The disciples would not have died for a lie (part two)

Rule

As we have seen, the available evidence does not support the idea that Jesus’ original followers subscribed to a miraculous physical resurrection. It suggests instead that their beliefs centred on the promises Jesus had made about returning from heaven as ‘the Son of Man’ to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, which they would then rule with him.

Elements of this promise survive in the gospels as we have them, even if there are, in all four, obvious concessions to Paul’s Christ figure; the gospels were, after all, written after Paul’s version of Christianity had begun to take hold. Significantly, the promise of the triumphant appearance of the Son of Man ‘within this generation’ is present in Q, the source of many of the sayings common to both Matthew and Luke’s gospels that they didn’t get from Mark. It’s also there in the sources (L and M) peculiar to each of the gospels. Obviously L, M and Q pre-date the gospels that later made use of them. Scholars think Q could have been written as early as 40CE, a few years after Jesus’ death, with some sayings earlier than that. It pre-dates Paul too and reflects a tradition that has nothing to do with him or his convoluted theology.

Q, in fact, has no sayings attributed to the resurrected Jesus, nor anything from his trial, the crucifixion or resurrection.1 How can that be? Were they not important to the early believers who compiled it? The answer can only be, no, they weren’t. For the creators of Q what mattered was what Jesus said – his ethical teaching and his promise to return as the Son of Man, within his hearers’ lifetime, to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth in which the disciples would reign alongside him (Matthew 19:28). To be part of this Kingdom, people had to become righteous, not have it gifted to them (Matthew 5.20 & 48). This was the ‘good news’ for Jesus’ earliest followers, the gospel as it is preserved in the Q source.2 The lie that the disciples were to rule the world with Jesus inspired them to spread the news of the coming Kingdom; they demonstrate little interest in a reanimated dead man or a magical salvation formula.

So, did the disciples die for their faith in the Risen Jesus? Highly unlikely. They don’t seem, despite the later stories in which they feature, to attach any importance, at least in Q, to visions of a resurrected god-man.

How did they die, then? The simple answer is that, for most of them, we don’t know. They could have met their end when the original church community in Jerusalem was annihilated by the Romans in 70CE. The Romans didn’t particularly care what a minority group of fanatics believed – they were rebellious Jews who needed to be taught a lesson.

If not slaughtered by Romans in their capture of Jerusalem, then perhaps the disciples died for their seditious belief in the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus had before them. The Bible records the deaths of only two of them: Judas, who appears to have committed suicide using two different methods depending on which account you believe (Matthew 27:5-8 or Acts 1:18-19), and James, brother of John, who, according to Acts 12.1-2 was executed by Herod Agrippa 1. By the time Acts was written, however, somewhere between 80-90CE, the beliefs of the original followers had been swallowed up by Paul’s alternate version of the faith; we have no way of knowing how accurate the report of James’ death is. It’s hard to believe it was merely because he thought an old pal had risen from the dead. It is hard to believe this of any of them. For the other disciples there are only traditional accounts of how they died ‘for their faith’ with nothing to corroborate these legends.

It is quite possible Jesus’ original followers died for reasons unconnected with their outlandish beliefs in an imminent supernatural kingdom. They could just as easily have died of natural causes. One thing seems probable – they did not die because they believed in a resurrected Messiah. It’s not that they didn’t believe in a physical resurrection – they did – but they were convinced it would only happen with the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth, as prophesied in Daniel 12.1-4.

That it had already happened to their former leader did not figure in their beliefs, their writing or even their thinking.

 

 

1 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p279-280

2 ‘But for Q, Jesus was indeed principally remembered as a teacher of great wisdom and high moral demands, as an apocalyptic prophet anticipating the imminent end of the age, and one whose miraculous activities showed that the day of judgement was soon to come. For the author of Q, Jesus’ teachings provided the goal of the Christian life. Followers of Jesus are those who adhere to his directives for how to live, in anticipation of the coming kingdom of God.’ Bart. D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p280

Updated to include link to Matthew Ferguson’s celsus blog.

 

 

 

The disciples would not have died for a lie (part one)

SonOfMan

The disciples would not have died for a lie, or so Christians like to argue.

Would they not?

Fanatics today do and it is more than likely the disciples believed their lie was true, if indeed they died for it at all. There’s not much evidence that they did. But if they did, maybe the lie they believed to be true was not the one today’s Christians think it was.

There is no evidence anywhere that Jesus’ original followers were martyred because of their faith in a physically resurrected Jesus – for their beliefs, maybe, but not necessarily because they believed Jesus had returned in bodily form from the dead. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that they holed up in Jerusalem to await his return through the clouds as the Son of Man, with a phalanx of hostile angels by his side (Heaven was, after all, just on the other side of those clouds). This was the crux of their beliefs.

How do we know?

There was significant tension between the disciples and Paul, which Paul himself relates, not only because he was convinced his message should be taken to the Gentiles but because of the very nature of that message. Paul and the disciples meant different things by ‘the gospel’. Paul’s irritation that others were preaching a different gospel is apparent in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 where he calls the original disciples, ‘false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ’ and bitterly refers to them as ‘the most eminent apostles’. He is arrogant enough to suppose, and to proclaim, that he has it right and they are wrong.

Paul’s good news was about the resurrected Christ of his visions, who magically made those who put their faith in him righteous in God’s eyes. As he puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Paul also believed this supernatural being would soon descend from the skies when he would give believers new bodies (Philippians 3.20) but this is a very different figure, and agenda, from the Jesus known to the disciples.

What then of Paul’s insistence, in 1 Corinthians 15.5 (written circa 55CE), that ‘the Twelve’ experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did? Firstly, of course, we have only Paul’s word for this. We have no first-hand corroboration (just the opposite in fact) and Paul had a vested interest in showing how significant his own experiences were. What better way to do so than by claiming Jesus’ original followers had had the same sort of hallucinations? Secondly, we don’t know what these ‘visions’, if they had them, meant to the disciples. Their belief would undoubtedly have been in a physical, bodily resurrection (cf: Daniel 2.12; Matthew 27.52), not in the beam-of-light manifestation of hallucination; this was much more Paul’s thing. Perhaps this is why any words uttered by vision-Jesus (for surely he would have spoken to his old chums) were not considered significant enough to be included in the earliest written record, ‘Q’.

The fully-realised resurrection appearances found in the gospels, then, in which Jesus declaims ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ and ‘go and make disciples of all nations,’ are very clearly later developments, based, not on Q but on the visions suffered by Paul and others of influence and ‘written back’ into the gospel accounts.

Despite claiming that the Twelve experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did, Paul is critical of the disciples for preaching a different gospel, a different Jesus even, from the magical salvation-formula gospel he expounds. So what did the disciples believe – what was this other gospel that Paul disparaged so much?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

How not to love your neighbour

preachersImagine: a group of health-fascists set themselves up on a soap box in the city centre from where they lambaste everyone going past, with language that is abusive and demeaning, about the poor state of their health, their out-of-condition bodies and that many of them are  significantly over-weight. But, the speakers insist, a bottle of a magic potion they just happen to be selling will solve all their health problems overnight! All anyone has to do is commit to swallowing some every day for the rest of their lives.

Unsurprisingly, people are upset about this; they’ve come to town for all sorts of reasons, but not to be lectured about their health and size, which, for most of them are both perfectly fine. Some of these folk challenge the snake-oil salesmen, shouting back at them (not having the benefit of a tannoy system) and demanding to know what gives them the right to harass passers-by. In response, one of the salesmen pulls out a copy of last Tuesday’s Daily Mail; ‘it’s all in here,’ he declares, ‘all in black and white, and we believe it. The Daily Mail wouldn’t lie to us. Its Word is Truth. So get your magic potion now before it’s too late, ya depraved, ignorant slobs!’

Acceptable or not?

While you think about – if you even need to – the picture above was intended to accompany the previous post. It shows street preachers Michael Overd, Michael Stockwell and Adrian Clark before their trial for ‘public order offences’, which started last week and concluded on Tuesday this week. I felt it couldn’t be used while the trial was ongoing (contempt of court and all that) and so had it replaced with one of rabid American nutcase Franklin Graham.

Two of the three preachers, Overd and Stockwell, were found guilty and fined. Naturally, there’s an outcry from Christians and assorted fruitcakes everywhere about how the two have been denied their freedom of speech (though there is no protection of free speech under UK law) and how – oh calamity! – it’s no longer possible to ‘preach the gospel’ in the Britain. Absolute nonsense, of course, and while some more liberal commentators feel the case should never have reached the courts (let the nutjobs condemn themselves by spouting in the streets, suggests one) an example has been made of people who think the way to show love for your neighbour is setting out, in the judge’s words, to ‘insult, humiliate, demean (and) belittle’ them in public using a loud speaker in a shopping centre.

As Andrew Calibre pointed out in the previous post, haranguing and provoking people like this has nothing to do with love, nor is it ‘the gospel’. Shouting, as Overd did, about how your neighbour is ‘depraved and ignorant’ and how those who have sex outside marriage and gay people (of course) are ‘filthy, depraved and perverted’ is not, by any stretch of the imagination, ‘the good news’.

Perhaps the confusion is understandable when the Bible and God’s people™ are so muddled themselves about what ‘the good news’ actually is; God’s Kingdom arriving on Earth, as Jesus seems to have thought? Paul’s magical salvation formula? Or maybe it’s that there’s a free pass to heaven? One thing’s for sure, verbally abusing your neighbours and other strangers it isn’t. Even if street preachers justify their arrogance and rudeness by claiming they’re only conveying what (they think) the Bible says – so what? Their tawdry little book has no more authority than any other collection of ancient (or modern) fantasy, prejudice and supposition.

So, no, it’s not acceptable that hypothetical, self-appointed health experts verbally abuse strangers in the street. And as the court ruled this week, nor is it when religious zealots do the same. Passers-by and by-standers have every right to feel irritated, annoyed and offended, just as Christians would be if a group of Muslims propounded their beliefs with the same aggression, informing all and sundry how wicked they are and how they are destined to spend eternity in whatever hell Islam envisages. Nor would ‘we’re only preaching what the Qu’ran teaches’ be any justification.

But the issue isn’t only the irritation that people feel when religious extremists abuse them. It’s the one in a hundred, or whatever the percentage is, who takes them seriously, accepts the confederate’s tract, shows interest and is ultimately sucked into one of the many versions of the mind-numbing Jesus cult. Far worse than selling people magic potions, or insurance they don’t need, there is something obscene about cranks taking to the streets to recruit the gullible and unsuspecting to their (lost) cause. We wouldn’t tolerate it if it were anything other than religion, why should we accept it when it is? The prosecution of presumptuous con-artists does us all a service.

 

 

 

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

franklinA guest post by Andrew Calibre.

So there’s this smart-arse who thinks he’ll catch Jesus out by asking him a tricky question like, is it true microbes cause illnesses? Or, is Ken Ham right that the universe is only six thousand year old? But he bottles it, maybe ’cause he knows JC won’t have a clue what he’s talking about, and asks him an easy one instead – simple stuff about Jewish rules or something. “What is the greatest commandment?” is the best he can come up with (Matthew 26.32-40).

Jesus takes his chance and says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Predictable or what, even if he does make a big mistake: whoever heard of ‘the mind’ having anything to do with religion! Still, JC can’t resist elaborating on it. “This is the first and greatest commandment,” he says, as if everybody round him doesn’t know that already when it’s in their old magic book (Deuteronomy 6.5). He’s on a roll now and on he goes: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Clearly a cock-up, but there’s no stopping him: “The whole bloody religion” – he’s talking about the Jewish stuff, not the Christian fantasy that he knows nothing about on account of it not being invented yet – “is about these two things, nothing more,” he says.

Christ! How could he have got it so wrong? Love your neighbour as yourself! Whoever heard such crap? I know, a nice idea, but I ask you. Everybody knows that being religious, being a Christian, is about believing the right stuff (having the right doctrine, I think it’s called), trashing other Christians who believe the wrong stuff, and dumping on everybody else, specially if they’re sinners (and they’re all sinners), foreigners, LGBTI or transgender. Now that’s real Christianity. I know it is, because that’s how Christians do it, and they’re the ones who should know.

Apart from Jesus, nobody thinks loving others like you love yourself is a good idea. Even he wasn’t very good at it (Matthew 15.22-28 etc). What ‘your neighbour’ is for, is pointing out how sinful/lost/degenerate they are, how they’ve f**ked up their lives, how God’s going to punish them for all eternity for not being the same as you and how they’re just about single-handedly bringing about the end of the world on account of being so perverted/evil/foreign.

That’s how you love your neighbour! You can’t even claim to be loving them properly unless you’re telling them about Jesus, over and over again, and, in the process, denigrating, dismissing and damning them to hell over and over again. This is what truly loving your neighbour is about! I know because Christians say so endlessly: ‘you’re only really loving others if you’re telling them what shite they are and how they need Jeeesus to wipe it all away.’ So, okay, this isn’t exactly how you love yourself, but what’s that got to do with it?

If only Jesus had listened to his mouthpieces today. They know far more than he did about what’s important.

And love it isn’t.

 

 

 

 

Experts in make-believe

pence

As it is in the secular world, so in the Kingdom of Heaven. Entirely self-appointed experts abound in the religious sphere: priests, pastors, preachers, imams, rabbis. Some have degrees in theology; some have a degree of enlightenment (or so they claim) from personal encounters with the supernatural; some have learnt at the feet of the experts who have gone before them.

But what are religious experts expert in? Unlike our politicians who have at least a degree in a legitimate subject (even if not the one they now profess to know all about) the only thing religious experts are knowledgeable about is a collection of fantasy stories. That’s the Bible, of course, for Christian ‘experts’, with its supernatural beings, monsters, giants, magical incantations, transformations and resurrections.

If these experts were to encounter the same sort of fantastic notions in any other book, they would readily acknowledge that what they were dealing with was myth and legend. Not so their own ‘holy’ text! Oh no. This, of all the books of magic that exist, is, they say, the real deal because in amongst the far-fetched stories is some moralising about being extra-nice to fellow Jews and loving your enemies.

All that Christian experts are expert in is myth. That is their specialist subject. They’re not really interested in the injunctions about serving others; the mythical stuff they refuse to acknowledge as myth is much more to their liking: the eternal God-man, living forever, fantasy heaven, fantasy hell. The expertise of priests, pastors and preachers is in this smorgasbord of twaddle – and even then they frequently get it wrong. Those who offer their ‘spiritual’ experiences as demonstration of its veracity (‘I know it’s true because I commune with the eternal God-man’) add nothing of substance to their claims; all they’ve done is internalise myth, nothing more. Myth it remains. And just how useful is expertise in made-up stories in this day and age?

Like politicians who are skilled in one area but assume expertise in another, Christian experts also think that their knowledge of myth makes them experts about all sorts of other things: psychology, morality, the state of the world, politics, science, history and pre-history – even the future. They know all about these, they like to tell us, because by extrapolating from their book of myths and legends, they have an understanding that surpasses that of the real experts in these areas (we can exclude the future here; no-one in the real world claims to know with any certainty what the future holds. Naturally, Christians like to pretend they do).

You think this isn’t the case?

Because of what they think the Bible says:

Mike Pence, ‘evangelical Catholic’ and vice-President, thinks God will heal America only if ‘his people, who are called by his name, humble themselves and pray’ (quoting 2 Chronicles 7.14). He wants to end state-funded abortion rights into the bargain and disputes climate change;

Franklin Graham, who said prayers at the recent inauguration, insists that God himself engineered Donald Trump’s election;

Pastor Robert Jeffress, who provided a private church service for Trump prior to the inauguration, thinks so too, so that America can have ‘one more chance’.

Jim Bakker, ex-felon, televangelist and guest at the inauguration, claims he was responsible for Trump’s election because he ‘bound’ hell-spawned demons who opposed Trump.

Pastor Rick Wiles, meanwhile, is too busy enjoying being sprayed with the golden showers of God’s Grace that even now are ‘oozing’ from Heaven because of Trump;

Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor and one of the architects of the immigration ban, is pushing hard for a return to ‘Judeo-Christian traditionalism’ (which hasn’t stopped him from being married and divorced three times);

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s anti-gay Education Secretary, thinks schools should be used to build God’s Kingdom on Earth and wants Creationism taught alongside Evolution;

Ken Ham continues to influence people like Betsy, by teaching that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, Adam and Eve really existed and humans co-existed with dinosaurs;

Jerry Falwell jr, appointed by Trump to reform higher education, sees no contradiction between being a pro-life creationist and an arms advocate;

Religious Rights leaders are urging Trump to reverse the rights granted to LGBT people under President Obama, both in America and worldwide. At the time of writing it looks like he might;

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s alabaster daughter, asks what the Bible has to say about the Women’s March in Washington last week and concludes that women who protest are ‘loud, undisciplined and without knowledge’;

Sandy Rios of the religious ‘American Family Association’, agrees, saying feminists are ‘people who live in filth’;

Steven Anderson thinks people in need are ‘lazy bums’, just like the Bible says (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and continues to call for LGBT people to be executed;

A million and one other preachers and pastors think they have your psychology all worked out – you’re nothing but a sinner in need of Jesus’ saving grace.

By any rational standard this is all lunatic stuff. These people know no more than you or I about any of the subjects they spout about. They think they do – and worse still others believe they do – because of what (they think) is in their collection of myths; ‘I know what I’m talking about because it’s in my magic book!’ And who are we to doubt such credentials?

It is all fallacy. Christian experts are experts only in the ephemeral, the unproven, the mythical. Yet they claim to know so much about everything else as a result. They claim they know how you should live your life and what, for you own good, you should be allowed to do and what you should not.

People such as these have now come to power in America.

 

Angels & Demons

angel

Last time, Benjamin Corey was feeling rather pleased with himself that he’s able to take a more considered, adult approach to the Bible. He doesn’t interpret it like those dim-witted fundamentalists. Instead, he consults ‘scholars’ to tell him what the Bible’s really about. And in case we’re in doubt, that is never (ever) anything to do with myths or fairy tales.

Which makes me wonder: what do mature, clever Christians like Benjamin make of the Bible’s supernatural fantasies and its cast of invisible beings?

Do they, for example, dismiss the demons that are all over the New Testament? Jesus, you see, believed in demons; he thought some illnesses were caused by them and had a repertoire of incantations for exorcising them from their victims. There are cranks today who believe the same sort of thing, but that’s a bit too much of a fundie approach for the kind of serious-minded Christian I’m talking about here. They probably don’t care that the Bible says in Ephesians 6.12 (written by fake-Paul) that demons are all around us, engaged in invisible spiritual warfare in equally invisible heavenly realms.

I can’t help but think that if only a demon would make itself visible and show us what it looks like, we would know that fake-Paul and Jesus were right and not just religious fanatics inculcated with the unscientific notions of their primitive cultures. But no, no demons have ever shown themselves in person (as opposed to ‘in a person’) except, of course, in third-rate horror films.

So how about angels? Maybe we could see an angel – an undeniable, indisputable, bona fide angel. According to the Bible, they were often seen back when people didn’t know any better. Mary, shepherds watching their flocks, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Paul and even Jesus himself encountered angels in the flesh. So why don’t we see them now? Why don’t they make themselves known, outside of people’s imaginations? According to fundies they do, but alas, there’s no evidence this is true, which is convenient to say the least.

Still, I’m sure you can be a Christian without believing in angels and demons, even if the Bible is sure they’re real. You don’t have to believe everything it says (right, Dr Corey?)

So what about the rest of the Bible’s fantasies, its invisible creatures and make-believe places? Next time we’ll take a look at the evidence for them and ask, are they really just the low-fi special effects of a book well past its sell-by date?

To Hell and back

jesusguitar2

The self-righteous have taken it upon themselves this week to indulge in a little rejoicing, and not a little bit more gloating, at the death of George Michael. They are particularly pleased that, in all likelihood, he has gone to Hell, what with him being gay and all. Because of his sexuality – and this is how their damaged minds work – some of these Christians have also decreed George must also have been a ‘paedophile’, a victim of AIDs and possessed by evil spirits. Incredibly, he still managed to fit in a singing career. He was, these true-believers say, an enemy of God and is now frying in Hell forever. Yippee!

Here’s how the Christ-like Steven Anderson puts it:

First of all, George Michael’s burning in Hell right now. He was a very wicked, God-hating sodomite reprobate, and he’s getting the punishment that he deserves right now… If you just look at the lyrics to one of his most famous songs, one of his biggest hits, you can just totally tell this is written by a paedophile… It’s clearly written by a sick pervert because that’s what these homosexuals are. They’re a bunch of paedophiles… Quit mourning the death of this filthy pervert. He’s rotting in Hell right now for being a God-hating homosexual reprobate.

George Michael was none of the things these Christians claim he was. His post-mortem was inconclusive, but even if he had died of an AIDs related illness it would not be a cause for celebration. He was not a paedophile nor demon-possessed, but Christians, having happily embraced today’s post-truth world, think it’s absolutely fine for them to say he was.

They see evil spirits and demons everywhere, particularly in people who don’t share their primitive views; homosexuality is caused by their malevolent presence, and so, apparently, are depression, eating disorders, insomnia, self-harming and sex before marriage. Little wonder, of course, when that first-century ignoramus they claim to follow regarded Satan’s little helpers as the source of sickness and disease (when it wasn’t sin itself that was doing it). It hardly matters there’s absolutely no evidence that such beings exist; Christians are more than happy to take on the demonisation of others themselves.

As for Hell itself, it isn’t real either, as I discuss here. George Michael isn’t there, nor is anyone else who’s died. But let’s humour all those fanatics gentle souls who have persuaded themselves that it does. What does the Bible say about it?

First, it doesn’t claim that individuals go to Hell after death. Rather, it sees Hell as a pit into which Satan and his minions will be thrown at the end of time (Revelation 20.10). No mention humans will go there with them. Instead, the whack-job who wrote Revelation suggests (20.7-9) that the unrighteous dead, once resurrected, will be consumed by the fire God is going to destroy the Earth with at the end of time. You might wonder why God would bother resurrecting bodies only to murder them again, but he’s God, and you know, mysterious ways and all that. Still, he doesn’t seem to have perpetual torment in mind, even so.

Second, Paul tells us that after they’ve died, the dead sleep until the final judgement (1 Thessalonians 4.15-17). So even if they are eventually to be consigned to Hell it certainly won’t be immediately after death. As the final judgement has yet to occur – and won’t ever – dead souls, including George’s, still slumber. (It’s possible of course that for the dead time ceases to exist and the period between death and judgement appears, from their perspective, instantaneous. But this is not what the Bible teaches. It’s not nearly as imaginative as that.)

Third, Jesus is made to imply (it’s all very vague) that those with whom he is displeased will, after death, simply be discarded – thrown on some sort of metaphorical rubbish tip (Matthew 23.33). In fact, he tells only one parable about the after-life (Luke 16.19-31) in which a resurrected rich man finds himself excluded from God’s presence Abraham’s bosom. Not, you’ll note, because he failed to accept Jesus as his personal saviour but because of his disregard for the poor. So, given his philanthropy, it doesn’t look as if George Michael will be spending his eternity in the Hell that Jesus imagined either.

All of those who threaten us with Hell, and who think George Michael is already there, don’t know, and probably don’t care, what God’s Word™ has to say about the place where they’d be happy to see the rest of us suffer everlasting torment. It hardly matters when it doesn’t exist, being a fantasy of primitive zealots, but it does make you wish those who delude themselves into thinking it does would shut the hell up about it. Yes, you Franklin, Stephen, Bob, Kim and Keith. You’re only showing yourselves up for the ignorant hypocrites you are.