Thursday 1 September 2016

About Bible Goggles

"Bible goggles" are supernatural assumptions that get in the way of reading the Bible. They blur and distort the text. I think we should take those goggles off. We should stop assuming that Bible stories are about the supernatural. Then the stories make a lot more sense.

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Thursday 31 March 2016

Gen 7:6 dating Noah's fire

Yes, the fire, not the flood. The source material says we should be looking for a fire in the city of Shuruppak, and that is exactly what archeology finds.

Noah's flood is a great example of Bible Goggles, because it works on two levels.

1. Global or local?

Bible Goggles make us read a local flood as a supernatural global flood. When the Bible says the "whole world" it can only mean the world they knew e.g. in Luke "all the world should be taxed" meant the Roman empire. Noah did not know what was beyond his horizon. Why else did he send out a dove to find out?

2. Scholars look in the wrong place

Scholars wear Bible Goggles when they accept the supernatural idea that people can foretell global catastrophes. That is not in the text. Most of the story of Noah (e.g. most of Genesis chapters 5 and 6) is about how the lord god foresaw the flood, but as we saw in the documentary hypothesis fiasco, the lord-gods are human rulers and so they can only make human predictions. They are not supernatural. Yet most scholars assume the text requires supernatural powers.

Scholars link Noah's flood to memories of gigantic flooding events in history. For example, the Black Sea may have flooded spectacularly in 5600 BC, Leonard Woolley famously discovered that Abraham's city of Ur had a massive flood around 3500 BC, and others found evidence of major floods in other Sumerian cities in 3000 and 2600 BC. One was in Noah's city of Shuruppak (around 3000 BC) so this looks like a direct hit. But this presupposes that either (a) the lord-gods had supernatural abilities to see the future, or (b) the text is a lie, completely made up much later. Because the text is about how the gods caused the flood and prepared for it.

So scholars either believe the supernatural or they reject the text. So supernatural Bible Goggles destroy the Bible. Again.

What the text actually says

The text is all about foreseeing the flood. Flooding could to some extent be foretold: it would always happen at the time of the spring melting in the mountains. No doubt the rulers had some idea of natural cycles so could say this year's flooding was likely to be heavier or lighter than usual. And if they saw some storm clouds rolling across the plain you could predict the flooding would be worse the next day. So it is perfectly reasonable to say the lord-gods foretold a larger than average flood one year, and pinpoint the worst day just before it happened. But they do not have modern science or supernatural abilities to say "this would be the biggest flood for a thousand years".

So the question becomes, why were the lord-gods so certain that this flood would kill everybody?

The answer is in the source material. It was not just a flood. The earlier Gilgamesh and Atrahasis versions adds crucial details. The lord-gods destroyed the dams, making the flood much worse. They had prepared the people by withholding grain to ensure a famine, and finally they burnt everything just to make sure.

The context

It is important to see the flood in context, as it is a natural extension of what went before. All human history shows conflict between the rulers and those they rule: when pushed too hard the people rebel. Gilgamesh is no exception: Gilgamesh himself is a brutal ruler, killing and raping whoever he wants. Genesis speaks of great violence, sparked by the sons of god (i.e. the younger generation of lord gods) taking whoever they wanted.

Enoch and other later texts describe a long series of conflicts between the lord-gods, their sons, and the poor people, often involving burning of cities. Eventually the lord gods decided to wipe out the whole troublesome city and start again. Tyrants have always used genocide as a last resort. This is how they did it:

They waited for the worst floods

The text talks about a 120 year build up, and the final event taking place when storm clouds approached. 120 years may be an exaggeration, but naturally they would await the best possible moment in the normal flood cycle.

The lord gods starved the people

The lord gods had arranged an artificial famine, so the people were already on the brink of starvation. From the Atrahasis account:
Cut off food supplies to the people,
let plant-life to feed them be scarce;
The lord gods destroyed the dams and river banks

Sumerian life depended on constant irrigation, both to "divide the land from the waters" and provide fresh water for crops. Gilgamesh and Atrahasis both record how the minister of canals was a key figure. The people who planned the flood was the top leader, his number one fixer, the chamberlain (i.e. the inner circle) and one other person: the minister of canals. From Gilgamesh tablet 11:
The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood.Their Father Anu uttered the oath (of secrecy),Valiant Enlil was their Adviser,Ninurta was their Chamberlain,Ennugi was their Minister of Canals.
So they told Utnapishtim, their friend, to build a big boat to escape. The boat was not lifted up by the flood, but had to be lowered with great difficulty into the river:
The launching was very difficult.They had to keep carrying a runway of poles front to back,until two-thirds of it had gone into the water
This must have been a year when they expected greater than normal natural floods (Genesis says they had planned something like this for 120 years). So when they saw rain clouds as well they decided this was the moment to destroy the canals and make it much worse:
there arose from the horizon a black cloud. Adad rumbled inside of it,before him went Shullat and Hanish,heralds going over mountain and land. Erragal pulled out the mooring poles, forth went Ninurta and made the dikes overflow.
Since the lord gods were the human rulers, their heralds would be their servants. Naturally they did all this in the name of their gods, as kings always did. Pulling out mooring poles and making dikes overflow sounds like general destruction of the canal infrastructure. This interpretation is supported by their use of fire:

The lord gods burnt everything

Immediately after destroying the dikes we read this:
The Anunnaki lifted up the torches,setting the land ablaze with their flare.Stunned shock over Adad's deeds overtook the heavens,and turned to blackness all that had been light.
So the smoke of burning buildings filled the sky.

The aftermath

What the lord-gods did was so shocking that Utnapishtim (Noah) decided to live as far away as possible. And when Sumerian king lists record that the rulers then abandoned the city (Shuruppak) and moved their base of operations further upstream to Kish. The destruction was so shocking that it was seen as a turning point in history ever after. It no doubt contributed to the rise of monotheism: these are not the kind of lord-gods you want to worship, the only lord should be God himself (i.e. logic)

Dating the fire

In conclusion, when looking for the flood we are not looking for something so big that it could not be predicted: we are looking for the kind of flood that would happen every few years and probably be hard to spot archaeologically. But something else would stand out: the burning of the city. So let us look at what we know about Utnaphishtim's city of Shuruppak:
Shuruppak became a grain storage and distribution city and had more silos than any other Sumerian city.  ...
At the end of the Uruk period [4100-2900 BC] there was an archaeologically attested river flood in Shuruppak.  ...
The city expanded to its greatest extent at the end of the Early Dynastic III period (2600 BCE to 2350 BCE) when it covered about 100 hectares. At this stage it was destroyed by a fire which baked the clay tablets and mudbrick walls, which then survived for millennia.
To summarise:
  1. It was the number one city that provided food to the others. This agrees with the king list's statement that overall kingship was there. it also agrees with the above account that the lord gods had their seat there, and were in a position to starve everybody else.
  2. it did have a great flood, which many believe could be Noah's flood. But would the rulers have known enough about this in advance?
  3. It was finally destroyed in fire, in about 2350 BC.
Open an old Bible, one with the dates in the chapter headings (as calculated from the Bible itself by Archbishop Ussher). And what do we see? The flood is dated to 2348 BC.

How accurate are the dates?

Obviously the dates could be inaccurate for a number of reasons I have seen a spread of dates for the end of the Early Dynastic III period (the time when Shuruppak burnt), and a single new discovery could shift it again by hundreds of years. Plus, I argue elsewhere that the compilers of Genesis simply made their best guesses to fit dates to events. I am not stupid enough to enter the minefield of Biblical dating. My point is simply that the Bible text tends to agree with history, as far as we can tell. We only have problems when we put on supernatural goggles and read things that it does not say. No, the flood was not global, and no, the rulers were not supernatural beings with power to foresee unexpected floods.

In short, take off the supernatural goggles and history suddenly makes sense.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Mark 1:1 the secret gospel of Mark

Bible Goggles and the Secret Gospel

The Secret Gospel of Mark is an allegedly longer version of Mark that is now lost. It is only known through photographs of a copy of a letter alleged to be by Clement of Alexandria, discovered by professor Morton Smith and publicised in 1973. Naturally most people assume it is a forgery.

If it is forgery then it is of no interest to this blog. So in this post I will give the evidence for it being genuine, and why it matters.

It matters because, quite apart from the contents of "Secret Mark", the letter shows that early Christians were urged to lie: Clement is arguing that discussing the book in public can only help the heretics, and therefore it should be denied under oath, even though it is a genuine document, Bible Goggles at their most blatant!

The case against Secret Mark

The case against Secret Mark is as follows:
  1. All we have is Morton Smith's photographs. We have no original paper (or papyrus) to examine. 
  2. A good friend of Smith's later fell out with him and loudly accused him of being a forger.
  3. Even if Morton did not forge it, perhaps some ancient enemy of Clement did.
  4. Smith was "a sharp witted" homosexual and the "secret gospel" appears to be sympathetic to homosexuality.
  5. The manuscript was said to be found in the Mar Saba monastery: but a 1940 novel, "The Mystery of Mar Saba" has some parallels to that discovery.
  6. Some say the handwriting looks like Smith's
However, each of these points is easily answered
  1. Monasteries do not exist for the benefit of foreign scholars. We cannot just drive up and take everything they have of interest. We used to in previous centuries, and as a result they tend to be very protective of their documents and beliefs. Also, they are monks, not professional archivists. So it is perfectly normal for texts to be hard to gain access to, or mislaid (either deliberately or by accident).
  2. The ex-friend provided no evidence for his claim. Of course he would suspect that if he now believes Morton was a Bad Person. Equally, a close friend would be utterly convinced that Morton was genuine. That is why we have to deal in evidence, not personal grudges.
  3. What is the motive for an ancient writer forging a letter attacking a book? Why not just forge the book? Or forge a letter supporting it? Very few people could read and libraries were harder to access, so there was no reason to be so devious as to make a letter pretending to oppose something you really wanted to support.
  4. Mind reading is not reliable. See below for a closer look at this and other possible motives.
  5. Likewise with millions of novels written it is inevitable that some will have parallels with the real world. I am reminded of my favourite comic creator, Jack Kirby, who wrote a story about an atomic bomb in the 1940s. This was before the bomb was made public. Atoms were hot science, and Kirby just thought "atomic bomb" sounded cool. The authorities contacted him to see if he must have access to top secrets. no, it was just coincidence. As for Morton Smith, he was professor of ancient history at Columbia University, and would be well aware of earlier discoveries in monasteries why would he copy a cheap novel?
  6. Other experts say the opposite.
The case for secret Mark

Scott Brown gives the literary case for Secret Mark being genuine in his book "Mark's Other Gospel". It rests on a detailed analysis of what we know about Clement and Mark, and is very technical. But for most people the big question is Morton Smith's motive. Why would a professor forge such a document?

What is the motive?

Brown never intended to be a Smith apologist. But since he found himself in that position he addressed the motive question in 2006 ("The Question of Motive in the Case against Morton Smith",
Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 125, No. 2, pp. 351-383)
  1. Fame and glory? No critics have suggested this. Presumably it makes no sense. It would not make him rich. And Smith already had a good reputation, so why risk it with a claim that would one day be found out?
  2. Promoting homosexuality? That is not in the text and Smith does not argue it. Secret Mark hints at a purification ritual. The Essenes on the Dead Sea scrolls had such things. Smith spends 83 pages developing arguments for what it might be. As an off hand comment he once speculates if there could be a physical element. But that is not an argument, just speculation, and it is not based on anything in Secret Mark, but was based on the already known ritual of the eucharist (which symbolises physical union). In his later books he dropped the suggestion, clearly feeling it was unlikely.
  3. A private joke, to show that his peers were stupid? This claim rests on zero evidence, just mind reading. So this cannot be a serious hypothesis. However, when we look at known cases of such academic tricks, they are always small: such as humour (which the peers do not catch) or a nonsense article submitted to a prestigious journal to see if it will be printed. Instead, Smith spent many years on Secret Mark: the only joke would be on himself for wasting so much time on nonsense.
  4. A serious experiment to see if a forgery could be accepted as real? Then Smith would have admitted it, or at least left some written indication in his desk to be found after his death. He did not. 

In the final analysis, we can never know ancient documents for certain. If we want proof we should only examine things that can be proven. This is why I argue that the Bible is best examined as an economic document: then it does not matter who wrote it, or when, because it can be tested in the here and now.

Monday 28 March 2016


An update on the plans for my book

So happy! I just registered "Book Of Giants .com" (no spaces). I can't believe that name was not taken. It must be a sign. :)

For the past few days I've been working on how to present my research in a popular format. A year ago I worked on presenting some of these ideas as a graphic novel, but the idea wasn't good enough. However, since reading Gilgamesh in more detail I now have an idea that will work.

Gilgamesh is all about the men versus gods, and life after death. It was the best selling book for the first three thousand years of civilisation, and rightly so. I plan to combine it with the best selling book of the last 3,000 years (the Bible) and bring them both up to date and extend them to the future. And all as an action packed adventure. Anyone who is interested in the themes can of course visit my web sites (or just Google) for the research behind the claims.

The working title was "The Book of Enkidu" (Enkidu was the Adam figure in Gilgamesh). So I quickly grabbed that "" and was happy nobody else had taken it. If you have ever bought your own URL you will now that cybersquatter parasites sit on all the good names, in the hopes of extorting money from people for using them. So to find a good name that's available is wonderful.

Since registering bookofenkidu I've been working on the plot. For this book to succeed it needs a very clear plot. Nobody will read "the aimless ramblings of Chris Tolworthy" It has to be a page turner. That plot is now coalescing: it will be the history of the world told as man versus giants. I then mused that "book of Enkidu" is hard to remember, and tells the average reader nothing about the plot. Because very few people know who Enkidu was, and the word does not trip off the tongue. But "book of Giants" is much easier to remember and to say, and it tells you what to expect.

Naturally I Googled to see if "book of Giants" was already a well known title, and was thrilled to see something I had totally forgotten: it is the name of a gnostic text dealing with the Watchers of Noah's day! That is the heart of the story I plan to tell (it is the focus of the second half of Gilgamesh, and I think it tells the whole story in microcosm). So I was overjoyed. And to then discover that nobody has grabbed the name! Book of Giants it is then.

When will the book be published?

This book will be my magnum opus: my life's work, a summary of everything I have tried to say over the last 35 years. So it will not be rushed. Plus I am also working on a game which has a similar message, to open people's eyes to the huge ideas that link all humanity. The game should be ready in 2018. I expect the book will be launched at around the same time. Maybe earlier, as the book is a lot less work. But on the other hand the book needs to be perfect: I only get one chance, whereas the game will be constantly updated.

I'll keep you updated.

I should call this Bible Giggles, not Bible Goggles. I am grinning from ear to ear after reading the Dead Sea Scrolls version of the Book of Giants. When planning the plot of my book, it became obvious that I would need a Shaman character in order to explain the symbolism of trees, roots and connectedness in the form of a dream. And what do I find? The Dead Sea Scrolls version already has it! The dream and cosmic journey of Mahway! I must be on the right track.

And even funnier, making me laugh: I was planning the plot while at work. It was about challenging the gods, and I kept on humming Sinatra's ""I did it My Way." It should have been "I did it Mahway"

Ex 21:22-24 abortion

Abortion is a good example of wearing Bible Goggles. The Bible says one thing, but people read it as the opposite.

The idea that the Bible is anti abortion is younger than the Happy Meal. Allegedly. Personally I hate abortion, but the Bible does seem to support it.:

Genesis 6:6 if you regret conception then apparently it's OK to terminate the result at any stage. I don't go this far, but the lord-god in Genesis does. (Note that the lord-god is not the same as God. See the page on the documentary hypothesis fiasco for details.)

Leviticus 24:17 says a life for a life, but this does not apply to the fetus (Exodus 21:22-24), implying that the fetus is not alive.

Leviticus 27:1-7 sets out various monetary amounts depending on age. babies are only considered after one month old (presumably because dying at or near birth was so common anciently?)

Numbers 5:20-22: This is probably the clearest support for abortion in the Bible. It uses some euphemisms, but scholars agree that verse 22 is talking about drinking something that causes miscarriage.

Jeremiah 1:5: one of a number of scriptures about God's foreknowledge, which of course extends before conception. However, Jeremiah apparently does not consider man "formed" until he comes out of the womb.

And of course, the conception of Jesus. Mary could have been stoned to death for premarital sex (Deuteronomy 22:21). Premarital sex often results in pregnancy, and the law allows for not only termination of the fetus but the mother as well.

The teaching appears to be based on evidence. That is, it is scientific. In ancient times they had no experience of a very early birth surviving, so had no reason to see it as a separate person. Though note Luke 1:41 - Luke is well known for exaggerating (that's another topic) but this at least reminds us that it is common for unborn babies to kick):
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
So, according to the evidence, it would be reasonable to say that the Bible teaches the baby is formed during pregnancy: not a separate person, and not having any "rights" at first, but being very nearly a full person toward the end.

So that is what the Bible says. It is also the evidence of science. It was a normal Christian belief until very recently. It is also worth noting that the Didache (a popular list of Christian rules from around AD 100) condemns paying for abortion, in between references to love potions and infanticide:
 thou shalt not use philtres; thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide; 
This seems to be condemning men who would drug a woman into having sex and then pay for an abortion. Pretty much any reasonable person can see that such practices are harmful to the woman and to society as a whole.

So, based on science, the Bible, and Christian tradition. a reasonable person who respects life would not have a big problem with early term abortion, but would grow more and more disturbed by the practice as the pregnancy goes on. They would also oppose forcing  awoman to do something she does not want to do.

There may of course be other reasons to oppose abortion, but science, the Bible, and Christian history seem to say the same thing. Yet if you Google the words "Bible" and "Abortion" then you will see endless web sites proclaiming the opposite. The Bible says one thing, but people read the opposite. Here are Bible Goggles at work.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Dan 2:44 Beasts, the stone, and the Trans Pacific Partnership

Last night God appeared to me in a dream.

Don't worry, I haven't gone mad. God is logic, and personification can make complex ideas easier to see, Anyway, this post is a stream of consciousness. About my current thinking about the book. This will probably only make sense in a year or two when the book is further developed. the I can look back and see, "ah yes, now I remember how it all started"

You have been warned :)

The TPP, as you may know, is a horrific piece of (effectively) secret legislation that further shifts power toward corporations and away from humans. I say horrific because, as a human, I naturally want humans to be in charge. Which just shows how stupid I am. Please let me explain.

Human evolution

Humans evolved to live in small groups on the African savannah. That worked OK for individual humans, because the groups could not get too big. We are hard wired to be unable to deal with more than, say, 100 other people. This limits the power of any individual. It means technology cannot develop (beyond simple tools and mud houses), so each individual is vulnerable: This creates equality. If any person gets too bad, two or three other people are enough to teach him humility.

So every individual was within reaching distance (literally) of being the most powerful human on the planet. Which wasn't saying much, as the ants and lions were pretty powerful too. But we each had our niche, and were able to live like that for hundreds of thousands of years. And our brains were wired to do this efficiently, so I have every reason to think we were generally happy.

Our brief six thousand years as top species

Around 4,000 BC we invented proto-writing, and that's when it all went wrong. It enabled us to work in far larger groups. We were able to expand our cities through specialisation, and create imaginary gods to represent large groups of people: as long as people did what their god said then a human's 100 person limit could be expanded to 100 tribes of unlimited size. Granted, we had gods before that date, but writing gave them unlimited power.

This ability to work in groups let us dominate the world. But it did not change the fact that we were individual humans who evolved for much smaller groups on the savannah. The new system was great for the group, but horrible for the individual. We made ourselves cogs in a much larger machine. As individuals our food became worse our choices became fewer (unless we were the top human, and even that position could be precarious: change brings chaos and kings were always in danger of being toppled).

Why humans are no longer top species

Evolution works at the level of the system. Any system that competes for resources, randomly changes, and can pass on successful changes, will evolve. Brains and consciousness are secondary issues and a matter of definition.(1) What concerns us here is power: the ability to out-maneuver other systems for resources. By creating cities and nations and (Iater) corporations and networks we humans created systems that are more powerful than ourselves. Evolution takes time of course, and so for a long time these systems had no brains of their own. They relied on networks of human brains, so humans had unique leverage. Humans still felt they were in charge, even though 99 percent of humans were effectively slaves.

But then along came electronics. Telegraphs allowed information to travel faster than a human could follow it. Hard drives allowed information to be storied in quantities greater than a human could ever read. The Internet allowed more and more processes to be separated form the human brain and handled much faster and more efficiently.

The evolution of systems into more complex forms is hardly new. Mathematics evolved into physical forces.(2) Physical forces evolved into atoms.(2) Atoms evolved into simple molecules. Simple molecules into complex ones. Complex molecules into cells Cells into tissues. Tissues into organisms. And now, organisms into corporations. Each system combines to create the thing that enslaves it.

These more complex forms have the potential to be smarter than us. If only because they are made up of large numbers of us. Our individual stupidity as humans is illustrated by the enthusiasm with which we create our masters, while thinking that they serve us! Well yes they do serve us in a sense. In the same sense that a human body serves its cells, by providing their needs. But make no mistake: the body comes first, and individual cells are expendable.

I made this simple video to illustrate the point:
As I said, evolution takes time. We are still in the early days of corporate dominance. There are many tasks that still require humans. But that is a false security. If a human is easy to replace, and fears being unemployed and hungry, then the human must obey out of fear. Successful company chairmen work the longest hours and have no time to think of anything except the company: they are the greatest slaves of all because they have given not just their bodies but their minds to the beast.

In short, humans are no longer top species. Perhaps we will be completely replaced, or perhaps we will become cells in this larger body. "Will become?" We already are.

When did human dominance end?

Human dominance ended when as individuals we became unable to defeat our masters. Sure, our masters were always more powerful, but their total dependence on individual humans meant a Caesar or a Napoleon could be their master. But, starting with the rise of the Internet, corporations have become far more complex and faster moving than any human (or even small group of humans) can understand. Humans can now only stand and watch.

Which brings us to Daniel.

I referred to corporations as beasts. This is a good metaphor. Daniel refers to empires as horned beasts: alive, apparently stupid, yet likely to win in any fight with a human.

Large, apparently stupid systems have always been described as beasts, right back to Leviathan, the chaos of the ocean. The ocean was the source of long distance transport, and provided its own food, so our distant ancestors saw it as the great beast to defeat when founding the first empires. The Enuma Elish and its abridgment in Genesis both refer to civilisation arising out of its chaotic watery jaws. When Thomas Hobbes studied the power of the state he chose the same metaphor. The most famous beast is of course the Roman Empire (then embodied by Nero) in the book of Revelation.

Apocalyptic literature such as Daniel, Revelation, and especially Enoch, tries to put a time frame to the growth of these beasts. Daniel was dealing with a new upstart, Greece, so expected it to fall quite quickly (and it did). But as for the dominance of beasts in general, Enoch and Revelation estimate a seven thousand year continuance for life as we now it: six thousand years of life as it is now, then a thousand years when God defeats the beasts, then a new heaven and new earth. That turned out to be a pretty good guess. Six thousand years from the creation of writing to the industrial and IT revolutions, and probably another thousand years before it all settles down.

God of course is logic, the stone that is not cut with hands, but exists independently of our efforts, and smashes everything. The overall message is positive. The beasts will be defeated by logic in the end. Which brings me the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Why I now embrace the TPP

Until last night I hated the TPP and all it represented: the enslavement of humankind, probably the continued poisoning of the planet, and a few wars along the way. But as I said, God appeared to me in a  dream and I now see more clearly.

You could say that God appeared in the form of the TPP, and of Tesco, and of every other monolithic corporate system, and said "Love me".

Because the fact is that the age of humans is over. It was really over when they created writing, but being humans we were too stupid to see it.

Until last night I was incredibly frustrated and depressed by humanity and the future in general. Fixing the world would be so simple - just one easy change would make everything perfect - but we won't do it. Why? Because we are not wired for logic. Our brains are wired for small tribes. And if faced with anything bigger we either force the concept into our tribal structure (hence gods, and stories of good guys versus bad guys) or we panic and fight.

Take the Brussels terrorist attack for example. It was so predictable (not this particular attack but attacks in general). It was so easily avoidable (like all our problems). But how do we react? Do we say "let's make sure this cannot happen again?" No, we either wring our hands in sympathy, or we look for somebody to hate. Actually understanding and solving problems is not in our nature. Our brains are just too small.

I am acutely aware of the smallness of my own brain. I just spent thirty years focusing on one very narrow problem - how to fix everything at source. I am autistic, so focusing and abstracting like that comes naturally to me. But after finding the answer it just reinforced how stupid I am:

  1. First, because the answer was staring me in the face all the time: every careful thinker has come to the same conclusion. (See Adam Smith, Winston Churchill, etc.) Heck, it's the whole point of the Bible. But I could not see it, because thinking rationally is so hard. Like everyone else I wanted to see the Bible as supernatural.
  2. Second, because having answers is pointless unless you can share them. And ideas are extremely difficult to share. We delude ourselves that we are logical but we are not, we are tribal. We come to our ideas primarily because those in our tribe share them. We only make the tiniest of changes. An idea like "fix everything by replacing tax with rent" relies on so many underlying ideas that sharing it with even one person is a herculean task. Sharing it with enough people to create a critical mass? Far more sociable people than me have failed at sharing far simpler ideas.

Luckily, corporations do not have our limits. They can network and subdivide to handle ideas of any size. They are the only hope of doing it right. But will they?

The ultimate triumph of logic

Logic wins because it is how the universe is. Any idea that fights it will fail by definition. Bad ideas only appear to succeed because the alternative ideas are even worse, but we are too stupid dot see it. For example, Nazi Germany briefly succeeded because the rest of us had created a world in which such a horror could be born. And it failed precisely because it was a horror: it was inefficient. We cannot blame our creation, we collectively created those circumstances. But being stupid we refuse to admit it, or, if we do, we just wring our hands in self-hating guilt rather than simply fixing the problem.

Land rent will win because it is more efficient than taxation. Humans are incapable of grasping that in sufficient numbers, but corporations do not have those limitations. Of course, corporations will also do things wrong: they will probably poison the planet a lot more first, causing vast human misery and many new wars. But gradually the more powerful will defeat the less powerful. I think a thousand years was a good estimate.

Part of human stupidity is thinking that corporations are evil because they do such bad things. News flash: humans do all those things too. Corporations are just bigger. Yes, they have given us nuclear bombs and global warming, but they have also given us the lowest poverty rates since records began. We are cells in their body, and they work best if their cells are healthy.

The end of humanity

But what if, over the next thousand years of transition, corporations find away to not need us at all? Or to need so few that most of humanity dies? That is us thinking like humans again. In the early centuries humans will still be able to cause damage to corporations. Therefore they will want to keep us happy. They have not been feeding us out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it suits them.

But what about later centuries? What about the year 2500 or 2800, when humans are completely irrelevant to the brave new world? Corporations have that covered as well. What is a human, except a set of ideas within a mechanical frame? Those ideas are evolving quickly to suit our masters. We are replacing more and more of our bodies: cars replace legs, phones replace memory, etc. Even our consciousness is evolving to fit in. Most people are far more interested in X-Factor (the Great Distraction) rather than politics. We are too stupid for politics, so our masters keep us distracted. By the year 2500 or 2800 humans will be so completely absorbed into the machine that we will be indistinguishable from any "artificial" parts of the system. Our transformation into efficient cells will be complete. Our minds will have become perfectly aligned to our role and so we will be happy.

The triumph of Paul

Throughout this Bible blog I tend to be scathing about the self appointed apostle Paul. He was the antichrist, the great fraud who taught nonsense and destroyed Jesus' movement. And yet... the more I learn about other thinking people, the more I learn that they are no more evil than I am, and no more stupid than I am. One thing is certain, Paul was smart. I wonder if, in the long dark nights (and these were the days before electronic distractions), Paul saw things more clearly than I did. I wonder if he knew that humans are weal and foolish. After all, isn't that his message? And he knew that the best we can do is accept whatever supernatural idea makes us happy, while not worrying. Jesus may have attempted (with some success) to make people good, but Paul could see it was ultimately a lost cause. What will happen will happen, so he created a religion that let people cope and be happy.

I planned to blog yesterday about how I needed to write two books, not one, and what I really wanted was the third book, about beasts. I now wonder if what I should really write is an apocalyptic work like Enoch or Daniel. But updated for the Google age.

In that book I would put only the best stuff. Just enough that anybody with an interest could Google the rest and put two and two together on their own. Most people would of course ignore it. But those who thought deeply about life would find it eventually, and discover it to be a good friend.

The book of Enkidu

It is traditional to write apocalyptic works under the name of an ancient patriarch, such as Enoch. It is also accurate: our identity is in our ideas, because if somebody shares the ideas attributed to Enoch then they are an Enoch. But the name Enoch is already overused. Besides, the book I have in mind probably has more in common with Enkidu (the Adam figure and co-star of Gilgamesh). I just noticed that "the book of Enkidu" has zero results in Google. So that will probably be the title. I just registered the domain.

You saw it here first.

(1) It can be argued that humans are not conscious and do not feel pain. I call on the analogy with lobsters. They lack the neural pathways that we consider essential, therefore they cannot possibly feel pain, right? Now look at humans from the point of view of the corporation. We do not appear on the stock exchange, so cannot possibly feel financial pain, We do not have PR departments who monitor news from our perspective 24/7, and we lack high speed trading software to react quickly, so we can barely be considered conscious of what goes on around us either. Concepts like consciousness and pain are entirely dependent on the system and its needs.

(2) Yes, mathematics evolves. All states exist randomly. The scarce resource is more complex mathematical systems. Patterns emerge from chaos. Larger patterns encompass smaller ones.

1 Kings 6:1: Solomon's temple

I'm just listening to Daniel Fleming on Ancient Israel. Very interesting stuff.

It all fits my thesis that the kings were the bad guys, and all their "look at how great I am" stories are propaganda.

As for whether the law of Moses was ever followed, that's up for grabs. He notes that the  building that might be the temple (but critics argue is not) is not as expensive as temples of neighbouring states, suggesting that Israel was poor. But it could also argue that Israel was decentralised: if Saul was the first king they ever had then there was no tradition of taxing the people, so of course early palaces etc would be simple. Unless the people had plenty of gold to steal, but what good is gold if everyone has equal shares of land? Amassing gold only is only useful if (a) you need insurance against ever being poor, or (b) you want to amass significantly more wealth than your neighbours. But with equal shares of land neither option is realistic.

However, I return to my position on yesterday's blog: the intelligent position is to admit what we do not know, and to focus on virtue. In this case, could the law of Moses actually do good? That is the only Bible question that matters.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

John 8:38 Scholars, please, listen to Cicero

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? 
Contrary to what Bible scholars seem to think, ancient people were not all stupid. They did not all think the supernatural was a proper subject of study. Modern scholars could learn from them. The good ones asked questions like "what is truth?" And while not every person was smart (just as today), the Greek philosophers were remarkably popular. Every thinking person was able to realise that the supernatural is at best just a useful simplification of more careful thought, and at worst nonsense. So the supernatural is never a fit subject for study. A good way to spread an idea, perhaps.But a siubject for study? Never.

So I plead with scholars: when you find something about the supernatural, move on. It isn't worth studying. Don't waste your time on it. There are better ancient texts to study.

What brought on this rant? I've just been listening to hours of Bible study from The Bible Geek and History in the Bible and it's driving me crazy. I can't take much more of it. Educated men who should know better are speculating on supernatural beliefs. Stop it! Stop wasting your talents! Report on the texts, yes; use them in an effort to make sense of the universe, definately; but do not us them to look down on others, Move on!

There are plenty of fine thinkers in ancient times. If we cannot find them then maybe the problem lies with us. If we really think these people were that stupid then we should stop and think: "maybe it's me." If we do not understand something it does not always mean the other guy is an idiot.

I was going to end with the famous quotation by Cicero, about realising that we know nothing. But the whole context is so good that I will quote it all. I love Cicero. (He also wrote the best book on religion: "on the nature of the gods". Highly recommended.
Then Varro began as follows: “It is my view, and it is universally agreed, that Socrates was the first person who summoned philosophy away from mysteries veiled in concealment by nature herself, upon which all philosophers before him had been engaged, and led it to the subject of ordinary life, in order to investigate the virtues and vices, and good and evil generally, and to realize that heavenly matters are either remote from our knowledge or else, however fully known, have nothing to do with the good life. The method of discussion pursued by Socrates in almost all the dialogues so diversely and so fully recorded by his hearers is to affirm nothing himself but to refute others, to assert that he knows nothing except the fact of his own ignorance, and that he surpassed all other people in that they think they know things that they do not know but he himself thinks he knows nothing, and that he believed this to have been the reason why Apollo declared him to be the wisest of all men, because all wisdom consists solely in not thinking that you know what you do not know. He used to say this regularly, and remained firm in this opinion, yet nevertheless the whole of his discourses were spent in praising virtue and in exhorting mankind to the zealous pursuit of virtue, as can be gathered from the books of members of the Socratic school, and particularly from those of Plato. (Cicero, Academica, Book 1 section 4, emphasis added)
The bit about virtue resonates with me. As I blogged yesterday, the only reason for studying the Bible is to make the world a better place. Hence I think the only good way to judge the Bible is through economics. If we study it for any other reason, whether it is to be saved or to speculate on what others believe (as if our minds are so great that we can encompass theirs as well), then I think we are doing it wrong.

(EDIT: it's worth noting that Socrates is saying what Karl Popper said over two thousand years later: we cannot prove anything, we can only disprove things. )

Deut 4:2 the best way to interpret the Bible

When I was a Mormon missionary, Deuteronomy 4:2 was one of my favourite verses:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
Why? Because it was a perfect answer to those who said "you cannot add to scripture, it says so at the end of Revelation":
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
This illustrates why the Bible can be hard to interpret. A verse can seem plain at first ("don't add to the Bible!") then it doesn't mean what we think it means. Because Moses said the same thing that right at the start, then dozens of others added to the Bible. Well, you say, perhaps Moses was referring to all 66 books? Then how do we know there were not 166 and we still need to add the last ones? Well, you say, the supernatural Holy Spirit said so. But anybody can say this "Holy Spirit" said anything. That proves nothing. We can go round in circles.

So how can we be sure? How can we know which interpretation of the text is the best?

We need to measure what is good

To find the best of anything, be it the best interpretation or the best quality bread, we need some way to measure it. We cannot measure the supernatural, so we need to focus on the not-supernatural. Fortunately the Bible makes many not-supernatural claims. In short, it promises that if we follow its counsel we will have a better life. So how do we measure a better life? What counts as better? Different people like different things.

The science of measuring the good

There is a whole science devoted to the measurement of things we desire: it's called macro-economics. it measures large scale choices. That is, what do people choose to do with their time? How do they choose between alternative uses of their time? 

It's easy to mock economics, but money is the only way to measure these things objectively. If economics is faulty then we need better economics, because it's the only game in town. 

Economics applies to religion just as much as anything else: religions survive because people are fed and have land. The only difference between religion and nationalism is that religious outcomes might take centuries to observe.

Economics makes everything simple

Seeing the Bible in economic terms makes everything simple. When Moses spoke of a kingdom he meant just that, a literal kingdom. And when John said that "God is logic" he meant it. And when we look at the law of Moses the only law that really matters is "who gets the land?"And when Jesus referred to the kingdom of God and gave all those parables involving money, that was no coincidence. There is nothing complicated in the Bible. From the garden of Eden to the promised land to the a parable of the talents, it's all about who gets the land.

Economics is simple because it can be objectively tested. You don't need to take anyone's word for it. The beauty of an economic approach is that anybody can test it: first logically, and if that seems to work, in the real world. 

The Bible has to be logical or it is not real. It has to be is about things you can measure in the here and now, or it is not relevant. 


In this blog I argue that the Bible has a simple economic solution to all our problems (tax land, not work). But even if I am wrong, the economic approach is the only game in town. because only one question matters about the Bible:

Does it work?

Monday 21 March 2016

Mark 2:5 Bible Goggles on Faith

Sometimes I get angry. I get angry about what Bible Goggles have done to our ability to think. I often want to use words like "faith", but I cannot because the meaning of the word has been destroyed. Faith used to mean "proof based on evidence", but it has been changed to mean "just trust me without evidence." The word "faith" is a victim of "Newspeak:"
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought -- that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc -- should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words." (George Orwell, "The Principles of Newspeak", appendix to "1984", emphasis added)
By reversing the meaning of faith, the supernatural believers have made it impossible to talk about what the Bible says on faith.

Faith is a translation of the Greek word "pistis". When the Bible was first written, "pistis" had a perfectly clear definition: it meant proof, based on logic and evidence. Aristotle wrote the definitive text on "pistis" in his book "On Rhetoric". I do not read Greek (except with a great deal of hand holding!) so I defer to an expert commentary:"A Note on the Meaning of Pistis in Aristotle's Rhetoric" by Joseph T. Lienhard (The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 87, No. 4 (Oct., 1966), pp. 446-454). Lienhard analyses Aristotle's use of the word "pistis" argues that, while some people say pistis can mean either the state of mind in the hearer or the means by which that state is produced (i.e. the argument) it cannot mean the state of mind, as Aristotle uses pistis to mean "to demonstrate something" not "to convince somebody". The article concludes that while pistis may have a range of meanings, but the fundamental idea is proof:
Therefore, in its five significant meanings, the word pistis refers in one way or another to the proof, which is simply the means of inducing belief in the audience. [...] the meaning varies enough to allow separate definitions, but not enough to lose the note of "proof" in any of the occurrences.
So pistis means external proof, the opposite of the later religious meaning of belief in the absence of evidence.

"But wait!" you say, "Aristotle was writing around 350 BC, and on a technical topic, perhaps the meaning changed by the time of Jesus in AD 30?" Then I turn to Plutarch (AD 46-120), who often used "pistis" to characterise a woman's relationship to her husband. A woman knew her husband better than anybody, so she was working on proof, not illusions. A memorable illustration of pistis as proof comes in Plutarch's story in his book "on the bravery of women":
When Chiomara, wife of Ortiagon of Galatia, was taken prisoner at the defeat of the Galatians by the Romans in 189 BCE, she was first raped and then ransomed. At the point when she was handed back to the Galatians, she incited one of them to cut off her captor's head. Wrapping it in her tunic, she brought the head to her husband as a tropy. Plutarch captured the horror of the man for whom good faith between enemies is at least as important as that between spouses: 'Woman, pistis is a precious thing!" "Yes," says his wife robustly, "but it is even better that there should only be one man alive who has slept with me." (Roman Faith and Christian Faith: Pistis and Fides in the Early Roman Empire" By Teresa Morga, p. 48)
The man is a good example of those who changed the meaning of pistis. here we see pistis as both blind acceptance and harsh proof. And harsh proof is the real thing. Those in power, like the husband in the story, want "pistis" to mean blind acceptance. They tell us that women and followers should "have pistis" and not make waves, just accept things, however bad. But that is not real pistis. The true, original, greater, higher, original pistis means proof, even when that proof shocks and discomforts people.

Bible goggles reverse the meaning of pistis ("faith"). When we take off the goggles and see its original meaning then the Bible becomes a completely different book.

intro: about the author

Many years ago, as a believer, I published a book on Bible prophecy. It was full of detailed charts and footnotes, the result of over a decade of careful study. It "proved" that God had foretold events thousands of years before they happened. And at that moment I lost my faith.

My story

A lifetime of searching for proof only proved how little evidence there was for a supernatural God. Indeed, how could there be evidence? If there was evidence it would be a normal part of the natural world, not supernatural.

At that time I ran my local church, I had served as a missionary, and I had a thousand page pro-church web site. But the more I studied, the more I doubted. So I wrote the book to try to convince myself. I found the best evidence I could - prophecies which came true - but the evidence just wasn't good enough. I rushed out a second edition with as many improvements as I could. But it was futile.

The most damning evidence against a supernatural God is not the arguments or evidence: it is his weakness. What good is a weak God? Even if he was real, all his promises of a better world seemed to refer to some distant future, after we die. Sure, people said "Jesus is coming back soon!" but they have always said that. Maybe they could wait for 2000 years, but people are suffering and starving now. The God I worshipped seemed unable to offer anything but excuses.

So I turned my attention to politics and history instead. To cut a long story short, I came to see the world in economic terms. World history is best explained by economic forces. Through good economics we can end poverty and create a just world in our lifetimes. Economics deals in proof and results. While the supernatural God is weak, economics is strong.

During this time I still read the Bible, but not for guidance. I was free to read it own its own terms, and not to "prove" what my church taught me. The Bible is full of people like you and me, some good, some bad, some struggling to make sense of the world. Just like us. And as I read I made four discoveries that changed my life:

What I discovered

1. The closer I looked, the less supernatural the book appeared. 

Miracles that used to seem supernatural now became easy to explain. And teaching that used to seem religious now seemed more philosophical, not much different from what the Greek Platonists and Pythagoreans were saying at the same time. The really supernatural stuff was either highly symbolic (e.g. Daniel, Revelation) or just tagged on at the end: the opinions of Paul and his followers. So, Was the Bible ever about the supernatural? To find out, I read what unbelieving scholars said. But then I made my second discovery:

2. Most unbelieving scholars still believe in the supernatural

(See the link for details). Critics are basically reacting to the believers, using the believers' assumptions. So I wondered, what would we see if we threw aside our supernatural assumptions and just read it like we would read any other book? That is, read it for its internal logic and its connections with the real world?

That is when I began writing this book. And that led to the final discoveries:

3. The only approach that makes sense is economic

The only question that matters about the Bible is "does it work?" And the only way to measure that is through economics. I discuss the reasons here.

4. The Bible has economic answers

The final and most exciting thing was, when I started to see the Bible as a book of economics, everything became simple. Moses taught us to tax land and not work. Read Adam Smith's book "The Wealth of Nations" for why ground rents are the best kind of tax. And if we do that we will create not just a prosperous world but a fair one as well, with no poverty. Read Henry George's book "Progress and Poverty" for why.

Don't take my word for it. The beauty of an economic approach is that you can test it. It is logical. It is about things you can measure in the here and now. The Bible is not supernatural at all.

And so I had come full circle. I began by thinking the Bible had supernatural answers. Then I found out I was wrong. The Bible's answers are not supernatural at all. They are real.

Ex 12:37 why do atheists believe in the supernatural?

The Bible contains very modest claims. For example:

  • Around 2000 BC, one family moved from Mesopotamia to Canaan.
  • Around 1400 BC Moses led 20,000 Canaanite workers out of Egypt.
  • Around AD 30 Jesus predicted that if Judea continues to anger Rome it will end very badly for Judea, (See Mark chapter 13)

So far, so unremarkable. But believers (and often translators) expand these claims to ridiculous proportions:

  • 2000 BC becomes an era of major migrations
  • 1400 BC involves two million slaves 
  • Jesus specifically predicted the events of AD 70 (see Matthew and Luke's updated versions of Jesus' words)

I can see why a believer in the supernatural would do that. It makes people listen. But why do atheist critics accept these obviously absurd translations? I think it's a simple question of priorities.

Why should anybody care what the Bible says? People are busy. All the atheist scholars I have read seem to be reacting to evangelical Christians. So naturally they focus on those Christians' interpretations. But I think it is misleading to present this as scholarship about the Bible. It is not. It is scholarship about a particular reading of the Bible.

By accepting the supernatural interpretation they imply that it has validity. I wish that atheist scholars would abandon the supernatural entirely, and instead ask "what does the text say if we ignore all the supernatural interpretations?"

Other interpretations

The Bible has always supported multiple readings. At the time of Jesus (and just before) the most popular theologian by far was Philo of Alexandria. He argued that scripture must not be taken literally, but as allegory., In the time of Jesus the main Jewish parties (the Pharisees and Sadducees) believed it was literal, but disagreed over what it meant (e.g. what was the nature of the resurrection).

Today's supernatural interpretation is basically the Pharisees' interpretation. Paul, for example, was a Pharisee (see Acts 23:6). The more extreme supernatural ideas, such as a supernatural messiah, supernatural Satan, and supernatural end times, are hard to trace back any further than the 300s AD. The supernatural interpretation is only one of many ancient views and, in my view, is the easiest to dismiss.

Gen 17:5 did Abraham exist? (Camels etc)

The consensus among Bible scholars is that Abraham was not real. They say that his story was made up a thousand years later. Of course, they said the same about the previous chapters of Genesis. They were spectacularly wrong, but would never admit it. So at this point the Bible has a much better record than the Bible scholars.

Let's look at the case against Abraham and see if it stacks up.

General reliability of the text

I argue in this blog that the closer we look at the Bible, the less supernatural it becomes. What we have is a historical record. Sure, historians make mistakes. But an ancient historian would have access to sources that we do not, so the default position should be to trust them unless something contradicts their claims. With that in mind...

Migration from Haran

The scholarly consensus is summed up by the "History in the Bible" podcast. There is simply zero evidence of a large scale migration from Mesopotamia to Canaan around 2000 BC. Case closed. Excape... the Bible does not describe a large scale migration. It describes the movement of one family.  As usual the scholars do not read the text. However, we do know that the names (Abraham, Jacob, etc) are correct for the period: they (or very similar names) appear in records from Mari, Chagar-bazar, etc. So far so good.


Similarly, the recent discovery about camels was seen as a slam dunk. "No camels in Israel before 900 BC" was the headline. But again, nobody bothers to read the text.

Genesis records how one family came from Mesopotamia, bringing their camels with them, Just one family  They arrived via the north, the fertile crescent, and at least once went back that way to visit those left behind. So they would tend to be in the north. Occasionally we see a list of the family's animals, and it includes their camels. But a crisis occurs in Genesis 32:15, and the camels are split into two groups (Jacob gives some to his brother Esau, to prevent Esau killing him, After that something happens, because the next time we see a list of the family's belongings there are no camels to be seen:
"And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth. And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail. And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year." (Genesis 47:15-17)
Camels are never again seen. This later absence of camels was confirmed by archeology to the south of Israel, in the Aravah Valley (the southern continuation of the valley that has the river Jordan and Dead Sea.) That region has extensive copper mining, and made no use of camels until 930 BC.

Why did the family's camels die out after Genesis 32? We now know that a much larger number is needed for animals to survive as a population:
"Minimum viable population [MVP] is usually estimated as the population size necessary to ensure between 90 and 95 percent probability of survival between 100 to 1,000 years into the future. .. An MVP of 500 to 1,000 has often been given as an average for terrestrial vertebrates when inbreeding or genetic variability is ignored. When inbreeding effects are included, estimates of MVP for many species are in the thousands." (Source)
So the Bible says that one family in the north had camels, but their camels did not survive. A thousand years later we see no evidence of camels in the south. So what exactly is the problem?

Sodom and Gomorrah

Although most of the story concerns just one family, there is an unusual reference to a city being destroyed by fire, and the people escaping before hand and not looking back. Archeology has confirmed this for the time and place described.

Rampant parallelism

The bulk of the case against Abraham is so silly that it barely deserves mention: the ability of the human brain to find parallels anywhere. There are far more documents from later centuries than from earlier ones, so scholars naturally study these. They then find numerous parallels and declare that correlation equals causation. But anybody who has read widely knows that parallels can be made anywhere. Indeed, one of my hobbies is finding parallels between the comic the Fantastic Four and the Bible. but I would never dream of claiming the Bible was based on the Fantastic Four. Clearly I lack the confidence needed to be professional Bible scholar.

Columbus and America

The final argument against Abraham is the silliest of all. When the story was re-told in around 600 BC, the writer used the names people were familiar with then. Obviously these were not the earlier names, but so what? In the same way we say that "Columbus discovered America in 1492" even though America would not be named until later (after Amerigo Vespucci). In fact, Columbus never set foot on the mainland, and thought he had found old world islands. No doubt future Bible scholars will use this as proof that the story of Columbus was made up later and is full of inconsistencies.


In summary, the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph is the story of just one family, so we should not expect much to show up in the archeological record. However, the parts that we would expect (names, events involving whole cities) do show up as expected. Given that the previous chapters seems made up until one day the original source material appeared, there is no reason to think Abraham and co. will be any different.

Gen 19:24 Bible scholars are crazy (Sodom and Gomorrah)

Biblical criticism fascinates me. I understand the desire to attack supernatural belief: the supernatural it is both nonsensical and dangerous. But when critics use that desire to teach their own nonsense then the cure is worse than the disease. We expect scholars to have higher standards than that. Take the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for example.

This summary of the evidence is typical of the scholarly consensus:
"The cities are all destroyed by God and no traces of them have ever been found. The real reason is that they were not there in the first place!"
This is an odd conclusion given the evidence in the same article. He describes how cities were typically burnt:
"Like the Romans at Carthage, Assyrian rulers razed rebellious cities, spread the site with salt and sulphur, and sowed their fields with thistles, leaving desolation. When, in Genesis 19, Yehouah rained fire and sulphur on the wicked cities and left them desolate, He had used the foreigner to serve up the punishment agreed by the parties to the vassalage treaties."
So we see that this was a practice that crossed cultures and spanned millennia (Assyria was founded in 1900 BC and its empire lasted until Babylon conquered in 612; Rome sacked Carthage in 146 BC). Given that earlier cities were easier to burn (they were closer together, with fewer stone buildings) fire was probably the method of choice since time immemorial.

The interesting detail is that, when fighting became futile, the weaker side accepted their fate as the judgment of the gods. The author says the punishment was "agreed" and refers to Isaiah saying such punishments were from God. Genesis records that when the cities were due to be burned the people first left with their belongings, and they had to just accept it: they were not to look back.

In that context the following passage later in the article is interesting.
Sodom and Gomorrah in the mythological timescale of the Jewish scriptures were destroyed in the second millennium BC. R T Schaub and W Rast spent 15 years excavating about 30 ruins around the Dead Sea hoping to find Sodom and Gomorrah. Two towns to the south east of the Dead Sea had been spectacularly abandoned about 2350 BC. They were Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, the latter of which was burnt up in a fierce conflagration in the season of the grape harvest for carbonized grape skins were found in the ashes. No human remains or small items were found, and the doorways at Numeira had been deliberately blocked with stones, so the people had had time to prepare for the disaster and to escape it with their belongings. Even so, they never returned.
Note that the author places the destruction in the "second millennium" (i.e. between 2000 and 1000 BC), making this seem like a different time period from 2350 BC. But the best internal Bible date suggests the 2067 BC, or the third millennium. Given the margin of error for both dates, this is the same time period.

So let's see. The Bible describes something that seem, at first glance to be highly unlikely: enemies raining fire on a city, and the people escaping beforehand, but not looking back. Then we discover that this was normal practice. And then we discover cities that were abandoned in the right time and the right place, with evidence that the people left first, accepting it as the judgment of God, with no intention of going back.

And what does the scholar conclude? That it never happened.

Sure, whatever you say.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Lev 20:14 the burning question: logic or emotion?

I'm working my way through my old book notes, and I think this is the last topic on page 1. Hurrah! That's 5 percent of the book converted, plus ten percent of my notes (which somehow increase faster than I can get them transcribed). I'm not quite sure where this really belongs, so I'll attach it to Leviticus 20:14, about fire as a punishment.
"And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you."
This is a good example of the strength of the law of Moses, and the need to worship logic.

The strength of the law of Moses

As noted elsewhere, the law of Moses is based on equal power for all, and great flexibility. The exact laws are mere details. It's all about community.

But that's all fine in theory. The fact is that Moses' laws were either not followed at all, or were twisted into a supernatural travesty. People will do that do they can. So it means religion is the problem. Right?

This is where logic comes in.

Without economic justice (such as the law of Moses provides) the exact laws don't really matter. To single out a religious state is inconsistent. Modern America has very good laws in theory, but still burns people alive in electric chairs, tortures people though decades in solitary confinement, turns a blind eye to prison rape, and gives justice depending on wealth. Is that so much better?

But still, religions have a tendency to go bad and kill people for their beliefs. Atheist states don't do that, right?
"Estimates of the total number all Christian martyrs in the former Soviet Union are about 12 million.” (James M. Nelson, “Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality”, p.427) 
If we want to restrict our search to just burning people alive for their beliefs, we could note that the atheist North Korean leader burnt his enemies alive because they did not have the correct political beliefs (in Pyongyang's 150,000-capacity May Day Stadium, reported in the Daily Telegraph, 13 June 2004).

Of course, we could then play "No True Scotsman" and say the Soviet Union and North Korea were/are not true atheist states To which a supernatural believer could say anybody who burns witches is not a true Christian. None of this gets us any closer to solving the problem of bad laws.

The only logical solution I can find is to devise a logically optimal political system, based on a logically optimal economic system. On my Answers Answers site I argue that the land laws of Moses (as updated by Jesus' rent laws) provide us with exactly that. On this site I argue that the real problem is pour supernatural assumptions. We have a rational solution to all our problems in front of us, and we can't see it because we have been taught to see the words as the opposite of what they say.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

John 1:14 truth

"full of grace and truth" (John 1:14)
What a verse! Here we come to the final word, truth. And not surprisingly, supernatural Bible Goggles twist it beyond all recognition.

This is the Greek "aletheia" or "opening up": the most commonly used Greek lexicon defines the word as "objectivity". The philosopher Heidegger spoke at length about the word:
"Heidegger gave an etymological analysis of aletheia, and drew out an understanding of the term as 'unconcealedness'. Thus, aletheia is distinct from conceptions of truth understood as statements which accurately describe a state of affairs (correspondence), or statements which fit properly into a system taken as a whole (coherence). Instead, Heidegger focused on the elucidation of how an ontological 'world' is disclosed, or opened up, in which things are made intelligible for human beings in the first place, as part of a holistically structured background of meaning." (Wikipedia, aletheia)
In short, this is not supernatural truth. Aletheia provides the metaphysical basis for any understanding of the real world. God is the opposite of supernatural: God is logic, that which makes everything visible.

John 1:14 grace

Here we come to Paul's favourite word: grace
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, * (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
'Grace' is the Greek word "charis". In Greek mythology the graces are women who represent splendour (the grace called Aglaea), mirth (Euphrosyne), and good cheer (Thalia). "Charis" is whatever inspires the mind and makes us happy. That is the kind of person Jesus was, according to John.

What a verse! It could be translated "Here is the man they called "the logic", we saw his opinions and judgment, the intellectually ideal human specimen, full of good cheer and truth"

Jesus looked splendid and was full of mirth and good cheer. The learned Christians ("gnostic" means "learned") made much of this, and a later gnostic gospel referred to the laughing Jesus avoiding his crucifixion. But Paul's supernatural goggles have to change the mirth into his suffering for sins, and the simple pleasure into something mysterious and supernatural.

John 1:14 the only begotten

"the only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14)
Almost every word in John 1:14 is simple, plain and well defined in the original text, but is obfuscated or reversed by supernatural Bible Goggles. The phrase "only begotten" is a prime example.

'Only begotten' is the Greek word "monogenes", a precise philosophical term meaning meaning the most important one (mono) of the family (genes). The word comes from Plato's Timaeus:
"the sensible [i.e. visible to the senses] God who is the image of the intellectual, the greatest, best, fairest, most perfect-the one only begotten heaven." (Timaeus 92c)
To Plato, the world of logic is the real world and the physical world is like shadows of that world flickering on a cave wall. The best possible example in any group or family (the monogenes) is the one that is closest to the abstract logical ideal. John is saying that Jesus is the ideal intellectual man.

But Paul's patented Bible Goggles cannot possibly allow "the wisdom of the Greeks" into his Bible (see 1 Corinthians 1:22-23), So Paul subtly changes changes the doctrine of "monogenes" with its clear and logical definition, to something slightly more mystical: "prototokos" or "first born":
"Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created , that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." (Colossians 1:15-17)
Note the subtlety of the change. This is very similar to John's statement that all things were made by logic. But by removing the link with the philosophers, Paul turns this into something mysterious and supernatural, paving the way for the fourth century's violent schisms over the confusing meaning of three in one, and whether or not Jesus was a man,

John 1:14 the glory of God

"and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father"
Supernatural Bible goggles create strange translations. The word translated "glory" is the Greek "doxa" - literally, "opinion, judgment, view". What is the opinion of logic? Anything Logical, I guess.

"Glory" makes no sense as a translation The same word "doxa" is often used for people, so they have to change it to "honour". But in every case, the context shows that "opinion" or "judgment" would  be better. But "doxa" is a word about thinking, and the supernatural cannot allow that.

For the supernatural view, words about "thinking" must be changed to words about being awed and obeying. The same thing happened with the word religion: it originally meant to follow logic, so the Bible Goggles had to change the word to mean the opposite.

Isaiah 29:4 another favourite Bible Goggles verse

The idea that the Bible is anti-intellectual can be traced to Paul. Paul's only experience with Jesus was dramatic: Paul (then called Saul) thought that Jesus was dead, then Jesus appeared to him and was alive. This changed Paul's life. He decided that Jesus was supernatural. So he went looking for scriptures to support his view. This is the only one scripture he could find:
"For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." (1 Corinthians 1:19)
This appears to refer to Isaiah 29:
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29:14)
But Paul took it out of context. The complete quotation praises the wise and condemns the foolish:
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish , and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. (Isaiah 29:14)
Isaiah 29 is about the threat of Assyria invading in 722BC. Political counsellors (wise men) were negotiating with Egypt for protection, but that was short sighted: Egypt would take Israel's freedom in return. Isaiah condemned this (see Isaiah 19:11-17, Isaiah 20:5,6, Isaiah 30:1,2, etc.). Isaiah promised that if the nation instead returned to the land laws of Moses they would be economically strong, and eventually they would be free on their own: (that is the "marvellous work"). So Isaiah was condemning certain politicians, and not wisdom. Indeed, Isaiah himself was a wise and learned man, probably the most learned of the prophets.

The foolish counsellors were condemned: they "have removed their heart far from me." In ancient times the heart was considered the centre of life and of thought. Contrast this with the bowels which were the centre of emotion (Isaiah 16:11; 63:15; Song of Solomon 5:4;etc.) Far from condemning intellectuals, Isaiah condemns people for not thinking clearly.

In short, God is logic. If someone "lacks understanding" they should ask logic (see James 1:5) and they will get answers. Logic is like that: ask and you shall receive. Appeal to logic, and you get answers.

Job 11:8 A favourite Bible Goggles verse

Job is sometimes quoted to argue that God is supernatural:
Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do ? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? (Job 11:7-8)
Many people take this as gospel. For example, Matthew Henry says:
"He is an incomprehensible Being, infinite and immense, whose nature and perfections our finite understandings cannot possibly form any adequate conceptions of, and whose counsels and actings we cannot therefore, without the greatest presumption, pass a judgement upon." (Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Job 11:7) 
But there is one problem: Job 11 is an example of a false belief. It is spoken by Zohar, who speaks against the prophet Job, and calls him a liar:
Then answered Zophar the Naamathite, and said, Should not the multitude of words be answered ? and should a man full of talk be justified? Should thy lies make men hold their peace? (Job 11:1-3)
In the next chapter Job answers, and says Zophar is completely wrong. Can a man by searching find God? Yes! Through asking questions of nature:
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. (Job 12:7-8)
Or in other worse, using science.

The Bible is full of examples of people who teach illogical things: from the lord-god in Genesis 2 to the self-appointed apostle Paul. Zophar is just one more example. If we wear supernatural Bible goggles then we must conclude that God is unknowable, and we are confused and lost. But if we love logic then everything becomes clear.

Ex 7:1 the face of God

If God is logic, how could Adam and Abraham meet and talk with gods? In the Bible, "Elohim" refers not just to God, but people who represent God, such as judges. In other posts I will focus on the ancient rulers who claimed to be gods, and their messengers. People still try to represent God today. God is logic, and abstract principle, yet humans can also be logical (or think they are). 

This post is about the men Moses saw as representing God. Starting of course with Moses himself.
And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. (Exodus 7:1)
Other people could also speak for God (by this point, after Abraham, "Lord" and "God" were synonyms)
And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)  (Numbers 12:1-3)
The reference to being meek suggests that Moses was taking instruction from somebody. Whoever this was had a policy of never showing his face. 
Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:20-23)
Is this because his advisor was a woman, his Ethiopian wife? Or just to avoid any risk of graven images? Another possibility is that Moses had brought advisers from Egypt. Some scholars have pointed out similarities between the monotheism of Moses and of the apostate Pharaoh Akhenaten. Given that Moses' message was "escape from slavery to Egypt" it would make sense for these advisers to have extreme secrecy. But all of this is idle speculation. Whoever advised Moses does not matter: only what they said matters. The truth of logic is contained in the logic, not in who says it.

The voice of God

Moses' decisions were called God's decisions, and Moses' words were called God's words (Exodus 18:15-16). The spirit (literally the breath) of God filled Moses and gave him all wisdom and understanding (Exodus 35:31). Why? Because Moses' words were logical (or are supposed to be: I will later blog about the case against Moses).

When Moses came down from the mountain, it is said the Lord passed in front of Moses and then spoke. Given that the people were not permitted to see God other than as smoke, this probably indicates that God's voice was the voice of Moses (Exodus 34:5-7) or of a priest.

Most of the time (e.g. when routinely acting as judge to his people) Moses just received God's words in his mind. This is how later prophets usually experienced God: as ideas in the head. That is, "a still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Later posts might cover Jesus as God. But that's enough for now.

Dan 5:5 the rise of the supernatural

Later Old Testament Judaism

Old Testament Judaism was about wisdom, not supernatural belief. There is a whole set of Old Testament books called the wisdom literature, with proverbs and songs. But there is no mention of life after death, except in the sense that our spirit lives on through our children. (I will blog about the passage in Job and the other one in Daniel separately).

The rise of the supernatural

I noted elsewhere that the law of Moses was rejected, and Israel sank into decline, They were controlled by one neighbour after another. At first they could see this as bad luck: after all, Egypt and Assyria were much larger empires. But in the 300s BC came the final humiliation.

Israel's old neighbours the Greeks, another small nation, used to be no further ahead. According to Josephus the Greeks got many of their best ideas from the early Hebrews. They certainly got their alphabet from the Canaanites (the early Hebrews.) But the Greeks, unlike the Hebrews, did not reject logic. So the Greeks had progressed while the Hebrews had not. The Greeks were now  powerful enough to conquer much of the known world, and the weak Hebrews were just another minor kingdom to be easily defeated.

This humiliation like this was too much to bear. So Jewish leaders, unwilling to admit they had rejected Moses, went into supernatural overdrive. In the 300s (BC) the Jews invented (or adopted):

  • the idea of a supernatural messiah to save them. 
  • a supernatural villain called Satan to blame for their mistakes. 
  • a whole series of apocalyptics books foretelling an end times when they would win. 
  • fanatical terrorist believers who would assassinate their enemies. 
  • and more
The Greek masters did not expect this level of fanaticism. So for a short period under Judas Maccabeus the fanatics won. But of course it just led to their masters clamping down even harder. I should probably blog about these developments separately, but the bottom line was that the the 300s seems to be when the belief in the supernatural reached its peak.

But the thinkers had not gone away. They were just in severe retreat.

The later Jews and earliest Christians

The most popular theologian at the time of Christ was Philo of Alexandria. He was so popular among the Jews that he represented them before Rome. He was so popular among the early Christians that they preserved his writings even though they only condemned the writings of others (e.g the gnostics). Philo's whole purpose was to show that religion should never be taken literally. He is generally assumed to mix Judaism with Platonism. But I will argue that he was simply trying to return Judaism to its roots, at a time when supernatural fanaticism was taking the nation to its final destruction. Later scholars (such as the great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides) looked back and clearly saw an intellectual decline:
"In common with many medieval writers, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, Maimonides is of the opinion that Jews in antiquity once cultivated the science of physics and metaphysics, which they later neglected for a medley of reasons, historical and theological" (R. Isadore Twersky, "Some Non-Halakic Aspects of the Mishneh Torah" in R. Alexander Altmann, quoted in

The Roman empire

This non-supernatural, or limited supernatural view was common among ancient thinkers. Cicero summed up the different views of gods throughout the Roman world in the first century BC, in his book "gods". There are basically three views of the gods:
  • The Epicureans (who thought life was to be enjoyed), They followed the teachings of Epicurus, who rejected anything that sounded supernatural. 
  • The Stoics (who thought life was to be suffered), The Stoics did believe in gods, but they personified real ideas: a god of war, a goddess of love, and so on.
  • The skeptics (who thought life was to be questioned). They were, shall we say, skeptical.
The triumph of the supernatural

The fanatical supernatural views had their predictable effect: the Jews annoyed the Romans so much that the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and killed or scattered the people. Meanwhile Paul, a Pharisee, brought the same supernatural views to Jesus' followers. When Jerusalem was destroyed, Jesus' followers lost their leader (James) and Paul's followers were free to make the church in their own image.

It took a while. Many people were still taught the non-supernatural teachings. Take Justin Martyr (AD 100- - 165) for example. He loved Greek philosophy and understood that God is the logos, and called the Christians atheists (when compared to the Romans):
And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue. Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. (Justin Martyr, first apology, chapters 5 and 6)
But gradually the non-supernatural teaching was stamped out. And that's a topic for another post.