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-witness 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.

Ken Ham’s ‘Five Evidences that the Bible is True’

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Yes, that’s what he says: ‘evidences.’ Good use of English there, Kenny. Actually, the article is anonymous, but as it’s on Kenny’s site, and as it features inside his Noah’s Ark vanity-project, we can safely assume he authorised and approved it. That being the case, he can take responsibility for it.

Anyway, here are those ‘evidences’. Be prepared to be underwhelmed:

1. The Bible Is God’s Word

The ‘reasoning’ here is that God inspired the writers so, ipso facto, the Bible must be God’s words.

How do we know God inspired the Bible? Because the Bible appears to say so. But how do we know we can trust what the Bible claims about this and everything else? Duh… because God inspired it. Circular reasoning that gets us nowhere.

But wait, more ‘evidence’ from Kenny: ‘the Bible is authoritative in every subject it addresses’. I guess that’s so long as you exclude all the areas where it isn’t, like those that are scientifically, historically and geographically inaccurate, including the early chapters of Genesis that Kenny loves so much. Then there are those parts that are evidently myth, legend or fantasy.

Yes, apart from all those bits, the Bible is accurate and authoritative.

Isn’t it?

2. The Bible is Unique and Unified

Two claims in one. The Bible is far from unique; there are many religious texts in the world – the Qu’ran, the Vedas, the Pali Canon, the Book of Mormon… many with evidence of several authors at work in them. Neither is the Bible unique because it is ‘unified.’ It is not unified. It is contradictory and inconsistent: the so-called ‘new covenant’ cuts across the ‘everlasting’ agreement God allegedly made with the Jews and YHWH himself evolves, even having a personality transplant somewhere between the Old and New Testaments. Most significantly, for what is supposedly its central message, the Bible offers several, frequently mutually exclusive, ways to salvation.

3. The Bible Has Been Faithfully Passed Down.

This is empirically, demonstrably false. Many books of the Bible were written decades, even centuries, after the events they purportedly describe; the oral tradition is an unreliable means of transmission; texts were altered both by accident and on purpose; some books are patent forgeries; ninety percent of surviving manuscripts were created 800 years or more after the originals, and none of these ‘autographs’ survive for anyone to determine how ‘faithful’ later copies might be.

4. The Bible Contains Fulfilled Prophecy

It does? Where? Is it in the gospels where Jesus prophesies that the Son of Man will, in the lifetime of his listeners, return through the clouds to judge the tribes of the Earth and establish God’s Kingdom? Is it in the contrived symbolic events imposed on Jesus’ life to make it look like he fulfilled prophecy, even when the earlier ‘prophecies’ were not prophecies at all? Is it in Paul’s letters where he promises the rapture will be coming while those in his churches still live? Is it in the many prophecies that were written after the events they were supposedly predicting? Is it in the innumerable prophecies that didn’t come to pass?

That’s right; not one of these bits of malarkey constitutes ‘fulfilled prophecy’.

5. The Bible Holds the Key To Eternal Life

No, it doesn’t because there’s no such thing. This is the great swindle at the heart of Christianity; a fantasy dreamed up by fanatics, fantasists and psychotics, and preserved in the Bible. Christians are singularly unable to provide any evidence that anyone has ever gone on to have a life after death, nor that they ever will. We know now, as we may always have suspected, that when the body dies ‘we’ die with it. End of.

So, every one of Ham’s ‘evidences’ is false; a sham like his beliefs and the book from which they spring. You’ll struggle to tell him so, however, because like so many Christian web-sites, there’s no posting of comments; Kenny broaches no dissent. That’s how confident he is of his case. Best not to entertain any views other than your own weak, unfounded assertions.

 

The disciples would not have died for a lie (part two)

Rule

As we have seen, the available evidence does not support the idea that Jesus’ original followers subscribed to a miraculous physical resurrection. It suggests instead that their beliefs centred on the promises Jesus had made about returning from heaven as ‘the Son of Man’ to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, which they would then rule with him.

Elements of this promise survive in the gospels as we have them, even if there are, in all four, obvious concessions to Paul’s Christ figure; the gospels were, after all, written after Paul’s version of Christianity had begun to take hold. Significantly, the promise of the triumphant appearance of the Son of Man ‘within this generation’ is present in Q, the source of many of the sayings common to both Matthew and Luke’s gospels that they didn’t get from Mark. It’s also there in the sources (L and M) peculiar to each of the gospels. Obviously L, M and Q pre-date the gospels that later made use of them. Scholars think Q could have been written as early as 40CE, a few years after Jesus’ death, with some sayings earlier than that. It pre-dates Paul too and reflects a tradition that has nothing to do with him or his convoluted theology.

Q, in fact, has no sayings attributed to the resurrected Jesus, nor anything from his trial, the crucifixion or resurrection.1 How can that be? Were they not important to the early believers who compiled it? The answer can only be, no, they weren’t. For the creators of Q what mattered was what Jesus said – his ethical teaching and his promise to return as the Son of Man, within his hearers’ lifetime, to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth in which the disciples would reign alongside him (Matthew 19:28). To be part of this Kingdom, people had to become righteous, not have it gifted to them (Matthew 5.20 & 48). This was the ‘good news’ for Jesus’ earliest followers, the gospel as it is preserved in the Q source.2 The lie that the disciples were to rule the world with Jesus inspired them to spread the news of the coming Kingdom; they demonstrate little interest in a reanimated dead man or a magical salvation formula.

So, did the disciples die for their faith in the Risen Jesus? Highly unlikely. They don’t seem, despite the later stories in which they feature, to attach any importance, at least in Q, to visions of a resurrected god-man.

How did they die, then? The simple answer is that, for most of them, we don’t know. They could have met their end when the original church community in Jerusalem was annihilated by the Romans in 70CE. The Romans didn’t particularly care what a minority group of fanatics believed – they were rebellious Jews who needed to be taught a lesson.

If not slaughtered by Romans in their capture of Jerusalem, then perhaps the disciples died for their seditious belief in the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus had before them. The Bible records the deaths of only two of them: Judas, who appears to have committed suicide using two different methods depending on which account you believe (Matthew 27:5-8 or Acts 1:18-19), and James, brother of John, who, according to Acts 12.1-2 was executed by Herod Agrippa 1. By the time Acts was written, however, somewhere between 80-90CE, the beliefs of the original followers had been swallowed up by Paul’s alternate version of the faith; we have no way of knowing how accurate the report of James’ death is. It’s hard to believe it was merely because he thought an old pal had risen from the dead. It is hard to believe this of any of them. For the other disciples there are only traditional accounts of how they died ‘for their faith’ with nothing to corroborate these legends.

It is quite possible Jesus’ original followers died for reasons unconnected with their outlandish beliefs in an imminent supernatural kingdom. They could just as easily have died of natural causes. One thing seems probable – they did not die because they believed in a resurrected Messiah. It’s not that they didn’t believe in a physical resurrection – they did – but they were convinced it would only happen with the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth, as prophesied in Daniel 12.1-4.

That it had already happened to their former leader did not figure in their beliefs, their writing or even their thinking.

 

 

1 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p279-280

2 ‘But for Q, Jesus was indeed principally remembered as a teacher of great wisdom and high moral demands, as an apocalyptic prophet anticipating the imminent end of the age, and one whose miraculous activities showed that the day of judgement was soon to come. For the author of Q, Jesus’ teachings provided the goal of the Christian life. Followers of Jesus are those who adhere to his directives for how to live, in anticipation of the coming kingdom of God.’ Bart. D. Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels, p280

Updated to include link to Matthew Ferguson’s celsus blog.

 

 

 

The disciples would not have died for a lie (part one)

SonOfMan

The disciples would not have died for a lie, or so Christians like to argue.

Would they not?

Fanatics today do and it is more than likely the disciples believed their lie was true, if indeed they died for it at all. There’s not much evidence that they did. But if they did, maybe the lie they believed to be true was not the one today’s Christians think it was.

There is no evidence anywhere that Jesus’ original followers were martyred because of their faith in a physically resurrected Jesus – for their beliefs, maybe, but not necessarily because they believed Jesus had returned in bodily form from the dead. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that they holed up in Jerusalem to await his return through the clouds as the Son of Man, with a phalanx of hostile angels by his side (Heaven was, after all, just on the other side of those clouds). This was the crux of their beliefs.

How do we know?

There was significant tension between the disciples and Paul, which Paul himself relates, not only because he was convinced his message should be taken to the Gentiles but because of the very nature of that message. Paul and the disciples meant different things by ‘the gospel’. Paul’s irritation that others were preaching a different gospel is apparent in 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 where he calls the original disciples, ‘false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ’ and bitterly refers to them as ‘the most eminent apostles’. He is arrogant enough to suppose, and to proclaim, that he has it right and they are wrong.

Paul’s good news was about the resurrected Christ of his visions, who magically made those who put their faith in him righteous in God’s eyes. As he puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ Paul also believed this supernatural being would soon descend from the skies when he would give believers new bodies (Philippians 3.20) but this is a very different figure, and agenda, from the Jesus known to the disciples.

What then of Paul’s insistence, in 1 Corinthians 15.5 (written circa 55CE), that ‘the Twelve’ experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did? Firstly, of course, we have only Paul’s word for this. We have no first-hand corroboration (just the opposite in fact) and Paul had a vested interest in showing how significant his own experiences were. What better way to do so than by claiming Jesus’ original followers had had the same sort of hallucinations? Secondly, we don’t know what these ‘visions’, if they had them, meant to the disciples. Their belief would undoubtedly have been in a physical, bodily resurrection (cf: Daniel 2.12; Matthew 27.52), not in the beam-of-light manifestation of hallucination; this was much more Paul’s thing. Perhaps this is why any words uttered by vision-Jesus (for surely he would have spoken to his old chums) were not considered significant enough to be included in the earliest written record, ‘Q’.

The fully-realised resurrection appearances found in the gospels, then, in which Jesus declaims ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ and ‘go and make disciples of all nations,’ are very clearly later developments, based, not on Q but on the visions suffered by Paul and others of influence and ‘written back’ into the gospel accounts.

Despite claiming that the Twelve experienced the Risen Christ in much the same way he did, Paul is critical of the disciples for preaching a different gospel, a different Jesus even, from the magical salvation-formula gospel he expounds. So what did the disciples believe – what was this other gospel that Paul disparaged so much?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

Still more of the Bible written sdrawkcab

The first mention of the Last Supper and the ritual established at it is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11.23-26):

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

As David Madison points out, Paul happily admits he invented this – or, rather, he worked it up from one of his hallucinations. He certainly didn’t hear it from the people who’d known Jesus when he was alive; it’s unlikely they would have subscribed to such barbarity. As Madison shows, the idea of consuming blood, even symbolically, would have been anathema to most Jews (Deuteronomy 12.23 etc); it’s a ritual that originates in pagan worship. It’s there, for example, in Mithraism, which flourished in, among other places, Tarsus, where Paul came from. Evidently, celebrating Christ’s sacrifice by eating his body and drinking his blood took hold in the churches Paul established and by the time the gospels came to be written, its origin story was sent back in time to be part of them. This kind of thing happens in comic books all the time.

It’s quite possible that the stories of the resurrection developed the same way. We know that later followers of Jesus had visions that they interpreted as being of ‘Christ’. We know this because Paul refers to his experience a few times and also implies that other people had visions similar to his own. Were these hallucinations the only ‘sightings’ of the Risen Christ? We have no first-hand, eye-witness accounts of any other sort. Given that bodies don’t ever rise from the grave, especially not after a couple of days, it is more than likely they were all imaginary. It looks suspiciously like later encounters of Christ – all entirely within people’s heads – were written back into the gospel accounts to become the resurrection. Some of these were ‘firmed up’ to seem like encounters with a real person, which led to the invention of the empty-tomb, while others weren’t; a number make little attempt to convey an encounter with a real flesh-and-blood individual.

Bur wait, you say. There were believers in the resurrection before Paul. Surely the original followers of Jesus – the disciples, Mary Magdalene – saw the Risen Jesus. That’s why they believed in him, why they gave their lives to his cause, why they were prepared to die for their faith.

Well, no. We don’t know that this is what the original followers of Jesus thought or experienced. Why don’t we? Because:

  • The original followers left no records (or did they?)
  • Their community was wiped out by the Romans in 70CE.
  • Their brand of the faith, whatever it was, was obliterated by Paul’s Christ cult.
  • They had plenty of other reasons for believing in Jesus.

Seemingly Jesus told them he’d be back soon, bringing God’s Kingdom with him (Matthew 16.27-28 etc). And then, as he promised, the meek would inherit the Earth and his original followers would the rule the planet with him (Matt 19.28). Good enough – though completely daft reasons – why, after his death, these same followers holed-up in Jerusalem to await his re-appearance (through the clouds no less). The unlikely resurrection scenario, if they were even aware of it outside of their difficult meetings with Paul, must have seemed a poor second to the possibility of ruling the world in the here and now alongside their returned Lord and Master.

So, it’s entirely plausible that the resurrection, like Jesus’ prophecy of the temple’s destruction and the body-and-blood ritual of the Last Supper were invented decades after he lived by those in the Christ cult. It has long been known that the experiences of those in the early church, particularly those promoted by Paul, were written back into the gospels when they came to be created years after Jesus’ and the disciples’ deaths. Much of what you read there is fiction, propaganda served up, and believed to this day, as history.

 

Faith by any other name (is still a waste of time)

celia3Faith; the brand name for ‘wishful thinking’. In what other area of life, other than the religious, do we have faith in faith? Christians like to say we do – we have faith, they say, in the pilot who’s controlling the aircraft we’re flying in, or we have it in the surgeon who’s operating on us. But this is not faith in the sense religious people usually use the term. ‘Faith’ in pilots, surgeons and even our own abilities is more like trust or confidence; trust that the pilot is qualified to fly the plane, confidence that the surgeon is trained and skilled or that we have the ability to complete the task we’ve set ourselves. This is not faith in the sense of ‘belief in things that can’t be seen and for which there’s no evidence’. It’s not faith in the sense of wishing and hoping there really is a God and that he cares enough about us to grant us eternal life, much in the manner of the magic fountains and wish-granting genies of folk tale.

Religious faith – Christian faith particularly – is of this latter kind. It’s not trust in a real person’s capabilities, be it our own or a specialist’s. It’s a blind belief in a God who evolved from being one tribal deity among many into the everlasting, omniscient creator of all things. A God who, if he did create everything, set us on the Earth together with viruses, microbes, infections, disease, sickness, cancer, AIDs and Alzheimer’s. A God who thought putting us in an environment so frequently hostile to our well-being on an insignificant planet in the corner of a vast and indifferent universe was just the right place for us.

This is a God who doesn’t seem to understand us but who is swift to punish us while he himself stands by as half of his favoured creation endures poverty, starvation and the cruelty of much of the other half. His ways are not our ways, believers say, making what they surely know is a flimsy excuse – the flimsiest – for his failure to interact with us in any meaningful way.

Faith is the wishful thinking that despite the evidence, this neglectful, capricious God really does care for us. He cares so much he has devised an illogical, incomprehensible plan (or two) that, with its blood sacrifice and magical overtones, we must believe if we want his forgiveness for the way he made us in the first place.

We need to have faith that this cosmic madman will bring us back to life us after we’ve died and take us to Heaven to live with him, but we must first have the right sort of belief, even if it’s difficult to work out what that is. Faith is necessary for all of this because there isn’t a scrap of evidence anyone has ever been returned to life after they’ve died, or that Heaven exists, or that anyone has ever gone there. That’s why it takes, not trust, but a great wallop of wishful thinking that this fantasy is not only real but more real than the reality in front of us.

As for me, I can’t believe any of it.

  – I can’t believe the claims of those who even today say they’ve seen or heard from God or Jesus or Mary, who reckon they’ve had visions the same way Paul or Peter, Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy did.

  – I don’t believe those who say they almost died and went to Heaven, because what these visions of fantasy figures and make-believe places have in common is that they take place, so far as they occur at all, entirely within people’s heads.

  – I won’t believe that those who say all of this magic, hallucination and mumbo-jumbo is true because it’s in the Bible, when the creators of that book were men far more ignorant and superstitious than any reasonably educated person today.

  – I am unable to believe muddled nonsense that is designed to appeal to our vanity and fear of obliteration.

  – And I really don’t care that some say they get comfort, joy and morality from their belief; their morality no more derives from God as mine does from Superman and emotions don’t make any of it true.

So, faith – what good is it? If your answer is it enables you to believe the impossible, then isn’t it just another word for delusion?

 

 

 

I Know What It’s Like To Be Dead

lazarus

And you do too.

We experienced what it was like last night and, you know, it really wasn’t too bad.

We entered, at some point, a deep, dreamless sleep (we dream for only a quarter of the time we’re asleep and even then often can’t remember what we’ve dreamt about) and the rest of the time we were, as far as subjective experience was concerned, dead to the world. During that deep sleep, our conscious mind was completely switched off; we did not experience anything while we were in this state and as far as awareness is concerned, we did not exist. And when we woke this morning we were none the worse for our period of non-existence. We booted up reasonably satisfactorily and the memories we had yesterday, before our deep sleep, were restored and the entity we call our self began to interact with the day.

This period of deep sleep, this unconscious oblivion, is precisely what it is like to be dead. Of course, in death we switch off permanently; there’s with no reboot afterwards, either in our beds, our graves or in heaven. The oblivion that is death is permanent. But, and this is my point, being dead is no more painful or unendurable, and no more to be feared, than the deep sleep you had last night and that you will enjoy tonight. We might not much like the idea that once we fall into the ultimate sleep there will be no waking up, but that is only a concern, if it’s a concern at all, of the living. I guarantee that it does not cross the minds of those who are already dead. They have no minds, the same as you didn’t last night, for it to cross.

Being dead, to paraphrase Mark Twain, does not trouble us at all. Its prospect, while we remain on this side of it, should encourage us to enjoy life and live it to the full. It shouldn’t cause us to worry about being dead, because there’s nothing we can do about it and, in any case, it’s no worse than being in deep sleep. Nor should we be concerned about whether we’ve subscribed to the right incantation, appeased the right God in the right way or lived a good enough life, in order to avoid death. There’s no avoiding death and the promises of religions that we can if only we believe the right magic, are utterly false. Understandable perhaps, but false.

Oh death, where is thy sting, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.55. Well, death still has its sting. It has it in its inevitability – every organic creature, of which we are one, must die – and it has it, depending on your perspective, in our individual obliteration. (Though, frankly, why anyone should think their own personal bundle of thoughts, impulses and prejudices merits everlasting existence is a mystery). Most significantly, however, it has it in the dying process, which for many of us can be debilitating and painful. This is the way of it for all of us, including those who believe religions’ false promises. They are not spared the suffering, even though modern medicine can help alleviate much of it. Christians, Muslims and Hindus, despite their belief that a deity smiles benevolently upon them, are not guaranteed a comfortable passage from this life to non-existence.

Death is the great leveller; we all experience dying in much the same way and we none of us experience anything after it. One of these – maybe both if we’re lucky – isn’t too bad. Just like deep sleep in fact.

Until then, we should make the most of life while we still have it.

Sleep well.