Thursday, March 29, 2007

Palm Sunday speaking appearance

If anyone in the area is interested in coming, I will be teaching a brief class on the significance of Palm Sunday this coming Sunday morning (April 1, 2007, which is of course Palm Sunday, making the topic so timely!) at Grove Presbyterian Church at 50 East Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, Maryland. The class begins at 9:15 am and runs for one hour. The worship service begins at 10:30 (at which I will be the liturgist in the pulpit with Pastor Dave). Communion will be served. Everyone is invited!

MP3s are here!

Just a little announcement to let everyone know that we now have MP3s available on the Ten Minas site. So far we have 3 podcasts available. One is an interview with Mary Kay Coughlan (my wife), the volunteer event chair for the Relay For Life of Havre de Grace, Maryland, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

We have also begun a series of podcasts on the "Argument for Christianity". So far the first 2 lessons are posted, and we hope to add about one new lesson each week. Soon we will also have some podcasts on Biblical studies and discipleship which may appeal more to believers looking for a resource to spend time learning about God's word.

We are thrilled to be able to provide this new resource. God bless.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An update for anyone curious...

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting here as much recently. Well, there is a good reason for that. First, those of you who read an earlier post on the subject may recall that I have recently been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis. Basically, this means that the bottom bone in my spine is starting to slip off my tailbone. In order to stabilize the area, the muscles surrounding the bones spasm. This is quite painful. Well, I've been going to physical therapy three times a week (as well as a few appointments for x-rays, an MRI and with my neurosurgeon), so when combined with my work commitments, my church responsibilities, and my insistence on never shirking on the time I spend with my family, internet blogging has unfortunately fallen by the wayside.

I've also been spending some of my time working on what will be the latest Ten Minas project, MP3s that are downloadable from the site. The first few podcasts wil be on the "Argument for Christianity", but we will span out from there, and hopefully cover some discipleship issues as well. Stay tuned for more information on this front.

Finally, those of you who have been following the blog long enough may also recall that we are expecting a new addition on about May 22. My wife is pregnant, and we are reaching the home stretch before our new son joins us. Unfortunately though, due to my back condition, this has complicated things a bit. There has been a lot of furniture moving, etc., to be done in order to get the new nursery ready (among other projects) and I am not allowed to do any of it. I can no longer do any heavy lifting, and I am not allowed to bend over at the waist even if all I am picking up is a sock. God has blessed us with devoted family and friends, though, and for the past three weekends we have had people visiting us and helping out. This, of course, means that I've been doing a lot of entertaining, and not a lot of posting here.

To make an already long story perhaps a little bit shorter, things are hectic right now, and probably are not going to let up any time soon since I will have an infant to care for. I will still do my best to post new thoughts here as time permits and to respond to any of your comments within a reasonable period of time. But if it takes me longer than you are used to, please accept my apologies in advance.

Thank you all for checking in.


Dagoods and 1 Peter 3:15

I just want to put up a quick post to compliment one of the people who has commented relatively frequently on this blog. His screen name is dagoods and he is an atheist. No, I'm not trying to get anything out of him, and there are no ulterior motives to this compliment. Well, maybe just one. I want to use his behavior to make a point that is central to Ten Minas Ministries.

You may have noticed that one of the mottos of this ministry is from 1 Peter 3:15, and it involves giving an answer for the Christian faith "with gentleness and respect." For any of you who are "old pros" at the internet blog/debate scene, you surely know that these terms are often foreign to many a debate. Far too often people become disagreeable simply because they disagree. This is not limited to the theism vs. atheism debate. Go onto any debate blog and you will certainly see an uglier side to people. It seems that when we can hide behind our keyboards and our screen names, our inhibitions drop and we let our inner Lex Luthor shine through.

Dagoods and I have engaged in debates before, both on this blog and on others, and he has always been polite and respectful. But what inspired me to write this little entry was a recent exchange we had on the nature of Hell. In the course of that discussion we got into some topics that very easily could have caused offense. Topics were broached on both sides that could have sent the other party into a frenzy of insults, personal attacks, and to quote a line from "Star Trek IV", "colorful metaphors." But he didn't go there. Don't get me wrong. He did not compromise his position, and he said what he felt he had to say (as, I hope, did I). But he did so without taking personal offense at what I said and without trying to cause personal offense to me.

Dagoods is an atheist (although he does have a Christian background and is probably familiar with 1 Peter 3:15). All too often, though, I see Christians on other blogs becoming insulting and hostile in their comments. This is not what we as Christians are called to do. Defend your faith. Do it passionately. But do it gently and respectfully. Remember that the person you are talking to is one of God's creations as well. He or she is made in God's image just like you. So treat him or her with the respect they deserve. This is one time when many of the internet theists could learn a thing or two from one intelligent, passionate, and yet respectful atheist.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More on the Jesus Tomb...

So I have officially seen the docu-drama myself now (I saw it when it originally aired on Sunday night, but this is the first opportunity I've gotten to write about it). I also feel like I've been "tested by fire". I spent my lunch hour on Monday with a bunch of co-workers, including some very devout Jews who, needless to say, do not accept Jesus as Messiah, one of which was absolutely convinced that this was indeed Jesus' tomb. These people are my friends, but we definitely had an interesting dialogue about how much could really be concluded from this so-called evidence.

If you did see the show, I hope you also watched the Ted Koppel interview afterwards. I'm not sure if they are reshowing this part along with the main docu-drama every time the show it or not. I hope so. If you have the opportunity to watch the Ted Koppel portion, I encourage you to do so, because he illustrates a number of problems. Now moving on to my comments:

A lot of what needs to be said about this documentary I already said in my original post. But upon watching it, there were a few more things I wanted to point out. First, for anyone who watched it, quick, off the top of your head tell me even one piece of evidence they gave that this was actually a family tomb...

You may have guessed it already, but they did not provide ANY evidence that this was a family tomb. They just assumed it at the get go. But it's like a stack of cards. The fact that it is a family tomb is the card supporting the entire rest of the structure. For example, what is the significance of having two people in a tomb whose DNA does NOT match if it is not a family tomb? The producers of this show conclude that they must have been married. But if it wasn't a family tomb to begin with, how can you conclude that they were married if there's no reason to believe they were related to begin with? In other words, they start out by ASSUMING its a family tomb without evidence, then later on conclude, "Well, since we KNOW its a family tomb, these people without matching DNA must have been married." All of their conclusions are dependent upon their starting premise, but they have no evidence for that starting premise. Remove it, and the entire stack of cards falls.

Also, I did not realize when I wrote my last post just how weak the DNA evidence was. All the showed was that these two people did not have the same MOTHER. They could have had the same father. They could have been cousins. They could have been mother/son or father/daughter. In short, they proved virtually nothing.

My wife brought up another good point while we were watching the show. Jesus had a brother named Joseph. Let's assume for the sake of argument that this was Jesus' family tomb. How do we know the "Joseph" in "Jesus, son of Joseph" was Jesus' father and not His brother? Its not exactly beyond the realm of possibility that Joseph would name his son after his brother. And speaking of Jesus' father, where was he? This was a patriarchal society. The producers claimed that Joseph died in Nazareth and was buried there. But if that is true (which, by the way I believe it probably is), it is absolutely inconceivable in this type of society that the rest of the family would have left their father's bones all the way up in Nazareth and completely abandoned him, choosing to buy a family tomb a great distance away and all be buried without him.

Anyone who has read much of my writings also has probably caught in that I like to point out contradictions in someone's argument, and this show was no exception. Did you notice what they first said when discussing the "ornamentation" on the outside of the tomb (i.e., the chevron and the circle)? They said that this is rare, and the fact that they decorated the outside of the tomb tends to suggest that they felt it was someone important inside. Now what about their discussion of Caiaphas' ossuary? Do you remember what it looked like? It was HIGHLY ornamented. This, of course, was because he was the High Priest and was considered to be someone important. How did this compare to the Jesus ossuary? The Jesus ossuary was not decorated at all. In fact, they described the writing on it as "graffiti". It was sloppy! Is this consistent with someone who was held in such high regard? So we are supposed to believe that they decorated the outside of the tomb because he was so imporant, but couldn't even put forth the effort to write cleanly when inscribing his name. Is ornamentation an indicator of social importance or not? You can't have it both ways.

Something that was touched on in the Ted Koppel interview was the so-called "missing ossuary." The producers of the show want you to believe it was the ossuary marked "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." So let's assume for the moment that it was. At the beginning of the show they said that there were 10 ossuaries in the tomb. 6 had inscriptions, 4 did not. Let's count up the names they found on them: (1) Jesus, (2) Marianme (the one they claim to be Mary Magdalene), (3) Mary (supposedly Jesus' mother), (4) Matthew, (5) Jose, and (6) Judah. Wait a minute! That's all six! That means that the other four were unmarked, and whichever one went missing had to be one of those four. In fact, the archaeologist who removed them from the tomb confirmed that the one that subsequently went missing bore no inscription. So even if this "James" ossuary was the missing one, that means that at the time it was in the tomb it had no inscription. In other words, the inscription is a forgery. What a surprise, that's exactly one of the allegations that had been made about it long before this Discovery Channel show ever came out.

My last point deals with Marianme. They claim this is Mary Magdalene because it is supposedly a rare form of the name "Mary", and this is how Mary Magdalene is referred to in the Gospel of Philip. Of course, in the Ted Koppel portion, one of the theologians pointed out that the Gospel of Philip was from the FOURTH CENTURY, hundreds of years after Mary Magdalene was alive. In response, the consultant on the show (whose name I unfortunately cannot remember) said that the earliest transcript he was aware of that used this name for Mary Magdalene was from the second century. Simcha Jacobovici, the investigative journalist behind this whole thing, commented that his father's name didn't change 100 years after he died, so he assumes that if that's how Mary Magdalene was referred to 100 years later, then that was her name 100 years earlier. So what is the problem with this? How do we know about Mary Magdalene in the first place? Because she is mentioned in the canonical Gospels, all of which are FIRST Century documents. It doesn't take a Greek scholar to figure out that if the first reference to Mary Magdalene as "Marianme" is in the second century, that means that she was NOT referred to this way in the first century canonical gospels! So the earliest reference to her do NOT use this name for her!

I could go on and on with the enormous number of problems with this show, but then this would turn into a book rather than a post on the blog. I think enough has been said, and frankly there are so many other people blasting gaping holes in this theory, I think the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. It was an entertaining piece of fiction, but it was fiction nonetheless.

God bless.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

James Cameron's "Jesus Tomb"

Everybody else is talking about it, so I might as well be. For those of you who haven't heard, James Cameron has a new special coming out on the Discovery Channel in which he claims to have found the tomb of Jesus Christ. Why is this significant? Well, he also claims to have found Jesus' bones inside. It doesn't take a brilliant theologian to realize that if Jesus rose in bodily form, and ascended into Heaven in that same form, He shouldn't have left His bones behind here on Earth.

As of the time I am writing this, the show hasn't aired yet (I believe it airs sometime next week), but there have been some advanced screenings for the privileged few (of which I am not one, but I've read some comments from people who were). Here's basically what they found.

In first century Palestine, it was a common practice to lay a body in a tomb for a year, let it decompose, then go back in, get the bones and put them in a "bone box" (or more properly called an "ossuary"). In 1980, a well-respected archaeologist found a tomb containing ten such ossuaries. That's right. I said 1980, 27 years ago. Despite what the advanced publicity may be leading you to believe, this is NOT a new discovery, and has been discredited long ago (as far as being the purported tomb of Jesus Christ).

There were various names on the bone boxes, including "Judas" and two "Marys". But of course the most significant find was a bone box containing the inscription "Jesus, son of Joseph." The Discovery Channel documentary takes the position that this is a family tomb, meaning a family had purchased this tomb and used it to bury all its family members. The suggestion is that one of the "Marys" is Mary Magdalene, she was Jesus' wife, and "Judas" was their son. I know. Here we go with the DaVinci Code all over again.

So where is the proof that this was a family tomb and that this Mary was married to Jesus? There is none. First, a couple things need to be said about the names. "Jesus", "Mary" and "Joseph" were extremely common names in first century Palestine. The Hebrew name "Jesus" (technically "Yeshua") can actually also be translated "Joshua". So whenever you see "Jesus" or "Joshua", it is actually the same name. Yeshua was the 6th most common name at that time. "Mary" was the most common name for females. In fact, 1 out of every 5 females was named "Mary." So finding a tomb with these names in it would be the modern day equivalent of finding a tomb with people named John or Steve. So what? It would actually probably be more surprising if we found a tomb with 10 bone boxes without those names appearing!

What about the so-called family connection? Actually, a family would have to be pretty well off to be able to afford a tomb like this all of their own. Often times people from the same area would simply share a tomb, even when they weren't related, simply to split the cost. Now the producers of the Discovery Channel show claim to have DNA evidence that Mary and Jesus were married. What is this DNA evidence? Well, it is that when they compared the DNA of the bones in the two boxes, they were not close enough to be blood relatives. That's right, they DIDN'T match. So if they weren't blood related, they must have been married, or so the argument goes. Answer me a question. How many people in the town where you live are you NOT blood related to? Now out of all those people, how many are you married to? Basically, I think the proper response to this so-called DNA evidence is, "You've got to be kidding me."

Just a few final notes then I'll sign off. I mentioned briefly that a family would have to be pretty rich to afford a tomb like this. Was Jesus Christ's family rich? Not by any stretch of the imagination. He was the son of a carpenter! It is extraordinarily unlikely that they would have been able to afford such a tomb. Also, where was the tomb? It was in Jerusalem. Was Jesus' family from Jerusalem? No! They were from Nazareth! Jesus was only in Jerusalem for the Passover! Even if His family could have afforded such a tomb it would have been near their family home, not all the way down in Jerusalem!

Finally, what are the implications if this is a family tomb? Basically, Mr. Cameron's show would be insinuating that Jesus' family and/or followers let His body decompose for a year, took the bones, put them in a bone box, placed the bone box in a tomb, THEN WENT AROUND TELLING EVERYONE THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD IN BODILY FORM, ASCENEDED INTO HEAVEN, AND THEY DIED BRUTALLY RATHER THAN TELL THE TRUTH THAT HIS BONES WERE ACTUALLY SITTING IN A BONE BOX! Does this make sense?

These are just a few of the many problems with this theory, and a few of the reasons why it has been long discredited. But shows like this are interested in ratings, and they will definitely get them. But this is not good scholarship, and if you watch the show, please try to do so with a logical mind, and don't let yourself get sucked in by the showmanship instead of what the facts actually show ... or don't show.

God bless.