Thanksgiving to God

Its thanksgiving, and this column is being written late due to working on other projects including my attempts to start preparing to retake the GREs and plans for several pamphlets for Truth in the Trenches – it is odd to think of taking a day “off.” We live in a fast paced world, with a tangle of responsibilities. Still, while I try to stay out from underfoot in my wife’s kitchen (I am told “I am not helpful” with my ill-advised attempts at humor or reading my thoughts to her while she cooks, and often my assistance inevitably makes her work harder, with the exception of moving the furniture to make way for guests, or bringing in her roasting pans from the garage, – poor gal, she is stuck with me, but I am thankful for her). So while I am trying to stay out from underfoot, it is wise to remind oneself that Thanksgiving is not “Black Friday eve.”

My wife reminds me, of course, that there is nothing wrong with shopping on Black Friday (I would expect no less from my wife, who has a gift for keeping our accounts in balance – and I am still surprised at how deft she is at managing our sometimes slim resources). But unfortunately, in modern America, Kiplings “gods of the marketplace,” often seem to rule the American heart, and most people look to either material possessions or their lack as the center of life. The God of heaven often takes second place to the everyday and the mundane, and if America is faltering economically, perhaps the reason why is because we have forgotten Him, and at no time is this more apparent than at “turkey day.”

Thanksgiving is an innately Christian holiday; while it was not codified into US law until the time of Abraham Lincoln the first thanksgiving was celebrated in 1623 when the English Separatists (theological relatives of the Baptists, who we today call “the pilgrims”) decided to hold a feast in the manner of those in Old Testament to thank God (not, as some textbooks indicate the Indians) for bringing them through dark times. This custom of thanking God for His goodness was common elsewhere, Washington for example called for a day of thanksgiving to God in 1789. Abraham Lincoln’s announcement as well expressly noted this religious character in his statement on thanksgiving which states,

“It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”

We live in dark days, and the Church may very well have trying times ahead. Yet, it is similarly fitting that we thank God for His goodness in hard times – it is easy to appear thankful in good times, but in darker times a spirit of thankfulness is needed all the more. We should enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.

I am thankful He has brought Mandy and I together, she is a source of joy and maintains the household so that I am able to try to build this ministry as an offering to Him, such as it is. I am thankful he brought me through the trials of the last decade – and it is fitting then that as believers in America we turn our thoughts to Him on this day.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING PRAISE GOD FOR HIS FAVOR TO BELIEVERS.

Jacobovici’s Imagination Part 2: The importance and Origin of the Story Joseph and Aseneth

I’m still working through Jacobovici’s work The Lost Gospel – the difficulty in with critiquing this work is similar to the difficulties with the Jesus Family Tomb project I’ve published previously – it is not so difficult to find errors in logic, errors in fact, or half truths in the work, rather there are so many such problems, it is difficult to compile the sheer number of critical shortcomings in the book and maintain articles that are reasonably concise and do not become boring. (Simply recording the sheer number of errors in Jacobovici takes a significant extra period of valuable time).

There are three issues however, that are easier to document because they appear throughout the book. The first is the assertion that because this work is found in Pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor’s A Volume of Records of Events which have shaped the world it must be a Christian work (rather than a Jewish one as most scholars believe, which they further substantiate with a number of questionable assertions) and that Pseudo-Zacharias must have considered this to be a matter of earth shaking importance (often noting the conversion of Constantine which is also noted in the volume).

Despite the rather grandious title, not all of the works in Pseudo Zacharias’s book are actually earth shattering. For example, Zacharias records an account of the seven sleepers of Ephesus, an alleged miracle that was certainly interesting to the author at least, but the story is not earthshaking. Similarly, according to Jacobovici’s notes, it contains an account of first century relics and a history of the debates over the person of Christ – of interest to a theologian or historian, certainly, but not earth shattering.

Similarly, its inclusion in Psuedo Zacharias this does not demonstrate, as he asserts, that the work is Christian. While there are elements that appear to be Christian elements later added to the texts, (the book exists in numerous versions; the presence of material being added to the original is highly likely). Christians have preserved other works by Jewish authors, Joesephus’s works, for example, very quickly come to mind (as his books were largely ignored by Jewish scholars of previous generations because he was considered to be an apostate), as do the Apocryphal books found in the Septuagint.

As I noted, my own judgment of the work is that it was probably originally a diaspora Jewish work (it reminds me of several such works I’ve read in Seminary) – he has noted that the book lacks a discussion of Torah observance (despite the fact that the book takes place before the Covenant of the Torah was delivered to Israel through Moses), among other unusual assertions. Yet this is highly questionable. The last section of Asneth centers on Levi’s influence on protecting Asneth from a plot between Pharaoh and some of Jacob’s brothers, in the end Pharaoh bows to Levi. In my opinion, the centrality of Levi to this section of text is probably a reference to the Torah, since the tribe of Levi is the tribe most associated with the Torah.

Next time we will discuss Jacobovici’s view of typology.

Jacobovicci’s Imagination part 1: The Real Text

Today, I started reading Simcha Jacobovici’s The Lost Gospel: Decoding the ancient Text that reveals Jesus Marriage to Mary the Magdalene. I started reading the preface, but quickly decided to skip to the back, where they have a translation of the syriac version of the story of Asneth.

The story of Asneth appears in multiple versions in at least two recensions and the original form of the story is not extant. There is a long-standing debate as to whether this is a Christian or a Jewish story, and the latter has a great deal to commend it. The text contains numerous references to the Old Testament and the author clearly understood his Bible. Among other elements, Asneth at first rejects Joseph because he came to Egypt as a slave, and was the son of a shepherd (Genesis 46:33-34), and there are similar details scattered throughout the text.

There are a number of striking features. The first section focuses on Asneth’s repentance from idolatry for seven days. Idolatry was a major focus in Jewish literature during the period following the Babylonian captivity, and dominates numerous works, such as the Wisdom of Solomon. Similarly the comparison of Asneth to the wives of the patriarchs is a matter of Jewish interest. The bridal imagery is striking as well, while it is tempting to view this as a reference to the Church as the bride of Christ, it should be remembered that the Bride of Christ language is a continuation of similar discussions within the Old Testament.

What is also striking in the later section is the importance of Levi, in the text, Levi prevents Simeon from attacking the son of Pharaoh with words of wisdom, and later binds the wounds inflicted on Pharaoh’s son and Pharaoh bows to Levi, likely this is symbolic of submission to the law of Moses, though this is not certain.

There are some elements that some suggest might be of Christian origin, though if these elements are actually Christian, they are likely later additions to the text. Christians in fact may have adapted this work from Jewish sources for devotional reasons in a similar manner to some in the early church who rejected the inspiration of the apocrypha but stated they were “useful.” In general, however, this text is similar to other pieces of Jewish literature I have read during my seminary days.

There is absolutely nothing in the text itself to indicate that this discusses a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene; Jacobovici and Wilson have made this up out of whole cloth. One of the other striking examples of reading the translation was reading some of the footnotes in the Secret Gospel. The footnotes are imaginative and forced. In many places, they draw major conclusions from minor details, for example, they claim the reference to Joseph being the son of a shepherd is evidence that Jesus was compared to the pagan deity Attis. His notes also seem to draw from his previous hoax, the Jesus Family tomb.

In some places I do get the sense that there is some allegorical significance to this work, but if so, Asneth is unlikely to represent a person, the reason why I say this is that she is described as becoming “A City of Refuge” and similar expressions are used later, which to my way of thinking is far better to be understood as either the Church (if viewed from a Christian perspective) as gentiles who have been brought into the church from outside of it and formerly worshiped idols, or as Israel, (if this is as I suspect originally a Jewish work) who in turning to idols after the seventy years in Babylonian captivity (where Israel permanently gave up idolatry) is restored to a husband – as noted a common Old Testament as well as New Testament reference. One also might view this as gentile proselytes to Judaism. All of these make better sense then the idea that this is Mary Magdalene.

Jacobovich’s Greatest misses

Simcha Jacobovich, famous for the Jesus family Tomb project a few years ago is releasing a new book claiming that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. I will preface this work by noting I have not read the new book yet, though I will, but before believers start questioning the faith, I thought it might be helpful to note some of Simcha Jacobovich’s greatest hits, well make that some of his more spectacular misses.

In the Tomb of Jesus film and book, Simcha astounded us by telling us that:

  • The missing ossuary from the Tolpiot Tomb was the James Ossuary, despite the fact that the tenth ossuary was not actually missing and photographic evidence later surfaced demonstrating that the James Ossuary was unearthed before the Tolpiot tomb was discovered.
  • The chevron on the tomb matched a chevron in a painting by one of DaVinci’s students (named Potormos), and Simcha theorized that the tomb was entered by the Templars (who then blackmailed the papacy), and the Jesus ossuary inspired the Jolly Roger. These assertions seems to be based on the eminently practical assumption that linking Jesus to DaVinci and the Templars sold a lot of books for the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail and Dan Brown’s copycat work The DaVinci Code and would likely boost sales a third time, and if pirates made great movies for disney, it might make sales even better!
  • The Tolpiot tomb had dislodged skulls on the floor forming the three points of a triangle, which is clearly evidence of some kind of occultic ceremony. Actually, any time three objects are resting on a flat surface, like the ground, and they are not in a straight line, these points will form the three points of a triangle. If this were an equilateral or isosceles triangle he might have had a point, but they don’t so he doesn’t.

Mockery aside, Jacobovich’s past project managed to misrepresent numerous facts, while speculating wildly on the basis of a questionable interpretation of the ahistorical gnostic gospels in order to prop up a mathematical proof that the Tolpiot tomb was the tomb of Jesus, his wife, son and mother. Now he is apparently in need of cash, so he is publishing something new – OK so now the mockery is over.

According to some news articles, Jacobovich has found a manuscript about the marriage of Joseph (the son of Jacob) and Aseneth, and Simcha has “decoded” this text so that we can now be certain that Jesus secretly married Mary Magdalene in Egypt after an assassination attempt by Tiberius’s adopted son, Germanicus and that this story was suppressed during the council of Nicea – and no, this time I am not joking.

As I noted before, Jacobovich has quite an imagination, which unfortunately is not a sound substitute for scholarship. I will of course review this work when I am able to borrow a copy from our local library (or sack out at Barnes and Nobles or Joseph Beth’s for an afternoon), but before we consider abandoning the gospels we know in the Bible, we ought to keep two things in mind.

The first thing I have already noted, Simcha has a history of making overblown statements and dishonestly fostered several conspiracy theories – this of course does not mean that he cannot be right, but it does indicate that a strong dose of skepticism (to say the least) should be maintained. We assume in our courts that perjurers are likely to commit perjury a second time in a court of law, the same is true with pseudo-intellectual scholarship.

Second and far more importantly, a sixth century manuscript (which is younger than multiple copies of the canonical gospels), which requires imaginative decoding should require substantial corroborating evidence to be considered sufficient to rewrite Church history to this extent. As I and others have demonstrated elsewhere, the source material for the gospels is excellent. The author of Luke-Acts has demonstrably been proven to be a historian of the first rank, Paul, a first rate scholar in his own right converted from persecuting Christians between 2 and 5 years after the death and resurrection of Christ to becoming one of the infant church’s most important supporters and consulted with other eyewitnesses, and later died for the faith. John was written by someone who claims to be an eyewitness and this claim is consistent with the evidence.

I’ve noted elsewhere what I consider to be required to change my mind about Christianity – it is highly doubtful that Simcha’s sixth century document can challenge that evidence.

So while we are likely in for some sensationalistic stories, it does not appear at this juncture that we will have much of actual value in understanding early Christianity.

For more on the Jesus family tomb, our pamphlet on the matter is for sale here.

Are Christians Bibliolaters?

Sometimes, various groups that claim to be Christian will refer to Christians as engaging in Bibliolatry, or that conservative protestants worship the Bible. This of course is an ad hominem argument. An ad hominem argument is an argument in which rather than attacking the position of your opponent you attack instead the character or ability of your opponents. Thus for example, if you made the case that everyone should pay the taxes they owe, and I answered you think that because you are a communist my argument doesn’t really address the question of paying taxes what I have instead done is changed the issue (or attempted to change the issue) from paying one’s taxes to the character of the person I am discussing this with. Similarly, rather than discussing the issues involving Bibliology, many who do not accept the authority of Scripture prefer then to accuse those who do of idolatry.

There is no question of whether conservative protestants actually worship the Bible, we don’t. Yet, if the Bible is God’s Word, as it claims to be, then to disrespect the word of God is to disrespect the God who spoke it. As Christians we view the Bible as God’s communication and to dishonor that communication would be to dishonor the God who wrote it; more to the point, it is to disobey Him.

So the underlying question is whether or not Christians should view Bible as the Word of God, or more accurately why do we treat the Bible as the word of God? This of course is a larger topic than can be handled fully in a blog post, but here are a few relevant posts:

  • Scripture describes itself as inspired (2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Pet 1:21, et al), this does not prove it is inspired, but it does mean that the Bible’s claims should be evaluated on this basis.
  • The ultimate question of whether Christianity is true can be answered from the resurrection. If Christ is resurrected from the grave, it validates His claim to deity, and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). The resurrection is established not on the inspiration of Scripture, but on the historical reliability of the gospel accounts.
  • Jesus himself claimed and treated the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament as authoritative (Luke 24:44 et al., the discussion of the law, prophets and Psalms appears to correspond to the three divisions of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Torah (law) the Nabim (prophets) and the Kethib (writings, headed with the Psalms).
  • Jesus also stated that the apostles would be authoritative teachers (John 14:26, Jesus was speaking to the apostles not to the Church as a whole, and is stating that they would be kept from error in their teaching; Matthew 18:18 which interestingly enough indicates that the apostles would reflect God’s understanding when read in the original Greek, the idea of binding and loosing was a common Rabbinic expression for regulations involving the law).
  • Paul similarly claimed his message was received on the same authority, and that the other apostles recognized this authority (Galatians 1-2).
  • When we look at the historical reliability and some interesting scientific asides in the Bible (Job 26:7, something that could not be discovered by natural means) this would seem to further corroborate these claims.
  • As we examine the alleged discrepancies in the Scripture it becomes more and more evident that most of them are based on a poor understanding of Scripture – while this does not remove all problems to inerrancy it does indicate these are not unsolvable problems.

While this is a very brief and perhaps incomplete discussion of the authority of Scripture, what I believe is clear is that once we accept the resurrection of Christ, we have no ultimate rational reason to reject the Bible’s teaching about itself. I would invite anyone asking the questions to examine the systematic theologies for a fuller discussion as well as the articles in B B Warfield’s On the Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.

Are all Religions Equally True?

It is often claimed that since the Bible states that Christ is the only means of access to God, or that salvation only comes in Jesus’ name that Christians are narrow-minded and bigoted, and is often used as arguments to limit the civil rights of Christians (for example, in several political discussions, it was argued that Christians should be excluded from government appointments on these grounds). The Bible’s claim on this is clear (John 14:6, Acts 14:12, etc). It is also important to remember that this is not a new issue, one of the major problems that the Roman officials had with Christianity was their refusal to worship the Emperor, or to recognize the various other divinities of the ancient world – there is truly no new thing under the sun.  Today, this is considered proof that Christians are narrow-minded, bigoted, and should be excluded from polite society.

Problem with Leftist analysis

The belief that all religions are equally true is called “religious pluralism.”  Contrary to popular belief, Christians do not hold to the belief that Christianity is the only way to approach God because of narrow-mindedness, we hold this on the grounds of simple logic. This is perhaps why we are growing out of step with our society. At the same time as modern American society grows out of step with America’s Christian roots, we have also become a pseudo-intellectual society (and yes, I believe these two are related; Scripture warns us of those who think themselves wise, but become fools).  Logic begins with a simple premise known as the law of non-contradiction.  Technically, it states: “a statement cannot be both true and false, at the same time in the same way,” or as it is often stated, “A cannot be not A.”  We understand this, of course – a car can’t be red, and not red at the same time.   Christianity claims that Christ is God – this is a statement that can be true or false, it can’t be both.  If Jesus is God, then Islam, which states that Jesus cannot be God, has a major problem.

The theological left, and other groups get around this problem by two separate, but coexisting approaches. The first is the “comparison of religions” approach, trying to demonstrate that all religions are basically the same.  Thus, we find that most religions frown on murder, have certain comparable rules on when war is just, recognize some degree of property rights, and teach the need to care for those who cannot care for themselves – in other words, the analysis is ultimately shallow, and the similarities are largely limited to moral practices. However, whenever you dig deeper into religions you begin to see the real differences  – Christians believe that man is basically evil, humanists and Budhists do not; Christians accept the Trinity as a part of God’s nature, Islam does not. These issues are closer the heart of what a religion really is, and the core of religious beliefs the points of commonality between religions are typically secondary issues to religious belief.  Therefore, the comparative approach sounds compelling to someone who doesn’t dig any deeper than the surface.

The second approach is the “two tiered universe approach,” as has been commonly cited by theistic philosophers, eastern religions (particularly hinduism), modern new agers, those who believe in a “consensual reality” or those who claim to be “skeptics.” This approach sounds complicated, but the basic way of understanding it is to say that the rules of logic don’t apply to God or spiritual beings. Thus, if it is necessary for logic to describe reality, it is not necessary for logic to be true of God. The basis for this belief, that logic doesn’t describe God, is based on the idea that God cannot be understood objectively, or that truth in these matters is not propositional. This sounds like an insurmountable difference of opinion, except, we have the rules of logic on our side, specifically the law of non-contradiction listed above. The steps are simple:

  1. Those who believe that all religions are true, often claim that the nature of God cannot be understood objectively and that religious truth is not propositional.
  1. The statement “God cannot be known objectively or propositionally” is an objective, propositional statement about the nature of God.
  1. They have therefore contradicted themselves when they state God’s nature cannot be understood objectively, or propositionally.
  1. By contradicting themselves, they have demonstrated that it is impossible to practice their belief.

The real question, then, is not whether Christians are mean tempered or bigoted, but what is the ultimate nature of reality, we believe that reality can only be correctly understood through the Christian faith, as such our only “bigotry” is the audacity to attempt to be consistent with our principles.