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Who wrote the Bible and why should I trust them?

Specifically, How did we get the New Testament?

 

Dear anonymous,

 

In addition to reading the Bible, I read other books too, such as The Gnostic Gospels  by Elaine Pagels. You need to be a church history buff to work all the way through that one, but I will try to give you a taste of it here.

 

In an earlier note I urged you to think for yourself, to be true to yourself, to be honest about your feelings, intuitions, thoughts, questions, doubts and beliefs.  In this letter I am encouraging you to do the same (be true to yourself) not only with the Bible, but also with information you can get outside of the Bible. 

 

Don’t miss out on thinking outside the box (or in this case, thinking outside the Bible).

 

A fair warning, this letter starts simple, but kind of drags on.  I do my best to give the most important stuff first.  Like following the trail of another hiker, you will probably agree with the general direction into which I disappear, but after a while you will quite reasonably be cautious.  Or bored, more likely!

 

I have some simple questions – which seem to have difficult answers.  And I’ll bet that you (and everyone else) have the same questions:

 

Who chose which books go into the Bible?

How did they choose?

Did they leave any books or letters out? Can we read those books elsewhere?

The people who chose the books in the Bible: who were they working for?

Did they appoint themselves, or were they elected by popular vote? By whom?

What was the political structure?  Who had real power – e.g. could one person veto?

Did they have any disagreements? What were those disagreements?

 

Another way to put these questions to your Christian (protestant) friends is:

 

Why don’t we read Tobit, Wisdom, and Baruch? (Catholics do).

The Ethiopian church reads the Book of Enoch, why don’t we?

Why not double our gospels with: the Gospel of Truth,

The Gospel of Phillip,

The Gospel of Thomas,

& The Gospel of the Egyptians?

Why not hear a woman’s perspective from the Gospel of Mary?

And what about other letters and apocryphas with intriguing names like:

Hypostasis of the Archons?

The Thunder Perfect Mind?

Trimorphic Protennoia?

Allogenes or Hypsiphrone?

 

(The last few titles sound like ideas for new Marvel Comics superheros, or perhaps the name of a new Sci-Fi series ; )

 

For me, what’s underneath these questions is Trust.  Can I trust the people who chose these books as the most important literature in the entire world, and decided that other books were not so important (or perhaps even dangerous and dishonest)?

 

My parents, Sunday school teachers, and public school teachers taught me to not trust strangers.  For that matter, capitalism and business teaches me to not trust strangers, such as used car salesmen, but rather to take the car for a test drive.  Or hire a building inspector before purchasing a home.  Surely the basis for living my life the right way, successfully and happily requires careful selection. (and according to some people, we might also avoid some punishment in the afterlife by following only the “right” books!)

 

The bishops and other early church leaders who chose the books and letters in what we call the Bible did so over 1600 years ago.  Which means they’re all dead a long time ago, and therefore they are all strangers.  And for that matter, most of the people who study the original scrolls (scholars and theologians) are also strangers to me (with the rare exception of Dr. Marvin Wilson, whom I mentioned in my last email).

 

Another ingredient in my personal distrust, or skepticism, is a relationship between how controversial or outlandish a claim is, versus the reputation of the person telling me the story.  If someone whom I don’t know tells me that someone who died 1600 years ago (e.g. Bishop Joe Shmoe) wrote a letter about a council where a bunch of other people (more strangers) agreed to collect and make copies of some scrolls which were supposedly written by religious people they never met (the apostles, more strangers) who say that someone else (Jesus of Nazareth, whom Paul never met) rose from the dead…Wow! That’s asking me to believe an awful lot from a long line of strangers!

 

If their ultimate claims were less spectacular, like, for example, that Jesus was a stone mason* and on March 23rd of 22 AD he ordered a new mallet and chisel and some granite block from a local hardware store… well that’s a lot more plausible, and easier to believe.  *(FYI - Jesus was most likely a stone mason, not a carpenter. The word in Aramaic for Jesus’ occupation means “builder”, and there aren’t and weren’t that many trees in Palestine, but there are plenty of rocks).

 

But claiming that Jesus miraculously healed sick people (not just gave them an aspirin, or held their hand for a while, or listened compassionately and thus made them “feel better”) and rose from the dead after about 36 hours of no pulse, no respirations and no circulation (dead people don’t bleed) should require proportionally a lot more trust in the transmission of the story.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a little faith-vs-reason conundrum:

 

A) Reasonable doubt:

if I question a miraculous event from the Bible such as the resurrection, the preachers I grew up with who defend religion (called ‘apologists’) are going to say that their Christianity requires faith.

 

B) Faith is the answer:

Ok, I’m just supposed to believe – have faith in the Bible’s supernatural claims.

 

C) Competing Faiths (from alternative religions):

But if I can have faith in the Bible’s supernatural claims, why not believe other people’s supernatural claims too?  Why not have faith in Scientology’s claims that we are actually descended from Thetans, aliens from another planet?  Why not believe that Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) received new and greater revelations from God around 1840 near Rochester New York? (Evangelical Christians consider anything added to the N.T. heresy)

 

D) Biblical Evidence is the Reason:

The apologists will reply that their supernatural claims are more reasonable, that they have more evidence to support their miracles.  And this evidence for Christianity’s miracles is the accurate transmission and translation of the Bible down through the centuries.  (I am more impressed with the Bible than L Ron Hubbard or Joe Smith, as I’ll suggest below, but that’s not enough for miracles).

 

E) But Reason was the problem:

Notice that the apologists’ appeal to believe in their supernatural claims versus competing religious claims is based on Reason, the logical adding up of the evidence… which brings us back to the first problem – using Reason, I questioned the supernatural claims altogether. So we’ve gone in a circle back to point (A).

 

I am saying that it is not fair for Bible Apologists to ask me to have faith in their supernatural stories, but not have faith in their competitor’s supernatural stories. (and there’s only a few hundred out there!). It’s not fair or honest to exercise faith sometimes, and reason at other times.  That sounds suspiciously fickle to me.  You can’t have it both ways.

 

Here’s a simple problem: everyone is skeptical of other people’s religions! (thanks to James Haught for that one).

 

Apologists and evangelicals are pushing a religion, which should be far more important than shopping for a car or a house, and how much testing and skepticism do I exercise there?  This is why I find those questions of Trust to be very important. 

 

Reading any history is like being at the end of a game of “telephone”, where a long line of people have whispered a message from one person to another.  Here I will try to outline that “game of telephone” for the Bible briefly.

 

The Bible telephone game:

 

1] – in 2009 You and I hear preachers tell us to believe the Bible, and they tell us what they think it means.  We might trust the Preachers.

 

2] – the Preachers learned what they believe the Bible means in bible college or seminary, perhaps in the 1990s / 80s.  They trust their professors.

 

3] – your preacher’s Professors at bible college learned what they did about the Bible, in the same or another bible college or seminary, perhaps in the 1950s. (and perhaps a few opinions have changed since then). They trusted their professors too. (see more below)

 

4] secondary / tertiary sources – from scholars (historians, ancient language experts) over many centuries from today, back to… ancient Rome. Many people have been arguing over the contents and meaning of the Bible for about 2000 years.

 

5] Early Church Bishops, who were sometimes capricious and violent. If I recall correctly, by the council of Nicea in 325 there already was some broad consensus about many books and letters of what we call the Bible …

 

For now, I’ll just call this period the “cloudy soup of competing gospel and epistle  collectors” and it is perhaps the weakest link in this chain.  (see more below and in Appendix I).

 

6] original authors of letters (epistles) and gospels (stories of Jesus’ life).  Who Knows?! (more written below)

 

7] Jesus – yes, but, which one? (see Appendix I).

 

The key problems I have with the human authorities who chose what goes into the Bible and what gets left out – is that they were inconsistent and capricious in their arguments, and worse, they used violence to kill and intimidate their political opponents and suppressed and destroyed competing documents. (See Appendix below).

 

I can not imagine how any sane and reasonable person would get warm fuzzy feelings about an organization’s leadership who are capricious and violent. Growing up in an American Christian home, whenever such qualities were pointed out in another religion, such as Muslim Clerics, Ayatollahs, in Iran, they were immediately interpreted as “Evil”, they were the epitome of an oppressive theocracy.

 

Well, do you think the Roman Empire under Constantine supported religious freedom and tolerance as we’ve experienced it since the Enlightenment?!

 

It has been a very long and bloody road to get to the freedom of religion and freedom of expression that we take for granted today.  The puritans in Boston executed Quakers in the 1660’s.  If the puritans sailed to America for religious freedom, apparently they meant it for themselves only.

 

In other words, if you would not trust the Ayatollahs in Iran to choose the religious books and rules to govern your life because you think those leaders are illogical, inconsistent, whimsical, violent and part of an oppressive theocratic state, then why would you trust Bishops and a Roman Empire from over 1600 years ago who exhibit the same qualities?! That’s the environment where the New Testament comes from.

 

This telephone game has at least 6 degrees of separation between us and this person named Jesus, about whom we’re encouraged to believe some very extraordinary things.

 

That’s quite a stretch, and one important point is that belief or doubt in particular qualities or actions of Jesus does not necessarily imply no belief in God!  Some shills for organized religion try to tie these packages together to enforce consumer loyalty to their particular franchise, rather like Bill Gates bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. (This led to U.S. v Microsoft where the judge ordered Microsoft to offer a version of Windows which did not include Internet Explorer.  If only religions could be tried publicly… oh wait, sometimes their leaders are! More later…).

 

There are many possible interpretations of what Jesus was like, what he may have done and said. And this can have any number of implications (or not) about God. It just so happens that many of us encounter Jesus, the Bible and God as one pre-selected, pre-interpreted, expounded, and applied Agenda from individuals who might mean well, in their station of the organized religion, but may have not thought outside the box as much as the rest of us.

 

One aspect of organized religion’s agenda which tries to seal the deal is its use of fear: fear of death, fear of hell (note this is an unnatural fear of their creation!), and fear of ostracism – you will be left out of the group, perhaps even your family, isolated for your perceived failings and disloyalty.  Thinking for yourself and questioning authority they may consider a failing on your part.  If you’re uncomfortable with questioning authority, ask yourself, “What Would George Washington Do?” (hint, he not only questioned authority, he led an armed rebellion against it. Dissent is Patriotic.)

 

Or for that matter, What Would Jesus Do? You know, the guy who supposedly drove corrupt leaders out of the temple with a whip?!  Oh wait, let me guess, Jesus is allowed to question authority, but I’m not?!

 

I’ve read a lot of arguments between atheists, agnostics, and believers of many kinds about God.  I think the more interesting arguments are not the yes/no argument of “does God exist?”, but rather “what might God be like?”

 

If anyone is interested in a real dialogue with another person (as opposed to yelling, preaching, or talking at someone) we first have to define our terms.  If an atheist and a Christian can not agree on a handful of qualities that God is supposed to have, then there’s absolutely no point in arguing whether or not an un-defined entity exists.

 

Popular doubts and questions:

 

It’s worth mentioning that these questions about how the Bible was chosen and what the Organized Christian Church is, seems to have come up a lot in recent popular books and movies. 

 

The best-selling, and sadly - the worst written, is Dan Brown’s the Da Vinci Code.  David V. Barrett’s essay “Holy Blood Holy Code” (in Everything you know about God is Wrong, ed. Russ Kick) proves that Dan Brown plagiarized Holy Blood Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln.  So if your pastor and other Christian friends handily refute Dan Brown, it’s fairly easy to do because Dan Brown stole his material from Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, and then bungled it horribly.

 

Nevertheless, the popularity of Dan Brown’s books and movies seem to indicate (beyond the unprecedented media blitz by Random House publishers) that a lot of people’s curiosity about the origins of organized religion has arisen.  And more importantly many people are willing to ask questions, doubt, and they will not blindly, quietly accept the first answer they’re given by the Official Church. 

 

It seems reasonable that this doubt, curiosity, independence, and perhaps rebellion flows from a feeling of betrayal by organized religion.  The biggest example of that betrayal being the pedophile priest scandals, of which there are many.

 

Whom to trust?

 

Recall that my central point is Trust – the basis of all relationships.  And I am trying to examine trust in large organizations, where the leadership structure, the hierarchy, extends from far away. 

 

It’s one thing to trust a local minister, store manager, or mayor if you play golf with them, or you teach their kids in Sunday school along with your own.  But corporations, governments, and many organized religions have political processes whose control is often remote.  Many members are discouraged from participating too much in real decisions and exercising real power over matters which affect their personal lives profoundly.  Meaningful government of these institutions is left to “experts”, about whom I like this quote from Noam Chomsky:

 

 “Part of the vocation of intellectuals is to make simple things look complicated -- for self-serving reasons, often.”

 

(Yeah, I know, those are big accusations and broad strokes, beyond the scope of this paper.  But to point you in the direction of evidence for such outlandish claims, may I suggest  A People’s History of the U.S. by Howard Zinn, The Underground history of American Education by John Taylor Gatto, and Manufacturing Consent by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.  The documentary films Manufacturing Consent, or The Corporation by Mark Achbar should pry the lid off Pandora’s box for anyone).

 

At this point I believe that it is necessary to examine cases of betrayal and outrageous criminal behavior perpetrated by organized religion, for a few reasons.  To ignore the worst, when so much evidence is easily available, seems rather like the disease of co-dependency.  Humans are curious, and to not follow our curiosity, to not learn is to not be true to one’s self. 

 

I perform scientific experiments and make some interpretation of the data, and the most basic entities I look for in a sample set are: maximum, minimum, average and standard deviation (how wide is the variety).  While examining the actions of social institutions, whether they be corporations, schools, governments, churches or charities, I look for the best, the worst, and try to size up the average and how wide the variation is.

 

An interesting point about studying humans and their organizations is that they tend to prominently advertise, and even exaggerate their noble qualities, and of course hide their less endearing traits, cover up and erase their crimes, attack their accusers and silence their opposition.  So when negative qualities are discovered it is reasonable to ask how much more crime is still covered up.

 

I’ll assume we’re all fully aware of the mass murder and torture committed and condoned by the Catholic church in the notorious Crusades and Inquisition; so I’ll just skip ahead to disturbing events which occurred and were discovered more recently.  A few years ago, simply by perusing the Boston Globe intermittently I learned about the Catholic Priest sex abuse scandal.  As time went on I learned there were in fact multiple pedophile priest scandals.

 

A key point – to try and diagnose the illness of the hierarchy itself – is to understand the leadership’s response: denial, enabling, cover-up and more denial.  Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston knew that multiple priests were abusing children, he did not fire them, he did not bring them to public account, he shuffled these pedophiles from one parish to another, enabling them access to new victims.  In other words, the hierarchy defended its public appearance – temporarily – and did not protect the most vulnerable of its members – the children.

 

This seems sufficient warrant to withhold trust in the Catholic Church, and perhaps hierarchical organization in general, depending on your level of paranoia.  But maybe I’m over-reacting little…

 

…Until we discover this same pattern occurring elsewhere in the same hierarchy.  Before writing this particular paper about Trust, the Bible and the organization(s) who chose it and interpret it, I was aware of a similar level of organized crime committed by the Catholic Church in Philadelphia (thanks to Russ Kick’s Everything you know about God is wrong), and I’d heard of another archdiocese-level sex abuse scandal out west somewhere (might have been LA).

 

But just now, researching a bit more for this section, I was amazed to find over 4 dozen diocese and archdioceses in 20 countries listed in the Wikipedia article on “Roman Catholic sex abuse cases by country”.

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_sex_abuse_cases_by_country )

 

Apparently I can still be shocked.  The list is so impressive, I must include it here:

 

Keep in mind that I’m trying to diagnose the habits, expectations and attitudes of a hierarchy, not just the actions of a few individuals.  And I can acknowledge that it was a very small minority of priests whose crimes generated such scandal; in other words I can accept that most priests are probably good. (only an omniscient God could know that for certain. and ironically some of those people higher up the corporate ladder who claim to know this omniscient God better than most are precisely those whom I can not trust).

 

For example, the John Jay report claims that 4% of priests in the U.S. were accused of sexual abuse.  One interesting question arises – what percent of the guilty were actually accused?  How many were never accused because parents and other religious elders - the religious atmosphere as a whole - discouraged the abused from coming forward?

 

While lists and numbers, and more importantly, the logic and investigation which create such lists and statistics should be compelling, I am acutely aware that people are in fact swayed by emotion and empathy. Personal stories give psychological weight to the “data”.  http://www.philadelphiadistrictattorney.com/pages/1/index.htm This site allows you to read for yourself the findings http://www.philadelphiadistrictattorney.com/images/Grand_Jury_Report.pdf

 

Not to titillate perversely, but to impart the shock I have felt, here is just one detail of one story:

“a boy woke up intoxicated in a Priest’s bed to find the Father sucking on his penis, while three other priests watched and masturbated themselves.”

 

Without being melodramatic, I find it difficult to imagine a more terrifying and despairing scene.  I’ve watched more horror and crime movies than I probably should have, and most Hollywood films just can’t reach a certain level of fear because, well, they’re Hollywood, the epitome of fake.  But there’s something about the conspiracy of 4 priests together in this incident which just overwhelms.  Not just 2 priests, or 3, which would be difficult to assure secrecy, but 4 priests; plus the bishop and archbishop somewhere in the bureaucracy who ignore the accusations streaming in.  And these are priests and bishops, leaders in whom the entire community places trust.  The victims were not asked to testify against vagrants and junkies, but religious and community leaders.

 

Complete betrayal and dismay seems to be the only appropriate response.

 

In March 28, 2008 Bill Maher typed a piece entitled: New Rule: Catholics Must Get Up Out of the Pew and Walk Out of the Church Forever.  In it he quotes Sean Hannity (of Fox News Channel) who claims that Barack Obama should leave his church because Reverend Wright said awful things about America.  Bill Maher then demonstrates that Catholics, like Sean Hannity, have all the more reason to leave their church because: “[their] church hierarchy is caught up in a systematic and decades-long sex abuse scandal. And did I mention the people being sexually abused were children? Hundreds of them?”

 

These sordid tales indicate strongly to me that hierarchies should not be trusted.  In case you’re still hoping to remain comfortable in a church where experts do the thinking for you, I suppose you could feel good about being Protestant at least.  But that’s more investigation, history and discussion for another time, I guess.

 

 

 

Trust has to be earned

A simple point of logic:  regarding physical objects, people must prove that something is; they do not have to prove that something is not. (in fact, because you can’t explore the entire universe you can not prove that something does not exist; what if it’s in one of those places you missed?).  And if you do not have compelling evidence then you must admit that you do not know.  Of that which one is ignorant, one must remain silent.

 

For example, in 1491 the honest and humble answer to the question “Is the earth round or flat?” would have been: “I do not know”. (actually Eratosthenes calculated the earth’s circumference around 200 BC, but apparently civilizations forget stuff, and no one had yet proven it empirically).

 

When Columbus’ crew sailed further West than any southern European* he did not quite prove that the earth was round, but he did prove that there were islands farther west than other Spanish and Italians had known. *(Leif Ericson’s Vikings may have made it as far as Labrador – I’m compulsive with details)  Magellan’s crew was the first to prove empirically that the earth is round.

 

Now that’s a demonstration of material fact.  Referring back to my argument about trusting strangers in hierarchies – I’d suggest the default case should be to Not trust strangers. 

 

Should not hierarchies, whose majority and real power lies outside of your immediate community be burdened to prove that they are trustworthy?  Why isn’t the default attitude towards State and Federal Governments dis-trust – i.e. a libertarian or anarchist view?  How many corporations take from the public domain for private profit in return for products of dubious value, exploited labor, and toxic waste? (e.g. millions of acres of land for railroad barons; DNA / protein designs from indigenous rain forests; Ludlow Colorado Massacre; water mining by Coca-cola; Union Carbide “accident” killed 6000 in  Bhopal India, etc. etc. etc.)

 

How did we learn to trust hierarchies?  By practicing their religious exercises.  The pledge of allegiance is a compulsory religious ritual in a compulsory public school.  Arlington National Cemetery is called a national shrine.  What do people do at a shrine? They worship.  And what are they worshiping there? God?  Whose God? Or are they worshiping an idol?

 

I would suggest that many people who call themselves Christian blindly support idolatry.  The US govt is not doing what most Christians think it is doing, and they are blissfully unaware in their stupor because they are not in the habit of questioning, analyzing and doubting human power – hierarchies.  One human hierarchy, organized religion, reinforces the other – the government, even though we claim to have a separation of the two. I would suggest that the leadership of both hierarchies enjoys a loyalty and admiration which it does not deserve.  Again, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, the Pentagon Papers, the Downing Street Memo, numerous scandals and cover-ups should dispel many such illusions.

 

Lest I sound completely negative, as an alternative to hierarchies (pyramids), I highly recommend collectives based on equality (like circles).  Small, Local organizations of people who have a long history of growing together (think families, clans) is in fact our evolutionary bent: for millions of years our ancestors were hunter-gatherers in groups no larger than about 60 to 70 adults.  Only after settling down to farm by predictable rivers, population boomed, cities crowded, and fighting became more common. Raiding became worthwhile (previously there was not much to steal from hunter-gatherers), thus hierarchical government arose, but protection soon became a protection racket.

 

Getting back to my prescription for society, when these Small, Local, family-quality organizations link to cooperate, great effort should be taken to keep the hierarchy as low and accountable as possible.  Here’s a good place for some of X-A’s 12 Concepts of Service:

 

2. The final responsibility and authority for X-A services rests with the X-A groups. (my note: the Group is Small and Local).

 

3. The X-A groups delegate to the service structure the authority necessary to fulfill the

responsibilities assigned to it.

 

5. For each responsibility assigned to the service structure, a single point of decision and

accountability should be clearly defined.

 

7. All members of a service body bear substantial responsibility for that body’s decisions

and should be allowed to fully participate in its decision-making processes.

 

9. All elements of our service structure have the responsibility to carefully consider all

viewpoints in their decision-making processes.

 

12. In keeping with the spiritual nature of  our 12 step fellowship, our structure should

always be one of service, never of government.

 

Some religious groups emphasize small, local govt and encourage each person to look within themselves for a higher power, to hear directly from God without a professional intermediary (minister).  For these groups to balance personal leadings with cooperation in a community is quite challenging.  In my opinion, those groups who balance personal enlightenment and communal cooperation tend to be organized like circles, where every point on a circle is equally distant from its center - God.  They have a very flat hierarchy with minimal levels of authority.

 

Other organized religions with steep hierarchies perhaps have never really tried balancing personal leadings against groupthink; decision making is a privilege of an elite and they simply give orders to the majority.

 

After too many pages I must sum up with these lyrics from Bob Dylan:

If you want someone you can trust, trust yourself.

(Trust yourself, Empire Burlesque, 1985)

 

Appendix I

 

The “Bible Telephone game” points expanded:

 

3] Your preacher’s professors:

At best these professors who taught our preachers have examined primary sources (actually fragments of sheepskin, ostraca or papyri) many of which are in museums in Egypt and Israel and require special permission to handle outside of their glass display cases.

 

Your preacher, and their professors might read secondary sources (type-set in Aramaic, Coptic, or Hebrew, or photographed copies), or more often tertiary sources (third hand) – translations in English.

 

5] Early Church Bishops / “cloudy soup of competing gospel and epistle collectors”

 

Now I’ll admit my knowledge gets murky.  But guess what? So does everyone else’s!  Experts disagree (as you would expect them to!).

 

Honestly, here’s my best recollection of some reasonable opinions I’ve read and heard –

(in no particular order)

 

a) the argument over Biblical Canon (which books are of equal importance) continues through 1540 AD (e.g. in the council of  Trent, the Roman Catholic church finally confirms that books like Tobit and Judith on par with Kings and Chronicles.  You probably don’t read Tobit in your Congregational Church). So technically, what’s in and what’s out of the Bible is not completely decided by 325 AD.

 

b) there is some agreement on perhaps 80% of the Old Testament (Jews call that the TaNaK: Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim) and maybe 75% of the New Testament around 325 – but this much agreement is amongst those who are invited to the Nicean Council. 

 

Presumably those who disagreed were not invited?

 

c) in other words, from whenever Jesus left the scene around the 30s AD, to about the 300s AD there was Not just one big happy family of Christians.  There were many competing followings scattered here and there, some talking to each other, while others were isolated, some agreeing about some things, with others bickering about a lot.

 

To sum up point [5] in the telephone game, I’ll call it a “cloudy soup of competing Bible collectors.” But notice that none of these people are Jesus, and from about 80 or 90 AD to 300 AD, none of them met Jesus.

 

There’s about 245 more years to go back!  Assuming 30 years on average between generations (some Christians could have kids as early as age 15, but I’ll stretch this out) that’s 8 generations from someone who met Jesus personally to Nicea.  That’s a great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Mark’s perhaps seated in Nicea.

 

There are a couple points I’d like to raise against trusting the early church bishops and the overall process by which the NT as we know it was condensed: violent oppression of competing views, and inconsistencies.

 

Violent oppression inspires fear, not trust

I suspect that this selection from page 20 of The Nag Hammadi Library, Introduction by James M. Robinson, is quite revealing:

 

 “Shenoute, Abbot of the White Monastery… attacked a group at the nearby temple of Pneueit that called itself ‘kingless’, worshipped the ‘demiurge’ and would not accept Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, as their ‘illuminator’…

 

He seized their ‘books full of abomination’ and ‘every kind of magic’…

 

Shenoute threatened the heretics: ‘I shall make you acknowledge… the Archbishop Cyril, or else the sword will wipe out most of you, and moreover those of you who are spared will go into exile.’…

 

Just as the Dead Sea Scrolls were put in jars for safekeeping and hidden at the time of the approach of the Roman Tenth Legion, the burial of the Nag Hammadi library in a jar may also have been precipitated by the approach of Roman authorities, who by then had become Christian.”

 

Recall that the central issue is Trust, should we trust the early Christian leaders who chose the NT?  Using a court room as an analogy, Prosecutors have to build a case, whereas the Defense only has to show reasonable doubt.  I believe the same kind of rules should apply here.  Trusting the unknowable bishops from 200 – 400 AD who chose the NT requires building a very robust case.

 

If you argue that you should just put your blind faith into the Bible regardless of knowing anything about its source, what separates that kind of blind faith in the Bible, or fideism, from faith in L Ron Hubbard? Or The Book of Mormon, ancient Mayan inscriptions?

 

Or how about a stenographers notebook which I just found,

and only I can decipher,

while in a trance,

with the help of mind altering chemicals,

administered by nubile female “spiritual” assistants?

 

(I could try starting my own cult too, you know. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier than sorting all this religious history out!).

 

I suppose one could earn a Ph.D. in early church history and ancient languages trying to compile all the available primary documents about how the NT was chosen, and I don’t think I have to do that much work to cast reasonable doubt.  I only have to detonate a few well-placed charges in the apologists’ bridge to nowhere: violent suppression of competing views and inconsistencies on the part of the “orthodox” winners in early Church arguments should be enough to erode trust in these very human authorities.

 

So here with Shenoute we have the military power of the Roman State intervening in favor of an official Christian church suppressing competing religious views. (Shenoute is also known as Shenouda the Archamandrite, one of the most renowned saints of the Coptic Orthodox church).  From what I’ve been told, the Christian church went from being oppressed by Rome to becoming the oppressors in about 3 generations.

 

A challenge that Bible apologists should have to answer is what was the role of oppression and violence in the early church?

 

I suspect that it’s more than coincidence that these Gnostics at Pneueit called themselves “kingless”, i.e. liberal religious beliefs and liberal political thought nurture each other. This is precisely what Empires, religious or political (in this case both), tyrants of mind and spirit, must stamp out.

 

I was taught in 20th century United States to be proud of the freedoms afforded by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights: freedom of religion, speech, assembly and the press.  These freedoms are precisely what the Roman Christian Legions were stamping out in Pneueit, with Shenoute’s and Archbishop Cyril’s blessing.

 

I’ve heard there’s a saying in Japan that the first man to raise his voice angrily in an argument loses.  If you use violence and intimidation to “win”, as far as I’m concerned, you lost.  You may temporarily gain my outward appearances of cooperation, but this is  out of fear and calculating risk on my part, certainly not respect, admiration or trust.

 

It seems to me that many political winners in history were violent, liars, or both. (con artists).  History is written by the winners, or to rephrase that, dead men tell no tales. (Also their widows and orphans learn the new propaganda or they die too.)

 

Examples of inconsistencies: Hippolytus and Tertullian

 

On page 107 of The Gnostic Gospels, in the chapter “Whose Church is the True Church?”, Elaine Pagels begins to outline a couple of examples of inconsistencies:

 

“Consider, for example, how specific disputes with other Christians drove even Hippolytus and Tertullian, those two fervent opponents of heresy, to redefine the church for themselves.”

 

( If I could redefine the church for myself, and fervently oppose my opponents as heretics, or “suppressed persons”, wouldn’t I be considered a cult leader? Perhaps I have missed my calling after all).

 

One on-going argument in the early churches was about the definition of the church: was the church those whose names were on the membership rolls approved by the official leadership?  Or was it those individuals, within the clicques or outside, who practiced these spiritual principles in all of their affairs (step 12)?  Was it the “apostolic succession of bishops guaranteed on the basis of the canon and church doctrine” – toeing the party line – or those individuals who in their heart tried to live like Jesus, as well as they understood Jesus?

 

Apparently, when it suited them Hippolytus and Tertullian claimed that the True Church was those who toed the party line. It was their church when they were in charge of it.  But when they found themselves in the minority, out of political power, their tune changed:

 

Now that Callistus headed the Roman Church, Hippolytus decided to break away from it. In the process he turned against the bishop the same polemical techniques that Iraneus had taught him to use against the Gnostics.

 

How could Hippolytus justify his claim to represent the church, when he and his few adherents were attacking the great majority of Roman Christians and their bishop?  Hippolytus explained that the majority of “self-professed Christians” were incapable of living up to the standard of the true church, which consisted of “the community of those who live in holiness”.  Like his Gnostic opponents, having refused to identify the church through its official hierarchy, he characterized it instead in terms of the spiritual qualities of its members.

p.108 The Gnostic Gospels,

 

Tertullian proclaimed that his church alone bore the apostolic rule of faith, revered the canon of scriptures, and bore through its ecclesiastical hierarchy the sanction of apostolic succession. Like Iraneus, Tertullian indicted the heretics for violating each of these boundaries…

 

[the heretical Gnostics] challenged others to raise theological questions…

 

[Tertullian] condemns the heretics for being “a camp of rebels” who refused to submit to the authority of the bishop.

So speaks Tertullian the catholic.  But at the end of his life, when his own intense fervor impelled him to break with the orthodox community, he rejected and branded it as the church of mere “psychic” Christians…

He scorns the catholic community as “the church of a number of bishops”…

p.109-110 The Gnostic Gospels,

 

 

Honestly, does this whimsical use of argument and rhetoric inspire trust and faith?

 

Imagine you’re on a business trip in some far away land, your car breaks down on a dusty road, you’re looking for help and you walk into a little brown church in the vale and find yourself in the middle of a heated theological argument.  As you patiently try to listen to the history of the splintering congregations in this wildwood you are able to trace something like the above quotes.  Would you be moved to give up your traveling business and become converted to follow one of the winners of these arguments?

 

(My rustic imagery here may amuse my neighbors in Cambridge Massachusetts, but if you’re from a red state, imagine deciphering bickering in a store front church in say, the Castro district, and having to choose sides there.)

 

6] original authors of epistles and gospels. 

 

Now we are in for a big fight. 

 

I’ve read some reasonable arguments (by Gary Greenberg in Everything you know about God is wrong, edited by Russ Kick; also in Elaine Pagel’s book) showing that

 i) we don’t know who wrote the gospels

ii) it certainly was not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, the people to whom those booklets are usually attributed.

 

Here’s an impressive chart summarizing current debate from another source:

http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/authornt.html

 

 

 

The Authorship of New Testament Books

The table below summarizes the current state of scholarly opinion about the status of the New Testament authorship.

New Testament Books

Traditional Authorship Attribution

Conclusion Based on Critical Research

Main Reasons Why Result of Critical Research Does no Agree with Tradition

1. Matthew

Matthew

False

The obvious dependence of this gospel on the gospel of Mark (who is a non eye-witness)means that it could not have been written by Matthew, who would have been an eyewitness to most of the events.

2. Mark

Mark

False

The John Mark referred to in Acts 12:12 could not have made the geographical mistakes committed by the gospel (Mark 7:31, 5:1-13)

3. Luke

Luke

False

The internal evidence points towards a late date of composition, circa 100 CE. Certain historical errors in Luke-Acts made it unlikely that Luke was the author.

4. John

John the Son of Zebedee

False

Presence of Greek philosophy, mysticism and dogma that could not reasonable be expected of an unschooled Galilean peasant (Acts 4:13).

5. Acts of the Apostles

Luke

False

Same reason as Luke.

6. Romans
7. I Corinthians
8. II Corinthians
9. Galatians

Paul

True

-

10. Ephesians

Paul

False

Style is sluggish, unlike Paul's violatile one.

11. Philippians

Paul

True

-

12. Colossians

Paul

Doubtful

Difference in style and vocabulary

13. I Thessalonians

Paul

True

-

14. II Thessalonians

Paul

Doubtful

Difference in style and vocabulary

15. I Timothy
16. II Timothy
17. Titus

Paul

False

The existence of a highly organized church (I Tim 3:15), with definite creeds (I Tim 1:13, 4:6), and written gospels (I Timothy 3:16) seem presupposed in these three epistles.

18. Philemon

Paul

True

-

19. Hebrew

Paul

False

No internal evidence suggest Pauline authorship.

20. James

James the brother of Jesus

False

The cultured language of the epistle could not have been derived from a Palestinian with a humble background. It is unlikely that a Jew, whose mother tongue was Aramaic, could write the polished literary Greek of the epistle.

21. I Peter
22. II Peter

Peter

False

Author exhibits an extensive knowledge of Greek and Greek philosophical ideas. Highly improbable for an uneducated Galilean peasant. (Acts 4:13)

23. I John
24. II John
25. III John

John the son of Zebedee

False

Author introduces himself in II John and III John as John the Elder, a different person from John the son of Zebedee.

26. Jude

Jude the brother of Jesus

False

Based on literary style a mid-second century document.

27. Revelation

John the son of Zebedee

False

No internal claim that the author is John son of Zebedee. John was a very common Hebrew name.

Note the consensus above. According to the experts eighteen out of the twenty seven books had false attribution of authorship. Two more are doubtful. This leaves us with seven books, all of which are epistles of Paul, in which we know the author with some certainty. This has important implications which will be explored when we look at the true origins of Christianity.

References

1.

Riedel et.al., The Book of the Bible
Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism
Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible


 

 

I’ve also read some thoughtful arguments from Bible scholars (including my Dad ; ) who try to prove that

i) we Do know who wrote the gospels

ii) it was those apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

 

Currently, I go with reasonable doubt, so I’d have to say “it is unknowable at this time”, and sum up point #6 as “who knows?”.

 

At least some of these gospels and letters are “pseudonymous” (perhaps forgery is too harsh a term?) and maybe Paul’s disciples wanted to send a letter in the spirit of Paul, consistent with what Paul would have wanted to say.

 

On the other hand, reading lines like Romans 13:1-7 about submitting to human political authorities because God established them makes me wonder if this passage, or similar ones elsewhere in the NT were thrown in at some point to appease Caesar’s officers, to not appear disloyal or threatening.. 

 

Romans 13:1 ”Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

 

“we’ll be good slaves” – I guess?  But this is beyond my belief:

 

Verse 4. “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.”

 

Try telling that to the victims of Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, East Timor… or for that matter, how well did this go over with the Christians in Nero’s Rome (the assumed audience)?!  When thrown to the lions did these Christians think: “Gee, I must have done something wrong because Caesar ‘holds no terror for those who do right’?”

 

 

 

 

 

7] Jesus.  Finally.  But which one?

 

For many years I avoided the topic of Jesus altogether because it brought up too many painful memories of organized religion.  After a few years of careful consideration I can think of a few broad outlines of what Jesus might have actually been like.  There are probably many more theories, personifications, portrayals, images and even caricatures of Jesus out there, some of which overlap, but I’ll just outline those which bubble up to the surface.

 

A) Jesus > contemporaries.  Jesus was the most prominent preacher / prophet / leader / holy man/ healer* of his time, but there were many other such itinerant preachers.  Most of his teachings were original, or at least were unique interpretations of older traditions, spoken and acted out in remarkable and unforgettable form in that culture.  Some of his contemporaries (i.e. followers) felt convinced that his character and teachings were superior to other preachers of his time.  He may have gathered a much larger popular following than his competitors in Palestine.

 

(* about my use of the word “healer” – to simplify discussion, I consider all claims of supernatural events to be equally unknowable.  Recall the faith-versus-reason conundrum from page 3.  If Jesus, or any other healer ever healed anyone, it was at the level of basic nursing or palliative care, which is deeply meaningful to both the person in need and their loved ones, it’s emotionally affirming.  However, I do not believe that anyone described as a healer from the Roman era performed any supernatural feats or restored human physiological function to the level attained by modern medicine, surgery and physical therapy.)

 

B) Jesus = contemporaries. Jesus was but one of many prophets of his time.  Many of his teachings were borrowed from diverse currents of influence flowing through the crossroads between Greece, Egypt, India and Mesopotamia.  Only his followers were convinced that his character and teachings were superior to others.  The following he gathered for a time appeared enormous and compelling when viewed from inside that crowd, but from a cosmopolitan outsider’s view, not so much.

 

C) Jesus < contemporaries.  Other itinerant preachers like John the Baptist, for example, commanded more popular respect and attention until they too upset political authorities and were sufficiently discouraged by imprisonment or execution. 

 

Hierarchies by their nature oppress the lower ranks whose sufferings produce traveling holy men and potential revolutionaries like a cottage industry.  Popular dreams of equality, fairness, justice and freedom give rise to individuals who put words, stories and some drama or figurative action to these visions of a better society, a new way to treat each other, a.k.a. The Kingdom of God. (perhaps more on this later?!)

 

One apparent conflict which I’ll have to explain to support these last two theories is how on earth did a following of Jesus become far greater and more powerful than any other religion of its time?  In other words, if Jesus of Nazareth was not actually the Messiah, if he did not really work miracles, why did his religion “win”? My answer in brief: a combination of natural and artificial selection or commandeering by an emperor.

 

How to pick a Jesus?

 

Trying to pick out what Jesus is actually like might be similar to trying to figure out who is the “best” preacher today.  All Christian ministers, whether they’re Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Robert Schuler, Billy Graham, Dr Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, or Pope John Paul were teaching from a long-standing religion, just like Jesus taught from a long-standing religion – in his case, Judaism.  Amongst their respective flocks you’re likely to see an ardent cult of personality which might even distract one’s attention away from Jesus, whom that preacher supposedly follows!  This is nothing new: 1Cor 1:10-13 tells us that some of the first “believers” start to see themselves as followers of Paul or Peter and not necessarily Jesus.

 

I suspect that if you can start to see past the vagaries of language, you might find that whomever Jesus was and whatever he did stood out locally for a time, but followed teachings of Greek philosophers and Hindu teachers. And if you could travel back in time to interview those Greek or Hindu teachers you’d find that they also had teachers, and more significantly, all were giving voice to principles which are accessible to everyone!

 

In fact, to be more revolutionary about it: you do not need the preachers to access those principles inherent in the universe.  The same kind of radio antenna is already within you to receive the cosmic broadcasts.

 

If your own heart tells you something which conflicts sharply with what a preacher happens to be blabbing this week, politely ignore them and be true to yourself!  Or participate in a truly democratic community and speak your own experience and give pretentious leaders a schooling.  If you discover con-artists, run them out of town!

 

Revealing Contrasts: John the Baptist vs. Jesus

 

Investigating the disciples of John the Baptist reveals compelling truths which are quite inconvenient to Evangelicals who insist that Jesus clearly stands out as the obvious Lord and Savior of Mankind because of overwhelming and historically documented miracles, signs and wonders.

 

During the first and second centuries there were actually followers of John the Baptist still milling about believing that their beloved, albeit beheaded, leader was the Messiah at the same time as Jesus’ followers were preaching that Jesus had ascended into heaven after rising from the dead.  Is this not significant, that there was a sizeable number of John’s disciples still not “won over” to Jesus’ side?

 

My Sunday school education taught that all the “good” people in the first century followed Jesus, and only “bad” people were unable to see that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God.

 

But apparently there were enough people in the first century who had more reasons to be loyal to John the Baptist than Jesus, so much so that their beliefs persisted or permuted into a religion which still exists today!

 

The Mandeans claim that Jesus was a false messiah:

Mandaeans maintain that Jesus was a mšiha kdaba "false messiah" who perverted the teachings entrusted to him by John.

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandean )

 

For more revealing material via John the Baptist please see footnotes

1) John’s Disciples after his death, part of Rejection of Pascal’s Wager by Paul Tobin, and

2) The John the Baptist movement, from the New World Encyclopedia,

below.

 

The N.T. writers cast no favorable light on potentially competing holy men  probably because they’re trying to prove Jesus’ qualities as unique and superior.  Other gospels, the ones we’re not supposed to read (like the gospels of Thomas, Mary, the Egyptians, etc.) might portray this Jesus as but one shining example of what many people (or perhaps everyone) could become if we but find within us that same connection to a Higher Power.

 

Why did Evangelical Christianity “Win”?

 

Getting back to that point of natural and artificial selection of Orthodox Christianity, what I suspect happened around and after Jesus, is something like the following:

 

A) Natural Selection or Spontaneous Popular Social Foment

i) Jesus is one of many traveling holy men who acquires a following which persists after his heroic death.

ii) there are numerous competing followings of potential messiahs and leaders amongst not only the Jews, but every perceivable group.

iii) by random chance, some of these followings will grow and last longer.  Just like business, some fail, some merge, some acquire failed smaller ones.

 

B) Artificial Selection or Commandeering by / for the Empire

i) ruling elites figure out how to re-direct popular dissent in order to survive as elites. (and teach their successors)

ii) there is some balance between direct confrontation of potential messiahs and “ignoring them to death”.

a) direct execution may risk popular revolt. Matt 21:23&26 “The chief priests and elders”…“are afraid of the people”

b) smaller movements will fizzle out on their own.

iii) there’s probably a whole catalogue of strategies and tricks to control the masses, and studying Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and other union-busters should be revealing, but here’s a few key phrases I know of:

a) co-opting, commandeering,

b) bribery of leaders, or their discontent rivals – like Judas?

c) divide and conquer

d) delay

e) spies to instigate infighting, agent provocateurs

f) false flag operations

g) distraction, bread and circus

h) least concession possible to defuse opponent’s momentum

i) bait and switch

 

Becoming more specific, various Roman authorities had to deal with unrest and potential popular uprisings all the time.  Many messiahs and movements could blossom just below their level of attention and interference.  Predators learn to not waste their energy.  Just knock one down periodically to remind everyone who’s in charge and the followers scatter.

 

The natural selection is occurring below the radar of the Empire’s artificial selection. Some traits to help a potential world religion survive might be:

-heavy emphasis on evangelism to spread and reproduce the following,

-fanaticism and dedication - to the point of death – inspired by supernatural claims and hitting the right mythical archetypes,

-meeting people’s psychological needs (e.g. “you are chosen by God”),

-local self-sustaining cells which can commune with other cells temporarily, but survive separation, then re-adhere once the Empire removes its sword.

-Avoid directly antagonizing authorities or threatening wide scale revolt,

-promise to be good slaves,

-emphasize “spiritual” rewards, especially in a rosy afterlife, versus tangible material rewards and meaningful change in living conditions, public health, infant mortality, food security, etc.

 

Overall I’d guess that there must be a balance between tensions of yielding completely to the Empire and losing one’s identity, versus loyalty to the New Way and physically being extinguished by the Empire.

 

Not only were there probably many “underground” local cults, sects, and movements of other religions throughout the Roman empire, there were many competing brands of Christian cults, sects and movements.  The Gnostics threatened by Shenouda the Archamandrite (back on page 14) were but one monastery of Gnostics; there were a few varieties of Gnostic apparently.  Gnostic groups existed before Jesus and some Gnostic groups latched on to some of his teachings and added him for their own purposes perhaps.

 

There have also been some Christian groups which have survived in isolation for almost 1000 years, such as the Syrian Malabar Nasrani.

 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christians ).

 

I imagine all these competing cults like bubbles rising, joining, bursting, and falling in a boiling pot, or a lava lamp.

 

At various points various Roman authorities will interact with these bubbles, sometimes persecuting them, sometimes using them. Finally an Emporer intervenes, the ultimate in artificial selection, and lifts one of the larger bubbles to the top, to official legitimate status, but of course uses this fledgling religion for his own purposes.

 

( I’ve read and heard pretty good discussion about Constantine re-forming Christianity as a hybrid with the Mithra cult.)

 

All Emperor Constantine has to do to commandeer Christianity is hand pick or promote an obsequious bishop here and there, dismiss or discourage a vexing bishop occasionally, and if the teachings of that particular amalgam of Christianity already included a heavy dose of “play Simon says”, it’s a done deal.

 

In other words, that particular amalgam of Christianity was already hierarchical – just co-opt the top of the hierarchy and the worker ants at the bottom are all yours!

 

Other brands of Christianity, such as the Gnostics who encouraged independent practice and critical thought were offered… well, as Shenuote said: Sword and Exile.

 

So, who was Jesus?

 

What I’ve tried to illuminate is that:

1) there are many possible Jesus-es,

 

2) there were many competing sources, or gospels about these different perceptions of a Jesus, or many Jesus-es,

 

3) some gospels were suppressed, their copies burned, authors slain,

 

4) some of the suppressed gospels were from independent, perhaps more democratic or egalitarian groups, e.g. some Gnostics called themselves “kingless”

 

5) it’s possible, and in my opinion likely, the one peculiar brand of Christianity which got boosted by the Emperor sold out some of its better principles,

 

6) it’s this obsequious compromised Christianity who admires the Emporer’s New Clothes which did most of the choosing of the New Testament, and certainly interpreted it for almost everyone else since...

 

7) …until rebels like Martin Luther or George Fox show up).

 

Jesus is a Rohrshach test, anyone can project3 on to him what they want. He’s a man of peace, except for when he says:

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…                   Matt 10:34…

 

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible gives many more inconsistencies and inconvenient truths here:

http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html

 

I feel that the mainstream denominations of today, or Big Christianity, traces its roots to the original faustian bargain with the Emperor, continues to compromise with Empire (be it Austrian, British, American, Corporate, etc.), enforces conformity within, and still loses its soul!

 

What I’m trying to make room for and encourage here is independent thought, and sharing personal experience and lessons learned in egalitarian communities!

 

So, the last point in the telephone game I’ll sum up as “Jesus – which one?”

 

In these paragraphs about Jesus (point #7) I have attempted to show that instead of being a telescope onto the past with clean, polished lenses focused on the real, knowable Jesus, the NT is more like a broken telescope, a kaleidoscope.  Looking through fragmented lenses, some of which are stained with the blood of “heretics” and the ashes of the library at Alexandria, how can you discern different facets?  Whose version of Jesus is a distortion? 

 

My point is that your own mind and heart will tell you just as well or better how you can live by spiritual principles than the shills for a political-religious system.

 

***

 

Trivia

A few points to keep in mind here if you look for anyone outside the Bible to support the Bible (e.g. the historian Josephus).

 

Which Jesus? What’s in a name?

 

Jesus’ name was more like Y’shua Bar-Yosef. (Jesus son of Joseph). The Hebrew boy’s name Y’shua elsewhere in the O.T. is translated into “Joshua”. הושע (Yehoshua) The Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho (big brass band leader who brought the walls down) and the Jesus born in a stable under a bright star (about 1300 years later) had the same name.

 [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshua_(name) ]

 

In other words, I used to think that Jesus of Nazareth, whose name meant “savior” or “rescuer” was the only guy walking around with that name, and gee – doesn’t a name like “rescuer” sound like they’re destined to be really important?!  I mean, it’s one thing to have a nickname like “Tiger”, but a name like Rescuer must have sounded pretentious on the school yard.

 

Beyond the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I’m trying to point out that it would be very difficult, or more to the point – impossible, to know if a “Jesus” mentioned in Josephus’ histories is the same as the Jesus mentioned in the Gospels.

 [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus#Testimonium_Flavianum ]

 

Why? For one thing, beyond the actual name Y’shua (Yehoshua, etc.) being common, the claim of being a Messiah (Moshiach) is not unique, gathering a crowd of people to follow one man for a few years is not unique, and claims of miracles spread word of mouth by a crowd are not unique either.  People still claim that miracles happen today and attribute them to some individuals who might themselves be surprised at the claim.

 

***

Footnotes to part 7 Jesus, but which one?

1) John's Disciples After His Death

http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/baptism.html?20096#afterdeath

There is a further problem to the gospels’ story about John’s role. If he was to be the forerunner of Jesus, someone who prepares the way for the Lord (Mark 1:2); his mission would have been complete the moment Jesus steps into the scene. One would expect John’s movement to be obsoleted and his followers would disband or follow Jesus.

Yet this was obviously not the case. The passage above also showed that John kept his disciples to the end of his life. [b] Even after the death of John, his disciples continued to be a separate and distinct group from the followers of Jesus. Acts 19:1-7 narrates the story of Paul meeting some followers of John in Ephesus, a quarter of a century after the death of John and Jesus. These followers had not even heard of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. The followers of John, which eventually became known as the Mandeans, persisted until the second century. They were often locked in theological conflict with the early Christians-as the polemics of the early Christians testify. We also find that the while the passage in Antiquities mentioned John’s preaching of repentance and practice of baptism, it makes no mentioned of him being a forerunner to another. [5]

 

Antiquities 18:5:2
John, who was called the Baptist;...who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness toward one another, and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism, for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was purified beforehand by righteousness. [6]

 

The balance of evidence therefore, is in favour of the hypothesis that John never preached about he being a forerunner to Jesus.

 

2) The John the Baptist Movement

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/John_the_Baptist

The gospel of John has evidence that John and Jesus had parallel and rival ministries (John 3:22-4:3). Acts 18:24-19:7 recounts the conversion of a Jew named Apollos, who "knew only the baptism of John" (Acts 18:25). This may be evidence that the John the Baptist movement continued after his death. Given John's higher social status in Jewish society, it is not surprising that some Jews regarded Jesus as no more than a dissident disciple of John. (Thus some Jews thought Jesus to be the resurrected John (Mark 6:14-16; Matt. 14:2). A common scholarly view is that the Jesus movement grew out of a larger John the Baptist Movement.[1] Jesus' movement was the smaller, and the gospels' frequent praise of John can be explained by the early Christian efforts to recruit followers of the Baptist, like Apollos.

Indeed, the primary critical viewpoint on Jesus and John the Baptist is that the gospels attempted to Christianize the Baptist or make John declare Jesus' superiority to him. The primary vehicle for this is the unverifiable story of Jesus' baptism. Thus in Mark 1:9-11, the revelation at the Jordan was for Jesus only; John did not see it. John does not testify to Jesus in Luke's account of the baptism, possibly because the fact that John had not testified to Jesus was too well known in the circles around Luke to be contradicted. (Instead, it is Luke's mother Elizabeth who gives testimony in Luke 1:41-45). In Luke, John only hears stories of Jesus' miracles when he is in prison. The gospels of Matthew and John seem to take the greatest pains to have John the Baptist accede to Jesus' superiority at the baptism scene.

John and his movement remained outside the Kingdom of Christ. When Jesus addressed a delegation of John's followers in the context of his doubts, he says, "He who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he [John]" (Matt. 11:11). A fair assessment, according to D. F. Strauss, was that John the Baptist "detained a circle of individuals on the borders of the Messiah's kingdom, and retarded or hindered their going over to Jesus."[2]

 

 

3) Hybrids and Projection

In trying to discern a historical Jesus, the problem of projection and hybrids is significant.

 

In the film Religulous, Bill Maher points out strong parallels between a few ancient deities and heros such as Horus and Jesus.  In other words, there may have been a remarkable teacher in 1st century Palestine like Jesus, but somewhere along the game of telephone, people added ready-made motifs to his story, or put his image on to a ready-made pattern. (with hybrid characters, after adding so many patches to an article of clothing, when is it more patches than original?).

 

In Everything You Know About God is Wrong Russ Kick reviews Dennis R. McDonald’s Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases From the Acts of the Apostles.  This Bob Jones University Alum, Yale doctor, and Professor of N.T. and Christian Origins at Claremont school of Theology posits Mimesis – the gospels and Acts imitate the Greek Classic, the Iliad. 

 

Iliad                                                                             New Testament

Casting lots to select Ajax to fight Hector.      Casting lots to replace Judas              

 

Lying Dream of Zeus to Agamennon, corroborating visions of Cornelius and Peter

Vision of serpent and sparrows

 

Herme’s rescue of Priam from Greek Camp   Peter’s escape from Herod’s prison

 

Hector’s farewell to Adromeche                     Paul’s speech to elders at Ephesus at Miletus

 

Detailing the farewell speeches of Hector / Paul:

 

Hero states he does not know what dangers he must face.

 

Hero boasts he never shirks his duty.

 

Hero warns if disaster.

 

Hero expresses fear concerning the captivity of his loved ones.

 

Hero invokes his god/s.

 

Hero prays that his successors may be like him.

 

Hero cites a comparative quotation.

 

Hero states his willingness to face his destiny with courage.

 

Hero commands his audience to attend to their tasks.

 

Side-by-side comparison of different Bibles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_of_the_Bible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix II

A few thoughts on The Old Testament

 

As for the Old Testament, never mind trusting its authorship, its contents alone should be enough to make anyone’s stomach turn:

 

Elisha and the bears - II Kings 2,

Jephtha’s daughter – Judges 11,

Gershom’s circumcision - Exodus 3 &4,

Uriah the Hittite – II Samuel 11, 12,

Slaughter of Midianites – Numbers 21,

Wives for the Benjamites – Judges 19-21,

Killing civilian prisoners of war – multiple accounts,

Genocide – multiple accounts.

 

This list was inspired by Paul Farrell’s Illustrated Stories from the Bible (that they won’t tell you in Sunday School) which applies very sound analysis to confusing, contradictory and outrageous Biblical “morals”.

 

The skeptic’s annotated Bible can help you find inconsistencies, outrages, and absurdities very easily, because – sigh - there are so many of them.

 

[ http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/ ]

 

One overwhelming truth I recall from reading the entire Bible recently was a continuous double-standard in the Old Testament.  When the Israelites committed genocide they were justified because God told them to.  But when their enemies slaughtered them, “oy vey! Woe is us!”. 

 

Of course this hypocrisy and ethno-centrism is not unique to ancient Hebrews.  This childish, self-centered view of the world rings true today.  Just read – with a critical mind - about “terrorism” in any corporate sponsored media in the US, and you’ll find this common bias:  When they do it to us, it’s terrorism, but when our guys (and allies) do it to them, we’re freedom fighters. 

 

For a slam-dunk case, see Tayacan – Armed Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare: “the use of implicit and explicit terror to achieve maximum propagandistic effect.” Another example - before American newspaper publishers called them “Al-Qaeda”, they were called the “Mujahideen”, and they received money, weapons and training from the CIA!  Why is this inconvenient history not further explored in the American press?!

 

I believe that what is required to recover from childish ethno-centrism, clannishness, selective memory, hypocritical foreign policies and mass self-delusion is skeptical, rational thought combined with empirical testing. This kind of logical thinking is also known as scientific method!

 

It also helps to have imagination – for the other hemisphere of our brain, to listen to the poets and dreamers, musicians and artists.  Black Elk’s vision of all peoples being united, and all living things being interconnected can give inspiration to set your mind and soul free from indoctrination and propaganda.

 

I wonder what might happen if children read the UN Charter and Geneva Conventions, and studied the US Constitution instead of Bible Stories.

 

(e.g. U.S. Constitution Article I section 8: who has the power to declare war? The last time that was done was… when?  So the wars fought since then are illegal?  If the president breaks the law, who arrests him?  But if about half of Congress is in the same political party as the president, the chances of them holding him accountable are what?) 

 

What if kids were taught to think critically for themselves and examined the US government’s history of human rights abuses and compared it fairly and thoroughly to other governments?  This is exactly what we hope judges and juries do in trials! 

 

Equal justice under the law: which is precisely what the American Empire resists at every turn.

 

Organized religion still serves the Empire. The more things change the more they stay the same.

 

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