Psychology Today has this to say about cults:
Destructive individuals and cults use deception and undue influence to make people dependent and obedient. A group should not be considered a cult merely because of its unorthodox beliefs. It is typically authoritarian, headed by a person or group of people with near complete control of followers. Cult influence is designed to disrupt a person’s authentic identity and replace it with a new identity.
Let’s break this down a little:
Destructive individuals: But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me (Luke 19.27).
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
He said to them, ‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough’ (Luke 22: 36-38). [This is evidently a fictitious episode created around a supposed prophecy (Isaiah 53:12).]
Use deception: The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:14-15). Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11.24).
Undue influence: Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14.33). No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9.62).
To make people dependent: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14.26).
…and obedient: If you love me, keep my commands (John 14:15). Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me (John 12.26).
Typically authoritarian… with near complete control: You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15.14).
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7.21)
Disrupts a person’s true identity: If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Luke 9.23).
And replaces it with a new identity: Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18.13).
(John said,) ‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (John 3.30).
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5: 31-32).
Whether Jesus said these things or they were put into his mouth by his early followers, it is still the case that if it looks like a cult, talks like a cult and behaves like a cult… it’s a cult.
As it was in the beginning, now and ever shall be.
Early in the first letter of John, we read,
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2: 3-6)
Isn’t that interesting? John, whoever he was, says that Christians can know they’re saved because they keep Jesus’ commands and ‘walk’ as he walked. Likewise, others should be able to see these traits too because, as Jesus is (later) made to say, cult members can be recognised by their ‘fruits’ (Matthew 7:16).
Just what are Jesus’ commands that converts can’t help but demonstrate? Here’s a few:
- Cutting themselves off from family – hating their parents, in fact – just to follow him (Luke 14.26);
- Deny everything about themselves (Matthew 16.24-27);
- Forsaking home, job, wealth, status, credibility and comfort to help bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (Mark 10.29-31 etc);
- Slaving tirelessly in the service of others (Mark 10.43-44; Matthew 23.11 etc);
- Selling their possessions so that they can give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19.21; Luke 14.33);
- Turning the other cheek, repeatedly going the extra mile and giving away the shirt and coat from off their backs– if they’ve still got them after giving everything away – (Matthew 5.38-40);
- Welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison (Matthew 25.35-40);
- Forgiving again and again and again (Matthew 18.21-22);
- Avoiding judging others so that they won’t be judged in turn (Matthew 7.1-3);
- Loving their enemies (Matthew 5.44);
- Regarding persecution and injustices as blessings (Matthew 5.11);
- Doing miracles even more impressive than Jesus’ own (Mark 16.17-18; John 14.12);
- Healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons (Matthew 10.7-8);
- Asking for anything in prayer, which will be given to them (Mark 11.24; Matthew 21.22);
- Telling others that the world is about to end (in the first century) and that only Jesus can save them from God’s wrath (Matthew 28.29-34; Matthew 28.16-20).
How many of these things do we see Christians doing? How many of these commandments are Christians compelled to ‘keep’, as letter writer John puts it? Some, it’s true, make attempts with the last (if only they wouldn’t) and a very limited few have a go at a couple of the others. But as far as most Christians are concerned, these commandments may as well not exist. They don’t see Jesus’ instructions as applying to them. I know from experience that they have ready made excuses for not obeying them, let alone feeling an inner compulsion to realise them in their own lives.
Their excuses necessitate them reinterpreting Jesus’ words. They’re metaphorical, they say. ‘He didn’t really mean give everything away because where would that leave us?’ – or they insist his commands have been taken out of context, or have only a spiritual meaning…
Which is to say, nothing Jesus said is to be taken literally, even though the most straight forward reading of his pronouncements is that this is how he meant them. It’s how his early followers, the people who preserved or created his words in the gospels, understood them. Why record them otherwise?
But Jesus’ moralising is inconvenient, impractical, exacting, extreme; ridiculous, in fact, and Christians know this. Still his commands must be dealt with somehow. So the Righteous™ work round them or ignore them completely, replacing his priorities with ones of their own: worshipping him; defending his reputation; striving for power; complaining about secular society; whining about the media; promoting aggression; acquiring wealth (there should be no such thing as a millionaire Christian); claiming persecution; equating faith with guns; trying to control others’ behaviour; interfering in their sex lives; suppressing LGBT people; arguing that religious rights trump those of minorities; opposing abortion.
None of these figured in Jesus’ agenda. Some are even in direct opposition to what he’s made to say in the gospels.
When we see Christians doing the things Jesus tells them they should be doing – what God’s love perfected in them compels them to do – maybe then we’ll listen to what they have to say. When they demonstrate credibility rather than hypocrisy, maybe they’ll have earned the right to be heard. But as there’s not much chance of that happening any time soon, it’s way past time we ignored them, and their superstition, in much the same way they ignore their Lord and Savior™.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.
1 John 2:20-21 as quoted by Don Camp.
Our resident, regularly banned God-botherer, Don Camp, claims that he has a special way of reading and interpreting spiritual writing. No, he hasn’t got a pair of magic rocks, but an inner ‘anointing’ with what Don calls his ‘lie-detector’. (You might have a similar device yourself, known more commonly as a bull-shit detector. Its alarm may well have been a-ring-a-ding-dinging when you read Don’s comment.)
Anointing, if you’re interested, is the ancient Jewish custom of initiating a king or priest by daubing oil on their head. Don has no evidence that he has been inwardly ‘anointed’ by an unseen spirit that helps him understand scripture better than anyone else. There is no evidence, outside of subjective feelings and one tautological bible verse, that any religious believer has had this done to them. (Read 1 John 2.20-21 again, Don, and you’ll see that a tautology is what it is: ‘the truth is the truth is the truth,’ is really all it says.)
On the contrary, we find that different Christians interpret given scriptures in a variety of different ways (I’ll get to examples in a minute). They differ too on which bits of the Bible are relevant to them and their church or sect. They disregard or explain away verses that don’t suit their purposes.
Don does this himself. His anointing Spirit doesn’t lead him to interpret verses like Matthew 16:27-28; 24:27, 30-31 & 34, Romans 13, 11 & 12, 1 Peter 4:7, 1 John 2:18, Revelation 22.20 etc at face value. He cannot countenance the fact that Jesus, Paul, John and all those other early fanatics were wrong about when the end of the age would happen – they are all very clear they thought it was imminent – so he reinterprets what they say to mean something they clearly and unequivocally do not. Don’s interpretation has them meaning, despite what they say, that the end of the age and all that goes with it would be thousands of years in their future. Should you challenge him on this, Don tells you that how you see it is wrong because you don’t have the special anointing he has. As he puts it in his comment, you’re lacking the right ‘dynamic’ (ring-a-ding-ding!) and as a result, you are incapable of interpreting scripture in the right way (i.e. his way).
In fact, Don does not have a way of understanding scripture that he can call his own. Rather, he interprets it with preconceptions he’s acquired elsewhere; that it is God’s Word, that it is Truth, that the spiritual world it describes is real, that it relates an historical resurrection, and so on. He comes to it with these presuppositions that he has learnt from preachers, teachers, commentaries, devotional books and other Christian propaganda he’s been exposed to. He is completely unable to take a step back to look at what he’s reading objectively. He knows what it says before he reads it – ‘truth’ as far as the Bible is concerned, ‘lies’ when it’s the Book of Mormon – and imposes that meaning onto it. This ‘dynamic’ enables him too to smooth over all of the Bible inconsistencies and allows him to see it as one seamless garment when it evidentially is not. He’s not alone in doing this, of course. Most evangelical (‘anointed’) Christians do it. I know I did.
Now for those examples, and a challenge for Don:
1. A few days ago, Holy Spirit anointed, preacher Dillon Awes used his dynamic lie-detector to interpret the Bible’s declarations about homosexuality like this:
What does God say is the answer, is the solution, for the homosexual in 2022, here in the New Testament, here in the Book of Romans (1:26-27)
That they are worthy of death! These people should be put to death!
Every single homosexual in our country should be charged with the crime, the abomination of homosexuality, that they have. They should be convicted in a lawful trial. They should be sentenced with death. They should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head! That’s what God teaches. That’s what the Bible says.
2. Similarly, over the weekend, Ken Ham interpreted Genesis 1 to mean that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. After all, he ‘reasoned’, Genesis says God created ‘everything’ in those first six days, so that must include dinosaurs as well as Adam and Eve.
3. Pastor Douglas Wilson who featured recently on Bruce Gerencser’s blog, interpreted the assertion in Ephesians 5:22-24 that wives should be submit to their husbands, even if it entails rape:
…We have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them… However we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.
My question to you, Don, is: do you interpret Romans 1:26-27, Genesis 1 and Ephesians 5:22-24 the same way as these other Holy Spirit directed interpreters of scripture? If not, why not, when it’s the same Holy Spirit that equips you with your dynamic lie-detector, that also leads them into all truth?
These is not a rhetorical question; we all want to know. But be warned, Don, our bullshit detectors are primed and ready.
Once upon a time, there was, possibly, a bloke called Yeshua Bar Yosef. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t, but either way, a couple of other blokes, one called Simon (or maybe Cephas or maybe Peter), came to believe that Yeshua had returned from the dead and had appeared to them, alive. This was probably all in their heads and what they saw was at most a blinding light, if they saw anything at all. This was certainly the case for a different bloke, Saul (or maybe Paul) who came along later. He wrote about his experiences and admitted they were all in his mind.
This Simon-Peter-Cephas and maybe one or two others convinced themselves that Yeshua was God’s special emissary and would save them from something, somehow or other. They told other people this and, being gullible, some of these other people believed that Simon-Peter-Cephas and his mates really had seen Yeshua alive again. They started to believe Yeshua would save them too. Saul-Paul, meanwhile, wrote letters to the people he’d persuaded to believe in his version of events – it was a bit different from what Simon-Peter-Cephas and co believed – and, writing in Greek, rendered Yeshua as Iesous (‘Jesus’ came much later when the ‘J’ was invented in the 16th century.) Paul thought Iesous was a celestial being he called ‘the Christ’. He taught that this Christ would soon be coming down to the Earth to set up God’s Kingdom here. Even though they were obviously a bit rubbish, Saul-Paul’s letters were copied multiple times by hand, which is when errors began to creep in. In some places, the letters were deliberately altered.
Other people wanted to get in on the act, so they wrote letters too, pretending they were Saul-Paul. Sometimes these letters said the exact opposite of what the real Saul-Paul wrote. His weren’t the only letters to be forged either. Fifty or more years after the entire scam had got underway, someone pretending to be Simon-Peter-Cephas sent letters as if they were from the man himself. Needless to say there were cultists daft enough to believe it. There were others who wrote letters too, people like James and John. James didn’t see eye-to-eye with Saul-Paul and contradicted many of the things he said.
About 40 years after Simon-Peter-Cephas thought he’d seen the dead-but-alive Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus, somebody in a different country decided to write a back story for the character. He didn’t know much about Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus, what he’d said and done and whatnot, but that didn’t deter him. He borrowed bits from Saul-Paul’s letters and Greek myths and set about it. He scoured the Jewish scriptures for anything that sounded like it might be a prediction of Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus and his supposed escape from death. He made up episodes for him based on these completely unrelated scraps of scripture. He forgot to sign his work, however, and it wasn’t until years later that someone else decided this author’s name should be ‘Mark’.
A couple of other anonymous dudes liked what ‘Mark’ had done when inventing his Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus story but thought they could make a better job of it themselves. The first of these, who would later be called Matthew, lifted most of Mark’s effort (which is how we know ‘Matthew’ wasn’t an eye-witness; an eye-witness wouldn’t plagiarise most of the story from someone who wasn’t) and then went overboard with the prediction/prophecy thing that Mark had started. He found even more spurious bits of scripture and made up a whole lot of new stories about Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus from them. Later still, ‘Luke’ wrote his version of the story, using Mark and Matthew’s accounts and inventing a few new episodes himself. This same person went on to write a fabricated history of the Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus cult, making up stories and speeches for caricatures of Simon-Peter-Cephas and Saul-Paul.
The fourth person to try his hands at writing a script for Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus decided to completely reimagine the character. Strictly speaking, this ‘gospel’ was produced not by a single person but by a collective of cult members. Their Jesus was nothing like the one in the other three gospels. He was more a super-hero, whose special power was boasting about himself. This is the Jesus that, 70 years on, the cult wanted to believe in. Eventually, the name John would be attached to this fantasy, though this isn’t the same John who wrote letters nor the one who created the hallucinatory nightmare that would become the final book of the Bible.
These various letters and stories circulated round the Roman Empire wherever members of the new cult met. Eventually, someone hit upon the idea of collecting them together as one volume. The first we hear of this is when a guy called Marcion produced his own collection, round about AD140. Stupidly, he didn’t include the right ‘books’ and it wasn’t until AD367 that the collection we now know as the New Testament was first mentioned. This was ratified later that century by a group of men who had elevated themselves to positions of authority in the Church, as the cult was now calling itself. Despite claiming they had been guided by the Holy Spirit, these learned men endorsed the inclusion of several forgeries. Neither did they see fit to arrange the books in the order they’d been written, giving the impression that the accounts of Yeshua-Iesous-Jesus’ life existed before Simon-Peter-Cephas and Saul-Paul’s innervisions that had sparked the whole thing in the first place.
Jump forward a few hundred years and the New Testament, as it was now known, had come to be regarded, by some, as the infallible, inerrant and authoritative Word of God, which clearly it is not. These epithets stuck, however, and are still held to be accurate descriptors of the New Testament by people who have stopped thinking for themselves.
So there we have it: how we got the New Testament –
- It wasn’t written by eye-witnesses.
- Its accounts of Jesus’ life are largely fictional.
- It owes much to fanatics who were prone to visions.
- It is given to wild speculation, offered without a scrap of evidence.
- It contradicts itself.
- It includes many fakes and forgeries.
- It was banged together by men who didn’t really know what they were doing.
And after that, everyone lived delusionally ever after. The End.
Previously on RejectingJesus:
Matthew creates his nativity story, specifically Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, from Micah 5.2, which prophesies that a ‘ruler over Israel’ will be born there. This prophecy is imposed on Jesus who was not a ruler of Israel – though he may have aspired to be – and certainly was not the Messiah envisaged by the creators of such prophecies. I suggest that subsequently, Luke embroidered Matthew’s fairly basic story and contrived to get Jesus born in Bethlehem by inventing a Roman census that required his parents to travel there.
A Christian commenter (let’s call him Don) then challenged this scenario by claiming, without offering any evidence, that Luke did not have access to Matthew’s gospel, so must have known that Jesus was born in Bethlehem from an independent source. (Christians are fond of attributing suspect gospel material to oral traditions and the hypothetical Q. Don is no exception.)
In fact, a number of scholars, including Michael Goulder, Mark Goodacre, Richard Carrier and others, think that Luke did know Matthew’s gospel. This is the so-called Farrer hypothesis, named after Austin Farrer who first proposed the idea in 1955. As well as his plagiarising 55% of Mark, these scholars show that Luke also used material from Matthew, including the Bethlehem story. The structure of Luke’s version and some of his phrasing is identical to Matthew’s. It is unlikely this would be the case if Luke wasn’t lifting directly from Matthew’s account.
Luke goes further and replaces some of the details in Matthew’s story that don’t suit his purpose (e.g. the magi) with his own (the shepherds), which is why the two accounts diverge. Nonetheless, both versions of the story stem from the ‘prophecy’ in Micah 2.5. Luke doesn’t cite it explicitly but then he is non-specific elsewhere in his gospel about events that supposedly fulfil prophecy. Unlike Matthew, Luke was writing for a gentile audience who would not be as familiar with Jewish scripture; he didn’t need to be as explicit about the source for his stories that were based on these scriptures. Nonetheless, the two nativity accounts, Matthew’s and Luke’s, likely had the same basis (the Micah prophecy) with Luke adapting the narrative that Matthew had already created from it. Moreover, the differences in detail between Matthew and Luke’s accounts demonstrate clearly that both authors were inventing their respective stories. As Neil Godfrey puts it,
Luke, attempting to adapt Matthew’s Bethlehem as the place of birth of Jesus to his more universalist theme, feels obliged to concoct a silly story of everyone being required by imperial edict to return to their places of birth for a special tax registration. Not to mention the necessary anachronism of his Quirinius timing, too. It is not hard to see that Luke is struggling to incorporate Matthew’s Bethlehem setting into his own tendentious narrative.
It’s possible, of course, that all of the scholars who think Luke knew Mathew’s gospel are wrong, but even so, this doesn’t rescue Luke’s nativity from its fictional moorings.
First, it could be argued that both Matthew and Luke knew about Jesus’ birth from their respective sources. Our Christian commenter would say, and does say, that the details of Jesus’s birth were well known in the early, pre-gospel cult (he disputes that Jesus was in any way famous beyond this select few) and that these details were preserved in a reliable oral tradition or in Q. If the former was the case, however, the two nativity accounts would not differ to the extent they do, unless the oral traditions weren’t as reliable as our commenter likes to say they were. On the other hand, Q, if it existed at all, was comprised primarily of sayings and certainly did not include any Bethlehem narrative.
Second, Don will no doubt say that all of this is mere atheist grumbling and is therefore entirely fallacious. He believes that God inspired his anonymous agents to use prophecy, foreshadowing and typology to point the way to Jesus and his birth in Bethlehem. Don believes that both Matthew and Luke had independent knowledge of Jesus’ birth there, which means it must’ve been his birthplace. Of course it indicates nothing of the sort. If Matthew and Luke settled on Bethlehem independently, it would demonstrate only that they had independent knowledge of Micah 2.5.
Third, if the circumstances of Jesus birth in Bethlehem were so remarkable – miraculous, even – then why does Mark not mention them? According to Don (though no serious scholar shares his view) Mark’s gospel is comprised of the recollections of Peter, Jesus’ closest, dim-witted pal in the synoptic gospels. Did Jesus never mention his birth to Peter? Did Peter then fail to pass the details on to Mark? Did Jesus’ mother Mary, who treasured memories of the miraculous birth, never allude to them when she and Peter reminisced together over a glass of
water wine? (Yes, Don, I know this is in John’s gospel, but they are meant to be the same characters.) Why does the Bethlehem birth only emerge in Matthew, who built much of his gospel around ‘prophecies’ from scripture, and in Luke, who, in all likelihood, copied from him?
We can be fairly certain that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. Someone somewhere, other than these two, would have mentioned it outside of symbolic stories that owe far more to myth and legend than they do to fact.
The Nativity story tells us nothing about Jesus’ origins but plenty about the mindset of those who created it, decades after he lived.
They believed in angels. There are several visitations in the two versions of the story in Matthew and Luke: ‘Gabriel’ appears to Zechariah and strikes him dumb. Gabriel, again, manifests in front of Mary to tell her she hasn’t really been knocked up by a Roman soldier but that she’s going to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit. He then makes a lot of false promises too about how the boy will turn out. Later, a whole host of angels appear to some shepherds to tell them they’ll find a baby in a manger, news, that for some reason, they find amazing.
The creators of the gospels also believed that spirits were everywhere and that one of them was holy. Never mind that, according to John 14.16 & 16.7, the Holy Spirit doesn’t make its appearance until after Jesus’ ascension. In the nativity story, the Holy Spirit ‘speaks’ to Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna (how?) to tell them that Mary’s baby will be special.
The creators of the nativity myth also believed in dreams and visions. Joseph has a dream telling him to take his family to Egypt and the misnamed ‘wise men’ have a dream (just the one or did all of them have the same dream?) telling them not to go back to Herod. What a pity they didn’t ‘dream’ they shouldn’t call on him in the first place.
Angels, spirits and dreams are the context from which the gospel stories emerge: the gospel writers, and those who created their sources, believed implicitly that angels (and devils and demons) were real and that God communicated with them through dreams and visions. More than this, these same people accepted that the dead could return to life. According to the gospels, long-dead people could manifest themselves, and would appear and speak to the living (e.g: Matthew 17.1-3).
Incredibly, 1 in 3 people in the UK, a largely secular society, believes in angels. People with such a mentality were the ones who, 2000 years ago, claimed to have seen Jesus resurrected. Yet Christians insist they were stable, rational, reliable witnesses (never mind that the accounts of such appearances were written third, fourth, fifth hand, decades later.) Any such witnesses were neither stable nor reliable. They were the product of a pre-scientific culture that thought angels and devils populated the very air (Ephesians 6.12); that ancient celebrities could reappear in new bodies (Matthew 11.14; 14.1-2; 16.14); that without doubt that gods spoke to humans in dreams and that angels could and did appear bodily in front of favoured believers. People of such a culture, like Jesus himself, his early followers and the gospel writers, were fully primed, as a result, to have ‘supernatural’ encounters – or at least to interpret other experiences as such. They literally knew no better.
The stories that they wrote, with their supernatural beings and premonitionary dreams and visions – the Nativity, Jesus’ miracles and the Resurrection – are just that: stories, and the truth is not in them.
A happy Christmas to both my readers.
Just last Friday, a pastor saw the Risen Lord.
I wonder: how different is Pastor Stovell Weems’ sighting from those of the disciples and Paul? Would you say it was just as real? Less real? Completely inauthentic? How do we decide?
For me, his encounter is every bit as real as those experienced by the disciples. I defy anyone to demonstrate otherwise.
Of course, accounts of visions, hallucinations and dreams, however old or however new, are not evidence that the resurrection really happened. Paul happily admits that his experiences were in his head (Galatians 1.16). It is entirely reasonable to conclude that Pastor Weems’ encounter with an apparition-like Risen Lord is exactly the same as Paul’s, and identical to that experienced by Mary, Peter and John in the gospels. Like theirs it’s vague – “I could sense his personality”, “I didn’t see his face” – and dream-like.
There is a difference though: the nutty pastor recounts his hallucination first-hand. The disciples’ encounters were reported third, fourth, fifth… hand, decades down the line.
Mary: Well, the other Mary and me (Matthew 28.1) were first to go down to the cave where somebody said they’d put the body overnight.
Salome: I was there too, don’t forget (Mark 16.1).
Mary: Were you? I don’t remember that.
Salome: Bloody was, I’m telling you. So were a bunch of others (Luke 24.10).
Mary: Anyway, we get there and the entrance stone has been rolled away (Mark 16.4).
Peter: Wait a minute… I thought you said that happened after you got there. I thought you said there was an earthquake nobody else could feel and an angel came and rolled away the stone in front of your very eyes (Matt 28.2).
Mary: Did I? Oh yes, that’s right. That’s what happened. And the guards fainted out of sheer fright (Matt 28.4)
Thomas: They did? You didn’t mention any guards the first time you told this story (Mark 16.4).
Mary: Didn’t I? I must’ve forgotten. Oh well. And there was this strange young man sitting inside the tomb (Mark 16.5).
Salome: There were two young men and they were standing outside (Luke 24.4).
Mary: Really? I saw only one and he was definitely inside.
Peter: It wasn’t a young man, it was an angel (Mark 28.5).
Mary: Angel? Oh yes, I suppose you’re right. It must have been an angel. And he said the Master wasn’t there, that he’d risen or something (Matt 28.7).
John: That’s funny, I don’t remember anyone being there at this point. I certainly don’t remember anybody speaking to us (John 20.4-5).
Mary: That’s strange, because the young man in the tomb definitely spoke to me.
Salome: And the two men outside the tomb spoke to me.
Peter: And the angel… don’t forget the angel.
Thomas: So what happened then?
Mary: We were so frightened, we just ran away.
Thomas: You ran away? And then what?
Mary: Nothing. We said nothing to anybody (Mark 16.8).
Thomas: You said nothing to anybody. Then how did Peter find out? ‘Cos the next thing he was running hell for leather to the garden to see this empty cave for himself.
Peter: Oh, she must’ve told me. Yes, that was it, she said something to me and some of the others (Luke 24.10).
Mary: Erm, yes, that’s right. I told Peter and he went to see the empty tomb.
Peter. Ran all the way on my own, I did (Luke 24.12).
John: No, you didn’t. I went with you. In fact I overtook you and got there first (John 20.3-6).
Peter: Did you? I don’t remember that. Are you sure you haven’t just added yourself in here?
John: So anyway, we ran to the tomb…
Peter: And we see that the body has gone. I’m telling you, we couldn’t work out what had happened (John 20.9).
John: Though the most logical explanation seemed to be that he’d risen from the dead. I mean nothing else made sense (John 20.8).
Mary: It’s a shame you didn’t see the young man/men/angel. They’d have spelt it out for you like they did for us.
John: Don’t worry, we’ll bring them into the story later and we’ll have two angels for good measure. (John 20.12).
Mary: So while I was waiting there alone…
Thomas: Wait, you were there alone? I thought you said you ran away with the other women (Mark 16.8)?
Mary: Erm, yes, that’s right, I did. I must’ve gone back later just to hang about (John 20.11) and suddenly I see this, like, apparition. At first, I thought it was the gardener…
Thomas: You mean you didn’t know who it was?
Mary: No, I didn’t, which I agree was a bit odd, but then I realised it must be him, the Master, I mean. Who else could it have been?
Thomas: Well, if it was anyone at all, I’d have thought it more likely it was the gardener than a body back from the dead.
Mary: I suppose, but it just felt like the Master to me. I so wanted to see him again.
Thomas: Did he have holes in his hands and a wound in his side (John 20.27)? Surely that would’ve told you it was him.
Mary: Erm, I can’t recall now. But anyway, it was him.
Thomas: How’d you know?
Mary: ‘Cos he spoke to me. He said, ‘Keep your hands off me, woman, because I’ve not yet, erm… ascended’ (John 20.17, 20).
Thomas: What did that mean? If he was back like you said then how come you couldn’t touch him?
Mary: Well, I don’t know, you’d have to ask him.
Thomas: And how we gonna do that, him being dead and all?
Mary: He’s not dead, I tell you, and you’re all just jealous ‘cos I did better than all of you. I saw him in person and he talked to me!
Peter: All of you, just stop a minute and listen. Can you hear it?
Peter: Can you feel it?
Mary: Yes, I can. I can sense his presence (Luke 24.36-37).
John: He’s here with us. He’s back. Hallelujah!
Mary: It’s as if he’s standing right in front of us, talking to us.
John: Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. He’s here with us. I can feel him. He’s back from the dead, I’m sure of it (John 20.19).
Peter: Let’s tell people we’ve seen him. They’re bound to believe us. I mean, we don’t live in a superstitious first-century backwater for nothing.
Thomas: Jesus Christ! Next you’ll be trying to convince everyone that this cockamamy story is true.
The falsehood that the gospels are in some way eye-witness reports just won’t go away. There is no evidence they are or even that they are based on reports by eye-witnesses. Scholars speak of ‘sources’ for all elements of the gospels (Mark, Q, M & L); these were almost certainly pre-existing written and oral traditions from before the gospels’ creation.
This really is problematic for those propagating the idea that the gospels are eye-witness accounts. If they were even so much as based on eye-witness reports, then why would they need to rely so heavily on other traditions? If, as is claimed here, the scattered gospel communities who wrote them were in some sort of immediate contact with the fanned-out eye-witnesses, then they would have no need to use sources and traditions from elsewhere. Yet they do; Matthew and Luke borrow extensively from a shared source (Q) and also from Mark, particularly for their resurrection stories.
This is akin to someone today interviewing witnesses to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, – a similar interval to that between Jesus and the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John – and then, before publication, replacing what the eye-witnesses say they saw with the more far-fetched elements of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. If there were eye-witnesses to hand, there wouldn’t be any need to do this. It doesn’t make the slightest sense that the gospel writers would do so. Yet they do.
As far as the stories of the resurrection are concerned, it is much more likely they are based, not on any eye-witness accounts, but on the scant mentions of the mystical, risen Christ of the kind we find in Paul’s letters, filtered, primarily, through Mark. As such, they are a fleshing out (almost literally) of hearsay reports of a limited number of visions that, by the time the gospels came to be written, had embedded themselves in the traditions of the early church.