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Daily Archives: December 8, 2009

Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?

1. None of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses (they were written in third person). This is the conclusion of a vast majority of NT scholars. The earliest witness to gospels with names attached to them comes from Irenaeus c. 175 CE. The earliest witness to any gospel narrative period is Marcion c. 135. No one prior to Irenaeus says “the gospel according to Matthew” or any other such similar phrase.

Even if they were written by eyewitnesses, eyewitness testimony is dishearteningly unreliable.

2. Matthew and Luke are not independent accounts. They are reimaged versions of Mark, since the authors did not like Mark’s low (adoptionist/separatist) Christology. Why would an eyewitness (supposedly Matthew) copy almost verbatim huge swaths of a non-eyewitness (Mark) in his gospel? (for Luke, “Theophilus” was also the name of a Christian in the late 2nd century who appears to not know about the Jesus story – so it makes sense that it would be addressed to him [Theophilus, to Autolycus]).

3. Mark has John the Baptist doing baptisms specifically for the cleansing of sin. Josephus has John the Baptist specifically not doing baptisms to cleanse someone of sin, “but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2).

4. Mark has Jesus being insanely popular, drawing insane crowds everywhere he goes and renowned all throughout Galilee and Judea. Jesus’ popularity of this magnitude is not corroborated by any other contemporary Jewish writer (Photius, Bibliotheca 33). Jesus’ popularity seems to be a plot device.

5. Mark has Jesus being stalked by the Pharisees everywhere he goes, implying that the Pharisees were the ruling class of Jews prior to 70 CE. The ruling class of Jews during Jesus’ lifetime were the Sadducees, the Pharisees didn’t gain power until the fall of the temple. Meaning that this is a post-70 conflict between Christians and Jews projected into the past.

6. Mark has Jesus go to Gerasa to evict the demon “Legion” from someone and into a herd of pigs, where they stampede into the sea. Gerasa is about 30 miles from the Sea of Galilee so it would have taken over an hour for them to run that far.

7. Mark says that the Pharisees and “all the Jews” had to wash their hands before eating. This only applied to priests.

8. Mark has Jesus clear out the temple of the money changers and singlehandedly preventing anyone from bringing any merchandise through the temple court. The temple wasn’t just some run of the mill temple, it was also a military fortress. There’s no way he would have been able to do this singlehandedly without being immediately arrested (or without a lot help, which would have looked like an insurrection).

9. Mark has Jesus call Daniel a prophet. Daniel is not a prophet according to Judaism, as he wrote (c. 165 BCE) after the time period that prophecy had ended.

10. Mark has the Sanhedrin giving Jesus a trial on a Friday night, during Passover. Trials could only be held on Mondays or Thursdays, not at night, and definitely not on high holy days like Passover. Mark also has the Sanhedrin convicting Jesus for claiming to be the messiah. Claiming to be the christ is in no way blasphemy. There were multiple characters with the title “christ” in the LXX.

11. Mark has Pilate give Jesus a fair trial. Pilate was actually known for executing troublemakers without trial, as he was impatient and hot-headed (Philo, Embassy of Gaius 38.301-303). Not only that, but Pilate presumably gave Barabbas a fair trial as well. Pilate then releases one prisoner because it was a Jewish holiday. Pilate actually had no respect for Jewish customs and almost started a rebellion due to his disrespect. Mark then has Pilate being afraid of the Jewish mob (who for some reason have done a complete 180 in how they view Jesus), when in actuality Pilate had no qualms about assassinating a mob of complaining Jews (Josephus, Antiquities… 18.3.2). Pilate was eventually recalled back to Rome for massacring a bunch of unarmed Samaritans who were following a messiah claimant on Mt. Gerizim.

12. Barabbas is Aramaic for “son of the father”. It just so happens that Jesus — the supposedly real son of the father — meets his polar opposite and his opposite is released, which seems to mimic the scapegoat ceremony of Leviticus 16, where one goat is released and the other goat is sacrificed for sin (some manuscripts of Matthew actually have Barabbas’ given name as “Jesus”).

13. The entire crucifixion scene quotes numerous times from Psalm 22. The Psalms are not prophetic, thus these lines must have been purposefully lifted from that Psalm.

14. All four canonical gospels have emphatically conflicting Easter narratives; consider the Easter Challenge. There’s also no tradition of any “empty tomb” prior to Mark’s gospel. And most common tombs did not have circular stones in front of them that could be “rolled away” (16:3) prior to 70 CE.

15. For some reason all throughout Mark, only demons, the reader, and people who are not named know that Jesus is the messiah. Everyone who is “known” doesn’t know. This makese sense as literature or entertainment, not history.

16. John, who according to tradition, was the son of Zebedee and apostle, was a fisherman. Fishermen in antiquity weren’t widely known for their literacy. John calls Jesus “the Word”:

(205)[…]And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word is continually a paraclete to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race.

(206) And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, “And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You; neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order; and to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work. For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace.”

Oh wait, that’s not from John’s gospel… that’s from Philo’s (20 BCE – 50 CE) “Who is the Heir of Divine Things”. How could an illiterate Aramaic speaking fisherman from the first century read Philo’s work (in Greek, not Aramaic), and say that Jesus was Philo’s “Logos”, who Philo himself reappropriated from the Stoics?

17. John has Christians being kicked out of synagoges during Jesus’ lifetime. This doesn’t actually happen until after the council of Jamnia c. 90 CE.

18. John has Jesus being seen as “the messiah” for a group of Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans reject Davidic authority and thus would not have seen a Jew as their messiah (Jews destroyed their temple on Mt. Gerizim c. 110 BCE).

19. John has Jesus philosophizing about his own awesomeness in long winded discourses throughout this gospel, which is contrary to the shorter speeches in the synoptics. There’s no way anyone who was a witness to any historical Jesus c. 33 would have remembered these long speeches for nearly 70 years. Thus they must be an invention of the author.

20. John has Jesus claim to be god himself, and the only way towards salvation. This would have gotten Jesus arrested and stoned immediately for claiming equality with YHWH. The Jews almost went to war with Rome c. 41 because Caligula declared himself a god in the flesh and wanted a statue of himself erected in the temple. And Jesus claiming that he’s the only way towards salvation would have been nonsense to Jews while the sacrificial system was still functioning.

21. John has Jesus say “your law” when refering to the laws of Moses as though he’s not Jewish.

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Did Paul Think The Jews Killed Jesus?

This is from the discussion here:

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

14For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,

15who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men

16in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last

Here Paul says that the Jews killed Jesus, as well as the prophets. What a statement! That sounds alarmingly like some sort of Muslim charge against the Jews. However, it doesn’t look like the Jews killed any of their prophets.

At least 34 prophets are mentioned by name in the Bible, besides the occasional obscure prophetesses. …

Of these prophets, no record of their deaths is given for most of them, so there is no scriptural indication that they were killed. ….. There were instances where false prophets were put to death, as when Ahab and Zedekiah were roasted to death by Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 29:21. Presumably, the Babylonian king was doing the Lord’s work here, but that’s not what Paul had in mind in 1 Thessalonians. We might also include Jeremiah’s death curse on Hananiah (28:15-17) for the horrendous impiety of giving the people hope in the face of foreign oppression, but, again, that’s not what Paul had in mind either.

No, we need the deaths of “true” prophets, not “false” ones. In my investigation of the prophet-killing charge, I found only three who actually were killed: John the Baptist, Balaam, and the obscure Urijah. The Baptist was killed not by the Jews but at the behest of Herodias, the wife and former sister-in-law of Herod, who took offense at John’s denunciation of her. It is highly unlikely she was a Jew but rather an Edomite.

As far as Balaam is concerned, while Numbers 31:8 records his death at the hands of the Israelites, it is important to realize two things. First, he was not one of “their” prophets anyway (although he set the pattern subsequent prophets followed) but was hired by the king of Moab, whom he double-crossed by refusing to curse Israel. Second, he was judged to be evil (Numbers 31:16; Rev. 2:14; Jude 11; 2 Peter 2:15), just the sort of prophet Yahweh would conceivably *want* the Jews to kill, despite his use of Balaam against Moab.

The only fully legitimate prophet I could find who was killed by his own people was Urijah, a small-time Jeremiah parrot, who was tracked down, dragged back, and killed by King Jehoiakim himself (Jere. 26:20-23). This was the deed of one Jew and his flunkies and not a collective act.

“Killed Their Own Prophets”: New Testament Libel of the Jews by Stephen Van Eck

So it doesn’t seem as though the Jews actually killed any of their prophets. Not only that, but Paul’s statement above contradicts his other claims in 1 Corinthians and Romans:

1 Corinthians 2:8 None of the rulers of this world understood [God’s wisdom]: for had they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Romans 8:4 in order that the just requirement of the law [the crucifixion] might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Paul, in both 1 Corinthians and Romans, thinks that the crucifixion was just, and according to the law.

Here’s Matthew 23, Jesus’ childish rant against the Pharisees (a similar rant is in Luke):

29″Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.

30And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

31So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.

32Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

33″You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

34Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.

35And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

36I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

37″O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

38Look, your house is left to you desolate.

39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'”.

The virtrol in Matt 23 couldn’t have existed against the Pharisees in 33 CE, since they were not the Jews in power. This animosity would better fit in a post 70 CE conflict between Christians and Pharisees, since the destruction of the temple removed the power of the Sadducees and the Pharisees picked it up. “Jesus” here is basically gloating that the Jews lost their temple. Somehow, Paul knew about this as well, since 1 Thess 2:16 could only make sense of the destruction of the temple. What wrath of god befell the Jews in 50 CE?

Thus, this part of 1 Thessalonians must be post-70 CE interpolation.

This makes me more and more suspicious about the traditional date of Paul’s letters. What if they’re all post-70 and the gospel narratives are contemporaneous of the Bar-Kokhba revolt c. 132?

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2009 in interpolation, paul

 
 
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