Making it all up

While the Old Testament is made up of myth and legend and the New created from the visions and dreams of a few disturbed individuals, we are expected to believe that the gospel accounts nevertheless shine out as beacons of truth.

We know, however, that much of what is contained in the four canonical gospels is fiction. I’m not referring here merely to how contradictory they are (though there is that), I’m talking about the parts that are clearly made up, invented for theological and literary purposes. These include:

The nativity stories: These are myth, created so that the Godman has an origin similar to those of other Godmen: There is no historical evidence for a wand’rin’ star, a census that involved the mass movement of populations or the Massacre of the Innocents.

The virgin birth: relies on a misreading of ‘young woman’ in Isaiah 7.14

The flight to Egypt: a misapplication of Hosea 11.1.

Genealogies: invented. Matthew’s and Luke’s are completely different and don’t, in any case, include sufficient generations to reach back to ‘the first man’.

The Magnificat: Written as a Greek poem. It is not an outpouring of a young peasant woman.

The temptation in the wilderness: Jesus did not have a conversation with the devil. He was not attended to by squadrons of angels; we know such beings do not exist. In any case, which eye-witness was present to record these fanciful encounters?

Angels: 12 appearances across the gospels. Demons and other evil spirits: at least 20 mentions. Myth, pure and simple.

The miracles: all of them make a theological point. This is their purpose. They are literary.

Jesus’s teaching: designed to encourage members of the cult, a cult that could only exist after the events the gospels purport to relay. Everything he’s made to say comes from different sects, Paul’s teaching, Old Testament wisdom literature and even pagan sources.

The sermon on the mount: created and written in sophisticated Greek, not delivered by a semi-literate itinerant preacher.

John’s self-obsessed Jesus: nothing like the character in the synoptic gospels. Either he’s made up or they are. Or both.

The Transfiguration: Elijah and Moses do not return from the dead to have a chat with Jesus. This is completely made up.

The Eucharist: first appears in Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 11.23-27. It is distinctly pagan but is accommodated in the gospels because Paul insisted he got it directly from his (imagined) Christ.

Judas’ betrayal: suggested by Zechariah 11.12-13 (which in context is not a prophecy).

The custom of freeing a prisoner (Barabbas): no such custom existed. The event is symbolic.

Resurrected corpses emerge from their graves: Matthew made this up. No-one else seems to know of it and Luke makes a point of cutting the episode out of his version of events.

The Crucifixion: based on Isaiah 53 and various Psalms.

The Resurrection: based on the visions of Cephas, Paul and others with added, invented detail, incompatible across the four accounts.

The Ascension: Jesus levitates into the stratosphere, in front of witnesses no less. Or perhaps not; Luke invented this impossibility.

There is much more in the gospels that is evidently and demonstrably made up. We can, as Christians do, believe it all really happened. We can insist that the stories are not based on other sources but that these sources are prophecies of real events that took place in history. From this perspective, Paul’s and others’ visions are then the result of these same events.

But which is more likely? –
The Old Testament is packed with prophecies about Jesus’ life and death, and that what Paul and others saw in their heads was because Jesus really existed and spoke to them once he’d returned to Heaven…

Or: The Jesus story is fictional, a patchwork of Old Testament snippets, mystical visions, invented symbolic events and pagan ideas of resurrecting Godmen.

And If the gospels are fiction – and they evidently are – then why not Jesus himself? If there was no real history to be written about him, just this mish-mash of other sources, that can only be because there was no Jesus who walked the Earth 2000 years ago.

Jesus is the same as his near contemporaries Osiris, Dionysus and Mithras. Like them, he is entirely mythological.

Will the real Jesus please stand up? (part 2)

What evidence is there in the Bible that Jesus really existed? Let’s take a look*:

Paul’s Christ – imaginary (only in his head)

The crucifixion – invented (structured around and based on selected parts of the Old Testament. These aren’t prophecies of his death, they’re used as the template for people writing centuries later)

The Resurrection stories – made up (following various visions and ‘revelations’. The stories themselves are not in Paul or Mark; they’re made up later)

The empty tomb – imaginary (added to bolster resurrection stories. Unknown to Paul)

Miracles – made up (not in Mark where Jesus flatly refuses to perform them. Later miracles all have symbolic meaning. They are symbolic)

Nativity stories – make-believe (the two accounts in Matthew and Luke conflict and have all the properties of myth)

Jesus’ ‘I Am’ statements – invented (only in John: missing entirely from the other gospels. How did they miss them?)

Sermon on the Mount – made up by Matthew (not in Mark but suddenly in Matthew where it is clearly a literary construct)

Jesus’ teaching – invented (next to none of it is original, based as it is on Paul’s teaching, Old Testament ‘wisdom’ and what the gospel writers needed him to say to fit their agendas)

Cult rules – made up (by members of the early cult church)

The Beloved Disciple/Lazarus and Nicodemus – imaginary (not in the other three gospels. How could they not know about Jesus’ most impressive miracle, the raising of Lazarus?)

The woman caught in adultery – invented (a very late addition to the fourth gospel; possibly as late as 350CE)

The Ascension – make-believe (I mean, really?)

Paul’s adventures in Acts – made up (largely incompatible with what Paul himself relates)

Revelation – total lunacy (made up in its entirety: Jesus didn’t say any of the things attributed to him there: he didn’t dictate letters to churches, isn’t a cosmic warlord, hasn’t brought a celestial city to the Earth, etc, etc)

Satan, demons, angels, spirits, powers and principalities – imagined (all non-existent)

Old Testament tales – made up (Creation, Adam & Eve, Tower of Babel, Noah, the Exodus, Job, Jonah, Daniel. Too many to list)

Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter, James, Jude, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus – forgeries

Jesus – imaginary? It makes you wonder. So much is demonstrably made up about him. If he did exist, he has been buried under layers of make-believe, myth and other fiction; a grave from which he will never rise.

To be continued…

* Examples derived from my own considerations, Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus, Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged and Did Jesus Exist?, Michael J. Alter’s The Resurrection, Barrie Wilson’s How Jesus Became Christian &  Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries, amongst others.

 

The Great Resurrection Swindle

We have an anomaly. Paul did not see the resurrected Jesus in the body he died in. He is quite categorical about this. The Risen Jesus was revealed ‘within’ him as a vision of some sort (Galatians 1.15-16). Paul then implies that Peter and ‘the twelve’ apostles had previously encountered the Risen Jesus in precisely the same way; that is, though he doesn’t of course use the terms, as an innervision or hallucination:

For what I received (in my vision) I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raisedon the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15.3-8)

From this, Paul develops his idea that every other believer will, either after they die or when Christ descends from the clouds, be given a new ‘spiritual body’ without any of the limitations of the lowly fleshly body in which we spend this life. This is his gospel which, he wants everyone to know, did not come from any other human but from the Christ who appeared in his head (Galatians 1.11-12).

Here’s the anomaly: Paul believed he had encountered the risen Jesus, an experience of a super-spiritual being that was entirely in his own head. The later gospels, however, written decades after Paul’s psychotic episode, had a different view of the resurrected body. The original version of Mark, ending at 16.8, offers no resurrection appearances (Mark 16.9-20 was added much later in an attempt to plug the gap) but from Matthew onwards we begin to get a risen Jesus who assumes more and more of a physical form the further from Paul’s time we go. Luke wants us to know that his Risen Jesus has a real physical body; he asks for food which he then eats (Luke 24.42-43) and his crucifixion wounds are visible (Luke 24.37-39). John then goes even further by having Jesus invite the disciples to poke and admire the wounds (John 20.27), making the point that the body Jesus died in is the same one he resurrected in (even though in other parts of the narrative, for example when he encounters Mary Magdalene, he is suspiciously vision-like.)

As a result, later Christians were adamant that Jesus rose physically, in the body he’d died in. Today’s evangelicals seem to think so too.

So, here’s what we’ve got: Christianity’s earliest advocate, while promising resurrected believers will have a super new ‘spiritual’ body that bears little relation to their old physical bodies, witnessed the risen Christ only as a vision in his head. Yet Luke and John are at pains to point out that Jesus rose physically, in the same body he died in albeit with new super-powers. Luke even tries to distance his risen Jesus from Paul’s by having him say,

Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. (Luke 24:37–39)

Isn’t it fortuitous, and not a little too convenient, that Jesus himself decides to makes the doctrinal point that he’s most definitely not a spirit, hallucination or vision? Of course, Luke (not Jesus) made up this line to address the hallucinated-spirit v. reanimated-corpse anomaly head on. Luke’s risen Jesus, whom, let’s not forget, Luke never met – nor did he meet any eyewitnesses to the resurrection (his sources are primarily Mark and Matthew) – is at pains to point out he is not like Paul’s risen Jesus. No sir, not at all. In the space of 30 or 40 years then, the risen Jesus has gone from being an imagined spirit (1 Corinthians) to a flesh and blood, revitalised corpse (Luke) with extra peripheral details like an empty tomb, added in support of the transition.

The risen Jesus began life as a vision. Paul makes this clear whenever he refers to him. He call it his revelation. As time passed this supposed resurrection began to be fleshed out – literally – until the fantastical stories of a real body returning from the dead took form. Neither was real, neither is real; not the revelatory Christ nor the resurrected man. They are made up; one by a man who had a psychotic episode or bad dream, the other by men who disagreed with him. Anyone who thinks they’re going to receive either a spiritual body or a refurbished version of the one they’ve got now is deluding themselves.

 

 

New Bodies For Old

Paul taught that believers in the Lord Jesus would, once the Christ returned, be resurrected in a ‘spiritual body’. Those who remained alive at this time, as Paul anticipated he himself would be, were also to be ‘re-clothed’ in a new body (2 Corinthians 5.3) in preparation for life in the Kingdom.

He also seems to have believed that Jesus himself was resurrected in a ‘spiritual body’. This is presumably what Paul thinks he saw when Christ revealed himself to him in his head. Christians since have argued that when Jesus rose from the dead, it was in the same body in which he was crucified. Indeed, John’s gospel goes so far as to show his resurrected body still carried the wounds he suffered during his execution (John 20.26-29).

So what does this spiritual body, the one Paul promises all believers will receive, which is somehow physical yet not – the risen Jesus can pass ghost-like through locked doors (John 20.19) and levitate into the sky (Acts 1.8-11) – look like? What is its nature? Is it ephemeral so that it can vanish at will (Luke 24.31) and change its appearance (Luke 24.16), or is it like the bodies we have now, only better? Is it made of meat and gristle? Does it breath, eat, sweat, need to sleep, poop and pee? If not, then in what way is it a body? Will the new body retain its lungs, sweat glands, digestive system and genitals? Can it be considered a proper body if it doesn’t? If it’s to be an upgraded version of our existing bodies, minus all those pesky instincts, demands and messy bits, then how does it work? Does it only vaguely resemble the body we have now, like an Avatar in the famous film? Is it intangible, like the risen Christ’s (as implied in John 20.17)? Can it morph into unrecognisable forms (John 20.14)? Will it be able to pass through physical objects like Jesus’ ghostly form could ?

Alas, we shall never know. When Paul was making pronouncements about ‘spiritual bodies’ he hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. He knows he wasn’t too; writing to the cultists in Corinth, he anticipates that someone might want to know what ‘spiritual bodies’ are like. Here’s his profound answer:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! (1 Corinthians 15.35)

Yup, he had no idea what he was talking about so he resorts to ad hominem abuse instead. He then twitters on about how the physical body has to die, like a seed, before the new super-duper spiritual body can manifest itself. Except a seed doesn’t die in order to produce a plant. It may be buried but it doesn’t die. His analogy, which, you’ll note, doesn’t actually answer the question, fails miserably:

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain…. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15.36-37, 42-44)

His final flourish – if there is physical body then there has to be spiritual one – is, to use a technical term, absolute crap. He is making this stuff up and passing it off as a message from the Lord. Then as now, there were those who were taken in by him.

No-one has ever received a new body after their death; when this, our only body dies, we die. Our consciousness does not survive; it is a manifestation of our bodies, specifically of the brain, part of the meat and gristle that make up our bodies. It doesn’t hang around waiting for Jesus or God or some other non-existent being to transplant it in an imaginary super body.

No-one has ever received a new ‘spiritual body’, and no-one ever will. Of the 100.8 billion people who have died in the history of mankind, not one has gone on to live again in a new ‘spiritual body’. Not one has gone on to live again, period. If you think they have, you are free to present your evidence here. (Jesus, I should point out, doesn’t count: he wasn’t, according to Christian myth-making, entirely mortal. Plus his resurrection appearances are fiction.)

Paul is lying. There is no such thing as a ‘spiritual body’, no such thing as resurrection. You won’t be experiencing either. You are allowing yourself to be duped if you think you will.

Jesus: best social distancer ever

Jesus is coming back. He’s coming back soon! The Covid-19 pandemic is a sign of the end times and it won’t be long now till Jesus returns to rapture all his buddies!

I know this because a whole load of cranks pastors are telling the world that, once again, the end is nigh. 56% of U.S. pastors polled believe it’ll be real soon with 97% convinced that if not now, then in the near future.

In reality, Jesus is never coming back. He might appear to predict his return in the gospels but he said it would be soon relative to those who were listening to him. True, he didn’t appear to know exactly when it would be because his Father hadn’t deigned to tell him (weren’t he and the Father one?) but he did know it was soon:

Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28).

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matthew 24:34).

I don’t believe Jesus said this at all. His mission while he was alive was to kick-start God’s kingdom on Earth and to right the wrongs done to his own people, the Jews. He didn’t expect to die when he did (he didn’t predict his death either) but right up the last minute thought God would intervene, rescue him and set him up as King of the world (Matthew 19.28). All of this is preserved in the synoptic gospels.

Once everything had gone disastrously wrong, his followers had to make sense of his premature death. So followed the stories of a resurrection, based on grief-induced visions and fuzzy feelings. Once these faded, his early followers became convinced this wasn’t – couldn’t be – the end of the story. Jesus had to come back to complete his mission. The newly converted Paul thought so too: Jesus’ death wasn’t the end; his resurrection wasn’t the end – it was the beginning; when Jesus came back down from Heaven he would resurrect his followers and the Kingdom of God would arrive. Paul believed this would happen in his own lifetime (1 Thess 4:15-17)

When the gospels came to be written decades later, Jesus himself was made to say much the same thing. Like a 1st century Arnold Schwarzenegger, he promised he’d be back. But Jesus wouldn’t have said this. He had no intention of going away until his mission – to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth – had been completed. Subsequent believers, including the gospel writers, knew with the benefit of hindsight that this mission hadn’t gone to plan. Consequently, they rewrote the plan. Jesus, having risen from the dead (or so they believed) would be returning to complete his mission. They then retrospectively supplied him with foreknowledge not only of his supposed return but of his execution and resurrection too. The predictions of a second coming were put into Jesus’ mouth by later believers; the gospel writers specifically.

They were wrong. Jesus did not return when they hoped, which is hardly surprising for any number of reasons: the dead don’t come back to life; Jesus himself didn’t promise he’d return (neither the first time nor the second); beliefs, however resolutely held, do not create reality.

The Jesus story would now be over and done with if it were not for Paul re-interpreting into something it wasn’t; substitutionary atonement designed for Gentiles as well as Jews. Jesus failed to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on Earth (no surprise there); he didn’t rise from the grave; he’s not coming back. Believing won’t make it so.

Happy Easter y’all.

 

 

The disciples who doubted the Resurrection

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28.17

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.

 

Hope v. Miserable Christians

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I am without hope.

Well, I’m not actually, but I am according to many of the Christians who engage me in futile dialogue about how lost I am, how much in need of repentance I am and how not believing in Jesus leaves me entirely adrift in life. ‘Hope of what?’ I invariably ask, and they tell me of being resurrected after I die, of avoiding the judgement of God in the post-mortem state and of spending eternity thereafter with the Lord.

And I have to agree, I am without hope of these things. In return I tell them that evidence shows us that people do not live forever, that because no-one survives death there can be no judgement after it and that no-one therefore gets to spend eternity with the Lord (never mind the fact there’s no Lord to spend it with.) No-one in the entire history of humankind, I tell them, has ever done such things. They say then that they feel sorry for me, because the bible promises they will happen and that only as a Christian (repent! repent!) can I have hope that I will enjoy them for myself.

Just in case you were wondering, all this Christian ‘hope’ in impossible events might sound like it’s indistinguishable from wishful thinking, but it’s not! Here’s how the Desiring God website puts it:

When you read the word “hope” in the Bible (like in 1 Peter 1.13* ‘set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’), hope is not wishful thinking. It’s not “I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I hope it happens.” That’s absolutely not what is meant by Christian hope.

Christian hope is when God has promised that something is going to happen and you put your trust in that promise. Christian hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass.

*written by someone who wasn’t Peter, but we’ll overlook that.

So, you see, Christian ‘hope’ is fixing one’s own wishful thinking onto the wishful thinking of people who lived two thousand years ago, people who believed with certainty that Jesus would be coming to the Earth through the clouds to rescue them at any moment. Having hope today is trusting in this mistaken belief; wishing and hoping that these guys were right, when clearly they were wrong. The hope of today’s wishful thinkers is that the wishful thinking of the past will eventually happen. But these first century wishful thinkers were making it all up; wishing and hoping and praying that Jesus would be back soon, that the resurrection process that they thought he’d begun would continue with them and that they’d inherit the Earth and live forever. As Word of God for Today puts it:

Paul spoke* of the “…hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time… (Titus 1:2). Only in Christianity is there such a promise of glorious life beyond the grave. The hope of eternal life is very important, and even if we Christians have hope only in this life we are of all people most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19).

*Not Paul, but we’ll overlook that too.

I sometimes ask Christians to point me to one person, one ordinary mortal who has ever achieved immortality – not someone from a story or (biblical) myth; not Jesus who wasn’t, according to them, an ordinary man, but an incarnate deity – who has survived death and gone on to live with God forever. They can’t, of course. None of the bible’s scenarios for the end of the age, the return of Jesus, the resurrection of believers and the rest has ever come to pass. Nor will it.

Despite their denials, hope that all these fantasies will come true is wishful thinking, just like the Rastafarians hope that Haile Selassie will return from the dead to rescue the descendants of slaves from Jamaica, or my fantasy that one day I’ll win the lottery when I don’t even buy a ticket. It’s wishing, as countless people from different cultures and religious background have throughout history, that life doesn’t end when we die.

Christian hope is futile wishful thinking in an impossible dream. I for one am glad to be without it.

All in the Mind

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Christians dispute that those who saw the Risen Jesus after his death were merely experiencing hallucinations or ‘visions’ in their own heads. Despite the fact that the only first-hand eye-witness report we have of a resurrection sighting is of precisely this nature – Paul’s, in Galatians 1.16 where he says that the Risen Christ was revealed ‘in’ him – Evangelicals in particular insist that Jesus rose physically from the dead and was seen by numerous ‘witnesses’.

And yet, in the two thousand years since he supposedly ascended into Heaven, no-one has seen Jesus in his resurrected, physical body. This doesn’t stop believers today claiming that they experience him in ‘real’ ways. As the old song goes, they walk with him and talk with along life’s narrow way. Or they think they do.

Back when I was a Christian I used to hear Jesus speaking to me. He’d create a thought in my head, telling me to act in a certain way, to speak to some lost soul about him, for example. At the time I was convinced these promptings were really ‘the Lord’. How could they not be? I had his Spirit living inside me, a sure-fire way of experiencing the living Jesus. His presence felt very real, as it does still for millions of Christians. What greater proof of the resurrection could there be?

In fact, Jesus’ ‘voice’ was no more than the vague recollections of Bible verses I half remembered. The sense of his presence I felt was a trick of my own mind, conditioned by hours of sermons, Bible reading and the mutual reinforcement provided by fellow-believers.

I never actually visualised Jesus, though many claim to. They see him in burnt toast or cloud formations; they dream about him or think he has visited them in the night, standing at the foot of the bed. Some have near-death experiences when (they imagine) they travel to Heaven and are welcomed by his outstretched arms. Others ‘know’ he has rescued them from calamity, or purposely sent them a sign (by leaving a Bible unscathed after a storm destroyed a house, as happened this week in Indiana.) Still others, a mite more credibly perhaps, have a sense of Jesus being present in a wishy-washy mystical way. He seems especially real when they’re caught up in the ecstasy of worship or a mighty and wondrous healing is being staged taking place. What a blessing! After all, didn’t Jesus promise in Matthew 18.20 that ‘when two or three are gathered in my name there I am in the midst of them’? (Probably not, but Christians believe he did and that’s what matters.)

My point is this: if this is how Jesus ‘manifests’ himself today – in whispered messages, inner-visions, emotions, dreams, blessings and ‘signs’ – and if these are enough to keep today’s believers convinced he lives again, then isn’t it likely that this was exactly how his earliest followers experienced him after his death? Not as a real, physical body but in these same ‘spiritual’ ways, conjured up by minds deep in the thrall of religion? If illusions of their own imaginations are enough to persuade the susceptible of the Risen Lord’s presence today, then surely they were more than enough to convince a handful of superstitious zealots in the first century.

I mean, just look at Paul.

Why the Nativity reflects the fantasist mentality of those who created it.

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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.

The Incarnate Deity?

Blog347Nativity

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,

Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

This, according to Charles Wesley’ hymn, ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’, is what Christmas is all about: God manifesting himself on Earth as a child and subsequently a man.

What a disaster this whole idea is. The stories of Jesus’ birth do serious damage to two key elements of the Christian message:

First, they detract significantly from the good news the adult Jesus proclaimed and which survives to some extent in the synoptic gospels: the Kingdom of God was coming to the Earth very soon and people – Jewish people – should mend their ways accordingly. Instead, the nativity stories, which occur only in Matthew and Luke, are a reflection of what had happened to the faith by the time these gospels were written. The message had changed. It was less about what Jesus had to say and more about how he himself should be worshipped. He had, after all, as early Christians had started to believe, come from Heaven to save everyone from their sins.

Second, the nativity stories negate the resurrection. If a mortal Jesus rose from the dead, then we might conceivably have a miracle on our hands. But for an ‘incarnate deity’ to have accomplished the same thing – well, that’s no big deal. It’s what gods do all the time. The resurrection experiences, whatever they were, are invalidated by the gospel writers when, at the start of his story, they suggest Jesus is somehow divine. (John is even more emphatic; Jesus is the eternal Word made flesh.) So there’s nothing special about the resurrection, it’s just a god doing what gods do.

The nativity stories represent the confusion within early Christianity. Its adherents wanted it both ways, to have their cake and eat it. Maybe today’s believers can help us out of the dilemma: is it Jesus’ birth – his incarnation – that matters, or is it his death? Because it cannot be both. If Jesus was God in human form from the very beginning, then there’s nothing particularly special about his death and resurrection. Gods can’t really die, especially when none of them, including Yahweh, are alive in the first place.