Working on a line-by-line parody of the New Testament is a unique experience for me as an atheist and it's an interesting way of getting up close and personal with the contradictions and, well, bullshit, of the Bible. I was planning on posting several insights but here's one that requires it's own category: shitty miracles. Thus, Shitty Miracles (the first): The coin in the fish's mouth.
What is this miraculous evidence of Jesus's love?
Peter thinks Jesus should pay a temple tax, but the latter disagrees viewing demigods as exempt. To get Peter and the tax collector to shut up about the issue, Jesus finally agrees but says he will pay by miracle. He orders that Peter catch a fish promising that there will be a coin in its mouth that it will cover taxes for the both of them. To this day, the tilapia is known as "St. Peter's Fish" although that fish is not named in the text.
Whence is it found?
Why does it suck?
This really is one of the shittiest miracles in the Mediocre Book. For starters: there is no fucking miracle! The story literally ends with Jesus saying that this is what would happen, but it doesn't actually show it occurring or saying that it even did! Even if it were possible for this miracle to occur, if talking about a miracle counts enough, then Penn and Teller could kick Jesus' ass any day. Well, Penn could at least.
Really, you still think a miracle occurred? I don't know why you'd think that, but maybe you think that everything Jesus said was true (such as his--cough! cough!--returning in the disciple's lifetimes...or statement that he will do anything you ask of him.). Maybe the miracle really did occur and the end of the story was missing just like the bit about the tale of "Bel and the Dragon" removed from the end of Daniel or the last couple chapters of Esther being lopped off.
So let's assume for the purpose of argument that the miracle did come to fruition. Jesus offering to pay by mystical fish sounds more like tax evasion or at best gambling to me. If they did catch a fish with a coin in its mouth they would have been incredibly fortunate indeed, but if they didn't, Jesus would easily have used the old "ye have little faith" cop out. Even in their page about the miracle, Bible.org agrees that certain fish in the Sea of Galilee pick up things in their mouth. A quick search through Google reveals many similar anecdotal stories of stones and even a class ring found in the mouths of fish in modern times.
But, Bible.org continues with the view that the miracle was that Jesus knew Peter would catch the right fish and that it had the correct denomination in its mouth. Ignoring the fact that the Bible doesn't even say Peter even caught the fish or that it was the correct denomination, I need to also point out that it doesn't even say this in my Bible! Wikipedia's page about this event includes the line: "[...]Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin[...]" Okay, that's pretty specific, however they don't cite the Bible used, and my Oxford King James Version is more ambiguous: "[...]take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou has opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money[...]" A piece of money, who knows what the value was.
I hate to be an atheist cliché, but miracles require evidence. If Jesus were really capable of magically making money appear in random fish, this would be a big deal violating the laws of physics and known reality. Instead, as another Biblically apologetic site explained:
Peter was a fisherman. There is no indication in Scripture that Peter questioned Jesus, or thought the instructions given to him by the Lord were at all strange. Peter would have known about the tilapia, indigenous to the Sea of Galilee. It is also called a musht and is now known as St. Peter’s fish. The male tilapia was known to carry its small young in its mouth until they were large enough to leave. This fish purportedly picked up small pebbles in its mouth, and, like many fish, was attracted to shiny objects. Both Jesus and Peter, having lived around the Sea of Galilee all of their lives, likely knew about the male tilapia.
Jesus knew by revelation from the Father that there would be this particular fish at Peter’s favorite fishing place that day, and that fish would find Peter’s hook, with just the right amount of money in its mouth to satisfy the temple tax. Jesus also knew that He didn’t have to pay the temple tax. He was the Son of the Father, the One who the temple was for. However, Jesus didn’t have time to waste causing a scene unnecessarily, and wasn’t interested in deliberately offending, even if He was right. And He always was. What was needed would be provided supernaturally, and although there are no verses to indicate that Peter went out and caught this specific fish, it is likely that Peter gladly obeyed the Lord, went down to the water, and pulled in the fish with the coin in its mouth.
So, in a nutshell, Jesus knew that there was a fish known for picking shit up in its mouth so it's not outside the range of reality that it could have a coin in its mouth. Then, they don't appear to have actually checked to see if this event occurred. Notice how quickly the bible-thumper site assumes that it was indeed a tilapia fish even though that is tradition and not even in the Bible. It sounds to me like this was more a hypothetical story Jesus was given than something that actually even occured, which means, why the hell are we even talking about this?
Why does this even suck as a story?
Apologetics point out that this is really just a story about Peter's lack of faith. Okay, whatever, I am fine accepting this as a literary device instead of actually a real event. The problem is, this isn't even a good story. All it acomplishes is an example of Peter becoming dumber as he is rebuked for questioning the Jesus. It does serve to show the seditious nature of Jesus and the fact that he doesn't want to pay taxes is foreshadowing his eventual conflict with the state, but that is done so much better in other stories.
Maybe if the ending was there and we saw Peter's reaction upon finding that there wasn't a coin in the fish's mouth it would have served as an example of what happens to the gullible, but instead the story is just a tease and lacked even the genocide of a good Old Testament story.
If I were the editor of the Matthew I would have totally cut this story out, it doesn't even serve well as filler.
Disastrous consequences if this were not bullshit
If it were true that Jesus was capable of making money appear magically in the mouths of fish, this could destroy the entire economy. If I were a king and found a person who could do such a trick, I would need to get him on my side to either get the money from him, or prevent him from taking it for himself which would reduce my economic value (which has a strong correlation to military strength) and could perhaps even collapse the system.
Even the barter system would be imperiled as this is a man who also claimed to have the ability to infinitely divide bread and create wine from water. No one will trade anything and instead would try to rely solely on his charity. Cities would become impossible since people would need to return to sustenance living and this would restrict all future development. I know this is an example of reductio ad absurdum, but isn't that what the entire Jesus premise is?
Even more important than the inevitable collapse of the economy, a person having these skills would mean every single thing we know about molecules, gravity, biology, and physics in general is wrong. For a person to will atoms to of the correct structure to come together at a precise location from a distance vis-à-vis the transporter from Star Trek would be the greatest biological accomplishment ever. It could actually mean an end to hunger because food could just materialize in the stomach, but more likely, knowing human nature, this would become weaponized instead. We're talking Men Who Stare at Goats shit here.
I know very little about physics, but I am quite certain that atomic gravitation does not work this way and if it did, the consequences would be such that our understanding would be so far off that we would have never been able to put a man on the moon and crash atoms together at CERN.
This fish tale was enough to get Jesus nailed to a tree were it real. Thank science it was bullshit!