How much of the Bible was written backwards?

We know for a fact the book of Daniel was. The term for creating a prophecy after the event it purportedly predicts is Vaticinium ex eventu (Latin for ‘devious sleight of hand’). The creators of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament were rather fond of Vaticinium ex eventu. Daniel’s prophecies, supposedly written in the sixth century BCE during the Babylonian exile about events that would occur later – much later – were actually created during the second century BCE. This was, of course, after most of them had occurred, which is how Daniel manages to predict most of them with reasonable accuracy. The remaining prophecy, however, written before the events it purportedly predicts is hopeless, completely way off; it foresees the resurrection of God’s people and the establishment of his Kingdom on Earth in the early part of the first century. As we know, this didn’t happen, though Daniel’s madcap ideas influenced the creators of the Jesus cult who all thought they were living in the end times. Jesus’ term for himself, ‘Son of Man’, is lifted straight from Daniel.

This is how most prophecy in the Bible works; it’s either written after the event, Vaticinium ex eventu style, or, when it’s genuinely written beforehand, doesn’t – surprise, surprise – ever come to pass.

Which bring us to Jesus own predictions of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He explains to his disciples in some detail in Mark 13 what to expect. He suggests too that soon after the destruction, the Son of Man will arrive through the clouds to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, once and for all (well, maybe not all – just for ‘righteous’ Jews). It is no coincidence that Mark’s gospel was written about 70CE, just after the temple was destroyed, which makes it easy for Jesus to outline in some detail what the event would like, describing, as he is, what it was like.

Did I say Jesus? No, not Jesus, but the anonymous author of ‘Mark’s’ gospel who implants his knowledge from 70CE back to 30CE and on to Jesus. He – the gospel writer – also has Jesus refer to the opposition some believers were experiencing in the 70s and to the ‘reader’ of his warning. As David Madison notes in Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief , ‘reader’ is an anachronism too; Jesus had no ‘readers’ when he was alive. The whole prophecy is later fabrication. Its author is typically less successful – completely unsuccessful in fact – in his prediction that soon after the events he describes, the Son of Man would return to put everything right (Mark 13.26-27). So, as we might expect, there is a reasonable degree of accuracy from the bit of the ‘prophecy’ written after the event, but none at all when it genuinely looks to the future.

But it’s not just prophecy this affects. It looks very much that key episodes in the Jesus story were invented (long) after his death, assuming he existed in the first place, and were added into the gospel stories many more years later. John’s gospel is almost entirely like this. The Jesus of the fourth gospel bears no relation to that in the synoptic gospels; in John he has morphed into the Christ of late first-century Christian belief, spouting fantastical gibberish about himself, like ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ and ‘I and the Father are One’. The Christ of faith is superimposed on the itinerant Jewish peasant executed for sedition.

It happens in the synoptic gospels too. In Matthew 28.19, the post-mortem Jesus commands his followers to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,’ undoubtedly quoting a later liturgical formula; the notion of the Trinity explicitly referenced here was unknown in Jesus’ own time and indeed in Paul’s. Similarly, the disputes with the scribes and Pharisees represent the writing back into the gospels of later Christians’ difficulties with the religious hierarchy.1 Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount meanwhile is demonstrably a later creation, not translated from Aramaic but written in Greek.2 Other absolutely crucial aspects of the Jesus story – it is easy to see how a case can be made for his not having existed at all – are also retrospective additions. We will come to them next time.

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1 ‘Perhaps the best way to explain Matthew’s extensive criticism of the Jewish authorities is to say that his own community continued to experience opposition from non-Christian Jews, especially influential scribes and rabbis of the local synagogue(s), who accused them of abandoning Moses and the Law, of becoming apostate from the Jewish religion through their ill-advised faith in Jesus.’ Bart D. Ehrman, chapter 6, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.
2 Richard Carrier, On the Historicity Of Jesus, pp 465-466, cited in Madison, p300

 

 

 

 

Things a Christian Wishes (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)

corey

On his blog recently, Doctor Benjamin Corey offered up a post called ‘S%#t I Wish (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)’. I discovered it via the Friendly Atheist blog and naturally felt compelled to respond to Doctor Corey’s four bits of S%#t. The comment I posted on The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey is as follows:

S%#t 1: Please stop saying or insinuating that we’re a bunch of uneducated or unenlightened idiots.

Do atheists say or insinuate this? I’m not sure they do. I would suggest atheists find it difficult to understand why people of evident intelligence choose to believe propositions for which little or no evidence exists, that are rooted in myth and which, in reality, fail to deliver on their promise. It’s not that believers are necessarily unintelligent or idiots – clearly many are not – it’s that they are prepared to disengage their intelligence, critical faculties and rationality in order to believe all manner of spurious nonsense.

S%#t 2: Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists.

I’m surprised you offer this as something you wish atheists would stop ‘insisting’. First of course, atheists don’t insist that anyone read the Bible the same way as anyone else. We would prefer it if no-one read it at all. It is well past its sell-by date and has nothing to offer people living nearly two thousand years after its creation; it is after all a testimony to the failure of the beliefs that spawned it (the Son of Man ascending to the Earth to establish the Kingdom of God here).

Second, implicit in this demand is that there is an intelligent way to read the Bible and there’s the ‘ring-wing fundamentalist’ way. In fact, you don’t even insinuate that certain Christians are ‘ignorant’ and ‘unenlightened’ because of how they read the Bible, you say so explicitly when you talk, ungrammatically, about the ‘unenlightened, ignorant nonsense that fundamentalists do with the Bible.’

But at least fundamentalists regard the Bible as the Word of God (agreed they cherry-pick it and don’t behave according to it precepts) and claim it is ineffable and infallible. Perhaps, as you suggest, more enlightened Christians are free to interpret it in more liberal ways, dismissing that which is context-bound and so on. But then, where does that leave it? Is it authoritative or not? Does it speak directly to people or can it only ‘really’ be understood through the exegesis of scholars? If the latter, as you imply, then can it only be read and understood by those with above average intelligence? How does this square with Jesus’ insistence that his Kingdom was for those with child-like trust?

S%#t 3: Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.

Difficult this one. It depends whether myth and fairy tale are synonymous. Having taught English literature for many years at a university in the UK, I would argue they’re not. To the layman, however, they probably are in that both involve fantasy beings, implausible events, symbolic characters, sacrifice and enlightenment – just like religion really. So no, there is definitely a case here, Dr Corey, that if the cap fits… if your ‘belief-system’ walks, talks and smells like a myth (or fairy tale) then it probably is. You are stuck with atheists pointing this out to you, I’m afraid.

(By the way, your examples of Mickey Mouse and the Old Woman in the Shoe are not fairy tales. One is a commercial enterprise involving anthropomorphised animals and the other a nursery rhyme. I suggest you consult scholars who can explain to you what a fairy tale is, and the differences and similarities between it and myth.)

S%#t 4: Maybe lay off the whole, “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity” type of argument, because it’s obnoxiously untrue.

Reference for this quotation or did you just make it up? Sam Harris perhaps comes closest to saying this sort of thing – comes close but doesn’t actually say it. He says on balance that the good religion has done is outweighed by the evil perpetrated in its name. He doesn’t, though, say no good has come from religion. Sorry, Benjamin, but this is a straw man ‘argument’ you’re presenting here and is itself ‘obnoxiously untrue’.

Would we be better of without religion? Without the myth, the deadening of critical faculties and the adversarial nature of ideologies (even within Christianity)? Of course we would. Without precepts like ‘love your neighbor, love your enemies’? No, but then these are not exclusively religious. Far too many believers disregard them anyway.

 

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.

My preciousss is mine (and mine alone)

bible3Christians have a monopoly on the Bible. No-one else should comment on it, criticise it or even quote from it. Or so Christians tell me. The reason for this, apparently, is that ‘it is absurd to contest the Bible when (you’re) missing the one main ingredient: Jesus’. Not so, of course; the Bible is there for anyone who wants to consider and ‘contest’ it. Granted one’s perspective will be coloured by how one regards it to begin with –

whether you approach it with a reasonable degree of objectivity or look at it through the myopia of faith;

whether you take what it says at face value or apply shifty exegesis to smooth out its many inconsistencies;

whether you acknowledge it was created over time by a succession of fallible men or assume it represents the accurately recorded words of God;

whether you regard it as beliefs of ancient tribesmen and religious fanatics or see it as the means of salvation and the ultimate guide to life.

It is only reasonable that those who take the first of each of these alternatives look to those who take the latter to see how closely they adhere to the demands the Bible makes of them. It’s reasonable because those who believe in its magical properties use it to tell the rest of us how wicked and/or lost we are and how much we need Jesus. If the Bible is the Word of God (as I’ve noted before, it doesn’t claim to be; it’s Christians who say it is), instructing believers on how to live their lives while spreading the gospel, it is not unreasonable for those of us on the receiving end of their ‘witness’ to take a look at how that works out. Not so well as it happens.

Now either this is the fault of the book – heaven forfend that it isn’t clear about what’s expected of God’s Chosen – or Christians themselves are to blame for failing to live as it expects. Unsurprisingly, it’s a combination of the two; a book of mixed messages in the hands of flawed human beings. When Christians refuse to acknowledge that the Bible is far from perfect they are faced with the challenge of making its impossible demands compatible with their own imperfections. They have a number of cop-out excuses that enable them to do this, several of which appear in the comments on this blog. I’ve discussed a number of them before, but here’s a quick summary:

Christians are not perfect and the Bible doesn’t say we should be (actually it does, in Matthew 5.48);

Others have no right to be critical of Christians when we’re doing our best;

You can’t use our own book against us when you don’t know Jesus (see above);

You’re a sinner so what do you know?;

You’re quoting out of context (and only Christians can do that);

You’re not applying the correct exegesis and/or hermeneutics (i.e. mine);

The Christians you’re criticising aren’t real Christians;

It is unfair to lump all Christians together.

Is it? Is it really unfair to lump all Christians together? Aren’t you all meant to be one body, the Body of Christ – you, the Pope, Westboro Baptists, the mega-churches and their celebrity pastors, Joyce Meyer, those who would stone gays, those who affirm gays, Franklin Graham, Alpha converts, abortion-clinic bombers, African witch-finders, Archbishop Sentamu, ‘Emergents’, those who belong to one of the thousands of other denominations and all your friends in your own little church? Who are you to say who’s saved and who isn’t? All Christians represent all other Christians, who represent Christ himself. The Bible says so in 1 Corinthians 12.12-26, Ephesians 4.14 -16 and elsewhere. Or did it get it wrong again?

Consensual text

BiblePastor Chris Linzey has taken me to task for quoting the Magic Book out of context. Interestingy, the latest post on Chris’s blog, written by his father, does just that, so it must be okay for Christians to do it even if no-one else can.

Let’s take a close look at a couple of verses, Matthew 19.4-6, that God’s Chosen like to quote out of context, entirely altering their meaning in the process (but that’s okay, because you know, Christians are doing it):

Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ (Matthew 19.4-6; Jesus quoting Genesis 2.24 out of context).

As it stands, this passage seems to suggest that Jesus is endorsing marriage between one-man and one-woman (only) but pan out from the isolated section and this not what he’s talking about at all. He’s discussing divorce. Here’s the verse in context:

Some Pharisees came to (Jesus), and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but at the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’ (Matthew 19. 3-9)

What the one-man, one-woman verse can now be seen to be saying is that once a couple are married, they should stay together and not divorce; Jesus isn’t prescribing marriage at all. Add even more context and what we find following the lines about divorce is this:

His disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’ (Matthew 19.10-12)

In other words, Jesus doesn’t recommend marriage in any shape or form, not even between one man and one woman; his view is that it is better not marry at all. He goes further still: it is better to be completely sexless, as if without testicles, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. He acknowledges, bless him, that not everyone will be able to comply with this ‘teaching’ – who’d have thought it?

Zoom out further still and set this part of Matthew’s gospel against Luke 20.34-35 where Jesus really is talking about marriage:

He said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that [Kingdom] age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.’

This time the message is that only those mired in the ways of the world marry, costing themselves a place in the coming Kingdom. Those in the know, however, avoid it and so guarantee their resurrection and transition to the new age. Whatever else it is (wackadoodle nonsense?) this is not a ringing endorsement of marriage. The verses from Matthew and Luke when taken together show clearly that not only did Jesus fail to endorse one-man, one-woman marriage, but that he disparaged the entire institution. He believed that when the Kingdom came to the Earth, marriage would be done away with altogether and advocated abandoning it in the interim as well. You wouldn’t know this though from the decontextualised use of Matthew 19.4-6.

We might ask here why it is that today’s Christians don’t comply with his directive. Why don’t they shun marriage as their Lord and Saviour says they should? Why do they regard his commands as optional? Why don’t they want to guarantee themselves a place in the coming Kingdom by vetoing marriage? Have they abandoned all hope of God’s Kingdom ever coming to the Earth? Shifty hermeneutics won’t help them here either, because Paul is of a similar opinion (1 Corinthians 7.8-9; 28-29). Evidently this is the kind of teaching Christians are free to discard, perhaps because they see it – unjustifiably – as specific to the first century, like the coming Kingdom itself.    

So, yes, context can be important, given the haphazard and disjointed fashion in which the Almighty chose to express himself. But it doesn’t always produce the result Christians might like. That’s where the sleight of hand known as ‘hermeneutic consistency’ comes in. We’ll try that out next time.

 

 

Some material in this post has appeared before; specifically here. I hope I didn’t take it out of context.