9. Personal Thesis

1000 Feet

A couple of months ago I pushed back from the books for a while and simply took inventory. I looked for some simple boil-downs that do not seem to be in flux or in debate.

The Israelis have disconfirmed a decent amount of their own founding national history. That’s a rather big deal. The experts in the field from the US and Europe agree with them, even those that really did not want to. Many of the central events, like the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan, may not have happened at all. And if they did, the kernel of truth at their center seems rather small.

We do not know who wrote a substantial amount of the Bible, including the founding books of the Pentateuch. But we do know that the longstanding Jewish and Christian attributions to Moses were incorrect. Save a narrow minority, this is a point of strong consensus.

People developed from antecedent hominids. They did so slowly and following the same process as every other species. The Human Genome Project gave the final proof, and it was headed by an evangelical believer. Scientists across all ideological lines now try to convey the facts of this heliocentric dilemma to the dogmatic. But we do not have a church consensus on how to handle the question of Adam or the Fall in the face of this.

The discrepancies between science and the Genesis accounts of creation are now so comprehensive that some scholars propose that we stop seeing Genesis as talking about a material creation at all. Given what was once claimed from Genesis, this is a staggering contraction.

It appears that there are forgeries in the New Testament, and that early Christian communities engaged in forgery broadly. There is a strong case that the four gospels were not written by either eyewitnesses or by apostles. It appears that some percentage of the content about Jesus is legend.

All told, a number of very big key points simply are not as the church long assumed them to be. As was conceded to me in a conversation a few months back, the canon of scripture is a mess.

Question & Answer

But what does it mean? What does the whole mess actually mean in the end? Business as usual? Find a new way to see the text? Baby and bathwater? Liberal concessions? Canon revision? If we pull the thread, how much of the sweater is left behind? These are the questions I asked when approaching the sea of authors and viewpoints. This thesis section is my stab at an answer: my opinion, an op-ed piece.

After a year of very painful revelations and contemplation, I cannot find a way around what I see as a necessary conclusion. That I hate my conclusion is beside the point as to whether or not it is correct. So is the fact that it leaves me in a position of loss, not gain. Like a diagnosis of inoperable cancer perhaps, or the revelation of long-secret infidelities of a spouse, it’s simply not good.

Through intermittent periods of upset, study, turmoil and contemplation, I’ve tried to propagate the evidence through the mechanism to probe just how dysfunctional it actually is. I have not attempted to support my prior position with a recast viewpoint, but have instead sought to reach the best conclusion possible given what is known. I propose that the following arguments and conclusions are reasonable, provided dogma is shelved long enough to finish the assessment, and that is what I have attempted to do. My conclusions may well be mistaken; certainly many will think so.

I believe the board is in check mate.

Personal Thesis in Brief

My assessment is that we have a first-line error, which in mathematical derivations creates a trickle-down problem through the remainder of the calculation. So too, the same can occur with worldviews and derived networks of doctrine. Equations quite aside, it is a question of interdependency and coherence. If the error is fundamental enough, if it happens early enough, and if the wrong framework and questions were established on the first line, that which follows actually can be negated by the mistake. This appears to be the case with the people of Israel, who constructed a very long lever, extending from their initial fulcrum – their self-claimed status as God’s chosen people and their Pentateuch-based worldview. The length of their lever ultimately drives the extent of the resulting damage, since the fulcrum has cracked.

I would like to make clear in preface that it is not God to whom I pose any question whatever. It is to the authors of ancient Israel. To them I pose the question, and I question deeply, whether or not they had the divine uplink they advertised. I question their claim that they spoke for God. Obviously, they are far from alone in making such claims. And I have companied with flesh and blood false prophets in my own past, whom I eventually saw through via protracted study and inquiry. The question of uplink is always fair and often disturbing on its answer.

We are confronted with a very difficult situation, and one that will not wash off. The great mistake is to assume that this is all old-hat, that it has all been answered before; i.e., that it is all the same old skeptical objections to the miraculous or the silly in various biblical stories. This evasion will not do. Some of the issues, investigations, and evidences are by no means old-hat. Genomics hit a milestone in 2003, severing the head of notable speculative models of human origins. The Israeli historical investigations since 1967 are crippling, and the crisis they reveal was unknown to the Luthers and Augustines of church history. It is not all the same. Yet other serious problems have been around for some time, and yet were never sufficiently answered as some would claim; e.g., the dilemma of the global flood, the evaporation of the Pentateuch’s authorship, etc. So no, it is not all the same, and yet we have had an sustained series of escalating warning signs.

Where we stand:

  1. Investigation has produced tremendous disconfirmation of Israel’s history, both of the world’s origins and of their own origins. They appear to have been making up quite a lot. Their worldview and identity were predicated on this history, predicated on a fiction.
  2. The traditional understandings of our texts have been overturned, leaving past clerics – and even apostles – wholly mistaken about who wrote the Bible, when, and with what motives.
  3. Christian doctrine and beliefs appear to have developed during an era of systemic misunderstandings at the fundamental level. If the canon and our doctrines were remade from a blank sheet of paper today, on far more extensive knowledge of history and our texts, we would not arrive at the Bible or Christian doctrine as we know them.

There are those who want to simply find a new way of looking at our old texts, redefining how we read them in light of the evidence, as long as we can keep our existing framework of doctrine relatively unchanged. But we have an 18-centuries long oops in the rear view mirror, and I do not believe the responsible track is to try to press forward with business as usual. The liberal church conceded this some time ago and began attempting to honestly adapt; their motive is far clearer to me now than it ever was on the explanations doled out by the conservative church. In the opposite direction, the conservative church decidedly took a track of denial that any adjustment was required. Our core doctrines are right; they were right in the past; they will always be right. This denialist stance did buy some time, but more information has continued to amass, and it appears to have now overtaken the plausibility such a position.

My own thesis will pursue six points.

First, the overall portrait of historicity problems will be sketched in a single sweep, connecting in the wider view those various points listed in the preceding sections. I believe the overall arc has its own lesson. Rug sweeping has gone on for a considerable length of time.

Second, I will argue that Israel has lost credibility on their claim of being God’s chosen people, found as they have been making up the stories that were their bona fides of chosenness: the great works of power done by God publicly during the Exodus and conquest of Canaan.

Third, the witness of these bona fides in the Old Testament was presented as a perfect bubble, where Israel as a group had to be taken on their word for both their identity claims and the corroborating signs which vindicated their claims. We have a mirror of this situation on testimony about the life of Jesus, which comes exclusively from the church, and this diminishes the weight of the New Testament accounts as evidence.

Fourth, the people of ancient Israel should be viewed as Talented Tall Tale Tellers, as evidenced by their grand, moving, and meaningful non-histories. They also demonstrate tremendous credulity, being willing to blindly believe their own inaccurate material, to canonize it, and to stamp it as divinely sourced. The New Testament was developed by this same culture, leaving us with the bitter irony that the grandest and most moving story of all was penned by entirely questionable raconteurs.

Fifth, the Old Testament historical collapse produces a New Testament doctrinal crisis. Multiple doctrines about Jesus depend critically on the presumed real history of Israel. If there was no first Adam, no actual fall of mankind, and no actual Passover or sacrificial lambs, then the New Testament teachings about Jesus fade to myth-speak.

Sixth, and most critically, Israel’s collapse on the Pentateuch constitutes a first brick failure of their worldview, which was built and framed in those narratives. Key questions regarding a Messiah, a judgment, divine election, and human fallenness can only make sense on the background of the fictionally-derived worldview of Israel. Particular debates regarding the New Testament and Jesus are dissolved by the grandfathered death of the Jewish worldview.

The rabbit hole is deep. Nothing is so catastrophic or irreparable as a first line error. My perception of check mate follows from my unflagging agreement that George Ernest Wright was entirely correct:

“In Biblical faith, everything depends upon whether the central events actually occurred.”

~ George Ernest Wright, biblical archaeologist (cited by W.G. Dever)

1. History

This scandal has been brewing for a long time, and we were given every warning. The problem is not merely the Israeli and American archaeological findings about the Exodus. Nor can it be confined to the scientific issues with cosmic origins. And it cannot be hung merely around the question of human evolution. The problem is not science versus faith, nor is it a question of the miraculous stories being believable or not. The crisis is one of history: that the bible recounts events that did not happen, people who likely did not live, and places that did not exist. The question is one of fiction versus fact, myth versus history. The overall arc points to a collapse that was long in the coming. It cannot be chalked up to a single argument or one line of skeptical attack. It is a multi-point systemic failure, far more like a slow metastasizing cancer than a sudden heart attack.

Arcing Up

Beginning with early scientific developments from the 17th to 19th centuries, investigations progressively overturned several dogmatic church views regarding geocentricity of the cosmos, the 6,000-year age of the universe and earth, the six-day duration of the creation event, etc. The response and adaptation which transpired are important to note. In each case, after substantial struggle, scholars and clerics eventually located the necessary stretch room in the texts to develop compatible interpretations. However, a trend had been established, in which the Church responded and adapted following the demands of scientific exploration. It was clear that the biblical texts were following, not leading, on questions of actual origins. They progressively shrank as a source of insight about the world, and grew ever more ancillary and vulnerable.

Geological studies further undercut claims for a historical global flood, which continued to weaken as an assertion until arriving at its present indefensible status. Though the text itself unambiguously prohibits a scope contraction of this account to a local/regional event, this did become a default explanation. An explanation had been given, whether sufficient or not.

The Darwinian theory of biological origins created substantial complications for the textual defenders, but they soon developed co-opting measures which allowed annexation of this divergent concept as well. Notions of the created separateness of humanity were contracted, then rotated, from the material to the spiritual. Two naturally evolved hominids were tugged upward at last by a divine endowment of human souls, being thereby awakened to a new and full relationship with God. A spiritual fall then took place, and the historicity of both the Fall and of Adam were thus preserved.  That this approach had significant issues – i.e., that it never actually accounted for the antecedent existence of immeasurable suffering on earth, quite preceding any supposed fall – has been often ignored. Again, an explanation had been given, whether sufficient or not.

Anthropology caused complications of its own, since the artifacted age of humanity at 200 millennia clearly implies that a 97% genealogy compression would have to be assumed for the Bible’s six millennia timeline. The late innovation of human farming further renders the agrarian accounts of Eden anachronistic, regardless of such pseudo-patches.

The strategy of redefinition struck a more formidable sandbar, however, with the advances of modern genomics and the completion of the Human Genome Project. The possibility of a first human pair has now been digitally eliminated from plausibility, as well as the possibility of even a first generation of humans. The slow morphing changes of ancestral development leave no room for a first man or first people in any definable sense. The targets for spiritual injection ghosted away: we were always many, and we arrived in a blur, not a bifurcation.

Not to be discouraged, creative textual redefinitions continue to be hatched. Apathetic assertions of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) are companioned by far more nuanced alternatives (homo divinus comes to mind). The pattern of catch up continues: investigational sciences establish fixed points, and new views of the text are developed in an attempt to fit the external constraints and preserve traditional doctrine.

Meanwhile, protracted investigation of the texts themselves indicated that they did not come from where we had long thought. Authorship claims for the Pentateuch collapsed, and the authority of the texts as ever having been prophetic in the first place eroded.


I think it is important and instructive to inventory the number of red flags that have been waved over the past four centuries. Despite our unwillingness to observe, they indicated for quite some time that perhaps the ancient Israelites may not have had as much insight in their writings as originally assumed:

  • Heliocentricity
  • Cosmological origins
  • Geological origins
  • Human origins
  • Global flood and biospheric restart
  • Early anthropology
  • Origins of animal and human suffering
  • Origins of cosmological chaos, or the groanings of creation
  • Ascription of the texts

The degree of shape-morphing which was undertaken to paper over these disconnects is actually quite astonishing. In each case, the message of the text would point us to the right, while inquiry would eventually show that all indicators pointed left. Repairative tools would be brought to bear – nuance, sophistication, and genre.  And after a period of struggle, it would be determined that the text actually had pointed left all along, notwithstanding its failure to have alerted us ahead of time. Or alternately, renunciation would be invoked: the text did not point at all on such questions, either left or right, and only the pitiably mistaken could ever have thought that it did. The projects of textual rehabilitation and claim contraction marched on. And as with the slow boiled frog, the adaptations and textual refittings have all taken place slowly enough that the total progression is forgotten.

On the whole, it would seem that we auctioned off the scriptural value some time ago, and that apart from external correctives of true investigation, the text would yet have us thinking wrongly on each of these points. Misguided due to misguiding.

Arcing Over

On this background, it should have come as no surprise when Israeli archaeological findings eventually overturned the remainder of the Pentateuch and Joshua. The patriarchal period, captivity in Egypt, Exodus, desert wanderings, and conquest of Canaan have proven to be largely fictional accounts. This was eventually determined not by assuming, which is all that had ever backed the texts on issues of authorship, date, accuracy, etc., but by rigorous investigation. Hard work, not the apathy of tradition, finally provided tractable answers.

The problem is that the Israeli findings cannot be dismissed with the type of special pleading used for the previous scientific issues listed. The problems here are strictly historical, and they cannot be written off with claims that the accounts were symbolic, or demurring that the Bible did not intend to teach science. We are talking about a history that never happened. But of course, half of the supposed scientific discrepancies listed above had in fact always really been historical questions: either a global flood struck earth 5,ooo-6,000 years ago, or it did not; either the genealogies recorded accurate lists of real people, or they did not; either people were agriculturalists from their inception, or they were not; either we descended from a single human pair, or we did not; etc.

The historical collapse was heavily foreshadowed. These texts had red-flagged repeatedly. The disconfirmation of the archaeological investigations is not the first problem, it is the final blow in a series of repeat failures. It completes the trend.

We may note the fairly obvious reasons why Augustine’s Genesis views cannot salvage the situation. He, of course, never actually had a tractable solution to offer in his regress to grey ambiguity. The problems of the genealogies and of Paul’s Adam were never solved on Augustine. And there is no way of shoehorning the Exodus and conquest collapse into his proposals. Supposed solutions like non-overlapping magisteria and functional/material distinction, which were never actually tenable, similarly fail to provide the necessary breadth to patch the broader Pentateuch. There can be no begging off.

The problems arc far ahead of the Pentateuch and Joshua, with the remainder of the Old Testament demonstrating checkered motives, flexibility of ascription, generous redrafting, and – politely – looseness of factuality that leads up to the very doorstep of the New Testament.

Yet the redefinition project continues unflagging, even over the collapse of Israel’s prehistory, which is now being recast by some as a self-proclamation by Israel of their identity and felt specialness to God [**]. Polemical these accounts may well have been, but it was never understood that they were polemics from fiction: any myth will work quite handily if our interests collapse to the subjective.


It has been thoroughly disheartening to learn of the embattled position and broad disconfirmation of the biblical texts. It has been maddening to realize how long some of these problems have been known and to observe how widespread the collective effort to wish-think them away has been and continues to be. It has been worse to see the late-hour blows that have brought a terminus. Having been once persuaded that I was following the one true faith – a faith grounded in fact – I have been shattered. For myself, I must say that I did not sign on for a game of collective make-believe. No living person is to blame for these texts, their dreadful record, or their now deceased pedigree – but I would count myself to blame if I aided in perpetuating what appears to be a longstanding pattern of denial.

And any attempt to regroup the defenses must answer the curious question of why this scandal seems to have struck like a sort of delayed-fuse time bomb. These problems were written onto scrolls and then bound into the canon, laying quietly for millennia, yet destined to be eventually discovered. The church labored under a confusion, hammering out doctrine on false assumptions for a very long time. As will be discussed in the following points, the domino effects are in many ways fatal. If the writing was divinely guided and the assemblage was divinely shepherded, it is very difficult to explain why it has come out so badly, and so late.

I believe there is a superior hypothesis to explain the situation, one that does not involve such crude carpentry, grandfathering redefinitions of what the text really meant all along, and indictments of the divine character.

2. Credibility

Claims and Credentials

Israel was not original in their self-claims to be divinely chosen. History stands replete with examples of many peoples and nations who believed they had a special divine destiny; i.e., that they were God’s gift to the world. Normally, there would be no reason to give special credence to Israel on such claims; they would have to get in line with the others. However, our traditions maintain that Israel was different.

Israel had particular evidences of God’s unique endorsement: their bona fides. The private promises which had been made to Abraham were publicly and spectacularly vindicated during Israel’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt during the Exodus. Signs of power and awe accompanied the giving of the law on Sinai. Further supernatural measures sustained them during their desert wanderings and empowered the subsequent military conquest and genocidal purging of Canaan. The birth of the nation was underwritten by God, whose fiat defined their covenant, outlined their national charter, revealed their law, and bequeathed to them Abraham’s long-promised land.

But in the simplest terms, these central events did not actually occur. A substantial percentage were imaginary. It does not appear that Israel migrated to Canaan at all, miracles or not. Israel’s law did not arrive by divine disclosure during the non-events on Sinai, instead likely arising by organic cultural process just like the laws of so many ‘divinely-appointed’ kings throughout history. The law appears to be as man-made as Israel’s early history. Nor did they conquer the cities which they claimed. Perhaps some percentage of these accounts grew from actual seedling events; if so, their shortfall of grandeur and overwhelming exaggeration land us in the same place.

At the most critical point imaginable – on their credentials and foundation – Israel has been caught, fabricating and deluded.

Recognition must further be made that, with regard to the realities of the material world, the ancient authors of Israel had not a clue as to what they were talking about. They did not have an understanding of where the cosmos came from, nor where people came from, nor where suffering originated. They brandished no sword of insight in their blind swags about creation, which the antecedent Mesopotamians could just as easily have penned with equal claims of accuracy. They asserted that they had a special relationship with the creator-god, but this clearly afforded them no better knowledge of the created world.

I am left to conclude that their aggrandized assertions were simply that, nothing more. They were self-mistaken. They stand beside the Imperial Japanese, the Romans, etc., each of which held unfounded persuasions of their uniquely divine destiny. As with all such claims, theirs also proves to be grounded in their own self-affirming mythology. So it is that I have come to the well-intentioned, regrettable, and yet unavoidable conclusion that Israel was simply mistaken about being God’s chosen people. They may well have believed it themselves; many in history have. That belief is, in the end, as fictional as the bona fides that support it.

It is the house built on the sand.

Greater Jeopardy

A pivot necessarily ensues from this crisis of credibility. It would be baseless to assert that Israel’s law carries divine authority, man-made as it apparently is. Or to assert that their prophets had some divine uplink otherwise absent in other religions the world over. Much less to assert that their culture was God’s unique cradle of truth and revelation to the world.

The jeopardy reaches farther, however. The gamble of claiming God’s authority for your culture’s texts is that, if claimed incorrectly, blasphemy accrues. When they fell short on this count, they did not simply fall to the pitiably deluded. It becomes painfully evident that they forged their credentials and chronicled dishonestly under a divine banner. Perhaps the penmen intended nothing more than literature, and thereby remain blameless. Perhaps the real failure falls upon the later redactors who errantly designated such fictions as God’s Word.

Regardless, being Israel grants no entitlement to make up the past and stamp it both factual and divine. If they were making it up as they went along, I can see no exempting them from the same condemnation deserved by any false religion. As one who in this life has suffered tremendously under the captivities of latter-day false prophecy, I must maintain that there can be no soft pedaling of such serious issues. If they were making it up as they went along, they should not be spared cold examination.

It must be remembered, how much fire and brimstone they hurled in God’s name. Their stated blood-lust and desires for genocidal extermination should not be dimmed in the least. They long seethed with malice and gloating over their enemies, and they counted as just their supposed conquests of no-quarter. The full and often horrific color of the Pentateuch should be gazed upon under the light of Israel’s claim of divine underwriting and endorsement. For if it was not God that bestowed these teachings and histories, then the deconstruction we now behold is just. Their credibility should be left to stand or fall on its own – no props, no explaining away, and no begging of latitude. God’s Words, I remain convinced, can stand very well on their own. Man’s words should come to their own ends.

I have been rent in two, to see the pummeling and downfall. But in my assessment, this is where the facts and the patterns clearly point. We have a first-line error – the mistaken status of these texts and of the culture who penned them. And this error begat everything that followed.

3. Bubble

We took them at their word, and I think that was the first mistake. Israel denoted themselves as God’s people and heralded their scriptures as God’s Word. They did have proofs, of course, which demonstrated the veracity of their claims. With the Exodus and conquest, the private promises made to Abraham were illustrated in great works of power, manifestations of the divine claim over Israel as his chosen people, proofs of his election and covenant with them. But then, the only witness to those proofs was… Israel. Not a whisper of corroboration has been forthcoming from any other records, even with a different political spin. No one witnessed the mighty works except the beneficiary and claimant: Israel. We took them at their word for their claims of themselves, their texts, and for their miraculous corroborating signs. This is a testimony bubble. It is self-affirming, but entirely unvalidated by anything outside itself.

The more difficult consideration: with Jesus, the same template is presented. Of the many false Messiahs, the followers of Jesus claimed that he was the legitimate one. He did many miracles and signs which corroborated this claim. He rose from the dead as the ultimate testimony of his identity and power. The issue, as with the Exodus, is obvious: the group that claimed his identity is the same group that claimed his signs, miracles, and resurrection. There is not a whisper from any out-group source concerning any point of this. The claim and the proof come from the same source: the early followers. A deafening silence cries from the Jewish and pagan sources of the day:

  • There is no record of the Herodian slaughter of children
  • There is no record of Jesus entering Jerusalem amid palm fronds and adulation;
  • There is no mention of the temple disturbance, trial, or execution of Jesus;
  • There is no mention of Jesus appearing post-resurrection to any of his opponents or persecutors – i.e., Pilate was not troubled by apparitions of Jesus post mortem, the high priest did not commit suicide, etc.

And there were two events that really should have registered somewhere, occurring as they did during the height of Passover, beneath the eyes of both the Jewish and Roman leaders:

  • There is no record of the temple veil being rent;
  • There is no mention of the many dead emptying their tombs and being seen throughout Jerusalem.

Not a ripple in the pond.

We find no mention of anything like these events – even by excusing them with alternate explanations (for which there could be many). Instead, silence. Silence reigns from all other sources on these extraordinary events having happened whatsoever. In fact, silence regarding Jesus’ life entirely. In other words, the Exodus dilemma holds: one hundred percent of the claims and the proofs are sourced to the same group, the group that believed. And with the obvious and bitter lesson still fresh in mind, the Exodus claims have collapsed under scrutiny.

So I put the question to myself bluntly: what can you wind up with if you accept both claims and proofs from the same source? Anything. Simply anything. This is a structural collapse of the first order for any claim that we have firm evidence in support of the resurrection, etc. Despite my tremendous respect for N.T. Wright and his monumental work on the resurrection [53], his arguments ultimately remained inside the bubble. We have evidence of group belief, and group belief only: all our records derive from within the group.

And the world is crowded. These claims stand alongside a motley lineup of companions. Mohammed is said to have ridden a winged horse to the heavens, yet Muslims are the only group to claim that this actually happened. Joseph Smith is said to have dictated the Book of Mormon from golden tablets, yet no one but the Mormons would claim that these tablets ever really existed. So it proceeds down the line. None of these unfounded claims can be proven or disproven, and none have even circumstantial evidence from an outside source. All hold the same in-group bubble of exclusivity. The attestation of the miraculous remains paper thin, and the specter of the Exodus looms over assertions that from Israel, such claims are different.

4. Talented Tall Tale Tellers

Under the lamps, the Old Testament shrinks to a normal collection of ancient narrative histories, literature, and lore. They are no better and no worse than the literature of other ancient cultures, providing no warrant for escalating them to the status of God’s Word.

They were an underdog people that wove a moving collection of underdog stories. Yet by all evidences, their taller tales of miracle and power have, at their center, far more modest and far less supernatural events. That is, when those events occurred at all. It begins with Genesis, permeates the Pentateuch, and appears throughout the other old Testament accounts. They were talented-tall-tale-tellers of the first order: compelling but not especially trustworthy. And they were willing and able to redraft history and reallocate meanings when events pressed them to do so. They did not seem particularly bound by facts; inhibitions regarding embellishment were largely absent. The story they wanted to tell seems ever to have taken precedence over recounting what actually happened.

Israel’s claims require an obvious and necessary correction factor, which I propose as the following rule of adjustment: when ancient Israel describes astonishing and supernatural occurrences, it is safe and necessary to assume that the real events which inspired those accounts were far more modest than the stories told. The greater the event – like the Exodus – the greater the likelihood of exaggeration and the greater the possibility that it may not have taken place at all.

The problem with this necessary down-correction is that some events, if they did not occur on the scale claimed, lose their meaning and their credibility. As has been proposed to me in various conversations, perhaps events like the Exodus really did take place, but the scope was simply exaggerated. Perhaps the Exodus involved a more modest 600 men and their families, instead of 600,000. Perhaps so. Archaeological records would not preclude this from possibility. But such a textual rehabilitation would be a Pyrrhic victory. If the exaggeration is one of scale, the scaling hits the theological content as well. What would be the likelihood that all the Egyptian firstborn actually died? That blood on the door posts actually saved Israel from the same otherwise certain fate? Or that the thunderstorm on Sinai approached the scale of divine apparition and graven stone tablets? If the scope is to be contracted, the necessary and unanswerable question is, how small was the kernel of truth at its center?

Eventually, Israel’s penchant for such stories coalesced into the ultimate underdog tale of Jesus, the greatest story ever told. But since these accounts were conveyed to humanity through the mouthpiece of Israel, they carry an arresting and burdensome asterisk. The rule of adjustment must apply: when this culture recounts astonishing supernatural events, it is likely that the actual events of history were far more modest. Perhaps he wasn’t quite divine, wasn’t quite born of a virgin, or wasn’t quite resurrected in the flesh. How small was the kernel?

On examination, the rule of caution and scaling does seem to hold for the New Testament. Second Temple interpretive practices had legitimized backward content infusion and gave wide creative latitude to scholars to see what they wanted in the scriptures; Paul seems to have done just that. Non-messianic passages were co-opted and redefined to bolster otherwise minimal support for Jesus of Nazareth as the anointed one. And as textual critics have demonstrated for well over a century, the canon seems to betray a developing Jesus legend, with later gospels painting progressively grander portraits. Again, these New Testament issues are not the exception to an otherwise impeccable literary tradition. They would be the expected norm from a culture with an established history of wish-thinking regarding their scriptures, themselves, and the miraculous.

5. Doctrinal Crisis

A number of people come back from the dead in various biblical stories. However, none is given the significance of Jesus’ return to the living. None were seen as having an impact on the sin status of anyone, and they generally pointed to the significance and status of the person who did the raising, not the person that was raised. In terms of doctrine, Jesus’ identity, death and resurrection were said to be categorically different. The New Testament throws grappling hooks back to multiple points in the Old Testament to explain this question of meaning. These back-references make it evident that the writers of the New Testament labored with full confidence in the factuality of the Old. This creates a crisis as key blocks of the Old begin to fade to the imaginary. We need them to have been real, or we lose the real meaning of the doctrines and the credibility of the authors explaining them.

What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the second Adam? Paul clearly had no idea that the Genesis accounts would come to the present juncture. We have a crisis regarding the historical Adam, and the simple question of who (or what) Adam actually was sits quagmired. To Paul, Adam was as historical as the genealogies would indicate: but what does this say of Paul’s divine uplink?

What do we mean if we say that Jesus is the Passover Lamb? If there was no Exodus from Egypt, then there was no slaying of the firstborn. No doorways were whetted with lamb’s blood. No people were there to be delivered. What does this say about John’s divine uplink?

What do we mean when we talk about redemption? Redemption implies being bought back, i.e., being restored back to what humanity was meant to have been before the fall and back to true relationship with God as it was before the gulf of broken fellowship opened. But if there was no fall from some higher perch, how can we be set back on it? If our antecedents all murdered and stole and warred long before humanity footprinted the sand, what is there to be purchased back to?

We are left with an internally functional set of doctrines – they still mean something to us within our framework. But the cables attaching the entire structure to real history have been cut, and the mass now wafts free of reality. If the historicity of the Pentateuch erodes, our meanings become wholly subjective.

Mormons no doubt have internal discussions about the advantages of temple weddings, sealing ceremonies, work for the dead, and degrees of afterlife exaltation. And no doubt these dialogues carry meaning for them within their framework. Muslims similarly have their own categories and value sets, of which I claim to know very little. Likewise with Hindus, Buddhists, etc. It is obvious, on our own assertions, that this type of meaning has not the slightest intrinsic connection to metaphysical reality.

Our crisis is that key Old Testament histories have dissolved to the imaginary, putting our doctrinal back-references on level ground with Mormon and Islamic dialogues. If the central events did not actually happen, then we have doctrines about the real Jesus inheriting their meaning from imaginary events. And that makes our doctrinal legitimacy a lot like everyone else’s.

That wasn’t the idea.

6. Worldview

I now come to the hardest consideration, far worse than the doctrinal problems just described: the lens of the Pentateuch and the parallax it embued on the millennia of dialogue and quest that followed. The worldview of the Pentateuch set the stage on which the players move. It defined the problem or crisis in which humanity finds itself. Then it shaped and bounded what a solution to the dilemma would look like. In short, it gave the context, the questions, and a template of viable answers.

Triple Point

I have chosen three points from the Pentateuch to form the stool legs of the worldview discussion that follows (though others could certainly be added):

(1) The fall of Adam, which opened a gulf between man and God, the broken fellowship of a fallen sinful state, which propagated to the remainder of humanity. This was the fundamental human dilemma: the crisis.

(2) The prescription of animal sacrifice, which functioned as a repair measure for the sins of this fallen condition, at least in a limited in temporary way. This was the fundamental template of a solution to the dilemma: without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.

(3) Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, by which he passed God’s test of pious fidelity, was blessed by God, and was counted a moral exemplar of character and submission. Abraham was a template of  character and godliness, the father of God’s chosen nation.

These three constructs provide some of the thematic fixed points about which the later New Testament theology rotates. They are key first floor components of the building, on top of which the tower is built. Critically for us, they are also imaginary, recorded as were in the Pentateuch, whose central events have been disconfirmed as largely fictional. So what happens when these ground-level structural components dissolve to fiction?

Each of the three points will be considered briefly, after which I will make my overall argument from their assembly.

(1) The Diagnosis of Disease

Is humanity fallen? This Jewish diagnosis of the human condition is derived from the mythic world of Eden. That humanity has problems is clear, but that does not mean that any arbitrary diagnosis can be considered correct. Recall that every world religion acknowledges that people have a problem, but they all diagnose it differently and all prescribe different cures.

The diagnosis of Genesis derives from an event that all evidence indicates never transpired – there was no fall, nor an exalted place to have fallen from. And these texts have been disconfirmed as thoroughly as any could be, at both scientific and historical levels. The diagnosis is not grounded in tangible reality. We might say that the diagnosis machine simply never functioned well, and that the doctor on call has since been found to have false credentials. Whatever is wrong with humanity, there is not a good basis to suppose the Jewish diagnosis was at all on the mark. There is no reason to suppose, on the basis of a now-defunct fiction, that humanity fell from a higher state or that a gulf opened between God and man owing to the behavior of an ancient ancestor.

(2) The Prescription of Slaughter

Why are we to suppose that slaughtering an animal somehow compensates for our misdeeds? This blood equation, if we step outside to consider, does not intrinsically make much sense. One is reminded of myriad shamanic rituals, each believed to affect some change in the physical or spiritual world. We justly find them absurd. Animal slaughter for sin is one of these, and it comes from the same infancy of humankind, written at the same grade level.

The Islamic radical believes that a suicide/homicide martyrdom will both pardon his misdeeds and assure a glorious reward in the afterlife. He believes there is a causal mechanism connecting his action with a very real cosmic change in his status. He believes that this is how the spiritual dimension of the universe works. In reality, there is no reason to suppose the slightest connection exists between his actions and the expected outcome. We look at this and shake our heads: it doesn’t work that way, and why would anyone embrace the bizarre notion that it did?

So too, apart from the framework of Yahweh-think in the Pentateuch, there would be no reason to suppose that slaughtering animals should have the slightest effect on our spiritual status in the cosmos at all. Why would killing an entirely unrelated mammal have any efficacy? We further have no reason to suspect that there is any connection between wrongdoing and death. Death has been in the biosphere long before creatures were complex enough to have conscience at all. Death did not arrive with the non-event of the fall.

Our embrace of these basic propositions occurs at the very bottom of our belief structure – they come from the Yahweh-think worldview, which was formed and shaped in fictional accounts of non-events. There is no reason to suppose, on the basis of a now-defunct fiction, that the spiritual universe actually follows the blood equation or that it ever represented the mind of God. We have only a fiction to say so.

(3) Moral Triumph, Moral Horror

Should we count Abraham’s willingness to kill his son as a moral triumph? Is he in fact made an exemplar by attempted filicide?

I can recall being troubled by this narrative as a youth. As an adolescent, I remember donning the mind of Isaac and feeling some sense of his likely terror at a similar age. I considered what it would be if my own father acted as Abraham. But time and conditioning and familiarity eventually led to an anesthetized acceptance – and a precipitated moral sense that was calibrated to match. On such considerations, I would be remiss if I did not mention authors like Hitchens, Harris, Paine, etc., who shook the boughs of my thought and awakened fresh contemplations [22, 20, 62].

All three monotheisms, just to take the most salient example, praise Abraham for being willing to hear voices and then to take his son Isaac for a long and rather mad and gloomy walk. And then the caprice by which his murderous hand is finally stayed is written down as divine mercy.

~ Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great

Step to the present and reconsider: if I conveyed to you that I also heard a voice, which I was certain was God’s, and that I was seriously considering taking the demanded action, I have no doubt that you would both warn me off and alert the authorities. You would justly count my actions as those of a seriously disturbed and unwell person, and grave enough to warrant intervention.

Realizing that the account in question was not penned by Moses, nor anyone else with a prophetic title or a discernible divine uplink, I shall simply state the obvious: the parable of Abraham and Isaac is a moral horror. The sadism of the supposed loyalty test is matched only by the psychopathy of the acquiescence. And it stands comfortably beside the other disturbing Pentateuch injunctions for genocide, slavery, selling of daughters, execution of children, etc.

We recall with soberness that there are those today who murder their children, sometimes for religion and sometimes because of voices they hear. We respond with natural horror to these incidents, as any mentally healthy person should.

Yet belief in the divine authorship of the Pentateuch leads us to suspend our revulsion and replace it with embrace. We are taught to selectively count certain instances of filicidal action as not only morally acceptable, but exemplary. A moral triumph.

A moral triumph?

I am ashamed to admit that I once strongly affirmed this, manifesting what is clearly a damaging of the inborn moral compass. And apart from the Pentateuch, apart from thinking God would have me to embrace such horrors as moral triumphs, I would not have endorsed it.


The Jesus story fuses the preceding three elements together:

  • God looks on the death of Jesus as a sufficient atonement for the sinful actions of other people;
  • That it has the power to redeem people from their fallen state; and
  • That it embodied both self-sacrifice on Jesus’ part and child sacrifice on the Father’s part.

The Jesus story presumes utterly and comprehensively that the Jewish worldview – the frame, the crisis, and the template solution – was grounded in reality and in divine values. It assumes that the spiritual universe actually works per the rules that the Pentateuch outlines. A brief dissection:

  • The crisis of death and of separation from God meant that a solution had to be sought and found.
  • The slaughter of otherwise unrelated mammals actually was efficacious – it actually did work for covering sins. The more perfect and spotless the mammal, the better.
  • Even better still would be the slaughter of a human, particularly if that human was truly innocent and had not participated in the wrongdoings that characterize the rest of humanity. A one-time slaughter of a perfect and blameless person, on behalf of the guilty, would be the ultimate repair for the God-man gulf.
  • Yahweh himself established the rules to function this way when he made the cosmos. He could have made the means of repair to be anything, being unbound as he was by any external authority. There was no a priori that innocent blood shedding had to be the corrective mechanism.
  • But Yahweh did establish this mechanism: slaughter is the God-chosen method, it does work, and it was declared so by fiat, in a world where the rules and mechanisms to repair the God-man gulf could have been anything God had chosen.
  • Finally, this worldview maintained that the sacrifice would be gauged an even greater moral triumph if it also encompassed a filicidal component: Jesus was God’s son; God actively gave him up to be sacrificed; and this made the spiritual triumph unmatched.

The story plays similar chords as the renown Aztecan rituals, slaying a human to fulfill a blood equation for the good of everyone else. It combines thematic elements of dutiful human suicide, persecutory deicide, and God-enacted filicide. We sense that it was all somehow quite necessary in order to resolve the gulf and arrive at the grand solution. But any necessity for Yahweh was self-inflicted, since he would have authored the original Aztecan blood equation as the grand Law of the spiritual cosmos when there was not the slightest  constraints to mandate that it be so. The whole awful passion of blood soaked moral inversion was crafted a priori, at a time before time when the script was nothing but a blank page, when there was yet no crisis, and when there was yet no blood equation in existence. This play was entirely elective.

Our gaze is averted from such disquieting thoughts by the fact that there are truly good themes in the story – themes of universal love and ultimate self-sacrifice. These profound and moving elements are mingled with the ghastliness of Yahweh-think, however, a lens shaped by a fiction. And so we are led to embrace the entire package. We are led to embrace divine filicide and to call it moral triumph. We are led to embrace a divine requirement for the slaughter of the innocent on behalf of the guilty, and to call it justice. We are led to do this based upon Yahweh-think, of which the New Testament was but the last chapter.

From these three points, it is easy to expand to other worldview assumptions that have been granted by the Pentateuch along the way: that God is jealous and judgmental; that God interacts with people through rewards and punishments; that only a remnant or minority will find the narrow path; that there are in and out groups of people; that our in-group/out-group status is of central importance in life, etc. From fictional accounts, it would appear that we got off on the wrong foot with a great many assumptions.

The personal blow has been difficult to weather. On the early writings of Israel, I find that I have myself affirmed the criminal and the immoral. I have called filicide faithfulness. I have conceded genocide as just. I have affirmed slavery as sanctioned. And I have called the terrible triumphal. But if these early writings were simply man-made contrivances, which certainly seems the case, I would have to conclude that the morality they teach is actually criminal.


Aftermath questions which must be asked, should the Pentateuch collapse on credibility, would include:

  • Why should we think that the wages of sin is death?
  • Why should we think animal or human slaughter actually does anything at all?
  • Why should we think people require saving?
  • Why should we think filicide is ever acceptable or triumphal?
  • Why should we think God requires innocent blood to justify the guilty?
  • Why should we think that only the few will be found pleasing to God?
  • Why should we think that in-group/out-group classification is God’s view of humanity?
  • Why should we think Yahweh is an approximation of God at all?

The New Testament presents Jesus as the answer to the crisis of sin and separation, but it did so assuming that there actually was such a crisis. It established a way to get into God’s group and be delivered, assuming that there actually were inside and outside groups. It assumed that Israel’s history was real and that its crisis and questions were relevant.

In a grand retraction, the sin & atonement framework of Judaism has been revoked, reclaimed by the fictional world it came from. And if so, we do not need an answer to the non-crisis. We need not ask who or what should be slaughtered to improve our situation. If the Pentateuch fades to a library of imaginings, it does not matter if we find an answer: the very question dies.

It is for this reason that there remains no traction in proposals that the advent of Jesus creates a type of rearward restoration of the Old Testament. I accept that his centrality could potentially infuse new content into the prior passages (though the circularity is palpable), and that he may strike the waters in a way that sends ripples both forward and backward in time. But I think we ought not to suggest that his coming repairs lies. It does not drag the imaginary into the world of that which actually happened. The life of Jesus does not place the people of Israel in Egyptian captivity if they were never there, nor put Moses on Sinai to receive the law which Jesus was said to have fulfilled. And it cannot make the primordial crisis real, nor inject us with a disease to match the baseless diagnosis. If the questions suffer a grandfathered death, we construct our theology from Grimm. The world of defunct mythology breaks open anew, and all the gods beckon for their respective second chances.

This is the outcome of a first line error, a worldview collapse. We have been chasing answers to the wrong questions. No amount of concern over the answers will avail. The wrong assumptions. The wrong questions.  The wrong people of god. The wrong map and the wrong navigator. The wrong diagnosis and the wrong treatment.

On a fictional Pentateuch, absurdity devours all.

Good News, Bad News

The gospel was the good news, but to obtain it, you were left to first accept the utterly bad news of crisis and separation painted by the Pentateuch. The good news was the answer to the bad.

And so the collapse of the overall project actually has a silver lining – that the dire omens of crisis were simply a boy crying wolf, and crying it long before he could either read or write. The cry went up at a time before anything – from the weather to disease to death – was understood by the minds of early humanity. The long treatise of conjecture finally dissolved under the load of inquiry.

The Yahweh of fear and punishment and vengeance and jealousy was a tale that never touched foot to earth. The story of the fall was a fiction; humanity is not cursed. The covenant with Abraham was also a fiction; there is no in-group, nor for that matter an out-group. The angry God of Genesis was a fiction; we need not fear the almost-everybody judgment to come. Satan and eternal punishment are both demonstrably late-arriving Jewish inventions; we need not fear a contrived bogey man. The good news is simply that there is far less to worry about than the self-inflicted hypochondria of the Tall Tale Tellers would have us believe.


The disconcerting realization is that Judaism and Christianity have with unblinking loyalty spent 2 to 3 millennia living out the worldview of an ancient agrarian people, on the authority of a single founding author, who we now know did not write those anonymous texts in the first place. Basing so much on a single man, from so long ago, was the building of an unwise and perilously long lever. And now we have our answer.

I have had to grapple with the basic visceral reaction of considering such a mistake to be impossible. The grand history of the early church growth and expansion, the wranglings of Catholics and Protestants, the rise of Western Civilization, the countless faithful. Could the null hypothesis actually be correct? The heavy press of tradition is palpable, and with me at least, carries a personal weight.

Yet objectively, I have scanned the horizon for case studies. Hinduism. Islam. Buddhism. All are long-lived, despite their ontological and metaphysical bankruptcy. The common denominator remains people, who have always invented religions with eagerness and without basis. Yes, I have admitted to myself, it is clearly possible that Judaism was actually a fraud of the same order. More than possible – in light of human nature and statistics, it was arguably the most likely explanation.

The brisance of Jericho derives not from the shattering force of Joshua’s trumpets on those ancient city walls. Indeed, Jericho seems unlikely to have had fortifications which could have been knocked down at the time of  the purported conquest. And it seems that there never were any invading hordes to march circles around the city. Instead, the true brisance has struck from the silence of a grand retraction, the vacuum of happenings that never were, and the realization that Judaism was but human from the first brick. The transgressions of those long dead stretch forward their hands, thieving the present.

And the crime echoes for me in a faith revoked.

Next: 10. Retrospective >>


© Copyright 2013


  1. Jericho, I am IMPRESSED with your research and insight. I am a former preacher (Church of Christ) of over 20 years. The liberation of reasoning ones way from faith to reality is an experience only those conditioned to believe and then made the intellectual step to reject myth and reason with the mind can relate to. Your liberation is evident by your writings. Your research and efforts to reach out to any who wish to reason instead of just rant is a noble endeavor. You are doing humanity a great service. Davey


    • Thanks Davy, good to hear from you. Your background sounds interesting – will look into your blog for thoughts and observations.


  2. Jericho, I found the link to your blog from Nate’s blog. I hope more of his followers read this. My story is much like yours . I could not have shared it so eloquently as you , however. I hope you will allow me and others to share your story . It needs to be told.

    Thank you again !


  3. Alice G. says:

    I have had to grapple with the basic visceral reaction of considering such a mistake to be impossible. The grand history of the early church growth and expansion, the wranglings of Catholics and Protestants, the rise of Western Civilization, the countless faithful. Could the null hypothesis actually be correct? The heavy press of tradition is palpable, and with me at least, carries a personal weight.
    Yet objectively, I have scanned the horizon for case studies. Hinduism. Islam. Buddhism. All are long-lived, despite their ontological and metaphysical bankruptcy. The common denominator remains people, who have always invented religions with eagerness and without basis. Yes, I have admitted to myself, it is clearly possible that Judaism was actually a fraud of the same order. More than possible – in light of human nature and statistics, it was arguably the most likely outcome.

    I have grappled with this too very recently and came to the same conclusions. Well said.


    • Thanks. It was very difficult to accept “sameness”, since I had for so long proclaimed “uniqueness” regarding what I believe. Solipsism and ego seem to lurk just everywhere in the world of beliefs. It is self-referential, immediately impacting self-image if the uniqueness proves fallacious. For me at least, I think that was the main reason for the “struggle” part of it… a very deep-held attachment.

      Curious about your journey if you’d be interested in sharing.


  4. Alice G. says:

    I had to look up solipsism:) But I know what you mean. It is amazing to me that so many of us (I’ve been reading deconversion stories like crazy lately) have such different stories, but many of the same thoughts that led to the struggle.

    I just started writing out my story here a week or two ago:

    It is not nearly done, and is more of a meandering life story leading up to why I believed in the first place and then what went wrong. There’s a lot of things put in there in the way of background for some I know who are reading (esp. people from my church to which we just disappeared from without explanation) that would want to know what in the world happened. No one there knew anything about the doubts I (we-my husband too, but he’s a bit behind me I think) were having.

    I like that you put a bibliography for your research and I’m sure I’ll be using it. I have done some amount of research and plan to do more, but am right now dealing with the emotions of all this. I’ve known it was over for some time before I finally admitted it to myself.

    I am so glad that your daughter got through her illness, too. That must have been terrifying.


  5. I’ve enjoyed every section of your journey so far, but this one was superb. It took me a while to get through, but it was well worth it. I think I’m going to do a post about it soon.

    I can’t get over how much I identify with everything you write. Granted, our particular denominations were different, but our paths out of Christianity have an amazing number of parallels.


    • Nate – thanks so much, I really appreciate feedback from you on these. The thesis section was difficult: grand narrative, gradual convergence, constellation alignment, hammer fall… it was hard to write. Many drafts!

      My wife and I have certainly resonated many times with your accounts, and that helps quite a bit. The community of folks like you and Zande and Victoria have been great to interact with.


  6. I popped over a while back but didn’t have the time to do your blog justice.
    Phew…blown away.
    I agree with John Z from another post (sheesh, I have read so many can’t remember where I saw it)
    You should write a book.


  7. Oh wow. It was suggested over at Nate’s place that your blog might be a good resource…understatement of the year!

    Not sure I’ve seen anyone else make the connection so clear (for my mathematical type mind anyway) that if the Old Testament, especially the pentateuch, is in error; then the New Testament is of no consequence. Thank you, as a guy in the middle of leaving Christianity this site will be a very useful too.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I came back for a read after seeing this post linked in my mailbox via a recent comment.
    I did not realise how ”old” this simply marvelous piece is and the overriding question remains, hanging, nay, looming overhead:
    Why in all that is considered precious have you not turned this into a book, Matt?

    I shall be linking it henceforth.

    BTW. I may have said this before, but it is worth repeating, I feel confident you could go on a lecture tour with this ( and likely get stoned for your trouble! – kidding).

    Your reasoning is unassailable and your writing is some of the very best on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Ark,

      That was incredibly generous of you man, thanks.

      I did think about it a good bit. There was a lot of steam in me to do just that for a while. Honestly though, I kept going over the premise of the book, the background of existing books on the same subject, and my own on-paper qualifications and such. In the end, I concluded that the subject/topic had enough runners in it. The non-fiction “let me tell you how Christianity is false” sub-genre seemed robust enough.

      The other issue, to my mind, is that most of the folks who we could really, really wish to read such books – they don’t. They won’t.

      For those that do, I have found a repeatable observation… They read it, they say that it is very disturbing, they look at the counter points, and they shrug off. They often (IME) do so by explaining how compelling the Jesus story is to them. The power of the story rings true. They either can’t or won’t go to the trouble of fact checking to the bottom of the well. And the Jesus story they know is just “too compelling not to be true.”‘

      I consider “story” to be the weapon of greatest lethality here. So I’ve contrived a book project at last that will traffic in that currency. Fiction. But real. Story, weaponized.

      Course (LOL), the problem is that it is hard as hell. My plot ambitions are complex. Evocation in storytelling is a craft. I think I can do it, based on the feedback over the Paisley series, but it will be slow. I’m a year or two out. Then publication is a whole other minefield. Much uphill grade ahead. But the burgeoning smolder within has held. If I can do it, I have a feeling it’s something you’d enjoy. 😉


      • The story format will also have a ready audience, I am sure.
        Personally, I find your writing style fluid and engaging enough that I have to be careful not to spill my coffee when reading it.
        It is academic in nature but as engrossing as a novel.

        Pretty much like your Pilate posts. Could hardly take my eyes off the screen.

        I have already posted a link on the blog of one rather intransigent christian blogger!
        I really hope he reads it.
        Anyhow, whatever route you decide to take, it can only succeed.
        Power to your keyboard Matt!
        All the best.

        Liked by 1 person


  1. […] Another writer recounts similar experiences with this story: “I can recall being troubled by this narrative as a youth. As an adolescent, I remember donning the mind of Isaac and feeling some sense of his likely terror at a similar age. I considered what it would be if my own father acted as Abraham. But time and conditioning and familiarity eventually led to an anesthetized acceptance – and a precipitated moral sense that was calibrated to match.” […]


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