Who wrote the Bible?

According to Christians, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible; Genesis to Deuteronomy are widely known as ‘the books of Moses’. There is little evidence Moses had anything to do with them and plenty that he didn’t. The narrative, for example, is never once in the first person; it’s all ‘Moses ordered this slaughter, Moses ordered that slaughter’, never ‘I was the bastard who ordered all the genocide.’ Maybe he was embarrassed about it or – much more likely – it was written by someone else..

In fact, the books were compiled from a range of sources, including stories from other cultures. They reached the form in which we know them around 600-400BC, a mere eight hundred to a thousand years after Moses was supposed to have lived. The events and folk-heroes they describe are demonstrably mythical.

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Christians like to say that King David wrote many of the Psalms. While David’s name is attached to 73 of the 150, there is no reason to conclude he wrote them. It is more likely ‘of David’ serves as a dedication to a revered (and long dead) figure and may, indeed, have been added much later. The Psalms were actually created over an extended period of time – as much as five hundred years – by a wide range of unknown composers.DavidBelievers attribute much of the book of Proverbs to King Solomon, the fruit of David’s loins. Again, this is highly unlikely. The sayings are largely traditional and the attribution ‘is likely more concerned with labeling the material than ascribing authorship.’

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Christians believe four blokes called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the New Testament’s gospels. They didn’t. The gospels were written anonymously and did not have the traditional names attached until a century or so after their composition. None is by an eye-witness. There is no evidence that the writer of Mark was a disciple of Peter’s, nor that ‘Luke’ was a companion of Paul’s (and even if he was, this wouldn’t make him an expert on the historical Jesus), nor that ‘John’ was a bona fide disciple. The fourth gospel was written between 90 and 110CE when the disciple would have had to be between 80 and 100 years old, or, much more likely given life-expectancy in the first century, dead. There are several hands at work in ‘John’, as the gospel itself concedes (John 21.24).

 Beatles

Christians insist that all of the letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament were written by him. However, despite the fact they say they’re by Paul, Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are not; they are forgeries. They were composed long after Paul’s death, which occurred some time around 64CE. The earliest of the forgeries, Colossians, is thought to be circa 75CE, while the ‘pastoral’ letters to Timothy and Titus may be as late as 150CE. All of the forgeries contradict the ideas expressed in Paul’s genuine letters.

PaulPeter wrote the letters that carry his name, or so god-botherers claim, but according to the Bible itself, Peter was an illiterate Galilean fisherman (Acts 4.13). The Greek of the letters supposedly by him is accomplished and the theology well developed. Did Peter have time to learn Greek and polish its written form to perfection while busy preaching the gospel to all nations? Even if he did, how did he manage to write a letter (2 Peter) concerned with conditions in the church more than a century after his time with Jesus?

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Jesus’ brothers James and Jude, we’re told, wrote the letters carrying their names. Again, they didn’t. The letter of James may have originated in the early Jerusalem church presided over by James the Just, but there’s no evidence this was Jesus’ brother. Jude is plagiarised from 2 Peter – word-for-word in places – which is itself a forgery. Would someone who knew Jesus as intimately as a brother need to steal what he had to say from an illegitimate source? Jude would have had to be well over a hundred years old to pull this one off.

Robertson2When all else fails – and it does – Christians fall back on that most implausible of last resorts, ‘the Holy Spirit’. The very breath of God, they insist, presided over the creation of the Bible from start to finish. If it did, it made a staggeringly bad job of it; misattribution, mistakes and forgeries are the hallmarks of ‘God’s precious Word’.doveAnd on this unstable foundation, this tissue of lies, rests the entire edifice that is Christianity.

(It is difficult to find online sources on the authorship of the Bible. Christians have taken over the Internet with inummerable sites insisting the Bible was written by whoever they say it was. I’ve had to fall back on Wikipedia here (the articles are pretty comprehensive) but if you don’t think it reliable enough, I recommend Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God – why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.)

 

Sweet and sour, nasty and nice

or, whatever happened to Luke 18.11-14?

prayer2Why is it when people are emotionally blackmailed into becoming followers of Jesus, does their conversion make them sweet and sour, nasty and nice at the same time? The sweet and nice parts are what their new experience does for them. They get a new start of sorts, are introduced to like-minded friends in the church and become compelled to share their new joy with everyone else, whether they want to hear it or not, about how much they’ve changed because of Jesus. It’s nice for them. Deluded too, but if it makes them happy then why not?

This is why not. What they don’t tell you, not at first anyway, is how sour and nasty they have also become; how they must now defend God’s standards, because, as everyone knows, the omnipotent God of all creation is incapable of defending them himself. Being born again and morphing into ‘a new creation’ involves, without exception, becoming judgemental of others, condemnatory, inflammatory, bigoted and spiteful.

You think not? Then you haven’t heard what these same Christians think about abortion and women who have them. Homosexuality and those who are gay. Transgenderism and those born in the wrong body. Science and those who value evidence. Atheism and those of us who see through believers’ sad delusion.

Christians don’t, as some of them profess, hate the sin but love the sinner. They despise those who have philosophies different from them, those who live differently from them, those who are different from them.

A recent BBC poll asked if the world wouldn’t be more peaceful without religion. Here’s the results as of 14th July 2016:

Poll

I don’t know how many people this represents nor where they’re from – the site doesn’t say – but it would seem that most of us would think we would be better off without religion. It’s long past time we were able to be; religion has nothing to offer. It’s time we stopped giving it special treatment because some of it is sweet and nice. Its sour, nasty aspects are just as much a part of it, inseparable from whatever positives its adherents say it has. I’ll be looking soon at how we might push back against religion’s pervasive and poisonous influence in society.

Effective Preachin’ (Part Two)

Sheep

Reverend M. T. Vessal of the Church of The Raised Up here again, with the second part of my guide to Effective Preachin’. In case you missed it, repent! (The first part’s here.)

Now we’re really gonna get going, praise the Lord! The tools you’re gonna need for your talk proper are:

Lots of anecdotes (make up ’em up if you don’t know any true ones), specially ones about life- and-death situations. Stories about encounters with people on planes always go down well, as there’s always the chance the plane will too, and accounts of foolish follk who hear the gospel and ignore it, only to die in a terrible accident soon after.

Cod-psychology. That’s the stuff about God-shaped holes, how only Christ can forgive sin and meet all our needs, even though he doesn’t and never said he would. You can add something in here slagging off atheists and anyone else you disagree with.

Conviction. This is crucial. Sound as if you mean whatever it is you’re spouting. Sound as if you really know what the Bible says. Make it sound like it’s relevant and meaningful, even though it isn’t.

Modulation, otherwise known as shouting and dropping your voice. Shout when the argument is weak (and they’re all weak – you’re making this stuff up, remember)) and drop your voice almost to a whisper so that people know you’re being really, really sincere.

Drama. Pace up and down, like ‘Bishop’ T. D. Jakes, and mop your brow a lot. Wave your arms about, like Joseph Prince and show you really mean it. Maybe you could use props, like Beth Moore does, though you run the risk then of diverting the attention away from yourself. Better is to demonstrate what a cool guy you are, even if you’re not a guy, by sitting on the edge of the altar steps or, if you’re in a really cool church like Steve Furtrick’s, the Stage. This shows the congregation/audience just how cool you are.

Whipped up emotion. This is optional but if you lay it on thick about what Jesus has done for the spiritually inferior, how their sin caused those nails to be driven in, then you’re on to a winner. Aim for some arm waving from ’em, babbling in jibberish speaking in tongues and maybe even some crying. Don’t forget to tell ’em that whatever they’re feeling is the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Definitely nothing to do with your manipulating their already fragile emotions. No sir. This here frenzy is divinely inspired.

Finally, get to the challenge bit of your sermon/talk/self-promotion. This can involve an appeal for money. Correction: this will involve an appeal for money. The God who supplies everything doesn’t supply money so you’ll need to lay a guilt trip on your fans/congregation to provide you with the cash to maintain your lavish lifestyle continue the Lord’s work. But it’s not only about money; remember to pressurise/inspire the congregation/audience/fans to go out and harrass their neighbours so maybe they and their wallets will come to church next week. As the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few’!

Above all, though, let everyone leave feeling that they’ve had a good time. Like kettles, they should have had a real great Outpouring and feel well and truly Blessed. Leave ’em feeling ready for more, same time, same place next Sunday.

 

 

Effective Preachin’ (Part One)

church3Reverend M. T. Vessal of the Church of The Raised Up here, with the first of my special guest posts for all you wannabe preachers out there. I’m gonna be telling you on how to preach the Good News of Salvation and win souls for Christ.

Right. First off, remember to use the words ‘Blessings’, ‘Sanctify’ and ‘Outpouring’ in your preamble or opening prayer. ‘Course no-one will know what these mean as you haven’t provided any context and they’re pretty meaningless anyway – apart from ‘Outpourings’ which is something kettles do. But it’ll get the folks worked up to expect something real good. Folks in church go for things like Blessings, Sanctifying and Outpourings, believe me.

Next, repeat the title of your sermon – or, if you’re part of a cool modern church like Steve Furtick’s, your talk, or, if you’re really honest (and let’s face it you wouldn’t be doing this if you were really honest) your spot of self-promotion – three times. This is a useful tip for any point of your sermon/talk/self-promotion; if you can’t remember what you were going to say next, say the last thing you can remember saying three times over, putting the emphasis on a different word each time. So, for example, ‘Twelve ways to receiving the Lord’s blessings’ would be: ‘Twelve ways to receive the Lord’s blessings’, then ‘Twelve ways to receive the Lord’s blessings’, and finally, ‘Twelve ways to receiving the Lord’s blessings‘, though feel free to alter this as suits. Saying it three times like this makes it sound like you’ve just come out with something real deep and profound, when you’ve done nothing of the sort. Plus, people sit up and listen to things said in threes. It’s kinda hypnotic.

I said, ‘it’s kinda hypnotic.’

‘It’s kinda hypnotic.’

See? It works.

Next make a joke. Say something like, ‘if you’ll switch on your Bibles’, just to show how with-it and up-to-date you are, knowing most folks bring their iPads to church these days. That way they can shop on Amazon or send an offensive tweet when your sermon gets really boring (and it will get really boring).

Now quote the verse you’re gonna preach about and let the folks follow along; you won’t need to quote it accurately because they’ll all be using different translations, so accuracy’s not important. Unless, of course, you’re one of those churches that only accepts the Authorised Version, the one with all the errors in it that right-royal homosexual James I… well, authorised. (One of the advantages of the KJV is you can  drop in words like ‘lieth’ and ‘unto’ which sound like you really know what you’re talking about.) So, yes, it’s okay to paraphrase the verse your talk is gonna be tenuously connected to because, let’s face it, it’s not going to have much to do with the verse in any case. It’s going to be more about you than whatever’s in the Bible. The exception is if you’re planning on having a rant about homosexuals, in which case you’ll want to stick pretty closely to Leviticus 20.13 and Romans 1.26.

A word on choosing your Bible verse: make it one of Paul’s or something from John. The other stuff, about loving your neighbour and your enemy and going the extra mile isn’t the kind of thing you want to have to talk about. You’re gonna concentrate on Blessings, Sanctification and Outpourings, remember, things that are exclusively for Christians. If you’re feeling really adventurous though you can try a story from the Old Testament. Maybe one of those blood-baths it has a lot of. You can show how all that bronze-age inter-tribal slaughter was really about how much Jesus loves Christians in the twenty-first century.

Right. You’re all set. Next time, I’ll tell you how to preach so that you can make a name for yourself truly reflect the glory of Jesus.

Did Jesus Exist? (part two)

WaterIf Matthew, Mark and Luke were creating a Messiah from scratch, or, more probably, recording the invention of believers who went before them, then it is unlikely they would have arrived at the loser preserved in their accounts. The Jesus we find there is nothing like the Messiah anticipated in Jewish scripture nor by Jews at the time.

He is a false prophet, his good news about the imminent arrival of the Son of Man and the Kingdom of God being patently unfulfilled. His ministry is a failure, ending as it does in ignoble execution. This is not the Messiah anyone would create if they were inventing one to satisfy the longings of a thwarted people. In particular, God’s emissary would not lose control of the situation in the way the Jesus of the synoptic gospels does. He would not allow himself to be executed by the occupying forces in the manner the gospels record. (All the surviving sources attest to his death by crucifixion; we can be fairly certain he died in this way.)

A created Messiah, on the other hand, would surely have announced the arrival of the Son of Man/Kingdom of God before leaving the stage of his own volition – ascending to heaven perhaps as some of the gospel writers eventually have him do – to await the unfolding of the events he had proclaimed. Of course, the death of a godman is a recurrent theme in the mythologies of the ancient world, so it is possible that an unpleasant death would be invented for an imaginary Jesus so that he complied with the trope. But, as I’ve already suggested, the central figure of the synoptic gospels is noticeably ungodmanlike. We only see him as such through the distorting prism of Paul’s theology; without this, we can see that the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke really don’t portray him like this at all.

It seems much more likely, therefore, that what the synoptic writers are conveying are distorted memories of an individual who actually lived. A man who promised much but whose mission went drastically wrong but which would, his earliest followers believed, be completed by God himself in the near future. This latter part is, as we now know, pure invention, the gospels conveying only an imaginative interpretation of this man. It would seem, nonetheless, to be an interpretation of someone – a charismatic Jewish preacher and failed heir-presumptive – who had actually lived some years before.

As I said at the beginning of this two-part post, I don’t really care whether Jesus existed or not. The end result is the same; millions of people seduced by a significance he did not have, either as a real person or as an imaginary construct. On balance, for the reasons I’ve touched on in these posts, it seems to me Jesus – Yeshua bar Yosef – did once exist. Like we all must, he died and others set about interpreting his life in their various, incompatible ways. These interpetations are all ultimately meaningless; we can be absolutely certain that, whatever the Bible and Christians today tell us, Jesus, whether he lived two thousand years ago or not, does not exist now in any shape or ethereal form.

Did Jesus Exist? (part one)

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I want to say at the outset that I don’t think it matters whether Jesus existed or not. Even if he lived, it is highly unlikely he said much that is attributed to him or that he performed the miracles ascribed to him. Neither would it be the case that he rose from the dead or became a supernatural godman afterwards. All of these supposed attributes would be, for an individual who actually existed, later accretions. The man underneath them, the so-called historical Jesus, is difficult to detect. It hardly matters to Christians; they’re really only interested in the accretions, the later add-ons, the myth the man became.

Those who think Jesus never existed raise a number of interesting points, chief of which is that what I’ve referred to as accretions, being central to subsequent Christian belief, actually came first. The accounts of Jesus’ life – the gospels – they see as later attempts to provide the myth with a ‘realistic’ back story based in history. Certainly the gospels came after Paul had had his vision and had set about interpreting it to arrive at his convoluted theology about ‘the Christ’. Jesus-belief certainly existed decades before the first gospel account, Mark’s, and was as a result entirely independent from it. In this scenario, therefore, the myth came first and the stories of Jesus were crafted afterwards as supplementary fiction.

For me, however, as problematic as the gospels are, the synoptic accounts – Matthew, Mark and Luke – are largely at odds with Paul’s theology. If they were written to bolster the myth of a supernatural godman, they don’t do it very well. John’s gospel, on the other hand, is much more successful in portraying a mythical being, which is why its implausible ‘Word became flesh’ is not very much like the Jesus of the synoptic gospels.

The synoptics of course have their own agendas and do not represent accurate biographies of Jesus either – there are too many contradictions and anomalies to claim they do – but, to varying degrees, they do not present a Jesus who is the embodiment of Pauline theology. The synoptic Jesus doesn’t, for example, promote a salvation plan involving his own death or say that faith is the means by which one enters the Kingdom of God. These are ideas of Paul’s, as are notions of grace, election, sanctification, redemption, substitutionary atonement, imputation, gifts and fruits of the Spirit and even more mumbo-jumbo besides.

The good news of the synoptics’ Jesus, however, is that God’s Kingdom is coming to Earth soon and to be part of it one must become ‘righteous’ both by serving others and relating to them in a ‘measure for measure’ way: forgiving in order to be forgiven, being compassionate to be shown compassion, giving in order to receive, not judging so as to avoid being judged. This Jesus and his gospel are, moreover, predominantly Jewish; Matthew’s version in particular is virulently anti-Gentile. All of this is totally at odds with the magic formula of salvation-available-to-all of Paul’s make-believe. If this came first, it is difficult to see why the synoptic gospels would not present, as John does, a Jesus who is more compatible with it.

Either the synoptic gospel writers got much wrong in providing the Christ’s supposed back story or they were representing other traditions, ones that were different from and possibly even older than Paul’s interpretation. Belief in Jesus as teacher, prophet and, possibly, Messiah predates Paul (he refers to it himself while Matthew and Luke make use of an earlier sayings gospel known as ‘Q’) and it seems likely that Mark and Matthew in particular reflect these traditions, untainted by Paul’s fantasies. Of course these traditions too could have been invented, just as Paul’s theology is, but if that is the case, then, once again, the gospel writers – Mark and Matthew especially – make a decidedly bad job of it.

Next: what this ‘bad job’ tells us about the existence of Jesus.

Angels with anuses

Lot

Of the many tawdry stories in the Bible, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19.1-29) is one of the most sordid and ludicrous.

In case you don’t know it, two angels visit Lot in the first of these ‘two cities of the plain’ where the local men express a desire to rape the pair. Unbelievable, right? All the men (19.4) wanted to rape two other men? It would appear so, but only because the story, designed to explain the demise of the two cities, is a fabrication by a rabidly homophobic scribe, intent on expressing his own prejudices and sexual fantasies. There is little evidence the cities really existed.

Anyway, Lot offers them his daughters instead, telling the local rapist mob that the gals are virgins, though in fact they have husbands (19.12 & 14). Lot’s rampaging neighbours don’t seem to know this but all the same decline his generous offer. So, to cut a long story short, God destroys both Sodom and Gomorrah allowing only Lot and his family to survive. Then, for no plausible reason, his nameless wife dies as they flee and Lot has drunken sex with his not-so-virginal daughters (19.33-38). As a result of the incest, the two of them give birth to genetically compromised offspring.

So this Lot – I’m tempted to say ‘this Bad Lot’ – who lies, offers his daughters to hormonally charged thugs, fucks the gals himself and has children by them is, declared by God to be a ‘righteous’ man (Genesis 18 and 2 Peter 2.7-8). The bar was set very low in them good Old Testament days.

Over on National Catholic Register’s blog, Thomas L. McDonald tries to explain what this seedy little story really means. (Steve Wells responds to his desultory efforts here). Central to it, are the so-called angels. What sort of beings are these? The term means ‘messengers’ and this pair at least are very mundane; they are incapable of defending themselves against rape threats (Lot has to help them) and while they claim they are about to destroy the two cities (19.13), it is in fact God who does so (19.24). Later angels are more like the X-Men; they have grown increasingly grotesque (Daniel 10.5-6) and have developed superpowers like flight (Isaiah 6.2) and invisibility (2 Kings 6.17). The Sodom pair though are mere prototypes. There is nothing supernatural about them because the concept of the angel as a supernatural emissary of the divine was in its infancy when this story was written. They are simply human messengers.

Which is how they are capable of being raped. If they were the ‘evolved’ angels of later fantasy it would be inconceivable that they could be overcome and abused in this way. That these two can be potentially is because they are human males with human male anatomy. The bottom line is, if you’ll forgive the pun, they have anuses, without which they could not be anally raped. The story blithely assumes this to be the case even though all subsequent exegesis consistently ignores it.

This ugly, homophobic, semi-pornographic story has led to untold damage to innumerable people throughout the ages. It has given us the disparaging terms ‘sodomy’ and ‘sodomite’, even though no ‘sodomy’ takes place in the story and isn’t, in any case, routinely practised by same-sex couples. It has served as the prototype for the blaming of LGBT people for (always unrelated) natural and man-made disasters, from earthquakes to tsunamis and 9/11. The moral usually taken from it – even though it lacks any morals at all – that being gay is evil, has led and provided ‘justification’ for the persecution and destruction of gay people right up to the present day. Perhaps, given the same story is referenced in the Qu’ran, its influence can even be seen in last week’s massacre in Orlando. 

That the prejudiced and ignorant today continue to be influenced by this unimaginative, tawdry little tale is the lasting legacy, the real tragedy, of Sodom and Gomorrah.