A simple comparison of Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels is enough to demonstrate that the gospel writers invented their stories of Jesus. I’m going to take only a few examples over the next few posts, but the same analysis could be made of any of the episodes in the two gospels and yield the same results.
Mark starts his story with Jesus’ baptism and subsequent 40 days in the wilderness. The dominant motifs of both episodes are intended to alert the reader to the fact that Mark sees Jesus as the new Moses, preparing to lead his people out of bondage and into the Kingdom that God is preparing for them. The parting seas of Exodus 14 become the parting clouds through which God proclaims Jesus his Son, the 40 year trek through the wilderness (Exodus 16 etc) is replaced with Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.
Mark gives the wilderness episode a mere two sentences (Mark 1.12-13) which isn’t enough for Matthew. He embellishes it in his gospel, making it a full-blown fantasy, complete with a lengthy conversation between Jesus and Satan. Matthew invented this story. We know he did because:
it cannot possibly have come from an eye-witness (because there wasn’t one);
It is patently fantasy material, with Satan, ministering angels and teleportation;
it cannot have derived from any oral tradition (as it is an embellishment of Mark’s tale, invented only a decade earlier, designed to echo the Moses story);
It is designed specifically to extend the analogy with the Moses. In Matthew, Jesus encounters the same temptations as the ancient Israelites in their wilderness trip, but, unlike his forebears, Jesus triumphantly resists them. He then recruits 12 disciples to go on ahead of him (Mark 3:13-15) just as Moses’ appointed 12 spies for the same purpose (Numbers 13).
Matthew has even more up his sleeve. He is fully aware of the parallels Mark has made between Jesus and Moses and adds a third to the beginning of his Jesus narrative. In his contrived nativity story, he rewrites the story from Exodus 1 and 2, itself a complete fabrication, in which Pharaoh orders the elimination of all Israelite baby boys. He lifts it directly into the so-called Massacre of the Innocents episode in his gospel.
Again, we know Matthew made this up:
Herod did not order any such massacre. It is not an historical event.
Matthew was determined to find incidents in Jewish scripture he could claim were really about Jesus. Here he is at it.
He is determinedly extending Mark’s metaphor; this is not material from any other source or tradition.
He constructs the narrative using additional ‘prophecies’ he finds in the scriptures. For example, the trip to Bethlehem and the flight to Egypt, neither of which happened (no other gospel writers knows of them.) The Egypt episode is an imaginative (and dishonest) expansion of Hosea 11:1: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’. In context, the verse refers to the Jewish nation not a future Messiah. And who led the Israelites out of Egypt? Moses.
The nativity story and the Moses/Israelite parallels in the Egypt/baptism/wilderness episodes in Matthew are not drawn from tales of Jesus that were doing the rounds. They are clever, contrived literary creations. They tell us too that Matthew did not regard Mark’s more basic stories as history or biography. He evidently did not view them as immutable. He changes and adds to them to make his own points, ‘correct’ Mark, extend his analogies and emphasise that which he thinks Mark hasn’t emphasised enough. Throughout his gospel he’s prepared to create new incidents, even when they conflict with points Mark makes. He knows that Mark’s work, like his own, constitutes carefully devised stories and he feels free – compelled – to improve them. You can’t treat history this way but you can rewrite fiction.
I have seen Licona ( for example) argue for original authorship on a couple of videos, and when he debates Ehrman he gets his lunch money stolen.
In fact he had a habit of whining when Ehrman shows how pathetic his eye witness argument is.
But then he’s a full blown Indoctrinated fundamentalist.
It truly is pathetic, and even I recognised early in that the author of gMatt used gMark as a template and almost all of gMark is used in gMatt, some verses are almost verbatim.
As you state, they simply made it up as they went along.
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Neil, most non-believers are fully aware of the untold number of “glitches” in the narratives of the “apostles.” But indoctrination doesn’t give up easily. If you have any doubt of this, watch for Don’s responses. 😈
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Neil: Herod did not order any such massacre. It is not an historical event.
Don: How do you know?
There is no evidence for it anywhere:
Luke knows nothing of it and consequently omits it from his nativity. In his account Herod had been dead nine years by the time Jesus was born (when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
There is no record of such an atrocity anywhere in the historical record. The Romans would have had something to say about it, given Herod would have been greatly exceeding his powers as a puppet ruler.
Josephus, while he records a number of Herod’s atrocities, doesn’t know of the massacre of hundreds of babies.
It is, as I say, a steal from the Moses story (itself a myth.)
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Almost all of those we’ve discussed before. And I’ve written about on my blog.
The hundreds of babies one is a new twist. How big do you think Bethlehem was? One hundred children under 2 yrs-old would have required 200 parents. Add a guesstimate of about the same ratio of kids under two to adults today and you have several thousand. That is a large village in 4 BC. Bethlehem was not large.
WF Albright, who was considered a primary archaeologist of his era, did some extensive research on populations at the time of Jesus. His estimate is around 300 for a village the size of Bethlehem holding 6 or 7 children under 1 year of age.
Tragic. But not a massacre of historic proportions. As far as history goes, a blip. Why would Josephus or anyone record it?
The census: http://biblicalmusing.blogspot.com/2022/04/making-sense-of-census.html?view=timeslide
Nativity story: There is one from which Matthew and Luke selected parts. http://biblicalmusing.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-nativity-story.html?view=timeslide
There is no historical evidence for millions of events which happen in out-of-the-way places even today. More so 2000 years ago. EXCEPT FOR MATTHEW.
‘Except for Matthew’. Says it all.
And I’m not the one who referred to it as a massacre; your mob did long ago: ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ remember? Some sects actually believe, without any evidence of course, that the number killed was in the thousands.
Only 6 or 7 under-twos in the unspecified area surrounding Bethlehem seems ridiculously low, and according to you, who gives a toss anyway. But let’s not get carried away. The minutiae of a myth aren’t worth arguing about. The ‘massacre’ didn’t happen whatever numbers you bandy about. It’s a myth. Almost all historians and Bible scholars think so. Naturally, you know better.
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Edit of Don’s latest essay;
I think it is the network of connections between the Old Testament and Jesus and between the gospels that troubles you. And I think it is troubling because they can only be connections if there is a divine author of the story. That you reject a priori, so for you the only other answer possible is fiction. But in order to support the premise that it is all fiction you have to focus on the nebulous ‘clues’ like the unsupported ‘Herod-didn’t-do-that’ claim or the Mark-is-a-metaphor-and-Matthew extends-the-metaphor idea. If Mark is a metaphor, what is it a metaphor of? (I think I asked that question before and you have not yet answered.) Does “metaphor” mean something different in England. In my experience a metaphor is a picture of another thing that it explains or enhances. WHAT IS MARK A PICTURE OF? Am I missing what you are saying?
Yes, you are. Who’d have thought it.
I can’t find where I say ‘Mark or Matthew is a metaphor’. I do say they’re creating myth, using older stories to construct their own. I also demonstrate how they do it.
I ask too which is more likely: that God placed lots of little clues about Jesus in Jewish scripture that Jesus then magically fulfilled, or that Mark and Matthew contrived to make it look that way.
They actively construct a Messiah out of the visions others had of a failed apocalyptic preacher. If you want to see this as a metaphor, then have at it. What it isn’t is any kind of truth.
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