The Evolution of Jesus II: from Life Giving Spirit to God the Son and beyond.

A couple of decades after the first visions of a risen Jesus, a Jewish zealot called Saul decided he’d seen him too. He came to imagine a vision he’d had in his head was this same Jesus, who then revealed to Saul – all entirely within his head as he admits – what his death and return from the dead really meant. Paul, as he renamed himself, announced that God had decided Jesus was a good man and returned him to life after his execution. In doing so, God made Jesus his Son (you can read all this poppycock in Romans 1:3-4). Jesus was now a life-giving spirit, the Saviour Christ: 1 Corinthians 15:45. (Maybe though Jesus always had been this; it’s kind of confusing, but in Philippians 2:6-8 Paul seems to think Jesus was some sort of quasi-divine being from the get-go. Take your pick. Whatever.)

Memetic selection ensured the survival and perpetuation of Paul’s bizarre idea, one that was, after all, not unfamiliar to the Hellenised people of the first century. The superstitious embraced and transmitted it without knowing a thing about any itinerant Jewish preacher. 

The next stage of Jesus’ evolution came twenty or so years later, when a believer we now know as Mark decided to write a back story for this Christ. He created his story using Jewish scripture, Paul’s ideas and the rules of the sect to which he belonged. Who knows if Mark believed Jesus had ever been a real person who trudged around Palestine preaching the good news about the end of everything, but in Mark’s story he had him do just that. He decided, crucially, that he wouldn’t have Jesus become God’s adopted son at the time of his spiritual resurrection. Instead, Mark had him become God’s son at his baptism (Mark 1.10-11).

This wasn’t quite good enough for the next two cultists who attempted a Jesus narrative. While they plagiarised much of Mark’s story, they changed details and made up more for Jesus to say and do. Importantly, where Mark had avoided suggesting Jesus’ resurrection appearances had occurred in the real world, Matthew and Luke showed no such reticence. Their Jesus(es) showed himself not in visions but in the flesh. It’s likely Matthew at least knew he was creating a symbolic, literary representation of others’ visions.

At the other end of the story, Matthew and Luke invented largely incompatible birth stories for their hero. For Matthew, Jesus was the Messiah from the time he was born, fulfilling all the prophecies Matthew borrowed to create his nativity story (he doesn’t: the Messiah, according to the very ‘prophecies’ Matthew manipulates is not divine but a human warrior).

Luke, on the other hand, is determined to push Jesus’ divinity even back further. For Luke, Jesus became divine when God magically made Mary pregnant; Luke’s Jesus is quite literally God’s son (Luke 1.35). Unfortunately, Mary forgot all about being impregnated by the Holy Semen Spirit later on in Luke’s ridiculous story. Nevertheless, Jesus’ status had evolved again; he’d become God’s son from the very moment of conception.

Even this was not good enough for the next version of the Jesus’ story. The writers of the fourth gospel decide to make him eternal and part of God himself. Plundering Greek philosophy and Paul’s ruminations from Philippians, they declare Jesus the ‘Logos’; the Word or aspect of God responsible for the creation of everything (John 1:1-5). And despite this being as far from an itinerant peasant preacher as it’s possible to be, even more gullible folk came to believe it.

Jesus’ evolution was still not complete, however. The council of Nicaea in 325 decided that Jesus was ‘begotten not made’ (whatever that means) – but couldn’t quite decide whether being the Logos and the Son of God actually made Jesus God Incarnate. It wasn’t until the Council of Constantinople in 381 that a collection of bishops decided Jesus was, after all, officially part of the Godhead. The apocalyptic preacher from the backwoods finally became God the Son, a mere 350 years after he lived (if indeed he did).

Jesus has continued to evolve ever since, becoming all things to all people; a God pliable enough to be whatever his followers want him to be: Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Evangelical, Mormon, fringe cult. He’s evolved into a schizophrenic deity capable of being both meek and mild and bellicose; best buddy and chief executioner; Christian Nationalist, socialist and capitalist, gay and anti-gay, pro-family and anti-family; anti-abortion and pro-gun; environmentalist and iconoclast; the one who promotes a prosperity gospel and the ‘One True God’ known (only) to a select few. Every contradictory manifestation is supported by the Bible, the Church or tradition. Every one is non-existent and ultimately pointless.

That’s some evolution.

Only The One Book

Some years ago I visited friends where another of their guests told me he had been reading a remarkable book. It was he said, about Atlantis and demonstrated beyond any doubt that the ancient city had really existed and had sunk beneath the ocean where it still waited to be found. I asked him how he knew this (a polite way of asking what his evidence was.) He looked at me incredulously. ‘Because the book says so,’ he explained.

It’s the same with all the claims made about Jesus: that he was the Saviour, the Messiah and the Son of God. All such claims are found only in one book written by people who already believed such things about him.

Outside of this book there’s nothing: no Roman records of his death and subsequent resurrection; no reports of post-resurrection visits by witnesses who weren’t already invested; no contemporary, independent accounts of his remarkable miracles; nothing from historians of the day about his return from the dead and subsequent ascent into the sky; no mention of him at all in any documentation for the first 80+ years of Christianity outside of this one book. The Son of God appears on Earth and nobody but a handful of superstitious zealots notice.

Not very convincing, is it? 

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.

Why Jesus can’t possibly have known he’d ‘rise from the dead’.

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I said at the start of this series of posts about the date of Jesus’ crucifixion that the gospel writers perhaps felt unable to exclude Jesus’ predictions about rising from the grave after three days because these were too well-known. On reflection, it seems more likely that Jesus didn’t make any such prophecies. It is more probable that the gospel writers introduced them into their stories about him decades later.

I’ve written before about how the Resurrection appearances were nothing more than visions and dreams. Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus most certainly was – he says so himself – and Mary’s encounter with angels, telling her Jesus was no longer in his tomb, is described as ‘a vision’ in Luke 24.23. The subsequent accounts of Jesus’ post-mortem appearances also bear all the hallmarks of hallucinations; he disappears at will; passes through closed doors; isn’t always recognisable, drifts up into the sky and so on.

These mystical experiences, those that really happened anyway (it’s safe to say some – the Emmaus story, for example – are complete inventions: see Alter, pp536-8) quickly became a conviction among Jesus’ early followers that he had somehow risen from the grave. By the time of Luke’s and John’s gospel, 50 to 70 years later, this idea had evolved into a full-blown bodily resurrection.

The question is, did Jesus know that this was what was going to happen? Could he have had foreknowledge that he would be seen again after his death? Could he, during his life, have predicted he would rise bodily from the grave?

Christians will tell you that as God or God’s Son, Jesus was omniscient and therefore of course he knew these things in advance. There are, however, several good reasons why we can be sure he didn’t:

  • According to Paul, it was the resurrection that elevated Jesus to his god-like status, not his divinity that enabled the resurrection. Christians who argue that Jesus rose from the dead because he was divine have it back to front. Paul says clearly that Jesus ‘was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead‘ (Romans 1.4; my italics). Without the resurrection, Jesus was, Paul argues, of no great significance (1 Corinthians 12.15-19). However, the only ‘evidence’ for the resurrection is the contradictory, incompatible accounts offered by only three of the gospel writers and by Paul himself. So implausible is this evidence that we can safely conclude, with Michael J. Alter, that there was no such event. How, then, could Jesus possibly ‘know’ he’d rise from the dead when in fact he didn’t?
  • While he suffered from the delusion that he was going to rule God’s imminent Kingdom, it is unlikely Jesus thought he would have to die and be resurrected in order to do so. There was nothing in the Jewish scriptures to suggest either the Son of Man (a figure from Daniel with whom Jesus appears to have claimed some affinity) or the Messiah would be put to death only to rise again. This wasn’t what these characters were about and it wouldn’t have been how Jesus thought.
  • The Kingdom of God did not come about in the way Jesus believed. His death therefore did not bring about the apocalypse, judgement and rule of God he predicted and anticipated. In fact, his death took his cult off in a completely different direction, thanks mainly to Paul’s intervention. Jesus, and to a significant degree, the synoptic writers appear to have little awareness of this seismic shift. The Jesus they portray has little cognisance of events following his demise. Any suggestion he foresaw the creation of the Church is anachronistic, written back retrospectively into the accounts of his life. This was not what his ‘good news’ was about.

  • From their reactions preserved in the gospels, Jesus’ execution evidently came as a shock to both himself and his followers. None of them appear to have been expecting anything like a resurrection. Immediately following his death and burial, not a single one of his followers recalled his supposed predictions of his resurrection, nor did they express the sure and certain hope he would be returning. Even the discovery of the empty tomb (if it happened at all) failed to elicit such an expectation, nor any recollection of his words. The gospels say all those who witnessed the empty tomb were ‘frightened’, ‘astonished’ or ‘amazed’ that the body was missing, but not that they believed he must have risen from the dead. All those who witnessed the empty tomb behaved as if they’d never heard Jesus’ predictions that he’d be returning – probably because they hadn’t

  • It wasn’t until the ‘visions’ started that some of them began to consider the possibility that Jesus had ‘risen’. Not all were convinced, however. Matthew 28.16 notes how a number ‘doubted’ that the apparition they were seeing was Jesus. Significantly, at no point do any of those who think they’re seeing the risen Jesus say, ‘I remember him predicting this would happen.’ On every occasion, either angels or the risen Jesus himself has to explain it to them. (Of course, it’s the gospel writers doing the explaining for those hearing these stories decades later.)

All of this points to the fact that, while he was alive, Jesus didn’t make any predictions about rising from the grave on the third day, after three days, or after three days and nights; these prophecies, incompatible with each other and with the synoptic timeline, were created later, probably much later, after belief in the resurrection had become a central plank – the central plank – of the new cult. They were subsequently written back into the gospels, and placed on Jesus’ lips on the basis to show that of course he knew he’d rise again and knowing would have spoken about it.

The circle was thus complete; his early followers created the myth of Jesus’ return while later ones invented the ‘prophecies’ to bolster the belief that Jesus must have known he would. He said so, didn’t he?

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 13: Jesus was born of a virgin… er, no, was descended from David, er…

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That most fallible of books, the Bible, often wants it both ways. Never more so than when it’s trying to add spin to its central character. It wants us to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, with no human male involved, and, at the same time, that he was physically descended from King David on his dad’s side.

He’s got to be born of David’s line, you see, because the prophecies say the Messiah will be just that. The writer of Acts (‘Luke’) knows this and tells his readers that God promised King David that through ‘the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne’. (Acts 2.30, KJV; my emphasis). The reference is to 2 Samuel 7:12, where Yahweh does indeed appear to tell David that he ‘will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his Kingdom’. This is to be a physical descendancy and is the reason for all those ‘begats’ at the start of some of the gospels; they are there to establish Jesus’ (supposed) royal descent on his father’s side. This is why, in his gospel, Luke contrives to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth: ‘Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David‘ (Luke 2.4). That’s Joseph who was descended from David. Not Mary, not Jesus’ uncle Charlie and not the Almighty himself. Joseph.

Perversely, it is also Luke who insists that Jesus is the product of divine impregnation and a virgin birth (Luke 1.32-35). Why doesn’t he realise that if Jesus was virginally conceived, he cannot be the fruit of any human male’s loins? Luke includes the virgin conception and birth in his nativity story while insisting, in both his gospel and in Acts, that Jesus is the Messiah precisely because he is a physical descendant of David (see, for example, Luke 1.27, 1.32, 1.69, 2.4, 2.11, 3.31, 18.38, 20.41). But Jesus can’t be both a physical descendent of David through Joseph and the result of the God helping himself to a nice young girl. Could it be the two conflicting accounts were written by different fantasists?

So, is Jesus the ‘Son of God’ because he was created by the Almighty’s impregnation of Mary or is he the Messiah because he’s King David’s descendant ‘according to the flesh’? Either Jesus is physically descended from David or he is a being conceived through divine rape, like other mythical god-men of the ancient world.

He cannot be both – though he could, of course, be neither.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 3: Jesus is Perfect

buddyjesus1Jesus – practically perfect in every way.

Or was that Mary Poppins?

Christians go to great lengths to present Jesus as perfect. They do this by ignoring the evidence, such as we have it in the gospels, and by believing blindly in a false version of the god-man perpetrated by those who’ve gone before them. They call it ‘faith’; the rest of us know it as cognitive dissonance. Step out from behind it, look at the Biblical record without preconceptions and what you will see is that Jesus was an unmitigated disaster.

His prophecies were wrong, his promises untrue, his morality, as his followers demonstrate to this day, impossible. His mission, to herald the arrival of the Kingdom of God for the Jewish people, was a failure that led, ultimately, to untold evil being committed in his name. He was responsible for the stultification of mankind’s cultural and intellectual development, and, still today, the suppression of reason, autonomy and equality. The world would have been a better place if he had never lived, or at least if those who followed him hadn’t made a religion out of his failure. He believed that the root cause of illness was sin and demonic possession: he was uneducated and unsophisticated. He was inconsistent, unpleasant to those who opposed him and dismissive of those outside his own circle. He was arrogant, abusive and divisive.

He was, in all of this, thoroughly human. He was not God, nor the Son of God, and he was not delivering any divine salvation plan. He was a charismatic, Jewish fanatic from a superstitious backwater of the first century. He has, or should have, no more relevance to the lives of people today than any of the other itinerant preachers of the time. I say this not because I’m choosing to ‘reject’ him; in spite of the name of this blog he can no more be ‘rejected’ than other ‘divine’ figures like Mithras, Krishna and Superman. Nor do I say it because I want to revel in my own ‘sin’, as Christians assert of those of us who really don’t see what all the fuss is about. I say it because this is what the evidence shows us.

Read the synoptic gospels for yourself, ignoring the interpretive gloss invented by Paul and later Christians, and this flawed individual is the Jesus you’ll see.