The New Testament gives us late first-century accounts of how Christians interpreted the life of Jesus and his relationship to God. It is difficult to discriminate between the mythical, the metaphorical and the factual, but Ray Duff's implausible identifications of Christianity with Greek myths (letters, 2 January) are of no help.
Apart from fiery or atmospheric interventions, there is no similarity between the Judaeo-Christian God and Zeus. In the Jewish religion, the nature of God was firmly distinguished from anthropomorphic representations. Except in the opening of Job, there is no resemblance to a council of the Olympian gods. If the incarnation stories of Matthew and Luke represent how people of the time thought such an event must have happened, it is significant that for them the impregnation was of a virgin by a spiritual force; God was not like the anthropomorphic libertines of Greek mythology.
The ascription "anointed" (Christ) certainly shows association with the expected kingly descendant of David, but there is little indication of an aspiration to terrestrial kingship, nor of any subsequent claim by Christians that Jesus achieved anything of the kind. Pilate's "King of the Jews" epithet was very likely ironic. The fact of Jesus's crucifixion is attested by references in Josephus and Tacitus. The early church explained their experiences after the crucifixion by affirming that Jesus was living again. Neither the nature of the death, nor the claim of resurrection, resemble the various deaths and resurrections found in Dionysiac and other myths, symbolising the cycles of the seasons and of nature.
Later conflicts with Roman authority arose from the Christians' refusal to recognise the Emperor as God and their rejection of the religions that did incorporate Graeco-Roman mythology.
MPs' expenses are not 'privileged'
As a barrister and writer on constitutional law, I am amused at the cynicism of MPs who are claiming immunity from prosecution on the basis of parliamentary privilege (report, 4 January).
The legal basis for this claim is Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, "freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament". The key words are "in Parliament", because it is only what is said and done in Parliament that is privileged.
For example, MPs cannot be sued for defamation for anything that they say in the House of Commons, but the moment they step outside the hallowed precincts of Parliament they lose that protection. That is why an MP is sometimes heard to challenge a fellow-MP to "repeat those words outside the House".
In what sense can an MP's claim for expenses be regarded as being made "in Parliament"? Only in the sense that making a false expenses claim is an offence laid down by the Commons rule-book, which is a parliamentary publication. Reliance on this fact is the only basis that MPs can use to invoke parliamentary privilege for a false expenses claim.
But the rule-book is completely irrelevant to the real issue here, which is simply whether the MPs concerned are guilty of defrauding the public. That does not depend on any parliamentary publication but solely on the criminal law.
Dr Michael Arnheim
Cameron's plans for the NHS
David Cameron's commitment as the true protector of the NHS ("NHS spending safe with Tories, says Cameron", 4 January), promising never to cut its funding or impose any more of Labour's pointless and disruptive reorganisations, is welcome. But the devil is in examining his statements carefully.
He fails to explain that, in his scheme, the NHS would become merely a commissioning body, and the provider role would gradually be passed on to private providers for profit. His public-school pal, Oliver Letwin, has said there were "no limits" to NHS privatisation. The ideology and mindset of majority of his poltical activists is anti-NHS.
Most Tories appear to believe the NHS is unsustainable in its present form and want an insurance system or tax breaks for healthcare fees. Many privately admit they are lobbying the party leader behind the scenes for significant reforms to the NHS if the Tories win the next election.
David Cameron was the mastermind of the last Tory election manifesto, which said rich patients should be able to pay extra and go to a private hospital for treatment. Cameron and the Tories voted against Labour's national insurance rise for the NHS.
The politicisation of the NHS (by both main parties) has already increased costs and overheads, demoralised and alienated staff, undermined planning, and done nothing to ensure equal access to local care. The Blair/Brown administration has opened the gates for David Cameron by driving through far more profound and wide-reaching privatisation of the NHS than even Margaret Thatcher dreamt of.
Dr Kailash Chand
Nick Clegg would do well to take with a pinch of salt your report that Lib Dem activists oppose co-operating with the Conservatives after the general election by a margin of 58 to 42 per cent (report, 5 January). It is voters who elect MPs, not activists, and I feel there are many actual and potential Lib Dem voters out there who would feel more comfortable getting into bed with a slightly oily David Cameron than with the clowns who brought us the disastrous invasion of Iraq.
"Fairness" may be the buzzword of this Lib Dem campaign, but respect for basic civil rights and freedoms is just as central to our world view. In that area, the Tory leadership looks a lot less authoritarian than a Labour Party which has trampled all over them with hobnail boots. We should leave Clegg with his hands free to spurn both other parties before the election, then form whatever alliance does the most to advance the Lib Dem agenda after it.
I could not help but be amused to hear David Cameron proudly announce at his press conference (report, 5 January) in front of his "tieless poster" that his policy was clearly stated behind him in "black and white". Actually, it was in blue and white.
Why should we believe anything Cameron says when he cannot even get something as simple as that correct? Or is this just another "detail" that will be clarified in due course?
The Muslim Council condemns march
The Muslim Council of Britain echoes the sentiments expressed by Allison Bucknell, the Mayoress of Wooton Bassett, and condemns the call by the fringe extremist group Islam4UK for their proposed march in Wootton Bassett. This group thrives on controversy and we will do well to ensure we do not grant them the oxygen of publicity they crave.
The overwhelming majority of British Muslims want nothing to do with such extremists. Like other Britons, Muslims are not opposed to Britain's Armed Forces. Indeed, Muslims have made a deep and historic contribution to this nation's defence, with more than 2.5 million serving in the First and Second World Wars.
The deaths of those in Afghanistan and other areas of conflicts are not only a concern amongst Muslims, it is a concern shared by other British people, who do not resort to such sensationalist and divisive stunts.
The MCB respects the value of free speech in Britain and echoes the sentiments of many of its affiliates to disregard such provocations. We commend the Wiltshire Islamic Cultural Centre and others for issuing a clear message that this protest is not acceptable and has no support by the local Muslim community.
The Muslim Council of Britain
Electoral system needs no reform
There are three arguments against reforming the present electoral system ("Maybe the Tories aren't so stupid after all", 31 December). The first is that it enables the electorate to vote one government out and another in, a power voters will not willingly give up. The second is that it makes an MP responsible to a constituency, obliging him or her to look after his or her constituents and respond to complaints, a system the electorate will not abandon.
The third is that the electorate prefers institutions it understands rather than new, untried ones, unless there is an overwhelming reason to change which has been decided after long discussion.
It can be argued that the efforts at electoral reform by the Labour Government have reduced democracy, not increased it. The "top-up" system for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly has resulted in members of those bodies no one has elected outside a few Party officials, and whose mandate is doubtful. The list system for the European Parliament has elected MEPs of whom voters know nothing and never hear of from one election to the next, so any identification with the European Parliament is lost.
I accept that the alternative voting system in single constituencies now being proposed by Labour addresses some of my objections, but it will not progress unless voters think that it will substantially improve the way they are governed at present.
Anthony C Pick
Safety killjoys silence songs
With the arrival of the New Year, some things never change. Yet again the zealots of Health and Safety have stopped a harmless pastime that has been pursued for 50 years with not one person being hurt.
Every Christmas, for those 50 years, the Eastbourne Silver Band has given a free concert at the bandstand on the promenade. For those 50 years, children have been invited on to the stage to sing "Away In A Manger". This Christmas, the killjoy Health and Safety Brigade forbade this simple fun, saying children could be hurt.
If every single danger was removed from our lives, what would be left? Almost all activities contain some element of risk, from just walking down the street to changing a light bulb.
The members of the Health and Safety Brigade have my full permission to sing as soon as possible in "Faraway Places".
Believing myself savvy to Ryanair's tricks (letters, 5 January), I did not pay extra for "optional online check- in" when I booked tickets to Belfast. I was rewarded with a hefty charge at the airport because I had chosen to check in on my departure date, rather than online. Ryanair is, in my view, deceptive. But, as my total return fare was still £50, who's complaining?
Play bridges gap
The child gender gap is also apparent in my maths lessons at secondary level ("Boys aged three 'must work more'", 29 December). When I set a problem, boys will rush to write a correct answer with little working, and girls will try to use the established mathematical language. Boys will start to use a mathematical language such as algebra when they feel their own methods no longer work. Solving the gap is not learning through repetition, or "fun" activities, but real play, when the gap disappears.
West Bromwich, West Midlands
Crisp, the hero
Peter Tatchell (Opinion, 29 December) unwittingly conforms to much of the stereotypical behaviour so reviled by Quentin Crisp. He laments Crisp's failure to engage in, support or endorse his favourite campaigns and, despite having met the man briefly only once, blames supposed petty jealousies and resentments. Crisp was an individual. Not all people will subscribe to Tatchell's aggressive brand of homosexual evangelism and Crisp should be congratulated for expressing views clearly thought unpopular or unorthodox by some of the homosexual community.
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan
We're all sized up
Please would the fashion industry and clothing retailers come clean about women's sizes? For more than 20 years I have been a size 10; now I find I am an eight, and have also zipped up a size six. Who are they trying to kid? Still, it makes us all feel better about ourselves. Would the truth be that hard to take, especially if it forced us to realise many are facing obesity and ill-health?
H J Burton
Am I alone in thinking it's a bit rich when the drain commissioner of Cheboygan County, Michigan, lectures us on security at European borders (letters, 31 December)? Perhaps he knows about underground movements?
Addlestone, SurreyReuse content