Making it all up

While the Old Testament is made up of myth and legend and the New created from the visions and dreams of a few disturbed individuals, we are expected to believe that the gospel accounts nevertheless shine out as beacons of truth.

We know, however, that much of what is contained in the four canonical gospels is fiction. I’m not referring here merely to how contradictory they are (though there is that), I’m talking about the parts that are clearly made up, invented for theological and literary purposes. These include:

The nativity stories: These are myth, created so that the Godman has an origin similar to those of other Godmen: There is no historical evidence for a wand’rin’ star, a census that involved the mass movement of populations or the Massacre of the Innocents.

The virgin birth: relies on a misreading of ‘young woman’ in Isaiah 7.14

The flight to Egypt: a misapplication of Hosea 11.1.

Genealogies: invented. Matthew’s and Luke’s are completely different and don’t, in any case, include sufficient generations to reach back to ‘the first man’.

The Magnificat: Written as a Greek poem. It is not an outpouring of a young peasant woman.

The temptation in the wilderness: Jesus did not have a conversation with the devil. He was not attended to by squadrons of angels; we know such beings do not exist. In any case, which eye-witness was present to record these fanciful encounters?

Angels: 12 appearances across the gospels. Demons and other evil spirits: at least 20 mentions. Myth, pure and simple.

The miracles: all of them make a theological point. This is their purpose. They are literary.

Jesus’s teaching: designed to encourage members of the cult, a cult that could only exist after the events the gospels purport to relay. Everything he’s made to say comes from different sects, Paul’s teaching, Old Testament wisdom literature and even pagan sources.

The sermon on the mount: created and written in sophisticated Greek, not delivered by a semi-literate itinerant preacher.

John’s self-obsessed Jesus: nothing like the character in the synoptic gospels. Either he’s made up or they are. Or both.

The Transfiguration: Elijah and Moses do not return from the dead to have a chat with Jesus. This is completely made up.

The Eucharist: first appears in Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 11.23-27. It is distinctly pagan but is accommodated in the gospels because Paul insisted he got it directly from his (imagined) Christ.

Judas’ betrayal: suggested by Zechariah 11.12-13 (which in context is not a prophecy).

The custom of freeing a prisoner (Barabbas): no such custom existed. The event is symbolic.

Resurrected corpses emerge from their graves: Matthew made this up. No-one else seems to know of it and Luke makes a point of cutting the episode out of his version of events.

The Crucifixion: based on Isaiah 53 and various Psalms.

The Resurrection: based on the visions of Cephas, Paul and others with added, invented detail, incompatible across the four accounts.

The Ascension: Jesus levitates into the stratosphere, in front of witnesses no less. Or perhaps not; Luke invented this impossibility.

There is much more in the gospels that is evidently and demonstrably made up. We can, as Christians do, believe it all really happened. We can insist that the stories are not based on other sources but that these sources are prophecies of real events that took place in history. From this perspective, Paul’s and others’ visions are then the result of these same events.

But which is more likely? –
The Old Testament is packed with prophecies about Jesus’ life and death, and that what Paul and others saw in their heads was because Jesus really existed and spoke to them once he’d returned to Heaven…

Or: The Jesus story is fictional, a patchwork of Old Testament snippets, mystical visions, invented symbolic events and pagan ideas of resurrecting Godmen.

And If the gospels are fiction – and they evidently are – then why not Jesus himself? If there was no real history to be written about him, just this mish-mash of other sources, that can only be because there was no Jesus who walked the Earth 2000 years ago.

Jesus is the same as his near contemporaries Osiris, Dionysus and Mithras. Like them, he is entirely mythological.

Good news? What good news?

Disciples

Here’s what we know so far:

  1. There is no evidence the disciples were martyred.

  2. There is no evidence the disciples were martyred simply for believing that someone they knew had returned from the dead. In the age in which they lived such a claim wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary. The gospel accounts themselves record instances of resurrections other than Jesus’ and of miraculous manifestations of the dead. This was how people thought.

  3. There is no evidence that believing a dead man was alive again was a capital offence. Really, who could possibly care? Even Paul did not suggest that, as Saul, he liked to persecute early believers because of this belief.

  4. The gospel preached by Jesus and his disciples was completely different from that promoted by Paul. Their good news was about the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, when the Romans would be overthrown and every injustice made right (Luke 13.30). And while they may not have made it public, Jesus and his friends believed they would be the judges and rulers of this new system.

  5. This ‘good news’ existed long before Jesus died and long before Paul came along to change its nature entirely (Matt 10.23).

  6. Matthew and Luke, while including resurrection stories inspired by ‘visions’ like Paul’s, preserve, as does Mark, Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching. His promise of the coming Kingdom and his private teaching that he and his disciples would rule the new age together remain a significant part of the synoptic gospels.

  7. Jesus was executed for his seditious views (Mark 15.2, 9 & 32; John 19.19-20)

  8. It is likely, if they were martyred at all, that the disciples were killed for the same reason.

There are further indications in the New Testament that the original ‘good news’ had nothing to do with a mystical salvation plan and that the disciples clung to this original message – they’d heard it from Jesus himself, after all – even as other interpretations began to supersede it. We’ll look at these indications next time.