Is Jesus the Saviour, the Messiah and the Son of God?

Is Jesus the Saviour, the Messiah, and the Son of God?

No, no and no.

We know he’s not the Saviour because he hasn’t saved anyone. Every single person who has believed in him over the last 2,000 years has died and stayed dead. He hasn’t resurrected a single one of them and hasn’t ushered anyone into the heavenly mansion he (supposedly) said he was preparing for his Elect. Neither has he saved them from the trials of this life: illness, pain or suffering. His followers are no more saved from these than the rest of us.

Of course, Christians claim that what he saves people from is ‘sin’. But sin is an empty and peculiarly religious concept signifying the separation of ‘man’ from God. If there’s no God to be separated from there can be no sin. If, however, we’re talking about morals – ‘sinning’ – then it’s evident that believers are no more or less moral than anyone else. Jesus, it turns out, doesn’t save anyone from their own bad behaviour.

He’s not the Messiah (I’m resisting the temptation to add the Monty Python completion of that sentence) which is why most Jews do not believe in him. He doesn’t demonstrate any of the characteristics of the Messiah prophesied in Jewish scripture. He didn’t overturn the oppression his people endured under Roman rule and he hasn’t been there for the Jewish people in all their subsequent suffering. He certainly didn’t rescue them from the Holocaust. Only by redefining what is meant by ‘Messiah’, as early Christians did when they made the term synonymous with ‘saviour’, could Jesus even be considered a contender. In reality, he is an utter failure as a Messiah.

He’s not the Son of God. Even in the synoptic gospels he doesn’t claim to be; he’s cagey whenever the subject arises. It’s as if his early followers couldn’t make up their minds about how divine he actually was. Later Christians were more emphatic, claiming that the resurrection demonstrated Jesus’ divinity. Paul, however, doesn’t think so, saying only that Jesus’ return from the dead elevated him to a favoured position in God’s hierarchy (Philippians 2:9). Even this is going too far when the evidence of Jesus’ physical resurrection is so poor; the gospel stories do not  qualify him for Sonship. Nor do his failed promises and prophecies; if he were the Son of God, he’d have known the appearance of Son of Man (he himself?), the last judgement, the Kingdom of God on Earth, the inversion of the social order and the meek inheriting the Earth would not happen when he said they would. Or indeed at all. He was ignorant about so much! What sort of Son of God was he, to get so much so wrong?

In fact, we can be certain Jesus was no more the Son of God than Alexander the Great was Son of Ammon-Zeus or Augustus the ‘Son of the Most Divine’. How? Because like Ammon-Zeus and ‘the Most Divine’, the likelihood YHWH exists is ridiculously low; so low it’s reasonable to conclude he doesn’t. And no God = no Son of God.

To be continued.

How The Trick Was Done

Mark 15 tells the story of the trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Here’s how it was constructed from parts of the Old Testament:

Isaiah 53:7 is rewritten in Mark 15: 60-62 as the trial before Pilate

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

So Pilate questioned him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” You have said so,” Jesus replied. And the chief priests began to accuse him of many things. Then Pilate questioned him again, “Have you no answer? Look how many charges they are bringing against you!” But to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus made no further reply.

(Oops! Looks like we are expected to overlook the fact that Jesus does speak! Mark obviously had trouble shoe-horning this one in!)

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Isaiah 53.5 becomes Mark 15:15:

He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.

Pilate had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.

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Isaiah 50:6 and 53:16-20 are rewritten as Mark 15:16-20:

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.

Then the soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called the whole company together. They dressed him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and set it on his head. And they began to salute Him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” They kept striking his head with a staff and spitting on him. And they knelt down and bowed before him. After they had mocked him, they removed the purple robe and put his own clothes back on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him.

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Psalm 22:18 becomes Mark 15:24

They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

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Isaiah 53:12 is used for Mark 15:27:

He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.

Along with Jesus, they crucified two robbers, one on His right and one on His left.

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Psalm 22:7-8 becomes, verbatim in places, Mark 15:29:

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults shaking their heads: He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

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Psalm 22:1 ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?is lifted straight into Mark 15:34.

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Isaiah 53:5 becomes the underpinning of the whole of this chapter and Mark 15:6-15 in particular: the story of Barabbas.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him  punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his stripes/wounds we are healed.

The verses are not alluded to directly, but Jesus is made to stand in for Barabbas (literally, ‘son of the father’) who has deservedly been sentenced to death, or so Mark would have us believe. The story is patently invented to make this point. No such tradition existed and Pilate would never have been so placatory. The other made up story in Mark 15, the tearing of the temple veil, symbolises that the old way of accessing God, though the temple system, had now been superseded by… who else? Jesus. Ironic really when Mark plunders that old system’s scriptures for his purposes.

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Isaiah 53:9 is written up as Mark 15.43-46

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body... Pilate gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.

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Mark 15: all of it constructed from the OT or just plain made up. You could, like gullible Christians, insist that Mark didn’t invent his story using fragments of scripture. You could say instead that these fragments were really prophecies of incidents that were to happen in the life of an itinerant preacher many years in the future. You could argue that the probably non-existent creator of the universe was all the time controlling events, dropping into ancient scriptures veiled references to tenuously connected incidents centuries later. But then you’d have to concede that not one of them is precise enough to name Jesus or indicate he’d die by crucifixion or would return from the dead after a day and a half.

Which seems to you more likely? That imprecise ‘prophecies’, which really weren’t prophecies in the first place, came true in Jesus’ life; or that Mark lifted scriptures which suited his purpose and crafted his Jesus story around them?

For me, it’s always a case of ‘seek ye first the human contrivance’, by far the most plausible and persuasive explanation of scenarios such as this.



 

If The Resurrection Had Really Happened

Somehow this repost unposted itself after the first few comments. I’m reinstating it and will post something new soon

Don thinks I ‘exaggerate’ when I bring up what the New Testament says are supposed to be the direct consequences of the resurrection. As he seems to have no knowledge of the things Paul and orhers promised would follow, I offered to provide him with chapter and verse. The easiest way to do that is to republish this post, slightly amended, from 2018. (Alternatively, there’s this rather more flippant take on the subject.)

I’m willing to bet Don now tells me I don’t know how to interpret prophecy like an ancient Jew would, that the promises are really metaphors and despite being written for members of the nascent cult they’re really meant for people thousands of years in the future. 

The Christian faith rests entirely on the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.17 & 19:

 …If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Of course neither Jesus nor Paul’s invention, the Christ, were raised from the dead; those encounters with him, described in the gospels are, like Paul’s, visions and sensations of his presence (later ‘the Holy Spirit’) embroidered in the 40 or more years between when they occurred and when they were recorded.

Let’s though, suppose that Jesus really did rise from the dead and work backwards from there. What difference did it make? More specifically, what does the bible say were the results and consequences of Jesus being raised?

The Coming of the Kingdom

According to the New Testament (Matthew 25.34; Romans 15.12; Revelation 20.4-6), the resurrection was a clear sign that the Final Judgement and Yahweh’s Kingdom was finally arriving on Earth. Jesus is made to predict it:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16.27–28).

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24.34)

Was God’s wonderful reign established here on Earth back in the first century? Was there a final judgement then? Were all wrongs righted, the social order inverted, and war and suffering abolished (Mark 10.31; Matt 5.2-11; Rev 21.4)? New Testament writers believed that following the resurrection, all of this would be happening –

in reality, none of it happened; not then and not since.

The Resurrection of the Dead

Did Jesus’ resurrection result in even more people rising from the dead? Paul said it would; he said Jesus was the ‘first fruits’, meaning the first of many, with others following him in being raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.20-21). Has any ordinary person – anybody at all – ever returned from the dead, long after they passed away? Not one; never mind the hundreds or thousands Paul and other early cultists had in mind. No Pope, no shining example of Christian piety, no activist or worker in the Lord’s vineyard has ever been resurrected during Christianity’s entire history. The dead have always remained stubbornly dead.

So no, this didn’t happen either.

New Creatures

Did the resurrection result in those who believed becoming ‘new creatures’? Paul said it would (2 Corinthians 5.17). He also said members of the new cult would be loving, forgiving and non-judgemental (1 Cor 5.12 & 13.14). There’s no evidence, from his letters, that they were, nor is there evidence from the long and often cruel history of the church. Christians today don’t always radiate loving-kindness either. Those who are caring and gentle before they become Christians remain so; those who are self-gratifying, vindictive or exploitative find a new context in which to be so. As I’ve said before, religion is like excess alcohol; it exaggerates the essential characteristics of a person, for good or for bad.

What it doesn’t do is make shiny ‘new creatures’.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this? Perhaps that nothing went to plan in post-resurrection Christianity. The promised results all failed to materialise. If the effects of the resurrection were and are not what they should have been, what does this say about their supposed cause?

If a storm is forecast and yet, when the time comes, there is no rain, wind or damage, wouldn’t we say that there was no storm?

If a woman said she was pregnant but during the ensuing nine months there was no physical evidence of pregnancy and ultimately no baby, wouldn’t we say she wasn’t pregnant at all?

If God’s Kingdom on Earth, brand new creatures, the resurrection of ordinary believers and the final judgement failed to materialise, wouldn’t we say there can have been no resurrection? The supposed causal event of all these non-effects really can’t have happened. Jesus died and like all dead people stayed dead. The visions, dreams and imaginings of his early followers gave rise to a cult in his name, one that, ultimately failed on all levels to deliver what it promised.

There was no resurrection.

More on Prophecy

Commenter Koseighty wrote this response to Don Camp following Don’s assertion that we’re living in the End Times. Koseighty explains perfectly how Biblical prophecy is constructed and how inevitably it can only fail.

Don said:
I base my conclusion (never absolute) on the fact that all the markers of the end of the age are converging in these days.

Koseighty: This is what every generation of Christian has said since, and including, Jesus himself. But, besides being nauseatingly clichéd, it shows you don’t understand Jewish apocalyptic literature.

Here’s how Jewish apocalyptic literature works. It’s written in two parts. In the first part the author elaborates all the woes afflicting the people, most often in highly symbolic language. In the second part, the author tells how God is going to set things right, again most often in highly symbolic language.

The first part, the woes part, is not in any way prophetic. The woes and abominations it describes is how the author see his world at the time of writing. The second part, while prophetic, is imminent. It is not something that will happen thousands of years later. The author’s prophecies are going to happen any minute now. “Behold, I come quickly!”

Inevitably what we see in these writings is the first part accurately describes the time of the author, and the second part fails to occur. Believers then either twist the words of the second part to “show” they really did happen, or they place the fulfillment at some future date, collectively called by Christians “The End Times™.”

We see this in Daniel. Scholars can give the year Daniel was written – 167 BCE, if I recall correctly – because the first accurate part describes events prior to that date, and the second prophecy part never happened.

The same can be seen in Mark. The author describes the, current to him, destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, but the imminent coming of Christ in clouds of glory doesn’t happen.

The same with Paul. He describes his times and the imminent resurrection at Christ’s coming (which will include Paul and his followers), but neither the coming nor the resurrection ever happen.

As with the author of the Revelation. He describes his current view of the world and the Roman empire and the imminent destruction to precede the imminent coming of Christ (“Behold, I come quickly!“) which never happens.

Sorry, Don. You’re making the same mistake all those Christians have made before you. Taking Revelation as a prophecy of a distant (to the author) future time instead of happening right then in the time the author was describing.

Perhaps the church should have listened to all those heretics rather than burning them. Perhaps they should have read those heretical texts rather than burning them. Perhaps then Christianity could have come to an accurate consensus on these things rather than the ridiculous one they came up with.

Making Prophecy Work

Recycled image and still no second coming

Never one to belabour a point, Don Camp has responded to my posts and comments about prophecy over on his own blog, Biblical Musing. This is a modified version of my response to that post.

What you seem to be saying, Don, is ‘leave a selected prophecy long enough and eventually it’ll appear to come true’. Perhaps, but then, if you take any selection of predictions from any source and you’ll find this to be the case. Why? Because:

1) You’ll have cherry-picked from the start so only those ‘prophecies’ that are vague enough or appear to have been fulfilled already will make up the bulk of your selection.

2) The vagueness of many that are chosen will make it relatively easy to scout around and alight on circumstances that seem to demonstrate some sort of fulfilment. You may even invent some that do, like the synoptic gospel writers do.

3) Some prophecies will indeed come true, but at no greater rate than chance allows. A prophecy you cite may say a particular city state will fall and return to the wilderness from which it was built. To claim that when, centuries later, it does so is not a fulfilment of this prophecy; it is a happy coincidence (for you and your so-called prophet, not so much for the denizens of the city state.) Just look at the number of ancient cities to which this has happened, without there being a preceding ‘prophecy’. It just happens.

4) You’ll ignore your own failure rate, or explain it away: i) discounting those prophecies that have never come to pass, even after millennia; ii) insisting ‘they could still occur! With God a day is like a thousand years!’; iii) reinterpreting them: ‘they’re metaphorical’ etc.

5) You invoke the get-out clause; the god says ‘if you don’t do ‘x’ then I’ll make ‘y’ happen.’ “Well, praise the god, everyone did ‘x’ and the calamity was averted! It’s a miracle!” This then counts, somehow or other, as a win for the ‘prophecy’.

These are your strategies, Don. You use them in combination to demonstrate the ‘fulfilment’ of biblical prophecy. You work really hard at nullifying your own cognitive dissonance, desperately attempting to demonstrate the truth of ancient fantasies. You conclude your post by saying Jesus will return as King soon. No, he won’t. You need to apply every one of your strategies to believe this is ever going to happen.

Prophecy: The Bible’s Track Record

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’.  

More Matthew Make-Believe

Don Camp and other Christians contest that Matthew’s gospel was constructed by snippets from the Old Testament. Those snippets, they say, however unrelated to the use to which Matthew puts them, are prophecies about Jesus, written centuries before his birth. This is the direction of travel: from ancient text to fulfilment in the first century. They refuse to see that for random verses in the scriptures to foreshadow later events involves significant amounts of magic.

Don talks about the bible authors’ use of foreshadowing, which is a recognised technique in literature. A single author in control of their text from start to finish can plant hints early in the narrative that only come to fruition much later on. Don cites Neil Gaiman’s use of the technique, but then equates the use of foreshadowing by a single author over the restricted amount of time it takes to complete a novel, to its apparent use in the bible. But there’s no equivalence. Yes, the bible is largely fiction too, but that’s where similarities end. In the case of the bible, we have to believe that over many, many years, multiple authors set about planting clues – prophecies – for events that would not occur until centuries later. But this just doesn’t work; not without a controlling agent, like a single author who creates and manages the entire narrative. Of course, Don believes that as far as the bible is concerned, that single author is YHWH. He’s not alone in this wishful thinking; there is a whole industry dedicated to arguing that God controlled the subconscious of everyone who contributed to the biblical texts.

But this scenario makes no sense. In the first instance because many of the so called prophecies are nothing of the sort. As we’ve seen, some are random lines in a story about something else entirely. Lets’ look at another example of that, again from Matthew’s gospel:   

In Hosea 11.1 YHWH is being made to boast about how he rescued the Israelites from Egypt:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

God’s ‘son’ in context and as plainly stated, is Israel (note the use of parallelism again.) All the verse is saying is that YHWH brought his son, Israel, out of captivity of Egypt, which is itself a fiction. Nothing more; nothing about the future. Yet years later, Matthew (2.16-18) rewrote the verse as an event in the young Jesus’ life:

So (Joseph) got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,  where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew expects us to believe that what the Hosea verse really means is that the baby Jesus would flee to Egypt and would be ‘called out’ again only when it was safe. That is, after Herod stopped massacring baby boys, another event that never happened but is itself a rewrite of Exodus 1.22. Only Matthew has this preposterous Egypt story, because only Matthew invented it. Luke simply has Mary & Joseph returning to their home in Nazareth.

Matthew is dishonest on two counts. He knows the original line is not a prophecy and he also knows his fable about the family’s escape to and return from Egypt is not a fulfilment of prophecy. And he knows this because it didn’t happen. He made it up.

Secondly, even if we grant that the bible contains what appear to be more precise prophecies, a God who has engineered their inclusion is mere speculation. One cannot offer up fulfilled prophecy as evidence of that God’s existence and then argue that prophecy comes to be fulfilled only because God is its controlling agent. That is circular reasoning. In any case, most, if not all, of these less indistinct predictions are the very ones that have never been fulfilled. We’ll take a look at some of these next time.

So, which is more likely? A supernatural entity who controls the entire narrative of a collection of books written over centuries, who hides unlikely clues to the future in a select number of verses, or a first century author who plunders ancient scriptures to find snippets that he thinks might parallel his hero, and then rewrites them to furnish his narrative?

An interfering but non-existent God looking forward or a duplicitous author looking back? Even Don knows which it is.

The Meaning Of Matthew’s Mistakes

So Matthew likes quite a lot of what he finds in Mark. Likes it so much he decides to lift over 90% of it into his own Jesus story. Of course he’ll tweak it a bit because, disappointingly, Mark hasn’t emphasised Jesus’ Jewishness enough. That definitely needs bumping up; it’s what his readers will expect. And Mark has missed a trick or two: he starts his story with Jesus’ baptism, when, as everyone knows, every godman needs a magical origin. Just look at Tammuz, Horus, Romulus and, according to some, the Jewish high priest Melchizedek. So Matthew sets about scouring the scriptures for a prophecy or fable, anything really, that hints that the Messiah would have a miraculous birth. And he comes across this in Isaiah (7.14):

Therefore, the Lord, of His own, shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin is with child, and she shall bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel.

It’s not really a prophecy about the Messiah as the context makes clear, but that’s okay. There’s enough of a hint that it could be about a future Messiah that it’ll do. So Matthew sets about creating a birth narrative for his godman based on this verse, yanked from its context. His godman is going to have a virgin birth too.

What Matthew doesn’t realise, however, is that he’s made a mistake. He’s picked up the verse in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the scriptures. If he’d checked, or even been able to read the original Hebrew, he would have soon seen that the verse actually reads:

Therefore, the Lord, of His own, shall give you a sign; behold, the young woman is with child, and she shall bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel.

The Hebrew word for ‘young woman’ is alma and that is the word used in Isaiah 7.14. The word for virgin is betulah. It does not appear. The use of it in the Septuagint is a mistake, a mistake that Matthew is not aware of. So he misappropriates the mistranslated verse to create a miraculous birth for Jesus and the myth of his virgin birth is born.

But Matthew hasn’t finished scouring the scriptures for prophecies that appear to be about Jesus. This time he alights on Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout Daughter Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Incredibly, this time Matthew has stumbled upon a prophecy about the Jewish Messiah! According to Zechariah, the Messiah-King’s victorious entry into Jerusalem will follow the defeat of his enemies and the establishment of universal peace. Matthew likes the sound of this. If he can shoehorn an episode into his story where Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, this will show his readers that Jesus really is the long-awaited Messiah-King. Never mind that the Jesus version bears little resemblance to the scenario predicted by Zechariah: Jesus is not an anointed king, he has not recently defeated his enemies nor has he just established universal peace. The only thing the original prophecy and Matthew’s version have in common is that the two principle figures, Zechariah’s Messiah-King and Jesus, ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Oh, no, wait. That’s wrong. According to Matthew Jesus approaches on two donkeys; a mother and her colt. He’s made another mistake. He doesn’t know that the use of ‘donkey’ and ‘colt’ in the prophecy refers to the same animal. He thinks there has to be two: a larger one and a smaller one. He is not familiar with the practice of parallelism, common in Jewish writing to emphasise a point by repeating it  but using alternative terminology. There aren’t two animals on which Jesus sits lop-sidedly, there’s one: a donkey, otherwise known as a colt which, to state the bleedin’ obvious, is also the foal of a donkey. Matthew misses all of this and places Jesus precariously on two mismatched animals.

What does this tell us? That Matthew is not describing an actual event. He has, rather, created a story based on a prophecy, designed to illustrate to his readers that Jesus is the Messiah-King prophesied by Zechariah. There is nothing historical about this story; it is an actualisation-in-fiction of a prophecy. A prophecy,  which, incidentally, still has not been fulfilled.

So Matthew is caught out at least twice. There are more examples in his gospel of his forcing an episode from the scriptures into his Jesus fable: other aspects of his birth narrative are clearly based on elements of Moses’ story; Judas’ thirty pieces of silver are based on a story from Zechariah 11, which has no relevance at all to the use he makes of it. There is also evidence that Matthew invented prophecy that he could then show Jesus ‘fulfilling’ (Matthew 2.23, for example.)

What all of this demonstrates is not that Jesus was foreshadowed in the Jewish scriptures, (foreshadowing being a technique beloved of some authors who use it to hint at future events in their fiction) but rather that many aspects of the Jesus story are literary re-imaginings of ‘prophecies’ and often unrelated episodes from the scriptures.

And if some, why not all?

How Prophecy Works

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.

 

In Which Don Gets It All Back To Front

Let’s take a look at one of Don Camp’s latest contributions regarding the authenticity of the Jesus story and how it was all prophesied beforehand and explained after the fact:

Don: You mean all the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of the eternal continuance of the Messiah king were mistaken?

What prophecies, Don? You mean all those tenuously connected Old Testament stories that the gospel writers, especially Matthew, pressed into service to construct their Jesus stories? That this is how it happened is the scholarly consensus and once we exclude the possibility of magic, the only way ‘prophecy’ can later be ‘fulfilled’.

Don: “After he has suffered he will see the light of life and be satisfied; (Isaiah 53:11).

Which proves my point. You think this is a prophecy? It could mean anything about anyone!

Don: The prophecy about him not seeing corruption as a dead body was mistaken?

And again. Not mistaken: lifted from the OT around which to build the resurrection story.

Don: The words of Jesus as he repeatedly told his disciples of his resurrection were mistaken?

He didn’t. The stories were written long after Jesus supposedly lived. Those who created his story gave him this ‘foreknowledge’ long after the event.

Don: Paul made nothing up; his simply explained what it all meant.

Oh come on, Don. Why would God leave it to someone who’d never met Jesus, and appears to know nothing about him, to explain ‘simply’ what he was all about? Of course Paul made it all up, after he had some sort of vision, in his head, from which he developed a fanciful theology, one that was very much at odds with that put in Jesus’ mouth years later. Hence Paul’s disputes with the ‘pillars of the church’ whom he held in such disdain.

I know you’ll have some convoluted explanation about how everyone else has got it wrong, Don, but it’s you who’s got it all back to front!