The Eye-witness Fallacy

MaryM2

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.

Idiotic Stuff Jesus Said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love your enemies (Luke 6.27)

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About Sex

Green&Daley

Oh, go on let’s…

The average person has sex about 2,500 times in their lives and produces an average of 2 children. In other words, a mere 0.08% of the sex they have leads to procreation. This means that the remaining 99.92% is entirely recreational. People have sex together because it feels good or helps them be close to someone they love or because they enjoy it, or all three, plus a multitude of other reasons. Even if we were to increase tenfold the number of occasions when sex is intended to produce babies but doesn’t, that still leaves 99.2% of the time when sex is just sex.

So why is it, holy readers of this unholy blog, do you insist that sex is only for procreation (like you do here, here and here)? If that’s all it’s for, shouldn’t you produce more offspring every time you and your partner have sex? Yet you don’t. Even those extremists among you who have 8 or 12 children still have sex a hell of lot of times when it doesn’t result in another kid and isn’t meant to. Most of you use contraception to actively prevent procreation and have all the fun sex you want, whenever you want, without risking another pregnancy. Surely your God can’t possibly approve when he made sex exclusively for reproduction.

Catholics – you don’t get off the hook either; you have lot of sex that doesn’t lead to babies too (or you’d be clocking up kids by the dozen by now). How’d you manage that, I wonder? Same way everybody else does, I’d guess. And what about all the jerking off to porn that macho Christian men enjoy? That for procreative purposes too?

So, why is it you keep telling the rest of us that sex is only for procreation? Let me tell you – because it’s part of your anti-gay agenda. ‘Filthy gays,’ you’re saying, ‘having all that sex that can’t possibly lead to procreation, sex that’s just for fun, that might be with more partners than I’ll ever manage’ (though multiple partners and sex outside those ‘one man/one woman’ marriages you care so much about are pretty common among Christians – but you don’t want that mentioned either). While it may come as a surprise, most gay people are not infertile; they are quite capable of ‘procreating’; given the problems of overpopulation, shouldn’t you be grateful many don’t? Or maybe, like spiteful nutjob Stephen Green in his recent rant about Tom Daley, you like to make the bleedin’ obvious point that gay men need ‘a girl’ in order to reproduce… just like straight men do.

‘But,’ you say, ‘gay sex is between two men – maybe more – or two women (maybe more) and that’s so downright distasteful and disgusting. The Bible says so and I believe it.’ Of course, you’d believe it even if the Bible didn’t say so. So what if it does? Do you honestly think the rest of us care what a bunch of ancient tribesmen and other sex-obsessed fanatics thought?

For men and women who are gay, sex with each other is far from disgusting or distasteful. It’s every bit as exciting, loving and fulfilling as all the fun sex you have. Unless of course, yours isn’t.

Your ranting about recreational sex, gay or otherwise, is just so much hypocrisy. You like it yourself, or else you wouldn’t do it (and you do do it) yet you don’t want the rest of us doing it with the consenting adults we find attractive. Until you’re prepared to give up sex so Jesus will let you in his Magic Kingdom (like he says you should in Matthew 19.10-15 and Luke 20.34-35) then do us all a favour and shut the fuck up about all the great sex the rest of us are having.

 

 

Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

2. Maria and the Evil One

devil

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Who wrote the Bible?

According to Christians, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible; Genesis to Deuteronomy are widely known as ‘the books of Moses’. There is little evidence Moses had anything to do with them and plenty that he didn’t. The narrative, for example, is never once in the first person; it’s all ‘Moses ordered this slaughter, Moses ordered that slaughter’, never ‘I was the bastard who ordered all the genocide.’ Maybe he was embarrassed about it or – much more likely – it was written by someone else..

In fact, the books were compiled from a range of sources, including stories from other cultures. They reached the form in which we know them around 600-400BC, a mere eight hundred to a thousand years after Moses was supposed to have lived. The events and folk-heroes they describe are demonstrably mythical.

Moses2

Christians like to say that King David wrote many of the Psalms. While David’s name is attached to 73 of the 150, there is no reason to conclude he wrote them. It is more likely ‘of David’ serves as a dedication to a revered (and long dead) figure and may, indeed, have been added much later. The Psalms were actually created over an extended period of time – as much as five hundred years – by a wide range of unknown composers.DavidBelievers attribute much of the book of Proverbs to King Solomon, the fruit of David’s loins. Again, this is highly unlikely. The sayings are largely traditional and the attribution ‘is likely more concerned with labeling the material than ascribing authorship.’

Palin

Christians believe four blokes called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the New Testament’s gospels. They didn’t. The gospels were written anonymously and did not have the traditional names attached until a century or so after their composition. None is by an eye-witness. There is no evidence that the writer of Mark was a disciple of Peter’s, nor that ‘Luke’ was a companion of Paul’s (and even if he was, this wouldn’t make him an expert on the historical Jesus), nor that ‘John’ was a bona fide disciple. The fourth gospel was written between 90 and 110CE when the disciple would have had to be between 80 and 100 years old, or, much more likely given life-expectancy in the first century, dead. There are several hands at work in ‘John’, as the gospel itself concedes (John 21.24).

 Beatles

Christians insist that all of the letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament were written by him. However, despite the fact they say they’re by Paul, Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are not; they are forgeries. They were composed long after Paul’s death, which occurred some time around 64CE. The earliest of the forgeries, Colossians, is thought to be circa 75CE, while the ‘pastoral’ letters to Timothy and Titus may be as late as 150CE. All of the forgeries contradict the ideas expressed in Paul’s genuine letters.

PaulPeter wrote the letters that carry his name, or so god-botherers claim, but according to the Bible itself, Peter was an illiterate Galilean fisherman (Acts 4.13). The Greek of the letters supposedly by him is accomplished and the theology well developed. Did Peter have time to learn Greek and polish its written form to perfection while busy preaching the gospel to all nations? Even if he did, how did he manage to write a letter (2 Peter) concerned with conditions in the church more than a century after his time with Jesus?

Anderson3

Jesus’ brothers James and Jude, we’re told, wrote the letters carrying their names. Again, they didn’t. The letter of James may have originated in the early Jerusalem church presided over by James the Just, but there’s no evidence this was Jesus’ brother. Jude is plagiarised from 2 Peter – word-for-word in places – which is itself a forgery. Would someone who knew Jesus as intimately as a brother need to steal what he had to say from an illegitimate source? Jude would have had to be well over a hundred years old to pull this one off.

Robertson2When all else fails – and it does – Christians fall back on that most implausible of last resorts, ‘the Holy Spirit’. The very breath of God, they insist, presided over the creation of the Bible from start to finish. If it did, it made a staggeringly bad job of it; misattribution, mistakes and forgeries are the hallmarks of ‘God’s precious Word’.doveAnd on this unstable foundation, this tissue of lies, rests the entire edifice that is Christianity.

(It is difficult to find online sources on the authorship of the Bible. Christians have taken over the Internet with inummerable sites insisting the Bible was written by whoever they say it was. I’ve had to fall back on Wikipedia here (the articles are pretty comprehensive) but if you don’t think it reliable enough, I recommend Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God – why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.)

 

Sweet and sour, nasty and nice

or, whatever happened to Luke 18.11-14?

prayer2Why is it when people are emotionally blackmailed into becoming followers of Jesus, does their conversion make them sweet and sour, nasty and nice at the same time? The sweet and nice parts are what their new experience does for them. They get a new start of sorts, are introduced to like-minded friends in the church and become compelled to share their new joy with everyone else, whether they want to hear it or not, about how much they’ve changed because of Jesus. It’s nice for them. Deluded too, but if it makes them happy then why not?

This is why not. What they don’t tell you, not at first anyway, is how sour and nasty they have also become; how they must now defend God’s standards, because, as everyone knows, the omnipotent God of all creation is incapable of defending them himself. Being born again and morphing into ‘a new creation’ involves, without exception, becoming judgemental of others, condemnatory, inflammatory, bigoted and spiteful.

You think not? Then you haven’t heard what these same Christians think about abortion and women who have them. Homosexuality and those who are gay. Transgenderism and those born in the wrong body. Science and those who value evidence. Atheism and those of us who see through believers’ sad delusion.

Christians don’t, as some of them profess, hate the sin but love the sinner. They despise those who have philosophies different from them, those who live differently from them, those who are different from them.

A recent BBC poll asked if the world wouldn’t be more peaceful without religion. Here’s the results as of 14th July 2016:

Poll

I don’t know how many people this represents nor where they’re from – the site doesn’t say – but it would seem that most of us would think we would be better off without religion. It’s long past time we were able to be; religion has nothing to offer. It’s time we stopped giving it special treatment because some of it is sweet and nice. Its sour, nasty aspects are just as much a part of it, inseparable from whatever positives its adherents say it has. I’ll be looking soon at how we might push back against religion’s pervasive and poisonous influence in society.

Did Jesus Exist? (part two)

WaterIf Matthew, Mark and Luke were creating a Messiah from scratch, or, more probably, recording the invention of believers who went before them, then it is unlikely they would have arrived at the loser preserved in their accounts. The Jesus we find there is nothing like the Messiah anticipated in Jewish scripture nor by Jews at the time.

He is a false prophet, his good news about the imminent arrival of the Son of Man and the Kingdom of God being patently unfulfilled. His ministry is a failure, ending as it does in ignoble execution. This is not the Messiah anyone would create if they were inventing one to satisfy the longings of a thwarted people. In particular, God’s emissary would not lose control of the situation in the way the Jesus of the synoptic gospels does. He would not allow himself to be executed by the occupying forces in the manner the gospels record. (All the surviving sources attest to his death by crucifixion; we can be fairly certain he died in this way.)

A created Messiah, on the other hand, would surely have announced the arrival of the Son of Man/Kingdom of God before leaving the stage of his own volition – ascending to heaven perhaps as some of the gospel writers eventually have him do – to await the unfolding of the events he had proclaimed. Of course, the death of a godman is a recurrent theme in the mythologies of the ancient world, so it is possible that an unpleasant death would be invented for an imaginary Jesus so that he complied with the trope. But, as I’ve already suggested, the central figure of the synoptic gospels is noticeably ungodmanlike. We only see him as such through the distorting prism of Paul’s theology; without this, we can see that the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke really don’t portray him like this at all.

It seems much more likely, therefore, that what the synoptic writers are conveying are distorted memories of an individual who actually lived. A man who promised much but whose mission went drastically wrong but which would, his earliest followers believed, be completed by God himself in the near future. This latter part is, as we now know, pure invention, the gospels conveying only an imaginative interpretation of this man. It would seem, nonetheless, to be an interpretation of someone – a charismatic Jewish preacher and failed heir-presumptive – who had actually lived some years before.

As I said at the beginning of this two-part post, I don’t really care whether Jesus existed or not. The end result is the same; millions of people seduced by a significance he did not have, either as a real person or as an imaginary construct. On balance, for the reasons I’ve touched on in these posts, it seems to me Jesus – Yeshua bar Yosef – did once exist. Like we all must, he died and others set about interpreting his life in their various, incompatible ways. These interpetations are all ultimately meaningless; we can be absolutely certain that, whatever the Bible and Christians today tell us, Jesus, whether he lived two thousand years ago or not, does not exist now in any shape or ethereal form.