The Evolution of Jesus I: from Itinerant Preacher to Death-Defying Vision

Image by Doppler, from YouTube video The Evolution of Jesus Christ.


Everything evolves. Not just Life, but the Mind, Personality, Morality and Culture. This is the thesis of Matt Ridley’s book, The Evolution of Everything: How Small Changes Transform Our World, in which he demonstrates that everything, from the Economy and Technology to Government and Education, were originally, and to some extent remain, bottom up phenomenon. Each emerged because of the developments that had preceded them; for this reason, they couldn’t arrive before they did, but their arrival, when it came, was inevitable. The time was right. Once each did arrive, it embarked on an inexorable process of change. It evolved.

‘Everything’, of course, includes Religion. As Ridley says (p259):

Further evidence for the man-made nature of gods comes from their evolutionary history. It is a little-known fact, but gods evolve. There is a steady and gradual transformation through human history not only from polytheism to monotheism, but from gods who are touchy, foolish, randy and greedy people, who just happen to be immortal, to disembodied and virtuous spirits living in an entirely different realm and concerned mainly with virtue. Contrast the vengeful and irritable Jehovah of the Old Testament with the loving Christian God of today.’

This is undoubtedly the case (Ridley presents his evidence); religion is an entirely human enterprise that developed from the bottom up. It too evolved. As Ridley shows, there is no other way.

While Ridley doesn’t discuss it, this evolutionary process applies to Jesus too. This seems to me apparent, rather than a little-known fact. He didn’t spring from nowhere; the time was right for him. By the start of what is now the first century, an apocalyptic brand of Judaism had emerged, inspired in part by the book of Daniel and other late Old Testament prophecy. It was whipped to fever pitch during the Roman occupation. People were anticipating that the Messiah would soon rescue them by force; the time was right for him to appear. And appear he did, in multiple forms, all of them eliminated by the Romans. Jesus was one of these.

He began either as an itinerant preacher with delusions of grandeur or he was an imaginary being whom a few people thought miraculously appeared to them. It doesn’t matter which; even if he existed, he very quickly evolved into a supernatural being. As an itinerant preacher he would have wandered around a small part of Palestine with a handful of followers, mouthing platitudes and predicting that God’s Kingdom would soon be arriving, and that he would be its king. Instead, he was executed for insurgency. Shortly afterwards, a couple of his followers swore they’d seen him alive again. With this claim Jesus made an evolutionary leap, from troublesome Jewish preacher to death-defying vision.

His evolution was underway.

To be continued…

Only The One Book

Some years ago I visited friends where another of their guests told me he had been reading a remarkable book. It was he said, about Atlantis and demonstrated beyond any doubt that the ancient city had really existed and had sunk beneath the ocean where it still waited to be found. I asked him how he knew this (a polite way of asking what his evidence was.) He looked at me incredulously. ‘Because the book says so,’ he explained.

It’s the same with all the claims made about Jesus: that he was the Saviour, the Messiah and the Son of God. All such claims are found only in one book written by people who already believed such things about him.

Outside of this book there’s nothing: no Roman records of his death and subsequent resurrection; no reports of post-resurrection visits by witnesses who weren’t already invested; no contemporary, independent accounts of his remarkable miracles; nothing from historians of the day about his return from the dead and subsequent ascent into the sky; no mention of him at all in any documentation for the first 80+ years of Christianity outside of this one book. The Son of God appears on Earth and nobody but a handful of superstitious zealots notice.

Not very convincing, is it? 

Is Jesus the Saviour, the Messiah and the Son of God?

Is Jesus the Saviour, the Messiah, and the Son of God?

No, no and no.

We know he’s not the Saviour because he hasn’t saved anyone. Every single person who has believed in him over the last 2,000 years has died and stayed dead. He hasn’t resurrected a single one of them and hasn’t ushered anyone into the heavenly mansion he (supposedly) said he was preparing for his Elect. Neither has he saved them from the trials of this life: illness, pain or suffering. His followers are no more saved from these than the rest of us.

Of course, Christians claim that what he saves people from is ‘sin’. But sin is an empty and peculiarly religious concept signifying the separation of ‘man’ from God. If there’s no God to be separated from there can be no sin. If, however, we’re talking about morals – ‘sinning’ – then it’s evident that believers are no more or less moral than anyone else. Jesus, it turns out, doesn’t save anyone from their own bad behaviour.

He’s not the Messiah (I’m resisting the temptation to add the Monty Python completion of that sentence) which is why most Jews do not believe in him. He doesn’t demonstrate any of the characteristics of the Messiah prophesied in Jewish scripture. He didn’t overturn the oppression his people endured under Roman rule and he hasn’t been there for the Jewish people in all their subsequent suffering. He certainly didn’t rescue them from the Holocaust. Only by redefining what is meant by ‘Messiah’, as early Christians did when they made the term synonymous with ‘saviour’, could Jesus even be considered a contender. In reality, he is an utter failure as a Messiah.

He’s not the Son of God. Even in the synoptic gospels he doesn’t claim to be; he’s cagey whenever the subject arises. It’s as if his early followers couldn’t make up their minds about how divine he actually was. Later Christians were more emphatic, claiming that the resurrection demonstrated Jesus’ divinity. Paul, however, doesn’t think so, saying only that Jesus’ return from the dead elevated him to a favoured position in God’s hierarchy (Philippians 2:9). Even this is going too far when the evidence of Jesus’ physical resurrection is so poor; the gospel stories do not  qualify him for Sonship. Nor do his failed promises and prophecies; if he were the Son of God, he’d have known the appearance of Son of Man (he himself?), the last judgement, the Kingdom of God on Earth, the inversion of the social order and the meek inheriting the Earth would not happen when he said they would. Or indeed at all. He was ignorant about so much! What sort of Son of God was he, to get so much so wrong?

In fact, we can be certain Jesus was no more the Son of God than Alexander the Great was Son of Ammon-Zeus or Augustus the ‘Son of the Most Divine’. How? Because like Ammon-Zeus and ‘the Most Divine’, the likelihood YHWH exists is ridiculously low; so low it’s reasonable to conclude he doesn’t. And no God = no Son of God.

To be continued.

How The Trick Was Done

Mark 15 tells the story of the trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Here’s how it was constructed from parts of the Old Testament:

Isaiah 53:7 is rewritten in Mark 15: 60-62 as the trial before Pilate

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

So Pilate questioned him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” You have said so,” Jesus replied. And the chief priests began to accuse him of many things. Then Pilate questioned him again, “Have you no answer? Look how many charges they are bringing against you!” But to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus made no further reply.

(Oops! Looks like we are expected to overlook the fact that Jesus does speak! Mark obviously had trouble shoe-horning this one in!)

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Isaiah 53.5 becomes Mark 15:15:

He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.

Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.

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Isaiah 50:6 and 53:16-20 are rewritten as Mark 15:16-20:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Then the soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called the whole company together. They dressed him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and set it on his head. And they began to salute Him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” They kept striking his head with a staff and spitting on him. And they knelt down and bowed before him. After they had mocked him, they removed the purple robe and put his own clothes back on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him.

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Psalm 22:18 becomes Mark 15:24

They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

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Isaiah 53:12 is used for Mark 15:27:

He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.

Along with Jesus, they crucified two robbers, one on His right and one on His left.

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Psalm 22:7-8 becomes, verbatim in places, Mark 15:29:

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults shaking their heads: He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

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Psalm 22:1 ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?is lifted straight into Mark 15:34.

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Isaiah 53:5 becomes the underpinning of the whole of this chapter and Mark 15:6-15 in particular: the story of Barabbas.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him  punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his stripes/wounds we are healed.

The verses are not alluded to directly, but Jesus is made to stand in for Barabbas (literally, ‘son of the father’) who has deservedly been sentenced to death, or so Mark would have us believe. The story is patently invented to make this point. No such tradition existed and Pilate would never have been so placatory. The other made up story in Mark 15, the tearing of the temple veil, symbolises that the old way of accessing God, though the temple system, had now been superseded by… who else? Jesus. Ironic really when Mark plunders that old system’s scriptures for his purposes.

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Isaiah 53:9 is written up as Mark 15.43-46

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body... Pilate gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.

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Mark 15: all of it constructed from the OT or just plain made up. You could, like gullible Christians, insist that Mark didn’t invent his story using fragments of scripture. You could say instead that these fragments were really prophecies of incidents that were to happen in the life of an itinerant preacher many years in the future. You could argue that the probably non-existent creator of the universe was all the time controlling events, dropping into ancient scriptures veiled references to tenuously connected incidents centuries later. But then you’d have to concede that not one of them is precise enough to name Jesus or indicate he’d die by crucifixion or would return from the dead after a day and a half.

Which seems to you more likely? That imprecise ‘prophecies’, which really weren’t prophecies in the first place, came true in Jesus’ life; or that Mark lifted scriptures which suited his purpose and crafted his Jesus story around them?

For me, it’s always a case of ‘seek ye first the human contrivance’, by far the most plausible and persuasive explanation of scenarios such as this.



 

Inventing Jesus

What do we know about the gospels?

  • The stories they tell aren’t history; none of the gospel writers cites their sources, none refers to other independent accounts of Jesus’ life.
  • None of the versions of the story are eyewitness accounts; none of the writers claims to be an eyewitness; the gospels are anonymous despite the names that were attributed to them in the second century.
  • The gospels were created decades after the events they purport to relate; there is no evidence of an oral tradition that preceded them, no guarantee such a tradition would, if it existed, be reliable.
  • None of the gospels are independent; all of them are based to one extent or another on ‘Mark’. There really is only one story with three, sometimes markedly different versions.
  • The gospels are frequently contradictory where the later writers altered or embellished Mark’s story. They are often geographically and historically incorrect, and include anachronisms.
  • Each writer presents a different Jesus, the fourth radically so; there is no way of knowing which, if any, is the most historically reliable.
  • It is unlikely the actual words of Jesus would have been preserved accurately for 40 years or more; the fact the different authors freely alter them whenever it suits their purpose tells us they did not.
  • None of the gospel writers could possibly have known exactly what was done and said in private, for example, when Jesus communed with Satan in the desert, when he was hauled off to be flogged; when he was interviewed by Pilate.
  • The authors evidently invented episodes and events; the wandering star; Herod’s massacre of Innocents; zombie ‘saints’ wandering around Jerusalem; angels at Jesus’ tomb; the resurrection itself.
  • The gospels are literary creationsstories – as their structure, editing, use of myth, tropes, symbolism, metaphor and aphorisms attest.

This is what we’re working with. So, just where did the details of Jesus’ life, as we have them in the gospels, come from? We know Matthew, Luke and John found them to differing extents in Mark’s story. Other details they invented or took from Paul. Matthew in particular followed Mark’s lead and drew even more heavily on the Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament (OT). Both Mark and Matthew rewrote sections of the OT to create most of their Jesus stories. Next time, we’ll take look at Mark 15, relating, for the very first time, Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and burial to see how it was done.

Jesus Reveals Himself To Me

A true story:

I used to have recurrent dream – at least I think it was recurrent; it may just been that when I dreamt it I also dreamt I’d dreamt it before – that I was prevented from getting home by an oversized lion that blocked my path. It did this not by baring its teeth and confronting me, but by simply lying down in front of my garden gate, apparently asleep. I was always afraid to disturb the sleeping lion in case, once awake, it attacked and ate me. Instead, I would gingerly step round it and walk on, away from my house. In a variation of the dream (I think), I’d turn around and head back the way I’d come.

Evidently, the large lion symbolised something, though I couldn’t understand what it was. Perhaps, I thought, it represented my psychic inability to be myself. After all, I experienced this dream before I came out. It was equally possible the lion was the devil, as described in 1 Peter 5:8, and Satan had invaded my dreams, was blocking access to my heavenly home. Maybe it was – shudder – the demon of homosexuality, which I knew existed because Christians said it did, driving me off the straight and narrow.

A then came the moment of revelation! Jesus is referred to as the Lion of Judah in Revelation (5.5), yea, the Kings of Kings who roars like a mighty lion (Amos 3:8). That’s when I realised that my dream lion was Jesus, protecting my eternal salvation and heavenly home from the attacks of the devil and my very own sinful nature! Why else must I take a different path or turn back, which is one meaning of repentance?

Jesus himself, the Lion of Judah, the King of Kings made himself known unto me in this dream, not once but many times. Praise the Lord! In revealing himself, the Risen Jesus was telling me that the only way to salvation was through Him and Him alone. Only He guards the way. How blessed I am to have had His very real presence in my dreams. He truly lives and has appeared to the very least of his followers – me.

There can be no other explanation for my dream experience.

Can there?

No True Christian


Why is it, I wonder, that every Christian I encounter thinks they are True Christians, while most others are not?

A recent survey in the States revealed that belief in God is in decline. Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis decided this is because:

We live in a day when the religion of secularism (naturalism)—with its belief that there is no God, morality is relative, my happiness is all that matters, and we’re simply the products of evolution—is taught as fact in public schools and through the media.

I suggested on Ken’s Facebook page that the reason more people are rejecting the idea of God might have a lot to do with Christians themselves; that Christians’ own public performance was a complete turn-off for many people. I meant by this the way evangelicals in particular:

  • align themselves with Christian Nationalism;
  • actively campaign to restrict LGBT+ rights (and in some cases to have gay people executed);
  • are obsessed with abortion;
  • disregard almost totally Jesus’ actual commands and instead –
  • waste their time online maligning atheists and other minority groups;
  • are downright unpleasant to those who don’t share their views.

Silly me! I was told by a real Christian called Tim Bodnar that Christians who behave like this are not real Christians (despite believing they are):

If we are to know fellow believers by their fruit (or as you say, “public performance”) – we then know that their fruits show them to not be the Christians they claim to be.  That’s why our relationship with Jesus Christ is a personal one.

When I pointed out to Tim that this was nothing more than the No True Scotsman fallacy, he told me – passively aggressively but oh so lovingly – that ‘it isn’t difficult to grasp’ what’s going on; Christians who aren’t real Christians are the same as people who impersonate police officers. In any case, he said, Jesus had it covered.

Maybe it’s a good thing Christians refuse to look to themselves to learn why others are increasingly rejecting their God and their beliefs. After all, if they were to make their worn-out old fantasies more attractive, more people might fall prey to them. ‘True’ Christians are to be applauded for discouraging, albeit unwittingly, belief in their non-existent God.

A Christian’s Circular Reasoning

Don asks:

Why is it not possible for people to see immaterial things? We see with the mind as much or more than with then eyes. If the mind can conceive of immaterial things we can see them. Often skeptics declare that what Paul saw was a hallucination. If so, he saw something that was not material. We all dream. When we do we see things that are not material. If there are immaterial beings such as spirits, why would it not be possible to see them?

Why is it not possible for people to see immaterial things? Because ‘immaterial things’ by their very nature cannot be seen. Moreover, in the sense you’re talking about – supernatural beings and places – there is no evidence they have independent existence outside the human imagination.

We see with the mind as much or more than with then eyes. The mind processes what the eyes see. Sometimes it produces, imagines, ‘sights’ for itself, as in hallucinations or dreams, but this doesn’t mean these sights are real. Indeed, they are not.

If the mind can conceive of immaterial things we can see them. You mean like ghosts, spirits from the Greek underworld and Norse gods? Of course you don’t,  though your argument applies equally to these. You mean only Christian immaterial things: heaven and hell, angels and demons and the risen Christ. This is merely special pleading.

Your assertion is patently untrue. It begs the question, ‘if the mind can conceive of ’immaterial things’ does this mean these things are real?’ To which the answer must always be ‘no’.

what Paul saw was a hallucination. If so, he saw something that was not material. Yes and yes. Paul hallucinated on more than one occasion, seeing figures and places that were not real. His seeing them did not make them real.

We all dream. When we do, we see things that are not material. A statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but yes, we all dream. Does this make what we see in those dreams real? Again, no.

If there are immaterial beings such as spirits…There aren’t. As you keep stating while failing to recognise it, they are merely figments of the imagination.

why would it not be possible to see them? Because as figments of the imagination, they don’t exist. Here’s where your ‘reasoning’ is entirely circular: the human mind can conceive of immaterial beings and places and these things can be ‘seen’ ((in dreams and hallucinations); because they can be seen they must be real. Therefore, we know they’re real because they can be seen. Can you not ‘see’ the absurdity of your position, Don?  

My 3+ year old granddaughter can distinguish between reality and figments of the imagination, fantasy and dreams. It is really is time you could too.

If The Resurrection Had Really Happened

Somehow this repost unposted itself after the first few comments. I’m reinstating it and will post something new soon

Don thinks I ‘exaggerate’ when I bring up what the New Testament says are supposed to be the direct consequences of the resurrection. As he seems to have no knowledge of the things Paul and orhers promised would follow, I offered to provide him with chapter and verse. The easiest way to do that is to republish this post, slightly amended, from 2018. (Alternatively, there’s this rather more flippant take on the subject.)

I’m willing to bet Don now tells me I don’t know how to interpret prophecy like an ancient Jew would, that the promises are really metaphors and despite being written for members of the nascent cult they’re really meant for people thousands of years in the future. 

The Christian faith rests entirely on the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.17 & 19:

 …If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Of course neither Jesus nor Paul’s invention, the Christ, were raised from the dead; those encounters with him, described in the gospels are, like Paul’s, visions and sensations of his presence (later ‘the Holy Spirit’) embroidered in the 40 or more years between when they occurred and when they were recorded.

Let’s though, suppose that Jesus really did rise from the dead and work backwards from there. What difference did it make? More specifically, what does the bible say were the results and consequences of Jesus being raised?

The Coming of the Kingdom

According to the New Testament (Matthew 25.34; Romans 15.12; Revelation 20.4-6), the resurrection was a clear sign that the Final Judgement and Yahweh’s Kingdom was finally arriving on Earth. Jesus is made to predict it:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16.27–28).

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24.34)

Was God’s wonderful reign established here on Earth back in the first century? Was there a final judgement then? Were all wrongs righted, the social order inverted, and war and suffering abolished (Mark 10.31; Matt 5.2-11; Rev 21.4)? New Testament writers believed that following the resurrection, all of this would be happening –

in reality, none of it happened; not then and not since.

The Resurrection of the Dead

Did Jesus’ resurrection result in even more people rising from the dead? Paul said it would; he said Jesus was the ‘first fruits’, meaning the first of many, with others following him in being raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.20-21). Has any ordinary person – anybody at all – ever returned from the dead, long after they passed away? Not one; never mind the hundreds or thousands Paul and other early cultists had in mind. No Pope, no shining example of Christian piety, no activist or worker in the Lord’s vineyard has ever been resurrected during Christianity’s entire history. The dead have always remained stubbornly dead.

So no, this didn’t happen either.

New Creatures

Did the resurrection result in those who believed becoming ‘new creatures’? Paul said it would (2 Corinthians 5.17). He also said members of the new cult would be loving, forgiving and non-judgemental (1 Cor 5.12 & 13.14). There’s no evidence, from his letters, that they were, nor is there evidence from the long and often cruel history of the church. Christians today don’t always radiate loving-kindness either. Those who are caring and gentle before they become Christians remain so; those who are self-gratifying, vindictive or exploitative find a new context in which to be so. As I’ve said before, religion is like excess alcohol; it exaggerates the essential characteristics of a person, for good or for bad.

What it doesn’t do is make shiny ‘new creatures’.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this? Perhaps that nothing went to plan in post-resurrection Christianity. The promised results all failed to materialise. If the effects of the resurrection were and are not what they should have been, what does this say about their supposed cause?

If a storm is forecast and yet, when the time comes, there is no rain, wind or damage, wouldn’t we say that there was no storm?

If a woman said she was pregnant but during the ensuing nine months there was no physical evidence of pregnancy and ultimately no baby, wouldn’t we say she wasn’t pregnant at all?

If God’s Kingdom on Earth, brand new creatures, the resurrection of ordinary believers and the final judgement failed to materialise, wouldn’t we say there can have been no resurrection? The supposed causal event of all these non-effects really can’t have happened. Jesus died and like all dead people stayed dead. The visions, dreams and imaginings of his early followers gave rise to a cult in his name, one that, ultimately failed on all levels to deliver what it promised.

There was no resurrection.