Friday, 24 May 2013

Early Resurrection Beliefs

JP Holding is a particularly obnoxious Christian apologist, so it is always good to knockdown some of his more fanciful claims. Thus one comes from here:

As we have shown here, the resurrection of Jesus, within the context of Judaism, was thought by Gentiles to be what can be described as "grossly" physical. This in itself raises a certain problem for Christianity beyond a basic Jewish mission. We have regularly quoted the dictum of Pheme Perkins: "Christianity's pagan critics generally viewed resurrection as misunderstood metempsychosis at best. At worst, it seemed ridiculous."

It may further be noted that the pagan world was awash with points of view associated with those who thought matter was evil and at the root of all of man's problems. Platonic thought, as Murray Harris puts it, supposed that "man's highest good consisted of emancipation from corporeal defilement. The nakedness of disembodiment was the ideal state." Physical resurrection was the last sort of endgame for mankind that you wanted to preach.

Indeed, among the pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible. Wright in Resurrection of the Son of God quotes Homer's King Priam: "Lamenting for your dead son will do no good at all. You will be dead before you bring him back to life." And Aeschylus Eumenides: "Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection." And so on, with several other quotes denying the possibility of resurrection. [32-3]

Before looking at the history, let us first examine the logic. Holding is saying:

1. Several pagans were "denying the possibility of resurrection"
2. Therefore "among the pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible"

Well, okay, it may convince the sort of Christians who find Holding appealing, but it is not exactly good logic.

Jewish beliefs

Although Holding is talking about pagan beliefs, I want to start by looking at Jewish beliefs to give some context, as Christianity sprung from Judaism.

Most Jews at that time believed in a resurrection. At some point in the future, they expected the dead to rise, and that the good would go to heaven, the bad to hell. This is made clear in Daniel (and seems to be a belief that evolved over the course of the Old Testament):
Daniel 12:1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Paul, when arguing for the resurrection, references the scriptures:
1 Corinthians 15: 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
The implication here is that the scriptures fully supported the concept of resurrection.

To be sure, not all Jews believed in an afterlife at that time. The Sadducees were an important sect of that time, and rejected all such claims, and the Bible records them challenging Jesus on this very issue:
Mark 12:18 Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,
19 Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.
21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.
22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.
23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.
24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?
25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
This was a running debate the Sadducees had with all religious teachers of the time; the Saducees arguing that resurrection makes no sense, the Pharisees, Essenes and Jesus himself pointing out that scripture makes it clear that resurrection will happen.

Pagan Beliefs

Holding is talking about the gentiles, so what were the pagan beliefs with regards to resurrection? Is it really true that "among the pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible"? The short answer is No!

Justin Martyr, arguing the case for Christianity to pagans (1 Apology 21), specifically likened Jesus' resurrection to the presumably well known resurrections of the time:
In saying that the Word, who is the first offspring of God, was born for us without sexual union, as Jesus Christ our Teacher, and that he was crucified and died and after rising again ascended into heaven we introduce nothing new beyond [what you say of] those whom you call sons of Zeus. You know how many sons of Zeus the writers whom you honor speak of—Hermes, the hermeneutic Word and teacher of all; Asclepius, who was also a healer and after being struck by lightning ascended into heaven—as did Dionysus who was torn in pieces; Heracles, who to escape his torments threw himself into the fire; the Dioscuri born of Leda and Perseus of Danae; and Bellerophon who, though of human origin, rode on the [divine] horse Pegasus. Need I mention Ariadne and those who like her are said to have been placed among the stars? and what of your deceased emperors, whom you regularly think worthy of being raised to immortality, introducing a witness who swears that he saw the cremated Caesar ascending into heaven from the funeral pyre?
Legend also has Asclepius raising the dead (specifically Hippolytus in some accounts) using the blood of a gorgon, though it must be noted that this was considered wrong and he was punished for it. The resurrection of Dionysus have him special relevance to the mystery cults of the time. In Egypt, the resurrection of Osiris was very well-known, and had a strong connection to the yearly flooding of the Nile, which gave life to lands thereabouts.

All these offer examples of special cases of resurrection; gods and demi-gods coming back to life. But for some Romans a personal resurrection was expected too, just as it was for the Jews. A major competitor of Christianity was Mithrasism, which was particularly popular with the Roman military:
Mithra, legend says, was incarnated into human form (as prophesized by Zarathustra) in 272 bc. He was born of a virgin, who was called the Mother of God. Mithra's birthday was celebrated December 25 and he was called “the light of the world.”  After teaching for 36 years, he ascended into heaven in 208 bc.
There were many similarities with Christianity:  Mithraists believed in heaven and hell, judgement and resurrection. They had baptism and communion of bread and wine.  They believed in service to God and others.
It is interesting to note that the Judaic concept of resurrection is thought to have come from the Zoroastrian religion of the Persians, during their time in exile, which is also where Mithraism originated.

There is some evidence that Mithra himself was believed to have been resurrected, though this seems uncertain. However, it is enough for our purposes that members of the cult believed they would be resurrected. This is sufficient to disprove the claim that "among the pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible".

What Type Of Resurrection?

Holding says: "Physical resurrection was the last sort of endgame for mankind that you wanted to preach." Perhaps that is why Paul was a pains to point out that the resurrection was not of the fleshy body, but of a new spiritual body:
1 Corinthians 15:38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
As Holding says, "Platonic thought, as Murray Harris puts it, supposed that "man's highest good consisted of emancipation from corporeal defilement." What Paul describes fits that perfectly. Far from putting potential converts off - as Holding would have us believe - this is a major attraction of the new faith!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Genesis Chapter Two

Last post I looked at Genesis 1:1 to 2:3. This post I will look at the second creation account Genesis 2:3 onwards.

This shows clear stylistic differences; in the King James version, the creator is Lord God, not God, and in the Hebrew this is God in the singular, Yahweh. What we have is two creation myths merged together, and the match-up is not great...
4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,
5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
Setting the scene; there were no plants yet - though is could be understood to mean that the seeds were in the ground at this point. Mankind was not around to cultivate plants, nor was there rain to grow them. so nothing grew.

Young Earth creationists sometimes interpret the reference to mists to be a water canopy, but even Answers in Genesis recognises this is a flawed position - see the end of this web page.
7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
In this creation account man is created first, woman will come later. And that man appears in a desolate world, with no plants or animals.
8 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
9 And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
So God creates the Garden of Eden, possibly the only place with plant-life at this time, and Adam can live there.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
The universe is an unimaginably huge place; why on Earth would God put Adam next to this forbidden tree? It kind of makes sense if you believe the universe is only the world to the horizons.

Oh, and let us note that God was lying here. Adam did not die the day he ate that fruit; he lived a long time after.
18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
So now the animals are created. How do Biblical inerrantists get around the fact that God has to create animals twice? They pretend that this is just about God calling the animals he had created in Genesis 1 for Adam to name.

The word used is "form", in Hebrew וַיִּצֶר֩. Used elsewhere in the Bible, this word indicates something being created, but you can ignore what words actually mean when you are a Biblical inerrantist!

There are between 9,000 and 10,000 species of birds that Adam had to name. It is not clear what a beast of the field is, but just mammals and reptiles that is nearly 13,000 animals he has to think of a name for! Say it takes him 2 minutes to think of a name, that is going to take him three months, working 8 hours a day. I wonder how many of them he could remember at the end of those three months?
21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Finally God creates woman. In the first account man and woman are equal, but in the second, man is first, and woman lagging some way behind.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Apparently this was only a "just so" story to explain why men marry women.