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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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