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December 24, 2005

Christmas Contradictions

One of the factors that contributed to the centuries-long period of questioning of religion (which may, or may not, be ending now) was the advent of critical study of the Bible.

Isaac Le Peyrere in France in the seventeenth century wondered, for example, where Lilith and Cain's wife came from if Adam was the first man. He wondered how Moses, if he had indeed authored the first five books of the Bible, could have written about his own death.

And many have noted apparent contradictions in the various accounts of Jesus' life. Indeed, it was concern about such contradictions that seems to have started quite a few atheists -- among them Charles Bradlaugh, who will be a major character in my book -- on the road to disbelief.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at December 24, 2005 10:40 PM


One of the things that put me over the edge in to disbelief in Christianity (I had already been leaning that way for quite some time) was a lecture we had in SLE at Stanford about the gospels. The professor (I can't remember his name) showed how thoroughly human they are and in particular showed how the huge differences between the first and earliest gospel (Matthew - about 60 A.D) and the last gospel (John 90-100 A.D.) was based on the need of the young Christian sect to first (during the time Matthew was written) convince the Romans that they were simply a branch of Judaism and not some strange cult, and then, after the sacking of the Jewish Temple (the time when John was written), to convince the Romans that they were completely seperate from Judaism. Thus while Matthew is full of Jesus talking about how he has come to fullfill the law of the old testament and preaching the beautiful, thoroughly worldly sermon on the mount, John is filled with how Jesus is the son of god and is quite anti-semetic.

This is a view of the gospels I have since had completely reinforced by Elaine Pagels "Gnostic Gospels" which again shows how the gospels are completely social, political, and cultural narratives.

Posted by: Noah at December 25, 2005 6:54 PM

The problem I have with studying the bible and its many contradictions and as a result becoming an atheist (or, starting on the road to atheism) is that a belief in a god is not a prerequisite for such study in the first place.

That one does not believe in the god of the bible either the old or new testament version does not make one an atheist.

That one does not believe in any god makes one an atheist.

The fact is there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of stories of "god". Who but the christians say that the bible (King James) is the true story?

Posted by: Martin at December 27, 2005 4:30 PM

Yes. But my point is that this critical examination of the Bible was historically important in Western Europe beginning in the 17th century. It helped begin a period of religious questioning -- cautious at first, then open -- of great significance for the history of atheism and, probably, also for the history of science and philosophy.

Posted by: mitch at December 27, 2005 4:46 PM

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