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Jesus: the cruellest hoax ever invented?

April 25, 2015

Recently I (with my family) interred the ashes of my mum. It was an emotional time. There were tears as we buried the ashes which belonged to my mum’s body, which only months ago I was speaking with.

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Mum’s sudden death last year has really led me to wonder and question a number of things about reality and about the ‘truth’ of the Christian claims.

It has made me wonder deeply about the resurrection of the dead – how can those ashes we buried be reanimated?

It has made me wonder about where my mum is now – does she just cease to be (as an atheist view would have) or is her ‘spirit’/’soul’ somewhere else?

What real hope is there after death?

The whole experience has made me think deeply about life, death and reality. It has also caused my ‘soul’ some unrest.

In the little service of internment we held we used some liturgy from the Uniting Church. It included these words,

“As we gather in faith, we remember that although our bodies return to dust, we shall be raised with Christ in glory. Let us rejoice in this promise as we hear the word of Scripture.”

We then heard some words from Scripture, John 11:25 where Jesus says,

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”

Wouldn’t this be great if this were true? That anyone who believes in Jesus will live!

I really would love this to be true. I would love that death is not the end, that all the good things we enjoy about this world, relationships, love, fun, pleasure, that these will not be ended by death. It would be wonderful if Jesus’ words here were true. And I also think that we should want Jesus’ words to be true. I’m intrigued by the reasons why atheists don’t want this to be true. I recognise that some atheists are petrified of death and our mortality, but many aren’t and say that they don’t want to live forever. I personally find this puzzling and I’d be interested to hear reasons why people want to be mortal (and also how this doesn’t devalue life now).

(I also want to clarify that I am a Christian not simply because I want this to be true, but because I think there are good reasons to believe it really is true – but that is for another post. Although, as I mentioned above, my recent experience has prompted me to question and think about this)

So I think the promise and hope offered by Jesus here is very appealing. Indeed, at the internment service I heard these words and the hope contained in them and found them very comforting: the prospect that my mum lives on in Jesus and also offers hope for people us still alive soothes my ‘soul’.

Although, something struck me as I reflected on Jesus words. If the words and the promise contained in them were false – then it would have to be one of the cruellest hoaxes ever invented. It would make Jesus (or the person who invented him or wrote his script) the greatest hoaxer and possibly most cruel person to have ever lived. To offer hope when there really was none. to offer the prospect of life, when there was none is appallingly misleading, heartless and cruel.

If there really was no hope beyond the grave, if atheism is true and Jesus was wrong or embellished or made up – I would far prefer someone to be clear and honest and say that there was no hope rather than to offer a vain, false hope.

Hence this thinking prompted my reflections on Jesus in this post – if it not be true, how dare he say such things. How dare he provide such unkind hope when there was none. How dare someone claim to ‘be the resurrection and the life’ and to stand up honestly before strangers to try to convince them that ‘the one who believes in me will live, even though they die’ knowing that it was false. Someone penned these words. Someone put these words on the lips of Jesus – if this person knew it were a lie, I would prefer the words never uttered. I would prefer them say, ‘I would like there to be a resurrection and life, but we stay dead, even though we die’.

So what would motivate a person to such awful deception and hypocrisy (particularly when the same author says that Jesus is the way, truth and life)? Why would someone want to offer hope and claim to be the resurrection and the life when they patently weren’t? What would motivate someone to be such a terrible deceiver?

I’m not sure.

But there is an alternative which seems impossible. The alternative was that Jesus was really speaking the truth.

And that would be so overwhelmingly wonderful wouldn’t it?

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From → Jesus

22 Comments
  1. Is it really so hard to imagine how and why someone would make this kind of thing up? Consider these examples: Jim Jones, David Koresh, Sun Myung Moon, L. Ron Hubbard. Over and over we see people show up with supernatural claims. Some claim to be divine, some to represent the divine, all of them gain a following. Some want money, some want power, some are just insane and believe what they say.

    Why do people believe it? Because they say things people want to hear. Afraid of death? You don’t actually die! Who wouldn’t want to believe that sort of thing? I have to say, lots of things in the Bible are appealing. The problem is they come with some very divisive baggage. Certain groups are the recipients of a lot of hate because of how the Bible is interpreted. A heaven where my friend is not welcome because of an accident of birth is no heaven at all.

    As to the value of life–if some resource is limited, it becomes more valuable, not less. If all you get is 80 years give or take, wouldn’t that make every single day more important? Personally, I think it would be nice to discover there is an afterlife, because I feel fairly certain it would be nothing like what the Bible says.

    • I like what you say

      • Thanks! I appreciate that. Thanks for commenting. Great that you can join us here on this blog.

    • Stan,

      Thanks for your comments – appreciate them. I think it’s your first time here, so welcome.

      I’m not necessarily suggesting that it’s difficult to make up – although I’m not sure that Jim Jones and David Koresh claimed to be the ‘resurrection and the life’? I’m pretty sure that L. Ron Hubbard denied to be God. I think that the claim to actually be God incarnate is fairly rare and to claim to be the ‘resurrection and the life’ is not particularly common.

      I agree with your analysis that some want money/power and others are insane. This then begs the question – what motivated Jesus? (or his followers). He could be insane, that would seem to be the only valid option (other than the truth), but I’d like that claim justified some more – as I don’t get the impression that someone insane could write what he wrote.

      I agree that people believe things that they want to hear – but that’s my point. I think it’s cruel to say that.

      In terms of your final comment about being more valuable – I take that point, but I was thinking more about being more meaningless as well. You could make every day more important, but for what end? Why?

      I’m glad you think that it would be nice that there is an afterlife – I agree. I’m just wondering why you’re fairly certain that the afterlife would be nothing like what the Bible describes?

      Thanks for your comments. Hope to hear from you again soon.

      • In regard to Jesus specifically, I fall into the camp that believes the Bible is probably not representative of what he actually might have said. The scholarly consensus is that Mark was the first gospel written and the others are derived from it. John is the last to be written between 65 and 100 CE and is regarded by many scholars as the least reliable gospel. It is also the one gospel to really emphasize Jesus as divine. Any specific claims he makes about being God and being the sole gateway to heaven are found there. IMHO the author of John (we don’t actually know who wrote it because the gospels were all originally anonymous) took stories about Jesus and gave him a promotion. They embellished with the specific intention of selling him as a deity to cultures who would otherwise have no reason to accept him.

        There’s precedence for this kind of inflationary storytelling. Some of the stories of Alexander the Great shortly after his death inflated him beyond mere mortal. We know the truth because Alexander had a biographer who traveled with him and did a decent job of laying out the facts.

        Regarding the value of life, anyone can opt to waste or throw away their time here, and many do, religious or not. If we care about people and the world around us (and I do) it’s definitely motivating to make a better world for everyone even and especially if there is no god or heaven and I won’t be around to see what happens. I want mankind to succeed and thrive, I want poverty, hunger and disease to end, and I think that’s all possible.

        If you add an afterlife, or worse, an end-of-the-world prediction, it screws that up. This world doesn’t need fixing because it’s all fixed where we end up when we die. Or, don’t fix it because Jesus is coming back and he’ll wipe it all out anyway. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their people that the end is tomorrow and discourages them from saving for the future because it’s a waste of time. Michelle Bachmann was complaining recently about Obama’s deal with Iran and how it was supposedly bringing us closer to the end of the world and then in a schizophrenic twist starts saying it’s good because “Christ’s return is imminent.” When people are hoping and praying for the world to end, they don’t always act in the interest of survival for everyone else.

        I don’t believe the Bible’s account of the afterlife because I simply don’t find the writings credible, an opinion I discovered I share with many Bible scholars. Major Biblical events can’t be corroborated (no historical trace of the Exodus despite several expeditions and no mention from the Egyptians who were insane about writing everything down). It borrows legends from cultures which predate the Hebrews (was it Noah or Utnapishtim?) It seems like the kind of thing that would be written by the old guy down the street who always yells at the kids. The NT fares little better in its historicity, describing events which should be possible to corroborate but aren’t (Herod’s slaughter of children) or simply disagree with established history. Jesus and Paul are selling a very different religion (Thomas Jefferson called Paul the “first corruptor” of Jesus’ teachings). The Bible is interesting as a collection of legends of a bronze-age tribe but once I saw how the sausage got made I found it difficult to take it as a serious guide for history, heaven or God.

      • Thanks for your lengthy comment Stan. Not sure I can fully respond to everything, but I’ll respond to a couple of points.

        I agree that Mark is the first Gospel written in its final form (and John is probably last, although I think that perhaps Luke might have been written last). Anyway, I do want to ask why you consider John unreliable? Which scholars are you referring to? That might have been the view 30-40 years ago, but there is a swing in opinion recently, particularly led by scholars like Craig Blomberg and Paul Barnett (and Richard Bauckham).

        Also, I disagree with your claim about Jesus’ divnity being found in John. The Son of Man sayings in Mark contain a high Christology (as do the letters of Paul).

        I also find your proposed historical reconstruction of the motivations behind John intriguing, but implausible. The author and audience of John were monotheistic Jews – it would have been inconceivable that they would have sold Jesus as a ‘divinity’. They would have been killed for their beliefs (as we see at several times in John when people hear his high Christology).

        Thanks for your reference to Alexander the Great – I’m intrigued by which source you’re referring to. I have read a little about Alexander, just wondering which sources you’re referring to, just so I can investigate further for myself. Thanks for the tip!

        Just regarding the reliability of the Gospels, I was wondering what would convince you to consider the writings of the New Testament credible? (and also wondering which Bible scholars you share that with?). I recognise that there are historical gaps in the Old Testament, but we are dealing with a period of history from a very long time ago.

        In terms of the slaughter of the innocents – which historian should have recorded it, and why?? How many children do you estimate were killed?

        I’m also intrigued as to how you think that Paul corrupted Jesus teachings – you are aware that the Gospels were all written in their final form long after Paul’s letters were all written and circulated?

        Just a couple of final questions – what do make of Jesus? Why would someone have invented this character (and intentionally deceived so many?).

        Thanks for some really stimulating thoughts Stan. Hope to hear from you again soon. Rob

  2. Ed Atkinson permalink

    Rob, Thanks for an interesting post. On the first issue, it would be a scary decision if I was given the choice of ceasing to be on death or living forever with no option to cease to be once I commit to living forever. What if the forever is like in a boring hotel where nothing happens? That said, Jesus’ offer sounds great and I would go for it if I was confident that the reality matched the hype!

    On the 2nd issue, I don’t see any deliberate deception behind these words of Jesus. I doubt he ever said such a thing, I reckon they result from resurrection belief in the early church. But however the ideas arose, they came from a development of beliefs over centuries. We see humans making stuff up to suit their longings, fears etc all the time.

    • Ed. Thanks for your comments again – always appreciated.

      I like your comments about the boring potential of an eternity of boredom. I tend to agree and I think that that is certainty an option to be mindful of. I would

      I’m glad that you think that Jesus’ offer sounds great! What particularly makes you not confident that the reality matches the hype?

      In terms of your second comment, which is very interesting. On what basis do you make that the claim that Jesus never said it? The problem with the belief emerging from the early church is the criterion of dissimilarity – i.e. it was contrary to the prevailing Jewish thought.

      Also – just to clarify which beliefs developed over centuries? What evidence do you provide to support that?

      I agree that humans can make things up to suit their longings, which is why I am suspicious of the New Testament. Thanks for your comments.

      • Ed Atkinson permalink

        Thanks, Rob. I appreciate your respectful tone. I also like they way you asked me questions:

        “What particularly makes you not confident that the reality matches the hype?” – all the reasons that made me move from Christian to atheist. As I engage here you’ll get to know a few!

        “On what basis do you make that the claim that Jesus never said it? ” I have heard the reasons scholars think that Jesus’ works could be well preserved in the gospels due to good oral tradition. Those reasons do not apply to John and John’s tone and content are both different.

        “The problem with the belief emerging from the early church is the criterion of dissimilarity – i.e. it was contrary to the prevailing Jewish thought. ” Yes, belief in the resurrection of Jesus changed everything

        “which beliefs developed over centuries? What evidence do you provide to support that?” Belief in an afterlife, it is not there in the torah, vaguely emerging later in the OT, getting developed in the inter-testament books, still disputed in Jesus’ time (Saduces) and pretty solid in the NT. But the link between afterlife and Jesus developed very quickly after his ‘resurrection’.

        All the best, Ed

      • Ed,

        Thanks for your comments – I always try to be respectful and I certainly want this blog to be characterised by rigour and respect. Surely we can disagree and not be disagreeable?

        I’m not quite sure I follow a couple of your points. Why does the oral tradition surrounding Jesus’ works and words not apply to John? That’s a little confusing?

        I’m glad you acknowledge the dissimilarity between the early church and the resurrection – my follow up question is then, ‘where did the belief in the resurrection come from?’ I find it very difficult to understand how it could simply have been ‘invented’ when there wasn’t any particular expectation for it to happen that way.

        Thanks for clarifying which beliefs developed over centuries. I think that it is broadly true that there was a development of ‘eschatological window’ throughout the biblical narrative. However, I don’t think that the link between afterlife and Jesus developed as quickly as you propose. I think we have resurrection thought fairly clearly displayed in Daniel (depending on whenever you date Daniel, it still predates Jesus). There was certainly belief in an afterlife (though not uniformly as you’ve pointed out with the Sadducees) but it was still there.

        Thanks for your comments. Always a pleasure to have you on the blog.
        Rob

      • Ed Atkinson permalink

        Sorry typo in my reply – “scholars think that Jesus’ works” should read ‘words’

      • Ed Atkinson permalink

        Excellent, thanks Rob

        Regarding John, the oral tradition to me is easy to remember miracle stories, parables and catchy sayings “the first will be last ..”, “Turn the other cheek..”, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword..”. The gospel writers then strung the material together and neither they nor their first readers expected the sequence to be exact.

        John’s gospel is in strong contrast to that. Either the long speeches of Jesus were made up to provide a method to present his teaching, or someone wrote it all down soon after he said it, or someone decided at the time that it had to be memorised and made the effort there and then. Either way, it is very different and is nothing like the kind of oral tradition that we should expect and we see demonstrated in the other gospels. To me that makes it more suspect.

        I am not claiming that the synoptics are all accurate and John all wrong. But I see the synoptics as more trustworthy when we want to know about Jesus the man.

        On ‘where did the belief in the resurrection come from?’ . It would be great to have another thread on this, but perhaps I think I remember us discussing it earlier. Anyway the summary answer is visions to one or two key people like Peter, leading to a complete change of tone and expectation in the inner group, leading to further religious experiences that were interpreted in the light of the expectation as appearances, leading to full resurrection belief in the inner group.

        In parallel with this is the drive to believe as highlighted in the famous book “When Prophesy Fails” from the 1950’s. No need to read it just find its breif page on Wikip and see the list of factors that generate such beliefs, then see how they match the circumstances of the inner group after the crucifixion.

        I don’t understand “However, I don’t think that the link between afterlife and Jesus developed as quickly as you propose.” Surely it had to be quick, Jesus began his ministry in say AD27 and Paul makes the link in AD50-ish, so it is developed by then. Compared to the centuries to develop beliefs in the afterlife, that is quick indeed. I guess we are talking with crossed wires here. I am not seeking to draw any conclusions from how quickly the beliefs arose and your main theme in the post is that Jesus made the link himself when he said “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”

        As ever, it is a pleasure to exchange ideas with you

        Ed

  3. Rob, sorry for your loss.

    Stan above has expressed what I would say in much more eloquent way. It is good to remember that all we have as sayings of Jesus are what other people tell us Jesus said. And these said people are anonymous. We have no way of determining whether the said Jesus said these things or whether it is them saying them and attributing them to Jesus.

    And in a sense I agree with you. It is a hoax and a cruel hoax to make such a promise.

    • Thanks for sharing with my loss. It has been a number of months now and I do appreciate the words.

      I also appreciate you agreeing that this would be cruel and a massive hoax if it weren’t true. I’ve responded to Stan’s comments I’d be keen to hear what you thought of them.

      It’s true that we only have what other people said Jesus said, but does that invalidate their words? This is in many ways a separate question to my blog post, because I think that these just shift the accusation of hoax from Jesus to his scriptwriter. What would motivate his scriptwriter to say that?

      Thanks for your comments. Appreciate them.

      • My mother has been dead 8 years now and I still miss her. A few months, it must be quite hard.
        I will read what you say to Stan.
        I don’t know what motivated this scriptwriter but there was already a lot of current in that culture of people brought back from the dead. In their mind this wasn’t an extraordinary event. So special attachment is a later thing.

  4. Hi Rob,

    I regret being ‘away’ recently – it looks like I’ve missed some interesting posts…
    I have to agree with many of the previous commenters here, in particular about the point that, as so many atheists suspect, despite the story of the divinity of Jesus being a “lie”, that doesn’t necessarily equate with him, or indeed, many of his followers, actually being liars in the sense that they were deliberately spreading falsehoods.

    I strongly suspect that there is a rather ‘normal’ piece of psychology that can take hold of people that so desperately want and need the story of the afterlife to be true, that it actually becomes the truth to them. And historically this is a cultural norm, hence many of those even apathetic about their religious convictions will still believe in God and heaven because that’s what they’ve been taught since they were children. Monotheistic beliefs have dominated the cultures that we are most familiar with for centuries. (Deference and apologies to the Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus reading this, but even these in the large have mythologies about creator gods and afterlives.)

    The hoax, therefore, is not a deliberate deception. It is not driven by any kind of wilful malevolence (on the whole). It is driven by a sincere need to have some kind of perpetuation of ourselves beyond our earthly bodies. In fact, this is so obviously true that I still get surprised from time to time by how the strength of this cultural ingraining, and the psychological need for an afterlife to be true, can still have such power over smart and educated people in the 21st century. But that’s getting off-topic.

    I also sympathise with your loss. I’m coming up to the second anniversary of the death of my own mother, and while our experiences will certainly be different, what we likely have in common is the profound sense of loss of someone so important, so influential, and so “there” for all of our lives up to that moment. My own mother was a ‘cultural’ Christian, and I remember being taken to church and Sunday school quite a few times when I was a child, albeit inconsistently. She became more cynical about religion as she got older, and I tend to think that her ‘passive’ atheism in the last 10-20 years of her life was influenced heavily by my own rather more outspoken views on religion and religious belief.

    And I think that in itself raises profound philosophical dilemmas for Calvinist Christians. Start with this: Do the cultural, apathetic, passive churchgoers make it into heaven after they die? You know – the ones who say they believe, but really, they’ve never been particularly introspective about the whole question (in the same way that you obviously are), and by and large are mouthing the words in church and just believing it all because they’ve been taught it since childhood?
    How about those that do just that for most of their lives, but give up on it some years before they die and are effectively atheists at the moment of their last breath.
    Or, more curiously, those that have an utter and deep Christian conviction for all of their lives… except for in the very final moments, when they convince themselves that Christianity can’t possibly be true. Are the souls of these people saved?
    And of course, what about the billions of religious people that pray every day to the wrong gods, because they’ve never had the opportunity to hear properly the story of Jesus? Or those that lived and died before he did? What about those with psychological disturbances, that have no ability to make a rational, ‘free will’ decision about faith in Jesus?
    And what about the honest atheists among us that might even be open to the truth of the Christian God, but can make no sense of the mythology, the deeper philosophy and the soteriology? Why does the Calvanist God exclude us from eternal bliss…?

    How can you expect intelligent people to take the concept of a Christian afterlife seriously, when the answers to these basic questions make absolutely no philosophical sense?
    In fact, the form of Christian belief that has the least philosophical incoherence in this respect is Universalism, and that is so unbiblical that it is an anathema. If Universalism is true, and it is only form of Christianity that possibly can be, then the bible is (gasp) wrong.

    This comment is now far too long, and I haven’t even touched on a whole other angle to the problems of what happens when you die, which is about conscious experience. Human consciousness is quite a mystery, but we do know quite a lot about it now. We know that it is almost certainly entirely dependent on the pink tissue inside our skulls.

    Remember that time you made that conscious ‘free will’ decision about the existence of God, or the divinity of Jesus, and it wasn’t based on or influenced by something you’d read, or been told or taught, or involved your human memory? You know those thoughts of your soul, that are clearly and definitely separate from anything that goes on in your brain? The ones that involve no visual imagery at all or any other accompanying sensory experiences, no kind of language, and no memory of anything (ie., all of those things that are traced to brain function).
    Can you think of any human emotion, say, love, for example, and imagine what that experience consists of, without being accompanied by sensory thoughts, or visuals, or warmth, or smells or sounds, or memories that involve other people or beings, or places, or times?
    No?
    Me neither.
    So, can you comprehend what the experience of an afterlife can possibly be like, given that it is physically and philosophically devoid of anything that we know of what it is like to be us?
    More to say, of course. Another time perhaps.
    Best wishes.

    • Wow. Thanks for such a long and thoughtful and personal comment. I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. I’ll respond after reflecting and thinking through what you’ve said.

      In the meantime, I’m coming up to Sydney in mid-June. I know we’ve entertained the thought of catching up for a coffee, but will you be around potentially of the afternoon of Thursday 11th June? Not sure how your work situation places you, but I could have a couple of hours for a chat then if that would be helpful? Let me know and I’ll respond in more depth later. Rob

      • Sounds good in principle, Rob. I can’t commit specifically here and now of course. Will email you later – let’s see if we can make it work…!

  5. I read Bart Ehrman, Richard Carrier, Matthew Ferguson among others. I also have a copy of the Oxford Annotated Bible which represents the scholarly consensus of the last 150 years. I’m also an avid consumer of the many debates and interviews on youtube and I try to carefully understand both sides presented. I’m a layman in that I don’t have a degree in this. I just have an abiding interest in history in general, and I take pains to understand how historians evaluate the available evidence. (I’ve seen WLC so many times I think I could write his spiel from memory despite agreeing with almost none of it.)

    To answer your last question first, I think Jesus (or more likely Yeshua ben Yoseph) existed. He was likely an itinerant preacher, probably illiterate, probably a bit of a radical, and possibly got executed for it. Beyond that I don’t think we can know with certainty what he said or did vs. what was attributed to him later. The only texts we have that claim specifics about him are the Gospels, and the OAB had this to say:
    Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk 1.4; Jn 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.
    Or to quote Matthew Ferguson:
    The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions, in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure — Jesus Christ — to confirm the faith of their communities.
    I do think we have a reasonable approximation of what the Gospels said, with the caveat Bart Ehrman gives us that there are several verses present in the modern Bible that exist in only a single surviving copy among the many extant copies of the Gospel, and that some of these are what underlay key doctrines. (For example: 1 John 5:7, John 8:7, John 8:11, Luke 22:44, Luke 22:20, Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18, John 5:4, Luke 24:12, Luke 24:51)

    I have to disagree with your claim that John was by and for Jews. The OAB identifies the audience as Greek, citing the many words that were translated into Greek rather than being left as Hebrew. It then spends considerable text having to explain how John isn’t anti-semitic.It points out how it discredits the religious authorities, whom it calls “the Jews”, and clearly paints them as the evil cabal out to get Jesus. Despite it likely having been written by a Jew, the Jewish community was not its target. Of the four canonical Gospels, Matthew is the one that seems most familiar with Jewish law and history, despite also being written in Greek. Luke was the one written for the Romans, and John is more general audience, with the most outlandish claims.

    I wasn’t saying there are no claims to divinity outside of John; you can’t say he’s a normal guy and have him resurrect. But John is where the most explicit claims are made, and they outnumber the claims in the Synoptic Gospels. Right off the bat, John 1:1-2, “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” It’s a specific claim that Jesus wasn’t suddenly created as the Son of God when he’s born from Mary, but that he was present before creation, and without him creation would not have happened. Start to finish, the author of John is selling a belief system, and he really turns the volume to 11 on the divinity claims.

    I don’t think I’d ever believe any of the Gospels to be credible as historical accounts. There are just too many factual errors, for one. Again, Herod’s slaughter of children can’t be confirmed. Josephus documented Herod’s many atrocities so he should have mentioned this one but didn’t. But beyond this, Matthew says Jesus was born during Herod’s reign, and Luke says it was during the census under Quirinius. Herod died in 4 BCE, Quirinius became governor after his death, and the census was 6-7 CE. Either Matthew or Luke must be in error. Where the Gospels are probably reliable are where they state what early Christians believed, but that does not make them reliable historical sources.

    I’m well aware that Paul was writing before the Gospels were available. Paul even says his writings come from divine inspiration, and specific references to Jesus’ deeds are lacking in his epistles. But it was the differences and contradictions between their teachings that I first noted when I was still a practicing Lutheran that led me to really start questioning the Bible. Today I regard Paul as the Pat Robertson of his day, and that is not a compliment. Paul was making it up as he went along to support his church and suit his own ends. Even if you ignore the six epistles regarded as forgeries, he’s still kind of a jerk.

    You keep asking why would they make this up, and it’s a question I’ve heard before. I only need to look at the long trail of cults through history to find the answer. They said it because they were human, and right or wrong they may have truly believed what they were saying. Most cults do. The assumed trustworthiness of early church elders is convincing of absolutely nothing.

  6. I’ll have to look for the Alexander reference. I couldn’t find it offhand.

  7. “I really would love this to be true.”

    Ah, truer words rarely spoken.

    “I’m intrigued by the reasons why atheists don’t want this to be true. I recognise that some atheists are petrified of death and our mortality.”

    On the latter sentence, I wonder if the sentence ‘I recognise some [Christians] [Jews] [Buddhists] [Sikhs] are petrified of death and our morality” has ever been uttered or ever will be uttered. As to the former sentence, I wasn’t aware it to be the case.

    In respect to “What would motivate his scriptwriter to say that?”, as a classicist, it’s worth emphasising that it would be worth remembering the political nature of religion in the ancient world. Processes such as evocatio, apotheosis etc., were commonplace and the need to absorb or subvert existing, rival religious beliefs, practices, institutions, etc., was high on any agenda. Evading death is, for primal reasons amongst others, a very seductive prospect; and one not unique to Christianity, let’s not forget.

    “IMHO the author of John (we don’t actually know who wrote it because the gospels were all originally anonymous) took stories about Jesus and gave him a promotion. They embellished with the specific intention of selling him as a deity to cultures who would otherwise have no reason to accept him.

    There’s precedence for this kind of inflationary storytelling. Some of the stories of Alexander the Great shortly after his death inflated him beyond mere mortal. We know the truth because Alexander had a biographer who traveled with him and did a decent job of laying out the facts.”

    This was indeed common in classical antiquity; hence, the constant need of the Iulii to emphasise their descent from Jupiter and, of course, Gaius’ (Iulii Caesares) own apotheosis.

  8. Joel E permalink

    “I’m intrigued by the reasons why atheists don’t want this to be true.”

    Not want or don’t believe? two very different things, I will go with want as not believing would take far too long to explain in a post.

    “I recognise that some atheists are petrified of death and our mortality, but many aren’t and say that they don’t want to live forever. I personally find this puzzling and I’d be interested to hear reasons why people want to be mortal (and also how this doesn’t devalue life now).”

    Interesting question, I speak only for myself obviously.

    Living (or whatever you call it after you’re dead) for all eternity is terrifying to me, it will just go on and on and on and on (you get the point). I don’t see how that wouldn’t be horrendous, especially as you will be in heaven (wherever that is) where there is no sin and therefore no free will (the source of sin) worshiping god for ALL TIME. woopie, why would I want to be alive forever worshiping a jealous god with no free will?

    The Buddhist concept of re-incarnation I think would be far nicer than heaven, but again what I would like is irrelevant compared to what I believe is true.

    As to how that devalues life now, to me it is the opposite, if this is the one and only life we have it is immensely valuable. If this is merely a test to get you into an afterlife that lasts forever than the short amount of time we spend here is almost non existent (of no value) compared to all eternity in the afterlife.

    P.S. Sorry for your loss, I lost my father a few years back and it is hard, my mother is still with us but only physically, dementia has taken her mind so hard in a different way.

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