The original ‘good news’ had nothing to with any mystical salvation plan (part two)

Disciples2

Last time, I provided evidence that Jesus’ original ‘good news’ had nothing to do with any mystical salvation plan constructed around his supposed resurrection. My six references demonstrated that, even after his death, the disciples adhered to Jesus’ original message: God’s Kingdom was coming soon and they were going to rule over it. Here are six more reasons we can be sure this was the case:

7. Our earliest sources, Q and the gospel of Mark, do not give much credence to the resurrection as an actual event: Q records no sayings of the risen Jesus and Mark has no resurrection appearances; it ends with the women who discover the empty tomb deciding not to tell the disciples about it. In Mark’s gospel, then, the disciples are not even aware the tomb is empty, let alone that Jesus has returned from the dead. We can conclude from this that the community that produced Mark’s gospel, the supposed resurrection was not significant in and of itself.

8. Paul tells us that the disciple’s gospel was not the same as his, despite the fact he too believed the Kingdom wasn’t far off (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The disciples, he says in 2 Corinthians 11.4-5 and Galatians 1.6; 2.11-21, were preaching ‘a different gospel’. Different from his, certainly, but the same as the ‘good news’ Jesus proclaimed: Jewish people should prepare for the imminent arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth (Mathew 9.35; 15.24), when, as Jesus himself had promised them, the disciples would judge the restored tribes of Israel and rule over them. It is, as we have seen, out of the question that they would jettison this aspect of the ‘good news’, given to them by Jesus himself.

9. Because the disciples – and Jesus’ brother James – saw the new Kingdom as intended for Jews only, as Jesus had before them (Matthew 10.23), they insisted that any Gentile converts must be circumcised; must become Jewish (Galatians 2.7). Paul, of course, objected to this requirement and throws tantrums about it in his letters (Galatians 5.1-12; Philippians 3.3). But like Jesus, the disciples saw no place for Gentiles, the unrighteous, in the new age; those who didn’t convert would, of necessity, be dispatched to eternal punishment (Matthew 25.31-46).

10. As far as the disciples were concerned, therefore, it was entirely for their own good that converted Gentiles be circumcised (Galatians 6.12-13) as this was their only guarantee of a place in the new Kingdom. What this tells us is that a salvation formula, such as that dreamt up by Paul, had no part in the disciples’ ‘good news’.

11. Wherever they appear – in Paul’s writing, the gospels, Acts – the disciples are portrayed as being at odds with an incantational, faith-based Christianity. The Bible attests, even with Paul’s new religion superimposed, that they held to a different gospel, a different sense of what Jesus’ life meant and a different notion of their place in the coming Kingdom. And wouldn’t they be the ones to know? They knew Jesus, spent time with him, listened to his teaching, bought into his misguided mission and had sufficient understanding of it to spread his ‘good news’ to fellow Jews, both while he was still alive and afterwards (Matthew 10.23; Luke 9.1-2).

12. The New Testament is testimony to the failure of everything Jesus and the disciples stood for; their ‘news’ that God was soon to turn the Earth over to the meek and that they would then rule the only people who mattered, the twelve tribes of Israel, with everyone else thrown into outer darkness (Luke 13:28). Jesus himself, of course, would return at some point to be top dog, God’s representative on Earth – his anointed one. None of this happened.

If only it had been allowed to rest there, we might not know today of Jesus and his mad ideas. Instead, Paul stepped in, reinterpreted the whole ridiculous enterprise and bequeathed the world a set of different but equally absurd beliefs. And the rest is history: religious wars, pogroms, inquisitions, suppression, superstition, clerical child abuse, Pat Roberston. Is this the Kingdom that Jesus and his closest associates foresaw? Decidedly not. But it is their legacy.

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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.

There’s good news and there’s good news…

Bat-Jesus

Mark, Matthew and Luke all tells us that Jesus preached the gospel when he was alive (Mark 1.14-15; Matthew 4.23, 9.35 & 10.5-7; Luke 20.1). So what was this gospel? What was Jesus’ ‘good news’? He had yet to die so it couldn’t possibly have been ‘you can be saved through my death and resurrection’ because this magic formula had yet to be arrived at by those who came later. Nor could it have been ‘accept my substitutionary atonement whereby I take the punishment you deserve in order to restore your relationship with God,’ for much the same reason. Nor could it have been, ‘you must accept me as your personal your saviour if you want to gain everlasting life in Heaven,’ because he didn’t regard himself in this way and he didn’t, according to the synoptic gospels, offer an eternity in Heaven. No, Jesus’ good news could not have been any of these because they are all later developments, mumbo-jumbo invented about him by others, not things he said himself .

Actually we needn’t speculate on what the good news was that Jesus preached because the gospels tell us: God was going to intervene in history very soon, rescuing his people from Gentile rule and setting up his Kingdom, in which he, Jesus, would be judge and king (Matt 24.27-34 & 25.31; Luke 1.33; 21.25-28). People, he said, referring only to Jewish people, should prepare themselves for this coming Kingdom by mending their ways (Mattthew 10.5-6).

How soon would all this happen? In the lifetime of his hearers according to Mark 9.1, Matthew 16.28 and Luke 9.27, maybe even within a few weeks or months. When sending out the disciples to spread his good news he promised them, ‘you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes (to usher in the new Kingdom)’ (Matthew 10.23). We can only assume that the disciples are back by now – in fact they return a few verses later – yet the Son of man still hasn’t materialised among the clouds in full view of ‘the tribes’ of the Earth (Matthew 24.30).

As the Bible records, Jesus was wrong in every respect; God did not set up his new Kingdom within the lifetime of those Jesus spoke to; the Son of man did not appear; the Romans were not overthrown; Jesus was not appointed judge and king of the world. The sarcastic inscription on his cross, ‘King of the Jews’, was the closest he came to having his self-aggrandising prophecy realised.

Is this the Jesus that Christians worshipped subsequently and still worship today? It ought to be as he’s the one revealed in the first three gospels. But the Jesus believers carry around in their heads is not this man. The ‘Jesus’ worshipped by Christians is primarily a construct of Paul’s – his ‘Christ’ – and their own collective imaginations. The mythical ‘Christ’ that Paul ‘did not receive from any man’, has replaced and almost obliterated Yeshua and his mistaken beliefs about the coming Kingdom (though Paul held on to the idea that it was indeed imminent; see 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17).

Admittedly ‘the Christ’ has had a far better shelf-life than Yeshua could ever have had on his own; the continual resurrection of the idea in the minds of believers – and only there – has ensured the perpetuation of the myth. When all is said and done, however, the Christ is nothing more than an imaginative recreation of a failed zealot with an altogether different gospel.* Yeshua’s good news of the Kingdom died shortly after he did and like him has stayed dead, its echoes preserved by Mark, Matthew and Luke and ignored by Christians everywhere.

* I’m aware there is a body of thought that gives primacy to the mythical god-man, ‘the Christ’, with the Jesus stories being seen as a later ‘in-fill’ designed to provide him with a plausible back-story. I’m not convined of this for several reasons, which I’ll explore at a later date.

Now make up a story about it

Bible4

So there we have it. The accounts of Jesus’ resurrection all derive from imagined sightings of him post-mortem. Call them hallucinations, visions or revelations, none of them were encounters with a real, revived physical being.

Except that’s not quite it, because it’s worse than that, Jim.

Most of our accounts of the resurrection appearances are fifty years or more too late. Paul’s is the only first hand account we have and even that is sketchy and recounted several years after it happened. For at least three of those years, Paul meditated on his seizure and interpreted it as a revelation from the Lord. Undoubtedly, others had similar experiences; the stories of the resurrected Christ came from somewhere and the resurrection seems to have been central to Christian faith from its earliest days. Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8 those he says have encountered the risen Christ:

He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Paul implies here that his own experience is the same as that of the others on his list; they too, then, had visions of the risen Christ within their imaginations. Significantly, Paul omits Mary Magdalene, the first to ‘see’ the post-mortem Jesus according to the later gospels, while some of the other encounters Paul claims to know about do not find their way into those accounts. Of those that do, we can be confident the details are wrong. They were most certainly not as they are described in the stories that eventually came to be written.

The earliest copies of Mark’s gospel famously have no resurrection appearances. The women discover the empty tomb, which Matthew and Luke later lift into their gospels, and, bizarrely, decide not to tell the disciples about it. By the time we get to last canonical gospel, written some thirty years down the line, its author embellishes Luke’s attempts to suggest that the risen Jesus has some physicality; he allows his old friends, especially Thomas, to poke around in his wounds and he eats fish. Nonetheless, as in the earlier gospels, the disciples all have trouble recognising him, even on a third occasion, and are afraid to ask him who he is (John 21.12). Did his followers simply experience, as John 14.15-20 and Matthew 18.20 seem to suggest, an intense sense of Jesus’ presence? This would make the reports of actual sightings evidence of later believers’ need for something more substantial than flashing lights and fuzzy feelings. Which is how, over time, surrounding detail came to be added.

In their specifics, the resurrection appearances in the gospels and Acts are stories that accrued around the visions and inner traumas experienced by Jesus’ friends and other zealots. As such they are fiction; the angels at the tomb – probably the empty tomb itself – the encounter on the road to Emmaus, the fish breakfast and the rest. Bart D. Ehrman demonstrates convincingly in Jesus Before The Gospels, that the oral tradition was not capable of transmitting the details of Jesus’ life and ministry accurately over a 40 year period (when Mark’s gospel was written). The same is true, perhaps moreso, of individuals’ idiosyncratic inner experiences. Over 50+ years, after which Matthew and Luke’s gospels were composed, reports of these visions would have been altered innumerable times by those relating them, ever onwards and outwards; details would inevitably have been changed, added, removed and invented in a protracted game of Chinese whispers. In all probability the gospel writers themselves introduced their own embellishments.

So then, from a small number of visions/hallucinations/feelings, via significantly altered accounts of these same subjective experiences, together with others that are pure invention, to the eventual recording of such stories 50 to 80 years later, this is the evolution of the fantasy that is the risen Christ.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 21: Jesus Keeps His Promises

Promises

Jesus keeps his promises? Let’s see…

‘I’ll be back while my disciples are still alive’.

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels… I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom. (Matthew 16:27-28)

Oops. He got that wrong. Two thousand years later and his followers are still waiting. Despite what today’s believers claim, he didn’t say he’d reappear over two thousand years into his future. Safe to assume he’s not going to make it at this late date

‘Anything you ask for will be yours… whatever you ask.’

Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. (John 16.23)

Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11.24; also Matthew 21.21-22)

Christians hedge round this one by saying God answers prayers in his own time and in his own way. His answer might be ‘no, you can’t have that’. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says ‘Whatever you ask… anything… will be yours.’ What is this if not a false promise?

‘My followers will do even greater miracles than I have.’

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John 14.12-14)

Believers regularly walk on water, turn water into wine, and – slightly less frivolously – raise the dead. Except… no they don’t. It doesn’t happen. They should be doing even more startling things than this too – Jesus promises ‘greater works’ than his – but again, two thousand years on and they haven’t even mastered basic mountain throwing. What a let down. What hokum.

‘You’ll be able to do the impossible.’ 

These signs will accompany those who believe:…. they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16.17)

Which is why, I guess, we have no need of hospitals, because Christians can heal everyone; why members of those fanatical snake-handling churches in America, who take Jesus at his word… erm… regularly die from snake bites. And not even these true believers are crazy enough to drink poison. There’s a limit to how much faith even gullible Christians have in Jesus’ empty words.

‘Don’t bother working or earning a living. God will provide.’

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6.25-7.1)

Yeah, right. His followers recognise how useless this one is too; they do strive to make a living and provide for their families. None of them wait for God to provide because they’d be dead before he got round to it.

‘God will look after your hair (because you’re worth it).’

But even the hairs of your head are all counted… You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 12.7 &  21.12-19)

Oh, come on. Now he’s just being silly.

And that’s only a few of them… Jesus’ promises. All as worthless as the proverbial chocolate fire-guard. Christians, of course, know this well. They neither trust in his promises nor demonstrate them in their lives. As it is, how they live is indistinguishable from everyone else; completely devoid of miracles and lacking in any supernatural provision. They tell themselves (and us) that Jesus is special but then disregard most of what he said – and who can blame them from that? Anyone else who made the sort of ludicrous promises Jesus did would be dismissed as a fool and a charlatan. It’s way past time we recognised Jesus as just that.