Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Case for Christmas: Chapter 2

Or: Michael Murphy Defends Baby Jesus.

Actually: The Scientific Evidence: Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus’ Biographies?

The criminal story to start the chapter: Some asshole killed his family, and evidence from bloodstains and clothing fibers convicted him.

Hundreds of archaeological findings from the first century have been unearthed, and I was curious: did they undermine or undergird the eyewitness stories about Jesus?

Shucks, I wonder what answer Lee Strobel is hoping to find?

To find his pre-approved answers, Strobel interviews John McRay, who wrote Archaeology and the New Testament.

This chapter can be summed up very simply: McRay tells us that archaeology can’t prove the Bible is true, then tells Strobel that some details of Bible places are accurate, and Strobel takes away from this that the Bible is true.

More specifically:

“Archaeology has made some important contributions,” [said McRay] “but it certainly can’t prove whether the New Testament is the word of God.  If we dig in Israel and find ancient sites that are consistent with where the Bible said we’d find them, that shows that its history and geography are accurate.  However, it doesn’t confirm that what Jesus Christ said is right.  Spiritual truths cannot be proved or disproved by archaeological discoveries.”

Okay, that makes sense.  After all, just because the Avengers fight alien invaders in the middle of New York City, a real place that exists in reality, doesn’t mean there is really a team of extremely attractive heroes who band together to fight threats to the Earth.

And let’s face it, the fact that there are no Avengers is much sadder than the fact that Jesus never rose from dead.


McRay describes several minor details that were proved accurate in the gospels.  (Coincidentally, McRay appears to share Strobel and Blomberg’s opinion that the gospels definitely were written by the guys whose names are on them.)

Another example is Luke’s references in Acts 17:6 to “politarchs,” which is translated as “city officials” by the New International Version, in the city of Thessalonica.  “For a long time people thought Luke was mistaken, because no evidence of the term politarchs had been found in any ancient Roman documents,” McRay said.

“However, an inscription on a first-century arch was later found that begins, ‘In the time of the politarchs…’  You can go to the British Museum and see it for yourself.  And then, lo and behold, archaeologists have found [sic] more than thirty-five inscriptions that mention politarchs, several of these in Thessalonica from the same period Luke was referring to.”

So, because Luke (or whoever wrote it) was accurate in some details, Strobel does the very thing McRay said he should not do: he concludes that Luke (or whoever) was accurate about everything he wrote:

…like the resurrection of Jesus, the most influential evidence of his deity, which Luke says was firmly established by “many convincing proofs.”

And then there’s John (or whoever), who wrote about the Pool of Bethesda having five porticos.

So, John is accurate about some little details, which obviously means it is accurate in all details, like that little detail about Jesus being the son of God!

And there are other Bible stories that we are told are historically accurate, like calling everyone to go to their hometowns for a census, or…Nazareth existing.

But, as with the last chapter, I just don’t care too terribly much.  Yeah, some of these things are interesting in themselves, but they no more prove that Jesus existed, let alone was the son of a god, than the existence of Bath proves that Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney were real people.

We’re on chapter two our of four, but I’m inclined to already call this chapter the weakest of them all: you really, really have to want to believe something to consider that geographical details constitute complete accuracy of an entire group of books.

Oh, and check this out:

I decided to ask McRay a broader question: had he ever encountered any archaeological finding that blatantly contravened a New Testament reference?

He shook his head.  “Archaeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible,” he replied with confidence.

-The Case for Christmas, Chapter 2


“And yet, to date, not one piece of evidence has been unearthed that disputes the Bible’s authenticity.” [said Michael Murphy]

“Whoa!  That’s impressive!” someone called out from the back [of the lecture hall].

-Babylon Rising, Chapter 7

They really do all work out of the same playbook, don’t they?

The Case for Christmas: Chapter 1

Or: How I Learned to Stop Thinking Critically and Accept the Gospels at Face Value.

I’m not sure that has much of a ring to it.

The for-real title is The Eyewitness Evidence: Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?

It begins as all of the chapters of The Case for Christ/mas apparently do: Strobel relates a story of some horrible crime, and how a certain type of evidence solved it.  In this case, several murderers were put behind bars because of the testimony of an eyewitness.

And eyewitness testimony is just as crucial in investigating historical matters—even the issue of whether the Christmas manger really contained the unique Son of God.

Okay, let’s see where this gets us—after all, Strobel is investigating the issue, right?  Says so right on the cover of the book.  So there is no doubt that he will go about this investigation in a detached and objective manner, right?

Well, he interviews one person.

So…maybe not.

Yep, one guy.  But hey, he’s a guy who will give Strobel the answers that he wants to hear, so that’s kinda like doing a real investigation and examining the competing viewpoints!

Strobel interviews Craig Blomberg, Ph.D., professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary.  Blomberg’s credentials are breathlessly recited, to make sure we sign on to Strobel’s appeal to authority.

Hey—I know all about the Gospels, too!  I recently listened to three out of the four Jesus Chronicles by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins!*

Anyway, there is no reason to doubt Strobel’s objectivity:

“Tell me this,” I said with an edge of challenge in my voice, “is it really possible to be an intelligent, critically thinking person and still believe that the four gospels were written by the people whose names have been attached to them?”

See, he’s serious about this!  His voice has an Edge of Challenge!

Edge of Challenge would be a great name for a sword.

Blomberg set his coffee cup on the edge of his desk and looked intently at me.  “The answer is yes,” he said with conviction.

Well, I’m sold.  He looks with intensity and speaks with conviction.  That’s like passionate sincerity, right?

He sat back and continued.  “It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.”

Dude.  Not so sure that’s what Strobel wants to hear.

And it isn’t; Blomberg goes on to say that “the uniform testimony of the early church” (and if you can’t trust the early church, who can you trust???) is that the gospels are properly attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and that the gospels are “obviously based on eyewitness material.”

Well, second- and third- and fourth-hand material, written decades after the fact, in accounts that contradict each other.

Strobel goes on to make a couple of weak-assed points that Blomberg easily counters—such as that the gospels do not read like modern biographies.  As an evil atheist myself, this is not exactly the kind of point that makes me question Christianity.

But I’m getting the feeling that this is what we’re in for—tiny and largely pointless issues being presented as Major Criticisms of Faith…until the softballs are hit out of the park by experts who have the answers Strobel already wanted to hear.

As I said, Blomberg is the only expert consulted in this chapter.  Strobel interviews no one else about the authorship or veracity of the gospels.  At a couple of points, he reads very brief passages out of books like Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, and Blomberg responds to them, but this hardly strikes me as proper investigative technique.  Strobel certainly doesn’t speak to Armstrong personally, or anyone else who might disagree with Blomberg.

But don’t worry, because when Strobel quotes Armstrong’s book, Blomberg’s “expression turned sour,” his “eyes narrowed, and his voice took on an adamant tone.”  So we know right away that there is only one way to think, and that interviewing people with other viewpoints would simply clutter up the “investigation.”

With an “air of triumph,” Blomberg explains how he thinks the gospels were written earlier than some people say they were.  But even if that’s true, I can’t find myself caring very much, because that doesn’t make them any less mythological.

Honestly, this is my issue: whether or not the gospels were written by the guys whose names are on them, ARE THEY TRUE?

Hell, the title of this chapter is not “Who Wrote the Gospels?’ but “Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?”

Guys, this first chapter is not instilling confidence in me for the rest of the book.

But hey, next up, we are back in Michael Murphy’s wheelhouse: biblical archaeology!

* If you’re wondering if they will ever appear on this blog: no.  Not in a million years.  If they were the last books on Earth and I was the last blogger on Earth, I still would not critique them.  They are excruciating, and not in fun ways like Christiano Brothers movies and Soon and Babylon Rising.  I have rarely been so bored as when I listened to these books.  I know it’s a cliché, but they are a cure for insomnia.  If anyone wants to give them a try, well…you’ve got guts.

The Case for Christmas: Introduction

Welcome, everyone, to the first part of Heathen Critique’s Annual Special Wintermas Special: a critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christmas.

The first thing you need to know is that this itty-bitty volume, a mere 96 pages, is a simply a few chapters from Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

I wonder if any of Strobel’s fans got The Case for Christmas, started in, and suddenly thought, “Huh.  Feels like I’ve read this before…wait a minute!”

The introduction, however, appears to be original to Christmas.  The four chapters that follow are simply excerpted from Christ:

  • Chapter 1: The Eyewitness Evidence: Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted? is Chapter 1 of Christ.
  • Chapter 2: The Scientific Evidence: Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus’ Biographies? is Chapter 5 of Christ.
  • Chapter 3: The Profile Evidence: Did Jesus Fulfill the Attributes of God? is Chapter 9 of Christ.
  • Chapter 4: The Fingerprint Evidence: Did Jesus—and Jesus Alone—Match the Identity of the Messiah? is Chapter 10 of Christ.

So, as you can see, we should be able to dispense with this teensy volume in short order, and move on to the second part of our Annual Special Wintermas Special: Christmas Town!

To the Introduction!

Back in his newspaper days (yanno, before his days as pastor at a mega-church), Strobel wrote some articles about needy families in Chicago.  These included the Delgados, grandmother and two granddaughters, is living in a two-room apartment, and although they have nothing for Christmas, they have faith in Jesus.

So it’s all okay.

Well, it’s okay because Tribune readers responded to the article by sending the family thousands of dollars in cash, as well as appliances, a Christmas tree and presents, and “a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves.”

Strobel is “astonished” that the grandmother is organizing some of the donations for their neighbors who are still in need.

That blew me away!

Really?  It blew him away that someone who was donated literally dozens of coats would give away a few of them?  Yes, it is very, very sweet and kind, but really, how many coats do three people actually need?

Strobel sees these happy Christians and, unhappy atheist (but I repeat myself) that he is, wants to be just like them:

They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I knew only the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material—and something made me long for what they had.

Huh.  I guess he could have known the joy of generosity by giving the family some cash himself, but I suppose that’s not the sort of thing atheists do.

And I must note here that although the family looked heavenward for hope, the help actually came from other human beings.  The tree and coats and food did not fall from Heaven.

Oh well.  It doesn’t matter, since Strobel pushes them out of his mind.  He’s a journalist!

Hey!  Just like Buck Williams!

As a journalist, I was far more interested in facts, evidence, data, and concrete reality.

Uh huh.  Strobel talks a good game about facts and skepticism.  But I really have to wonder if this is a sign of things to come.  (I’m going into this pretty much blind.)  Strobel describes himself, again and again, as a fan of “investigation” and “hard evidence.” A self-described skeptic examining the “case” for Christmas and coming to a “verdict” based on facts, not blind faith.

Yet even in this short introduction, Strobel strikes me as a man of many emotions—emotions he often tries to simplify, and emotions over which he does not always have control.  See above, where he is shocked by generosity, and paints his life in two striking shades: black and white.

Strobel claims that he was an atheist.  And although I do not want to go all No True Scotsman on him, he does not sound like an atheist.  Indeed, like so many people who talk about how they “used to be atheist,” Strobel appears to have been a believer as a child…

As a youngster, like countless other wide-eyed children, I listened with rapt fascination to the annual Bible story about Christmas.

…and returned to the faith, at least in part, because of family concerns…

…prompted by my agnostic wife’s conversion to Christianity, and still intrigued by memories of the Delgados…

…so forgive me if I take this assertion with a little grain of salt.

So, let’s follow Strobel on his Christmassy journey of hard evidence…or, perhaps, emotion and credulity.

We’ll see.

TSoA: Chapter 25: Preach It, Murphy!

How fitting that my last Ararat post before our two-book Wintermas festival…will feature Murphy preaching once again at hapless FBI agent Hank Baines.

Hank calls up Murphy, because he obviously wants some boilerplate apologetic counseling that he could in no way get from any other source.  Strangely, the two agree to meet at the State Department of Archives and History, because Murphy is doing some research on the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke.  This seems about as far from both Noah’s Ark and biblical archaeology as one can get, but it offers the opportunity to show that Bob Phillips read the Wikipedia article on Roanoke, and that Murphy, once again, knows things that poor Hank doesn’t.  Hilariously, even though Hank has lived in North Carolina for years and may have grown up there (it is implied in the first book), his response to the words “Lost Colony” is…

“What’s that?”

Jesus?  Who’s he?

Murphy smiled.  “Solving mysteries.  That’s what rings my bell.”

No, Murphy, no it’s not.  For two reasons.  One is that you clearly become more passionate when you’re trying to convert people than when you’re trying to solve mysteries.  Two, the “mysteries” you’re “trying to solve” aren’t even mysteries…according to you.  They’re just things you need to prove to other people, but that you already believe.  Case in point: Noah’s ark.  Is there any doubt in your mind, Murphy, that it exists?  How about the bronze serpent from the first book?  No doubt there, either.  They weren’t mysteries to you; they were just lost items.  And that is not the same thing.

Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen: those folks didn’t start out knowing the answer because some divine thing told them who the killer was, and they just needed to show everyone else.  Sure, they figured out things first, but at the beginning of the story, the mystery was just as mysterious to them as to everyone else.

Anyway, Murphy finally gets around to asking Baines the real reason he followed Murphy like a puppy to the State Department.  Turns out that Tiffany was in a car crash with her friend Lisa.  Lisa was driving when they were in a head-on collision versus a truck.  The car rolled and Lisa was killed, while Tiffany escaped with cuts and bruises.

Okay, let’s unpack this:

I know that in action movies, a car can roll and the hero can tumble out and just start shooting, but suffice it to say that I know a little something about this, and I consider it highly unlikely that the same rollover that would kill Lisa would only bruise Tiffany.

(This would be different if it was established that Tiffany was wearing her seatbelt and Lisa wasn’t, or something.  But we aren’t told that.  As well, although it is implied that the crash was Lisa’s fault, we really don’t have a way to know.  Was it her fault?  Was it the truck driver’s fault?  Were alcohol or drugs involved at all?  Was it maybe nobody’s fault, and just a freak crash caused by someone having to swerve or something?  We’ll never know.)

I guess God was just watching out for Tiffany:

“It seems like a miracle she wasn’t more badly hurt.  But she’s pretty cut up about her friend.”


This actually makes me pretty angry.  Baines’ only child, his little girl, just had two horrific events happen to her: she was in a severe car crash and she lost one of her best friends.  And where is Baines?  Is he comforting his child, supporting her, being a shoulder to cry on?  Nope.  He has gotten himself nice and far away from all those pesky, womany emotions, so he can listen to some boilerplate evangelism.

Baines has just proved himself the most assholish character in this book.

Full disclosure: I lost my childhood best friend when I was not much older than Tiffany.  And I can assure you that my parents were with me as I mourned, not listening to some jerk wax on about Jesus.

Not that Murphy isn’t culpable here, too: once he heard this, the next words out of his mouth should have been, “My God, Baines, that’s terrible.  You go be with your wife and daughter.  We’ll talk some other time.”

But no:

“You know, Hank, we all have this yearning, this emptiness inside that can only be filled by God.”

“God is the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  They are three in one.”

“God is perfect.  And He wants mankind to spend eternity with Him in heaven.  There is, however, a problem.  We are not perfect.  If we were to enterGod’s presence in our imperfect state we wouldn’t be able to endure it.  Why?  Because God is holy.”

“Don’t take it from me.  Let me quote you something from the Book of Romans…”


Also, poor Jennifer (Baines’ wife).  She’s there with their kid, taking care of things, being a parent, and Baines is off on his little evangelism/Lost Colony field trip.

Also, poor Lisa.  Being over the age of twelve, we know that she is now being stir-fried in Hell.

But no, this is all about Baines and Murphy.  Not about Tiffany, the confused young girl with a demanding, unaffectionate father, who just lost her best friend.  Nope, this is all about whether Murphy can carve another notch into his bedpost of evangelism.

Wow, what a depressing chapter.

Hey, good thing Lee Strobel is first on our Wintermas break (to begin tomorrow on, appropriately enough, Black Friday).

He’ll cheer us right up!

TSoA: Chapter 24: Second Choice

Having been rudely rebuffed by Good Christian Murphy, Shane Barrington seeks out Paul Wallach.  Paul, you may remember, was injured in the church bombing in Babylon Rising.  Not, mind you, that Shari (who invited him to church in the first place!) or Murphy ever seemed to give a damn.  Indeed, Shari took a page from Levi Abrams’ book, literally punching Paul where she knew it would hurt him most.

Paul is entirely alone in the world.  His mother abandoned him, his jerk of a father is dead, and he has no brothers or sisters, and apparently, no other relatives or friends.  So it did seem like a real miracle to him when Shane Barrington swooped down and offered him a scholarship from Barrington Communications, allegedly because Shane wanted to help a kid who reminded him of his recently-murdered son, but really so he could worm his way ever closer to Michael Murphy.

And now Shane is going to double-down on Paul, since he failed at his mission to get Murphy to come and work for him.  He finds Paul in the library, strikes up a friendly “just checking up” conversation, and offers him a job at Barrington Communications when he graduates.  But there’s a condition: Shane wants to monitor Paul’s writing skills, so asks Paul to do weekly write-ups on what he learns in Murphy’s class.  (He’ll even pay Paul for his time, in addition to the money he is getting from the scholarship!)

This is a pretty shrewd move on Shane’s part, and will probably go a ways in making The Seven (They’ll stop at nothing!  Not even offering people incredibly lucrative jobs!) a bit less angry about the whole Murphy thing.

Still, I doubt Paul’s class notes will be particularly enlightening:






Shane closes by telling Paul that he thinks of him “as a son,” and even inviting to fly him up to New York so they can go to The Phantom of the Opera together.


Well, except for the part about Shari, who has been watching from afar and, when Shane heads off, badgers Paul about stuff that is none of her gorram business:

“What did he want?  Did he come here just to see you?”

Paul had intended to steer the conversation in another direction, but Shari’s tone was getting under his skin.

Gee, I can’t imagine why.

“Why shouldn’t he?  He takes an interest in my work, that’s all.”

“Why should the head of Barrington Communications be interested in your work?  You’re a student, Paul, not a world-famous professor.”

Wow.  Now there’s an interesting topic-change, Shari.  Jesus, why don’t you just marry the guy?  Murph’s single now, yanno.

Paul felt himself going red.  “Oh, that’s right.  I don’t have crazy ideas about proving that fairy stories in the Bible really happened.  Not like world-famous Professor Murphy.”

Paul, you magnificent bastard!

(I’ll add that I have my own doubts about Murphy being world-famous.  A few cable specials do not necessarily qualify someone as world-famous.  And yeah, there was that whole golden head thing from the first book, but Murphy found it under very dubious circumstances, and it hasn’t even been mentioned once since.)

Of course, Shari is offended by the “fairy stories” remark, but immediately switches gears back Shane.  (Maybe she realizes that bringing up Murphy was a bad move, one just a leeetle too close to home.)  Instead, she brings up Murphy’s point about Shane’s network’s shows being “trash.”

“You don’t even watch TV,” Paul countered.  “Maybe if you took your nose out of your Bible once in a while, you’d get a different perspective on things.”

Paul, you ROCK.

Also, WHY ARE THESE TWO EVEN TOGETHER???  (And I use “together” in a very loose sense, since we know that their dates only involve Shari’s attempts to convert Paul.  So, we know why she’s “with” him, but not why he’s with her.)

And due to the Phantom invitation, Paul bows out of their Bible study group “date” (OMG hawt!).

Okay, Paul is my new hero.  Too bad he’s currently hellbound.

Way more fun than a Bible study group.

TSoA: Chapter 23: Shane’s Proposal

No, he’s not proposing to Stephanie!  (Although that would be awesome.  I do love me some Evil and Evilly in Love Couples, my personal favorite being the dynamic duo of Craig and Nancy Wesley on Days of Our Lives.)

But all that is beside the point!  Murphy has noticed Some Dude standing in the back of his lecture hall.  After class, he introduced himself to Murphy as Shane Barrington.  Murphy immediately congratulates himself on almost-kinda knowing who he was:

I knew the face was familiar, thought Murphy.

Murphy must get tired, what with patting himself on the back all day.

Shane, as we learned in the first book, is the pawn of The Seven (they’ll stop at nothing!).  Having carroted him by giving him tons of money and sticked him by murdering his Ambiguously Gay son, The Seven have now tasked him with offering Murphy a job at Barrington Communications.  We know from earlier in this book that The Seven want to keep the enemy closer.

“The search for Noah’s Ark, eh?  Interesting topic.  Have you been researching it long?” [said Shane]

“This is my third class on the subject,” said Murphy guardedly.

Thus both avoiding the question and being totally unashamed that he has been off-syllabus for three classes in a row.

Shane quickly lays the groundwork with an actual point of interest:  Shane knows, though Murphy does not, that both Ambiguously Gay Arthur and Good Christian Wife Laura were murdered by Talon.  But Shane keeps this point to himself, saying only that both he and Murphy have lost loved ones to violence.


But the truth was, [Shane] hadn’t loved Arthur at all, just as his own father hadn’t loved him.  He really didn’t have anything in common with Murphy.

This strikes me as at least a partial retcon of Babylon Rising, in which Shane’s feelings about Arthur are presented as, at the very least, complicated.

Also, that bit about Shane’s father is dumped in there like an afterthought: Shane’s father didn’t love him.  On one hand, Shane is yet another LaJenkinsian character with Daddy Issues, but on the other hand, I would like this detail if anything was ever made of it.  Shane, we already know, grew up poor in Detroit, and yanked himself up by his bootstraps.  So, in a way, Shane doesn’t have a whole lot in common with Murphy—he had to fight for everything he has and has never known love…from anyone.

Again, I would admire this presentation of a complicated, even sympathetic villain, but the point is dropped as soon as it is raised.

Shane tells Murphy that his passion, what he is fighting for, is a world with less violence, and that he’s trying to use Barrington Communications to do that.  So, he asks Murphy what he fights for:

“I try to prove the truth of the Bible,” Murphy said simply.

“And why is that so important?”

“For a number of reasons,” Murphy replied.  “But let me give you just one example.  If we can prove that Noah’s Ark really existed, then we know for sure that God really did punish the evildoers in Noah’s time.”

Oh, and the children and babies and all the other animals but the two Ark-designees, Murphy!  Don’t forget about their last terrified gasps for air!

Shane gets right down to it, and offers Murphy a job at Barrington—a way to “spread the word.”  His job would be to produce documentaries—Murphy would pick the topics, the crews, everything.  Free reign, no holds barred, yadda yadda yadda.

For a brief moment, Murphy is almost tempted by this minion of Satan, almost seduced by the idea of:

…talking to millions of people, all around the world.  And instead of battling with Dean Fallworth on a daily basis over the content of his lectures, he’d have a free hand to go in any direction he wanted.

Poor Dean Fallworth.  He tries to hard, only trying to do the right and professional thing, but just can’t shake the cloak of the cackling, ivory-tower villain.  😦


Through the power of Jesus, Murphy snaps out of this dream of wealth and power, refuses the offer, and when Shane askes why, Murphy gives him a talking-to:

“Because I don’t want to be a part of your sleazy organization.  Your late-night shows are nothing but pornography.  Your prime-time shows are filled with sexual innuendos, distasteful language, and as assualt on morality.  Your comedy shows make fun of everything that is decent in America.  Your reality shows don’t even touch reality.  And you support political leaders who are corrupt.  If I’ve left anything out, I apologize.  To quote a verse from the Psalms, I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in tents of wickedness.”

Okay, I know Shane asked and all, but this still strikes me as unspeakably rude.  Would a simple, “I’m happy where I am” not have sufficed, Murph?  I mean, I know we know that Shane is working for the Seven, but Murphy doesn’t know that.  Why be such a dick about it, Murphy?  U mad, bro?

There is lots of talk of Shane’s suppresed rage now, but the upshot of it is that he acts like a gentleman, just standing and offering a handshake, WHICH MURPHY REFUSES BECAUSE HE IS A BIG JERK.

And just as Shane is leaving the shot, Murphy gets a call from his helicopter-flying “friend,” Vern.  He’s discussed the trip to Ararat with his wife, and they have reluctantly decided that it is in the best financial interest of their family that he go.  They are reluctant because “Turkey is not the safest place for Americans right now.”

I imagine they would be even more reluctant if they knew about the murderers and thieves who shadow Murphy’s every move, but they don’t know about that because MURPHY HASN’T TOLD THEM.

What a moral guy.  So much better than Shane Barrington or Dean Archer Fallworth.

Here’s how moral Murphy is—here’s the line that ends the chapter:

And if [the trip to Ararat resulted in Vern’s death], how would Murphy feel about that?

Ah.  I’m sure he would feel very bad on the inside.

And that would make it all okay.

TSoA: Chapter 22: The Fossils and the Floods

We’re back in Murphy’s class.  Unfazed by his drunken boxing vs. professional rasslin’ match, he collects the assignment he gave his students way the hell back in Chapter 10, to “do a study” about Noah and the flood.  That seems like an awfully big topic, but then again, we are reminded here that Preston is a party school and even at a party school, Michael Murphy’s biblical arcaeology classes are the Easy A classes:

[Murphy] was impressed.  Everybody seemed to have written something.

Fuck me, Murphy, you gave them an assignment.  I bloody well hope they all wrote something.

You’re impressed by this?

And he wonders why his class is always full.  This has to be the easiest A in the whole university—“He’s impressed when we so much as write something down for an assignment!”

The students are also wise to what Murphy wants to hear, even going so far as to phrase their comments in exactly the same way:

“Professor Murphy, I was amazed to discover that around the world scientists have found fossils of sea creatures high in the mountains.”


“I was amazed to find that there are more than five hundred stories about a worldwide flood.  I think that The Epic of Gilgamesh is the most famous.”

“You’re right, Don, it is.  It’s amazingly similar to the Biblical account of the Flood.”

I am amazed to discover that amazingly similar parrots parrot each other in amazing ways!

So here are the two main arguments of this class: fossils found in the mountains, therefore flood (and creationism), and lots of flood stories, therefore biblical flood story is true.

The first is utter and complete nonsense which can be dealt with pretty quickly:


New York Times

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

National Park Service

Short version: fossils are on mountains because mountains rise, not because a giant flood (or Satan, for that matter) deposited fossils there.

Now, the flood stories.  Murphy has a handout for the class with the similarities between the Gilgamesh flood and the Genesis flood.  And there are similarities: a man is directed to build a boat to escape the flood, carries animals and a few other humans on the boat with him, and sends out birds to scout for land.

Two interesting things: One is that the Epic of Gilgamesh was written before the story of Noah.  Given the similarities, some people have wondered if the Noah story was just cribbed from Gilgamesh.

The other interesting thing is that Christian apologists actually argue about the two stories from both sides: Tim LaHaye is saying here that the two stories have so many similarities that there must have been truth behind them—a worldwide flood must have happened.

Other apologists argue that the stories are so different (that the Gilgamesh story is “silly” and “mythological” compared with the “logical” story of Noah), that the one could not possibly be a copy of the other.  But, um, yeah, the flood was still totally real.

Indeed, that is Murphy’s larger point, as he has yet another handout for the students, this one with a listing of all cultures with flood stories.  Many of the cultures listed on the sheet appear at the TalkOrigins article about flood stories.  You can read a few and decide if you agree with Michael Murphy that:

“While the specific details of these traditions may differ, there is no escaping that each of these cultures holds to a belief in a global flood occurring at some point in the past.”

Paul, bless his atheistic heart, argues that maybe different peoples got the flood story from travelers or missionaries, and that’s why there are so many.  Murphy shoots this down with the following infallible logic:

“It is believed that after Noah landed on Ararat and the people began to multiply, they built the Tower of Babel.  God then confused their languages and the people dispersed throughout the world.  Over time, as the story was passed down, it was changed in each location.  This seems a more logical conclusion as to why there are over five hundred flood traditions around the world.  I believe that they came from one source.  They had a common origin.”

And it could not possibly be that floods were (and are!) dangerous and terrifying events, ripe for myths and legends about the end of the world.

(The one larger point about a worldwide flood that has always struck me is this: we are talking about a world in which few people ever traveled more than a few miles from the place of their birth.  How in the hell would people even know the entire world was flooded, and not just their own immediate area?)

Anyway, Paul abandons his point to focus on another one: that the flood story and the theory of evolution are in conflict.  Paul even smirks “unpleasantly,” to remind us that he is a jerk and Murphy is awesome, not “fazed or annoyed.”

Instead, Murphy quote mines Dr. Colin Patterson. (Yet another TalkOrigins link!  Check it out!)

(Oh, and I see that Murphy knows the quote mined writings of Dr. Patterson, but doesn’t reference Dr. Francis Collins, evangelical Christian and former director of the NHGRI, who stated in this interview at The BioLogos Forum that the DNA record alone provides “overwhelming” evidence of evolution and common ancestry.

Murphy then pulls a Kirk Cameron (“Read the Bible!”), and ends his lecture on a pulpit-pounding note: if anyone *coughcough* Michael Murphy *coughcough* ever really found the ark, it would be Teh Most Amazingest Thing Evah:

“But even more awesome, it would be the proof that God did judge the wickedness of the world with the Flood.  And if the Bible was accurate in predicting the flood judgment, it must also be accurate in predicting the next judgment—the judgment of the Son of Man that Jesus talks about!”

Paul didn’t seem to have an answer to that…

Of course he didn’t.

TSoA: Chapter 21, Part 2: Squaring the Circle

First of all, my readers rock.  You guys came up with fantastic theories about circles and squares and Morehead City.

Needless to say, your ideas were all far more excellent than the actual “clue.”

To be fair, I now realize that maybe I wasn’t entirely and completely accurate in the last post when I said that Murphy’s internal Wikipedia entry had nothing to do with anything:

Then Murphy remembered that Morehead City had a section known as the Promised Land.  It was settled by refugees from the whaling communities on Shackleford Banks.

The Promised Land!  [Methuselah’s] clue must have something to do with the Old Testament.

Oh gee, DO YOU FRACKING THINK SO, MURPHY???  That’s one hell of an insight, given that you are currently obsessed with finding Noah’s ark, which is in the Old Testament, and Meth just told you that he was going to give you some help with THAT VERY SCHEME.

I mean, Jesus, Murphy, did you think the clue would have something to do with The Great Gatsby?

Having burned out both his brain cells with this astonishing idea, Murphy arrives at yet another abandoned warehouse.  A round abandoned warehouse.

In the middle of the empty warehouse is a boxing ring, which Murphy assumes (correctly, no doubt, because he’s the hero) was used for illegal fights.

There’s an envelope in the middle of the ring, and Murphy finds that the envelope contains a picture of an angel.

Murphy needs to “ponder its meaning” while I, a lifelong atheist, knew what was coming.

I thought RTCs were into reading the whole Bible and taking it seriously, no?  And Murphy doesn’t get it yet?

Well, he should get it pretty quick, because some huge dude enters the ring and begins wrestling (or rasslin’, if you will) with Murphy, while Meth cackles from an undisclosed location.





The huge guy gorilla press slams Murphy…

…thus marking the only point in the series that I wish I was there and had a camera.  I’d watch the scene again and again and again…

So, Murph is a martial-arts “expert” (heh), up against this dude he estimates as weighing 350 pounds (ZOMG, YOU GUYS!  More LaJenkinsian obsession with weight!), so he reaches into his bag ‘o tricks and pulls out…

Drunken boxing.

Turns out Murphy was taught drunken boxing by an actual Chinese guy while on a dig outside Shanghai, because China is where all the best Biblical archaeologists go to find artifacts.

“When you go out, get very drunk, you don’t know how you get home.  You keep falling down, bump into lampposts, walls, everything.  But when you wake up next day, everything fine!  No broken bones!  Maybe just a bad headache.  This is the secret of the drunken man,” Li had told him.

“Then you throw up, sit for hours in dark room clutching head, then have to call all friends on phone and apologize for night before.  This how all Chinese people talk!”

“I’m afraid I don’t drink anything stronger than root beer,” Murphy had responded.  “So I’ll just have to take your word for it.”

My Gawd, but Murphy is a smug bastard.

So, Murph goes all loosey-goosey.  I know just how it would look because I’ve played a lot of Jade Empire:

The big guy tries to run Murphy down like a fucking freight train, and Murph responds by ducking and kicking the guy in the back of the head, just like a man would who had been drinking.

Not that Murphy would ever, EVER drink the Demon Liquor.

The kick sends the huge guy flying out of the ring, knocking him out, and Murphy beats cheeks.  He who ducks and runs away, lives to rassle another day.

Good thing he only got slammed once, because Murphy needs all his brainpower to figure out Methuselah’s clue, which is of almost Agatha Christie-ish perplexity.

He started to go over every detail in him mind.  The Promised Land.  So they were talking Old Testament.


Then what?  Of course—the sketch.  An angel with outspread wings.  Okay, an old testament angel.  That didn’t narrow it down much.

So what else did he know?

Not much, by the looks of it.

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel in frustration.

Yanno, I’d ask Murphy if he’d like me to draw him a picture at this point, but METHUSELAH ALREADY DREW HIM ONE!!!

That was it!  Of course!  The wrestling match.  Who’d wrestled with an angel in the Old Testament?


And what did Jacob have to do with Noah’s ark?  Murphy’s mind was in high gear now.


I’m sorry, Murphy, but it doesn’t help to be in high gear when your car is out of gas.

But Jacob and Noah’s ark can only mean one thing, right?

The Monastery of St. Jacob!

And needing to do some actual work means only one thing for Murphy, right?

Time to call Isis!

So, Isis takes her traumatized and endangered ass back to D.C. and the National Archives and Library of Congress, and has an answer for Murphy LATER THAT DAY.

Isis, you deserve so much better!  RUN!!!  Run while you still can!

But the big piece of info she finds is that some explorer from the 1830s claims that he was taken to a SUPER SEKRIT SQUIRREL ROOM of Noah’s ark artifacts, some of which were sent to Erzurum.

So, that was Meth’s plan all along!  Send Murphy a FedEx card directing him to a town where he would get his ass kicked and get a card with an angel on it, so that he would call his sorta-girlfriend to do research for him, to lead him to a different town in Turkey where some Noah’s ark shit may or may not be, depending on how much you believe the second-hand tale of a nineteenth-century traveler.

Makes sense to me!