Pareidolia and Anthropomorphism

A pareidolic Virgin Mary. Photo John Hanley/Sun Media

A pareidolic Virgin Mary. Photo John Hanley/Sun Media

Christopher Moreau, a 47 year old Canadian man, recently noticed the tree growing in his yard presents the image of “the Virgin Mary.” According to the Sun Media article in the link, the tree:

has left dumbfounded residents wondering if their neighbourhood has been divinely blessed.

Some have even been brought to tears by the surreal Mary in the tree.

Interestingly enough, Moreau, who stated he is “not a wacko” also said, “why do I need to go to church? I feel that God has come to me.”

This is interesting because it shows a classic case of pareidolia, where the human brain perceives a human image that fulfills some sort of expectation or fills in a pattern of recognition. In most cases of pareidolia, the subject knows that its an illusion. Take, for instance, the shape of a dog or horse in a cloud, or a sad face on a clock (below).

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Religion Doesn’t Get a Free Ride

Sorry, but it just doesn’t.

There are more comments in the post than any other on Breaking Spells (and I’m not ashamed to admit the Pharyngula Effect is fun while it lasts) and some of them revolve around the issue of “respecting” religious superstitions and not speaking out about nonsense and irrational ideas in favor of considering the sensibilities of the superstitious themselves.

Bullshit. I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. You don’t get to hold or have a batshit idea that you’re willing to spread, indoctrinate, or otherwise compell others to agree with and still be protected from rational criticism or even ridicule.

Its no different than if someone held a belief that Elvis was still alive and abducting hillbillies from his UFO and not only expected others to believe it but wanted to enact laws that protected and promoted this ideology as fact. Anyone would be well within their rights to criticize this notion and ridicule would be expected.

A eucharist cracker is just flour and water. Anyone that truly believes that the mere act of consuming a cracker after a magical spell spoken over it becomes the flesh of Christ is not only ignorant and deluded, they’re batshit. Have these people ever stopped to consider that, if true, they would eventually be defecating Christ? Talk about “holy shit.”

Back to the comments.

At least one person here and several on Pharyngula and elsewhere commented that PZ shouldn’t disrespect the religious. And it’s a common response by believers, adherents, apologetics, and even sympathetic non-believers that atheists shouldn’t criticize the beliefs of others. There’s a taboo of even questioning religious doctrine in public. When critics and skeptics do question and criticize, they get accused of being “militant,” “shrill,” a part of an “anti-religious kabal,” etc.

Never is the superstitious person (a.k.a. the irrational believer/adherent) held accountable in such a fashion for criticizing atheism -the complete lack of a god belief. Indeed, religious nuts are completely free to ridicule atheism, protected by the comfort of their numbers. But the large quantity of believers doesn’t imply that religious belief is valid, sound, or cogent. At one time, most people in the world believed the sun revolved around the Earth. Their majority status most assuredly did not make them right.

Religious superstitions are just as open to question, criticism, and ridicule as any other human institution or ideal. Political beliefs, economic beliefs, social beliefs… even the belief in a favorite sports team are all open to debate, criticism, inquiry and ridicule. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have multiple political parties, a need for a prime interest rate, a reason to evaluate historical and anthropological data, or to wear a favorite jersey the day of the big game.

There mere fact that religion takes such a major and significant part in the lives of so many people makes it even more open to question, criticism, inquiry and, yes, even ridicule. If you aren’t willing to accept this, keep your religious superstitions to yourself; keep them private; and be embarassed for your lack of rational and critical thought. For, if you are publicly proud, you must be prepared to be publicly criticized.

Morality: Big “M” and little “m”

I had the pleasure of discussing morality and atheism with a commenter who I would assume is a Christian although his/her actual beliefs haven’t been specifically discussed. In responding to the second of two posts the commenter left, I realized that I rambled on far longer than a general comment, so I thought I’d go ahead and repost it as a separate post of its own.

In this post, you’ll see me discuss the capacity for Morality (big “M” ) among humans, giving rise to the cultural establishment of moral (little “m” ) codes. I make an analogy to the human capacity for Language (big “L” ) which gives rise to the cultural establishment of languages (little “l” ). I don’t know if this analogy holds -I haven’t really thought it through- and I’m not arguing that the capacities of Morality and Language are part of the same genetic mechanism or have the shared origins.

I’ll begin with Robin Leboe’s comment today and follow with my response, both of which can be found in the Myths of Atheism: HIlter/Stalin/Pol Pot were evil because of atheism thread.

Robin Leboe, on July 1st, 2008 at 8:26 am Said:

Leaving aside the definition of atheism for the moment, the properties of atheism can be examined regardless of how it’s defined. For instance, one attribute of atheism I’m sure we can agree on is the lack of a transcendent source for an objective moral law.

If there is no transcendant being then any truly objective principles under girding existence are illusory. Your reference to evil in the post above hangs in a vacuum. Any attempt to codify right and wrong takes a leap into another realm i.e Platonic ideals.

Right and wrong are simply not an inherent property of ‘being without gods’ and morals are relegated to utilitarian, pragmatic, subjective or emotive trappings. A function of culture at best or the opinion of an individual at worst. Neitsche was very honest in driving home this point when writing of the ‘death of God’.

It is this lack of ultimate moral arbitration that people often point to when they speak of the atrocities advanced by cultures who have, by your definition, disavowed themselves of a belief in God.

On the other hand, atrocities committed by religious zealots can clearly be seen to be in opposition to the moral law they espouse. The teachings of Christ leave no interpretive room whatever for the inquisition or crusades. Many societies and institutions have been hijacked by lunatics, both theist and atheist. As it is often said, it’s not a good idea to judge a philosophy (or faith) by its adherents.

Thanks for the cordial discussion and taking time to respond to my previous reply.

I’m willing to take the transcendent source point further and say that you can insert “for anything” after “transcendent source.”

Transcendent refers to that which is “beyond comprehension” or “independent of the material universe.” I, of course, see no good reason to believe such a definition is needed since there is no evidence of anything existing “beyond the material universe.” In addition, I see no reason (and history bears this out) that this material universe can at least be potentially comprehended. I concede that I know very little of the universe and will likely learn only a fraction more when compared with the potential things that can be known, but I refuse to accept that there is anything unknowable about the universe or that anything exists beyond the knowable universe. Gods, magic, ghosts, and hobgoblins included.

But that’s me. If anyone knows otherwise and can demonstrate that knowledge, however, I’m open to revising my position.

Moving on to your other points, the very argument that morality is “divinely established” is an argument that isn’t sound nor is it cogent. That’s because the premises fail. If the conclusion is “God establishes morality,” then the premises followed by the conclusion must be:

  1. humans have not the capacity for morality without God;
  2. only God can provide morality;
  3. morality exists in humanity;
  4. thus God exists and establishes morality.

The premises fail for several reasons. The actual god in question is not identified. There are thousands upon thousands of extant and extinct religious cults in human history through present day, most with pantheons of gods. Yet, morality has flourished throughout human history. Were humans prior to the very recent cults of Judeo-Christian doctrine immoral? Hardly. We have a very detailed and accurate account of moral behavior in ancient societies. Indeed, our own democratic-republic form of government is based largely on one such pantheistic, but moral, society.

Further, there are countless similarities cross-culturally that exhibit very similar moral behaviors that are independent of a single religious superstition. For instance: in no extant or extinct culture that I’m aware of is it morally acceptable to murder one’s parents in order to take their property.

Very clearly, the preceding two paragraphs show that morality is a human endeavor and not a divine one and, therefore, humans provide their own morality, much in the same way we provide our own language. Language (big “L” ) is a human endeavor. We establish individual languages (little “l” ) based on the capacity for Language. Perhaps the human establishment of morality is a function of the capacity for Morality (big “M” ) [incidentally, I’m hypothesizing here more than arguing a position in order to show that divinity need not be the answer when one is ignorant of an explanation].

The only premise in the divine establishment of morality argument that is valid is that humans have morality. If morality is established by humanity (since it exists cross-culturally, independent of religious doctrine, and prior to modern concepts of God, then it clearly is), then humans have the capacity for morality without gods and gods are not necessary to provide morality.

The very evidence for the existence of morality and zero evidence for the existence of God invalidates nearly completely the argument that morality is established by God. There is, of course, the slim chance that a hidden god has created morality -but this begs the question and provides not a single bit of cogency to the argument. After all, how would one know he/she was praying to the right god if that god is hidden?

I won’t pretend to know why humans have a capacity for Morality any more than I know why they have a capacity for Language or Music. There is much about cognitive science that is unknown (though advances in the last decade are tremendous!), but I certainly see no logical or rational reason to settle on a god-explanation simply because I don’t have an answer. Thankfully, there have been enough rationally minded people in the history of scientific discovery who have sought answers beyond the god-explanation for lightning, weather, crop failure, disease, etc

Thank you again for taking the opportunity to post on an atheist blog and participating in discussion. I realize that many of the blogs and forums in the “atheosphere” are rather harsh and hostile to Christian and theist posters. I also realize that my own casual use of terms like cult, superstition, and the like are likely to be taken as offensive to the believer and religious adherent, but is an honest position and opinion that I hold and not intended to be solely pejorative.

Religious Liberty?

This is an idea that Christians in the United States love. That is to say, if the religious freedom you express is Christian.

The First Amendment Center surveyed 1,007 respondents’ opinions on the First Amendment and found:

Only a slim majority (56 percent) of Americans said in a 2007 survey that freedom of worship should extend to people of all religious groups, no matter what their beliefs (down 16 points, from 72 percent in 2000).

To be fair, I looked at the actual survey instrument and the question is worded to ask, “Do you feel that the freedom to worship as one chooses…applies to all religious groups regardless of how extreme their beliefs are, or was never meant to apply to religious groups that most people would consider extreme or fringe?” [emphasis mine]

Clearly, the respondents were of a different opinion than the group surveyed in 2000, probably due to the attacks of 9/11, where religious extremism is popularly, and, perhaps, incorrectly viewed by Christians as only a Muslim problem and not a Christian one. Yet, there are other questions asked that are somewhat revealing.

Teachers and other public school officials should be allowed to lead prayers in public school.

To this, 58% of those surveyed were in agreement -42% in strong agreement.

The nation‟s founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation.


The U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation.

To these two questions, 46% and 38%, respectively, were in strong agreement. But one that stands out:

A public school teacher should be allowed to use the Bible as a factual text in a history or social studies class.

To that question, a full 50% were in agreement -33% in strong agreement

Christian pundits like Ann Coulter and Chuck Norris continuously whine about wanting to include Biblical teachings in public schools and cry foul that teachers are prohibited from leading prayers and stating that their god and superstitions are facts. Many genuinely believe that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation” and refuse to accept evidence to the contrary. What they want is religion taught in public schools, but not just any religion. They want their own brand of superstition.

Christians never seem to realize that the separation of church and state in public schools is an advantage for them. Instead they keep pushing to have religion re-introduced. I say they should be very careful what they wish for. It isn’t implausible that a modern American community could emerge with a predominantly Muslim (or Hindu) majority that demands their religion be taught as fact just as Christians do. What happens when the one or two non-Muslims return home from their public school with the news that their Muslim teacher has told them that Allah is the one true god and only the Koran holds his word?

And what if Christians had their way altogether? Which particular cult of Christianity would then be the right one to follow? Would it be Catholicism? Baptist? Lutheran? Episcopalian? Methodist? Presbyterian? Mormon? Jehovah’s Witness? Some of these and not all? How would Christians decide which would be the right cult to allow in schools? Would it be a geographic issue? Would the majority faith get to teach their dogma as the right one and the minority cults be told to conform? Where would the Jews fit in? The Muslims? The Hindi? What of the Native Americans who follow traditional ways?

In nations where theocracies are already established, such questions are irrelevant. Minorities shut the hell up and have few rights in the face of the majority cult.

Religious freedom is about both freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. Muslims should be free from having to conform to Christian dogma. Lutherans should not have to adhere to the Book of Mormon. And the non-religious should not need to have their children taught by publicly funded officials that the teacher’s particular superstition must be believed or mommy and daddy will burn in a lake of fire.


Lapman, Jane (2008) U.S. religious freedom is being eroded, advocates say: Misconceptions and ignorance are weakening the Constitution’s ‘first freedom.’ Christian Science Monitor, January 16, 2008 edition

First Amendment Center (2007) State of the First Amendment 2007 Final Annotated Survey [PDF]

Largest Religious Groups within U.S. Populations

Here’s an interesting graphic that I came across while looking for some other data. I thought I share it.

What you’re looking at here is the largest or most dominant religious groups within a given county’s population -the largest participating group in each county. The graphic and its data are located at the Glenmary Research Center’s site, Religious Congregations & Membership: 2000, along with several other interesting maps and data on religious adherence in the United States.

I provide this for informational purposes and really had no other commentary regarding it. I’ll copy this to the Data page. The image was sized to fit, to see the slightly larger version, right click and choose “View Image” in Firefox. Internet Explorer users should right-click and choose “Download Firefox.”

Witchcraft: Taken Very Seriously in Africa

There are some things that even the most devout religious adherents in the United States would scoff atafrica.jpg that are held to be very serious beliefs of the supernatural elsewhere in the world. So much so, that lives are affected or even ended because of these supernatural beliefs and superstitions. I think it helps to examine these in order to put Western religious superstitions in perspective.

I’ve spoke with West Africans that point out that Christian missionaries would ridicule their beliefs which ranged from witches flying in the night abducting the hapless to talking baobab trees, but that these same missionaries would try to pass of their very strange beliefs in sorcery that turns wine to blood and that three gods are really one.

To illustrate just how real witchcraft is to traditional African culture, here are a few news summaries of recent witchcraft news:

Man gets 5 yrs for magical transportation

A man in Malawi is sentenced to five years of imprisonment for violating the Malawi Witchcraft Act, which criminalizes the practice and teaching of “witchcraft.” The normative and legal position of the Malawian government is that witchcraft doesn’t exist, but the very real situation is that people do believe it’s real. Because of this, they make claims and accusations against others and retaliate or participate in vigilante justice if they think witchcraft is being used.

The man in the story linked above, Chikumbutso Mponda, is alleged to have “fallen from his magical plane” while he was in transit to his home village. Apparently he flew over a “magically protected” building that brought him down. I tried to read the story a couple of times to determine if the author of this “news” article was reporting what the man believed or what his accusers believe. I couldn’t tell. It was written as though it is a given fact that “magical planes” exist and this guy fell from one.

According to Mponela Police public relations officer Kondwani Kandiado, the court heard that on Christmas eve Mponda was traveling from Lilongwe to his home village in Ntchisi using a magic plane.

Due to lack of money for transport, he boarded a minibus to Mponela where he arrived at night.

Kandiado said since it was at night and fearing for their lives, the convict and a friend decided to use a magic plane for the remainder of the trip.

“Unfortunately, Mponda fell from the magic plane after it flew over a house at Mponela Trading Centre, which was heavily protected magically,” said Kandiado.

Nigerian Youths Brutally Murder Two Women Accused of Being Witches

After a brief illness, a two-year old girl died and her distraught father pointed a finger at the women who were then dragged out of their homes, tortured and killed:

A large and wild mob of angry youths stormed homes of the two women, dragged them out and later beat them to death. One of the women, who eked out a living from fishing, reportedly bled to death, after being stabbed in the breast, while the second was burnt alive.

The evidence of witchcraft? The father consulted with a witchdoctor before his daughter’s death and the witchdoctor claimed the two women were planning to murder the child through witchcraft. What is clearly at work here is that the “witchdoctor” was being consulted instead of a professional health practitioner and she hedged her bets in case the child died in her care. That way, the grieving father wouldn’t direct his revenge to the woman/witchdoctor whom he paid for services.

Kenyan Minister Blames Election Loss on Witchcraft

Apparently his opponents cast spells and buried live goats at each polling station, accusations which the minister, Suleiman Shakombo, says he can “prove in court.” Wouldn’t he be better off proving it at a polling station with a shovel?

Tanzania orders crackdown on witchcraft-related crime

Whether or not government officials in Malawi officially or unofficially accept that witchcraft is real, Tanzania’s government appears genuinely concerned with the rise in crime associated with witchcraft beliefs. Rape of infants to obtain good fortune or the trade of organs from infants and albinos to also obtain wealth are some of the more heinous beliefs. At least its clear that the Tanzanian government and perhaps the author of this article isn’t accepting a priori that witchcraft is real, as witchcraft is referred to as a set of “stupid beliefs.”

Out of Africa

Witchcraft is also an issue outside of Africa.

Tajikistan: Government Reacts To Economic Crisis By Banning Witchcraft

The Tajik government has taken a skeptical stance against witchcraft, fortune-telling, and the like in recent legislation. Many citizens have complained that there are more important issues for the legislative body to attend to, however, the Tajik authorities cite some 5,000 practitioners of witchcraft and divination, a figure that is rising fast, and the growing concern that the elderly and sick are more and more seeking assistance from charlatans and scam artists rather than professional medical help.

Sorcery and witchcraft beliefs remain prevalent in PNG

But all is not well in Papua New Guinea, where the author of the story above describes the brutal murder of a young woman accused of being a witch by a vigilante mob. The accusation: that she removed the heart of a man, killing him and that the heart was found under her bed. I’m betting the mob didn’t wait to see the heart or to get an autopsy report.

A group of men stripped her naked and forced her to walk the streets, torturing her with red hot iron bars and bush knives. She was in great pain until she died few hours later. No one mourned over her and there was no funeral. She was believed to have caused many deaths through sorcery, hence, even her blood relatives did not want to be seen to be on her side. Otherwise, they would also be blamed for sorcery practices, or making sorcery plans I found it very hard to believe that this young woman could possibly remove a human heart through “sanguma”. However, I couldn’t say anything at the time, and kept everything inside of me.

The author quotes an Australian member of the World Health Organization that cites a positive correlation between witchcraft related homicide and the increase in cases of HIV/AIDS, suggesting that fear is a strong motivator for superstition.

These cases of “witchcraft” are absurd, but they illustrate the true “spells” that humanity is susceptible to: belief. We tend to believe the absurd when it ties into hope, fear, and our own mortality or the mortality of those for whom we care about. The absurd belief that witches can remove a heart from a victim through “sanguma” or fly “magical planes” in the night aren’t really all that different from the unquestioned acceptance of “faith healing,” transubstantiation, zombie messiahs, virgin births, casting out demons and demons in the first place.

If you’re a Christian (or a Muslim or a Jew), and you don’t at least wonder for a moment whether or not your beliefs are any less absurd than that of the people in the stories above, then you are living in a delusional state.

The Historicity of Jesus: the Making of a Myth

So often I see it written on blogs or internet communities where the historicity of Jesus is being discussed where the Christian apologist will respond to those skeptical of a historical Jesus by reminding them that very little evidence exists to support the historicity of figures like Socrates, Alexander the Great, etc. While this may be true for the former, it is a bit less realistic a statement for the former. Nonetheless, the difference lies in the fact that neither of these figures has supernatural claims surrounding him to which millions of people are expected to behave in a certain manner in support of. Nor does my belief about life or the universe depend on either of these two actually existing in history. So the argument amounts to nothing more than a straw man, but it is a straw man that I see many atheists and non-believers get stuck on when they debate the historicity of Jesus with this would-be messiah’s apologists.

Historians don’t use the “empirical evidences” of chemists and physicists, but they do make predictions based upon the evidence they actually obtain. Evidence for historical figures and events comes in the forms of primary and secondary evidence. The written artifacts of the subject constitute primary evidence: bills of laden, manifests, deeds to property, signed orders, correspondence, etc. Secondary evidence comes in the form of documents written in an era after the subject’s period, usually written about the subject, describing his deeds, actions, or ideas about the world.

With regard to historical figures like George Washington, there exist many primary documents that conform to the period contemporary to the man. Occasionally, a forged document emerges (documents related to George Washington are valuable, after all) and is detected by some inconsistence when compared with other documents. Or, in the case of a document I recall being discussed once, the forger used the wrong ink, which when empirically analyzed, showed to be of a 20th century variety.

What exists with the Jesus account amounts to only secondary evidence. The only sources we have to say that Jesus existed in history are the Synaptic Gospels and a few apocrypha. Each of which offer conflicting accounts in some cases or appear to be derived from a single source in others. None of Jesus’ personal correspondences exist; not a single account of his life exists that was written while he was alleged to exist; not a single artifact is produced that can be empirically linked to Jesus; etc.

Apologists for the Jesus myth will often respond with, “what artifact would be good enough?” A blood-soaked piece of wood that tests to only have 23 chromosomes comes to mind, but, realistically, I’m reminded that many historical figures contemporary to Jesus or before are accompanied by artifacts that are in their name: effigies, murals, tapestries, sculptures, trinkets, jewelry, songs, poems, stories, cities and streets named after them, and so on. Jesus Christ has none of these things that were created during his life or even just after. It isn’t until about 50 – 70 years after he was alleged to have been executed that the newly emergent Christian cult created documents detailing the life of this person.

If Jesus Christ did not exist, we would expect to see only post-mortem accounts of his life. We would expect to see the creators of this mythical character use existing mythology to flesh out the character they’re creating. We would expect to see a borrowing of text, as was common for the day, from existing religious texts to create the new myth. We would expect to see mistakes in things like geography and contradictions between authors of the new mythical character if they weren’t collaborating close enough –or if they were competing with one another! We would also expect the Jesus myth to conform to the hero archetype as well.
And you know what, we see all these things.

Existing Mythology and Borrowing of Text

In Daniel 7:13, we find, “[a]s I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven.” In Mark 13:26, we see, “[t]hen they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”

This direct word-for-word borrowing of Old Testament text by gospel author is something that was done throughout Near Eastern cultures. Anyone who’s read in Near Eastern texts ranging from Gilgamesh to the Egyptian stories from the earliest writings to well after the alleged time of Jesus will see examples of this literary “borrowing.” One of the only time this literary practice of ancient texts is ignored is with Judeo-Christian and Islamic myths.

As another example of so many, the crucifixion scene in Mark is clearly based on Psalm 22. The first lines of Psalm 22 read “my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?,” which is a lamentation song supposedly written by David. In Mark, Jesus quotes this as he “dies” on the cross. Those deluded by the spell of Christianity will cite this as “prophecy fulfillment,” even though this isn’t a “prophecy” at all. It’s a song. A song of lament and there is no indication in Psalms that this is any sort of prophecy. We are left to accept that either the alleged “son of God” lacked imagination or originality in this and dozens of other sayings and speeches.

Indeed, the obvious explanation of so-called “prophecy-fulfillments” is that they are all* written by authors who were writing with these prophecies and sayings in mind.

Geographical Problems

In this section, I’m directly quoting the work of a skeptic in an internet community, and I’ve linked the passage at the end of this post. I won’t say that he’s 100% accurate in the information, but I did a quick look at the biblical passages in question as well as a map of the region and it looks like this gentleman is spot on.

1. The author of Mark states that Jesus cast out demons from a man and into a couple thousand pigs while in Gerasa. The pigs then ran down a steep place and into the Sea of Galilee. Galilee is about 30 miles from Gerasa.

2. Matthew’s author changed the earlier Mark to Gadara, which is still 5 miles from the shore of Galilee. The earliest manuscripts are Mark, which state Gerasa. But even if it were Gadara and Mark’s author was wrong (leaving one to wonder why we should trust “as gospel” the word of either since they cannot agree -one is obviously deluded), did Mark’s author run to keep up with the pigs for 5 miles just to watch their fate?

3. The author of Mark also wrote that Jesus traveled from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee, about 30-50 miles (depending on the route) in order to reach Sidon, which was back on the Mediterranean coast, yet another 40-50 miles! The wisest of wise men took a 70 mile journey, on foot, to reach his destination. Talk about taking the scenic route. A more likely explanation is that the gospel was invented by an author that was simply ignorant of Palestinian geography (in other words, had never been there; in other words, wasn’t an ‘apostle’) and thought Sidon was on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. [1]

Inter-Gospel Contradictions

The contradictory genealogies of Matthew and Luke are probably the first that come to mind for most. Even the most deeply deluded of Christian apologists seem to have difficulty reconciling this difference. Though I have seen one or two lame attempts, the worst of these being the excuse that one of the genealogies is actually that of Mary. There shouldn’t even be a genealogy of Joseph going back to David since he isn’t Jesus’ father… yet Paul writes in Romans 1:3 that Jesus was born of the seed of David. This is evidence of a bit of editing and footwork done by the early Christians who were reconciling OT prophecy to create their “messiah.” This bit gets written in to the Jesus mythology to help create the character and flesh out his part.

But, speaking of Jesus’ birth, only Luke and Matthew seem aware of the fact that it is supposed to be a “virgin” birth (complete and utter nonsense to begin with). Luke and Matthew also disagree on the date that he was born. Luke has him born during the first census of Israel during the period in which Quirinius was governor of Syria. Matthew says he was born during the reign of Herod. Herod died in 4 BCE and the census took place between 6 and 7 CE. The authors of Matthew and Luke both agree on the *place* of Jesus’ birth, however, putting it at Bethlehem. Incidentally, the author of Matthew seems to be quoting Micah (5:2) when he writes of it, more “borrowing” from the OT. Luke, on the other hand, has Joseph and Mary leave their home in Nazareth to go to Bethlehem for the birth for census purposes (which doesn’t make any logical sense, since Romans were interested in taxing people where they actually lived). The contradiction between Matthew and Luke is regarding their home, apparently Luke’s author thinks they lived in Nazareth before Jesus’ birth, whereas Matthew’s author says it was only after JC’s birth that they moved there because they were afraid to return to Judea.

There are many, many other contradictions between these alleged “synoptic” gospels (such as who bought the field of blood, how the field got its name, how Judas died, trials of Jesus, his death, the alleged “resurrection,” etc.), enough that it is apparent that “synoptic” is the last adjective that should be applied to these fables.

The Hero archetype.

The modern mythical archetype is as follows:

  1. The hero usually suffers a great loss, which makes him set off on a quest.
  2. The hero generally has a mentor or helper who helps him on his quest.
  3. The hero must face a set of trials, which allow him to overcome “evil”.
  4. The hero narrowly escapes death, usually more than once.
  5. The hero escapes the “evil villain’s” stronghold or destroys him.
  6. The hero is then reintegrated into society with a new status, wealth, or marriage to the princess.
  7. There has to be a happy ending.

Such modern heroes include Luke Skywalker, Superman, Batman, etc. But the hero archetype is nothing new to storytellers. Joseph Campbell outlined the “hero’s journey” in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces [2] and noted that this journey is shared by mythical heroes throughout history:

  1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
  2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
    Achieving the goal or “boon,” which often results in important self-knowledge
  3. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
  4. Application of the boon, in which what the hero has gained, can be used to improve the world

To quote Campbell, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

So why “Jesus Christ?”

The theology the group of believers that became Catholics held that a new covenant could only be made with a blood sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus had to exist and real, actual blood had to be spilled in order to form a new covenant. Catholics, the folks that voted on what texts were going to be “biblical” and which were not, voted in a new covenant along with the New Testament texts added to the earlier Judaic texts like the Torah. A new covenant exists. Therefore, Jesus existed. All very circular.

But why the name “Jesus” and not “Yeshua: as it is written in Hebrew. And why “Christ?” Yeshua, meaning “god saves” already existed and was very prominent in the newly voted on Bible. He’s better known as Joshua, the mass-murderer who is alleged to have committed genocide on Canaanites and other innocent people of the land he and his band of terrorists wanted to take. Of course, biblical mythology paints his deeds as acts of heroism (one man’s hero is another man’s terrorist), but rest assured, this hero is quoted directly in biblical mythology as having “devoted the city [Jericho] to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys (Joshua 6:21).” That is, every living thing *except* his favorite prostitute.

So the Catholic editors of their newly voted on biblical texts saw fit to change the name ever so slightly. Jesus, was also among the most common names of the time. And, since “christ” is from the Greek khristós, meaning “anointed one,” the functional equivalent of “messiah,” we are left with an “everyman name.” He might well have been named *Joe Messiah* if the story were to have unfolded in 20th century Ohio instead of the Iron Age.

References and Related Posts

  • [1] SkinWalker. Bible Contradictions. Post #2 [], 2007
  • [2] Campbell, Joseph. The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949.
  • Related Posts: Scientific Study of Religion