This week on The Human Bible we get up to speed on how the Bible wound up split into chapters and verses. Spoiler: it definitely wasn’t written that way.
A called from Minnesota asks about the nature of Hell—does the Bible say it’s a fiery, demon-supervised pit of eternal torment, or something closer to just a big pile of garbage? We respond to apologists who suggest that the claims the Bible makes about Jesus must be true because if they weren’t, someone totally would have called them on it. We answer a listener question about the word “elohim” as it appears in the Bible—space alien, God speaking of himself in the plural, or something else? To close out the episode we have a look at reincarnation and ask, “Is That in the Bible?!”
Special thanks to Sarah (or Sam?) from Minnesota, and Jean-Michel for the questions answered in today’s episode.
The Bible, love it or hate it, is a book filled with puzzles and mysteries. It will be a hard task to one Ravell as many of them as possible. We want to understand the Bible is a human book, not a book inspired by a God. I’m Robert M. Price, and this is the one.
I am your host, Robert M. Pryor, saying this is the human Bible, the human Bible is a radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing science reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values in public affairs and at the grass roots. And now, once again, let’s start this show by getting up to speed up to speed.
Maybe the most fundamental thing that people notice about the Bible and yet so taken for granted, maybe they don’t notice it anymore is the fact that it’s divided into chapters and verses. Now, this is one of those things you do need to take a look at, because I guess you could read it without the divisions and some Bible editions are published that way. But you do sort of need them for finding stuff. Right. And it’s it’s worth noting that the Bible was not written in chapter and verse divisions. In fact, both the Hebrew, the language of almost all the Old Testament, a little bit of it is written in the sister language of Aramaic and then New Testament and Greek in these texts. Both of them, the texts had no paragraph divisions, not any punctuation. And in Hebrew there weren’t even any vowels. That remains true in other Semitic languages. They eventually they introduced vowel points, hence punctuation. But originally scribes just had to know. I guess it took a little bit of a little bit like doing a jumble puzzle. But, you know, you could figured out pretty easily knowing the language and you’d heard it before. You’d read it before. So you sort of knew what to expect. But eventually the vowel points were added in there to make things easier.
But they didn’t have. They didn’t have the luxury. I mean, there weren’t even spaces between words the in the ancient Hebrew texts. But that kind of underlines, I guess, the importance of the scribes, because, you know, of course, given ancient writing materials and publishing, if you want to call it that, nobody had private copies of the scriptures, virtually nobody. They were all owned by synagogues and the like. And the scribes, the experts in the Torah were the only ones who had it available for reading. Right. And they knew it pretty well because they were always make a new copies of it and had to be very careful. Even so, they made some mistakes. And textual criticism is devoted to weeding those out.
And there’s been a lot of good success in that. You know, I wish I knew more about the field of textual criticism. I do understand the principles behind it. But I’m no means us. By no means schooled in it, like the late great Bruce Metzker or my teacher Gordon Phee or Bard. Erm and they’re all skilled textual critics. But if I knew enough about it, I think I’d be writing a book called When I Get That Feeling. I want textual healing, but you know, again, I have to sell the title of somebody that does know what they’re talking about anyway.
So when the heck did they divided into chapters and verse as well? There had been paragraph divisions in the Hebrew texts as far back as we can tell. And I guess the oldest Hebrew texts we have are among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which would be somewhere in the first century BCE These paragraphs aren’t broken up like they are in a printed page. It’s just that there were little two letter notations telling you where to start a new paragraph for the sake of public reading, I guess. And these are called para showed. Then the the sum of the books were were divided into large sections that are sort of reminiscent of our chapters. But not not really. I mean, it’s the same idea. And this was for liturgical reading. So you could read the whole of the scriptures through in the synagogue in a year. We still have, you know, read the Bible in a year. Things, though, they’re not done so much in public worship. So they they had some kind of divisions for a long, long time. And we don’t know when that started. Same sort of a thing early on in the New Testament, at least by the fourth century. The New Testament books are divided into Kef Aliah, which pretty much means headings. So those were sections. And I guess that was helpful for liturgical reading and reference. But you really need to add chapters and verses. And it took people a long time to realize that in the 13th century, Archbishop Stephen Langdon framed our chapter divisions. That is, he’s the one who decided what the divisions would be, though I don’t believe he yet called them chapters. But once they decided to call them chapters, they use his divisions, malware did versus come in. And of course, he’s doing that with the VA, the whole Christian Bible, that is including the Old and New Testaments. But how about verses? Well, Rabbi Isaac Nathan, Ben Kollin Amos in 14 40 established verse divisions for the Old Testament based on traditional stop marks, usually at the end of whole sentences. And again, this was a liturgical play that always be public reading of the scriptures. And so these were little cues, too. If you’ve ever publicly read scripture, you know, you get a little nervous. And I always thought it was amusing that one of the big wigs in the Baptist Church I used to pastor was a speech in elocution teacher at a local college.
This guy, whenever he got up in the pulpit to read this stuff, would always fumble over it.
I don’t know how that turned out, but at any rate, they tried to minimize that and let these divisions. So the the verses were based on that that the rabbi came up with again in fourteen forty. That’s pretty late in the game with the Bible. But of course that’s only the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament was divided into verses by Robert S t n.
S t i e n any.
This was in fifteen fifty one.
And first was done with a Greek New Testament and then in French and then of course, English translations adopted it.
And the first hold Bible hold Christian Bible that used both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible in fifteen sixty. What do I mean. It’s the first to use both. Well there weren’t any Bibles that had only verses or with chapters.
Yeah, I’m sorry. There’s none that had verses, but no chapters that wouldn’t make any sense. But there had been previous Bible editions that were only in chapters and then verses were added. And boy, does that handy because I always think of a passage in the epistle to the Hebrews where the writer, whoever it was, says it says somewhere. And then he quotes the Greek Septuagint of the Greek translation of the Old Testament with perfect accuracy.
He didn’t really know where it was. He couldn’t tell you where to look. I mean, if he had been looking at the spot housing, I’d tell you where to find it. You probably wouldn’t have had a copy to look at anyway.
Well, of course, if you do any kind of referring to the Bible, you just gotta have chapters and verses to to look stuff up. I mean, good luck just hunting, right?
I tell you, this brings to mind one of the stupidest gaffes in a script I have ever heard.
I really loved the movie Constantine with Keanu Reave. Got a huge kick out of that.
But I credit one thing I really love was this crazy idea that there was a different version of the Bible, but he didn’t l and that it has extra chapters yet chapters and verses.
But whoever wrote the script didn’t understand biblical notation. And so he has acts. He thought that chapter and verse divisions were act and scene divisions like in a Shakespeare play. So there’s old cons, the deam supposedly this expert in religion and the occult, talking about the sixteenth act in First Corinthians.
Oh, my God.
There’s no supervision in these things. Well, anyway, let me tell you another reason real quickly why I think it’s important to know this. I find myself in teaching, making weird sounding references like there are two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis. The one starts with Genesis, chapter one, verse one, and goes through chapter two, verse three B.. What the heck? Well, the B, of course, that’s a handy way of dividing up a longer verse into sections. So you can really be very precise in referring that’s never printed in Bibles, but it’s pretty obvious to figure out what it was. But I always think students are saying, wait a second, you’re telling me there’s this this story that that that that spills over into a second chapter, into the middle of a sentence? Well, that’s absurd. You’d never see them. Modern chapters of a book that way. Well, yeah, it’s because somebody was less than discerning in assigning the chapters versus the author didn’t write it that way. So it is mighty handy for referring. But you do have to keep that in mind. Sometimes the divisions wind up arbitrary. But usually they’re pretty good.
So I think that’s an important thing to get up to speed on. Now I’d like to deal with a question from the Human Bible Hotline.
The Human Bible Hotline. Hi, this is Sarah calling from Minnesota. My question for the human Bible is, what’s your take on Rob Bell’s love? When did Jesus actually speak of a place of eternal suffering and torment? Or was he taking up the burning pile of garbage pile up to help? Interested to hear your thoughts.
What about this book? Let me be honest, not tell you. I’ve read a book that I haven’t I’ve heard of this book, but I tend not to read popular religious books. I kind of come to the point where I don’t really care what people are saying about religion popularly. I tend to read these more tedious scholarly works. I mean, you know, being a tedious, pedantic windbag myself, that’s where I get my ammo. But of course, it’s obvious enough that Rob Fell is arguing for universal salvation, universalism. And the issue here is, did Jesus actually speak of a place of eternal torment? And does this have anything to do with this garbage dump in the valley of the sons of Hannum outside of Jerusalem? That’s fascinating. Both questions are fascinating. You’ve got to get your terminology straight on this. There are a couple of well is more than two. But for our purposes are two words used in the New Testament for the nether world of the damned, shall we say. The word hell is not one of them. It gets used in English, but that’s an old English word. That means covered place or cover. They used to speak about hauling potatoes, taking the covers off, peeling them. Right. And it’s used for the nether world because it’s a way of saying that the world. Right. It’s the world underneath the crust of the earth. And that’s that’s not really. And that’s kind of like the Old Testament nether world of shale where the ghosts of the dead went. But that’s not really an idea in the New Testament.
Things have happened between the old and the New Testament and the Gospels speak of Hades. And of course, you know, if you know any Greek mythology, you know, it comes right out of that. Right. Hades was one of Zusi. His brothers and his realm under the Earth was named Forum. And this is where the the the damned were punished. And eventually they also had a compartment called the Elysium Fields, where you had this great eternal retirement home. But the bad guys went to to Hades proper. And it was a subterranean place of the dead. And there were torments there. They specified what what happened. You know, old Sisyphus. He had to roll of huge boulder up a hill again and again, and it wasn’t easy. And as soon as he added up there, it would roll right back down and he’d have to hobble down the darn hill and shoulder that burden again and forever.
Or there was Tantalus. Guess what word we get from his name. This guy was suspended in a lake, I guess tied to the bottom with just his chin up emerging from the surface of the lake. And there were heavily laden, luscious fruit trees above him. But every time the poor guy would would bend his neck down to lap up some of the water. You know, at the level would sink a few inches and he could never get it. It’s right there, seemingly within his grasp. But to add and above him, you don’t get a little hungry, like taking credit, Bob, for an apple on the low hanging tree there. But every time he tried to do the the branches would move him up out of his way. I think of the Wizard of Oz. Are you saying my apples aren’t. They ought to be.
Well, poor guy forever, right? He’s doomed to that. Then excision on was sort of crucified on a wheel and zoback. What a mess.
That was the place of torment. The the gospels do use that. For instance, there’s two two places in Matthew 11. Twenty three.
We have this denunciation of Koran’s and Bethsaida and Capernaum because they didn’t heed Christian preaching and their number was up. It’s apparently a kind of prophecy after the fact about how these towns got destroyed in the war against Rome about 40 years later. And of course, some sad Jesus didn’t actually say that. But, you know, later on they gave a picture. Jesus is predicting the doom of these in different cities.
And he takes a leaf from Isaiah. Isaiah is as a 14.
This thing about the fall of the king of Babylon, where it says you said in your heart, I will become like the most high. I will dwell on the mountain of the gods and so on. But in fact, you’ve been cast down the shoulder of another world and so on and so on. Not even a decent burial. Well, Jesus is depicted saying, you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? Oh no. You shall be cast down to Hades. Is he actually talking about individuals who didn’t repent. They’re being put on the wheel or suspended in the lake or something. Willy might be that, that would make sense. But you get the impression, at least the suspicion that he’s just talking about the destruction of the cities. That seems to be more the point, not really getting into the question of what would happen to the individuals.
They just died. No, I mean, ignominiously that’s what Isaiah 14 was about, that the king of Babylon, who was so high and mighty, was going to get overthrown and just killed like a stuck pig by the the Persian invaders. So we I think it’s a little much to press that into service and in terms of a picture of postmortem suffering. But you do find that in Luke sixteen twenty three, which appears to be borrowed from old Egyptian and Jewish stories of people in the afterlife. This is, of course, the famous one that you have, the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus, and they both happen to kick the bucket on the same day. And, oh, Lazarus is up there being welcomed in Abraham’s embrace while the unnamed rich man is is sweating off a few pounds and the fiery torments of Hades. That’s interesting. So they’re a dead end and the guy even yells out to Father Abraham. Would you send Lazarus back temporarily to warn my no good brothers that if they don’t repent, they’re going to end up here, too? And the Abraham. Says you’re kidding yourself. Even that wouldn’t. Make any difference if they already know what to do when they’re not doing it? Well, the fact that he figures as brothers are going to come down there, too. Yeah. In general, the wicked are going to wind up there. And that certainly envisions a place of torment. Now, if it matters, if there was a historical Jesus, did he say this? Well, seems to me no, that it’s based on a rabbinic parable and it’s only in Luke. It’s a long ish story. Like Luke’s other parables. I don’t think it goes back to a historical Jesus, even if there was one. You have the same sort of a thing in Matthew where there are repeated references to what will happen to the wicked. They will be cast into the outer darkness or the fiery furnace or the place of the hypocrites. And there there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, sort of like the Book of Revelation says that gnawing on their tongues in pain and so on.
Now, where did Matthew get this? Because he’s about the only one that that hasn’t. Well, Luke had that phrase, but in a different context. He pictures that in the millennium when the kingdom of God comes, that the scribes will be might be surprised to find that a bunch of unwashed pagans wind up coming to share the great feast of God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from ancient Israel.
And they themselves, the scribes, the guys you’d think would have the you know, the first place in line, they’re cast out completely. He says when you see that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. He didn’t say what’s going to happen to them after they’re turned away. It’s just an expression about their shocked and chagrined. Why I’m not on the list. Now what, Matthew?
This is of the Q Source, if you remember that from a few shows ago, the material, the sayings, et cetera, that Matthew and Luke both used.
Well, it was in this one saying and Luke used that saying Matthew really liked it. So he starts adding that to parables that only he has or to the conclusions of other parables. So he’s got people weeping and gnashing of teeth again and again in hell in the books at the Fiery Furnace, but almost doesn’t matter whether you call. That helps. Pretty explicit. So he figured people are going to be tormented there. That isn’t just like the more merciful conception of Jehovah’s Witnesses who figure, well, of course, scripture speaks of a fiery hell. But what would’ve happened if he got thrown into the same thing if it jumped into a volcano? That’s the NDA. They figured it doesn’t imply a conscious torment. But I think for Matthew, it did. We’ll be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yikes. OK. The other big word that occurs in the Gospels is Greek transliteration of the Hebrew and comes up Gahanna, the valley of the Sons of Hannum. What that means. Now, the thing you mention here about the idea that it might just have been a garbage dump. That is where you were at, where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched, which is a quote from the last chapter of Isaiah. That would make sense if you’re talking about a garbage dump. And the idea is that if you were some sort of apostate or notorious center and you died, you wouldn’t be given a decent burial. You couldn’t be. So what would they do with a body? Well, we might just cremate it. The the hard way by throwing it into a burning garbage dump where they would also deposit the carcasses of unclean animals and so forth.
And that this was in the valley of Hannum, right outside of Jerusalem and the base of the mountain, quote unquote, that it was built on.
And so maybe that’s all that’s what’s talking about. It’s better to have your left hand causing you to send your mind as well amputated because, look, it’s better to go into eternal life maimed than to be nicely intact and fit and tanned and toned and have your whole body thrown into the Gahanna of fire. Yikes. So does that mean conscious torment? Well, if it’s a garbage dump. No. Right. It just means that. Well, you looked good for your funeral, buddy, and now you’re just going to be devoured by maggots who never starve in a place like this. There’s always fresh grub for the grubs and the via never goes out because there’s always more organic kindling forum that would make sense. But this interpretation of Gahanna goes back no earlier than Rabbi David Kimche in the believe the 12. Injury might maybe even later than that. I think it’s the 12th century, though, and he suggested that that’s what Gahanna meant because Jews and Christians and later Muslims.
Well, not later than him believed in Gahanna.
But it turns out there’s no reference to such a notion in any earlier document in archeology indicates that there’s no real evidence of any extensive burning or incineration around the base of Mount Zion, the mountain of Jerusalem. So that’s probably not right. But here’s what we do know from a bunch of ancient sources, including biblical ones in the valley of him. I’m also called Tophet. People used to sacrifice infants, their first born sons, at least. Well, no, I think just infants generally. If you felt like you you really needed help, you would offer a big ticket item and sacrifice. Well, to whom? To the God. Moloch, whose name means king. And he was the king of the fiery nether world. Just like up at the top of the mountain, there was the temple, the gateway to God in heaven. At the base of it there was the gateway to hell, where Moloch feasted upon human sacrifices. And this goes way back there into ancient Israel. So it turns out that that Gahanna, if you look in that any possible references in the New Testament probably does denote a horrifying nether world run by a demon God. However, my guess is that is like the Jehovah’s Witness idea. You’re just gonna be consumed and that’s the NBA.
But at any rate, there would have been some kind of intent of talking about hell in the Gahanna sayings of the New Testament and the Koran. I mean, it’s very clear in the Koran. So I, I think the the garbage dump thing is probably baseless. Too bad. In fact, I put it that way. It’s implicitly in my New Testament translation. If I ever do a revision, I’m going to change that. But so why is he right? Well, it’s a complicated mess. And if you want a separate Jesus from the New Testament, it’s an abstraction. It’s tough to say what he thought. But there certainly are references to hell of torment here and there. The thing is, this is the problem with people who are essentially fundamentalists. If they like an idea, they find somewhere and it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the scripture.
They have to start using the other ones like a ventriloquist’s dummy. So I think the guy is is certainly right that any kind of God worth the name cannot be thought of as tormenting people in hell for eternity. But that doesn’t mean the New Testament writers agreed with them. Well, you know, the old line from the Eric Siegel book and movie love story that I have altered to this nifty section title. It’s time for apologetics is never having to say you’re sorry.
The one I want to deal with today is one that.
Oh, man, I run into all the time when I write about the historical Jesus and so forth. You know that a lot of critical scholars say that very little of the tributed materially attributed to Jesus in the Gospels go goes back to when the Jesus seminar said only about 18 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus are likely at all to go back to a historical Jesus. And same with the stories. Oddly enough, only about 18 percent of those seem to be accurate. They went over these things for years on end, debating this and all that. But the conservatives don’t like that.
They do. It’s not good enough form that it’s in the inspired Bible. Right. It has to be authentically Jesus. So they give all kinds of arguments for that. And they say you find this even in very scholarly conservatives like Vincent Taylor and F F Bruce, great, great scholars, but a little too conservative for me. They say now that the gospels have to be historically accurate because imagine yourself back there and the time the tradition was shaping up. All right. Before the gospels are written, maybe, but while they were circulating all that stuff, there were still plenty of people who had seen and heard Jesus who were around. And if some guy suddenly sitting around the campfire is this you know, I remember the time Jesus said a penny saved is a penny earned. This is one of the eyewitnesses. A wait just a minute, pal. I followed Jesus around. I don’t think he ever said that to you. You’re thinking of Ben Franklin. Nor you remember the time when Jesus leaped tall buildings in a single bound and bounced bullets office chest and used his x ray vision and somebody say, hold on. No, no, no.
I walked on the water. Yes. Changed water into wine. You bet. Ascended into heaven. But this stuff. No. So you could never have gotten off the ground fabricating stories and sayings, even if it was just a faulty memory. I mean, even if you are trying to deceive anybody, you it would never work. People what it’s about or hostile witnesses even. Hey, no, I saw that sorcerer.
He never did that. This is. Forgive me, but just so ridiculous.
Who would have been in a position to see and hear everything Jesus did? Think of that scene at the campfire again. When Jesus said. A penny saved is a penny earned. The guy comes in to say, Wait a minute. I happen to have heard every word Jesus said. I remember when Jesus church changed water into cola. I know I saw every thing Jesus ever did.
Is there anybody you like? I mean, we’re told even the disciples were sent out on preaching tours and that he did and said this in private and so on. Is it really, really likely that everybody would have known this or that? I mean, if if you heard that Penny say there’s a penny and oh, he said that I’m pretty good. I think I’ll remember that. That’s surely what must have happened. There could have been no control over this. Some people think the apostles chief job was to be an ancient Snopes agency. Right. You know, these guys that tracked down rumors and expose them? Was that what Peter and Andrew and Phillip and all these guys did? They just went around like ethnologists serving people. What do you think Jesus said? You’re wrong. The whole thing’s just absurd. Even if there were witnesses and when you’re talking about the writing of the gospels, look, he got the Jewish war with Rome behind you. Galilee is devastated. Were there any eyewitnesses left?
No. Not likely anyway. So this is pivotal to the defense of the historical accuracy of the gospels and alas, full of holes.
We’ve another question here. John Michelle asks in episode two, you mentioned the word L.O. Heem Rail or from the Reilley and Colt claims it’s the name of an alien race. More seriously, I’ve read it’s God talking about himself in the plural. Or is it a linguistic artifact from the time Jewish people were. Sorry, polytheists. What’s your take on it? You know, this Reilley and the thing. Let me just say, I don’t think there’s any evidence for it. But the notion that the human race was seeded by aliens like on Star Trek. Right. That’s not absurd. But is there any evidence for it? Right. That’s the historian wants to know not we’re not what is possible, but what is probable, FC Bowers said. So I don’t mean to dismiss such an idea as as lunatic. Again, any reason to believe it? That’s another question, but not absurd. Right now you’re a member of Bome. And was that the early 90s? This woman from the Reilley insect appeared at a press conference saying that the that they had just managed to clone a human being. And of course, they hadn’t. You never heard any more about it. You didn’t really need to find out any more. This was the what I call the epistemology of the haircut. I realize that that in some cases you’d just need to look at somebody whose hair this woman had, this crazy, multi colored dyed fright wig of a hairdo. And I don’t care what she say in there at the podium. I don’t care if she correctly explains Einstein’s theory of relativity. She’s gone. Right. If somebody like this makes a big claim like cloning, forget it. You don’t need to take it seriously. Just look at that hair. Anyway, sorry, I was. Oh, look. The Elohim have been a space aliens. Well, you know, to be fair, again, what the ancients described as gods.
You know, if you told them, look, you’re all wrong. Those people were just invaders from space. They had superior technology. They had deadly weapons that you can’t even imagine. They they rode in vehicles through the stars. They they they were like us, but more powerful, like, you know, Kirk and Spock. They you know, they show up on a primitive planet. People think their gods. Well, of course, the primitives and say, well, yeah, that’s what we mean by gods. Right. These people weren’t Thomas Aquinas and Saint Anselm. They weren’t Paul Telic. So in a way, there’s not much of a difference.
Right? The ancient gods were born and could die. They had to be nourished, all that kind of thing. Right. So it’s not that different than what the ancients were saying. OK, but what is the. What did the Bible writers mean by l’eau Heem? Because it is a plural ending. Right. The singular is just l e l in English. So what does it mean? It’s a favorite tactic of conservatives to say, oh, well, of course they were always monotheists. And so when when they the plural ending is used, it’s sort of an abstraction of majesty. And I think there’s some linguistic basis for that. It could possibly mean that. But there are a handful of places in the Old Testament, in Hebrew, where there are plural verbs or adjectives used so that it has to mean the gods. But the references to the Hebrew God in the context, and it makes you wonder if scribes had edited out an original reference to Gods when they were trying to accommodate the scripture to a brand new doctrine of monotheism pretty late in the day. It would be what Mark Goodacre calls editorial fatigue missed a few places. But anyway, you cut it, it’s very obvious. For instance, in the seven day creation story and the Garden of Eden story that there are gods and for instance, let us make man in our image and thus they were made male and female. It’s got to mean that there were gods and goddesses or even more so in the Garden of Eden story. Behold the they’ve eaten the fruit. Then their eyes have been opened, they’ve become like one of us. That ain’t the royal we. That’s not the editorial. We you know, of course, presidential candidates believe that they’re gods. And that’s why they’re always saying, oh, we’re considering it. How many? I only see one. But in these passages, it’s pretty clear. Originally it was God’s. So. No. Yes. Some people say, well, that’s the trinity.
Come on. There’s no way any ancient reader could have could have understood such a reference. Yeah. OK. So, so much for the the God and the gods. Now, one last segment for today is that in the Bible.
Is that in the Bible? People often ask. They don’t ask me. But, you know, I see it raised often.
Does the Bible teach reincarnation? I mean, it’s certainly in some Gnostic texts that didn’t make it into the Bible. But is it in the canonical scriptures? There is one place where it kind of sounds like it is. And it’s not the one where Jesus tells the disciples, you know, that prophecy about John, about Elijah, the prophet returning. Well, that was John the Baptist. That doesn’t seem to mean that he was Elijah reincarnated.
Rather, it seems to be the same idea that when Eliza was taken away, his spirit fell upon Felisha, who continued his work and then some. That seems to me to be the point. I mean, it’s certainly that’s the, you know, Ockham’s Razor. That’s certainly the explanation. Most ready to hand that John the Baptist as a figurative fulfillment because he is like he lies and it’s like having him back. But this one. Okay, John, chapter nine, verse one passing by.
He noticed a man blind from birth and his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi, who send this poor wretch or his parents that he was born blind.
Now, wait just to say again.
Sinned before he was born. I mean, all right. You can imagine a heartless D.A. saying, you know, I’m really sick of those people cheating on their tax returns just to show them who’s who. I’m going to have their kid born blind. Yeah, what a God. I mean that at least, you know, you could imagine, though, it’s a nauseating notion, but how could the poor guy be suffering for a sin he committed before he was born? Well, I think you’re dealing with reincarnation here. Now, that is show how desperate some people are to not find this in the Bible. Some have pointed to a passage in the ancient Jewish commentary on the Song of Solomon where somehow I don’t yet go from bad book to this. But the question was raised. Suppose a pregnant woman happens to eat something unclean, a ham sandwich, let’s say, well, you know, the nutrient is going to go to the baby. And does that mean that we know the mother is picked up? Ritual defile meant she has sinned by eating a ham sandwich. What about the baby? I mean, wasn’t his fault. Yeah, I’m afraid it does count. I mean, the mother may not have known what it was. I mean, in certain restaurants where if it was Pam, you wouldn’t have known it. Right. And so. Yeah, yeah. You could sin in the womb. Do you really think that’s what’s entailed in the question here? I mean, this abstruse, far fetched hypothetical and now this is hypothetical, but it assumes that, yeah, this must happen all the time. Now, which do you think is the case with this poor guy? Was it punishment on his parents or a punishment on him for something he had done? Well, as it turns out, Jesus doesn’t say right. He says, well, neither. In this case, this guy was born blind to become an object lesson so that God can be glorified in his healing, which I’m about to do. And that’s what happens. But the point is, this assumes that this was a current belief, as indeed it may have been. I mean, it was certainly an old belief. The or Ficke sect believed in it. Plato did. And the whole Mediterranean world was awash in Hellenistic thought. It’s certainly not alien to it. So the thing is, it sure would’ve been handy had Jesus said, what? What are you talking about? How could he be punished for something he did before? What he believed in reincarnation was, I mean, some kind of Hindu. He doesn’t say that. He doesn’t put that down or he could have. Well, you know, you get the point. And so he leaves it open. It’s not like it’s an absurd idea or some heresy just doesn’t happen to be true in this case. Now, does that mean the Bible’s teaching reincarnation? No. Because Jesus also doesn’t say, well, people are reincarnated, of course, but not this guy. No, we just don’t know. But it does show that the idea was in the air. And when we find out that Gnostic Christians believed in it, well, who knows? And Bible is just endlessly fascinating and not because we know all the answers, but rather because we don’t. And what fun it is trying to find him out. Used to tell people to stop me, if you’ve heard this one before. Used to tell people in my classes, you know, you you always hear people say, well, I don’t know how to explain math. The Bible, when we get to heaven, we’ll find out.
You don’t have to wait till you get to heaven, assuming you do. I can tell you right now an answer to a great many of these questions. You may not like the answer, but that’s one thing that that makes me prefer higher criticism to the old theological interpretation. Which model, which approach, which method actually solves the puzzles? Well, I think the critical approach does. And that’s what we’re dedicated to here on the human Bible.
Well, that’s it for this episode of the Human Bible. I thank you for being with us as always, and I hope you’ll take the time to tune in next time.
Till then. Bye bye. From the Human Bible. Thanks for joining me on this episode of the Human Bible to send us questions or comments on the show, which we really hope you do. You can e-mail questions at the human Bible, dot net or feed back at the human bible dot net. We’re also on Twitter at Human Bible, on Facebook at slash the Human Bible. And you can even leave a voicemail on our human bible hotline by calling seven one six seven one. B, i. B, Ellie.
You can get all that information and more on our Web site. The human Bible dot net views expressed on the human Bible aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. The Human Bible is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York, and features contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Robert M. Price.