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.

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Did Jesus Exist? (part one)

Cross3

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.


What does God think about the Orlando massacre?

Orlando

Let’s see what he’s saying through his spokesmen here on Earth:

According to a minister from the cathedral in my home town, who conveyed this message from the Lord at a vigil on Monday night,

God is just as confused as we are. All the same, he’s full of compassion for those who died and for their loved ones.

Makes you wonder though, if he’s so compassionate, why he didn’t do anything to prevent the murders in the first place. Still, he is sympathetic, which is something.

Oh wait! That isn’t how God feels at all, not according to Pastor Steven Anderson, who knows exactly what the Lord thinks:

…in Leviticus 20:13, God’s perfect law, he put the death penalty on murder, and he also put the death penalty on homosexuality. That’s what the Bible says, plain and simple. So, you know, the good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not gonna be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re gonna continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.

Right. So now we know.

Hang on, though. Christian Today tells us something different again. According to this guy, what God really wants his followers to know is that,

true believers should pray for everyone involved in the terrible events of the weekend and ‘not miss a huge opportunity to build bridges and demonstrate our saviour’s love.’

Phew, glad that’s finally sorted.

Or maybe not, because God has changed his mind again: Pastor Roger Jimenez has this straight from the Lord himself:

The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die… the Bible paints the picture that these are wicked people. These are evil people. God gave them up to their vile affections… they’re not natural… they received a reward for their error… God almighty says, ‘there’s nothing I can do for (homosexuals).’

All these mixed messages, and all supposedly from the same Person! Compassion, punishment, love, abandonment; that truly is one confused, mixed-up deity you worship, Christians. You’d be confused too, I guess, if one nutjob after another put words into your mouth. Just who’s the ventriloquist here and who the dummy?

When, Christians, are you going to stop deluding yourselves that arses like Anderson and Jimenez know anything about what God thinks? When are you going to stop pretending that anyone knows what he thinks? When are you going to recognise that a God who ‘speaks’ so inconsistently through simple-minded ‘intermediaries’ is not God at all?  When are you going to stop deluding yourselves that there even is a God?

Religion poisons the well. Again.

dye

The shooting in Orlando of people in a gay night club (50 dead, 53 wounded) is yet another example of religion as the antithesis of human flourishing. Not Christianity this time, of course, but that other ‘great’ religion, Islam, the religion of peace. But Christians cannot distance themselves from atrocities like this, carried out in the name of God, when the influence of even moderate religion is a pervasive, unhealthy presence in our society.

It’s true that Christians don’t, as rule, rampage in the streets or fly planes into buildings but they do contribute to the medium in which more extreme forms of religion grow:

Westboro Baptist Church, for example, with its own peculiar brand of Bible-based homophobia – ‘God hates fags’ and all the rest – is, like it or not, an expression of Christianity;

Right-wing evangelicals who interfere in the churches and governments of Africa and South America, actively encouraging them to take a homophobic stance and to pass anti-LGBT laws, are equally culpable; Scott Lively, Pat Robertson, Sharon Slater, you too are people filled with hate;

Likewise, those Catholic bishops who use their influence to denounce gay and transgendered folk as ‘mentally disordered’;

Christian bloggers who trot out the old, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil’ (Isaiah 5.20) and misapply it to homosexuality, together with those who quote Leviticus 18.22 (‘abominations!’) and Romans 1.26-27 (‘unnatural and indecent!’)…

All of these contribute to the animus directed towards fellow human beings whose ‘sin’ is merely to be different. Religions, or more specifically their adherents, contribute significantly to the levels of misery in the world today, though Christians will cry ‘foul’ here (or ‘persecution’ even, because how they love claiming they’re being persecuted when asked to demonstrate some empathy and a little love.) After all, it wasn’t a Christian who gunned down the people in the Pulse nightclub this weekend. No it wasn’t. But every time religious bigots –

tell others what despicable sinners they are,

misrepresent and denigrate minorities,

promote ‘gay cures’,

attack same-sex marriage,

add quotation marks around the words gay and gay marriage, as if they’re somehow not real,

assert homosexuality and transgenderism are synonymous with ‘moral decay’,

claim natural disasters are God’s response to gay people’s very existence,

boycott businesses that support equality,

‘take a stand’ against transgendered people using the approriate restroom and

refuse to serve gay couples –

every time, in short, they say LGBT people are evil, sick or worthless, the self-righteous prepare the ground for individuals like Omar Mateen to do what he did in Florida on Sunday. Religious leaders condemning such atrocities after the event is too little, too late, when they’ve failed to take charge of their acolytes and  do nothing to stem the tide of hatred flowing from their churches, mosques and temples. 

To those of us on the outside, religions are all of a kind; harmful superstitions. If a ‘faith’ entails belief in supernatural beings and puts allegiance to such imaginary figures above fellow human beings, it is without merit. It is the evil among us.

Less religion, not more

Welby

A bloke in a pointy hat and posh frock thinks there should be more religion on television and radio. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, says that religion merits as much air time as politics, sport and drama.

The Archbish makes it sound like there’s nothing at all on TV and radio already about religion. In fact, in the last few months in the UK we’ve had a full schedule of Easter programmes; Simon Reeves’ The Ganges on BBC2 (looking at India’s religious heritage); Channel 4’s Unreported World and Dispatches, which regularly consider religious issues; Clare Balding’s trite Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2; the weekly broadcast of church services and daily Thought For the Day on Radio 4; the weekly dollop of worship on Songs of Praise on BBC1 and the 24-hour Christian ‘ministry’ of Trinity Broadcast Network and other God channels for those who just can’t get enough mumbo-jumbo.

Maybe that’s not as much as sport, but then there’s hardly anything on TV that has as much coverage as sport. (Bad news too for those of us with little interest in watching others running, jumping and hitting things; there’s even more to come in the shape of Wimbledon, Euro 2106 and the Olympics.)

Do we really want religion to have the same level of coverage? Are people really as interested in belief systems as they are in sport? Or music? Or art? Or comic book franchises? Even if there are, why is it up to television – the Archbish singles out the BBC as the broadcaster he thinks should indulge his fantasies – to provide it? Isn’t it, rather, up to churches, mosques, temples and other centres of superstition to promote their own particular brand of nonsense?

Make no mistake about it, this is what Justers is proposing; the promotion of religion – ‘religious literacy’ he calls it. He is not, we can be fairly sure, looking for programmes that are critical of religion (unless it’s other people’s). He wants, he says, to see more programmes that give us a better understanding of religious belief. What he means by this are proselytising programmes that create greater empathy for those who subscribe to delusion.

He isn’t advocating, for example, documentaries that explore the irrationality of faith, or ones that show the slap-dash, deceptive ways in which holy books came to be compiled or ones that demonstrate how most adherents to faith fail to live out its exacting demands. Nor is he suggesting programmes that focus on the appalling misery religion brings to some, or shows that give a sympathetic hearing to cults, sects and extremists. I would have no objection to programmes like these (except those that are sympathetic to extremists) because the ugly underbelly of religion deserves to be exposed, like Channel 4’s The Untold History of Islam of a few years ago, taken off air after its presenter was threatened with violence by those who didn’t like its critical perspective.

But these are not the kind of programmes the Archbishop is proposing. The religious literacy he wants us to have is of the cuddly side of faith, the supposed deep spirituality of the obsessive and what he regards as the positive contribution religion makes to the world; a one-sided picture already more than adequately covered by the nation’s broadcasters.

Thankfully, despite the recent political interference in the BBC, the Corporation is still required to present balanced and impartial views of its subject matter. If the Archbishop, who sits in the House of Lords and so is not without influence, is successful in forcing the BBC and other broadcasters to increase their coverage of his obsession, then we should also be able to look forward to programmes that are critical of religion too.

No broadcaster is obliged to promote religion nor to proselytise on its adherents’ behalf. Shame on the Archbishop, with his smiles and pointy hats, for suggesting they are.

Dear Christian

Christians

Dear Christian,

Jesus said treat others as you like to be treated (Matthew 7:12) so why do you treat them with abuse and unpleasantness?

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Jesus said turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29) so why do you respond with insults?

Blog191(1)Jesus said don’t judge unless you want to be judged (Matthew 7:1) so why do you constantly judge and condemn?

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Jesus said love your enemies (Luke 6:27) so why doesn’t it happen?

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Jesus said don’t call anyone a fool (Matthew 5.22) so why do you call them far worse than that?

Blog191(4)

Jesus said don’t pray in public (Matthew 6.5) so why do you pray in public?

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Jesus said sell all you have and give the money to the poor (Luke 18.22) so why don’t you?

Jesus said you cannot serve God and money (Luke 16.13) so why are some of you so obscenely rich?

CrouchHinn'sJet

Jesus said deny yourself (Matthew 16.24) so why do you indulge and promote yourself above all things?

Blog191(8)OsteenPope Francis waves to the crowd, aboard the popemobile in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Pope Francis kicks off his first trip to Mexico on Saturday with speeches to the country's political and ecclesial elites. The pontiff's five-day visit will include a very personal prayer at the Virgin of Guadalupe shrine. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Jesus said ‘be perfect’ (Matthew 5.48) so why don’t we see you trying?

Sick

Jesus asked why you call him ‘Lord, Lord’ and yet don’t do what he tells you (Luke 6.46). Evidently he didn’t understand, as you do, just how many of his commands are optional. Thank goodness you know better than he did.