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™.
In the new Disney+ weekly series, Ms Marvel has been cast as an Asian Muslim who is possibly gay. My god! What is the world coming to? A comic book character (yes, comic book character. Not the president or the head of the church. A comic book character) is Asian, Muslim and perhaps gay. So what?
According to a group of infantile Christians, it’s a very, very big deal. They’ve created a private Facebook page (or rather changed an existing one) so they can tantrum about Disney’s ‘woke’ agenda. I don’t know if they’ve watched the show, though it seems unlikely. Ms Marvel is pitched at a younger audience than, say, WandaVision or Moonknight. It is light and breezy, touching on the very racism these Christians typify.
But let me address some of their objections:
The show, they say, represents ‘the biggest slap in the face for conservative Christians to date.’ An unfortunate metaphor when their Lord and Savior™ tells them exactly what to do when ‘slapped in the face’. According to Matthew 5.39 they should start a whiny Facebook page to protest against the perceived sleight. Oh wait, no, that’s not it. They should, he said, ‘turn the other cheek’ for a second slapping. Wouldn’t it be a marvel (pun intended) if once in a while Christians did what Jesus commanded them to do?
There’s more: Disney is ‘pushing’ to make ‘Kamala Khan the face of the franchise over Carol Danvers.’ (the original comic book Ms Marvel.) Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel have a complicated history. In the comic books, Carol Danvers became a non superpowered Captain Marvel back in 1968. Monica Rameau, a black American, took over in 1978, and in 2013, long before the onset of wokeism, Kamala Khan, the Ms Marvel of the Disney+ series, made her debut. Carol Danvers, now with powers, appeared in her own movie in 2019. She’ll return, with Kamala Khan, next year. I feel sure God, America and Christian ‘culture’ will cope with this onslaught of merry Marvel mayhem. These Christians’ objections to Kamala Khan betray only their own bigotry.
They whinge that there’ll be ‘no more straight Christian characters from Marvel,’ failing to realise there never have been any ‘Christian’ characters. Marvel comics has never been about peddling Christianity, thank Christ. As for ‘no more’ straight characters, they must mean apart from all the major figures in the MCU and most of the minor ones too. 98% of Marvel (and DC) characters are straight. Or as straight as cartoon characters can be.
What really irritates me about this though, is Christian priorities. This is what the Holy Spirit is prompting God’s holy ones to campaign about? This is what’s important? Again, according to their supposed Savior. He seemed to think that what was important was boring stuff like feeding the hungry, helping the homeless and loving enemies. Not wasting time moaning about a film company choosing characters and casting actors that privileged Christians don’t like because they’re different from them.
Jesus wouldn’t recognise this sort of embarrassing expression of faith. Lucky for today’s low-calibre Christians then that he doesn’t exist.
In earlier posts we saw how the authors of Mark and Matthew’s gospels rooted around in the scriptures for anything that might be passed off as a prophecy. They then turned what they found into stories about Jesus.
What though about passages in scripture that actually declare themselves to be prophecy? How do these fair in the fulfilment stakes? As you might guess, not well. There are many failed prophecies in both Testaments; here I’ll take a select few, just to give you a flavour of how hopeless they are:
In Exodus 23:27, YHWH declares that all of Israel’s enemies will run from them:
I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run.
Oops! The scriptures themselves are replete with examples of the Israelites’ defeat at the hands of their enemies.
In Ezekiel 29:8-12, the Lord proclaims his intentions towards the hated Egyptians:
The Nile is mine; I made it, therefore I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt a ruin and a desolate waste from Migdol to Aswan, as far as the border of Cush. The foot of neither man nor beast will pass through it; no one will live there for forty years. I will make the land of Egypt desolate among devastated lands, and her cities will lie desolate forty years among ruined cities. And I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries.
None of this ever happened.
Isaiah has it in for Egypt too. In 19:1-8 the Lord promises:
The waters of the river will dry up, and the riverbed will be parched and dry. The canals will stink; the streams of Egypt will dwindle and dry up. The reeds and rushes will wither, also the plants along the Nile, at the mouth of the river. Every sown field along the Nile will become parched, will blow away and be no more. The fishermen will groan and lament, all who cast hooks into the Nile; those who throw nets on the water will pine away.
The Nile has never dried up.
In 2 Samuel 7:13-16, the Lord promises that the descendants of David will rule forever:
(David) is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
The Davidic line ended with King Zedekiah in about 586BC. Much is made in the New Testament of Jesus’ descent from David on his father’s side (while also insisting he didn’t have a human father!) and this prophecy is altered in Acts 2:29-31 to make it fit Jesus’ supposed kingship. This is neither what it says nor means in its original context.
The deranged Zephaniah, writing in the 7th century BC, prophesies that the end of the world is imminent:
The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath – a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness – a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers.
Another failure, unless you’re prepared to consider 2600+ years and counting as being ‘near and coming quickly’.
The earliest prediction we have of the Christ’s appearance on Earth is from Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 1-8. You’ll note how he says how everything he describes will happen soon to the people he is writing to:
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober… For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.
Notch that up as another non-event.
How about the prediction in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, thought to have been written circa AD50, that the Christ will not appear from heaven until ‘the man of lawlessness’ takes up residence in the Temple?
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us – whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter – asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD70 before the man of lawlessness could make his appearance. Unsurprisingly, not a single prophet foresaw the catastrophe. (No, not even Jesus. It is generally agreed that Mark’s gospel was written around AD70 and that Jesus’ ‘prophecy’ about the temple’s destruction was composed after it had happened.)
And then, finally, prophecies about the end times, whether from the scriptures or from Paul, are inserted into the synoptic gospels so, miraculously, they become the words of Jesus:
‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ (a quote from Isaiah 13:10; 34:4.) At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mark 13.34).
And thus, Jesus is likewise made into a false prophet.
Then again, what other sort is there? Prophets are zealots who believe they’ve been granted special access to the Lord’s plans. There are still fantasists today who believe the Lord speaks to them with portents of future disaster. It would be generous to say that all of them – those in the Bible and their modern descendants – are wrong far more often than they are right. In fact, they are always wrong; it is impossible to know the future. Meanwhile, so-called interpreters of prophecy, like Matthew, Mark, Luke and their equivalents today, alter ‘prophecy’ and unrelated statements to suit their needs, shaping their stories to create the illusion they have been miraculously ‘fulfilled’.
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.
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.
Recycled picture, new post
Whenever the Jesus story comes face to face with reality, it fails. The nativity stories, which only Matthew and Luke think to invent include, are a case in point.
- Luke tells us the Emperor Augustus decreed there should be a census in what we now know as 4BC. He didn’t. The closest Roman census was in AD6, ten years later and it didn’t entail hordes of people trailing back to their ancestral village.
- Matthew claims that Herod was so enraged about the birth of the ‘royal’ baby that he killed all little boys under two years old. Except he didn’t. This never happened.
- According to the same story, a host of supernatural beings appeared announcing that a young woman who’d never had sex with a man had given birth, while a wandering star shone directly over her house.
Where in reality do these kinds of things happen? That’s right: in myths and stories. They are typical literary tropes found in fantasy fiction. The ‘miraculous’ events of the nativity are of this genre.
- Christians who delude themselves into thinking theirs is an intellectual faith concede the nativity is mythical, its events symbolic. They’re not usually so hot on what they’re symbolic of but say the story conveys truth. Still, they insist, the rest of the Jesus story is true. Evangelicals go even further and say it’s literally true. So, Jesus walking on water really happened (or if your faith is, oxymoronically, intellectual faith, it didn’t.) After all, the illusionist Dynamo walked across the Thames a few years ago (see it here), and if he could walk on water then how much more capable of doing that was the Son of God. Except the modern illusionist‘s feat was – yes, you guessed it – an illusion. So even if Jesus did the same thing, his trick was also an illusion. Those who say the story is included in Mark and Matthew because it’s actually only a parable about faith (or something) are conceding, again, that it didn’t actually happen.
- Likewise when Jesus turns water into wine, calms the storm, raises the dead, chats with apparitions of long dead Jewish folk-heroes and does every other ‘miracle’ he’s credited with. If they’re only symbolic then, by definition, they didn’t happen. Nor did they happen, if, as Evangelicals believe, they’re being passed off as real events. ‘Miracles’ do not happen in reality. Never have, never will. They happen only in stories.
Well, okay, more enlightened Christians might say, but nonetheless Jesus conveyed to the world what God wanted us to know. He was wise and compassionate and told us how our sins could be forgiven. Except his wisdom comes directly from Jewish scriptures; he had nothing new to say. He was no more compassionate than anyone else and could in fact be an absolute s**t. He was inconsistent across the gospels about how sins were forgiven and much of his teaching in the original Gospel (Mark’s) is lifted from Paul or reflects the beliefs of the early Christ cult. Jesus the holy man is a construct – or rather a series of constructs, a literary device, not a real man.
So, okay; the nativity didn’t happen as depicted. The astounding feats attributed to Jesus didn’t happen and Jesus is whoever the various gospel writers and Paul want to make him. Nothing we’ve seen so far is factually, historically or really (as in reality) true.
But, the crucifixion and resurrection are! Oh yes. The rest is made up, but these two events most certainly are not.
- Even though Jesus’ trial is historically inaccurate and is, as a consequence, highly implausible.
- Even though there was no-one to record Jesus’s snappy repartee (or silence depending on which gospel you read) with Pilate or Herod.
- Even though there was no such Roman custom as releasing a prisoner on the Passover.
- Even though the synoptics have Jesus crucified on Friday while John says it was a Thursday.
- Even though characters like Barabbas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdelene and the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ are evidently and entirely fictional.
- Even though there was no eclipse of the sun that lasted for hours.
- Even though there was no earthquake that shook zombies loose from their graves before Jesus had a chance to rise and shine himself.
Such things are not historical. They’re not even feasible. They did not happen in reality. Well, if not the crucifixion per se, Christians say, then definitely the resurrection: that most unlikely of all unlikely events. That really happened.
- Even though the reports of it are completely at odds with one another.
- Even though angels are involved once again.
- Even though Jesus behaves entirely like a ghost, walking through closed doors, altering his appearance and vanishing at will.
- Even though he levitates into the clouds.
- Even though some of the disciples find it impossible to believe he’s back.
- Even though dead people rise only in stories, myths, legends and fantasies.
- Even though, in reality, dead people do not come back to life after three days, which is why Jesus didn’t either.
Still, I’m sure I’ll be told when I go to a carol service with my friends in a few days, that the story of Jesus’ birth, emotionally powerful as it is, is true from start to finish. Why? Because people’s capacity for believing fantasy stories knows no bounds.
On his Escaping Christian Fundamentalism blog recently, Gary Matson looked at this verse in which the remaining disciples supposedly encounter the risen Jesus. Gary discussed why they should have doubted what they are reported as witnessing, concluding that what they were actually ‘seeing’ was a ghost. A commenter called Rachel, who has also commented here, objected, arguing that the verse didn’t mean what it actually says. I responded with the following:
Well, let’s not, Rachel, accept what the text actually says. Let’s impose our own meaning that fits with what we want to believe. Then we can insist that none of the 11 doubted, even though the text clearly states they did. Let’s supplement that particular sleight of hand with the unproven myth that all the disciples except one subsequently died for their faith (even though there’s no evidence they did and even though we know nothing about the actual beliefs of the few who may have been martyred and even though zealots today are prepared to die for their beliefs despite never having seen the risen Jesus) and, hey presto, Gary’s hypothesis is disproved.
Except, of course, it isn’t. The resurrection accounts were written 40 years or more after the supposed event by people who weren’t there; and yet still they preserve the inconvenient fact that some of the disciples remained unconvinced by the visions and apparitions others of their number thought they’d experienced.
Rachel came back with this (my responses are in red with additional comments in blue).
Neil, you write the following as if you know for a fact (100%) that “there’s no evidence” — “(even though there’s no evidence they did and even though we know nothing about the actual beliefs of the few who may have been martyred and even though zealots today are prepared to die for their beliefs despite never having seen the risen Jesus)”
If I understand Rachel here, she isn’t happy I can’t prove a negative. However, if there’s no evidence, there’s no evidence. This in itself is a fact.
Neil, none of the 11 apostles/disciples of Jesus lied and died and convinced their families and loved ones to die for a fictional character. Unlike you and Gary, they literally saw the resurrected Jesus (that was enough evidence for them) and they spread the gospel (the good news of the Promised Messiah and that in Him the Old Testament pointed)
You’re right, Rachel, we have no evidence that any of them did any of this. This was the point I was making: there is no historical evidence whatsoever that indicates 10 of the 11 died for their belief in the resurrection. With the exception of James we simply don’t know how, when or why they died. I’m sorry you were unable to grasp this point.
Neither is there evidence ‘they literally saw the resurrected Jesus’. In fact, the only evidence there is, in the gospels, is sketchy, inconsistent and strongly suggestive of visions and apparitions, as Gary suggests. The only eye-witness report we have of the resurrected Jesus, that of Paul, is precisely of this nature, with Paul claiming the other sightings of Jesus were the same as his.
You say that “zealots today are prepared to die for their beliefs despite never having seen the risen Jesus.” Care to give me examples of Christian Zealots today “prepared to die for the risen Jesus” sight unseen?
Are you really questioning whether zealots today are prepared to die for a character they’ve never actually seen? A simple Google search brings up numerous Christian sites, either celebrating or lamenting this very fact. Here’s one to start you off: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/11-christians-killed-every-day-for-their-decision-to-follow-jesus/
And like Gary, there you go saying: “we know nothing!” Okay, I will agree with you and Gary, both of you have convinced me totally -— you guys know nothing! You will no longer get any argument from me! You guys know nothing! I am now fully convinced by your: “We (Gary and Neil) don’t know” true statement.
While I didn’t point it out to her, Rachel here assumes that acknowledging ‘there is no evidence for..’ means the same as ‘we know nothing’. A very basic and disingenuous error.
Ironic isn’t it, Neil, you do not believe the New Testament accounts as historical events, and yet you like Gary proceed to prove your case by using “fictional” accounts! Go figure!
Gary and I look at the texts as they are and draw our conclusions accordingly. We, like many others outside the evangelical bubble, acknowledge that the gospels are literary creations and as such are historically unreliable. The evidence they present for an actual, physical resurrection is weak, inconclusive and distorted beyond recognition by an agenda intended to promote belief – as they themselves admit.
You, on the other hand, argue entirely from a position of faith, which prevents you from seeing what is actually there, making you dismissive of external evidence and compelling you to supplement your arguments with assumptions (for example, that most of the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection.) It also prompts you to add unnecessary ad hominem insults. I’m sure Gary is as glad as I am that you’re slinking away in defeat.
Some of the disciples doubted that what they were seeing – apparition? bright light? hallucination? – was really Jesus returned from the dead. It may be the case that this detail was included by the creator of Matthew’s gospel, 50 years after the event it describes, to disparage the favoured disciples of other early Christian communities. The disciples they looked to weren’t as good as those of Matthew’s cultists because they doubted. Who knows. Whatever the reason for including it, the verse is awkward and embarrassing for believers today. How to explain it (away)? Even some of those who ‘saw’ the risen Jesus weren’t convinced it was him. They were right. It wasn’t.
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.