The Eye-witness Fallacy

MaryM2

The falsehood that the gospels are in some way eye-witness reports just won’t go away. There is no evidence they are or even that they are based on reports by eye-witnesses. Scholars speak of ‘sources’ for all elements of the gospels (Mark, Q, M & L); these were almost certainly pre-existing written and oral traditions from before the gospels’ creation.

This really is problematic for those propagating the idea that the gospels are eye-witness accounts. If they were even so much as based on eye-witness reports, then why would they need to rely so heavily on other traditions? If, as is claimed here, the scattered gospel communities who wrote them were in some sort of immediate contact with the fanned-out eye-witnesses, then they would have no need to use sources and traditions from elsewhere. Yet they do; Matthew and Luke borrow extensively from a shared source (Q) and also from Mark, particularly for their resurrection stories.

This is akin to someone today interviewing witnesses to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, – a similar interval to that between Jesus and the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John – and then, before publication, replacing what the eye-witness say they saw with the more far-fetched elements of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. If there were eye-witnesses to hand, there wouldn’t be any need to do this. It doesn’t make the slightest sense that the gospel writers would do so. Yet they do.

As far as the stories of the resurrection are concerned, it is much more likely they are based, not on any eye-witness accounts, but on the scant mentions of the mystical, risen Christ of the kind we find in Paul’s letters, filtered, primarily, through Mark. As such, they are a fleshing out (almost literally) of hearsay reports of a limited number of visions that, by the time the gospels came to be written, had embedded themselves in the traditions of the early church.

Suffer the Little Children

Jesus said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10.14

…the very hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not: you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12.7

Jesus+kid

Recently, I attended the funeral of a little boy who died of the cancer he’d suffered from the time he was nine months old. His young parents are friends of mine. They showed their son such incredible love during his illness, ensuring he received the best medical care possible.

But where was God through it all? The God that Christians say has a special affinity for children, who loves them and cares for them? The God who looks after ‘the little people‘?

That God was nowhere. He showed no interest in this particular ‘little person.’ No concern and no compassion for him or his parents. Of course, that’s because he doesn’t exist, though this didn’t stop Christians telling the family how marvellous and caring and loving he is.

Really? If I had any vestige of faith left, what has happened to this innocent during his short life would have cured me of it entirely. And make no mistake, he was innocent, not a sinner (as if that would let God off the hook.) A deity who allows a baby to have cancer and to die after fourteen months of prolonged, invasive treatment would be a callous, worthless bastard. But we knew that already.

Had there been a God who cared, this little boy would’ve been two today, Easter Sunday.

Ken Ham’s ‘Five Evidences that the Bible is True’

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Yes, that’s what he says: ‘evidences.’ Good use of English there, Kenny. Actually, the article is anonymous, but as it’s on Kenny’s site, and as it features inside his Noah’s Ark vanity-project, we can safely assume he authorised and approved it. That being the case, he can take responsibility for it.

Anyway, here are those ‘evidences’. Be prepared to be underwhelmed:

1. The Bible Is God’s Word

The ‘reasoning’ here is that God inspired the writers so, ipso facto, the Bible must be God’s words.

How do we know God inspired the Bible? Because the Bible appears to say so. But how do we know we can trust what the Bible claims about this and everything else? Duh… because God inspired it. Circular reasoning that gets us nowhere.

But wait, more ‘evidence’ from Kenny: ‘the Bible is authoritative in every subject it addresses’. I guess that’s so long as you exclude all the areas where it isn’t, like those that are scientifically, historically and geographically inaccurate, including the early chapters of Genesis that Kenny loves so much. Then there are those parts that are evidently myth, legend or fantasy.

Yes, apart from all those bits, the Bible is accurate and authoritative.

Isn’t it?

2. The Bible is Unique and Unified

Two claims in one. The Bible is far from unique; there are many religious texts in the world – the Qu’ran, the Vedas, the Pali Canon, the Book of Mormon… many with evidence of several authors at work in them. Neither is the Bible unique because it is ‘unified.’ It is not unified. It is contradictory and inconsistent: the so-called ‘new covenant’ cuts across the ‘everlasting’ agreement God allegedly made with the Jews and YHWH himself evolves, even having a personality transplant somewhere between the Old and New Testaments. Most significantly, for what is supposedly its central message, the Bible offers several, frequently mutually exclusive, ways to salvation.

3. The Bible Has Been Faithfully Passed Down.

This is empirically, demonstrably false. Many books of the Bible were written decades, even centuries, after the events they purportedly describe; the oral tradition is an unreliable means of transmission; texts were altered both by accident and on purpose; some books are patent forgeries; ninety percent of surviving manuscripts were created 800 years or more after the originals, and none of these ‘autographs’ survive for anyone to determine how ‘faithful’ later copies might be.

4. The Bible Contains Fulfilled Prophecy

It does? Where? Is it in the gospels where Jesus prophesies that the Son of Man will, in the lifetime of his listeners, return through the clouds to judge the tribes of the Earth and establish God’s Kingdom? Is it in the contrived symbolic events imposed on Jesus’ life to make it look like he fulfilled prophecy, even when the earlier ‘prophecies’ were not prophecies at all? Is it in Paul’s letters where he promises the rapture will be coming while those in his churches still live? Is it in the many prophecies that were written after the events they were supposedly predicting? Is it in the innumerable prophecies that didn’t come to pass?

That’s right; not one of these bits of malarkey constitutes ‘fulfilled prophecy’.

5. The Bible Holds the Key To Eternal Life

No, it doesn’t because there’s no such thing. This is the great swindle at the heart of Christianity; a fantasy dreamed up by fanatics, fantasists and psychotics, and preserved in the Bible. Christians are singularly unable to provide any evidence that anyone has ever gone on to have a life after death, nor that they ever will. We know now, as we may always have suspected, that when the body dies ‘we’ die with it. End of.

So, every one of Ham’s ‘evidences’ is false; a sham like his beliefs and the book from which they spring. You’ll struggle to tell him so, however, because like so many Christian web-sites, there’s no posting of comments; Kenny broaches no dissent. That’s how confident he is of his case. Best not to entertain any views other than your own weak, unfounded assertions.

 

Famous Christian makes fatuous comments

Sentamu3

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has spoken out on one of the most important issues of the day.

       Chemical warfare in Syria?

                                              Poverty?

                                                     The repercussions of Britain’s departure from the EU?

No, none of these. Chocolate Eggs. Or more precisely Chocolate Egg Hunts – those arranged by the National Trust in conjunction with chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury. This year, you see, these are not being promoted as Easter Egg Hunts but as Cadbury Egg Hunts.

And I’m sure you can appreciate just how significant this is. Because you see, without the name of a Germanic goddess of fertility (from which we also derive the word ‘oestrogen’) in the title of such a deeply spiritual activity, then, according to Sentamu, ‘faith is being airbrushed out of Easter.’ After all, chocolate eggs were such a crucial part of the original Christian Easter story, when the first thing the resurrected Jesus instructed his disciples to do was find all the Easter Eggs he’d hidden round the garden. And so it came to pass.

That’s why omitting the word ‘Easter’ from the Egg Hunt is, again according to silly old Sentamu, ‘tantamount to spitting on the grave’ of John Cadbury, who was there for that very first Easter but didn’t start making chocolate eggs until 1875.

But wait! Wasn’t John Cadbury a Quaker? And isn’t it the case that Quakers don’t celebrate ‘Easter’ because of its pagan associations? So Mr Cadbury is hardly likely to be upset, even if dead people could be, at his company’s alleged metaphorical grave spitting. Furthermore, might it just have been the case that those original Easter Eggs were – and remain – a cynical capitalist cash-in on a festival that the man himself didn’t actually believe in? Oh my, yes.

So, here’s all that spitting right back atcha, Senty – one in the eye for all your vacuous, self-promoting twaddle.

 

Next time: Why the side-lining of cute and cuddly Easter bunnies is an affront to the faith of many devout Christians, by Theresa May.

 

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.

 

 

 

Still more of the Bible written sdrawkcab

The first mention of the Last Supper and the ritual established at it is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11.23-26):

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

As David Madison points out, Paul happily admits he invented this – or, rather, he worked it up from one of his hallucinations. He certainly didn’t hear it from the people who’d known Jesus when he was alive; it’s unlikely they would have subscribed to such barbarity. As Madison shows, the idea of consuming blood, even symbolically, would have been anathema to most Jews (Deuteronomy 12.23 etc); it’s a ritual that originates in pagan worship. It’s there, for example, in Mithraism, which flourished in, among other places, Tarsus, where Paul came from. Evidently, celebrating Christ’s sacrifice by eating his body and drinking his blood took hold in the churches Paul established and by the time the gospels came to be written, its origin story was sent back in time to be part of them. This kind of thing happens in comic books all the time.

It’s quite possible that the stories of the resurrection developed the same way. We know that later followers of Jesus had visions that they interpreted as being of ‘Christ’. We know this because Paul refers to his experience a few times and also implies that other people had visions similar to his own. Were these hallucinations the only ‘sightings’ of the Risen Christ? We have no first-hand, eye-witness accounts of any other sort. Given that bodies don’t ever rise from the grave, especially not after a couple of days, it is more than likely they were all imaginary. It looks suspiciously like later encounters of Christ – all entirely within people’s heads – were written back into the gospel accounts to become the resurrection. Some of these were ‘firmed up’ to seem like encounters with a real person, which led to the invention of the empty-tomb, while others weren’t; a number make little attempt to convey an encounter with a real flesh-and-blood individual.

Bur wait, you say. There were believers in the resurrection before Paul. Surely the original followers of Jesus – the disciples, Mary Magdalene – saw the Risen Jesus. That’s why they believed in him, why they gave their lives to his cause, why they were prepared to die for their faith.

Well, no. We don’t know that this is what the original followers of Jesus thought or experienced. Why don’t we? Because:

  • The original followers left no records (or did they?)
  • Their community was wiped out by the Romans in 70CE.
  • Their brand of the faith, whatever it was, was obliterated by Paul’s Christ cult.
  • They had plenty of other reasons for believing in Jesus.

Seemingly Jesus told them he’d be back soon, bringing God’s Kingdom with him (Matthew 16.27-28 etc). And then, as he promised, the meek would inherit the Earth and his original followers would the rule the planet with him (Matt 19.28). Good enough – though completely daft reasons – why, after his death, these same followers holed-up in Jerusalem to await his re-appearance (through the clouds no less). The unlikely resurrection scenario, if they were even aware of it outside of their difficult meetings with Paul, must have seemed a poor second to the possibility of ruling the world in the here and now alongside their returned Lord and Master.

So, it’s entirely plausible that the resurrection, like Jesus’ prophecy of the temple’s destruction and the body-and-blood ritual of the Last Supper were invented decades after he lived by those in the Christ cult. It has long been known that the experiences of those in the early church, particularly those promoted by Paul, were written back into the gospels when they came to be created years after Jesus’ and the disciples’ deaths. Much of what you read there is fiction, propaganda served up, and believed to this day, as history.

 

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