Happy Thor’s Day
Another one of those posts where what I taught in the past about the Bible is going to have some of the problems I will now reveil. Problems I discovered that are a little overwhelming to maintaining faith. I am actually going to take on one of the more solid parts of the Bible – where we actually have four witnesses of events which would seem to fulfill the Bibles’s own standard of ‘two or three” plus one. However as we will see, this doesn’t’ a) solve other problems and b) some of the events witnessed still only have one witness.
The gospels actually illustrate some Bible problems so well that they provide an excellent test case for critics. I mean if you can have four witnesses, and still present something that makes you scratch your head, then anything less than that obviously is worse.
- The gospels are contradictory – This is particularly true when it comes to the resurrection accounts. Some gospels really have no account at all. Mark doesn’t have anything other than a statement that Jesus rose from the dead. The longer ending is probably an addition from someone regurgitating a story and not someone who was an eyewitness. Even when there is a claim to being eyewitnesses they can’t seem to get their story straight. Despite the claim to the contrary, this does not validate the story, it is what in court would be contradictory testimony. It would be thrown out, but gospel apologists continue to make the leap (this not being able to get their story straight) means the gospels are actually more authentic. No, quite the opposite in fact. It means there was a lot of confusion ‘resurrection’ morning and in moments of confusion any story can be both fabricated and propagated.
- The gospels also suffer from confirmation bias. Every writer of each gospel clearly wants the story to be true, and thus does not offer critical analysis of many events that are presented in the Life of Christ. In my opinion, this is the main atmosphere on ‘resurrection’ morning. A desire that Jesus of Nazareth was alive so strong that it created and atmosphere of mass psychological collusion. Before you think that couldn’t be possible, I remind people of Jim Jones and Jones Town and Heaven’s Gate, events that show that human beings can desire something so badly they will not look critically at what they are being told, Based on these false beleifs they will in fact kill themselves and be martyred for it; if they believe it strongly enough regardless of whether it is true or a lie.
- Timeline issues – yeah, I am stuck on the resurrection again because it was one of the problems I faced regularly in teaching the event. The accounts vary in their timeline and even events are presented differently to the point that they contradict each other in order of events. Who saw Jesus before someone else is a regular problem. Throughout the gospels some things appear in different order. Not a deal breaker but one of those ‘ keeping a straight story’ issues.
- Historically speaking if you are looking for other biographies or historical accounts of Jesus of Nazareth, you will disappointed. The only accounts we have are from his disciples and they biased. There is no objective historical account of his life, There are mentions in other sources like Philo and Josephus but all they really prove is that Christianity is indeed something that stretches back to the first century, but Jesus himself and his life is untouched by these sources. .
- The two or three witness problem still persists despite their being four accounts. Why? 1) The Gospel of John stands alone in many accounts. It offers up events that don’t have any collaboration at all. Even from the other gospels. John literally stands alone in his accounts of things at times and thus does not met the Bible’s own standard of ‘two or three witnesses’ for those events. 2) The other gospels clearly either copied each other or a common account. I have no problem with this historically speak except sometimes the word choice is verbatim which means they didn’t do much more digging than to copy without further investigation. There many theories to this, but in the end what you have is the possibility that instead of three accounts from three different witnesses, what you get is one account of these events, which are not collaborated, and simply copied by others. When they do differ, Matthew, Mark and Luke have the same problem as John. They often stand alone with many stories. One gospel writer will present one story, but the other two leave it out. This happens a lot and in the end you get very few stories that all four gospel writers actually touch. The only miracle they touch is the Feeding of the Five Thousand and it looks like John is trying to correct the account of the other three. The rest mostly deal with Jesus’ time in Jerusalem before he was crucified. That he had triumphal entry, he held a last supper where he said he would be betrayed, etc. But all goes south at the resurrection where things get completely contradictory or confusing.
Time to Look Through the Eye:
As a student of the Bible, what faith I have left in the Bible is an interesting thing and the gospels in particular. I taught Life of Christ at least ten times in my ministry. I think you can reasonably say that Jesus of Nazareth was probably a real person and that he indeed was a Jewish Rabbi, and probably a controversial one to the point he was hated by the other rabbis, religious teachers and groups. The gospels are a reflection of that but are written by his followers. So how do you continue to follow the teachings of a rabbi the others have decried as a heretic? You present Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and add a whole lot of legend to the real man, so that it makes the people who killed him look like complete assholes. The gospels may very well be a reflection of reactionary activity. Like Paul Bunyan or John Henry who may have been real people but their legend got big to the point of being ridiculous; Jesus of Nazareth suddenly becomes much more than he really was to justify Christianity’s existence and growth. I have faith that human beings may want to believe something so badly, they will lie to themselves and create stories to make their experiences change in their mind to verify the new presented ‘truth’.
Christianity itself developed a problem of having so many accounts of Jesus life that were so contradictory, they convened a council of the church to sort it out. This has led to the question: the criteria used may simply been one way of one group trying to politically eliminate another. The criteria were created by men for men’s purposes. The gospels chosen in the end may simply been the least contradictory, but still not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Religion then has a vested interest in defending its ‘holy’ book so they cannot be questioned and ‘BAM!’ – two thousand years later, they still stand despite all the problems. Not because they are the truth or history, but they have become religious tradition further defended by doctrine and dogma.
I suppose I have no Messianic Theology anymore. I was asked once recently if I had renounced Christ. I shrugged, is there anything to renounce? I mean I don’t see the need for humanity to have a messiah figure. In fact I would say looking for one or needing one is a cop-out trying to look for someone else to come along like a white knight and save you from all your problems. My Christology these days might simply be non-existent. Not renounced, just faded out of existence as no longer needed. Jesus was either a great teacher that people either added to his story to the point it is just as unlikely as other tall tales, or he was a lunatic who people believed so strongly they made stuff up to reinforce their belief in a lunatic. Was he the Messiah? – My answer: do we need one? Was He Lord? Once again do I need one?
I like some of the teachings of Jesus. I find them spiritually uplifting as I consider them. That said, I would also say I can treat them with the same attitude I treat the teachings of Buddha, Confucius and other great and deep thinkers. Containers for truth, but not THE truth. Just human beings that said some wise words and I find spirituality in a lot of people’s words beyond the standard religious figures. It is the one way we live on I suppose – the wisdom that can be found in words we wrote or spoke.
Events are a different matter. I don’t find spirituality in events I didn’t personally experience anymore. I can find inspiration in tales of courage, honor and other stories where virtues are center, but my spirituality is my own experiences in life, my own study and my own vision for myself..
I would say my path has taken a very honest turn. You can’t create a special group of ideas or books and then say you will not criticize them and then claim to be objective. The gospels are ancient writings, that when we subject them to the same scrutiny as many other writings of antiquity, fall short in many areas. This is simply true. They are religious tradition protected by religious dogma that once ripped away, you find a much more difficult truth. They are perhaps a mixture of true stories about Jesus of Nazareth mixed with tall tales. They are very possibly fabricated stories with an agenda that has nothing to do with the real man Jesus of Nazareth.
Continuing to Walk the Path,
The Rabyd Skald – Wandering Soul, Bard and Philosopher. The Grey Wayfarer.