Ron West (celebrating the Anti-Christ at http://www.jameslafond.com/article.php?id=6126) was a very insightful article about Jesus as a “invention of the self-serving evangelicals” (the Church) beginning with St. Paul. The article draws upon the research of “The Jesus Seminar” which essentially sees the historical Jesus, a humble and enlightened figure now buried in church ideology, as far different from the fanatical St. Paul, the original showman and businessman.
Ron rightly points out that many Christian rituals, such as “communion,” which orthodox Christ believes involves literally eating the body and blood of The Christ, are merely ritualized cannibalism that the historical Jesus would have rejected. He locates this “collective madness of Western civilization” in Greek paganism, but its origin is in the Hebrew traditions documented in the Old Testament (story of Abraham and his son for example: Genesis 22: 2-8; Hebrews 9:22: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”).
But as pointed out by another great commentator at this site, the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), even if Jesus was a great spiritual teacher, the canonical books of the New Testament do have Jesus telling people that he was the Messiah that the Jews anticipated, the Son of God. There is nothing, Jeremy points out, that Jesus taught that the great Greek and Roman (and certainly Asian) philosophers did not. So, the supernatural Jesus is absurd, but the secular philosopher Jesus would be redundant and unemployed. Yet the great utilitarian philosopher, while accepting that Christianity is full of contradictions and is “all bullshit” accepts this because “the universal mind of God transcends mere human understanding.”
As Jeremy has been to collage, as he says, let’s talk for the moment as collage educated guys (I am ashamed of universities, so I don’t usually drop my mask). If one has studied philosophy of religion I think a neutral minded person would conclude that the arguments for God’s existence (design, ontological, cosmological – don’t worry about what these mean) and those against (problem of evil, scientific redundancy, problem of omnipotence/logical coherence), all fail. The literature is highly technical (modal logic etc: http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/theistic-proofs/the-ontological-argument/the-modal-ontological-argument/), but the result is the same as with all debates in technical philosophy: a statemate. We just don’t know. Not only has humanity failed to make sense of the cosmos in a super-ultimate way, but even the existence of human consciousness remains a mystery: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_mysterianism. And that is ignoring left-of-field stuff like parapsychology. Trust me, I have spent a lifetime reading this stuff.
Thus, for all we know, there could well be a God who is personal, all-powerful and all-knowing. Or there could be more than one. This God could be “good,” or a mixture of “good” and “evil” or could transcend such categories. Humans are simply too limited in cognitive ability to be able to solve such problems. And it may well be that these problems are insoluble in principle because of an underdetermination of rational and empirical evidence: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-underdetermination/. Thus, on the basis of what we know, there is no good reason to suppose that if there is a God, that God is just like the Judeo-Christian one. There are an infinite number of alternative hypothesis capable of explaining the universe – assuming that the materialist one which has the quarks popping into existence from “nothing” by quantum mechanical black magic – fails.
Christianity has been subjected to a withering critique since the time of the Enlightenment, although the historicity of the Scriptures and the idea that an allegorical interpretation of them would be needed in cases was made by early Christians such as Origen (?185 – 254 AD). Origen said: “The Scriptures contain many things which never came to pass, interwoven with the history, and he must be dull indeed who does not of his own accord observe that much which the Scriptures represent as having happened never actually happened.” (D. F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, (SCM Press, London, 1973.) Many aspects of Christian historically were also challenged by Jewish scholars.
Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768) and David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) wrote critiques of Christianity, concluding that the Scriptures were not historical documents, but mythopoeic constructs. Their work influenced the “Higher Criticism,” a German School devoted to hermeneutical analysis of texts, which also concurred with the conclusions of Reimarus and Strauss.
This skepticism fed into 19th and 20th century liberal theological deconstructions of Christianity, essentially resulting in a deep skepticism about alleged knowledge claims about a historical Jesus. The classic theological text on this by A. Schweitzer, Quest for the Historical Jesus (Adam and Charles Black, London, 1956). In a nutshell, the conclusions reacted by this tradition in theology are as follows:
“Biblical codes reflect older Mesopotamian regulations. Biblical psalms and Wisdom literature exhibit links with Egyptian writings. Biblical cosmological concepts parallel beliefs held by Israel’s neighbors. The recovery of religious literature belonging to Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians have demonstrated that some biblical concepts may have been borrowed from other cults, and that festivals sacred to Jews and Christians have roots that reach back into pagan religious celebrations. In other words, the Bible, rather than proving to be a product of divine revelation, is clearly a human product of divine revelation, is clearly a human product, limited in what it contains by its setting in time (first millennium before the common era, and the first two centuries of the common era) and space (the ancient near eastern world)”: R. J. Hoffman and G. A. Larue (eds.), Jesus in History and Myth, (Prometheus Books, New York, 1986), p. 8.
If the Jewish and Christian and Islamic religions originate in Egyptian theological concepts, then these Abrahamic faiths are man, not divine constructions. For a summary see: T. Harpur, The Pagan Christ (Allen and Unwin, 2004); K. Graves, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviours: Christianity before Christ, (Kessinger Publishing, Kila, 1999); T. Freke and P. Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? (Random House, New York, 1999); T. W. Doana, Bible Myths and their Parallels in Other Religions, (Kessinger Publishing, Kila, 1997).
As summarized by I. Finkelstein and N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, (Free Press, New York, 2001), in the last few decades archaeological research has established that most significant historical claims in the Old Testament (but not all), about the ancient Israelites are false. Thus, the Old Testament is a “false testament,” as an article by Daniel Lazare (“False Testament: Archaeology Refutes the Bible’s Claim to History,” Harper’s Magazine, March 2002, at http://harpers.org/archive/2002/03/false-testament/) puts it.
Lazare says that “the Israelites are now thought to have been an “indigenous culture that developed west of the Jorden River around 1200 B.C. Abraham, Isaac and the other patriarchs appear to have been spliced together out of various pieces of local lore. The Davidic Empire, which archaeologists once thought as incontrovertible as the Roman, is now seen as an invention of Jerusalem-based priests in the seventh and eighth centuries B.C. who were eager to burnish their nation and history. The religion we call Judaism does not reach well back into the second millennium B.C. but appears to be, at most, a product of the mid-first.” Jewish monotheism “the sole and exclusive worship of an ancient Semitic god known as Yahweh, did not fully coalesce until the period between the Assyrian conquest of the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and the Babylonian conquest of the southern kingdom of Judah in 586.”
Finkelstein and Silberman believe that the archaeological surveys of Israel indicate that the “process [was] the opposite of what we have in the Bible: the emergence of early Israel was the outcome of the collapse of the Canaanite culture, not its cause… most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan – they emerged from within it.” (p. 118) In summary, evidence is lacking for the Exodus story, the United Monarchy of David and Solomon, the conquest of Canaan and of the existence of the patriarchs. The Solomonic gates, allegedly being the remains of a great fort according to 1 Kings 9:15, are now seen as belonging to the 10th century BCE rather than Solomon’s time, if he existed. Harpur (p. 119) says that no gold has been found or other traces indicating a great Jewish kingdom: “the country of a people so rich that King David in his poverty, could collect millions of pounds to build a temple is found to have been without art, sculptures, mosaics, bronzes, pottery or precious stones.”
Thus, there was no sojourn in Egypt, no wandering of 603,550 Hebrews in the inhospitable desert, no military conquests. The Hebrews “were a native people who never left in the first place,” Lazare says, and Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog (“Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho,” http://mideastfacts.org/facts/?option=com_content&task=viewvid=32&Itemid=34), agrees. And he points out that the God of Israel, Jehovah at first had a female consort and monotheism was not adopted at Mount Sinai, but only in the declining period of the monarchy.
On the topic of Jehovah and his consort; Herzog asks: “How many gods, exactly, did Israel have? Together with the historical and political aspects, there are also doubts as to the credibility of the information about belief and worship. The question about the date at which monotheism was adopted by the kingdoms of Israel and Judea arose with the discovery of inscriptions in ancient Hebrew that mention a pair of gods: Jehovah and his Asherah. At two sites, Kuntiliet Ajrud in the south-western part of the Negev hill region, and at Khirbet el-Kom in the Judea piedmont, Hebrew inscriptions have been found that mention “Jehovah and his Asherah,” “Jehovah Shomron and his Asherah, “Jehovah Teman and his Asherah.” The authors were familiar with a pair of gods, Jehovah and his consort Asherah, and send blessings in the couple’s name. These inscriptions, from the 8th century BCE, raise the possibility that monotheism, as a state religion, is actually an innovation of the period of the Kingdom of Judea, following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel.”
Herzog has also refuted the claims made by Eilat Mazar that King David’s palace has been found in his “Has King David’s Palace in Jerusalem Been Found?” Tel Aviv Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of TAU, vol. 34, no. 2, 2007.
There has been general a response to the material by evangelicals and apologists e.g. D. Bryant, “Armchair Archaeology and the New Atheism” (https://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=968). Bryant does score points against the misuse archaeology by “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins. But he also says that Finkelstein’s work has drawn criticism, including from scholars doubting the Bible’s veracity. It is true that there are criticisms about methodological problems in dating. One critic, William Dever, cited by Bryant says that the book is not “well-balanced” (“Excavating the Hebrew Bible or Burying It Again?” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, vol. 322, 2001, pp. 67-77, at p. 74). Dever though, is author of Did God Have a Wife? (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2005), which is also undermining of traditional Judeo-Christianity and Dever is not even a theist.
Contrary to Bryant, Finkelstein’s position of general Biblical skepticism is not a minority position. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a Torah with commentary in 2002 called Etz Hayim (Tree of Life) which incorporated the findings at the time, not only from archaeology, but anthropology, philosophy and the study of ancient cultures. As summarized by Michael Massing, “As Rabbis Fact Facts, Bible Tales are Wilting,” New York Times, March 9, 2002, in the 41 essays by leading rabbis and scholars, many of the same skeptical theses are advanced.
Thus, Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, doubts that the Genesis story originated in Palestine, but more likely came from Mesopotamia. The Noah story was likely lifted from Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian epic.
Professor Lee Levine, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has found no reference in Egyptian sources to the Israelites alleged sojourn in Egypt, and evidence often used by apologists, such as use of Egyptian names is inadequate to confirm the historicity of the story. As well excavations have shown that there were no walls of Jericho, that the city was not only unwalled but uninhabited, contradicting the Book of Joshua.
The Massing article says that conservative rabbis generally accept that the Bible is “not literally true,” with stories such as Exodus involving “contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence”. Archaeological digs in the Sinai have “found no trace of the tribes of Israel – not one shard of pottery.”
Some fundamentalist such as creationists Christians dispute this, arguing that archaeology assumes that the world is billions of years old, rather than only 6,000 years, so if there is a conflict between chronologies and the Bible, the Bible must be wrong: https://answersingenesis.org/archaeology/conservative-jews-reject-torah-allegedly-in-light-of-archaeology. Nevertheless, even though absence of evidence does not logically imply evidence of absence, (e.g. the Devil could be deceiving researchers etc. etc.), the point here is that one is attempting to defend Judeo-Christianity to a neutral mind, not beg the question and assume that it is true. Therefore, lack of evidence is a good rational scientific reason for not believing in Judeo-Christianity.
The archaeological critique needs to be meshed with the theological critique described earlier. Together it shows that Christianity is false, for Jesus saw himself as fulfilling prophecies of the Old Testament, and this is a false testament. Along with this, there are the independent arguments that have been made about the mythical nature of the Scriptures: Rene Girard, “Are the Gospels Mythical?” Quadrant, 43 December, 1999.