions in works such as Jerome’s, but never before have we actually had, in our hands, a copy of his work. It was published in the last few months (open-access, meaning anyone can read it for free), and it is the oldest commentary on the four Gospels in our possession. Before him, we had Origen of Alexandria (perhaps the greatest Christian writer of the 2nd century) who had written two individual commentary works completed on the Gospels of John and Matthew.

Now, we have the Greek text discovered of the First Apocalypse of James announced at the Society of Biblical Literature. Previously, if I’m not mistaken, this work was available in Coptic (since the codices at Nag Hammadi are all Coptic), however, the Gnostic works were originally composed in Greek. Thus, this finding (found at Oxford) gives us access to the text of the First Apocalypse of James in its original language, rare for a Gnostic text.

The rate of new biblical archaeological discoveries is, in my documentation, increasing over the last few years. I’ve recorded only two findings of importance in 2015 and one in 2014. In 2016 and 2017, I’ve documented at least fourteen, many of which you can read here on my site page on Academic Christianity. Fortunatianus and the First Apocalypse of James both came to light in the last few months alone. The findings of these two new manuscripts, including our Gospel of Judas, represents our increasing understanding of the earliest centuries of Christianity and how Christian behavior was developing in this period. For example, Fortunatianus wrote his works in Latin, and as one of the earlier Latin writers of Christianity, what we have of him provides another contribution to our understanding of early Latin Christianity as well. The more we understand this, the better we can look at our predecessors, and the better we can look forwards to the new challenges to Christianity in this century. We’ve gone this far, no point in giving up now!

Psalm 111:2Great are the works of the Lordstudied by all who delight in them.