Jesus Could Not Have Possibly Parted The Red Sea, Ergo

Continuing the discussion from Robert Shedinger: Religion, Science and Evolution: Confessions of a Darwin Skeptic:

Oh my. That hits home. I’ve heard arguments like this from atheists. I am gonna quote this in the future.

It goes both ways, for both evolution and Christianity, understand that which you reject.


Like this in what way? Could you be specific?

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Like this insofar as they demonstrate enormous ignorance of what the Bible actually says. Imagine statements like these.

  1. The Bible is wrong to say Jesus was born on December 25.
  2. The Bible is wrong to say the pyramids were built by Hebrew slaves.
  3. Jesus could not possibly have eaten five thousand loaves and fishes.

All those are silly, but have you actually heard any of those claims made? I’m looking for real examples, not hypotheticals.

The first one gets repeated every Christmas, along with the equally ludicrous claim that Christmas itself was a Christian hijack of an ancient pagan festival. The second one is also a common skeptic and atheist talking point, being picked up by luminaries such as Brian Dunning. It’s also trotted out regularly by Egyptian archaeologist (and hardcore nationalist), Zahi Hawass, who takes every opportunity he can to convince people that the pyramids and similar structures were built by enthusiastic volunteer citizens (absolutely not slaves or corvee laborers), who just happened to have a lot of energy, spare time, and building materials, and who were well compensated and greatly respected for their labor.

I have never, ever heard that attributed to the bible, only to Christian tradition. Are you quite sure? Can you provide a real example?

Dunno who Brian Dunning is, but if he says that, you have an example. Can you cite him actually claiming that the Exodus talks about slaves building pyramids?

As far as I know, it’s true. But what does that have to do with the bible? Whether slaves built the pyramids is not the matter at hand; it’s whether atheists falsely claim that the bible says slaves built the pyramids. What do you have on that actual claim?

And have you abandoned the third?

Yes. It’s often used in arguments claiming that the Bible story of Jesus was lifted from earlier pagan stories of Mithras, or Horus, or Attis.

This page for example.

It does no good to read the Bible and visit Bible classes if you want to know the true mythical history of Jesus and how legend building promoted him to a God.

Suppose I told you there was a GOD TEMPLATE (or HERO template) before Jesus’ time, and most of the major Gods had the same characteristics of Jesus? Why is this? If Jesus was so unique why DID all the Gods before him seem so similar?

The Egyptian god Horus around 3000bc.
He was born on Dec 25. He was born of a virgin

In Greece, about 120bc the god Attis
Born of a virgin on Dec 25

Dionysus – Greece 500bc
Born of a virgin. Born on Dec 25

Mithra – Persia 1200bc
Born of a virgin. Born on Dec 25

Please tell me you don’t actually need evidence that skeptics and atheists claim Christmas is a pagan holiday hijacked by Christians.

One of the most well known public faces of skepticism.


The story of Jewish slaves building the pyramids originated with Herodotus of Greece in about 450 BCE.

Coincidentally, the text of the Book of Exodus was finalized at just about exactly the same time as Herodotus wrote The Histories. Obviously, the same information about what had been going on in Egypt 2,000 years before was available to both authors.

It is not true.

No. It’s a great example of a claim which would demonstrate that someone was ignorant of the Bible. However, I didn’t claim that this is something that anyone said. I didn’t have that in mind at all. I was just imagining something totally ludicrous.

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So far I find nothing in that page claiming that the December 25th date comes from the bible. Can you find that for me? Otherwise it isn’t an example.

Sure. But that’s not the claim you made above. Let’s remember:

You need either to abandon that claim or present evidence for it.

Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant. Again, please recall your original claim, which is about atheist ignorance of the bible, not about who built the pyramids. We could argue about whether laborers on the pyramids were free or slave, but that’s a new topic. Let me remind you again of your original claim:

You have to find somebody saying that: a claim that the bible says who built the pyramids.

Sorry, I was asking for real examples of the thing Joshua was talking about. Was that not clear? I could invent silly claims about the bible without any help.

So, to sum up. You present one hypothetical example that you just made up, and you present two other examples that you can support only by rewriting the claim to something quite different.

How about you read the quotes I provided? It starts like this.

It does no good to read the Bible and visit Bible classes if you want to know the true mythical history of Jesus and how legend building promoted him to a God.

I am not convinced that his article is not addressing the Jesus story as found in the Bible. What makes you think that he isn’t talking about the Jesus story in the Bible? Why do you think he includes December 25 in the examples of alleged pagan parallels for the Jesus story in the Bible?

Look at what he says at the end.

Nearly all of the important things in the bible were taken from other gods much older than the Bible – Crucifixion, The ark of the covenant, The great flood, miracles, baptism, final judgment, virgin birth, circumcision, Easter, Christmas and many many more,.

That’s Christmas, in a list of “important things in the bible”. What do you think he’s saying there?

I already quoted Brian Dunning. Did you read him as saying something else?

No that was not clear. I thought you didn’t understand what he was talking about, and you were asking for clarification about what he was talking about.

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He’s talking about the Jesus story, not just the one in the bible. That story includes non-biblical traditions too. He makes no reference to December 25th being in the bible. This is not an example of what you claimed it to be.

I’ll admit that comes close. But not close enough. I interpret it as bad writing, not a claim that the bible mentions December 25th.

Yes. In no place does he claim that the story of Jews building the pyramids comes from the bible. The closest he comes is to claim that some ignorant Christians think it does. Elsewhere in that document he says that he doesn’t know where the idea came from.

No. I was asking for specifics on what arguments like that he had heard from atheists. Do you know of any arguments like that have been made by atheists? Or anyone, really.

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I have seen atheists repeat SOME false claims about Christmas, but the most common claim along those lines that I encounter is from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who strangely seem to find my house, no matter how deeply shrouded in trees, every December 25th. I would prefer Santa Claus, but this seems to be my lot. They always tell me that Christmas was adapted from Saturnalia, but they surely are not atheists. I have never evaluated their claim as it doesn’t really matter much to me one way or the other.

It’s been a long, long time since I looked and I don’t have the book handy, but didn’t Bede write of a policy of Pope Gregory to the effect that, instead of attempting to displace pre-existing holiday traditions and the like, the church should co-opt them and Christianize them? I know that some cases of this are disputed, such as the claim (I think it was made by Bede) that the English holiday of Easter was pre-Christian, but it’s not as though such things didn’t happen.

Ok where doe she say that? All I see is this.

It does no good to read the Bible and visit Bible classes if you want to know the true mythical history of Jesus and how legend building promoted him to a God.

Nearly all of the important things in the bible were taken from other gods much older than the Bible – Crucifixion, The ark of the covenant, The great flood, miracles, baptism, final judgment, virgin birth, circumcision, Easter, Christmas and many many more,.

Where do we get the idea that he’s talking about a Jesus story which isn’t in the Bible?

He identifies “Christmas” as one of the “important things in the Bible”. In what way is this “bad writing”? What do you think he means by “Christmas”, if you think he doesn’t mean the festival on December 25? Why does he mention the December 25 date in his list of pagan parallels, if he doesn’t think it’s part of the Christmas story in the Bible?

He doesn’t say he doesn’t know where the idea came from, he says it originated with Herodotus and that Exodus was being written about the same time, and drew on the same sources as Herodotus.

But ok, let’s look at this one.

And this is also the story that the Bible tells. Hebrew people labored in their droves to build the spectacular pyramids.

What do you think that is saying?

Well there’s always the one where the book of Exodus says the Hebrews crossed a “several miles deep” Red Sea, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia.

Yes, the JWs are very strange, and they have lots of weird ideas about Christmas.

That idea certainly is cited by skeptics and atheists, but it’s totally untrue.

Yes he did, and yes it was Easter. Sadly there’s no evidence for what he wrote. He appears to have invented the story as a false etymology. Among the Christians, ‘Easter’ was originally named ‘Pascha’, since it was a Jewish festival. The term ‘Easter’ was in fact derived from Ēosturmōnaþ (Anglo-Saxon), the name of the month in which the Pascha festival was held (April), and later Christians named the festival ‘Easter’ in recognition of the name of the month in which it was held, not in recognition of some goddess called Ēostre.

The only historical source citing the existence of a Germanic goddess called Ēostre is Bede himself. That hasn’t stopped modern neo-pagans inventing an entire backstory for her.

It probably did happen in some cases, but the extraordinary fact is that we have so little evidence for it happening at all. We certainly have strong evidence that it never happened in the case of Christmas and Easter.

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You might be right about this, but I’m still holding out the possibility that he’s just a bad writer rather than that he thinks the traditional date of Jesus’s birth comes from the bible.

I don’t think he needs it to come from the bible in order to make a point. But yes, if December 25th became attached to the Jesus story after the bible was written, the correspondence of festival dates is not an argument against the historicity of Jesus, merely that a pagan festival was borrowed to fit a potentially historical figure.

No, later on he says this:

That at least is unambiguous. The Encyclopedia Britannica has fallen a long way. But what makes you think that was written by an atheist?

That was unworthy of you. Are you ashamed?

For repelling JWs, you might want to consider the method described by the nearly immortal Duke Tumatoe in his song, “My Baby is a Nudist.” If we believe his lyrics, it works very well.

I think that’s wishful thinking given he says explicitly that “Christmas” is one of the “important things in the Bible”. Perhaps he’s talking about the Christmas which isn’t a festival held on December 25?

Well if he thought that was true, why would he be talking about the Bible at all? His entire argument is that the Bible is an unreliable source of information about the life of Jesus. I think you’re falling into the trap of attempting mind reading, the way Eddie is quick to explain that what ID creationists write, is not actually what they intended to mean.

The way it’s written. The ignorance of the actual record, and the way it sounds like a non-religious person doing their best to sound polite. I’ll throw in the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, since that also depicts the Hebrews building the pyramids.

No I’m not ashamed. Why should I be? It’s an excellent example of what we’re talking about. You made an unfortunately bad mistake due to not knowing a few basic facts which you could have checked quite easily; the actual depth and location of the Red Sea, and the most likely routes of the Hebrew exodus as described in Exodus. You made a bad mistake, and I should be ashamed of reminding you? I don’t think so. I’m not being mean about it (I’m not throwing accusations of lying or deceit), but it’s totally relevant to the current discussion. If I made a similarly awful blunder about science, I doubt you would give it a free pass, and nor should you.

I knew that this was at least the subject of some dispute. How about the direction from Pope Gregory? Do we have corroboration of that, or does that come only from Bede?

I had heard, in my youth, lots of claims that Christian belief was built on pagan templates of sorts, and as I checked those things out, I discovered that they just weren’t so. But I have always trusted that Bede at least was likely to be right simply because he was rather close to the source. The problem, I suppose, is that he may have gotten it from somebody, who heard it from somebody else, et cetera. It is sort of a basic problem in religious history that it can be hard to track down the origins and credibility of things that come to us as folklore.

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I assume you’re referring to Gregory’s direction to sanctify the pagan shrines and use them for Christianity, as opposed to his other direction to destroy them. These two directions are clearly in tension. This article helps contextualize them.

This study challenges the prevailing scholarly opinion that pope Gregory I’s instruction to transform the pagan shrines of Kent into Christian churches was a direct countermand to his earlier missive that the shrines should be destroyed. By exploring Gregory’s multi-faceted understanding of conversion and considering the depth and nuance of his pastoral strategies, it argues that the initial letter to Ethelbert, king of Kent, identified the destruction of shrines as an example of the type of behavior that would be expected of a Christian monarch, but did not reflect a carefully constructed strategy for conversion. Thus, the letter to Ethelbert was designed for the spiritual edification of the king himself, whereas the subsequent epistle to Mellitus provided a clarification of Gregory’s plan for the pagan shrines and more fully reflected the pope’s syncretistic strategies for the conversion of non-Christian populations. In this way, both letters signify aspects of Gregory’s rich pastoral consciousness and are more consistent with each other than is generally understood.

It should be noted however that even when saying the pagan shrines should be recycled, Gregory was not saying the pagan rites and beliefs should be preserved. On the contrary, he wants the pagan shrines cleaned, ritually sanctified, and then used for Christian worship. He does not say that the pagan rituals should be reworded or re-interpreted for the use of Christianity. He was not really a syncretist; in fact the Jesuits who moved into China are a better example of what may people think Gregory was trying to achieve.

Perhaps he’s talking about the Christmas that’s the nativity story without claiming that the bible specifies the date. It’s ambiguous because he never quite says what you originally claimed (“The Bible is wrong to say Jesus was born on December 25.”).

And you accuse me of mind-reading?

Does it claim to get that from the bible? Was it written by an atheist?

So far I give you half a point out of three.

This reminds me of a time when I was doing Christian street theatre as a student. One of my friends was talking to a punter who said, “Oh yeah - I know all about Jesus. Turning bricks into water and all that…”

My friend had this wonderful mental image of Jesus practising this particularly useless power on the Jerusalem temple. Incidentally the friend still runs Britain’s leading Christian drama company 45 years later.

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Bricks into water WOULD be quite a trick, though. I’d pay to see it!

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