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. 

What Second Coming?

Richard Carrier notes in On the Historicity of Jesus (p560) how Paul never speaks of a ‘second coming’, prompting me to look at all the predictions of Christ’s future arrival in the New Testament. Here’s a selection of verses, some of them supposedly the words of Jesus himself, where this coming is ‘prophesied’:

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13.26).

You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14.62).

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24.27).

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man… they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24. 37, 39)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of glory. (Matthew 25.31).

You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Luke 12.40).

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God (1 Thessalonians 4.16).

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5.23).

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord… Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5.7-8).

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2.13).

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him (Revelation 1.7).

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done (Revelation 22.12).

Isn’t this strange? None of them refer to Christ’s arrival as a ‘return’ or ‘second coming’. You’d be hard pushed to find any such ‘prophecy’ in the New Testament*. His appearance here on Earth is described as the coming of a celestial being. Even Jesus is made to talk about the manifestation of such a figure, taken by Christians to mean his own future self, as if he’s talking about someone else: the Son of Man, who hasn’t yet appeared but will do so in the near future. It’s as if the gospels’ fictional Jesus is being made to predict the arrival of the ‘real’, celestial Jesus.

More importantly, the Son of Man and Paul’s version of the same figure, the Christ, are spoken of as ‘coming’ or ‘descending’, not ‘returning’ or coming again. It’s as if Paul, the writers of the synoptic gospels, John of Patmos and other first-century Christians* didn’t believe that the Christ had already visited the Earth. They talk instead as if he’s about to arrive for the very first time. When he does, they believed, he would be coming as an avenging angel, rescuing those who believe in him – as a celestial being who carried out his salvific work in the heavenly realms (1 Corinthians 15, Galatians 1.11-12 etc) – and slaughtering those who don’t. This is the apocalypse – the revealing or uncovering of the heavenly Christ for the very first time.

That Jesus will ‘return’ or make a second coming is an assumption made by later believers on the basis of verses like those above. In fact, they say no such thing. The earliest Christians wrote as if they didn’t believe their envisaged hero had ever been on Earth. For them, his one and only arrival was still to come.

————————————

* An exception appears to be Hebrews 9.28 which says, ‘so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him’. Hebrews, however, regards the Christ only as a supernatural high priest, operating in the heavenly realms. This second appearance then can only refer to this character, who is not conceived as having had any existence here on Earth.

Prophets At A Loss (again)

What a joy it is to witness the prophets of the Lord who a few weeks ago assured the world that Jesus had told them Donald Trump was going to win the US presidential election. Look at them floundering now to explain away their foolishness:

Pat Robertson on 20th October: ‘Without question, Trump is going to win the election.’

After the election: ‘Here is my take on the election. In my opinion I think Trump won it. That may shock you… There are cases being filed in many courts but I don’t give them much chance of winning.’

Paula White on 5th November: I hear a sound of victory. I hear a sound of abundance of rain. I hear a sound of victory. The Lord says it is done. The Lord says it is done. The Lord says it is done.

After the election: ‘God’s decision has been made… the church must enforce some things in the realm of the Earth. We must take authority over every demonic spirit, every high thing.’

Kat Kerr on 24th October: ‘Trump will win. He will be president of the United States. He will sit in that office for four more years and God will have his way in this country.’

After the election: ‘One of the things [God] had me say was that Trump would win by a landslide… But many times, as we know in the Word or even just from experience ourselves — especially as a prophet — that doesn’t ever mean what man thinks that means.’

Jeremiah Johnson on 30th September: ‘I had a dream… God showed me… President Trump will be re-elected.’

After the election: ‘There has been a chorus of mature and tested prophets in America with a proven track record that have predicted Donald J. Trump would be re-elected President of the United States. I am one of them… Either a lying spirit has filled the mouths of numerous trusted prophetic voices in America or Donald J. Trump really has won the Presidency and we are witnessing a diabolical and evil plan unfold to steal the Election. I believe with all my heart that the latter is true.’

Denise Goulet on 19th October, speaking to Trump in person: ‘The Lord showed me today that you are going to get a second wind…another in-filling of the Holy Spirit…because the Holy Spirit makes you able to finish, to take this to the end, Mr President.’

After the election: f*** all.

It’s demons! An evil plan! I meant something else! I still think I’m right! I hope everyone forgets what I said.

Friendly Atheist Hermant Mehta has a whole lot more. These people are either frauds or self-deluded idiots. It’s stating the obvious to say that God and Jesus do not communicate directly with them. They haven’t been singled out to receive divine messages. Yet that is what they believe, or claim to anyway. They know no more about the future or God’s intentions than a typical house fly does. Yet the gullible, those caught in the same pretence that is Christianity, believe them. Yes, there are smart arse discerning Christians out there who say they never fall for these charlatans. Yet they do.

In Jesus Eclipsed, David Chumney cites Eugene Boring who, he says, ‘catalogs dozens of sayings ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels that very likely originated with later Christian prophets’ (my emphasis). Yet the writers of the gospels pass off these ‘spiritual insights’ as though they were Jesus’ own. Those who first read the gospels believed they were. Christian’s today assume the same. They’re not. They’re the words of religious zealots making things up as they went along. Some, most perhaps, no doubt believed what they were channelling the words of the Lord. Others wouldn’t have been quite so sincere.

There is no such thing as a prophet. God doesn’t make his intentions known through cranks and fraudsters. There’s no God and no Eternal Jesus to do such a thing, as today’s holy con-artists so ably demonstrated with their predictions of a Trump victory.

 

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 3)

As we’ve seen, so much about Jesus appears to have been invented and made up; literally, ‘envisioned’. Almost everything he said and did, including his death and resurrection, derive from Paul’s teaching and the Old Testament. Mark created his gospel narrative out of these, embellishing the story with ideas from other, pagan myths. Mark’s gospel then served as the basis of the other three canonical gospels.

It could be argue that none of this suggests Jesus didn’t exist. He could still have been a real life human being who wandered around Palestine, teaching people about the End of the Age. In which case, why did Paul and the later gospel writers have to make so much up about him, as clearly they did. Why didn’t they report directly what he taught, instead of quoting the Old Testament as Paul does when he talks about his Christ (he tells us this is what he’s doing, in Romans 15.2-4)? Not once does he refer to anything the historical Jesus said. Neither do the gospel writers. They make stuff up, they alter what their predecessors say, they dip into the Old Testament to construct Jesus’ teaching.

Why? If the real Jesus was such a Great Teacher, who had so much wisdom to impart, why don’t we find it in the gospels instead of this amalgam of other sources? Was his teaching so unimpressive and unmemorable that a new script had to be written for him? If so, how did he attract the fame and following he purportedly did? Why are the gospels literary creations and not the kind of reporting we might expect if they were relating the sayings and doings of one man? Why do the gospels have their own distinct agendas when they are supposedly reporting the views of a real individual? Why are there so many interpretations of Jesus in the New Testament: Jewish Jesus, Gentile Jesus, Anti-semitic Jesus, Gnostic Jesus, Anti-gnostic Jesus, Radical Jesus, Pacifist Jesus, Saviour Jesus, High Priest Jesus, Cosmic-judge Jesus? Why, if it really happened, does the resurrection read like myth, with all the differences in detail between the accounts? Why does Paul talk about it as something that was only revealed in ‘visions’? Why does Mark hint that his Jesus story is a parable, the true meaning of which can only be discerned by the spiritually mature (Mark 4.10-12)?

If Jesus was real, none of this – the myth making, the invention, the reliance on the Old Testament – would be necessary.

That Paul and the gospel writers made up so much suggests there wasn’t a real person on whom their teaching and stories are based. Jesus Christ was the result of the ‘visions’, dreams and hallucinations that someone called Cephas and a few others, Paul included, experienced.

There was no historical Jesus, no miracles, no wondrous teaching, no crucifixion, no resurrection, no ascension. There will be no second coming, no final judgement, no Kingdom of Heaven presided over by someone who originally lived 2000 years ago. Why? Because every bit of it is make believe.

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 1)

Over the last week or so I’ve encountered a couple of Christians online (here and here) who’ve made the point that Jesus must’ve existed because

  • Early Christians wouldn’t have died for a lie. (I’ve covered this before so all I’ll say here is that yes, they would – as zealots still do today – especially if they were convinced the lie was true.)

  • They themselves know Jesus as their personal saviour, and

  • The Bible tells us about him so no-one in their right mind could possibly believe he was imaginary.

These last two are interesting and related. Susceptible people have always believed in imaginary beings. All of the pantheons that have ever existed – Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Norse, Aztec, Hindu and numerous others – have had their adherents; people who lived with the conviction that supernatural beings were real and would respond, help or judge them in some way when they themselves acted in specific ways. Yet none of these beings existed. Why not Jesus?

Christians today don’t believe in Jesus alone, however. They subscribe to an entire company of invisible beings and places: God himself, of course, spirits – holy and otherwise – angels, Satan, demons, hell, heaven as well as a celestial being called ‘the Christ’ who sits at the right hand of God and who may or may not be related to an historical Jesus. Evangelicals and other believers build their entire worldview around such mythical beings, worshipping some of them; turn on your God channels any night of the week and see trance-like Christians telling Jesus how amazing, wonderful and worthy of praise he is. Yet this is a Jesus who is wholly imaginary.

Many of the posts on this blog are about how Christians aren’t very much concerned with the Jesus of the synoptic gospels, who tells his followers to sell all they have, give to everyone who asks and to turn the other cheek. They are only interested in his supernatural alter-ego, ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’, who makes no demands on them, but who, they think, listens and blesses them from on high. For all they care, any other Jesus may just as well be imaginary.

So if the Christ contemporary Christians worship isn’t real, why are they so insistent that the Jesus of the gospels must have been? It is equally likely that, the same as them, the earliest Christians also worshipped a made-up supernatural being.  

We’ll take a look next time at just what the Bible says about Jesus, and what it doesn’t.

Did Jesus exist? A rethink.

Blog418

Who determined the rules for the early Jesus cult? Jesus himself or the members of the cult? What does the evidence suggest? They all appear in documents written between 40 and 90 years after Jesus died. Either they survived from the moment the words left his lips, remembered accurately by generations of believers or they were included in the gospels by the cult communities that created them.

I’ve written before about how much of the Bible was written backwards (so to speak) and the gospel’s cult rules look likely to have been developed in just this way. The cult members had, by the time the gospels came to written, established these rules for their communities. They had shaped a Jesus that suited their purposes; it has long been recognised that the creators of Matthew’s, Luke’s and even John’s gospel took Mark’s account and amended it significantly. Their depiction of Jesus, his teaching and the resurrection are amended to reflect their particular beliefs and community rules. How do we know this?

Richard Carrier, the so-called mythicist (he actually says there’s a 1 in 3 possibility of the historicity of Jesus; figures as mythologised as Jesus rarely existed in fact) demonstrates how Mark’s gospel is an allegorical story based on Paul’s teaching. Mark created a well constructed narrative designed, literally, to flesh out the spiritual being that Paul imagined he’d seen in his visions. Using Jewish and pagan myths to structure it, he incorporates Paul’s visions and ‘revelations’ to create his Jesus story. To take one example, Paul relates in 1 Corinthians 11.23-25 how his celestial Christ told him in person (i.e. in his head) how his sacrifice of himself should be celebrated: with bread and wine. Mark turns this into an actual meal supposedly shared between Jesus and his early followers: the Last Supper.

Subsequent gospel writers took Mark’s allegory and amended it both to suit their needs and to correct what they perceived as Mark’s shortcomings. In the process they ‘fleshed out’ still further the figure at the centre of Paul’s (and others’) visions and Mark’s story based on them. Most significantly, they added increasingly elaborate resurrection appearances; it is significant Mark’s gospel has none, as if he knew Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a physical event but a visionary one exactly as Paul describes.

It seems indisputable that the gospels were written this way (though there are, naturally, those who do dispute it.) None of the gospels rely on a hypothetical oral tradition, which, if it existed, would be extremely unreliable over 50 or so years (the time between Jesus’ supposed ministry and the writing of Matthew’s gospel), nor do they depend on the equally hypothetical Q. In any case, Q, if it existed, was a book of sayings, not a narrative account. Significantly, no copies of what must surely would have been a precious document have survived.

No, Mark made up the story of Jesus based on Paul’s visions (we know others had similar visions before Paul; he tells us so in 1 Corinthians 15.1-8). We know too that subsequent gospel writers built on Mark, adding what suited them, including their particular sect’s rules. What better endorsement of these rules than to have the object of their worship seeming to issue them himself? It’s highly unlikely he did anything of the sort. In 1991 the Jesus Seminar determined, controversially, that only about 20% of the words in the gospels could be attributed to an historical Jesus. All of the rest is made up and put retrospectively into his mouth. (The Seminar nevertheless concluded that Jesus existed.)

From the small amount of Jesus’ teaching that might be attributed to an historical Jesus, to the way the gospels were created, what can be known about a ‘real’ Jesus – what he said and did – grows increasingly small. All we are left with is a ghost of a figure. And isn’t this precisely what Paul claimed he and others had seen?

I’m rethinking my position and I’m coming to the conclusion, based on how the gospels were written, especially the way Mark allegorised Paul’s visions and teachings, that the likelihood of an historical Jesus is slim. Carrier has an abundance of evidence to support his proposal of a 1 in 3 chance that Jesus existed. Certainly the Jesus(es) of the gospels did not exist; they’re all made up. It now seems to me there’s no real, historical Jesus behind any of them. 
 

What Jesus didn’t know

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Creating the picture for the previous post reminded me of how little Jesus, assuming he actually existed, knew of the consequences of his ‘ministry’. Here’s a few of the things he either didn’t do or had no knowledge of while he lived.

  • Jesus never read a single word of the New Testament. The earliest of its books, I Thessalonians, was written about twenty years after he died. The New Testament did not appear in its entirety until the end of the 4th century.
  • He never read any of the accounts of his life, the first of which didn’t appear until about forty years after his death.
  • He had no control at all over what went in any of the gospels.
  • He did not endorse them in any way, nor verify their accuracy.
  • He never met Paul nor was he aware of the fantastical claims Paul would make about him.
  • He had no idea he would come to be regarded as God.
  • He did not know that soon after his death, people would worship him as God.
  • He would not have anticipated that his teaching would be adapted for a Gentile audience. It is unlikely he would have approved if he had.
  • He had no idea a new religion would be created in his name.
  • He did not know anything about, nor did he anticipate, the Church. His apparent acknowledgement of it is a fabrication.
  • He did not know the damage those who followed him would do in his name.
  • He did not know that the Kingdom of God would never arrive on Earth, nor that the Romans would continue to dominate it for a further 400 years.
  • He did not know the world would continue pretty much as it was for another 2000 years.
  • He did not know of the scientific discoveries that would be made in those years that would invalidate his beliefs and worldview.
  • He did not know that, forty years after his ‘ministry’, the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed by the Romans. His ‘prophecy’ of it is a fabrication written after the event.
  • He did not know of the world beyond the Roman Empire, if he was aware even of that. He certainly did not know of the American continent.
  • He had no knowledge of the United States, founded more than 1,700 years after he died.
  • He had no concept of most, if not all, of the concerns of today’s evangelicals: religious liberty, right-wing politics, guns, abortion, ‘the homosexual agenda’.
  • He had no idea what his legacy would be: the arrested development of millions and of western society itself; pogroms, persecutions and inquisitions; a corrupt and abusive church; the psychological damage caused to innumerable people; his name hi-jacked for political causes he had never heard of and almost certainly would not have approved of.

None of this is what he saw for himself. He thought he would be ruling the world with his besties on behalf of Yahweh. Like every other mortal, he had no idea of anything that would happen after his lifetime. What does this tell us about him?