Cruci-fiction

Given the birth, baptism and wilderness narratives are fiction, why not then the other parts of Mark and Matthew? We’ve already seen how the trial and crucifixion in Mark are literary creations, which Matthew lifts and embellishes. The resurrection stories are also invented, which is why the different accounts are confused and contradictory. The likelihood that everything between the beginning and the end – Jesus’ ‘ministry’, miracles and preaching – is invented too, either by the authors of the gospels themselves or by those who preceded them. My money would be on the former; the stories are so carefully arranged, forming an integral part of a clever literary construct.

I have a growing, sneaking admiration for what Mark and Matthew, and later Luke and John, achieved. They consciously set about creating myth. When Paul and others preached that their Christ had died and risen again ‘according to the scriptures’ that’s literally what they meant; the Christ was discernible in Jewish scripture, his story laid out there for those with eyes to see it. Mark tells us as much in Mark 4:9: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’

What he and, to an even greater extent, Matthew did, was construct a Saviour story from these elements. They saw him, or thought they did, all over the place. Whether or not they’re was an actual Jesus is beside the point. as is the extent to which the gospel writers may have used existing stories about him. Gospel Jesus is their imaginative creation from start to finish. His life, deeds and many of his sayings are put together by cutting and pasting scripture.

Cite any episode in Mark and Matthew’s gospels and it will have a precedent in scripture, either a prophecy (that invariably isn’t a prophecy) or episode (that was never about a future suffering Messiah) or character (usually legendary in their own right.) You can believe, as many True Believers do, that these ‘Old Testament’ episodes foreshadow the events of Jesus’ life. That he miraculously fulfilled prophecy through everything he did and said while here on Earth. Or you can take the view that doesn’t rely on faith in the miraculous, and recognise that he’s merely written that way. He’s the literary embodiment of scattered scraps of scripture.

On this much more realistic view, everything Jesus is made to do, particularly his miracles and crucifixion, is symbolic; a fictional enactment of scripture. Other aspects are drawn from Paul (the Last Supper/Eucharist, for example), claims of inner-visions (the resurrection) and early cult rules (behavioural expectations.) The events of Jesus’ earthly existence, as created by the gospel writers, have no historical basis; they didn’t really happen. I maintain that all of the gospel writers were fully cognisant of this as they created their respective symbolic lives for him.

A Star Is Born

Did you know that the original, 1937 version of A Star Is Born may well have been based on a true story, first aired in an earlier, 1932 movie called What Price Hollywood? Yet every word of dialogue in the original Star Is Born was invented, all of its characters fictional, all of its scenes made up.

By the time of the 1954 remake, the female lead had gone from being an aspiring actress to an aspiring singer, played by Judy Garland, looking for her big break. Her mentor is still the addictive personality of the original film but this time he’s a has-been singer, not an actor, and crucially he doesn’t commit suicide before the film’s end (apologies for the spoiler.) Practically everything about this remake – its dialogue, characters, songs (songs? Where’d they come from?) settings and scenes – is different and, once again, is completely made up.

In the Barbra Streisand 1976 version, the female lead is once again a singer, her mentor a rock star whose career is on the slide. This film is about the perils of a rock’n’roll lifestyle and the passionate relationship between the two protagonists. It bears only the scantest relationship to its predecessors, never mind the original true-story that inspired the first film. Again, everything in it is pure invention.

Which brings us to the fourth version, starring Lady Gaga, that borrows a little something from all of the previous films. All the same, it alters the story, creating completely new scenarios, dialogue, songs and settings. It would be unrecognisable to the original audience of the first A Star Is Born, as different from that film as… well, as John’s gospel from Mark’s.

As the various versions of the film demonstrate, stories evolve. They are fluid and in their telling and retelling they change. Their creators adapt them and ‘improve’ them to meet the evolving tastes of their intended audience. They happily invent new episodes, new scenarios and new dialogue.

And so it is with the gospels: Mark’s original based on the visions of a few people from 40 or so years earlier; Matthew and Luke’s based on Mark’s – with their own largely invented additions – and John’s (the Lady Gaga of the set) a wild reimagining of all three. Apart from the outline of the story (which they get from Mark), every one freely adapts everything else: dialogue, scenarios, pericopes and, yes, songs.

We’ll look in detail next time at the evidence, still apparent in today’s versions of the gospels, at how we know this to be the case. 

Tailor Made

So where did the stories of Jesus life on Earth come from? The traditional answers to this question are wholly inadequate. As we’ve seen, they didn’t seem to be around when Paul was writing; the hypothetical Q is an unconvincing way of explaining them while unreliable memory, coupled with the so-called oral tradition, don’t offer any means of conveying accurate verifiable information about Jesus.

The writers of the gospels, particularly Mark the creator of the first, would have known this. The gospels are not collections of the speculative tales that were doing the rounds. They might have made some incidental use of them, but all of the gospels are carefully constructed, designed to make theological points about their hero. Particular kinds of stories were required for this and the gospel writers thought nothing of making them up. It’s possible they made use of existing tales, but if they did, they almost certainly retooled them to suit their purposes. The stories we find in the gospels are tailor made to illustrate these purposes. None of the gospels is history: they are all carefully crafted literary creations.

What were the purposes and the agendas of the gospel writers? Propaganda, designed not so much to convert non-believers, but to explain to those who were already part of the cult, and their own sects in particular, what belief in Jesus entailed. To this end, they created allegories, symbolic stories about his life on Earth.

Mark began the process. He constructed his narrative by adapting Paul’s teaching ;and inventing stories based on ‘prophecies’ from the scriptures to create a symbolic narrative every part of which makes a theological point. He may also have retooled existing stories while borrowing features of existing myth that fellow cultists would expect to find in an account of a demi-god’s adventures.

Matthew and Luke then followed his lead, lifting what they thought was of relevance to their own agendas, dropping or amending the rest and inventing their own symbolic stories.

You think they didn’t? I’ll show you that they did, and how, using Mark, Matthew and Luke’s gospels, in a couple of posts time. But before that: a slight and relevant diversion.

In Search of the Lost Q

Where did the stories about Jesus that we find in the gospels come from?

2. Q

Q is a hypothetical document said to be a collection of Jesus’ sayings. It was first hypothesised in the late 19th century and developed by minister B. H. Streeter in 1924. it was intended to explain why Matthew and Luke’s gospels shared material that wasn’t plagiarised from Mark. Streeter speculated they must both have had access to an alternative source that he christened Q (after the German for source, Quelle.)

While the idea caught on and is still assumed by many scholars (including Bart Ehrman) there are numerous problems with it:

Q doesn’t exist and has never existed. There is absolutely no evidence for it, aside from the duplication of material in Matthew and Luke, the very context it was designed to explain. There are no surviving copies, nor even fragments of any written collection of Jesus’ sayings (unsurprisingly for a non-existent document.) Nor is a book of Jesus’ sayings referred to in any form by any New Testament writer (again, unsurprisingly.)

Q is unnecessary. As other scholars, including M. A. Farrer, Mark Goodacre and Richard Carrier, have pointed out, there is a far simpler explanation for Matthew and Luke’s sharing of material they didn’t get from Mark. Either Matthew or Luke had access to the other. It is generally accepted that Matthew’s gospel predated Luke’s by a few years. It is likely therefore that Luke took certain stories from Matthew, as he had others from Mark, and made them his own. Doesn’t he say at the start of his gospel that he intends to collate material about Jesus that was already in circulation? Occam’s Razor also leads to the conclusion that this is a far better explanation of the duplication than a hypothetical third document.

Q doesn’t answer the question of where the stories came from in the first place. Arguably, it moves the solution back a stage but that’s all. If for the sake of argument we assume Q did exist, we still don’t necessarily know where it got its material from. Q really gets us no further forward.

Q is conjectured to be a collection of sayings. They are not set in any context; Q lacks a narrative structure so cannot be where Matthew derived his accounts, for example, of the Temptation in the wilderness (4:1-11), the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-12) or the healing of the centurion’s servant (8:5-13) that Luke would later copy and adapt. These are stories, not mere sayings. Even if Matthew got the sayings they include from some now lost written source from where did he get their context? Eyewitnesses? Unlikely, given he was writing 50 years after the purported events when most eyewitnesses would be dead. He was certainly not an eyewitness himself; he would not have needed to copy large swathes of Mark if he was. Nor does Matthew claim to be using eyewitness testimony. Like all the gospel writers he comes nowhere close to citing his sources.

Matthew is, however, notorious at making up stories he thinks make Jesus fit prophecy. He invents still others to make theological points. It’s quite possible he invented these particular accounts too.

Or perhaps, as apologists like to claim, Matthew and the other gospel writers got at least some of their stories from the so-called oral tradition, a grand name for the tales about Jesus that circulated for the 40-70 years before the gospels were written.

We’ll take a look next time.

Stories about Jesus

Our resident Christian implied recently that I disputed that stories about Jesus existed prior to the gospels being written. I don’t – this was another of Don’s straw man arguments – and told him that of course there were earlier stories about Jesus. But then I got to thinking: where exactly are those stories? How do we know they existed? How can we distinguish them from later embellishments?

Let’s take a look at the evidence*, starting with the earliest Christian writing that we have:

Paul

Paul doesn’t refer to a single event from Jesus’ life outside a barebone account of the crucifixion and resurrection. He doesn’t mention, for example, the nativity, the virgin birth, Jesus’ time in the wilderness, his chat with the devil, his baptism, John the Baptist, the miracles, the amazing things Jesus is reputed to have said, the parables, the Sermon on the Mount and Beatitudes, the I Am sayings, the healings, Lazarus, the arrival in Jerusalem, the cleansing of the Temple, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest, Judas, Pontius Pilate, Jesus’ trial, the mockery of the soldiers, Peter’s denial, the words Jesus spoke on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea, the rolled away stone, the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene, Doubting Thomas or the physical Ascension. Neither does he refer to any incidents or episodes from stories that didn’t eventually make it into the gospels. Not one of them. (He does create a narrative of his own that later finds its way there: the ritual of sharing bread and wine which Paul lifts from Pagan ceremonies. We’ll return to it in a later post.)

Apologists like to say that these serious omissions are no more than Paul’s assumption that his readers would already know the stories about Jesus.  He does not need to reiterate them. But no-one is suggesting he should or would have recounted them in full. What is odd and awkward is that Paul doesn’t even allude to them in his teaching. He could clinch many an argument by referring to a particular saying or miracle of Jesus’, but he never does.

When talking about obeying the (Roman) authorities, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:12 &13, he could have said, ‘Recall that the Lord told us we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,’ but he doesn’t. He could have alluded to Thomas when explaining the importance of having faith without evidence; talked about the empty tomb when discussing Jesus’ resurrection; mentioned the raising of Lazarus as an example of the dead being resurrected; commented on Jesus turning water into wine when arguing that the Law had been superseded by a new covenant. He might even have quoted something Jesus said from a story in circulation that didn’t later end up in one of the gospels.

He doesn’t. Ever.

Paul claims he received none of his information about Jesus from any human being. He insists he received all he knew through revelation – the Lord speaking to him from heaven. Apparently, the Lord neglected to convey any of the details of his life on Earth. The apostles kept equally schtum. Paul was no more knowledgeable about the life of Jesus once he’d he met them than he had been before. Was he not inquisitive? Did he not ask the right questions? Did they dislike him so much they withheld every detail of Jesus’ activities on Earth? Did they not in fact have that kind of information? Whichever it was, Paul seems not have known any of the stories about Jesus that predated the gospels or even that later appeared in them. It’s possible, I would say likely, he did not know of them because they had yet to be created. Many of the stories about Jesus were ten or more years away.

But we mustn’t jump to conclusions. Next time we’ll take a look at other possible sources of these elusive stories.

 

*I read Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Before The Gospels a few years back. I hope I’m not merely reiterating what he says there. While there were some points I found less persuasive than others, Ehrman nevertheless does a good job of showing how stories about Jesus changed and evolved over the years.

Inventing Jesus

What do we know about the gospels?

  • The stories they tell aren’t history; none of the gospel writers cites their sources, none refers to other independent accounts of Jesus’ life.
  • None of the versions of the story are eyewitness accounts; none of the writers claims to be an eyewitness; the gospels are anonymous despite the names that were attributed to them in the second century.
  • The gospels were created decades after the events they purport to relate; there is no evidence of an oral tradition that preceded them, no guarantee such a tradition would, if it existed, be reliable.
  • None of the gospels are independent; all of them are based to one extent or another on ‘Mark’. There really is only one story with three, sometimes markedly different versions.
  • The gospels are frequently contradictory where the later writers altered or embellished Mark’s story. They are often geographically and historically incorrect, and include anachronisms.
  • Each writer presents a different Jesus, the fourth radically so; there is no way of knowing which, if any, is the most historically reliable.
  • It is unlikely the actual words of Jesus would have been preserved accurately for 40 years or more; the fact the different authors freely alter them whenever it suits their purpose tells us they did not.
  • None of the gospel writers could possibly have known exactly what was done and said in private, for example, when Jesus communed with Satan in the desert, when he was hauled off to be flogged; when he was interviewed by Pilate.
  • The authors evidently invented episodes and events; the wandering star; Herod’s massacre of Innocents; zombie ‘saints’ wandering around Jerusalem; angels at Jesus’ tomb; the resurrection itself.
  • The gospels are literary creationsstories – as their structure, editing, use of myth, tropes, symbolism, metaphor and aphorisms attest.

This is what we’re working with. So, just where did the details of Jesus’ life, as we have them in the gospels, come from? We know Matthew, Luke and John found them to differing extents in Mark’s story. Other details they invented or took from Paul. Matthew in particular followed Mark’s lead and drew even more heavily on the Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament (OT). Both Mark and Matthew rewrote sections of the OT to create most of their Jesus stories. Next time, we’ll take look at Mark 15, relating, for the very first time, Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and burial to see how it was done.

How Prophecy Works

Like many evangelicals and others afflicted by Christianity, Don Camp believes that the Old Testament is jam-packed with prophecies about Jesus; his origin, background, mission, teaching, sacrifice and resurrection. He quotes a couple in one of his recent comments, which we’ll get to soon, and thinks that the general direction of travel is from ancient prophecy to later fulfilment in Jesus. Don and those like him will not entertain the possibility that this is an illusion created by those who constructed the Jesus’ stories.

Here’s how the illusion was created: the gospel writers, and Paul too, looked back at the Old Testament (‘the scriptures’) and found there what Don describes as ‘indistinct’ references to events they believed had happened in their own time. From these and other sources, they built their stories about Jesus. More often than not, these scriptural references were not in themselves prophecies or predictions of Jesus’ life, death or resurrection. We know this by a) reading them in their original context, b) recognising that the Jewish scriptures as a whole never speak of a Messiah who must die an ignoble death for his people, and c) noting the number of times these ‘indistinct’ statements have to be altered by the gospel writers and others, to make them ‘fit’ their conception of their God-man.

Let’s start with one of Don’s picks, from Isaiah 53:11:

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life.

It has to be conceded that all of Isaiah 53 does indeed look like it’s a prophecy of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. In context, however, the suffering servant it describes is Israel itself, as surrounding chapters make clear. Furthermore, on closer inspection, some of it doesn’t seem to apply to Jesus at all. Verses 2&3 really don’t describe a man followed around by multitudes and later worshipped by millions:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Unsurprisingly, Don doesn’t quote these verses. Sure, it’s possible to make them fit; to say that these verses 2-3 describe Jesus on trial with the crowd baying for his blood; but it’s a stretch. We’ll come back to Isaiah 53 shortly.

Don then refers to ‘the prophecy about (Jesus) not seeing corruption as a dead body’. This is actually Psalm 16:10:

You (YHWH) will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

And, my, yes it does seem to fit Jesus once again, if we believe he died and rose again before his body could deteriorate. But it isn’t about him. It’s about the writer of the psalm, traditionally David, expressing his belief that his God will preserve him. Plucked out of context, it can sound like it’s Jesus being described, just as any number of other verses can be said to be about future events when they’re not. For example, some Christians, including Pat Robertson, are currently claiming that Ezekiel 38:1-2 is a prophecy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him.

That works, don’t you think?

No. Me, neither. Such nebulous statements can easily be applied to much later events on which they have no actual bearing.

Which brings us neatly to the gospels. These claim that the events they describe were foretold by the prophets of old (Luke 24:44). It would be truly remarkable if, as Don believes, all of the prophecies about Jesus in the scriptures were actually fulfilled by him. Some Christian sources claim there are as many as 300. But, as we’ve seen, some of these are so vague they can be made to apply when in fact they don’t.

And this is how the Jesus story came about; it is structured around many of these indistinct prophecies. The authors of the gospels, and Paul too, knew their scriptures and built up a story about the Messiah using them. Like Paul, Mark had little knowledge of the circumstances of his Messiah’s earthly life, so he set about creating a biography for him using ‘prophecies’, scenarios and statements from the scriptures. We might ask here why he should do this if Jesus was as remarkable as early cultists claimed. There is no need to invent stories about a remarkable figure if that figure has already lived an amazing life that is widely known about. Be that as it may, Mark and the other gospel writers set about creating an elaborate life for their hero, largely based on ancient scriptures.

Mark quotes Isaiah 53 directly in 15:38 and makes extensive use of the chapter in his account of Jesus’ passion. Let me stress: Isaiah 53 is not a prophecy of the passion, it is the blueprint for it. Mark’s account is Isaiah 53, down to Jesus’ silence at his trial and his being buried ‘with the rich’.

Matthew and Luke later embellished Mark’s efforts by doing more of the same thing, adding fresh episodes to Mark’s core gospel. Most of these embellishments  are based on ‘prophecies’ that Mark somehow missed. None of them necessarily happened – I’m persuaded they didn’t – but are ‘actualisations’ of parts of ancient scripture. We know this because of mistakes Matthew made in expanding the story, using the additional ‘prophecies’ he ‘discovered’ in scripture. We’ll get to these mistakes next time.

 

Battle Of The Magic Books

Don Camp replies (in blue) to my previous post. My responses are in black.

There are multiple reason for rejecting Mormonism. The primary reason is similar to discerning between a fake $20 bill and the real thing. The fake just doesn’t feel like the real thing. Of course, that test requires that one knows what a $20 bill feels like. Anyone who does not know is easily fooled.

In fact, if you don’t know what the real thing is like, it is impossible to identify a fake. You might notice an ink smudge and a difference in paper, but who is to say one is fake and the other is not?

This presupposes that your version of Christianity is ‘the real thing’. For a Jew, Judaism is the real thing and Christianity the Johnny-come-lately fake. All you’re saying here is that you ‘feel’ your version of Christianity is the real thing and you ‘feel’ Mormonism isn’t. This isn’t persuasive. I know, for reasons other than intuition, that Christianity isn’t the real thing. To use your analogy, it is the twenty dollar bill received in change when in the UK a twenty pound note is the ‘real thing’.

But since you have a knowledge of literature, Neil, why not apply those standards? Nice concession there, Don. The Bible is indeed literature and as such deserves to have the same standards applied to it as any other work of fiction.

Is the Bible and the narrative in the Bible coherent?? No. Its central character is ridiculously inconsistent. Described as an unchanging God, he changes from book to book and most noticeably between the Old and New Testaments. As someone commented on Debunking Christianity recently, it’s as if he ate a Snickers bar between the two. (He does get hungry again towards the end of the NT, when he reverts to being an omnipotent Putin.)

As the protagonist undergoes his major rewrite, the plot also suddenly deviates, becoming a completely different story. It starts by being about this poorly conceived character’s ‘everlasting covenant’ with his chosen people, but then two thirds of the way through, this everlasting covenant is scrapped and replaced with a new, largely incoherent deal involving a human sacrifice that the unchanging God has previously said he finds abhorrent.

Does it stick together and develop a single theme across the whole? No, it doesn’t ‘stick together’, not unless you ignore the gaping inconsistencies in character and plotting, and its overall implausibility.

Do you know what the theme of the Bible is, Neil? Yes, thank you, Don. Condescending of you to ask. Any apparent consistency is because the writers of the second part of the story had access to the first part. They plundered it for their own purposes, drastically altering it so that it suited their new theme. That is why much of the Jesus story appears to be foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The Jesus story – and it is a story – is built on events and episodes they found there.

Remember that the Mormons tell us that the Book of Mormon is an extension of the Bible and that the people of the Americas were related to the Jews and held to the basic truths of the Jews. (Remember also the Mormons believe that Jesus appeared to these people in the New World shortly after his resurrection.) So if you put the Torah and the Book of Mormon together, is the narrative coherent? Does it develop a single theme? The Old testament and the New Testament are a coherent whole, but I do not think the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon are. As you can tell, I dispute that the Old and New Testament are a coherent whole. The Old Testament and the Book of Mormon aren’t either. That lack of coherency becomes even more obvious when we compare God in the Old Testament with God in the Book of Mormon. The person of Jesus is also inconsistent in the Book of Mormon with the Bible.

But they’re inconsistent within the Bible too, Don. Compare John’s Jesus with Mark’s. Compare Paul’s beatific Christ with Revelation’s grotesquely super-powered warlord.

Of course, the standard explanation by Latter Day Saints is that the Bible has not been adequately translated, though I know of no place where they can demonstrate that claim. There are significant translation problems with the Bible, which mainstream scholars consider at length. Mormon desperation to resolve these conflicts is the same as that demonstrated by Christian theologians.

Finally, there is a matter of provenance. We know in very good detail where the Bible came from.

We do? We know who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually were? No, we don’t nor do we know where they wrote or what their sources were. We don’t have the autographs (originals) of any of the New Testament documents but we do know some of them are forgeries and others have been tampered with.

There are many copies, especially for the New Testament, and there are many commentaries of both the OT and NT from very early in the their history. Proving what? Only that they were copied, frequently inaccurately. The copies are all much later than the probable time of composition. The commentaries are similarly far removed from them; there are commentaries on the Book of Mormon much closer to its composition.

What is the provenance of the Book of Mormon? It apparently appeared magically out of nowhere pretty recently. No mention in any other literature of its existence. It did appear magically! Oh ye of little faith! God sent an angel, like he does numerous times in the Bible, and told Joseph Smith to translate the golden tablets. The NT books were similarly created, with God breathing his word into cult followers as they wrote. God, angels, Holy Spirit, magic – all of a muchness, don’t you think?

No copy is available to examine. Nor of the original copies of anything in the Bible.

That is not to speak of the total lack of any archaeological evidence for the Mormon claims of Jews in the Americas. Mormons dispute this, of course. There are similar problems with some locations mentioned in the Bible. More fatally, most of what the Bible promises has proven false. For example: Jesus’ imminent return, his guarantee of miracles, believers becoming new creations. (Paul spends much of his time ticking off these ‘new creations’ who remain resolutely unreformed.)

So, I would say the Book of Mormon fails on all levels.

I would too. As does the Bible for the reasons I’ve outlined, and despite your special pleading. You don’t apply the same rigour in your consideration of the Bible that you do to Latter Day Saint fiction. Why is this, Don?

Dear Evangelical: Why Aren’t You A Mormon?

Dear Don,

Why are you not a Mormon? I mean, you appeal to the evidence of consistency across the 66 books of the bible, claim that the gospel writers remained true to an oral tradition (despite John’s gospel being markedly different from the other three) and insist there is no difference between the original apostles’ gospel and Paul’s (when Paul is adamant there is.) In fact, there is even better evidence that Mormonism is true.

First off, Joseph Smith saw the resurrected Jesus in person! Not only Jesus but God the Father too. And they spoke to him! He relates the story himself, so unlike the gospels, this is no second hand reportage:

I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Following this, young Joseph was instructed to translate the Book of Mormon from some golden plates. We don’t have to take his word for it that these plates existed because Joseph had witnesses:

Eleven official witnesses and several unofficial witnesses testified to the existence of the golden plates and, in some cases, to dramatic supernatural confirmation of their truth. Meticulous research on these witnesses has confirmed their good character and the veracity of their accounts.

Impressive, don’t you think? We have no such affidavits for the gospel writers – we don’t even know who they were!

Also like the Bible, the Book of Mormon had multiple authors (Joseph Smith was only translating, remember):

Furthermore, in recent years, rigorous statistical analysis strongly indicates that neither Joseph Smith nor any of his known associates composed the English text of the Book of Mormon. In fact, research suggests that the book was written by numerous distinct authors.

And yet, the Book of Mormon tells a story even more consistent than the Bible’s!

Better still,

the Holy Ghost affirms the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, just as he does the Bible: the conclusion of the matter is that much modern evidence supports the more powerful witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith, who translated it, had to be what he said he was, a prophet of God.

Finally, the growth of the Church of The Latter Day Saints demonstrates its truth and saving power. Its early expansion was greater than that of the first-century church.

Amazing, don’t you think, Don?

* * * * *

I expect like me, you reject all this so-called evidence and regard Mormonism as so much bunk. But on what basis? What causes you to dismiss the teaching of the Latter Day Saints while embracing the equally incredible, magic-infused stories of the Bible? As the Mormon church says (sounding not unlike yourself when talking about the Bible):

Persons who choose to dismiss the Book of Mormon must find their own ideas for explaining it and the mounting evidence for its authenticity.

When you arrive at the criteria you apply in rejecting Mormonism, you’ll have arrived at the reasons I and many others reject your beliefs.

Goodbye, Jesus

The Jesus narrative is a made-up story, originally created by a member of one of the many branches of a first century cult centred on a supernatural being experienced in visions. We call this cult member ‘Mark’. His ‘gospel’ was not written to convert anyone – I doubt any of them were – it was written as a ‘what if?’ story for fellow cult members: ‘what if our celestial saviour had lived on Earth?’ It is made up of St Paul’s teaching, Old Testament mythology, and ideas taken from pagan dying-god myths (probably in that order). It amalgamates the cult’s rules with what cultists believed about the end of the age: that their celestial saviour would very soon be coming down to Earth to save them and annihilate their enemies.

Ten or fifteen years later, another writer took Mark’s fiction and rewrote much of it for his branch of the cult. This was a group who saw themselves as still firmly within Judaism, so ‘Matthew’ toned down Paul’s teaching, eliminating a good deal of it. He heightened Jewish teaching for his co-religionists, and created a Jesus who was a manifestation of prophecy, as he saw it, from the Jewish scriptures. This construct had no time for any magic salvation-formula; like the cult who created him, he taught obedience to Jewish Law and believed that serving others was the way to eternal life.

A few years on and a third sect found Mark and Matthew’s stories weren’t entirely to their liking. They didn’t quite get Jesus right. So they took them and altered them again. Their scribe, known now as Luke, created a third Jesus. It’s possible this sect didn’t realise the original story was fiction. There’s some evidence Luke thought Jesus had really existed, 50 years or so before he remodelled him.

Later still, the creators (plural) of a fourth gospel created a Christ totally unlike the other three. This branch of the cult had ceased to believe, perhaps because it hadn’t happened when earlier believers said it would, that the saviour would be coming through the clouds at any minute to set up God’s kingdom on Earth. That part of the original idea was dropped; this Jesus is made to preach an internalised salvation, and everlasting life in heaven is beginning to be hinted at.

And that’s it. The adventures of Jesus on Earth began as a ‘what if?’ story created for existing cult members. Other branches of the cult took it and reshaped its central character so that he suited their needs and beliefs. A real Jesus was not necessary for any of this to happen. Just as it was for Paul, whether one existed or not is immaterial,. Even if he did, we can know nothing about him. The Jesuses created by each sect is a product of what they imagined their saviour to be, just like the various Christs that are worshipped today.

So, I’m saying a final goodbye to Jesus – or rather to all the Jesuses, Christs and made-up Messiahs spawned by the visions, fantasies and fan-fiction of the first century. I don’t need them, and neither do you.

This blog will be taking a new direction in the new year. Next time, though, I hope you’ll read one of my Christmas stories, as featured on the BBC.

Stay safe.