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Quote of the Day: Jesus, the Gospels, Paul and His Letters, and so on…

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Here is a comment to get your teeth into from the other day. The article was about the minimal facts thesis concerning the Resurrection accounts of Jesus. They come from commenter BensNewLogin:

The following may not be as linear as I would like. Please bear with me.

There was a time when I was intensely interested in these questions, and I read a lot of books. I’m not so interested in it anymore. I would never describe myself as a biblical scholar, though I would say I am a sociologist and a (of a sort) psychologist.

But here’s my take on this. Jesus allegedly did say, “upon this rock I will build my church.“ I suspect it is a later interpolation. So possibly, though unlikely, he did intend to start a new religion. But probably not, because he was a Jew.

I suspect that Jesus actually existed, though it is also nearly as likely that he was an amalgamation of several characters running around at the time. (Cf: Judas the Galilean). What I also think is true is that the whole story is right there in the gospels, the truth hiding out in plain sight of everyone, requiring just a little perspicacity to see clearly.

Christianity was a first century Jewish heresy. That issue is independent of whether Jesus was real. The heresy was that HaShem, who is ONE, could have a literal son. Well, that’s where the heresy started. In the POWER struggle between the heretics (Christians) and the true believers and possessors of the TRUTH (Jews), the Jews lost, and thus began the 1900 years of church sanctioned antisemitism, beginning right there in the book of acts and down to the present era.

Was he real? I think probably likely. We’re the stories about him true? Probably unlikely. His story was constructed along the same lines as all of the other god stories, because that is how people constructed their gods in those days. There are a lot of stories about a lot of magical, god-like people from a lot of religions over the ages. You’d be surprised how many man-gods died, often through a form of crucifixion, and were resurrected, and will come again to redeem mankind. The solar myth, the Dying God, the resurrected God, the crucified God — you have Lono, you have Odin, Adonis, and Quetzalcoatl. And you have Jesus. There are a bunch of them.

My issues with the gospels, especially the birth narratives, go in a different direction. I suppose you could summarize them in the immortal words of eminent scientist and evangelical Christian Francis Collins, who referred to the gospel narratives as “near eyewitness accounts“. That is a loophole that you could drive a very large body of scholarship through, with enough room left over to accommodate St. Peter’s.

Was he the son of god? As an atheist, I would have to say not. Who was he? Just what the Bible said he was until the magic mumbojumbo men got hold of it, added a bunch of magic, myths, and miracles, and grew wealthy. So, this is how I see the whole thing. Bear with me. As I said, it’s not entirely linear.

From everything I have read, there is sufficient internal evidence in the gospels themselves to date them after the letters of Paul, even though they are placed in the new testament before Paul’s letters, and for an obvious polemical reason. “Here’s the story, and this is what Paul did with it.” That is how people think of history: linearly.

Paul’s letters, especially, warn in several places, both explicitly and implicitly of forgeries in Paul’s name. That proves that at least one letter of Paul’s was a forgery. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the gospels had the same problems. I’m not the first to note that Paul seemed completely unaware of the miraculous birth, the Virgin Mary, and the choirs of angels, which is another reason to place the composition of the gospels after the letters of Paul. One could place the gospel composition BEFORE The destruction of the temple by claiming they are “prophecies“, to more than 150 years after the events that they describe, because most prophecies work that way. They very accurately predict the past.

I doubt that these issues will ever be resolved, unless there are new source documents that can be accurately dated, which seems highly unlikely to me. The P52 fragment, cited as “proof” of the eye-witnessing of the gospels, for example, really doesn’t say very much about anything. Even saying that is a fragment of the gospel of John is highly questionable, given that it could merely be quoting a small portion of that gospel, rather than being a fragment of the actual gospel itself. We simply don’t know, and we may never know. That’s why weighing improbabilities is important.

My questions about the gospels as historical documents goes in a much different direction. Sherlock Holmes actually delineated the real question to me: he said he could believe the impossible, but the improbable was much harder to account for. And the improbability of the birth narratives is what brings it to the greatest questioning for me. Not the miracles, but the unlikelihood of the unfolding events. We were told that an angel appeared to shepherds in the fields— why shepherds, and not Herod and Quirinius, the governor at the time. That would have done some good. Shepherds are nobodies, but they do play into the apocalyptic climate pf the time: the last shall be first, the mighty shall be laid low, and so on.

They announced the birth of Emanuel, “God with us”. Choirs of angels, visiting Wisemen from the east, who saw “his star in the east”. HIS STAR: This is a clear astrological reference, as astrology passed for science frequently in those days. This in itself indicates magic being a part of all of this. “We have seen his star in the East.” So why did they travel WEST?

But here is where Sherlock Holmes comes in. Jesus is born with choirs of angels declaring that he is “god with us”. And then, apart from a mention of Jesus preaching in the temple, Jesus disappears for 30 years. This is what I find improbable. How could such a great miracle, complete with angels and heavenly choirs, be suddenly forgotten, and never mentioned again? Not one person is quoted as saying, “isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s son, the one that was announced by choirs of angels claiming that he was God with us?” To me, it absolutely strains credibility, that in a time like this one it would be completely forgotten.

Also, If the writers of the Gospels were eyewitnesses to the events recorded, they would have had to have been adults when they occurred. To say that they were writing about these events 60 or 70 years later also strains credibility, when life expectancy was half what it is now. So, more and more, it is just all very unlikely.

Even assuming the truth of the Christian story, that Jesus was the son of God, none of this was ever mentioned again, and as we know, some of the Gospel writers didn’t mention it at all. And of course, neither did Paul. It seems likely to me that these were all later embellishments, added in a time when belief in magic and miracles were commonplace. And it was intended to add credibility for the uneducated. The Orange Messiah loves his uneducated people, ya know.

So, stripping the magic and miracles from the story of Jesus, without necessarily touching the religious aspects of it, I think that the actual story can be found in the gospel narratives. Jesus was born of Mary and Joseph, both of whom were descended from David. On his mother’s side, he was a priest. On his father’s side, he was a king. (Mary, actually Maryam, the priestess-sister of Moses, was a generic name for a priestess in those days. That’s why there are so many of them in the story. Mary of Magdala was another priestess, always portrayed in red, whence we get Scarlet Woman. Joseph, thou son of David.” “New born king”. And so on.)

Another clue to that idea is where Jesus seeks out his cousin, John the Baptist. The priest part interested him greatly, possibly because he was far more connected to his mother then to his father, who essentially disappears from the story.

This also explains the mixup in his genealogy, with different lines cited in different Gospels. It was all about David the King. In his status of priest king, much like Prester John and later Christian stories, he was the Messiah, the anointed one Who would lead Israel against the hated Romans. This explains also why he was never heard from again for 30 years, except right before his Bar Mitzvah, where he amazed everyone with his knowledge. It also explains why he made his entry into Jerusalem, why he “fulfilled” the prophecies, and why it all came crashing down shortly afterwards. He was a nobody, not a general. It explains why Judas was first attracted to him, but later betrayed him when he realize that Jesus wwasn’t interested in the king part, or the political side, at all. Shades of Jesus Christ Superstar!

But pilate didn’t know any of that. He didn’t care about the religion, which is why he said he found no fault in Jesus. What he saw was a possible threat to Rome’s political power. But to keep the peace, he crucifiedJesus, because that was what was done with political insurrectionists. .

Unfortunately, because he just didn’t turn out to be the one promised to relieve the Hebrews of those annoying Romans, they turned on him. That was pretty much that, and it’s what the Bible clearly says. It was well afterwards that the gospels were written, AFTER the letters of Paul. And thus it is no surprise that he seemed completely unaware of the virgin birth and the choirs of angels and the miracles. And I think, given all of Paul’s scurrying around the empire, and the money, and the influence, Paul WAS interested in starting a religion. Whether he actually believed any of it is another story. His warning in Collossians or Galatians or Philippians that no one should believe or buy any gospel but his, is a good indication of what he was about. And although i know most people consider Barbara Thiering to be a kook, she had some interesting points to make, one of which was that neither-dead-nor-resurrected Jesus was travelling with paul, and both were in on the business.

I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

And then to me there is always this Question, one that is never answered except by a wave of the hands: who was bar Abbas, the Son of the Father, also known as JESUS bar Abbas? And what about the mentions of “other” Jesuses in the NT? Because that implies the Jesus bar Abbas, who escaped crucifixion, survived, which is why Jesus is able to make appearances after he was dead. He didn’t die. he wasn’t resurrected. And maybe those other mentions of Jesus were referring to just the one that survived.

Just my two cents.

Thanks for your erudite comments, people. Keep ’em coming.


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...