That Fuzzy Empty Tomb

Easter is coming soon (Resurrection Sunday, for those wanting to distance the day from its pagan roots), and I’m starting in on a longer post for the occasion. But for all of us, I thought it might be a good time to read the story from the original source material to brush up on the details and catch all the in-jokes your special seeker-friendly musical / drama will throw in for a good chuckle.

Of course, the Bible has four versions of the story, and that’s a lot of material to cover when you’re trying to keep everything straight. It’s easy to get confused about…

  • how many people went to the tomb, and who were they?
  • when did they go?
  • was there an earthquake?
  • were there guards?
  • were angels there? how many?
  • did Jesus appear before the women left? after return? not at all?
  • were the women too afraid to talk? or too excited to keep a secret? or just confused about the whole thing?

We’re all busy people and we don’t have the time to read and compare. So for your Easter primer, I’ve put together the four accounts side-by-side-by-side-by-side. (Arranged in order from earliest written to most recently written… not mundane to spectacular, that’s coincidence.)

Mark Matthew Luke John
Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome Mary Magdalene and the other Mary the women Mary Magdalene
were on their way to the tomb went to look at the tomb. took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. went to the tomb
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb,
They saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. rolled back the stone and sat on it. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. The men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The women went out and fled from the tomb. So the women hurried away from the tomb, When they came back from the tomb,
They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been.

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.

Don’t worry if any of that seems inconsistent for an infallible inerrant source, you’re just reading it wrong. There are countless articles online that can help you realize that it’s all totally consistent. (Like here, here, here, here or here or whatever your favorite.)

The Bible is said to be the way to know the perfect creator who, like an awkward pigtail-pulling teenage boy, wants a personal relationship with you but can’t quite clearly express it. Like a loyal wingman or diplomatic translator, it’s good that we have pastors and apologists (and a $1.2 billion annual Christian book market) to tell us what He really meant.

Until the next post… enjoy all the chocolate, peeps and Cadbury eggs you desire. It’s Friday… but Sunday’s a comin’.

Slam Blogetry – Fury Road

“How can you be so calm?” “If I were you, I’d lose it.” This flavor of comment are my life-long companions. Maybe because Canadian. Maybe religious upbringing. Maybe a rational nature. Or maybe entirely a laughably inconsistent protective exoskeleton construction.

“Doctor Banner, now might be a good time for you to get angry.”
“That’s my secret, Captain: I’m always angry.”

Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner, Avengers

Or maybe you see me better than some, or the other side of me has been revealed to you. “Why are you so angry?” “What happened to you?”

Hint – it’s not cancer. Never that.

“I gotta hold on to my angst. I preserve it because I need it. It keeps me sharp, on the edge, where I gotta be.”

Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), Heat

Contentment is the key to happiness, or so they say. But that which I would keep from the life I’ve lived is directly attributable to relentless discontent. Discontent is hunger. Discontent is drive. Discontent is motivation.

I envy the content / ignorant / happy, while I simultaneously loathe them with saturating contempt. I would trade in a heartbeat. I would never ever trade.

I have the wisdom and courage. I have not the serenity or acceptance, dear simple prayer.

This song is one I turn to often. (Lyrics possibly not safe for work… depending almost entirely on where you work. Why are you not wearing headphones, you animal?)

Your mere existence probably causes me pain. Thank you for being here.

Who Wrote the Book of Love?

As I look ahead to some more controversial discussions of the New Testament, and having recently heard some rather inaccurate assertions and misconceptions about the nature of the text, I thought I’d like to first get everyone on the same page (so to speak) about its basic origins. Hopefully the following is not new to you. If it is, I trust you will do your own research and find that the information presented is relatively uncontroversial.

Of course, the New Testament is not a single work. The Protestant canon is an anthology of 27 (trinity to the trinity power) books and letters. Unlike the Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, these documents were written in the common Greek spoken in the Roman empire. Most scholars agree that the earliest portions were written around 50 CE, with the later portions completed around 150 CE.

The Gospels

All of the first four books of the New Testament, those that tell the tale of Jesus of Nazareth, are anonymous works. The authors do not name themselves in the text, nor do any claim to be eyewitnesses to any of the events they describe. Attributing these books to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John began at some point in the second century. Third century scribes started using these official-sounding titles for the same reason modern versions use these titles… convention and tradition, not authorship belief.

While the early church tradition held that Matthew was written first, scholars in the 18th century undertook textual analysis of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and determined that Mark was not only the earliest written, but also a significant source of material for the other two. This is the prevailing view of modern Bible scholars.

Early church tradition says Mark was penned after the death of Peter, which happened in Rome around 64 CE according to those same traditions. This would line up with internal references in Mark 13 to the events of the First Jewish Revolt, which took place 66-70 CE. This puts the authorship of Mark at some point after 70 CE.

Factoring early church traditions, first external references and internal references to events of known dates, Matthew is estimated to have followed somewhere in 80 – 100 CE and Luke in 80 – 130 CE. While John is not of the Mark lineage, similar kinds of evidence places its writing at 90 – 120 CE.

The Pilate Stone discovered in 1961 is upheld by Christians as affirming the existence of the character of Pontius Pilate and would affix his career in the range of 26 – 36 CE, corroborating a traditional date of Jesus’ crucifixion around 30 CE.

With life expectancy in first century Rome at a mere 20 – 30 years (up to 47 for those who survived past age 10), the near-lifetime-long forty year gap between Jesus’ death and the earliest estimated authorship of Mark (several more decades for the other books) makes it clear that the authors were not first-hand witnesses to Jesus’ life, nor is it likely that they had access to any such contemporaries. Luke’s introduction affirms that the author was not an eyewitness, but relied on accounts handed down an untold number of times.

It should be noted that scholarship contends that Jesus’ native language would have been Aramaic. Our Greek-written gospels would contain, at best, translations of his words and not direct quotations.

Some notice that Mark, the closest to the events described, treats Jesus as least divine and features the fewest miracles. It is Matthew and Luke that layer in more and more supernatural claims as the tales had more time to grow, culminating in the most outlandish of all the gospels in late-to-the-party gospel of John.


Scholarship has not deviated much on this last New Testament narrative over the centuries. It is generally accepted that it was written by the same author who wrote Luke (i.e. neither are by Luke). The authorship date is between 80 – 130 CE, though apparent source usage of Antiquities of Josephus suggests one toward the end of that range.

Letters of Paul – The Real Ones

At the time the decision was made as to which books to include in the current New Testament canon, it was believed that 13 of the 27 were letters written by the apostle Paul. However, modern scholars agree that only 7 out of these 13 can be considered to be written by Paul.

The authorship of these epistles are so dubious that German scholars coined a word, Hauptbriefe, to refer to the mere four that are universally accepted as genuine — Romans, Galatians1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians (that’s “Second Corinthians”, Mr. Trump). They are estimated to have been written between 50 and 60 CE.

Scholars generally lean toward Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon as likely authentic as well, though not unanimously.

These letters are important in the timeline because they are the first-written of the works in the New Testament… a decade or two before the writing of Mark. If one holds that the earliest writings would be the least likely to be distorted by time, these epistles should hold greater weight in their historical claims. (Spoiler – they don’t have many.)

Letters of Paul – The Fakes

Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus have been labeled pseudepigraphical works by most critical scholars. Put kindly, that means they are falsely attributed… but as they knowingly falsely claim authorship, the better word is forgery.

Because there are seven genuine letters to compare to, these deutero-Pauline texts can be analyzed on the basis of language and style, inter-dependence, external references and theological differences to rule out common authorship.

With all of the non-canonical gospels and letters that littered the landscape in the first three centuries, vying for acceptance and promotion of a particular pet view or another, forgeries like 2 Thessalonians were brazen enough to warn about other forgeries.

Marking these as anonymous texts will likely not bother believers, but the authors deliberately lied and deceived… a step beyond inerrancy, I’d say. Will that bother you the next time Timothy is used as a supporting text for the silencing of women in churches?


While the early church considered the book of Hebrews to be written by Paul, that’s no longer accepted. The author doesn’t identify himself, so it is merely anonymous. External references to this text puts the writing between 50 CE and 95 CE.

James and Jude – Fake Brothers, Where Art Thou?

The book of James, ostensibly by the brother of Jesus, is considered pseudepigraph due to evidence including a contrary-to-Jewish perspective, fluent Greek from a non-native (if ever) Greek speaker, lack of detail about Jesus, and more.

My research into Jude, also allegedly by a brother of Jesus, finds particularly dismissive tone among scholars. I’ll take them at their forgery conclusion, citing one example of Jude quoting an apocryphal book called Enoch. Check further, as interested.

1 and 2 Peter – Nope

The two canonical letters attributed to Peter are so stylistically different from each other that it is near consensus view that the two cannot both be by the same author. As the second letter borrows so liberally from Jude, it is generally the one discarded. However, both books contain references to the condition of Israel after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. As church tradition holds that Peter died during the reign of Nero in 64 CE, he could not be the author.

Beyond tradition, it seems unreasonable to say Peter wrote these letters as Acts 4:13 tells us that Peter was “agrammatoi, a Greek word that literally means ‘unlettered,’ that is, ‘illiterate'”, observed Dr. Bart Ehrman in his book “Forged”. Here he provides great historical detail into the literacy and Greek fluency of first-century Galilee fishermen, for anyone who would like to delve deeper.

John Who?

The books of 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and Revelation were all, at one time or another, attributed to Jesus’s disciple John, the son of Zebedee — along with the fourth gospel. Though similarities exist, the differences in historical context and writing styles (have you read Revelation? trippy) are great enough to have ruled this out as far back as scholar Dionysius’ work in the third-century. The attributions continue only due to tradition.

Mark of the Divine

In summary, of the 27 New Testament books…

  • 7 were written by Paul
  • 10 are pseudepigraphical forgeries
  • 10 are anonymous

If this concerns you as it did me, just recall the verse that says, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” That is from 2 Timothy 3:16, one of the books that lied about being written by Paul.

Thank you for reading this far. This will serve as some baseline for future discussions. I tried to plow through the details quickly, so please investigate these claims on your own and let me know in the comments if I have made any errors.

Post-Op — Part Two (A One-Armed Man Did It)

Today marks five weeks since the surgery to remove cancer from my body, and about three weeks since I wrote a blog about it foolishly including “part one” in the title. In the eyes of some, this meant that a part two should follow. My capacity to obligate myself is quite impressive, if I do say so myself. We’re way past life-and-death, medical curiosities and gamma rays now, so feel free to skip this one.

Where were we? Leaving the hospital…

As you may recall, my right arm was thickly bandage-wrapped from fingertip to elbow, with a rigid custom forearm splint bound around the entire apparatus. There was a large spongy pad covering my right thigh, air-sealed to protect the site where skin had been taken to cover the hole in my arm which was made by removing flesh to cover my hand. Last, but not least, there was a two-foot-long tube jabbed into my side below my armpit where my cancerous lymph-nodes had been cut out. Connected to this tube, and safety-pinned to my shirt, was a clear plastic bulbous container that vacuum-sucked a viscous pink fluid from my body cavity 24/7.

Oh, and I had no more cancer. Is that important?

Climbing in to the passenger side of my father’s SUV gave me my first realization of what outside life would be like with only one functional arm. I couldn’t quite contort to cross-body reach the open door with my left hand. Similarly, extending and buckling my seat belt took a long succession of small awkward movements. But we were on our way on the freshly snow-covered streets.

Suffering primarily from debilitating pain and fatigue, finding a way to sleep without hospital-grade medication was a priority. With my body positions limited to standing, sitting and slumping, and the requirement to keep my hand elevated above my heart, my penchant for dozing on the couch served me well. The sleeping and semi-conscious states alternated every few hours regardless of the state of the sun… punctuated by anti-inflammatory drugs and emptying of the crazy drain.

Mom and Dad took great care of me during those first days, ever patient with their delirious, limited-mobility son on forced caffeine withdrawal. Many soups were made, easy-to-reheat foods stocked, pots of decaf brewed and a quest for a one-handed method for opening cans was undertaken. Movies were watched, sports were tolerated, wounds were dressed and redressed, fluids were measured and recorded. I couldn’t bath or shower… that part can’t have been fun.

Someone told me that it takes 24 hours of recovery for every hour being under general anesthetic. That seemed true in my case, because it was six days after my six-hour surgery that I could finally feel my brain forming coherent thoughts. (My apologies to anyone who interacted with me in my fog before that point.)

By day seven, I felt like a dog with one of those huge cones around their head. I was beyond ready to tear off all the dressings, restrictions and tubes… and nearly did at night. I was feeling mentally confidently ready to return to life-as-usual by the weekend. This was shattered by my first confrontation with the reality of my wounds.

My reconstruction surgeon sat close beside me with her laptop open showing me images and data while a resident aggressively cut off my inch-deep fluid-encrusted bandages… some literally sewn to my flesh. She admitted it was a distraction tactic as many of her patients react poorly to the sights of staples being pulled with no more delicacy than a reupholstery project.

First to my eye was the missing chunk of flesh near my elbow joint. The thin layer of leg-skin stapled over it was nearly transparent with the muscle, flesh and veins underneath clearly visible creating a gruesome purple oval window into my body. An unexpected slit from there to the base of my thumb gave a visual trail to follow to my hand. They call it a muffin-top as flesh that was once on my arm (with goosebumps to match) bulged enormously, bursting off my hand and held in place by a hundred near-popping stitches to my remaining red irradiated flesh. No depiction of the Frankenstein monster could look less naturally conceived.

As a small parade of doctors who had been in on the surgery took turns nodding at my limb with pride and approval, I realized that my goal of ditching a splint that day was laughably off the mark. I felt like The Princess Bride‘s paralyzed Wesley being praised by Fezzik for the slight wiggle of a finger when a castle is waiting to be stormed… but with startling deformation as an added bonus.

The next day, I met my physiotherapist for the first time. Fortunately, as I’ll be seeing her more than any other human for a while, she turned out to be quite pleasant with a soothing hum. She laughed at my thought that we might be starting with exercise. Wound care and debridement (scab picking at a professional level) would be all I could handle yet. Putting velcro straps on my splint was the only concession to my sanity.

Later that day, I was attempting to return to work email when my shirt became instantly soaked wet. After a second of panic that somehow I’d lost bladder control on top of everything else, I discovered that the fluids from my torso once content to leave via a tube had now found more direct exits… and so Dad and I returned to the hospital we had just left. In a procedure I feel confident I could have performed myself on a deserted island, my tubes were indelicately yanked out by the hospital’s lead oncologist and patched unceremoniously with a gauze and tape craft project.

The next day would mark the last day my father was with me and the first day my kids would be here. I nervously took my first drive using only one hand, just to make sure I could do it. (Really makes it difficult to text and stay on the road… kidding. Just kidding. Sheesh.) The night included pizza and card games, with my youngest figuring out a rig for me to be able to hold and play the cards. They proved to be great help to me as I asserted normal life — opening jars, flipping inside-out socks, draining pasta, carrying laundry baskets, checking motor oil, shredding cheese and many other things you just don’t think about as a matter of course.

Week by week, the pain has subsided gradually, though I am still on Advil multiple times a day. The leg bandage came off, revealing an unnaturally perfect rectangle of red scabs, like a highly specific third-degree sunburn. I’ve returned to regular work duties, though with the immense frustration of half-speed typing. I can drink caffeine and alcohol again. I’m going to physiotherapy twice a week, where I’ve worked my way up to excruciating finger flexing and wrist twisting. My hair is returning, though ridiculously unevenly. I can shower. I’m allowed and encouraged to walk for exercise, though paranoia about the damage I could do in a fall is high. I was the topic of a medical lecture and the research paper about me is on-going.

The team has been mentally preparing me for at least six months of active work before my fingers are functional again, and probably over a year before my wounds have a near-human appearance. The road ahead is long, but painful and boring. I trust the same will not be said about my life.

What did it say? Does it matter?

Inerrancy is a high standard for anyone to claim. Without error. One single slip in the smallest detail and the adjective is revoked. Most of us struggle to write an inerrant tweet, but I was trained up to believe that the entire Bible we read is perfect… free of human corruption and reliable in every word, adequate to hang doctrine and all decisions of life.

In the Answers in Genesis statement of faith, they attest that the Bible’s “assertions are factually true in all the original autographs”, which is a newly-common phrasing among believers. By “original autograph”, they mean the very first copy… the papyrus pages that the authors composed their work upon. This caveat allows for errors or problems to be blamed on corruption of the original text by centuries of scribes making copies of copies of copies.

This week I was listening to Bart Ehrman debate Craig Evans on the question “Are the gospels reliable?”. While by no means the most pointed or significant evidence presented in the talk, a particular section dealing exactly with manuscript variations caught my ear.

I wanted to dig in deeper to the Biblical scholar’s argument, so I’m taking you along for my ride. Here is what was said by Dr. Ehrman, along with my own interjections.

The following view is the view of skeptics — that we don’t have the originals, we have only copies, and that thousands of copies have thousands and tens-of-thousands of mistakes.

And this is also the view of non-skeptics. It’s the view of every scholar who works in this field.

Everybody agrees we don’t have the originals, we have thousands of copies, and the thousand copies have tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of differences among them.

Are any of these differences important?

An excellent question.

Did Jesus say, “Let the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her”? It’s a wonderful and familiar saying of Jesus, but it’s based on a scribal variation that is an error. It was not originally in the New Testament gospels.

Did Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you go and sin no more?” Well, does it matter whether Jesus said it or not? Turns out, it’s only in a textual variant. It was not in the original New Testament.

Page NB (52) of Papyrus 66, a codex of John’s Gospel from about AD 200, illustrates the omission of the Story of the Adulteress from early manuscripts.

Both of these quotations are from the tale of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, though the problem section begins at 7:53.

I memorized this book in seventh grade in the NIV version which bears the disclaimer, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.” This bothered me even then, but I was merely a lad and my leaders were unfazed by this problem, so I went along.

The first manuscript to contain the story is from around 400 C.E., nearly 300 years after the believed date of John’s authorship. In the codex shown here, the end of the second line is verse 7:52 and “again Jesus spoke to them” is the third line, which is now 8:11. The apocryphal story became wedged in-between these lines in subsequent manuscripts of the ninth century.

The 7th chapter is not the only place this tale has shown up uninvited. In 4% of the Greek manuscripts where the story is included, it is located in completely different chapters or even in different gospels. Perhaps anywhere the papyrus had blank space, like a doodle a savior might allegedly sketch in the dirt.

It seems clear the continued inclusion is due to tradition, the warm narrative and catchy Jesus sound-bytes, rather than textual confidence. It is not material penned by the writer of John. See more here and here and here.

Did Jesus say, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes in me and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not will be condemned”? It’s found only in a textual variant.

Ehrman is referencing Mark 16:9-20. The professed ending to that gospel is considered by most scholars to be a later addition because it is a) omitted in the earliest complete copies of the Bible (around 350 AD); b) also missing from groups of later copies; c) has stylistic changes from the rest of the book, and d) there is a second completely-different, alternate, forged ending on other manuscripts.

It seems some scribes didn’t think verse 8 was a suitable ending, so they appended their own fan fiction. See here and here and the NIV footnotes in the link above.

“These are the signs that will accompany those who believe. In my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them. They will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Does it matter if Jesus said it? It certainly matters to the Christian groups in the Appalachian Mountains who practice snake handling as part of their worship services.

This quotation is from the same added-ending portion of Mark 16, so see the above.

If you’re not familiar with snake handling, it is a practice where modern church-goers literally reach into a swarm of venomous snakes during a worship service and gratuitously handle the reptiles to prove their faith. If the handler is bitten and dies, then they fail the faith test.

The primary supporting scripture is a forgery, which doesn’t seem to be the most crazy aspect of the risky animal interaction.

Did Jesus give the entire Lord’s Prayer or just half of it, as in Luke? Does it matter? It depends on which manuscript you read.

I assume Ehrman is comparing the Matthew and Luke accounts of the most quotable of all passages, the Lord’s Prayer. The Luke version is indeed significantly shorter, relative to the length of the passage. This difference is obvious to any reader in any translation… though he is right that both accounts cannot be inerrant transcripts. (The fact that the prayer would have been spoken in Aramaic, not as written in Greek, aside.)

In the context of a textual variant, the only notable one I could find is related to the doxology at the end of the Matthew version. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” is not found in the oldest Matthew manuscripts nor in any Luke manuscripts, so was likely added by a scribe in the 4th century. See here and here and here.

Some hypothesize this phrase was borrowed from 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. This would keep the addition from being heresy, but lend evidence to skeptics who notice that the New Testament is largely a loose retelling of Old Testament tales… in the spirit of The Force Awakens refreshing A New Hope.

Or do other textual variants matter? Does it matter whether the doctrine of the Trinity is explicitly taught in the New Testament? The only verse that comes close to teaching it directly is 1 John 5:7 and 8, “There are three that bear witness in heaven: the father, the Word and the Spirit, and these three are one.” Does it matter if that’s in the New Testament?

Perhaps it would be surprising to the average pew-sitter how little scriptural evidence there is for the idea of a father, son and holy spirit as one being. It is certainly never taught directly, as is done confidently from modern pulpits. However, the audience of a debate such as this would probably be aware of the monotheistic machinations made to reconcile the disparate and vague ideas in the Scriptures.

But in the context of doctrines resting on manuscript variants, I assume he is referring to the fact that most modern translations of 1 John 5:8 say “the Spirit, the water, and the blood” rather than “the father, the Word and the Spirit”. This obviously weakens the best Trinity evidence.

Does it matter whether the Gospel of Luke teaches a doctrine of atonement or not? The view that Jesus died for the sake of others. It depends on a textual variant.

For those who don’t speak Christianese, the doctrine of atonement is the teaching that the specific purpose of Jesus’ death was to pay for the sins of mankind. This is a core tenet of the modern Christian faith.

However, the book of Luke is silent on this sacrificial suicide mission, save two verses Luke 22:19-20. “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'” If you’ve been in a protestant church for communion, you’ve heard them.

Unfortunately, as the NIV footnote tells us, “some manuscripts do not have given for you … poured out for you.” Without those phrases, the reason for Jesus’ life and death is a mystery. Paul’s letters let us know that this idea was very much in dispute in the early church. No wonder a well-meaning someone might want to put clarifying words into the messiah’s mouth to advance a particular theology.

Does it matter if Jesus was in such agony before his arrest that he sweat blood? It’s found in only a single textual variant the Gospel of Luke.

When I was a kid, clergy and family members would trot out Jesus’ physiological response in Luke 22:44 as a point of science proving Biblical claims. A condition called hematidrosis was documented in the 1960s as a very rare condition in which a human sweats blood. This discovery seemed very affirming.

However, one need look no further than the NIV footnotes for scholarly consensus that “many early manuscripts do not have verses 43 and 44.” The condition may be based on reality, but this spectacular Jesus claim likely is not.

Does it matter that entire words, lines, paragraphs and pages were left out by some scribes?

Does it matter that there are numerous places in the New Testament where scholars cannot decide what the original text said?

Does it matter that there are some places where we will never know what the original author said? Does that matter, or not?

These claims are a little broad for analysis here, but I trust that the above examples are evidence of what is meant. From his decades of scholarly work, Erhman famously attests in his book “Misquoting Jesus” and numerous lectures that “there are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”

That’s a lot.

Many evangelical scholars claim that it doesn’t matter, but I don’t believe them because these scholars devote their lives to studying the Greek manuscripts. Why would they do that if it doesn’t matter?

Major evangelical seminaries raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for manuscript projects to study these manuscripts. Why would they do that if it doesn’t matter?

It does matter.

Is the Bible a trustworthy reliable guide? If so, what if we don’t know what it originally said?

For some people, these facts don’t matter. And if you’re one of them, well and good. But if you’re someone for whom this does matter, then I would urge you to start reading and start thinking about the gospels of the New Testament as critical scholars have described them.

When I was a fundamentalist believer, accepting the reality that portions of the modern Bible are little more than “best guess” would have been beyond devastating. How many sermons did I sit through micro-analyzing the subtleties of specific wording? What was the point when the wording the sermon rests upon is interpolation, not inspired original?

And it gets worse.

The earlier you go to look at the manuscripts, the more differences you find. The earliest copies have the most mistakes. What would happen if we found copies that were still earlier? The only evidence we have is the evidence that survives, which suggests that in the early periods of copying there was the most mistakes made. How many were made the first month? Or the first year? Or the first decade? How many mistakes were made in the copy of the copy the copy which served as a copy of all the copies that we now have? We have no way of knowing.

None of this is likely to change anyone’s mind, as it takes no evidence to assert that God was looking after His word during those early centuries, even if for some reason He wasn’t taking the same care later on when we could watch.

For me, this is just more fuel to the fire that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of writings imagined by men, edited by men over centuries and falsely propped-up by men who collectively know better. There is no mark of the divine.

Do these facts matter to you? Or is having the basic general gist of the instructions for your eternal destiny good enough? Let me know in the comments.

Prophecy or Easter Eggs? Jesus’ Secret Origins.

Since starting this blog, a number of people have pointed me toward fulfilled prophecy as evidence of a divine element to the Bible. A link to 353 Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus Christ here, a pamphlet on 100 Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus there, and here and there and there. It is the implied assertion that such levels of foresight can be best explained by supernatural intervention.

In my senior year of high school, I memorized the book (yes, the whole thing) of Matthew. I recognized that this particular gospel was clearly written with the express purpose of convincing a Jewish audience that Jesus was the messiah they were waiting for. It is littered with sentence fragments quotations from the Old Testament that mirror or parallel some aspect of the story. Even though I devoutly believed all of it, I remember  looking up some of the passages in the footnotes and thinking “that’s quite a stretch”. It was one thing to squint skeptically at the Bible Code folks, but who was I to question the connections made by authors of the scripture?

Evaluating Prophecy

Last fall, I had the chance to hear and meet Matt Dillahunty, who recently laid out criteria by which prophecy could be objectively evaluated. To be considered a falsifiable prediction, Dillahunty suggests it must be…

  • made clearly and demonstrably prior to the events predicted
  • intended to be a prediction
  • an extraordinary, non-mundane, claim
  • answerable by a single clear occurrence
  • not open to interpretation
  • not something people are actively working to fulfill

This is a good place to start when considering the relevancy of the entries in the left-hand column of any prophecy-fulfillment table.


As I intend to stay primarily within the confines of the claims of prophecies fulfilled by Jesus, I’m willing to concede that all of the proposed predictions found in the Old Testament were made before the time of the New Testament.

However, if we were talking about the prophecies of the book of Daniel, as but one example, we would need to look at the scholarly evidence that the book was produced after-the-fact or ex eventu. Perhaps another entry for another time.


When my high school self would raise an eyebrow to the legitimacy of a prophecy, it was generally on the grounds that the original context seemed like anything but a prediction.

For example, John 19:24 claims that the casting lots for Jesus’ garments “happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, ‘They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.'” The author quotes Psalm 22:18, and that chapter is David’s lament about his own personal circumstances, with no future-looking language. Verse 17, immediately prior, says “all my bones are on display”. Is the lack of Jesus’ skeleton presentation a failed prophecy?

It gets even more dubious when one looks at the longer lists that have been compiled. One claims that routine instruction about body disposal is a crucifixion prophecy, that a Passover meal recipe indicates that Jesus would suffer no broken bones, and that a prediction of Jesus being killed outside of a city comes from sacrifice regulations that insist “hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up” in the very same sentence. Was Jesus set on fire?

Non-Mundane Claim

Just this morning, I saw an article predicting that Apple would come out with an iPhone 7 in 2016 with improved hardware and unspecified new features. But as Apple has followed this pattern for years, should we by surprised by this analyst’s insight?

I could (and do) proclaim that the Unites States will one day elect a woman as president. This has never happened before, so it must be extraordinary, right? But as my prediction is open-ended, it does not require success for Hillary. It seems inevitable that such a thing will eventually happen in the remaining few decades of the U.S.A.’s existence. (Now there’s an ominous and more specific prophecy.)

Christians like to point to “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6) as evidence that end times are nigh. But in what year, day or hour of history has there been an absence of war and rumors of war? (Though, research suggests “we may be living in the most peaceable era in human existence“, which doesn’t help those looking over their shoulder for an imminent second coming.)

Similarly, famines and earthquakes in various places, setting foot in a temple, being hated without reason, and being thirsty don’t seem to be guesses with supernatural insight.

Single Fulfillment and Interpretation

In order to be clear and compelling, a prophecy would need to be uniquely fulfilled by one-and-only-one person or event, and without being subject to interpretation.

Most of the fulfilled Jesus prophecy lists I investigated actually included “born of a woman“. That applies to literally every human in history, so is the most egregious example. But other claims like being Jewish and having sibling rivalry don’t narrow things down much either.

Other passages require significant interpretation by the reader to evaluate, as the claims are obfuscated. For example, Isaiah 8:14 predicts “for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.” Did Jesus actually fulfill this? How? Can anyone say for sure as a compelling proof?

It’s interesting to me that the best literature about why Jesus is not a fulfillment of these Jewish prophecies comes from devout Jews. Interpretation is everything.

But Were They Actually Even Fulfilled?

While my devout younger self was concerned only about the legitimacy of the alleged predictions, the more recent version of me is much more interested in the claims of fulfillment.

Few Christians I know would attempt to make a case for prophecy fulfillment on the strength of any one prediction or another. Rather, it is the convergence of so many fulfillments that is meant to be compelling as evidence of the supernatural. There’s a reason these lists are so long and reserve a spot for “born of a woman”.

Allow me, for a moment, to reminisce about one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future (BTTF). If you’ve seen it, you’ll recall the dramatic ending when all is shown to be well with the now-rich-and-happy McFly family, but the celebration is cut short when the DeLorean pulls into the driveway and a yellow-clad Doc jumps out. He insists that Jennifer and Marty must help him intercede in lives of their future children. Written in 1983, how could the first BTTF have possibly predicted that 1989’s BTTF2 would show exactly that?? Marty had to travel to 2015 where his son was about to get in big trouble with the law. But the predictions didn’t stop there as BTTF2 showed how a second Marty was actually at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance all along, dipping and hiding in a way exactly consistent with the first film. There are simply too many connections to call it a coincidence. Either the writers of BTTF1 had help from a divine power, or perhaps they actually had a working time machine to see the future movies.

Or remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Lando told Luke that they would rendezvous on Tatooine, and then they DID in Return of the Jedi? And Boba Fett was already there, having delivered Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt just like he said he would. And there was another hope, Princess Leia, just like Obi-Wan said in the previous movie. How could the writers of Empire possibly have made such accurate predictions about movies that hadn’t been created yet?

But wait, you say… the writers of Return of the Jedi had seen The Empire Strikes Back when they wrote it, and would have wanted to answer any questions posed in the earlier work in their sequel. And the creators of BTTF2 could watch and rewatch every minute detail of BTTF1 to orchestrate the events of the follow-up movie to make it joyously seamless. They were even famously begrudging that the first movie ending forced them to visit the future, but keeping the established continuity gave them no choice.

And so it was with the writers of the gospels, creating sequels to the incredibly popular Old Testament. Some forty years after the death of Jesus, the writer of Mark sat down to write the first gospel. He wasn’t overly concerned with prophecy. He didn’t include a single word about Jesus’ prophecy-fulfilling birth, rather starting the story with the Savior’s baptism as an adult. (The author of the original Mark manuscript didn’t mention a resurrected Jesus either. Oopsie.)

When, decades later, the writer of Matthew wanted to punch-up Mark for a Jewish audience, he knew he’d need to address the established messiah canon. Matthew’s Jesus would need to be from the line of David, born in Bethlehem, called out of Egypt as a child and yet be from Nazareth.

The writer of Matthew solved the lineage by opening with a selective genealogy weaving from Abraham through David to Jesus’ step-dad, Joseph. (Full disclosure… I didn’t memorize that part.) Then in the next scene, Jesus’ parents were somehow just living their lives in Bethlehem for the prophetical birth. In order to check off the Egypt box, the writer created a massacre of infants by Herod (such a horrific event is not hinted at in any other secular or Biblical record) to send the protagonists into hiding in the land of grain-silo pyramids. After some time there, the family could be sent to Nazareth to line up with Mark’s account. And just like that, the author wired in prophecies fulfilled.

Unfortunately, the writer of Luke was also independently trying to connect some prophetical dots with his rewrite of Mark. After an all-new scene introducing baby John the Baptist, the writer fabricated a census (see my previous post) as an excuse to maneuver Joseph’s family from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But then the three simply go back to Nazareth when the census ends. I guess Luke didn’t remember that Egypt prophecy. Lucasfilm has continuity editors for this kind of thing.

As the gospel writers spoke Greek and the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, it is actually a Greek translation — called the Septuagint — that they referenced and quoted, not the original. Quirks in the translation can reveal places the gospel writers were changing events to match prophecy as they misunderstood it.

In Matthew 21, the writer had Jesus precociously and ridiculously riding in to Jerusalem straddling two donkeys in order to fulfill the prophecy, “your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey” from Zechariah 9:9. But the original Hebrew version doesn’t say “and on a colt” to reference two beasts, it uses just “on a colt” to further describe the single donkey. John 12 corrected this error.

More controversially, the doctrine of virgin birth may well have been fabricated whole cloth after mistranslating Isaiah 7:14 to read “the virgin will conceive and give birth” when the Hebrew is more naturally “the young woman will conceive and give birth”. (Compare all the English translations for yourself, for degrees of honesty in deference to tradition.)

In each call-back instance, one has to ask… is it more likely that the Old Testament divinely predicted the New, or that the New is a human-contrived sequel to the Old?

Enough for Now

For all of the reasons above, and more, I do not find the argument that Jesus was the fulfillment of dozens or hundreds of prophecies to be compelling. But even if I am fully wrong on this point, it would do little to prove the supernatural claims of the Bible.

Do you disagree? Do you find the prophetical claims to be convincing? What am I missing? Please let me know why in the comments.

Post-Op – Part One

The day before any travel plays out much the same for me, driven by multi-column lists. Things to buy, things to pack, media to load, devices to charge, email to send and colleagues to prepare for my absence. If it is air travel, there is the added dynamic of an off-typical mandatory wake up time that takes my body into some kind of high-alert mode that prevents anything but the shallowest of sleep.

And so it was on January 5 as I prepared for my 5-7 day trip, a mere 20 minutes away to Foothills Medical Center. I had been told to expect a 7:30 a.m. arrival time, so when the promised confirmation call requested I check in at 5:15 a.m., I couldn’t help but think of many airport-opening flights I’d taken to places I didn’t want to go to do things I didn’t want to do. My impending cancer surgery was on par with a logistics meeting in Michigan.

My parents came to town to assist me through the process. We made great time and found plenty of parking, as one can do at 5 a.m. I felt naked leaving home without keys, wallet, glasses, laptop or phone, but soon enough they had me literally so… swimming in a “gown” that I knew would be tossed aside the second I wasn’t able to object.

The nurse who settled me in expressed her pleasure that some of the 7:30 surgery patients had been called in early so that they could stagger our processing. Um, 7:30? I had been summoned two hours early to accommodate paperwork. Lost sleep so that I might sit in a row of beds and stew for hours about what my body was about to endure. They allowed only one visitor to this point, so my father knowingly distracted my tension with points of interest about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. I attempted to align this with Lincoln’s role in The Hateful Eight, a historical drama I had seen just a few days prior.

After visits from my oncologist (who marked my cancer-filled hand with a Sharpie), plastic surgeon, reconstruction surgeon, and anesthesiologist, I was walked in to the operating room. It seemed massive to my eyes, maybe 1000 square feet fully adorned in stainless steal. In the center was a metal-slab bed, illuminated with a rock-show of spotlights. If this were a spaceship, it would definitely be the probing room. At least a dozen people were working feverishly, and a few were introduced to me for reasons I couldn’t understand — like having the restaurant patrons chat with their steak-providing cow before dinner in Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

The minutes staring at the sun-like bright light above me (undoubtedly designed to facilitate near-death experiences) seemed endless as I listened to buzz and chatter, a mix of the mundane and medically relevant. But that was a mere instant compared to the eternity the oxygen mask was held forcefully over my face while I was to remain calm. It took everything I had to not wrestle it away and…

I woke. My eyes darted right. My arm was there. My hand was there, though I could not see it through straps and dressing. My mind sent the instruction to strum. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 fingers… at least phantom ones. Tears of relief. I wanted water.

I woke. “Mr. Ens, can you slide over to that bed?” I saw a bed to the right and understood what was being asked. I attempted to put my weight on my right arm. “He can’t slide over!” another voice scolded. “It’s ok,” I assured the bodiless voices, “I can do this.” I slid over.

I woke. Pain. Holy %#$@ &#@%@ %#@%. What is this pain? “Mr. Ens, we have you on morphine. On a scale of 1 to 10, what number is your pain?” I started to say ten, but then the voice of comedian Brian Regan played in my otherwise empty consciousness. “I had heard that the worst pain a human can endure is getting the femur cracked in half. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, they have exclusive rights to ten.” Nine, I corrected. “Then I thought no… childbirth. Can’t compete with that.” Eight, I settled.

I woke. My parents were there. They explained that they had been called half-way through my surgery with the news that they were confident that all of the cancer had been cut out of my armpit site and hand site. Tests were run while I was open to ensure that the outer edges of the removed portions were cancer-free. The tendon to my longest finger had to be removed, but I was fortunate enough to have an extra tendon going to my index finger, so the vestigial one was moved over and stitched in. Plan B had been to transplant an extra from my right leg. (I would notice the next day that they had shaved my leg and marked my foot.) The total surgery time had been longer than expected… six hours.

I was aware that my brain was not formulating coherent thoughts, but I was clear on the time and the morphine schedule. I could get a new bag for my IV every three hours, if I asked for it. Between my noisy roommate (Hank, who I believe may have introduced himself to me earlier) and the staff parade, I had reason to check the time pretty often and morphine math came easily.

At some point that first night, I was alert enough to assess my situation. There was a tube coming out of my side with outgoing fluids. The receiving container was pinned down, limiting my shoulder movement. My right arm was wrapped abundantly from fingertip to elbow and was perched upon a tower of three blue hospital pillows. Any attempt to move that shot a sharp sting of pain to my back, like a whip. My left arm was slightly more free, but there was an IV line taped down to the back of my hand. This was connected with a short hose to my morphine machine. Lifting my head revealed that an oxygen tube was wrapped around my face and anchored in my nostrils. My left leg was wrapped in a tight brace that contracted and released at regular intervals — I would learn that this is to prevent clotting from immobility. Last, but not least, a bit of a hip wiggle was enough to confirm that I had another tube in me to handle outgoing fluids. I did not investigate further.

My reconstruction and plastic surgeon team showed up for rounds at 7 a.m. and I saw a bit of my hand for the first time. They cut a hole in the dressing, and puffing out like a Seinfeldian muffin top was a bit of flesh that I did not know as well as the back of my hand. Each doctor and resident took turns touching the exposed balloon of skin, and each nodded and made approving noises. I couldn’t feel any of it, but they were very pleased with the temperature. I tried touching the area and it felt cold to me. They assured me it was great.

IMG_3665blurThey reviewed what had happened to me for the second half of my surgery. After migrating a tendon and hooking up my finger, they took a hand-size circle of flesh from my forearm — still attached, blood vessels and all — and moved it to cover the area of my hand that had been removed for cancer. A graft of skin from my thigh had been taken to cover my forearm site.

A few hours later, I had my first confinement freak-out. No one was around to see it and I got myself under control without tearing out any tubes, but the checklist of obstacles to freedom became my new mission. Over the course of the morning, I got my fluid collector pinned to me instead of my bed, got the oxygen requirement lifted and convinced a nurse to pull the catheter (easier out than in) with the sworn promise that I would take four walks before day’s end. Just 22 hours after surgery, I was standing on my own, peeing into a screw-on-lid collection vessel. (I’m told this was for measurement purposes, not posterity.)

It was at that time that my nurse freaked-out at the site of the empty venti Starbucks cup sitting beside me. During pre-surgery chemotherapy, my parents brought me Starbucks coffee each morning, and the tradition had continued. My vigilant caregiver was scrambling to notify a doctor. “You can’t do that!” she kept repeating, and finally, “Caffeine restricts the vessels and can cause transplant rejection.” I quietly told her it was decaf. Instantly she went from code-red to all-is-calm and let me be. I never ask for decaf, but I did that morning, hoping to spend as much of the next few days sleeping as possible. Good thing.

The rest of the day passed with visitors and morphine. As much as I wanted to be free of the rolling IV poll, the pain was still too much to leave it yet. But by 3 a.m., I figured out that the cause of the most intense pressure was the swelling in my hand. A call-out to my doctor team got me switched to an anti-inflammatory pain med mix and by morning, I was ready to ditch my IV.

I must have been quite out of it the first day, because several caregivers introduced themselves with, “We met yesterday, but you probably don’t remember.” Each of the four rounds of doctors seemed impressed with my status and started talking about sending me home. Having been warned that I would need to be in the hospital for 3 to 5 days for infection watch, this was an welcome possibility and I pursued it.

The only obstacle was my need for a custom splint that would immobilize my fingers and wrist while avoiding the graft site on my arm. This was early Friday morning and the heavily-booked occupational therapy team that performs this task doesn’t work weekends… it was today or wait until Monday. My team of doctors and nurses were excellent advocates and got the reluctant craftspeople (and their entourage of bulky equipment) squeezed into my tiny room within a few hours, and I gladly sacrificed time with visitors and the emptying of my bladder to get it done.

While my mind was on the complicated logistics and precision sequencing that would be needed to don clothing, my nurses were bombarding my parents and I with instructions on wound care, pain medication, drain management and follow-up bookings with various teams. A stack of papers and bags of home care supplies at the ready, I wove a shirt onto my body with contortions matching a catburgler dodging laser security. Pants were less an intellectual exercise and more one of balance and pain tolerance. And a father willing to do up that final button.

Ready or not, I was in a vehicle headed home.

(Without exception, every doctor, nurse and staff-member at Tom Baker Cancer Center and Foothills Medical were talented, articulate, caring, concerned, helpful and accommodating. I owe them much thanks. As I do to my mom and dad, but more on that next time.)

The Greatest Retcon Ever Told

It is common fodder to tease the brother-sister kiss of Luke and Leia in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, but at least part of that embarrassment is owed to the fact that the episode was written before George Lucas decided upon their sibling lineage. This plot point was added in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, restoring some connection to early drafts where Luke and Leia were one-and-the-same character. Years later, the births of twins Luke and Leia would be depicted in Revenge of the Sith, adding to the narrative. Flash forward to this winter, and the world is abuzz wondering if either Luke or Leia may be the parent of Rey, who is in possession of a lightsaber lost in ESB (spoilers, not sorry).

Star Wars is a great example of a story that has taken shape over many years, with multiple contributing authors, and liberal revision to existing chapters to smooth consistency. Watched anew today, the seven episode saga would appear to tell a smooth, well-planned tale of the Skywalker clan, even though it was anything but during the process of creating it.

Moses – Great Writer, Bad at Directions

When I was a lad, my parents schemed to force me to pay attention during church by sitting in the front rows where Pastor Carl Ens could call on me from the pulpit when my attention wandered. He was a tall, gentle, intellectual man whose confidence and soothing voice was quite authoritative to my formative self. So, when he assured me without hesitation that Moses was the author of the start of the Bible and that God used the time together on Mount Sinai to personally relay pre-historical event details, I believed it.

As an eager Bible college freshman, I earned my way into the then-upper-year Pentateuch course. An entire semester covering the first five books of the Bible — those historically credited to Moses’ hand — and Dr. Ken Schamuhn spent mere minutes on the first day on the topic of authorship. I was too enamored by his style and credentials to notice.

I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for accepting Mosaic authorship on authority. It took until around 1200 A.D. for historians to seriously question how Moses could have written about his own death, or brag that none like himself arose in the years after his passing.

It was during my quest to find scientific evidence for a literal reading of Genesis that I stumbled upon JEDP — the Documentary Hypothesis.

A Patchwork Quilt, Not a Solid Duvet

I would encourage you to research for yourself, but the basic hypothesis is that the current Five Books of Moses (also known at the Pentateuch or Torah) were created by an editor(s) combining four separate source documents — each unique in geography, vocabulary and theology.

Even a casual reading of the Torah shows doublets in the text — duplicated stories that are too similar to be separate events, but each version with detail variations and a different thematic take. (Think of all the Batman origin variations you’ve seen from dozens of comics, to Tim Burton’s Michael Keaton Batman, to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, to TV’s Gotham.) Examples include the two creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, two instances of Abraham telling a king that Sarah is his sister, two tales of Moses getting water from a rock, and more.

Within the doublets, it was observed that in many cases one version uses the divine name Yahweh while the other uses Elohim. After dividing the stories based on deity designation, a significant consistency of vocabulary, emphasis and style was found in the individual parallel versions.

Alphabetic symbols were attached to each proposed source. “J” for the document using Yahweh / Jehovah, “E” for the document using Elohim / God. Additional documents “P” (concerning priestly matters) and “D” (Deuteronomy) were identified.

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Dissecting chapters, sections and sometimes side-by-side verses (and a few stitches here-and-there from the unknown consolidating editor), these JEPD documents can be reconstructed with little controversy. Each source is coherent and internally consistent as separate entities.

So What?

The modern protestant Biblical canon already consists of 66 books written by dozens of anonymous authors over the course of centuries. Taken alone, it should make little difference to anyone’s faith to learn that some chapters were order-shuffled, reorganized from four books into five and written by a committee.

But for me, fresh from having scientific evidence collapse my long-held belief in the literal truth of the Genesis creation and flood, my apologetic defenses were down.

How many revisions could a book go through and still be divinely inspired? What role did this “R” editor play? Was it really just copy-and-paste, or was there editorial manipulation? Were the edits divine?


J and E – The God of Regional Rivalries

One advantage to the church espousing Mosaic authorship is that it makes the writer a witness and contemporary to the events described. If Moses died around 1400 BCE (there is no consensus date range for this, a topic for another post), the J and E sources were written centuries later and with seemingly less authority.

In the detailed and scripturally-reverent Who Wrote the Bible?, Richard Elliott Friedman explores the consensus view that J and E were written during the time when the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were split and before reunification. “This would put the author of J between 848 and 722. The author of E composed in Israel, which stood from 922 to 722 B.C.”

More disturbing to me than the time gaps were the human agendas that emerged. In J and E, the political causes, viewpoints and prejudices of their particular half of the split kingdom are more than subtext. Each account takes up opposing sides in north / south regional feuds — molten vs plate metallurgy, Levitical culpability in creating idols, team Joshua vs team Aaron, heroic cameos for Judah-mascot cherubs, to name a few.

Friedman reflects, “The ark does not appear in E. The Tabernacle does not appear in J. This is no coincidence. The stories in the sources treat the religious symbols of the respective communities from which they came.”

A devout Bible-believer has no problem forgiving subtle human bias as part of the inevitable flavor consequence of a God-man joint project. But to a skeptic, this sounds more like ancient propaganda than inspired literature. So far, this is a very human product indistinguishable from secular writing.

Origin Story – Polytheism

Despite the differences, J and E are obviously too similar to not come from a common tradition. For that, we must jump back around 500 years to the clay tablets alphabetic cuneiform describing the Canaanite religion, found in Ugarit, Syria and dating back to before 1200 BCE.

Among the many gods worshipped in Canaan were El Elyon (whose name means “God Most High”, father of the other gods), Asherah (El Elyon’s wife), and Baal (god of storms and fertility).

In Genesis, Abraham is said to interact with El Shaddai — one of the names for the Canaanite god, El Elyon. After physically wrestling with El Elyon, Jacob makes him his “elohim” — the Canaanite term for one’s “primary god”. This makes sense only in the context where Jacob believes in multiple gods, and is choosing El Elyon as his primary.

You may recognize Elohim as divine name used by the author of E.

J establishes his primary deity, Yahweh, a great warrior. J’s polytheistic language survives into modern translations. He asks “Who is like you among gods, Yahweh?” and “Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all other gods!”

Modern translations show Israelites turning their back on “God” to worship of Baal and Asherah, almost immediately after God’s great display of power in freeing them from Egypt. This makes much more sense when one imagines a polytheistic culture where war is over (thank Yahweh), and it’s time to get to the business of making babies with the fertility gods. Different gods for different seasons, not rejection.

All Hail the God of War

When Assyria sieged the northern state of Israel around 750 BCE and put the nation in upheaval, three prophets arose — Isaiah, Amos and Hosea — who pleaded with the Israelites in their texts to return to devotion to war-god Yahweh above the other gods, that they may be saved. (Spoiler: Israel fell anyway, but J and E were combined for the first time under this Yahwist influence.)

Enter King Josiah around 622 BCE, who also held that the Hebrews’ problems stemmed from a lack of Yahweh devotion. It was during Josiah’s temple renovation that the book of Deuteronomy (D source) was “found” under conveniently dubious circumstance and declared a lost book of Moses. In it, a strict adherence to Yahweh is established, while rejecting worship of other gods.

Much like Constantine’s establishment of Christianity as Rome’s official religion catapulted that faith, sweeping reforms were made when Josiah declared Yahweh the official deity of Israel and all other gods were abolished.

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In response to Deuteronomy, the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings were revised according to the new Yahweh-exclusive theology. The tales of the exodus from Egypt in J and E were added to, and revised, to make them Yahweh-centric.

Josiah and his scribes were not yet monotheistic. They believed in other gods, as they wrote passages like “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Welcome to Babylon

In 604 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar II rose to power in Babylon, and he was bent on destroying Israel. Interest in the protection from Yahweh, god of war, was renewed. The author of the priestly P source emerged, adding a second half to the book of Isaiah and finally completing the long evolution to Hebrew monotheism with This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.”

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In the world’s ultimate retcon, the El Shaddai worshipped by Abraham and the Yahweh worshipped by Moses were merged to be the same god with multiple names.

Almost as significantly, the conquering Babylonian creation story — as found in the 1750 BCE Enuma Elish — is somewhat scrubbed for monotheism and appended as a brand-new first chapter of the Torah. The creation of the world from something formless and void was kept from the Enuma Elish tradition, as was the specific creation ordering of light, firmament, dry land, the sun and moon and ultimately mankind.

Until this time, Genesis 2 was Israel’s only recorded creation story. The culture had been relatively free of Babylonian influence. Suddenly, ancient Babylonian origin myths were adopted by the conquered and were canonized.

The P source was thorough in crafting a coherent monotheistic narrative from the four sources. It was 600 BCE, and no earlier, that Old Testament monotheism was born.

Yahweh Shot First

The holy book I believed in wasn’t revealed. It wasn’t written. It was manufactured. Edited. Borrowed. Cherry picked. Periodically updated like a piece of software with bug fixes requiring new terms and conditions to accept.

The details of these hypotheses, particularly specific textual alterations, cannot be conclusively proven, only pointed to with evidence. However, all claims would be easily falsifiable by archeology… even tiny scraps of the disputed texts dated to before the years presented above would do it.

For me, it was enough to see that the only evidence I had of an unchanging god was an unquestionably often-changing book. Rather than taking it at face value, going forward I would require positive evidence to regard the Bible as anything more than a collection of bronze age propaganda… at best, legends that grew over time.

Despite my decades of Bible training, this information was new to me. Perhaps it is to you? Or perhaps you already knew all of this and have reconciled it as theologically unimportant trivia? Let me know in the comments.

Perhaps you doubt it all and are skeptical of these claims? Perfect! You should be. I am but a layman barely scratching the surface. I would strongly encourage you to investigate for yourself, and let me know in the comments what evidence you find. (Much of the information above came from “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong and “Who Wrote the Bible?” by Richard Elliott Friedman, with graphics from Atheism: A History of God by evid3nc3.)

Or perhaps you think J.J. Abrams’ time travel device in Star Trek was a bigger retcon? Or erasing the events of the bad X-Men films with X-Men Days of Future Past? Or perhaps the establishing / deestablishing / reestablishing Joe Chill as the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents? Let me know.

I’m just sad we now have that pan flute instead of the 1983 “yub nub” Ewok song at the end of Return of the Jedi. (Celebrate the love.)


Knowing the Known Unknowns

As the distraction of the family-centric Christmas week crashes to an end, I cannot keep my thoughts from straying ahead to the health-defining schedule for my next week.

Since last I wrote about my cancer, I have had a new biopsy, full-body CT scan and MRI scan. I was already on standby for a sooner surgery date, if one became available, based on the prior regrowth observations. It was unclear to me if this last round of tests might actually accelerate procedure timing, or if they were just for accurate diagnosis.

I was told quickly that the biopsy results were “inconclusive”. This was obviously the least-intellectually-satisfying possible answer, so it took others to remind me that inconclusive is medically better than conclusively bad. I accepted this with reluctance.

But weeks went by and I was not contacted with the scan results. I knew key members of my medical team were rotating away on year-end vacation and my calls were uncharacteristically going unanswered. Life and Christmas were marching forward, as they are want to do, so I made plans to take the kids to Saskatoon. I should have learned by now that making alternate plans is the best way to force a medical appointment.

Last Monday, I finally got the call to come in for results and further tests. Delaying my trip, I took the familiar road to the hospital to find a doctor I’ve never met before, reading to me tentatively from pages of notes. I let him mutter about nonsense for a few minutes before I point-blank asked him for the CT results that would tell me if I had only four remaining weeks on Earth. He flipped to the page that described my chest as cancer-free. I would indeed live to see February. “Maybe start with that,” I smiled.

With the news that my CT scan was clear, and that the cancer growth shown on the MRI is within pessimistic expectation, the young MD wanted to start in on a new invasive biopsy to shore-up the previously inconclusive one. My Christmas plans with my children were mere hours away, so I wondered aloud what practical impact such a test would have on my only-days-away surgery. A call to my vacationing lead oncologist confirmed my skepticism about biopsy usefulness, so I left the hospital unpoked and unprodded.

So… next Wednesday, January 6, I will arrive at the hospital before sunrise and be prepped for surgery. The first team will remove the flesh from the top of my right hand from my wrist up to the first knuckles of my fingers. They will cut out all the cancerous cells they find, which may well involve bone shaving, tendon snipping, muscle carving or even digit removal. As a side project, they’ll snip the silently ominous cancerous lymph node in my right armpit.

A second team will then attempt to reconstruct my hand from what is left. If it is determined that scarring will be too severe in the first pass, some repair may have to wait for subsequent surgeries. This might involve transplanting tendons from other parts of my body. Toe-tapping may lose out to 16-hour-a-day typing dexterity.

A third team will do a tissue graft, pulling flesh from my forearm to cover my hand and then harvesting thigh skin to cover my forearm. At least that’s the going-in plan as presented to me. I’ve given verbal permission to the plastic surgeons to make any improvements to any part of me they find time for, but they are mere humans.

I’ll need to remain in the hospital for three-to-five days while they monitor the grafts for infection. Immobile in the hospital will be a special torture. I hope to sample all of the drugs.

I’ve been craving the closure of this surgery for a while now, but as it nears, the thought of waking up to an unknown number of limbs, hands and digits is causing greater anxiety as the days draw near. I have trained myself to describe it unflinchingly when face-to-face with people, but it is an act.

If I’m honest, I’m scared. If I’m honest, I’m angry. But it’s equally honest to say that I’ll be OK.

While there are no guarantees, there is a chance that in a few weeks this could all be over. That’s more than many (including some reading this) can say.

(Photo credit: me)


Seven Thoughts on VII (Spoilers)

I totally click-baited you. There are far more than seven thoughts here as I walk through my blatherings on the box-office-record-smashing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, roughly in screen order.

(I haven’t seen any of the supplemental or behind-the-scenes material, so perhaps some of this has been answered outside the film… let me know in the comments. Also, I’m aware many others share these thoughts and have expressed them already. Still, by request, my musings are now collected.)

  • Lack of Fox fanfare – for both of my screenings, the jump from the last trailer to the Lucasfilm logo was abrupt, leaving inadequate time for chills and a beat of black screen to soak it in. For future films, I wouldn’t mind a Disney logo before Lucasfilm’s to take the fanfare’s preparatory role.
  • Opening Crawl – great first sentence. “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” It’s on. Nothing about taxes or commerce. That said, I was annoyed by “most daring pilot”… and later on when Finn made a direct-to-camera comment about Poe being an amazing pilot. Show me, don’t tell me. (And we did see it… which made this even more annoying.)
  • First LineMax von Sydow (which is enough of a Star Wars name that we don’t need this Lor San Tekka name that I had to look up) starts the film with “This will begin to make things right.” I couldn’t help but think this was actually being said to the audience about the restoration of their film franchise.
  • Intro to Captain Phasma – I was so excited about the prospect of seeing Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth‘s Gwendoline Christie (not Spider-Man’s Gwen Stacy) take on the role of a GFFA warrior, and her appearance on-screen in the opening scene set me up for a much bigger role. I wish I’d have known that scene was her pinnacle of action. For the rest of the movie, she’s just powerless middle management. This was sub-Boba Fett.
  • Force Paralysis – Stopping humans and laser bolts in their tracks is new. I like the new mythology, along with grabbing thoughts through the dark side. It’s curious that Kylo can do these things, but can barely hack his way through a lightsaber duel with first-timers. But I also like this movie’s philosophy of not explaining everything, so I’ll leave it alone.
  • “So who talks first?” – While the first line may have been a message to the audience, this line was the tone establisher. Force Awakens is going to have fun, so set your expectations accordingly. No one will be losing the will to live here.
  • Space Bread – Forget blue milk, I want that instant powder-to-bread mix. In my mind, it comes out piping hot (probably due to exothermic chemical reactions, but still). Of all the moments of her introduction, my favorite is Rey slipping on the Rebel Alliance helmet and head-bop looking around.
  • Casting – Everyone on the new cast is great… Daisy Ridley is the brightest light, but John BoyegaOscar Isaac, and Adam Driver made the new characters more of a highlight than the returning.
  • Clone Army – Kylo Ren’s suggestion that they switch to a clone army was the only real reference to the prequel trilogy that I noticed. (Though I hear there were pod racer flags at Maz Kanata‘s place.)
  • Kylo Ren Temper Tantrums – Who has it worse, the First Order IT team or the Imperial choked-body-removal team? Kylo was the character that surprised me most, with a non-carbon-copy bad guy. All of the Sith we’ve seen in the past always carried themselves as confident and sure. This guy is a basket case, and I like it.
  • Snoke-a-Doke – I enjoyed how towering Supreme Leader Snoke wasn’t immediately revealed as a hologram, letting the audience assume the size difference. This is an echo of how hologram Palpatine towered over Vader. It will be fun to speculate if Snoke is actually that size, or perhaps shorter than Yoda. I assume Luke will fight Snoke in Episode IX.
  • Godwin’s Law –  Hux’s speech and the stormtrooper arm salute was a little Nazi-on-the-nose for my liking.
  • Rey Lightsaber Visions – Obviously, to me, there are two parts to the vision. The first is likely a flashback to Kylo Ren’s betrayal of Luke Skywalker that Han describes briefly. It is on some presumably-not-Mustafar lava planet. Luke’s mechanical hand that he grips Artoo with seems more advanced than the one Luke has in the last scene of the movie — so maybe it’s a flash forward? The second half of the vision is little-girl Rey being left behind on Jakku. It is cut such that we cannot see who is holding her back, nor who the family leaving her are. If the two visions are connected, that might support the theory that Luke is her father and left her there to protect her. I’d rather we not sing that song again, but maybe. Also, I hear that Ewan McGregor recorded a line of dialog for this sequence, and that it’s mixed with Alec Guinness and Frank Oz lines from previous films.
  • Hello, 3PO – C-3PO injecting himself between Han and Leia’s reunion was genius and hilarious… for a few seconds. Until the droid referenced his own red arm. The movie did such a great job of treating the past 30 years of history as “matter of fact”, and then that. Really bugged me. And then he referenced it again, muttering that he needs his old arm back. (Fresh from that, it bristled me that 3PO knew BB-8’s name… until I realized they probably hang out at the resistance droid break room together. Everyone knowing everyone makes the universe small.)
  • Han and LeiaHarrison Ford had life in his eyes and his performance was parsecs ahead of Indiana Jones IV. I felt like it was Han Solo on screen, and quite liked that life hasn’t all gone his way over the last 30 years. However, at no point did I really feel like Carrie Fisher brought Princess Leia to the screen. (OK, maybe her Force-intuition sitting down when Han died.) Her chemistry just didn’t work for me.
  • Safety is our Absolute Lowest Priority – like the Empire before them, the First Order sees no reason for safety railings on cavernous architecture… even half-mile-long family reunion bridges.
  • Ben Solo – At Lucasfilm, I had the pleasure of being part of the story group mailing list and remember Sue Rostoni sending out a note looking for suggestions for a name for Luke’s son in an upcoming novel. I immediately replied “Ben” before a slew of other suggestions were thrown around. Ben was ultimately used for the name and, despite the obviousness of it, I take credit for this no-longer-canon naming in my brain. (If anyone from the story group reads this, and remembers it differently, please don’t correct me.) I was so delighted that this name lived on.
  • Han’s Death – It is well known that Harrison Ford had wanted Han Solo to die in Return of the Jedi. He felt his character needed a proper ending. When I heard that he signed for Episode VII, I immediately assumed that he made a Solo death part of the conditions of signing on. I wasn’t spoiled, but seeing how relaxed and happy that Harrison was in the film promotion phase, I was even more convinced. I wasn’t spoiled, but I knew that death was coming. (And it played out a little slowly on screen.)
  • The Droid Awakens – So what triggered R2 to wake up exactly then? It’s not something in Luke’s lightsaber because it was on the base earlier with Finn. Does he now have a wireless midichlorian detector that triggers when a potential Jedi arrives? Or did Luke program him to wait for Rey specifically? Or something else?
  • Rey, I am your Father – I can’t tell if the audience is being misdirected to suspecting that Rey is Luke’s daughter, or if she is. Personally, I don’t think she is and I hope that she is not. Star Wars has been to that lineage well too many times. Rey and Ben being siblings is even more distasteful, because Han and Leia would know they have a daughter. You can call me wrong in three years.

Do you agree? Disagree? What did you think of the film? What did you notice?