Here’s where I would start with the reliability of the gospels themselves and how – if it’s even possible – to know what Jesus actually said and did (where I asked those questions in the original email). Just to pick on gJohn for a bit, since it’s the most popular – according to the text itself, it was written by a person who knew the “disciple that Jesus loved” and got the information from this disciple. This person never names themselves. Nowhere does it say that the disciple actually wrote it (an “eyewitness account”), this disciple is never called “John” in the text, and at the end of the gospel it says “we know this to be true”, which is a lot like me saying “everything I say is fully substantiated by my own opinion”. It’s circular. Irenaeus, like I wrote above, was the first person in 180 to say that this gospel was written by a “John”.
Like I wrote before, John steals Philo’s “Logos” and identifies Jesus with the Logos. John chapter 1 completely betrays its Hellenistic pedagogy – an illiterate Palestinian fisherman who spoke Aramaic is very unlikely to have learned to read and write near flawless Koine Greek, read Philo’s work, and reinterpret Jesus as Philo’s “Logos”. However, like I wrote above, the Gnostic (or proto-Gnostic) Cerinthus was schooled in philosophy in Alexandra, Egypt where Philo also established schools at. Cerinthus believed in a similar/mixed Christology of the Ebionites, that Jesus was a regular person born by normal means from Mary and Joseph, and that the “Christ” (or the Logos) descended on him from his baptism by John and abandoned him on the cross. Jesus, the man, would be resurrected along with everyone else who died “in the Logos” in the last days by the Higher God that the Christ/Logos was sent by (possibly YHWH, since according to Cerinthus, the angels created the world, not YHWH.
Without delving too much into the origins of the Hebrew bible, the word used for “God” in Genesis is “Elohim”, which is plural, just like “min” is singular for “apostate” and “minim” is plural for “apostates” – originally YHWH and the Elohim were two separate “gods” and along the redaction of the Hebrew Bible the “Elohist” accounts and the “Yahwist” accounts were merged; this also sorta brings back the story given in Exodus 3 – Moses is confused over which “god” he should say sent him – “El” or “YHWH”?
There is also the “Priestly” accounts and the “Deuteronomists” [deuteronomy – deutero nomy / δευτερο νομοι – literally means second laws in Greek] accounts that were merged as well along with the Yahwists and Elohists. Around 500 BCE, the Iranian (“persian”) Empire conquered all of the Near East and much of North India, Central Asia. The emperor which conquered the middle east, Kurosh (Cyrus), set the Hebrews enslaved in Babylon free and let them return to Israel, the Tanakh/Bible calls Kurosh thus mashiakh (messiah), the anointed one [Isaiah 45:1 LXX – ουτως λεγει κυριος ο θεος τω χριστω μου κυρω / this the lord god says to my christ Cyrus/Kurosh].
The Iranians did not impose their religion (Zoroastrism) to others, but usually tried to subvert them. Ezra and Daniel were employees of the Empire and especially Ezra or people associated with him are the most likely to have put Hebrew oral tradition in written form and edit those writings into the first issue of what we call the Old Testament/Tanakh: Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim [Law, Prophets and Writings; any “prediction” about Jesus’ messiahship in any of the books of Writings and not Prophets is a HUUUUUUUGE fallacy, thus eliminates all of the “messiainic predictions” in the Psalms. The Psalms are just songs to be sung, not any sort of divine fiat. It’s like thinking a Beatles song is somehow telling you secrets from god], of course some of the books in Ketuvim appeared later.
Elements such as angels, good vs. evil, heaven vs. hell, judgment day were absent from the Torah, which tells the oldest Hebrew/Abrahamic traditions. In the Torah, the souls of the dead went to Sheol, no matter what.
Zoroastrism had angels, good vs. evil, heaven and hell and judgment. Those elements thus probably got into Hebrew belief by Iranian influence. The very belief that there is only one God and all others are imagined is more Zoroastrian than early Abrahamic, since the Torah and some other books hint at the interpretation that only one god is worthy of praise, the other gods exist but are unworthy. One of the earliest Hebrew books written – Job – evidences this particular theology.).
Anyway… so it might not be so much that “John” stole Philo’s/Cerinthus’ work, but that the author of 1 John edited an already existing gospel of Cerinthus to emphasize Jesus as the Christ/Logos being flesh and blood. The first apparent use of “John” isn’t by orthodox Christians, but by Gnostics in the early second century. According to Polycarp, an “Apostolic Father” in the 2nd century who knew John personally, John and Cerinthus were contemporaries and bitter enemies. Though, there’s some confusion over which “John” Polycarp (the story is actually relayed through Irenaeus) is talking about. There was a John the apostle, who Papias – a contemporary and companion of Polycarp – said that he never met, and John the presbyter (i.e. “elder”) who was a contemporary of Papias (and thus Polycarp as well, which might be the “elder” that wrote the epistles and the gospel). Here is Eusebius’ “Church History” 3.39.2-7 explaining the confusion:
2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.
4. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders— what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.
7. And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things, we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.
The teacher(s) who went astray in 1 and 2 John are probably referring to Cerinthus. But why would the writer of 1 John go through so much argument over those who thought that the Christ wasn’t flesh and blood if he saw Jesus himself? Why not just say “those guys don’t know what they’re talking about. I saw Christ with my own two eyes and I received teachings from the man himself”? Thus the writer of the Johannine epistles might not have been the John who was a “son of thunder” and Jesus’ disciple.
Anyway, considering that this gospel also claims that Christians were kicked out of the synagogues during the time of Jesus (9:22, 12:42) means that Christians had been kicked out of the synagogues during the writer’s lifetime. This doesn’t actually happen until around 85 – 95 CE (the Council of Jamnia), meaning Christians worshiping outside of synagogues was commonplace when this text was written. With that in mind, memorizing verbatim all of the speeches of Jesus in this gospel for almost 100 years is implausible; especially since these speeches are longer than any of the shorter, easier to memorize speeches found in the Synoptics.
It also talks about Jews and Jewish customs like a third party who is unfamiliar with Jewish customs. An eyewitness (who is supposedly a Jew) would not write like this. It also blames the entire race of Jews (instead of just the Pharisees like in the Synoptics) for the death of Jesus… which is weird, considering that the writer – and Jesus – are supposed to be Jews. The writer also claims that Jesus went around claiming to be god. There’s no way Jews from the first century would have tolerated this, he would have been arrested and stoned for blasphemy immediately. Jews recite the Shema every morning in prayer proclaiming the oneness of God; a person claiming to be god would be killed on the spot. No subterfuge would have been necessary for his arrest.
Jesus is also presented as “the Christ” for a group of Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim (4:1 – 42). Like I wrote above, Samaritans don’t care about the House of David – they’re looking for a Messiah from the House of Joseph (again ironically, their messiah will be a “son of Joseph”). The fact that the Samaritans here accepted someone that they identified right from the start as being a Jew (who also claimed that salvation only comes “from the Jews” – and they accepted this!) and then accepted as “the Christ” doesn’t make sense and totally glosses over the years of confrontations between Jews and Samaritans. It would be like you accepting Mohammad as the Christ.
Jesus’ actions in this gospel are also markedly different than the Synoptics in this respect because he is displaying his superpowers wantonly, instead of like in the Synoptics trying to hide his identity. This is called the “Messainic Secret” in scholarship. This Messainic Secret theme is absent from John (this gospel is also the only one with Jesus turning water into wine, which is another Hellenistic tradition; the Greek god of wine Dionysus had a ceremony where three jars of water are turned into wine overnight). The writer also claims that Jesus said that he’s the only way to salvation (unlike the Synoptics); this would have made no sense to Jews in the 1st century, especially while the Temple was still standing. Jesus is also said to have raised Lazarus from the dead, which is the reason why the Pharisees wanted to get rid of him. If this actually happened, there would have been no questions about resurrection of the dead and what resurrected bodies look like in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul could have just told his audience to go look at Lazarus.
Don’t think that my deconstruction of John’s gospel is “revolutionary” or whatever; this is stuff that’s common knowledge among scholars and seminary students (hey – you always wanted to date a minister, right? Be careful what you wish for lol j/k).
Anyway, if I had to reconstruct “a” historical Jesus, I’d say that he was an apocalyptic prophet who valued Jewish nationalism and fundamentalism over family, and was rightly executed for seditious activities. There were hundreds of this type of “historical Jesus” in the first century, and they all probably got meshed into one, idealized person. Over time, this (or these) historical Jesus was glorified by his followers and deified by their Greek, gentile proselytes. The Greek/Roman pagans – who were already accustomed to worshipping human beings as gods, as evidenced by the “Preine Inscription” I linked to above.
Again, think about it this way. Jews have a history of “kings” and “high priests” being anointed with oil once taking office. Hence the term “christ”, which as I’ve already pointed out, means “anointed one”. In none of the Jewish writings have they ever worshipped their kings and high priests as “gods”. This is idolatry; one of the three cardinal sins that Jews would rather die over than transgress (the other two being murder and incest). Jews went to war with Rome and had their Second Temple completely demolished due to this refusal to worship human beings (Roman Emperors) as gods. And they haven’t had a Temple since. Jews went to war with Rome a second time and were kicked out of their homeland and had it renamed to “Palestine”, again, due to this maniacal aversion to idolatry. Jews have absolutely no tradition of worshipping a human being as a god, and went to war with Rome twice and were utterly defeated due to this aversion.
But… a HUGE fucking “but”… non-Jews have hundreds of years of tradition of worshipping human kings as gods. A non-Jewish king not being considered a god is almost unheard of in 1st century Palestine and before. It’s almost blindingly obvious that once Christianity was spread to non-Jews that they would deify the supposed Jewish king. It’s almost as obvious as saying “water is wet”. It would be a miracle for non-Jews to NOT deify a king – in this case Jesus – if they earnestly thought he was a king.
So yeah… it’s also possible that Paul’s Christ and the Jesus of “Q” / gThomas were two different people.
Maybe the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who gained a following by teaching that the “Son of Man” was going to come down from the sky — just like it was predicted in the Book of Daniel — to kick Roman ass and liberate the Jews. Then he got himself crucified for trying bring about this expected apocalypse by enacting a symbolic attack on the Temple (since he would need a lot of help to do so…). After his death, his followers scattered. A few months or years later, one of them says he had a vision of Jesus that talked to him and told him he was coming back. A few more followers start claiming to have seen similar visions. The cult is revived with a new expectation that Jesus himself was the Son of Man, and that he will be along directly to kick those Roman asses.
One particular convert, prone to hallucinations and religious mania begins to believe that Jesus is appearing to him too, and giving him instructions. This new convert exports the cult to non-Jews where he teaches that Jesus is a divine figure of salvation. Once among the Gentiles, the cult begins to accrete its miracle traditions, and the visionary experiences claimed by the disciples get transformed into a literal resurrection narrative, complete with an empty tomb that never existed in history.
Historians, philosophers, and theologians who lived during Jesus’ time period (like Philo and Josephus) would have definitely taken notice of a guy performing miracles, healing scores of people all throughout ancient Palestine, being followed around by hundreds or thousands of people, and eventually getting crucified due to the Pharisees’ fear and jealousy about his popularity. But no one outside of Christian literature writes about Jesus until almost a century after his death, and only do so because they’re repeating the claims made by Christians – and they don’t call him “Jesus” but either “Chrestus” or “Christus” (Chrestus was actually a semi-common first name and means “good” or “useful” – thus “Chrestians” or “Χρηστιανοι” [pronounced “Chreestians”] – would mean “the good ones” in Greek and Jesus Chrestus would be “Jesus the good”). But, Jews executed for seditious activity were a dime a dozen and nothing to write about. And if he wasn’t popular, then the Pharisees would have had no reason to use subterfuge to get him tried and executed by Roman authorities… which is sort of a catch-22. Both scenarios can’t be true – either he was popular and that’s the reason why he was executed (but no contemporaries – like Philo – wrote about him) or he was unpopular and just from some backwater – but the Pharisees wouldn’t have had a reason to get him executed by the Romans instead of doing it themselves like they did with Stephen and James – like Yeshu ha-Notzri of the Talmud, Jesus ben Pandira, or Jesus ben Stada. If true, then this completely undermines the main theme running throughout the gospels – Jesus’ popularity. Herod, the tetrarch of Judaea, wouldn’t have been anxious to meet some nobody.
That brings us back to Paul’s letters – that his Christ did nothing of relevance (or did things that were embarrassing or non-virtuous – thus not written) while on Earth other than have a last supper, get betrayed, crucified, and spiritually resurrected. No miracles, no wisdom sayings (1 Cor 1:22 – 23).
I personally recommend New Testament scholar Bart Erhman’s book “Misquoting Jesus” and “Lost Christianities”. I was thinking about buying them for you, but that’s probably a bit too much considering how long even *this* email is! What, in the military, they call “information overload”. But I would like it if you read them. Though, you probably wouldn’t learn anything new in those books after reading this email. But, he is a very well respected New Testament scholar, and not just some guy you used to date… lol. And he has different conclusions from mine as well.
I guess the main point in all of this is that there never was a “true” Christianity. The “Christianity” that’s practiced in the modern world is simply the result of a political power struggle, with the victors being in the right place at the right time who appealed to the lowest common denominator of “Christianities” (e.g. was Jesus the son of God or God himself? Was he 100% human or 100% divine? Why not just combine them all! Thus the term “catholic”… “universal”). Worse yet, these early Christians all being “politicians”, we have to assume that the victors were the only ones being honest and all of the various offshoots of Christianity since its “inception” were dishonest. But we don’t have any of the writings by their detractors because once the Catholic Church was officiated, all “heretical” books were burned, and all “heretics” were executed. All of these offshoots make sense when seen through the lens of politics, and not theology. How many honest politicians are there, especially when power is on the line? The struggle for “orthodoxy”? People try to separate politics from religion in the modern era, but for all of human history and pre-history, politics and religion always walked hand in hand.
Every single text in the canonical and apocryphal NT is a polemic against their political/religious rivals: (for instance, the epistle of James – “faith without works is spiritually useless” – is at odds with Paul’s epistles – “faith alone is enough for salvation”).
There never was a time when Christianity was one homogeneous religion/philosophy, even as Paul’s letter to the Galatians explicitly alludes to. The surviving (“orthodox”) literature of the second and third centuries slanders (like Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies” or Tertullian’s “Against Marcion”, etc.) opponents with exaggerated or even false charges, they employed shunning and other acts of social intimidation rather than open debate, and routinely complained about forged texts and other tools of deception in their ranks. Marcion claimed his “Luke” and Pauline epistles were original and the others were corrupted, yet the “orthodox” claimed that Marcion’s “Luke” and Pauline epistles were a corrupted version of theirs. Again, we don’t have any of the “non-orthodox”‘s complete works since they were all burned or destroyed, so we really don’t know how cogent their arguments were and how accurately the winners (the “orthodox”) described their opponents. Finding the Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi was a pretty significant event, in that it shows that Irenaeus wasn’t being honest in his depiction of the Gnostics. If faith is more important than honesty, then what’s stopping someone for “lying for Jesus”? What’s stopping a proto-Orthodox Christian from editing a text to conform to what they already feel – through faith – is true? There’s no need for objectivity if you already have faith, and if the text doesn’t align with your faith, then the text is wrong and needs to be changed… ! And it wasn’t as though the earliest Christian proselytes could read since Christianity spread among the lowest classes. Meaning that the earliest Christians didn’t rely on scripture itself for conversion, but even to this day I haven’t met a Christian who was neutral to Christianity at one point and then read the NT and was like “Wow! This makes sense!” and then converted. Every Christian I know seems to have had some sort of religious experience or was in the midsts of a personal/emotional crisis and used their immediate culture’s explanation for the experience and/or crisis and then read the NT to justify what they already believed.
Another point is that there were a whole bunch of sociological precursors to Christianity that influenced Christian thought, theology, and Christology – some of which, if they didn’t exist (like the LXX), Christianity in its current form wouldn’t be here.
I guess, though, that we’d have to assume that the “right” Christianity succeeded because how else would we know about the “true” religion?
My conclusion after finding all of this out was that the religion of Jesus was probably the religion of the Ebionites… why would they die for a lie? The Ebionites don’t exist anymore and we don’t know much about them, but they seem to still exist in spirit with the Jewish school of Hillel. Paul was probably more at odds with the original disciples (the Ebionites) than his letters make him out to be (besides Galatians), and that the current form of Christianity is more Paul’s doing than Jesus. The “current” (using that term loosely) version of Christianity didn’t spread among Jews, but among Greek and Roman pagans. The message presented in Pauline Christianity (as opposed to Ebionite Christianity) was one of inclusion and reversal of fortune. Not only did Christianity not spread among Jews, it spread among the lowest of the social classes of the pagans – mostly the uneducated, the women, and slaves – giving them a promise that Jesus would come back and kick everyone’s ass during their lifetimes, and all of those rich, intellectual people that oppressed them would get their just deserts.
I also have to point out that the facts I presented in this email are very conservative “consensus” conclusions. Diving in any deeper and I find that there really isn’t any broad consensus about what happened, who wrote what, when, and where. The theories and ideas are just as varied as each individual New Testament scholar themselves; though if you ask about this sort of stuff in a church, you’d get the “devotional” answer instead of the “scholarly” answer. Going into the many possible digressions would probably make this email worthy of some sort of publication lol. Though I did do a cursory review of some of them – like the ones involving Marcion for example, since I think that’s a linchpin topic. And at the same time, since I’m very much science-minded, that all of the information presented here is basically a progress report. I might find out some new information (or find out that something I wrote is actually wrong) later on in my studies! You know – trying to be “less wrong” and all.
A secondary point (like what I tried to express in the first email) was that if we’re going to base all of our life’s decisions and relationships with people on something, then we should have a well informed opinion about it. Not having a well informed opinion about it could be disastrous. I don’t know any Christians, other than scholars and seminary students, who know all of the stuff I presented in this email (again, the layperson tends to read the Bible devotionally, while scholars and seminary students read it critically, like how you’re taught to read Shakespeare)… this means that they don’t have all of the information that they need to make an educated decision.
I even know some Christians (mostly professional apologists) who explicitly advise their adherents not to investigate the historicity of Christianity or Jesus himself, implying that the information in this email would be detrimental to faith; having sentiments that say that going to a university or otherwise getting a secular education is bad for the faith. Why is that? Wouldn’t a judge want to hear all of the evidence on a murder case since this decision means either condemning a woman to a life behind bars or a life of freedom? Why is knowledge seen as a bad thing? Is it preferred that a person be faithful instead of being “less wrong”? The only thing I can conclude is that they want their readers and followers to start from the conclusion and only accept facts that support the conclusion instead of gathering all of the evidence and arriving at an unbiased conclusion based on all of the evidence.
What would you say to someone that said “Look, you have to first believe that black people are inferior and THEN you’ll see all of the evidence for it”? Isn’t that a horrible way of doing any sort of investigation? Wouldn’t that just keep someone in a racist mindset? Why is it an exception for Christianity?
When reading the literature from apologists, it always strikes me how much emotional manipulation is present in their arguments. Yeah, emotional arguments are effective, but I try my best not to appeal to those (even though I could – like the problem of suffering for instance; I could really lay it on thick there and I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard my version of it!). You’re a college educated, intelligent person – not a weak-will woman who’s just a slave to her emotions. Emotional arguments are effective and fast, but also fleeting – built on the shaky foundation of our insecurities. Appealing to rationality has a much stronger foundation, but take a lot more time to digest. If I didn’t think you were smart, I wouldn’t have wasted my time on that first long-ass email and this one – hell, I wouldn’t have even spent my valuable time with you in the first place… or picked you over […] (and some other girls).
I sometimes post at http://www.rr-bb.com and their zeal for their religion is… impressive, to say the least. I think you should read some of the posts there, just for another point of view. I read a post by a guy in his late 30’s with a wife and 3 kids. The thread was about the second coming of Jesus. This guy was very anxious for Jesus to come back and take him out this evil world (as he put it). The guy must be one unhappy man to feel this way, despite the fact that he’d probably say he’s full of the “joy of Jesus”. Other posts have people avoiding sex with their wives in order to be all the time ready for the “instantaneous snatching”. Ironically, I post in support of their beliefs, citing the relevant scripture, and don’t challenge anything just to see how ridiculous they can get.
Finally, I think I’ll end this email with a quote. It’s hilarity is really a microcosm of the misunderstanding that most layman Christians have about the Bible:
“If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us”
Books you should read!:
“Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Erhman
“A History of God” by Karen Armstrong
Those two are more objective, however these two are opposites of each other, a nice bipartisan approach:
“God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship” by Kenton L. Sparks
“Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity” by John W. Loftus