Tetherd Cow Ahead Presents: The Baffling Bible
Episode #5: Jesus and the Fig Tree

When I was a kid in Sunday School, I learned lots about the life of Jesus. I knew the stories of the Sermon on the Mount, the casting out of demons into swine, the miracle of the loaves & fishes, the overturning of the moneylenders’ tables in the tabernacle and many other colourful yarns that have turned out to have about as much relevance to my adult life as they did to my ten-year-old self.

One baffling tale that doesn’t usually get much of an airing when the life of Our Lord is being recounted, though, is the story of Jesus and the Fig Tree. It certainly didn’t make it into my Bible class back in the day – I think it’s just possible that’s because a ten-year-old might’ve empathized with it all too well.

To set the the scene: Jesus has returned from his 40 days and nights in the desert where he has had a lengthy hobnob with God, and is traipsing across the countryside accumulating crowds ((We should take mentions of ‘crowds’ in the Bible with a grain of salt. That part of the world was not especially densely populated at that time, and I suspect that if you got a toothless man and his wife and their goat to come out and look at you, that probably counted as a ‘crowd’. Especially in the eyes of someone spinning a yarn to beat up some PR, as Matt and Mark unquestionably are.)) of the faithful and assembling the cabal of chaps who would end up as his apostles. This is the Jesus of Matthew and Mark. This is the Jesus we all know and love from the comic books; he has just appeared to his followers (and Matthew & Mark’s readers) in dazzling white raiment which of course proves he is not just some guy like all the other common-garden-variety Messiahs who were touring the land at the time. In addition, he takes every opportunity to voice noble (if mostly obvious and occasionally curious) moral advice, and he performs miracles. Lots of them. ((I feel I have to point out that, in the light of the way we are familiar with ‘healings’ & clairvoyance and visions of the Virgin and other contemporary ‘miracles’, you don’t have to try too hard to come up with fairly reasonable non-supernatural explanations for all Jesus’ marvellous conjurations. And given nearly 20 centuries of undoubted ’embroidery’, well…))

The Story of the Fig Tree is one such miracle. We’ll take up the tale with Jesus waking up one morning after having spent the night in the countryside outside Jerusalem (somewhere around here I figure). Over to Matthew to relate the tale in his compelling literary style:

Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.

And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!

~(Matthew 21:19)

In other words, because Jesus was hungry and there were no figs, he threw a tantrum and did the supernatural equivalent of punching his fist through the wall: he put a curse on the tree. Kapow! Take THAT you stupid tree! I’ll teach you not to have figs out of season!

Now religious scholars are quick to put forward all kinds of explanations for this decidedly tetchy Saviour behaviour. It’s certainly not fashionable these days to have Jesus to appear to petulantly invoke his super powers out of spite, so most modern Christian scholars interpret the story of Jesus and the Fig Tree as some kind of metaphorical statement about the condition and the predicted eventual fate of the Jewish nation.

But I want you to pause and reflect on that for a moment. None of Jesus’ other miracles get the ‘allegory’ explanation. If Jesus does a really cool thing – like healing a blind man, say, or walking across a lake – that’s not a metaphor. That’s a myrrh-soaked, gold-plated, frankinsence-doused, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die-and-never-be-resurrected MIRACLE! But when Our Lord chucks a tanty and fries a fig tree, well then, that must be symbolic

That’s all well and good, and I might even buy it except for one thing: both Matthew and Mark independently make the effort to point out that Jesus was hungry. This tiny detail makes nonsense of the fall-of-the-Jewish-nation explanation. How does that high-falutin’ symbolism have anything to do with Jesus not getting breakfast? Plus, it just gives the whole story a ring of truth – I mean, we’ve all been there, right?

No, Faithful Acowlytes, I believe that the most reasonable hypothesis for this story is that Jesus just got out of bed on the wrong side and took his grumpiness out on the first thing he saw (and I offer this as scientific endorsement of my assertion). Luckily it was just a tree – his dad had something of a tendency to take his pique out on entire cities.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Westboro Baptist Church has had it right all along, only their bibles have a small typographical error…

Some years ago a tree in our backyard was cut down, and the stump cleared. Now, all through the year we have this weird fungus that keeps on growing up where the roots were. Violet Towne likes to ruthlessly lay into it with the mattock, but despite her best efforts, a little bit of rain and up it comes again.

It’s really quite an unsettling organism. It has a kind of a dead fleshy texture and colour… If you look very closely, it’s sort of brain-like. And recently it’s started to ooze something that looks awfully like blood…

If anyone actually knows what’s going on here, I’d love some more information. What is the red stuff? It seems very slightly oily… not particularly sticky. It washes off in the rain and you can quite clearly see little pits where it was – so it’s something that the fungus has evolved to do. It doesn’t seem to attract insects and I can’t for the life of me think of what it might be for (other than to conjure images to disturb my sleep).

Haeckel Illustration 1

For our first wedding anniversary (traditionally considered the ‘paper’ anniversary), Violet Towne gave me a beautiful book: Visions of Nature: The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel.

Haeckel was a biologist and artist and an early subscriber to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories. Although he famously made many erroneous assumptions about evolution,* his detailed naturalistic drawings, particularly his intricate observations of the microscopic sea creatures called radiolarians, are entirely accurate and strikingly beautiful.

Haeckel Illustration 2

Haeckel was also fascinated by the obvious mathematical influences that he observed in life-forms, and documented many of their geometrical characteristics in his drawings.

Haeckel Illustration 3

His ornate organic renderings were almost certainly one of the influences that came to bear on the Art Nouveau movement. It’s not hard to understand why – take a look at this beautiful collection of high quality pdfs of some of Haeckel’s astonishing work.


*Haeckel was a staunch believer in the outmoded ideas of Lamarckism and the now discredited recapitulation theory. Creationists love to wave Haeckel’s name about in reference to errors he made in embryonic illustrations that fulfilled his wishful speculation that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. In doing so they are demonstrating (once again) the profundity of their ignorance; Haeckel was never a believer of Darwin’s idea of natural selection, and in his zeal to advance his own preconceptions, some of his drawings became a little more ‘inventive’ than they had any right to be. Haeckel’s fabrications were never endorsed by Darwin, and in time succumbed to the scrutiny of rational examination, as all bad science necessarily must.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


In Australia, September 1, the first day of our Spring, is also called Wattle Day. And true to form, around Cow Central, the wattle is putting on a magnificent display – the bush reserve upon which my window opens, is today splendiferous with yellow blooms.


Australia has nearly a thousand different species of native wattle (Acacia) and most of these are endemic. They range from small, inconspicuous shrubs to trees of 50 meters or more in height.


The wattle blooms vary in colour from pale cream through soft lemon to fluorescent, vibrant yellow. Many species are scented with beautiful and distinct perfumes that can differ considerably. Wattle can also trigger allergies, and the beginning of Spring is, for some, the onset of the Hayfever Season.


Wattle typically makes a poor cut flower, the blooms disintegrating into thousands of tiny yellow hairs within a day or so of being in a vase. Which is why, on beautiful Spring mornings, it is much better to go for a stroll in the park and admire this versatile and attractive plant in its natural setting!

Happy Wattle Day!



NB: For all the Australian pedants out there – yes, I am aware that I’m posting this on September 2. That would be because I am declaring this the first Internet Wattle Day, and accordingly I have adjusted the post date so that it falls about halfway between September 1 in Australia, and September 1 throughout the rest of the world! You heard it first on The Cow


WooWoo Beliefs – A TCA Educational Series

Hello and welcome. Today we begin a new series here on The Cow – an examination of some of the, er, more unusual beliefs held by human beings. I’m not talking about your common garden-variety misapprehensions like homeopathy or free energy, but the real The-World-Is-Flat/Aliens-Are-Among-Us delusions of certified fruitcakes. And to show some impartiality I’m not even going to go straight for the easy pickings of American loonies, but instead start with an Australian.

Examine Carefully: Don't Start a Business Enterprise with a Person Like This

This is Jasmuheen. She is a Breatharian.

Jasmuheen believes (or she says she believes – these are two very different things…) that she doesn’t need to eat any food or drink any water to survive. At all. Ever. In scientific terms, this qualifies her as an idiot.

Breatharians like Jasmuheen say that instead of consuming the nutrients that our species has needed for several hundreds of thousands of years, they are instead able to live on a mystical energy called prana, a Sanskrit term that refers to a kind of ‘life-force’. Indeed, many Breatharians assert that they can bypass prana entirely and live exclusively on sunlight. Well, why not, eh? Plants can do it. Jasmuheen herself has written a book called Living on Light: A Source of Nutrition for the New Millennium in which she outlines a 21 day program that will stop your body from aging and allow you to achieve immortality by living solely on light.

I can hear what you’re saying: if Breatharians live only on sunlight, how do you tell one from a philodendron? Well, effectively, you can’t. Certainly they are the intellectual equivalents of philodendrons. They also typically exhibit a greenish skin colour after several weeks without food or water.

Jasmuheen, or Ellen Greve as her name appears on her income tax file, runs an organisation known as the CIA. Hahahaha! No, young fella, sit down there, it’s not the Central Intelligence Agency of the good ol’ US of A (even though that would explain a lot) but the Cosmic Internet Academy!!! (WARNING: SANITY-SAPPING RAINBOW ALERT if you click on that link). Taking a quick spin ’round the CIA website we can find, among other things, information on Interdimensional Field Science, handy facts about Divine Nutrition Research, and Breatharian suggestions for ‘eradicating world health & hunger challenges’ [sic]. Well of course! Just let poor people eat air!!! Problem solved! Doh! How the hell could we have missed that!

Here you can also see (and purchase, should you, for some reason, take complete leave of your senses) Jasmuheen’s ‘art’. You can even experience her incomprehensible babbling pearls of wisdom directly via one her her many YouTube appearances, such as this one:

If you’ve bothered to endure that video, here are some things you might like to ponder:

• In the interview, there is a jug of water on the table in front of Jasmuheen – who is it for?

• There is a some kind of palm tree behind Jasmuheen – is it my imagination, or does she seem agitated that it is hogging all the light?

• After listening to what Jasmuheen has to say, who do you think would make the more formidable Scrabble opponent – her or the palm tree?

In 1999, the Australian version of 60 Minutes put Jasmuheen’s claims to the test under controlled conditions. After Jasmuheen had fasted for four days the experiment was terminated on the advice of Dr. Berris Wink, president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association, who was monitoring her vital signs. In the doctor’s professional opinion, Ellen Greve was in danger of dehydration and kidney failure if she went any longer without water.

Jasmuheen, on the other hand, says that 60 Minutes stopped the experiment after 5 days ((In the manner of such charlatans, she is quite prepared to distort the statistics to make her feat seem more impressive.)) fearing I would be successful which could create problems for them as their intention was always to portray me as deluded…’ ((Interestingly, this claim has been removed from Jasmuheen’s main website, but you can read the cache here.))

In addition to the absurd beliefs that you’ve read so far, Jasmuheen further contends that due to her pranic sustenance her DNA has somehow altered from the standard two strands usual in all living things, to twelve, and now her body is able to ‘take up extra hydrogen’. ((Even if this nonsensical assertion had any merit, she has nowhere elaborated on why any of this should be desirable. Further, she has declined to allow a blood test to definitively settle this claim, saying: ‘I don’t know what the relevance for it (the blood test) is.’)) Also, in her capacity as ‘an Interdimensional Field Scientist’, she writes that ‘crop circles have always represented a Sacred Geometric Language that is designed to trigger various reactions and awakenings among various people’.

So to recap, Jasmuheen:

• Says she lives on solely on sunlight;

• Claims her DNA is different to all other living things;

• Believes that crop circles are alien messages;

Hmmm. Difficult to understand how anyone could perceive her as deluded.

Anyway, should you somehow receive an invitation from Jasmuheen to attend a Breatharian party, my suggestion is that you eat beforehand, because you know that all she’s likely to offer up in the way of refreshments is a light snack.

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