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

 

 

 

 

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said

JC&ManJust what did Jesus say? The Jesus Seminar and other scholars* conclude that only about 18% of the words attributed to him in the gospels are authentically his. They reach this conclusion because so much of what Jesus ‘said’ – 82% of his utterances – is demonstrably derived from elsewhere.

There were four major sources for his words, which I’ll discuss briefly here, providing an example of each. Bear in mind also that whatever the derivation of Jesus’ words, those we have today have been subject to, in their earliest days, an unreliable oral tradition, repeated copying and deliberate and accidental alteration. The earliest surviving ‘words of Jesus’ (a few fragments of the fourth gospel) date to a century after he lived.

1. The early church created a good deal of the Jesus narrative, making him say what was important to them. For example, ‘take, eat, this is my body,’ and ‘take, drink, this is my blood that is shed for you,’ is clearly a post-crucifixion perspective. While it appears in arguably the most Jewish of the gospels (Matthew’s) the idea of drinking blood, even symbolically, would have been, and remains, anathema to Jews, whose scriptures forbid it (Leviticus 17.10 -16). Jesus was an orthodox Jew; it was the Hellenised Paul who transplanted the pagan ritual into nascent Christianity. He relates in 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, written about 15 years before the first gospel, how his wholly imaginary ‘Christ’ told him of this bizarre activity. Once established in the early church, Jesus then had to be made to endorse it and it was written back into the gospels.

2. The gospel writers (or others) invented dialogue for him. His entire conversation with Pilate, for example, is invented not once but four times, the encounter being rendered differently in all four gospels. It is probable that the entire scenario is fiction, given the likelihood the excessively cruel Roman governor would even entertain the idea of questioning a seditious nobody himself. And then there’s the ‘I am’ statements of John’s Jesus that I considered here.

3. The gospel writers altered difficult sayings into something more palatable. For example, in Matthew 15.24 Jesus says he was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’ (my italics). By the end of the same gospel, as well as in Luke and John, this has become a commandment to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28.19). So which was it? Was the message exclusively for Jews or was it for all? It suited early churches, filled with non-Jews, that the gospel was for everyone, just as Paul had argued. Jesus’ words to the contrary – even if they were sufficiently widely known to have had to be included in Matthew’s original account – needed to be amended. Who amended them and when we shall never know, but it was certainly after the idea of the Trinity had taken hold.

4. Statements Jesus actually made. The Jesus Seminar regards as authentic sayings such as:

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matthew 5.39)

If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well (Matthew 5.40)

Love your enemies (Luke 6.27)

Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the Kingdom of God (Luke 6.20) [changed in Matthew’s gospel to the less radical ‘poor in spirit’!]

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile (Matthew 5.41)

As inspiring as these might initially appear, they actually mean very little; they’re either prophecies that didn’t come to pass, impractical moral expectations or pseudo-spiritual homilies. And how much of this advice, these admonitions, do today’s Christians follow? You’d be hard pushed to find many that do. After all, following Jesus doesn’t entail doing what he says.

* I have used Robert W. Funk et al‘s The Five Gospels (HarperOne, 1997), Simon Loveday’s The Bible For Grown-Ups (Iconbooks, 2016) and Mark Allan Powell’s rather less impartial The Jesus Debate (Lion, 1998) for this post

Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

2. Maria and the Evil One

devil

Maria comes to the door again. She’s very personable but wasting away her life as a Jehovah’s Witness. She wonders if I’ve read the leaflet she left last time. I have, and have filled in the answers to its questions, including, ‘does the Bible have the answers to life’s big questions?’ Maria doesn’t seem very happy about my answer.

She insists on showing me a video on her iPad. It is slick and includes some clever CGI. She tells me afterwards that the ‘Evil One’ is in control of this world which is why it is in such a mess. I tell her that any mess is our own doing, we humans. She asks if I know the Bible; I say I do. She tells me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones who interpret it correctly. It doesn’t, she says, tell us that believers will go to heaven when they die (she’s right about this; it doesn’t). It promises rather that Jesus will be coming back to set up God’s Kingdom on Earth (right again). Except, I remind her, it has him promise that he will return within the lifetime of those listening to him, the Kingdom scheduled to appear within his own generation (Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34). Maria concedes the point and then tries to say a generation is longer than we think. Maybe so, I say, but not 2,000 years.

Maria says she learnt something about this problem in a class recently. She appeals to her confederate for help, but he can’t remember what the elders said either. She decides now retreat is the better part of proselytising but promises to return once she has the answer.

But there is no answer; at least not one that sees Jesus’ meglomanic fantasies realised two millennia in his future.

I feel certain that, unlike Jesus, Maria will be back soon.

 

 

 

There’s good news and there’s good news…

Bat-Jesus

Mark, Matthew and Luke all tells us that Jesus preached the gospel when he was alive (Mark 1.14-15; Matthew 4.23, 9.35 & 10.5-7; Luke 20.1). So what was this gospel? What was Jesus’ ‘good news’? He had yet to die so it couldn’t possibly have been ‘you can be saved through my death and resurrection’ because this magic formula had yet to be arrived at by those who came later. Nor could it have been ‘accept my substitutionary atonement whereby I take the punishment you deserve in order to restore your relationship with God,’ for much the same reason. Nor could it have been, ‘you must accept me as your personal your saviour if you want to gain everlasting life in Heaven,’ because he didn’t regard himself in this way and he didn’t, according to the synoptic gospels, offer an eternity in Heaven. No, Jesus’ good news could not have been any of these because they are all later developments, mumbo-jumbo invented about him by others, not things he said himself .

Actually we needn’t speculate on what the good news was that Jesus preached because the gospels tell us: God was going to intervene in history very soon, rescuing his people from Gentile rule and setting up his Kingdom, in which he, Jesus, would be judge and king (Matt 24.27-34 & 25.31; Luke 1.33; 21.25-28). People, he said, referring only to Jewish people, should prepare themselves for this coming Kingdom by mending their ways (Mattthew 10.5-6).

How soon would all this happen? In the lifetime of his hearers according to Mark 9.1, Matthew 16.28 and Luke 9.27, maybe even within a few weeks or months. When sending out the disciples to spread his good news he promised them, ‘you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes (to usher in the new Kingdom)’ (Matthew 10.23). We can only assume that the disciples are back by now – in fact they return a few verses later – yet the Son of man still hasn’t materialised among the clouds in full view of ‘the tribes’ of the Earth (Matthew 24.30).

As the Bible records, Jesus was wrong in every respect; God did not set up his new Kingdom within the lifetime of those Jesus spoke to; the Son of man did not appear; the Romans were not overthrown; Jesus was not appointed judge and king of the world. The sarcastic inscription on his cross, ‘King of the Jews’, was the closest he came to having his self-aggrandising prophecy realised.

Is this the Jesus that Christians worshipped subsequently and still worship today? It ought to be as he’s the one revealed in the first three gospels. But the Jesus believers carry around in their heads is not this man. The ‘Jesus’ worshipped by Christians is primarily a construct of Paul’s – his ‘Christ’ – and their own collective imaginations. The mythical ‘Christ’ that Paul ‘did not receive from any man’, has replaced and almost obliterated Yeshua and his mistaken beliefs about the coming Kingdom (though Paul held on to the idea that it was indeed imminent; see 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17).

Admittedly ‘the Christ’ has had a far better shelf-life than Yeshua could ever have had on his own; the continual resurrection of the idea in the minds of believers – and only there – has ensured the perpetuation of the myth. When all is said and done, however, the Christ is nothing more than an imaginative recreation of a failed zealot with an altogether different gospel.* Yeshua’s good news of the Kingdom died shortly after he did and like him has stayed dead, its echoes preserved by Mark, Matthew and Luke and ignored by Christians everywhere.

* I’m aware there is a body of thought that gives primacy to the mythical god-man, ‘the Christ’, with the Jesus stories being seen as a later ‘in-fill’ designed to provide him with a plausible back-story. I’m not convined of this for several reasons, which I’ll explore at a later date.

Christianity: always winter but never Christmas

Spot the difference:Shore

Christians are hot on evidence.

There isn’t enough for evolution, they say, even though there’s an abundance.     

None, they claim, that the Earth is billions of years old, but only 6 thousand.

Not enough that climate change is man-made, when there’s considerable evidence it is.

None that there’s a genetic component to homosexuality when science reveals that there is.

But, as far as the resurrection of the body, judgement and eternal life in either Heaven or Hell are concerned, these they believe in, no evidence required.

I recently challenged Christians on Charisma magazine’s blog-site to provide or point me to evidence that any one of the 107 billion people who has ever lived who after they had died had gone on to enjoy either eternal life in Heaven or eternal punishment in Hell. Unfulfilled promises from magic books weren’t admissible, because a promise of something happening is not the same as it actually doing so. Jesus didn’t count either, as there are no eye-witness accounts of his bodily resurrection, only stories written decades after the supposed event. In any case he was half Vulcan or something, not an ordinary mortal.

Alas, my challenge went unanswered. You won’t find it on the Charisma site now because it has been removed by the moderator there. Expecting evidence from Christians for what they believe is patently unreasonable. After all, who needs evidence when you can exercise your licence to believe whatever you’re told?

Of course, there is no evidence of any resurrection nor of anyone who has gone on, post-mortem, to enjoy everlasting life. Have you noticed how everything about Christianity is either invisible – God, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, angels, demons – or lies permanently in the future; the Second Coming, the resurrection of the body, the Kingdom of God, judgement and eternal life? All of them always just that little bit further on. This year, next year, sometime, never. Just not now.

Yet Jesus, Paul, Revelation’s John and most other New Testament luminaries believed God’s Kingdom, the resurrection and judgement were coming within their own lifetimes.* Not one of them entertained the thought that 2000 years down the line none of these miraculous events would have materialised.

Small wonder then, that at the start of the second century, believers began to lose hope in the Second Coming, the Kingdom’s arrival and an earthly resurrection of the dead. Maybe, some of them began to think, eternal life would be not be here on Earth, as Jesus and Paul had promised, but in Heaven with God, which they most definitely hadn’t. This way, everything that hadn’t happened here on Earth would happen instead after death (we can see this transition taking place in the very late gospel of John). All of which was fortunate, because it dispensed with the need for confirmation and evidence; no-one could prove – apart from the fact nobody has ever survived their own extinction – that believers didn’t go to Heaven when they died. Equally, no-one could provide evidence they did.** How neat and convenient.

So if any Christians reading this would like to like to show us some evidence for the resurrection of the dead, post-mortem judgement, Heaven, Hell, God’s Kingdom on Earth – any of it – I’m sure we would all like to see it. Until then, I will go on regarding all of these assurances as empty promises – pie in the sky – that believers cling to desperately, while calling their desperation ‘faith’.

* See Matthew 16.27-28 & 24.27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17; 1 John 2:17-181; Peter 4.7; Revelation 1.1 & 21.2-4

** Psychics claim to commune with the dead, of course, or at least with their spirits; more hokum from the minds of the deluded. Even if it weren’t, this isn’t the kind of resurrection Christians envisage for themselves. They dismiss psychics’ ‘evidence’ of life-after-death as so much demonic deception.

The Embarrassment that is the Old Testament

bible2

When does the Old Testament count and when doesn’t it? When does what it says matter and when doesn’t it?

The answer to both questions is when Christians say so. It counts when something from it can be used to underline how wicked the rest of us are and when they think it’s pointing to the coming of Jesus, many years in its future. It doesn’t, of course, foretell of Jesus as such, despite its predictions of a coming Messiah and/or Son of Man. Jesus doesn’t fit its descriptions of either of these figures. Rather, Jesus’ story is read back into the older texts, their characters and events forced to serve typological and prophetic purposes for which they were never designed. The entire endeavour, which began very early in the development of Christianity, is entirely back to front, with the gospel writers, Paul and other New Testament authors pillaging older Jewish texts and forcing them to fit Jesus retrospectively (and often laughably.)

Regarding ancient Jewish texts as an Old Testament – that is, as representing a previous agreement/covenant between God and his people that has since been superseded – is a political, interpretive manoeuvre of the later religion. (While it’s true Jesus is made to speak of a new covenant, it is debatable how authentic his words are; rewriting the past is not only confined to the New Testament’s treatment of the Old.) This kind of slippery manoeuvring was also endorsed by those who later compiled the Bible as we now know it,* when they relegated the writings that Jesus and all the New Testament writers would have regarded as sacred Scripture to nothing more than a forerunner of the real thing.

Believers want to hang on, naturally, to Genesis, because that’s where it tells them God created everything using nothing but magic and breath from his holy lungs. It relates too how everything went pear-shaped after some mythical people ate some fruit. Noah’s ark is there too, which is a jolly good fantasy, apart from that weird bit at the end where Ken Ham gets an eyeful of his old man’s old man (Genesis 9.20-27). Christians are less keen on those Old Testament stories where God instructs the Israelites to massacre other tribes (1 Samuel 15.2-3; Deuteronomy 2.34 etc) and rape their women (Isaiah 13.15; Zechariah 14.1-2 etc) but nonetheless they’ll defend these unpleasant, barbaric stories just because they’re in the Bible. The Psalms are nicer, what with their words of comfort and paranoia, but best of all are the Old Testament pronouncements that can be used for clobbering sinners. Leviticus 20.13 – ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them’ – is a particular favourite, as is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah for much the same reason. But when it comes to other diktats, Christians are less interested; rules about not eating shellfish or wearing clothes of mixed fabrics, they are quick to point, are entirely negated by the new covenant; they don’t count any more, even though they’re in the same list of largely petty rules as the homophobic one (Leviticus 11.10 & 20.9.)

So how do Christians decide which Old Testament laws are applicable and which are now inessential? There is no shortage of know-alls Christian scholars who make it up as they go along and can tell them. It’s easy you see; the old ‘ceremonial’ rules of the old covenant are now redundant while the moral precepts still stand. Needless to say, the Bible itself suggests no such thing, with Jesus saying precisely the opposite in Matthew 5.17-18 and Luke 16.17; evidently another of his strange ideas that can safely be ignored.

So how do we know which of the Old Testament’s prescriptions are ceremonial and which moral? The same self-appointed experts can tell us this too, though it’s actually easy to work it out for oneself. As a general rule of thumb, verses that condemn other people are still applicable while those that Christians themselves don’t care for are not. So the shellfish and mixed fabrics directives can be disregarded, because obviously they’re ceremonial, while the anti-gay stuff isn’t – obviously. And there’ll be no public stoning of wayward teenagers (Deuteronomy 21.18-21) because that’s obviously ceremonial too – and don’t even think of having sex with the slaves, not even ceremonially. These days, thank God, it’s considered so uncivilised (even if, in Numbers 31.17-18, Yahweh says it’s okay. )

The Old Testament then; an embarrassment Christians are compelled to defend as part of their magic book but which they nevertheless feel free to use selectively, according to taste. Not unlike the New Testament really.

*There are, we should note, several variations of the Bible within Christendom; God can’t seem to decide which books are or are not part of his Holy Word.

2015: How was it for you?

2ndComingI promised this time last year to revisit my predictions for the year that lay ahead. So how did I do in my prophecies for 2015?:

The first was that there would be no Second Coming in 2015. Well, how wrong could I be! As we all know Jesus returned on September 13th, just as John Hagee hinted he would be. It’s been so great, hasn’t it, living in Hell / God’s Kingdom on Earth (delete as appropriate) since that time. Fantastic. I’m so pleased to have been wrong about this one.

On the other hand, maybe what I said last year still stands: Jesus won’t be back this year. Just like he wasn’t back in 2014, 2013, 2012… 1985… 1914… 1868… 1497… 1000… 446… 35. Just think of all those years – count ’em, nearly two thousand – when he’s failed to return so far. Actually, he promised he’d be back while his followers and those listening to him were still alive, around AD30 or thereabouts. Safe to say he’s not coming back at all, just like dead people don’t. Not in 2015, not ever.

Of course it still stands. As ever Christianity fails to deliver. That hasn’t stopped True Believers™ from telling us that he’ll be back very, very soon. Which was prediction number 2: Christians will go on believing that Jesus is going to return any day now. I gave up collecting examples well before the end of the year – there were just too many – but here’s a few of them: here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Will the gullible Born Again ever come to their senses and stop listening to idiots like these? (Nope).

Prediction 3. There’ll be no natural disasters or human calamities as a result of gay marriage. There have been lots of disasters and calamities during the year, but here’s the thing – natural disasters have natural causes, not supernatural ones, and similarly, human calamities have human causes. Not one of the events this year (or any other) was the direct result of gay marriage. This hasn’t stopped the religious from claiming – as I predicted they would in prophecy number 4 – that disasters and calamities are God’s punishment for gay marriage; here, here , here, here, here, here and here, for example.

Prediction 5: More than one prominent Christian will call for the execution of gay people. Yup. Here are those loving men of God doing just that (and here, here and here too). Jesus would be so proud.

Prediction 6: Christians in the west will claim they’re being persecuted when they’re being expected to treat others fairly and equally, and not to discriminate against them. Yes, I know Christians are persecuted in some parts of the world, but the moaners I’m talking about are only focused on their own self-serving, self-inflicted ‘marytrdom’. Again, there are just too many of these to link to them all, but here are a few (and here, here and here).

Prediction 7. Christians will respond to criticism with clichés like ‘they wouldn’t dare say that about Muslims’… ‘Christians are the last group who are fair game’… ‘It’s time for Christians to speak out’… ‘Stand up for God’s standards…’ etc. Yes, predictable in more ways than one

Prediction 8: Christians will continue to dismiss and disparage anyone who doesn’t share their views, especially atheists. Look out for ‘atheists have no morality’,’the fool hath said in his heart there’s no God’ and ‘atheists want to oppress Christians’ occurring with tedious regularity. And they didn’t disappoint: here, here, here and here.

Prediction 9: There will be more revelations about the abuse of children by church ministers. Of course there were. Christians may be new creatures in Christ but that doesn’t stop some of them behaving in the same old despicable ways, God love ’em.

Ditto number 10: Church hierarchies will attempt to cover up the abuse of children by their ministers. And here they are at it. The body of Christ certainly seems to have an unhealthy interest in the bodies of others. Still, they always ever so modestly cover up afterwards.

Prediction 11. There will be the usual manufactured ‘war on Christmas’. Ho-hum. And you can guess who did the manufacturing.

And finally I offered number 12: these predictions have far more chance of coming to pass than any of the so-called prophecies of Bible. And do you know, they did. That’s because none of the Bible’s predictions have ever come to pass – not those purportedly about Jesus himself, nor of the second coming, nor the judgement of sheep and goats, nor God’s Kingdom on Earth – and (here’s another prediction) they never will.

So, another year of empty promises, failed prophecies and superstitious fantasy in the wonderful, wacky world of religion. May you all be safe from the effects of faith and fundies in the one that lies ahead.