I’m back with a pile of exigent tasks, all of which are temporarily effacing the memories I had of my fantastic trip to Antarctica. I see the Roald Amundsen is again crossing the Drake Passage on the way to the Antarctic Peninsula, so the passengers must have replaced much of their luggage that was stolen. But they’ve still lost two days of their voyage.
And so it’s back to the grind for me. First, grocery shopping, which I do early in the morning. When I turned on the radio on the way to the store, the very first thing I heard was Krista Tippett blathering on in her NPR show, “On Being”, in which she regularly emits Deepities whose profundity almost brings her to tears. (She clearly thinks a lot of herself, despite her emphasis on “humility.”) Hearing her whine about spirituality already put me in a bad mood, but when the show ended (yes, I’m a masochist), I thought I heard her say “This show is located on Dakota (or Lakota) land.”
“That can’t be”, I thought to myself. “Even the unctuous Tippett isn’t that woke!”
But sure enough, she is, and I should have known it. For if you go to her “On Being” site, which of course I did, you find this page-long acknowledgment of land theft (click on screenshot):
(It turns out that the Dakota and Lakota were two distinct groups with different languages, both under the umbrella of the Sioux nation.)
But read how “On Being” flagellates its back like a masochistic penitente. If their project in Minnesota is indeed located on Dakota land—it’s 12 miles away from the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers which, according to the site, was considered “the center of the world” to the Dakota people—then why doesn’t Tippett give her headquarters back? After all, she says that “The United States’ land seizures were a project of spiritual destruction that denied the Dakota free and unhindered access to the land that fundamentally shapes their identity and spirituality.” If she’s complicit in destroying Dakota spirituality (and of course “spirituality” is her meat and potatoes), why doesn’t she do something to make up for it?
Well, yes, colonists and settlers quite often treated the Native Americans horribly, but a post facto breast-beating acknowledgment like Tippett’s doesn’t do anything but flaunt her virtue. How does it help the Dakota? If she cared, she could give a lot of her profits to the tribe, but I’m betting that isn’t happening. I find no indication of such contributions on the website—or anywhere else.
Okay, I’ve vented enough, and haven’t yet gotten to the lede.
. . . . well, not quite enough. But here’s the lede: an article from CNN reporting religious news that just appeared in many other places. In this case, a bit of Jesus’s reputed manger, for a long time kept in Rome, is now being permanently returned to Bethlehem. And in most reports, the media, as CNN does in the headline below, hedges its bets by saying “relics are thought to be” from Jesus’s manger. But in the stories following the headlines, most of these sources take the existence of Jesus—and the Biblical narrative of his life—as being true. Read on (click on the screenshot):
First, the details and the requisite disclaimer (first bit in bold is mine):
Jerusalem (CNN) — A fragment of wood believed to be from Jesus’ manger is back in the Holy Land just in time for Christmas.
The tiny inches long relic was first taken out of the Middle East in the 7th century when St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, donated it to Pope Theodore I. It remained in Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore until now.
The wooden relic arrived on Saturday at its permanent home in Bethlehem in time for Advent and the beginning of the Christmas season. Many Christians say it represents the very essence of their faith.
. . . Pope Francis allowed the relic to be returned to the region, according to Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land.He told CNN that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been asking the Pope to return the stone and wood manger to Bethlehem for at least one Christmas season for years. “It was important, the request of Mr. Abbas, it was very important,” said Fr. Patton.
. . . Fr. Patton said the entire crib was considered too fragile to move. Nonetheless, he says the small wooden relic is an important symbol that will now be permanently enshrined inside St. Catherine’s Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem
This implies that what is taken by believers to be Jesus’s manger, as an entire crib, still exists. I had no idea! The manger exists! And, looking it up, I found that, well, some bits of the crib do exist—at least some some slats. As mdrevelation.org reports, the same church in Rome from whence the fragment came, Santa Maria Maggiore (“St. Mary Majors”), is reputed to have a big piece of Baby Jesus’s bed.
Here’s the reliquary, which depicts Baby Jesus lying atop a bed of straw, which in turn is atop a cushion. There’s a manger (or a big hunk of of one) inside!
The reliquary was realised by Giuseppe Valadier in the early 19th century to substitute the previous reliquary from the 1600s that was stolen by Napoleonic troops. Through the lucid crystal reliquary, you can make out some wooden slats in red maple that are typical of Bethlehem. The relics date 2000 years to the time that Jesus was born.
This raises many questions. Is the reliquary large enough to hold the whole bed? How do they know that the manger is 2000 years old? Did someone do carbon dating? And, if the date is right, would it be possible to extract some of Jesus’s DNA from the wood (after all, babies—even baby Jesus—do excrete, and excreta has DNA)? Most important: How did they know to save the manger given that Jesus didn’t fully show himself as the son of God until he was older? And who saved the manger?
Finally, when Napoleon’s troops stole the reliquary, did they really leave the enclosed manger behind? Did they know it was the manger?
Further, it’s not clear whether Jesus—if he lived, and I’m not at all convinced that the Jesus story is based even minimally on a real person—was born in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. A piece by R*z* *sl*n in the Washington Post explains that most scholars think that Jesus was born in Nazareth, but the myth that he was born in Bethlehem was confected to fulfill a prediction from the prophet Micah.
So be it. I’ll let the religious scholars argue about where Jesus was born. I can finally get to the part where CNN takes for granted that Jesus was real and was born in Bethlehem. Read this (bolding is mine):
Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus, lies in the West Bank, part of the Palestinian territories. For years Abbas has tried to work with the Vatican to encourage Christian pilgrims to make the trip to Bethlehem despite security and political concerns, according to Fr. Patton.
This clearly implies that Jesus lived and was born in Bethlehem; the first sentence is not a declaration by Fr. Patton. And so CNN gives credibility not just to the existence of a Jesus person, but also to the Biblical account of where he was born according to the Gospels of Mark and Luke.
Give me a break! This is like saying that “Paul Bunyan’s birth place lies in Minnesota”. It always bothers me that, despite the fact that there is no extra-Biblical evidence for the existence of someone on whom the Jesus myth is based—even an itinerant apocalyptic preacher—the mainstream media always takes it for granted that there was a Jesus, and that his story conforms pretty much to what the Bible tells us.
Isn’t the media supposed to be more skeptical than that? Shouldn’t the sentence above read: “According to legend, a person named Jesus was born in Bethlehem, now part of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank“? But no, the media simply assumes, and tells us, that Jesus lived. They’ve bought into the Bart Ehrman Fallacy, which is that the Bible must be true in part, at least in the existence of a Jesus Person, even if that Person wasn’t the son of God. (The sub-fallacy is that because most religious scholars think that Jesus was real, a Jesus Person must have lived.)
Reuters, the respected news agency, did the same thing in their article on the manger fragment (click on the screenshot, and note that this report is in the “Lifestyle” section”!)
They show the reliquary with a fragment of the manger. The first thing that needs to be done here is some carbon dating.
But again, while the relic is only “reputed” to be from the manger—the media isn’t that credulous—the existence of Jesus is taken to be true (my bolding in the excerpt below):
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A fragment of wood reputed to be from the manger where Jesus was laid after his humble birth went on display in Jerusalem on Friday, ahead of its transfer to Bethlehem for the official launch of the Christmas season.
. . . The provenance of ancient relics is often questionable. Still, they are revered by the Christian faithful, among them the coachloads of pilgrims who squeeze through a narrow sandstone entrance in the Church of the Nativity all year round to visit the birth grotto that is its centrepiece.
Note that while the bolded bit waffles about whether the wood is really from Jesus’s manger, there’s no doubt in the article that Jesus existed, and that his birth was “humble.” You can find this kind of unquestioning fealty to the Jesus story at other sites, too. National Geographic has dined out on the story for several years.
It’s time for the media to not only hedge on the provenance of these relics, but also on the existence of Jesus. (I note in passing that, according to Wikipedia, there are several places in Europe that claim to have Jesus’s foreskin, and one church that has his umbilical cord. But Jesus had only one foreskin! Like religions itself, these things can’t all be authentic!)
And so, as we swing into the Christmas season, and because I’ve returned from Antarctica, I present another rendition of the Nativity, sent in by reader Christopher Moss. This nativity scene was bought for his wife by her father, who was keen on penguins. Note that there is no manger (Jesus is cosseted under Mary’s belly), and why Joseph has a shepherd’s crook (or has he gone missing?) is obscure. And why is the angel penguin given wings when it already has them?
n.b.: Why Evolution is True comes to you from Algonquin land.