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.

13 thoughts on “Inventing Jesus

  1. IMO, it all boils down to “wishing it were so.” IOW, even when all the signs and indications point otherwise, there will always be those who want things to fall within certain parameters, so they manipulate and wrangle and twist and fiddle with what they think they know in an effort to “MAKE it so.”

    And this is as true today as it was 2,000+ years ago.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s right, Nan. A certain commenter here bewails the fact that the ‘modern’ deconstruction of the gospels by those ‘trying to make a name for themselves’ is a lamentable thing to do. If only people would accepted how wonderful the gospels are, like they did in the good old days, then we’d all be so much better off.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You leave your question as to where the details of Jesus’ life came from unanswered. Even if Matthew and Luke drew from Mark, there is a whole lot more in those two Gospels than can be found in Mark.

    But the crucial question is where did Mark get the details he includes in his Gospel? The testimony several church fathers and tradition of the second century church was that he got them from Peter. Many modern scholars, of course, reject that in favor of either we don’t know or he made them up. So much for careful source criticism, right?

    You also make no mention of what most scholars today describe as either a written or oral Q, a collection of Jesus’ sayings and deeds that scholars find evidence for in Matthew and Luke.

    The favorite scapegoat, of course, is Paul. He supposedly was the source of some if not many the details. But where did he get them? Out of thin air? And how did he get away with fabrications when around him were people who had known Jesus? Or do you dismiss that part of Paul’s personal story?

    My, my so many questions. But I suppose you will flesh your thesis out in the next post. I’ll be eager to hear your explanations. Good Luck.

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    • Patience, Donny.

      Q is thought by ‘many modern scholars’ to be a sayings only gospel, no mention of deeds. You made that up. A bit like Mark himself.

      Yes, Paul invented his nonsense ‘out of thin air’. He says so himself. He says it was a revelation in his head. Made up.

      ‘How did he get away with fabrications when around him were people who had known Jesus?’ He fell out with them. Again, he says so himself; they didn’t like him.

      You invent questions for me which I’ve answered adequately before. You did read the links I provided, didn’t you? Of course not.

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      • I read several of the links, even responded to one.

        RE:Q. That is a construct in order to account for material that seems to have been around before the Apostles wrote. I do not think there was a written sayings Gospel that the Apostles drew upon. I do think there was an oral gospel and probably many with some variations that were the Apostles’ teachings over the 30 plus years before any written Gospel.

        What do you think the Jews who were followers of the Way and whom Paul put in prison believed? Wasn’t it that Jesus was the Messiah?

        As far as Mark is concerned, the church fathers including Papias and Clement of Alexandria and John the Elder all believed that what we have in Mark is in fact the oral Gospel taught by Peter, so a Q of some sort that predated the written Gospels was a commonly accepted idea. In addition, Papias wrote of an original Gospel written by Matthew in the Jewish language. That may or may not be found in fragments of the Gospel of the Nazarenes, but there were enough ancient church spokesmen who alluded to a Jewish language Gospel to consider it likely. That would also have predated any of the four canonical Gospels.

        In addition, what would account for the many Christian groups scattered around the area, some in Syria and some in Egypt, all predating Paul or out the territory in which he preached? These all were based on a faith in Jesus as Messiah. It is a bit crazy and totally contrary to the history to think that Paul originated Christianity or the gospel. Even the fact of Paul’s differences with some in Jerusalem can only be explained by there being some group of believers in Jesus who existed alongside the groups established by Paul. You must be listening to the modern revisionists again.

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      • I don’t claim most (or any) of what you say here. Of course there were believers before Paul. We do not know, exactly what they believed as they left no written material and were largely eliminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. Hoeever, it seems likely from what survives in Mark, that they believed the Son of Man was soon to descend from the clouds anf the Kingdom of God would be realised in a dramatic way on the Earth. Whatever happened to that, I wonder?

        You say you ‘think’ and ‘don’t think’ certain things about the hypothetical Q. On what basis? Where’s your evidence? At least the revisionists you blithely dismiss present evidence; you don’t. You ‘think’ whatever suits your pre-existing beliefs.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Neil, I don’t blithely dismiss the revisionist. I emphatically oppose them. I have taken college classes taught by revisionists, the New Biblical Scholars as I have called them. I have over forty-five years or more read, watched YouTube videos, and heard their ideas shouted from popular magazines and public television programs as if those ideas were real news and breathtaking breakthroughs.

        They have been so loud and have preached their gospel so long that just by the sheer volume and frequency they have confused the unprepared and lead astray those who have not been able to discern between their discordant “facts” and actual history.

        You say “we do not know.” And yet you are certain that the revisionists are right. Even though they DO NOT actually present evidence. They present random bits and pieces of facts that they glue together with skeptical speculation and present as evidence. The assertions you made in the blog post are in that category. They are made without support or evidence. That “None of the gospels are independent; all of them are based to one extent or another on ‘Mark’” is one of those. That is both illogical (if dependent on Mark, Mark is at least independent) and unfounded. It is at best a possible hypothesis, but only that. It is not uncontested truth that has the consensus of all the scholars in the field of biblical studies. It is one hypothesis among many.

        There is place for skepticism. I am not promoting blind faith or tradition. But when skepticism become faith, there is something seriously broken as far as the legitimate work of a scholar is concerned. (Real scholars are more cautious than that.) He or she is presenting what can only be preliminary hypotheses as solid fact and is not adding to knowledge but tearing down knowledge – the very definition of revisionism. And they are doing so with an agenda. That agenda is to tear down Christianity, an agenda that is often quite undisguised. That cannot be genuine scholarship any more than a conservative Christian’s defense of Christianity without evidence and wholly dependent on faith and tradition and fueled by a blatant antipathy toward atheism.

        Now, you and I are not qualified scholars. We are dabblers. As dabblers, we are free to express preliminary ideas as “facts” if we choose. But when we do, we should support those ideas or qualify them rather than simply shout them more loudly. Integrity demands it.

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      • One of the original points of this blog was for me to work out what it was I’d believed when I was a Christian. I didn’t believe because of what scholars said but because of what preachers told me the Bible said. Any intellectual justification for those beliefs came afterwards. Consequently, I base my analysis of Christianity on two things: what Christians claim for the faith and what the Bible says. I don’t need to refer to scholars to do this, just as I didn’t refer to them when I was a Christian. Nevertheless I occasionally do draw on what they have to say.

        Your response to all of this is to disagree with everything I say; you imply it lacks integrity. Yet when I do cite scholars you dismiss them as ‘revisionists’ or people out to make names for themselves. You now claim that what they’re trying to do is ‘tear down knowledge’ (see above). You’re wrong. Just as you’re wrong to deny that Matthew and Luke are based on Mark (90+% and 50% respectively).

        Can’t you see it is you who does the tearing down? You insist you’re right and everyone else is wrong. You claim you don’t do this – see your latest response to Nan – but it’s exactly what you do, frequently without evidence and often without any reasoned argument.

        As I’ve told you before, this is an atheist blog; you do not have to read it and you do not need to comment. It is, moreover, my blog and as such reflects my views (my ‘dabbling’ as you insist on calling it.) You do not need to try to set me, and the commenters here, right. You do not need to try and save us. You do not need to defend Jesus at every turn. He is dead and gone and won’t bar you from his non-existent kingdom if, just once in a while, you stopped preaching at us.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nan, you should know that I do not make that claim. I have said and say again that there is only one critical defining issue: Is Jesus the Savior, the Messiah, and the Son of God. Beyond that there is a lot of diversity, and there has been since the beginning of Christianity at Pentecost in AD 30 or so. That diversity can be seen even in the NT writings of Paul and others.

        Those diverse ideas were debated vigorously at the various councils in the early centuries. They resulted in splits between the Western and Eastern churches and other divisions before and after. But when push comes to shove, Christians have confessed our unity rather than our diversity. I am a brother with other Christians of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed, Fundamentalist, and Liberal faiths et al. whether we agree on peripheral issues or not so long as we confess the one critical defining truth.

        I speak for a particular theological point of view within the diverse universe of Christian theology. Of course, I think I am representing historic biblical Christianity; I would not be arguing for my point of view if I thought otherwise. But I do so knowing that I am not the last word, knowing that I must be wrong about some things because my understanding is as imperfect as that of any other theologian, knowing that the bottom line is Jesus is Savior, the Messiah, and the Son of God even if Mark was the source of the other Gospels or if the Orthodox description of the Trinity falls short of reality or if our convictions about other “important doctrines” are all messed up.

        My beliefs do not sum up the whole of Christian adherents. That would be foolishly arrogant.

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      • *sigh* You missed the point … and then tried to justify what you missed.

        Going back to the statement made by Neil and looking at it more closely and without bias — You ‘think’ whatever suits your pre-existing beliefs.

        Your pre-existing belief is, as you yourself wrote: Jesus is Savior, the Messiah, and the Son of God. Thus, everything you present encircles that belief.

        The thing that non-believers question is how you or any believer can validate that statement … and that’s when the merry-go-round is turned on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That Jesus is the Savior, Messiah and Son of God was not a pre-existing belief for me. I did not encounter that idea until I was in high school.

        I came to that belief – I have regularly said this – because it made sense AND because it was impressed upon my spirit by God’s Spirit. But I very soon was challenged, and that challenge resulted in a lifelong quest to validate that belief or invalidate it by the facts available to me.

        That quest continues because at the core of who I am I belief that a belief that is untested cannot be trusted to be true. That is one of the reasons I spend time on atheist blogs and read atheist books; I want to be challenged by their facts and points of view. And I have reevaluated my first beliefs about many things because of those facts. Evolution is one of those.

        However, I have been at this long enough now to have encountered pretty nearly all the facts and arguments. So now I am responding to them with reasoned rebuttals hoping that responses to them might strengthen the atheists’ argument and so provide a better challenge.

        My recent blog post on Mark is such a rebuttal. https://biblicalmusing.blogspot.com/2022/09/according-to-mark.html

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      • ‘That Jesus is the Savior, Messiah and Son of God was not a pre-existing belief for me.’ No, but it is now, Don, that’s the point. You are, I have to say, particularly adept at missing points.

        Liked by 2 people

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