Atheist Commentary or Polemic on the Gospels (for TGBaker and ApostateAbe)

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Atheist Commentary or Polemic on the Gospels (for TGBaker and ApostateAbe)

i thought this was a good idea:

TGBaker wrote:

We seem to have similar backgrounds or research.  Perhaps we can build a good atheistic commentary or polemic on the gospels in this section..

 

i thought i'd be forward and start a topic for it.  if you're gonna do this, i'd like to weigh in as well when appropriate, even though i'm only a lowly BA and i mostly lost interest in NT studies my senior year and focused instead on judaism and medieval rhenish mysticism.  i've sort of continued my education on my own (i was accepted into yale divinity but passed on it in order to stay in europe and get married--now i have a kid on the way and, well, it doesn't look like i'll continue anytime soon), but again, focusing mostly on judaism, particularly late medieval kabbalah (isaac luria and moses cordovero), sabbatianism, and hasidism.

i'm particularly interested in putting the gospels into a jewish millennial context, in particular the gospel of mark.

i've had the opportunity to see christianity fr9om several angles, since i studied with a very liberal (by orthodox standards) department that taught higher criticism, then immediately went to work with campus crusade for christ.  boy, that was fun.  i was so irritated that, despite having at least one degree in religion (the same number as "dr." bill bright, if i'm not mistaken), i was required to go through their "institute of biblical studies" bullshit.  you know you're taking a quality course when the professor illustrates his points with cartoons on powerpoint.

"I asked my father,
I said, 'Father change my name.'
The one I'm using now it's covered up
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame."
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I have no formal education

I have no formal education in the subject, not even a BA--my education is in science.  The most I can claim is many years of geeky ongoing distractions into investigation and debate about New Testament history. 

I will be happy to hear about how to make sense of the gospels through a Jewish millennial context.  Do you mean the apocalypticism of the time? Or the anti-Roman sentiment?


iwbiek
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ApostateAbe wrote:I have no

ApostateAbe wrote:

I have no formal education in the subject, not even a BA--my education is in science.  The most I can claim is many years of geeky ongoing distractions into investigation and debate about New Testament history. 

I will be happy to hear about how to make sense of the gospels through a Jewish millennial context.  Do you mean the apocalypticism of the time? Or the anti-Roman sentiment?

well, both go hand in hand.  but apocalypticism was actually the word i was looking for, thanks.  not all gospels can be made sense of through this perspective, particularly not john, as it is patently anti-jewish.  is there are any particular episode you're thinking of?

to be honest, it looked like on the jesus evidence thread that you and tg were about to blast off into a great discussion, and i was just hoping to get in on the action and comment whenever i felt competent to.

"I asked my father,
I said, 'Father change my name.'
The one I'm using now it's covered up
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame."
--Leonard Cohen


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iwbiek wrote:ApostateAbe

iwbiek wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

I have no formal education in the subject, not even a BA--my education is in science.  The most I can claim is many years of geeky ongoing distractions into investigation and debate about New Testament history. 

I will be happy to hear about how to make sense of the gospels through a Jewish millennial context.  Do you mean the apocalypticism of the time? Or the anti-Roman sentiment?

well, both go hand in hand.  but apocalypticism was actually the word i was looking for, thanks.  not all gospels can be made sense of through this perspective, particularly not john, as it is patently anti-jewish.  is there are any particular episode you're thinking of?

to be honest, it looked like on the jesus evidence thread that you and tg were about to blast off into a great discussion, and i was just hoping to get in on the action and comment whenever i felt competent to.

Cool, I posted a long treatise to AtheistExtremist in that other thread.  It is all about my take on why a historical human Jesus is the best explanation, a sort of a culmination of years of debate on the subject.

I take the gospel of John to be not just anti-Jewish but also anti-apocalypticist, or a spiritual reformulation of the imminent physical apocalypticism expressed in the previous gospels and Paul.  When Jesus speaks to Pontius Pilate in the gospel of John, he makes it clear, as though the Jesus of the gospel of John is arguing with the Jesuses of Matthew and Mark.

 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

This is one of only several passages in the gospel of John where Jesus ever mentions a "kingdom," though the theme of the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven" is ubiquitous throughout the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

There is a much more clever anti-apocalypticist apologetic contained in a passage after Jesus rose from the grave, in John 21:20-23.

 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

The narrator explains the imminent apocalypticism of previous Christian myth as merely a silly misunderstanding of the words of Jesus.  By the time the gospel of John was written, the deadline of the previous gospels (the deaths of Jesus' listeners) had already passed.  The gospel of John reformulates the teachings of Jesus to fit his own time.


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ApostateAbe's Overview

I thought I would post your excellent overview of the Historical jesus v. Jesus Myth here. Hope you don't mind.:

I have noticed that the Jesus-myth theory exists as a peculiar subculture in modernity.  It is almost exclusively on the Internet, though it goes back over a hundred years.  It has always been closely aligned with atheism and anti-religion (i.e. Arthur Drews).  If it weren't for the Internet, I think it would have remained just as obscure as any other theory of Jesus.  There have been two amateur documentaries popularized on the Internet promoting the position, and the handful of authors (Acharya S, Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier) all have big presences on the Internet.  Their core audience and fan base are anti-religious secularists.  Those are the generals.  The soldiers are the atheists who are bent against the Christian religion.  The merely-mythical-Jesus position is deeply integrated into their anti-religious activism.  They are found wherever religious-historical debates are found on the Internet.

And I think it is sort of a shame, really.  They are smart people, but I really do think the position is uncompetitive in terms of reason.  Many of them do not hold that Jesus never existed, but they instead propose that nothing can be known about the historical Jesus, or that Jesus was an amalgamation of a lot of figures and myths, and those positions don't seem to be any more competitive.


There are of course many Jesuses that a variety of authors writing about Jesus accept, each representing the wishful thinking of a certain demographic of book-buyers, and you can find their books all over the catalogs, but there is one and only one Jesus that is generally accepted among critical New Testament historians.  This Jesus fits a specific detailed profile:


He was born in the small rural village of Nazareth, his parents were Joseph and Mary, he had four brothers including a brother named James, he was a follower of John the Baptist and was baptized by John, he had twelve disciples including Peter, James and John, he travelled the rural country of the region, going from town to town publicly orating with parables, he baptized, he preached that the end of the existing world order was very soon at hand, calamity was at hand, his followers would be admitted into the new Kingdom of God, he went into Jerusalem for the Passover, he caused a violent scene with the merchants and the money-changers in the temple, he was betrayed by his disciple Judas to the governing authorities of Jerusalem, he was crucified by Pontius Pilate, and the leadership of his cult was succeeded by Peter, James and John, who promoted the myth that Jesus was resurrected, was the messiah and the son of God, who preached to the Jews, and they were at odds with the newcomer Paul, who accepted the Gentiles.


This profile of Jesus is detailed and is of course very close to the profile of Jesus drawn by the gospels.  And, there is nothing so extraordinary about it.  This is what the critical scholars generally believe, and for a lot of good reasons.  We don't need to completely rewrite the historical evidence in order to find this profile.  We need only to make the best sense of the evidence we are left with.  For example, there is no other way to make good sense of Jesus' reputed hometown being Nazareth, since Christians were explicitly interested in Jesus being from Bethlehem, instead, in order to fulfill known messianic prophecy.  There is no other sensible way to make sense of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, since Christians were apparently rivals with the cult of John the Baptist.  There is no other sensible way to explain the prophecies of the imminent apocalypse.  This fits a known historical-human profile, not any mythical profile that we know about--not Zeus, not Thor, not Dionysus, not Robin Hood.


And the evidence is plentiful.  There is a myth among Jesus-mythers that the four gospels count as only one source--the gospel of Mark.  But there is much more than the information contained in the four gospels than just that contained in the gospel of Mark, and we can actually infer five sources for the four gospels, not just Mark, but also the gospels of Q (Matthew and Luke), M (Matthew), L (Luke) and Signs (John).  Each of these sources are Christian, but the diversity of the Christian perspectives provides a greater breadth of evidence for finding the best explanatory model.  When we include the writings of Paul, who was familiar with the immediate disciples and family of Jesus, then we have six sources.  These are not just points that apologists make, mind you.  This is the historical reality, accepted by critical scholars and strongly backed by the evidence.


John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate, Peter, John, James the disciple and James the brother are all attested historical human figures.  John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate are attested by Josephus.  Pontius Pilate is again attested by Philo of Alexandria.  Peter, John, James the disciple and James the brother are each attested by the anti-sympathetic writing of Paul in the epistle to the Galatians.  James the brother of Jesus is again attested by Josephus, along with Jesus himself.  


There is another myth among Jesus-mythers--that all of the writings of Jesus by Josephus are completely forged, and the favorite forger is Eusebius.  However, Origen wrote a century before Eusebius, and we have two accounts of Origen where Origen claims that Josephus wrote about both James and Jesus even though Josephus believed that Jesus was not the Christ.  This is direct evidence that the writings of Josephus contained attestations to James and Jesus before the redaction by the Christian scribes.  Josephus probably wrote that Jesus was not the Christ, and the Christian scribes of the third/fourth century did not want to copy down such blasphemy.  Not that Josephus is very good evidence for the existence of either Jesus or James, but, as an outsider to the Christian religion, he was making the best sense of those characters reputed by Christians, and the idea that they were merely mythical did not strike him as the best explanation.  Nor do we have evidence of any such speculation in all of even the most anti-Christian rhetoric in history.


For that matter, neither do we have evidence of inter-Christian conflict about the mythical nature of Jesus.  We have evidence that the earliest sects of Christians in the first and second centuries were diverse.  Some of them believed that Jesus was human, not God.  Some of them believed that Jesus was adopted by God when he was an adult.  Some of them believed that Jesus seemed human but he was actually entirely God.  And all of these sects of Christianity are attested by the proto-orthodox Christians writing against such heresies.  Many mythers believe that Christianity was founded by Christians who believed that Jesus was entirely spiritual and mythical, not human.  So, when was there a shift to a historical human Jesus?  And, where are the polemics against these heretical Christians hanging on to the old way?  Answer: no such evidence exists, not even a rumor of it, not in the canonical writings (where many anti-heretical polemics are found) nor in the writings of the church fathers in the second and third centuries, when anti-heretical writings are most abundant.  


This is an argument from silence, but in this case it holds plenty of relevance, because it is about a silence where we expect an abundance of shouting.  There are other arguments from silence like it.  For example, we do not expect such a historical silence for a Jesus who really did resurrect at about the same time as a lot of other zombies who visibly stormed the streets of Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53).  However, there are many times when "silence" has more than one explanation.  What explains the non-Christian historical "silence" about Jesus?  If Jesus were only an obscure lower-class character who led a small travelling cult, who was crucified by the same guy who apparently had no bones about crucifying anyone who could be a threat, then there is really no reason that we should expect any contemporary historian would give a damn.  And there were only two contemporary historians whose writings are still with us--Philo and Thallus.  There is a little evidence that Thallus did know about Jesus, but it is a quote of a quote of a quote of a quote--the original evidence is all but lost, if it existed.  Most of the writing of Thallus we have exists in short scattered fragments and quotes.  Any ancient historical "silence" needs to be put in the perspective that we have the evidence only if many generations of monks found it worth copying (or the lucky case that the writing is buried and well-preserved).

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ApostateAbe wrote:iwbiek

ApostateAbe wrote:

iwbiek wrote:

ApostateAbe wrote:

I have no formal education in the subject, not even a BA--my education is in science.  The most I can claim is many years of geeky ongoing distractions into investigation and debate about New Testament history. 

I will be happy to hear about how to make sense of the gospels through a Jewish millennial context.  Do you mean the apocalypticism of the time? Or the anti-Roman sentiment?

well, both go hand in hand.  but apocalypticism was actually the word i was looking for, thanks.  not all gospels can be made sense of through this perspective, particularly not john, as it is patently anti-jewish.  is there are any particular episode you're thinking of?

to be honest, it looked like on the jesus evidence thread that you and tg were about to blast off into a great discussion, and i was just hoping to get in on the action and comment whenever i felt competent to.

Cool, I posted a long treatise to AtheistExtremist in that other thread.  It is all about my take on why a historical human Jesus is the best explanation, a sort of a culmination of years of debate on the subject.

I take the gospel of John to be not just anti-Jewish but also anti-apocalypticist, or a spiritual reformulation of the imminent physical apocalypticism expressed in the previous gospels and Paul.  When Jesus speaks to Pontius Pilate in the gospel of John, he makes it clear, as though the Jesus of the gospel of John is arguing with the Jesuses of Matthew and Mark.

 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

This is one of only several passages in the gospel of John where Jesus ever mentions a "kingdom," though the theme of the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven" is ubiquitous throughout the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

There is a much more clever anti-apocalypticist apologetic contained in a passage after Jesus rose from the grave, in John 21:20-23.

 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

The narrator explains the imminent apocalypticism of previous Christian myth as merely a silly misunderstanding of the words of Jesus.  By the time the gospel of John was written, the deadline of the previous gospels (the deaths of Jesus' listeners) had already passed.  The gospel of John reformulates the teachings of Jesus to fit his own time.

You also have statements that are realized eschatology like:

5:24

“I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.

25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

   28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

You see this in Deutero-Pauline literature ( forgeries attributed to Paul)  like Colossians and Ephesians. Salvation has already occurred in acceptance and baptism. Eternal life is a realized thing for a Christian. The last day is no longer a pressing immanent thing.  Chapter 6: Jesus is the spiritual bread and water in verse 35 who gives spiritual life in verse 33.  Immediately following verse 39, Jesus says, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”  So once again we have the spiritual “already” of “everlasting life,” and the “not yet” of John’s audience being raised up at the “last day” or as previously described as “the hour is coming.”

Also the frustration of no second coming or coming of the Kingdom is found in the Epistles:

II Peter 3:

3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

In the Deutero-Pauline (falsified as Paul's) scripture Paul is made to speak of his death prior to the second coming. II Timothy 2:1-14. In the forged Pauline writings salvation is already realized and sometimes even the use of resurrection as a past event for the saved. The real Paul did not want people to marry because the time was short beofre the end time.

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whip cream."--Frank Zappa

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Beginning

 

1

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,

[a]

the Son of God,

[b] 2

as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

   “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way”[c]
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
   make straight paths for him.’”[d]

 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with[f] the Holy Spirit.” 9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

I think it would be interesting to start with Mark 1:1 and comment on its meaning and the redaction by Matthew and Luke with regards toward John and the epistles as needed.  This is with the understanding that Matthew and Luke use Mark in their compositions. I would like to point out that in Mark Jesus is baptized into ( eis) the remission of sins. This is redacted by Matthew. The statement of what the baptism is for in Matthew is dropped. We see the term "into the remission of sins' added instead by Matthew to the pericope of the Last Supper. 26:28. Matthew creates a conversation where John the Baptist tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized  and Jesus tells him to go on with it to fulfill all righteousness. This answers the problem of why a sinless person would need baptism and also makes John subservient to Jesus.  This makes obvious the church is dealing with the fact that Jesus was a follower of John the Baptist and does not begin his ministry until John is arrested.  The author of John will have jesus baptizing and ministering at the same time as the Baptist and does not have Jesus baptized by John. 

In Mark Jesus comes up out of the water and the Holy Spirit comes into ( again eis) him. Matthew changes this to the spirit descends upon ( epi) him. The idea of the spirit after baptism coming into a person is consistent with the idea in Acts 2:38: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In Mark Jesus alone hears god saying that he is well pleased . In Matthew  god addresses his pleasure to the crowds. Luke maintains Mark's terminology about baptism, changes the adoptionistic reception of the Spirit into Jesus to a confirmation like Matthew to the spirit as dove comes down upon (epi) him.  The change of the preposition by Matthew and Luke are intentional because of the theological implications and the addition of the infancy narratives wherein Jesus has the spirit from birth! Luke quotes mark and maintains gods announcement of pleasure to Jesus.

When one looks at the quoted OT verses in Mark 1:2f they combined  and perhaps a pre-exiting proof text designed from Isaiah and Malachi not just Isaiah as stated.   The pronouns are changed so that the verses can apply to the idea of the Baptist as precursor. Instead of behold I send my messenger before your face the original in Malachi 3:1 read I will send my messenger before me ( i.e.; God). The change is from god talking to his prophet about his own coming to god talking to Christ about sending  the Baptist before him. The messenger in Malachi was originally the Messiah and not the Baptist.  The change is from god to messiah or Jesus in doing so and an example of a forged prophecy. Thus the preparing of the way of the Lord (Yahweh) shifts to a Messianic interpretation  and the make straight his paths is substituted for the paths of our God.

 

 

To be continued.... take it away ApostateAbe

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whip cream."--Frank Zappa

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