I’ve reached the New Testament!

December 29, 2012 • 1:36 pm

I had to take a Bible break for a while, for reading it straight through proved too much for my frail constitution. But I’ve finally reached the New Testament, 849 pages into the 1108-page book, and things are picking up. (Oy, the books of the minor prophets were deadly: one after another crying out that the Lord would smite Israel for improper worship!).

Just a few observations from what I’ve read so far in Matthew.

1.  Many of the wonderful and moral sayings of Jesus are, with some thought, not so inspiring after all. Why, exactly, should I love my enemy? What if my enemy does horrible things?  Why, when someone hits me, am I supposed to turn the other cheek and let him hit me again? Wouldn’t it be better to run away, or smite him back? After all, someone who smites might think twice if he’s smitten back. “Resist not evil”? Why not combat evil?  And, of course, Jesus importunes the multitudes repeatedly to take no thought for the morrow, for the Lord will provide. “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink” is something I’m simply not going to follow. Anyone who followed Jesus’s commands strictly would give up his job, stop providing for the family, and stop saving money. Is there any Christian who does that? Certainly not the vast majority in my country!

2. Speaking of the multitudes, the book of Matthew repeatedly talks about how many multitudes followed Jesus around and witnessed his miracles.  For example, five thousand men (“beside women and children”) got loaves and fishes. Now if that many people witnessed Jesus’s deeds, then he would not have been an obscure apocalyptic prophet, and would surely have been mentioned by contemporary historians. After all, it was because King Herod heard of Jesus that John the Baptist lost his head. Ergo, while a historical Jesus may have existed—and I still am not convinced—Christians have a hard job explaining how, if he worked miracles for the multitudes, the historians ignored him.

3. How do Christians explain these words of Jesus to his disciples (Matthew 16:28)?

Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Is that some kind of metaphor?

4. Granted, much of what Jesus said involves good advice (though nothing that secularists couldn’t come up with, or did), but there’s also bad stuff, too. Here he works a miracles for a woman only after she begs him and acknowledges him as master.

From Matthew 15:22-28 (King James version):

22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

Jesus is being a jerk here, calling the woman a “dog” because she was a Canaanite. He certainly inherited some of the arrogant and preening attitudes that his father amply displayed in the Old Testament.

Jesus kills an entire herd of innocent pigs by imbuing them with demons cast out of two passersby (Matthew 8:28-34)
Animal abuse: Jesus kills an entire herd of innocent pigs by imbuing them with demons cast out of two passersby. Possessed pigs run down a cliff and drown in the sea. (Matthew 8:28-34)

200 thoughts on “I’ve reached the New Testament!

  1. Surely the Romans would have investigated the feeding of the 5000. Firstly, that’s a gathering the size of an army. That’s pretty dangerous in a conquered territory. Secondly, if he could feed that many with so little, wouldn’t they want to investigate that? He could have fed an army! No more worrying about supply lines.
    The idea that any of the gospels constitutes actual historical events tends to fall apart under scrutiny.

    1. Especially since all public gatherings, even gatherings of people to put out fires was illegal at the time according to Richard Carrier.

  2. Why, exactly, should I love my enemy? What if my enemy does horrible things? Why, when someone hits me, am I supposed to turn the other cheek and let him hit me again? Wouldn’t it be better to run away, or smite him back? After all, someone who smites might think twice if he’s smitten back. “Resist not evil”? Why not combat evil?

    Because the world is going to end any day now. Aaaany day now. Like, really, really truly.

    1. God is not good with time, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day”, he just got a little side-tracked. I’ll be any day now.

  3. You are to be commended for slogging through the whole Bible. It seems to me that there is little asking of “why should we do these things that are commanded of us?” therein. I suppose the answer would always be the same: “Because God [Yahweh] says so.”

  4. Had those multitudes witnessed this guy multiplying bread and fishes with abandon, it couldn’t have been kept a secret, and Tiberius would have had Jesus brought to Rome on the spot. Who is going to crucify a guy who can do that? After all, keeping the mass of Romans fed and subdued was a full time job and the reason Rome was occupying Egypt. Jesus would have been commanded to repeat his miracle, and when he didn’t, he would have been executed there and then.

  5. To be more exact the idea that the gospels contain _only_ historical events falls apart. It does not mean they contain no historical events (even purely fictional books can contain that). Frankly the feeding of the masses sounds like a big fish story (and after 40 years the fish can get really big and the size of the hook really small).

    One thing to note is where the idea of communion or mass supposedly came from. In the synoptic gospels it is from the last supper. In John IIRC it will be these mass feedings (John has no last supper).

    1. Rather than a big fish story (i.e. an exaggeration of an actual event) I think it’s more likely a reworking of Exodus 16. The New Testament writers did a lot of borrowing.

      1. Sorry, that was a bit of a brain short-circuit. What I meant to say is that it’s more likely to be a reworking of the story of Elisha (which ggwizz refers to below) and that both stories presumably draw originally on the old idea of god miraculously providing sustenance to his followers, which dates back to Exodus 16.

    2. The earliest mention of the Eucharist is in Paul, in I Corinthians 11. It’s also about the only biographical detail we ever get from Paul.

      But…we know from Justin Martyr that the Christian Eucharist was virtually indistinguishable from the Mithraic Eucharist. Martyr accused the Mithraists of stealing the Christian Eucharist, but we know from Plutarch that Cilician pirates were practicing Mithraic rituals at least a century before Jesus was to have had his Last Supper…and the home base of the pirates was Tarsus. As in, “Paul of.”

      So, that’s where your holy communion, your ritual mass, comes from.



      1. well… great point about Tarsus, but not necessary to try to explain where any of the traditions come from, especially where near coincidence is concerned. Since most of these rituals and traditions are borrowed from the old Roman religions later, and integrated as if they had always been a part of the greater story (“because the scriptures mention something similar, it must have always been there!”), it is nearly impossible to show where one tradition or ritual would come from. All we can know for sure is that none of the rituals can be taken from the scriptures, since many similar traditions were already old news by the time these were written, and many of them would never had actually had as much meaning as was applied later (as in holy men that never marry and yet are still influential – would never have happened in Jewish society at the time).

        But fun nonetheless to speculate!

        1. side note: “agape” is mentioned in the below comments. We do know that the Greek philosophical influence that is suddenly obvious in the New Testament was because of the Romans occupying Jerusalem at the time – they brought it with them. However, if it actually was to be attributed to this so called “Jesus” (a Greek god name that can not be translated from Hebrew – his name was originally Joshua in other translations), then Jesus would have had been educated in well-to-do schools that taught in Greek, which would negate the idea that he was ever a poor son of a lowly builder…

          1. There is nothing about Jesus that isn’t thoroughly Greek, except for the geography of the story and the pantheon of the back-story.

            If we are to understand that Orpheus is a Greek demigod (and we are and he was) as opposed to the Thracian musician he is described as in the story, then we should also understand Jesus to be a Greek demigod rather than the Jewish preacher is described as in the story.

            And there are a very great many parallels between Orpheus and Jesus — which is hardly surprising, since there are a similar number of parallels between Orpheus and Dionysus, or between Dionysus and Bacchus, or between Bacchus and Osiris, or between Osiris and….


          2. We do know that the Greek philosophical influence that is suddenly obvious in the New Testament was because of the Romans Jerusalem at the time – they brought it with them.

            The Greeks were there way before the Romans, they came with Alexander in the 4th century BCE (around 330). He conquered the Persian empire, and since the Persians had conquered the Babylonians who had earlier annexed Judea, he conquered Judea also. After the death of Big Alex and the ensuing wars over the spoils Judea ended up under Seleucus and was part of the Seleucid Empire until around 160 BCE when there was a succesfull revolt led by Macabee (who was backed by the Romans). Around 60 BCE the Romans installed the Herods as client kings in the area and eventually Judea was officially annexed to the empire in 6 CE.

            “Jesus” (a Greek god name that can not be translated from Hebrew – his name was originally Joshua in other translations)

            Jesus is not a greek name and there was not a greek god named Jesus. It comes from “Ἰησοῦς” which is the greek form of the corresponding Hebrew name, Joshua.

            1. On the one hand it is important to note that the Greek “Ἰησοῦς” is the same name as the Hebrew “ישוע” in exactly the same sense that “Joshua” is, as well as the Spanish “Jesus” (pronounced “Hey Seuss”) and the Latin “Iesu.”

              On the other hand, it is even more important to note that all the “original” sources (not that there actually is such a thing) do, indeed, refer not to ישוע but to Ἰησοῦς for the simple reason that they’re all written not in Hebrew (nor in Aramaic) but in Greek.

              For all the Jewish back-story, including the geography and the pantheon, Christianity is a thoroughly Greek religion, a perfect example of Hellenistic Pagan syncretism.



              1. Yes, indeed. I don’t think that the distinction between Jewish and Hellenistic elements is that clear cut anyway. Despite what some apologists seem to think Jews of the era were not culture bots, they lived under an ambient Hellenistic culture and were explicity and implicitly influenced by it.

              2. Indeed indeed.

                Philo basically invented Christianity, or at least Christian philosophy, by being the first to integrate the Greek Logos into Judaism.

                The Logos, of course, for those unfamiliar, is the “Word” of John 1:1 and is the creative divine force of which Jesus was the human incarnation. In that role, Jesus’s closest Pagan parallel would have been Mercury, though Jesus was an amalgam of many Pagan deities — most notably otherwise, the death and resurrection Sun god of the Osiris / Dionysus / Bacchus mold, as identified by turning water into wine and walking on water (and, of course, dying and resurrecting as the Sun itself just did a few days ago at the Solstice).


            2. Joshua being one of the most popular names at the time, left several “Joshua” prophets to have their stories combined with Helenic, Egyptian, Roman, etc. One of many reasons why no one Joshua stands out enough for any historian to mention.

              The important part about his name that makes it worth mentioning Jesus vs Joshua, is the replacement of the name should not have been necessary, given how important it is continually in the scriptures to utter the correct name of God (or son). Something many Christians have a difficult time explaining. Very few believers would recognize him as Joshua now.

              In the end, like all the other trivial things mentioned here, it makes me feel queasy to remember all that I learned about this long ago, and all the wasted hours to prove to myself what a mythical crock it is. No amount of technical information about it can change the absurdity of grandiosity that is applied to such an ancient bedtime story , and I get very bored regurgitating it or revisiting it. Maybe you can relate?

        2. I’ll admit that it’s technically speculation, since we don’t have a signed statement from Paul acknowledging that he interpolated the Mithraic Eucharist into Christianity. However, given the evidence, I’d suggest that it more than amply meets the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of evaluation.

          There is no question but that there was great similarity between the Christian and Mithraic Eucharists. Paul’s epistle is the first in which the Christian Eucharist is referenced, and his description is clearly in the form of instruction to other Christians unfamiliar with the ritual, at least in the form he presented it. Mithraism undoubtedly predated Christianity by at least a century, was very well established by the time of Paul’s birth, and its center was Paul’s home town. It would seem unreasonable in the extreme to suggest that Paul was unaware of the Mithraic Eucharist before his introduction to Christianity; the similarity could not possibly have escaped him.

          Therefore, since he is presenting the Eucharist as a novelty to other Christians, it only seems reasonable to assume that he is, indeed, the originator of the Christian version of the practice, and that he copied it from the religion of his home town.

          The only other plausible explanation would be that the Last Supper was an historical event that “just happened” to perfectly parallel the Mithraic Eucharist and that Paul was merely reporting all this as second-hand fact from what he learned from the members of the Jerusalem Church who were really there (but whom we know from Paul’s other correspondence that were only there in the same spiritual sense as Paul himself). I hope I don’t need to explain the absurdity of YHWH’s son intentionally staging his death scene so as to mimic a ritual practiced by worshippers of Mithra.



  6. “Christians have a hard job explaining how, if he worked miracles for the multitudes, the historians ignored him.”
    Fundies yes. Liberals not so much. Humanities since long have established that those miracles were attributed to Jesus later (note that this has nothing to do with the question if Jesus was historical or not). Most of those miracles are not exceptional at all and can be found in other ancient texts as well.
    If you want to argue with liberal christians you better show that Jesus wasn’t such a great guy after all. Their core piece is “Jesus was the perfect embodiment of agape”, something like self-sacrificing love.

    “Jesus was being a jerk here”
    Stuff like that indeed.

    1. You could also point out to liberals that they are digging the ground out from under their feet when they wave away the magic stuff.

      They may be being more intellectually honest than their fundie brethren; but when all they have left is the claim that Jesus was a nice guy, then they don’t have much left at all. Lots of people are nice. What makes them think that this one was God?

      1. Liberal Christians don’t think that Jesus was God. Rather, they would say that 1st century Jews were so moved by his life and saw all that God is embodied in Jesus. They went on, of course, to invent miracles and portray him as a new Joshua, Moses, Elijah etc.

        1. That’s a very select and rare subset of the group that you’re talking about.

          There are many people who regard themselves as liberal Christians who do think of Jesus as God. They simply disregard a lot of the manifest nonsense and hokey superstitious mumbo jumbo.

      2. They may be being more intellectually honest than their fundie brethren;

        Funny, to me the fundamentalists seem more intelectually honest; in fact liberal Christians strike me as being pretty close to the very definition of intelectual dishonesty.

        1. I prefer the liberals — they allow their theology to be influenced by observed reality, logic, and things like that. The conservatives and fundamentalists uniformly deny the obvious and hence are much more dishonest and, frankly, creepy.

          Both camps are wrong, but the conservatives much more so. Liberal theologians can be interesting and informative and often say things atheists and agnostics can fully agree with. Religious conservatives on the other hand are mostly pretty uniformly intolerable.

          1. Oh, generally I like liberal Christians much more as people and I’d be very happy if all fundamentalists turned liberal, it would make a helthier society. I still find the attitude of liberal Christians towards religion intellectually dishonest though, sort of like burying their head in the sand to avoid facing the fact that their beliefs are unfounded and that the Bible is not really that great a book.

        2. I agree with Nikos. They’re both dishonest, but liberal Christians are worse. Most amusing is the liberals’ ridiculous claim that Christianity has been “hijacked” by conservatives and fundamentalists. The reality is that the social, political and theological beliefs of conservative and fundamentalist Christians are much closer to Christianity as it has been understood and practised by most of its adherents for most of its history than are the beliefs of contemporary liberal Christians. It’s the liberals who are the revisionists, trying to impose a modern, western, democratic morality and worldview on to a religion that was developed by and for an ancient desert culture.

          1. I think that on balance, fundies are more dishonest, but it’s a close thing.

            Fundies deny huge chunks of observable reality and any evidence that does not support their book. BUT they also ignore huge chunks of that same book. They use it to justify misogyny and homophobia and creationism, for example, but they eat pigs, trim their beards, wear mixed fabrics and have jobs, savings accounts and, all too often, guns.

            *If* they were consistent, *if* they really did – as they claim – take the entirety of the bible literally and acted accordingly, then I’d probably argue that they were the more intellectually honest (although still the more wrong). But they don’t.

            Liberals, on the other hand, tend to accept some parts of observable reality and might modify their religious views somewhat as a result. Their view of what’s true and what’s not in the bible is based more on their sense of morality, which seems more honest than believing what they’re told regardless of evidence or even their own feelings. But on the other hand, their reasons for believing in the first place are far weaker and more difficult to justify.

            So I think fundies are more intellectually dishonest because of the sheer volume of stuff they reject and their false claims to live lives based on biblical literacy. But the liberal position is the more weaselly: it must take a lot of effort to believe in god when you don’t believe in much of the supposed evidence for his existence.

            1. The argument comparing the honesty vs. creepiness of fundies vs. liberals brings to mind the old (Chinese?) story about an oak tree and some reeds. The tree looked down on the reeds for being so flimsy, bending whichever way, anytime the wind blew. One day, a great wind knocked the tree down, and as it lay dying, roots exposed, the reeds proved the worth of their flexibility. In that sanse, I wonder who is quickest to turn his/her back on their religion: the extremist who can no longer block or deal with the cognitive dissonance or the liberal who figures a crafty way to rationalize it?

            2. You’re confusing conservative and fundamentalist Christians with biblical literalists. They’re not the same thing. I seriously doubt you could show that liberal Christians are more intellectually honest in their approach to biblical exegesis than conservatives and “fundies.” I also think the claim that liberal Christians are more intellectually honest because they are more accepting of science and reason doesn’t make any sense. The more a Christian accepts a scientific worldview, the more dishonest it is for him to continue to advocate faith and magical thinking (divine revelation, etc.) as a legitimate basis for belief.

      3. The whole debate as to whether liberal Christians are more intellectually honest than fundies seems to me to be less important than which are more enjoyable to occasionally hang out with. On this one the liberal Christians win hands down.

        1. +1

          ‘Honesty’ be buggered, I’ll take a bit of reasonable pragmatic commonsense in preference any day.

  7. Wow, that is a milestone, reaching the NT. I can only speak to my Mormon upbringing, as to how Christians interpret Matthew 16:28, but Mormons believe some people are “translated,” which means they get sent directly to heaven, without passing Go, collecting $200, or dying like you and I will. Moses was translated, for example, in Mormon theology. And … Elijah I want to say, who rode a chariot into heaven.

  8. “How do Christians explain these words of Jesus to his disciples (Matthew 16:28)?”

    Yep, metaphor. If you look in various commentaries there are different “interpretations” people reach. One is that he’s referring to the destruction of the temple in AD70 that they would be witnesses to. That the destruction of the temple and the widespread suffering, including Jewish cannibalism, caused by the seige, was pusnishment meted out to them for having rejected Jesus’s previous ministry, and therefore that was Jesus coming in power and judgement upon those people (and many hapless others) that rejected him earlier in their lives.

    1. “Is that some kind of metaphor?”
      -According to one Christian apologist, it’s not; it’s just referring to the transfiguration in Matthew 17.

    2. An alternate interpretation, popular in the Middle Ages, is that St. John never died, but was put in a sort of suspended animation, to be revived when the Second Coming occurs.

    1. Thanks for the link! Was this on TV in the UK? Sadly, we’ve not got much chance of getting anything so heretical in the US.

  9. Even the Wikipedia is full of goddy stuff in the articles on Herod. As usual, there are the claims of the beheading of “John the Baptist” although there is no evidence of any such event except for the dubious claims of the bible.

    The 5000 people of the bread and fishes story would have been the entire population of one of a large city of the era. Even people in the megalopolises of the day would surely have noticed and written about such a large gathering.

  10. I found your post about Death Valley a lot more inspiring than these words by Jesus, and the distance a fly can fly a lot more interesting. But thanks for reading this book (as you say, so I don’t have to).

  11. Excellent observation re: Mat 15:22-28.

    Regarding the feeding of the multitudes…the more amazing thing to me is that he does it twice in Mathew (and Mark) and the apostles are amazed both times! You’d think the they would have taken Jesus aside the second time and said, “…hate to bother you Master, but can you do that multiplication of the loaves and fishes trick again? The crowd’s starting to get a little hungry and unruly…”

    On a serious, critical note, I think what we have with the 2 stories is 2 traditions – 1 Jewish and 1 Gentile – and a gospel compiler not willing to harmonize the 2 into 1 for fear of alienating some who cling vehemently to either tradition. Keeping both traditions alive in the Gospel of Mathew draws more believers under the tent of emerging orthodoxy.


  12. I gave-up the Old Testament at 2 Kings a few months ago and started reading the New Testament thinking it will be better, Jesus is meant to be a sane and intelligent. I was taught poorly in R.E. Jesus is a fraking maniac, so arrogant and egomaniacal. Matthew 10:34-39. And 18:6 Not loving his enemy here. When you read about him telling to eat his body and drink his blood he would be taken into care today. I don’t know how anyone, who has read the bible, can take Jesus seriously.

    1. Agreed, Alex. Reading the wholly babble the way our esteemed host is doing is the surest route to atheism I know of. The answer, of course, is that the believers don’t read their book, preferring to let conmen interpret it for them. Oh, sure, a lot of them can spout scriptural references at the drop of a hat, but quote-mining is a time-honored tradition among the faithful.

  13. “Jesus was being a jerk here, calling the woman a dog.. . . .” Are you serious? You’ve demonstrated a tenuous grasp of the obvious in the past, but this takes the cake. Jesus was using metaphor.

    This post of yours, where you argue with the message of the Bible as if you’re trying to win a contest, is the last straw for me. The message is simple, and – whether you agree with it or not – to claim to not undertand it only makes you seem pathetic.

    I’m tired of your constant mocking of others who do not share your views. I mean, so what? Move on. Ignore them. Evolve.

    I find no signs of intelligent life here, and I’m fed up looking at pictures of your boots. You are seriously disturbed, and I’m unsubscribed.

    1. Speaking of the seriously disturbed here, how is calling a woman a metaphorical dog in some way less insulting than calling them an actual dog?

      In fact, I don’t think it is ever used in the literal sense by anyone. It always means dog metaphorically. And it is always meant as an insult. The woman was the “wrong” race, therefore the noble and excellent Jesus told her to get lost.

      1. And @Lizbeth Turner is, if you’ll pardon the expression, barking up the wrong tree, if she thinks she has some sort of right to come of her own choosing onto someone else’s website and insult him. No one forced her here, and no one tricked her into coming by pretenting to be anything they’re not.

      2. Except Jesus doesn’t tell her to get lost. He snarls, hears her out, and then admits he was wrong. His definition of community was too narrow. I think it’s a great story.

        1. “I think it’s a great story.”

          Which says that you can get what you want if you are a dog willing to grovel, prostrate, and otherwise humiliate yourself in front of your ‘master’ – OK, you’re right, it’s a great story, if you are one of the pious.

    2. Of course it was a metaphor, did you think Jerry thought Jesus genuinely confused a woman with a dog? Don’t be daft.

      It’s a metaphor, clearly. It’s just a demeaning one.

    3. “I find no sign of intelligent life here.”
      Pots and kettles come to mind when I read your homeschooling page.
      Re Apologia’s science curriculum. “We’ve learned about whales, seals, jellyfish, shrimp, coral ———-presented from a Christian viewpoint.”

    4. Jesus was using metaphor.

      Yeah, and he died for one too, right?

      I think a nerve has been hit here. “How dare you say Jesus wasn’t a nice guy, just by looking at what we say is the ultimate proof of his existence… it’s like, using our own weapon against us and it hurts, you maniac!”

      I truly LOLed at your comment.

    5. Well at least she had to grovel three times for her own daughter. So it was selfless acts of humiliation. At least Jesus didn’t tell her to buzz off and stop whining like the disciples told her. I’m sure they were excellent choices for disciples, as far as disciples that tell people to buzz off and stop whining go. Sometimes you have to play the hand that Jesus uhhhhhh…. dealt himself. Uhhh…. Yeah it all makes such obvious sense.

    6. “Move on. Ignore them. Evolve.”
      -As if pretending belief in falsehoods had no negative effect on American society will somehow improve it. What is it a metaphor for?

    7. Bye, bye ElizAbeth Turner. Please shut the door to lala land behind you. You wont find intelligent life if you don’t know how to look.

    8. To be fair, I think what Lizbeth means is that this is not how this verse is taught to Christian children, and I too was a bit startled upon reading Jerry’s interpretation, simply because I heard it once a year for twenty some years growing up, and never in this context. The standard Christian interpretation (although there may be a few,) seems to be that Jesus knew how this woman would react and the entire situation was a lesson on the virtues of humility.

      I have to admit, I’m still rather sympathetic to many of the teachings in the NT, when taken as symbolic words of wisdom from an ancient sage, not as a truth that can never be questioned. Why should you turn the other cheek? Remembering the context of when this was written, and some of the frightening “eye for an eye” practices that still go on today (as in cutting off the hand of a thief) yes, I can see this advice. Same for not thinking about tomorrow – depending on how you read it, this could be early Eckhart Tolle – Jesus and The Power of Now…

      1. Yes, but Jerry read it for the literal (or here, metaphorical) meaning. There are very many sects (interpretations) using the same text, or somewhat modified texts.

        But the original texts are somewhat attributable to generic main sects.

        1. No, he didn’t. He read the story to confirm a bias (that Jebus, real or fictional, is a jerk unworthy of reverence). He missed the part about how even the greatest rabbi can be taught a lesson by the simple humanity of a lowly social outcast.

          1. How do you know how I read the story? Yes, I am surprised at how often Jesus does things unworthy of the Son of God, but it’s your interpretation of what that story means. One could also read it as a tale about Jesus giving in when someone acknowledges him and God as master.

            As far as I know from what I’ve heard, Jesus didn’t learn much from that lesson,as when he says that an expensive ointment is better used for treating him than to serve the poor (Mark 14).

      2. Why should you turn the other cheek? Remembering the context of when this was written, and some of the frightening “eye for an eye” practices that still go on today (as in cutting off the hand of a thief) yes, I can see this advice.

        Sorry, but “turn the other cheek” is an invitation for abuse. I don’t see how that qualifies as good advice even in historical context. He could instead have said “walk away” or “protect yourself, but use the minimum necessary force” or somesuch.

        And cutting off the hand of a thief is not remotely an example of an eye for an eye. It is gross physical mutilation for petty crime. The punishment is grossly disproportionate to the wrongdoing. There are obviously many other possible ways of responding to theft that are much more humane than cutting off the thief’s hand but do not involve simply “turning the other cheek” to his crime.

        1. It’s my understanding that Sharia Law is based in large part around the Law of Retaliation from the Old Testament, and that cutting off the hand of a thief is indeed an interpretation of this sentiment. If I have this wrong, however, please feel free to point me to additional info. It’s not something I’ve thoroughly researched, by any means.

          Also my understanding that the emphasis on “turn the other cheek” and “love your neighbor as yourself” was, to some extent, a reaction to this way of thinking (actually, I think Jesus says as much in that sermon). Again, that doesn’t make it life advice for 2012, but in the context of that time, it may well have been a radical new way of thinking.

          As far as it being an invitation for abuse – perhaps. Wise men throughout the ages have been proclaiming the virtues of pacifism, and others have pointed out the dangers of letting evil go unchecked. The problem with ‘curbing’ evil behavior, of course, is that everyone considers themselves to be right and just and doing what they do for the greater good. Self-deception tends to run rampant among humans, including situations where we calculate the “minimum necessary” force. No one has offered a final solution to that problem that I think completely addresses it, but I see some virtue in the idea of pacifism.

          1. It’s my understanding that Sharia Law is based in large part around the Law of Retaliation from the Old Testament, and that cutting off the hand of a thief is indeed an interpretation of this sentiment.

            Whatever your understanding of the history of Sharia law, cutting off a hand as punishment for theft is obviously not an example of the principle described by the phrase “an eye for an eye,” i.e., the severity of the punishment matching the severity of the crime. It’s an example of the severity of the punishment grossly exceeding the severity of the crime. If Jesus’ intended message was that “an eye for an eye” is too harsh and that the punishment should be less severe than the crime, then he presumably would have said that. His actual teaching that we should “turn the other cheek” in response to being wronged prescribes no punishment at all. In fact, as I said, it is an invitation to further victimization.

            Wise men throughout the ages have been proclaiming the virtues of pacifism

            No, certain people have proclaimed what they believed to be the virtues of pacifism. You may consider them to be wise, but considering how rare and unpopular pacifism is, few people seem to share that view.

            1. Wow. These comments are pretty abrupt, guess I’m not tough enough for this site either. (Wanders off to cat section of Youtube.)

            2. It seems to me that amongst Christians the idea of turning the other cheek doesn’t really feature that high in the principles by which they lead their lives. Certainly the fundies appear to me to be rather enthusiastic for armed response, capital punishment and military interventions.

          2. Roo,

            I was looking through the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible and noticed that the NT version of the golden rule attributed to Jesus does not have the context of what He is referencing from Leviticus. The previous line in the OT makes it clear that neighbour refers someone from your village or tribe only. Us vs. Them is being reinforced.

      3. The standard Christian interpretation (although there may be a few,) seems to be that Jesus knew how this woman would react and the entire situation was a lesson on the virtues of humility.


        In this passage, jesus really means you should never mix whites and colors in the same load of laundry.

        You don’t understand biblical exegenesis. The science of making a giant Rorschach inkblot say whatever you want it to say.

        The NT has jesus doing a lot of negative things. Xians just make up handwaving explanations and hope no one actually laughs at them.

    9. Which message of the bible? There are many, most resulting in murder or mass murder.

      Jesus Matthew 19:12 NIV:

      Matthew 19:12
      New International Version (NIV)

      12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

      In this message, jesus recommends that men cut off their testicles. It’s been done by xians not but often. Origen is supposed to have done it.

      I’m tired of your constant mocking of others who do not share your views.

      Who is forcing you to read this blog? That sounds like a crime. You should call the police.

      Too bad Lizbeth took her ball and went home. In another part of the NT, jesus says he is going to come back and murder most of the world’s population.

  14. “Anyone who followed Jesus’s commands strictly would give up his job, stop providing for the family, and stop saving money.”

    This is classic cult guru stuff. Give up everything in order to sit at my feet, and no need to worry because I’m going to bring it to a climax sometime very soon and earthly things will then be irrelevant.

  15. I don’t quite know why you are still wading through all this Jerry. Most of it is intrinsically contradictory and exceedingly dull. Some of it however is imho beautifully expressed in the KJV, although I recognise that there is a parochial cultural element to that appreciation. A good shortcut is to listen to Handel’s Messiah since 98% of the libretto is uplifted directly from the Bible. That includes probably everything you’ll need to know!

    1. One reason to read it is to be able to say, when prominent theologians accuse him of not even having read the Bible, “but I have read it, the whole fucking kaboodle.”

        1. And they say “Yes” and on further enquiry it turns out they’ve just read Ray Comfort’s 50-page ‘Introduction’… 😉

  16. Matthew 27:51-53
    “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

    So, apparently people coming back to life was just SO common back then, that these “many” people returning from the dead and being seen by many others didn’t even warrant a single mention in any non-biblical source?

    1. I was struck by this curious passage too. And note that although they get raised from the dead when Jesus dies they have to wait around in the tombs for 3 days before they start wandering around in the holy city. Obviously the author/s needed something dramatic to happen at Jesus death, but didn’t want to devalue Jesus own resurrection, by having too many zombies around before hand.

    2. One can make an even weaker claim that still has the same point. Namely, there’s no record of *any* event even remotely like this, say, an earthquake and a record of some corpse flopping out of a tomb which made an impression on some people.

      Notice also that the text says “holy people” – wouldn’t it have been useful to provide examples?

  17. I’ve been reading about Apollonius, similar to the gospels but I wonder why there is no widespread apolloniatity religion.

    1. Oh, that’s easy.

      Through the time-honored practices of power politics, Christians got Constantine to adopt Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Seeing how Christianity is nothing more than Greco-Roman Paganism grafted upon the Jewish pantheon, and seeing how Jesus is an amalgam of several popular Pagan demigods (see Justin Martyr’s First Apology for the details), it wasn’t that much of a doctrinal stretch; just a substitution of one name for another, mostly.

      And, thus, Christianity ruled the Empire at the time of its collapse and thereby inherited the remnants of its wealth and power. The Pope’s line of succession traces not back to Peter but to Caesar.

      In that context, it’s not hard at all to understand why this particular religion managed to beat out all the others. It was in the right place at the right time, is all. Had some other religion been ascendant at the time of the Fall, that’s the one we’d be awash in today.



  18. #1 makes slightly more sense in the light of #3 – Jesus obviously really believed that the world would end pretty soon, and so one would not have to worry about fighting evil and providing for the future any more. He was the Harold Camping of his time.

    And this is then also one issue that I find a bit hard to explain under the hypothesis that there was no historical deranged doomsday preacher behind the Jesus myth, and that the _all_ content of the gospels was freely invented many decades later: Would an author like that have put this part about the world ending a few decades before their writing in there?

    1. And this is then also one issue that I find a bit hard to explain under the hypothesis that there was no historical deranged doomsday preacher behind the Jesus myth, and that the _all_ content of the gospels was freely invented many decades later: Would an author like that have put this part about the world ending a few decades before their writing in there?

      The stuff about the end being imminent comes from the “gospel according to Mark”, the authors of the other two synoptic gospels copied it from there. So the question is why Mark would put that stuff in his gospel, and in order to answer it we should know who he was and why he wrote his gospel, and we don’t: it’s not clear whether Mark was writing a novel, an allegory or a chronicle. There is stuff about the “coming of Jesus” (the coming not the return) in the letters of Paul and it’s supposed to be Real Soon Now. Maybe Mark got the idea from there.

  19. One of my pet peeves is the criticism frequently leveled at conservative and fundamentalist Christians by liberal Christians (and often by liberal non-believers too) that the conservatives are betraying or ignoring the teachings of Jesus. The premise of this criticism is that the acts and statements attributed to Jesus in the Bible are a clear expression of the values liberal Christians tend to value most highly — tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, selflessness, altruism, etc. I always think, “Have the liberals actually READ the gospels?” The only way you can get their Jesus from the Bible is by cherry-picking and spinning selected verses that are favorable to their pre-determined conclusion. The numerous verses that depict Jesus as intolerant, cruel, judgmental, unforgiving, foolish, irresponsible, etc. are studiously dismissed or ignored. Bertrand Russell made this point long ago in his essay Why I Am Not A Christian, but the whitewashing of Jesus continues unabated.

    1. Yikes – scandalous words! At the end of the day, Jesus is Humanity’s greatest ventriloquist dummy – just emphasize this and ignore or minimize that and you can make him say whatever you want.

    2. Yeah, but seeing as how their fictional impression of Jesus is actually a pretty good example to follow, morally, don’t discourage them! If it makes them behave better towards others then it doesn’t really matter if they’re following their own imaginary set of ideas. After all, it’s not as if the Biblical Jesus was any more factual…

  20. My biggest issue is also the “why should I” problem. There are no reasons given beyond “if you don’t you’ll suffer.” As philosophy it’s terrible.

  21. Why should I love my enemy? It reminds me of one of the principal functions of religion, which is to make the mortal human feel like a failure. You can respond to injustice, including that against yourself, by rising up, becoming angry, organising with others in the same boat. But that threatens the powers that be. Far better to be encouraged to internalise it all, to regard what’s happened to you to be just part of the ride. Shrug your shoulders, say ‘no hard feelings mate’.

  22. Congrats on reaching the New Testament. The Gospels get a bit repetitive by the time you get to Luke, though John’s different. The letters are the kind of texts where I had to read the same sentence multiple times to understand what they were saying, because you kind of have to accept their underlying premises for their conclusions to make any sense.

    How do Christians explain these words of Jesus to his disciples (Matthew 16:28)?

    The English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible has some notes on the topic, which I found interesting/funny. It suggests six different possible interpretations.

    “Some of the Twelve who were standing there with Jesus in Caesarea Philippi would live to see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. This predicted event has been variously interpreted as referring to: (1) Jesus’ transfiguration (17:1–8); (2) his resurrection; (3) the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost; (4) the spread of the kingdom through the preaching of the early church; (5) the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in a.d. 70; or (6) the second coming and final establishment of the kingdom.” (ESV Study Bible, note on Matthew 16:28)

    The people who wrote the note seem to prefer interpretation #1, though they say that #2-4 are also possible. The most amusing part, though, is their conclusion that #5 is “less persuasive” and #6 is “unacceptable” and the reasons they give.

    “View (5) is less persuasive because the judgment on Jerusalem does not reflect the positive growth of the kingdom. View (6) is unacceptable, for it would imply that Jesus was mistaken about the timing of his return.” (ESV Study Bible, note on Matthew 16:28)

  23. I find that Bart Ehrman’s books help a great deal with some of the kinds of questions you have. Matthew 16:28 is actually taken from Mark 9:1. Mark, Matthew and Luke are the “synoptic” gospels. Mark was written first and the other two are modifications of Mark. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is portrayed as the Messiah, the apocalyptic hero of the Jews. In John, Jesus is portrayed as an eternal being that came to life (no virgin birth in John). I don’t think he is apocalyptic in that one. Anyhow, yep, it looks to me that Jesus was wrong. He thought he’d bring the Kingdom of God and he was executed instead.

  24. Despite what many xians seem to believe, Jesus is just a figurehead. You will find, when you get to them, that actual xian practices are to be found in the letters of Paul.

  25. Though I know of no analysis of which can empirically prove this, I suspect much of the literature of the Western world since the fall of Rome until the 19th century was concerned with the Bible per se as well as the subject matters contained therein.

    As such, may I suggest (as I think I did some time back) that a more fruitful approach to spending one’s time on these matters is to not read the (Western, English) Bible in content order? Not only were the books not written in the order we print them today, but the topics covered aren’t really chronological anyway.

    As for the “Jesus” of the NT, I’m convinced that what we have passed down to us from the first two centuries is a composite of multiple characters (some of whom existed in reality, some of whom are syncretic blends with pre-existing deities/demi-gods), yet the scaffolding of the 2nd through 4th century Christianity welded them together well enough to create a global religious movement.

    And that, I suggest, is what matters to us today.

    I’d second the recommendation above to get Ehrman’s text on the NT as a place to start, for those without a background.

  26. Congratulations! I too decided to read the Bible straight through – it’s so worth it, just to be able to say you did it, although theists will tell you “reading the Bible isn’t the same as studying it!” As long as you don’t agree with them, your “reading” does not count for squat. *Studying* = mindlessly agreeing. The NT will go much quicker for you than the OT, although I found Paul to be quite the homophobic ass. On another note, a biologist friend of mine at Purdue told me you might be coming here for a guest lecture this spring. I’m very stoked about that – will definitely be in attendance!

  27. Animal abuse: Jesus kills an entire herd of innocent pigs by imbuing them with demons cast out of two passersby. Possessed pigs run down a cliff and drown in the sea. (Matthew 8:28-34)

    This is recycling myths, or perhaps strengthening them by repetition. Somewhere in the OT there is a similar story, luring demons into sheep and making them run off a cliff to fall to death.

  28. Matthew 12:48-50 cracks me up. Jesus denying his own mother (and brothers) because she is not righteous enough. The Virgin Mary not righteous enough! LOL

  29. This is a good read, Jerry! Hope you endure the last 6000 miles that is the NT. Please report back your impression of the Fondling of the Intestines of the Zombie!

  30. Just for the record: “Woman of Canaan” has been suspected for a long time to be a mistranslation. It was the ancient name (from 2000 years before) for the whole area which encompasses the east coast of the Med from Egypt to Turkey and to the river Jordan, that is, the Promised Land of the Books of Moses.

    So referring to a “Woman of Canaan” would be like referring to a contemporary British woman as being a “woman of Albion” (which is what the Ancient Romans called Britain before Brutus came along, for whom Britain was named).

    Exactly what “Canaan” was a mistranslation of is not certain, but this is not the only place it is used. Some suggest that “of Canaan” may have been a mistranslation of a particularly militant political faction (“Judaean People’s Front” comes to mind) – the “Sicarii”, of which Judas “Iscariot” (another mistranslation) was allegedly a member.

    On the other hand, perhaps it was all just a made up story, with bits and pieces from real history and geography included for verisimilitude.

    1. Maybe.

      The Canaanites were still around despite the OT holocaust.

      The Phoenicians were Canaanites and usually the Canaanite woman is supposed to be a Phoenician or Syrio-Phoenician.

      1. I think you mean genocide. Holocaust is a very specific subset of genocide. Taken to its roots, holo meeans whole, caust means burn (as in caustic acid). When a people is wiped out and also burned out of existance, or at least intended to be done so, that is a holocaust. It is because of the Nazi ovens that the term was orinally coined.

    2. Just for the record: “Woman of Canaan” has been suspected for a long time to be a mistranslation.

      It’s “γυνὴ Χαναναία” in the original which means exactly “woman of Canaan”. By whom is it suspected to be a mistranslation?

  31. I empathize with you. I’m only about half-way through the Old Testament; it is so very tedious. I learned one thing though; God sure loves barbecue.

  32. Now if that many people witnessed Jesus’s deeds, then he would not have been an obscure apocalyptic prophet, and would surely have been mentioned by contemporary historians.

    From “The Christ”, 1909 — John E. Remsberg

    Says it as well as anything.

    Every piece of evidence confirms that gospel Jesus never existed.

    The following is a list of writers who lived and wrote during the time, or within a century after the time, that Christ is said to have lived and performed his wonderful works:

    Josephus, Philo-Judaeus, Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial, Persius, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberius, Apollonius, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Quintilian, Lucanus, Epictetus, Silius Italicus, Statius, Ptolemy, Hermogones, Valerius Maximus, Arrian, Petronius, Dion Pruseus, Paterculus, Appian, Theon of Smyrna, Phlegon, Pompon Mela, Quintius Curtius, Lucian, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Florus Lucius, Favorinus, Phaedrus, Damis, Aulus Gellius, Columella, Dio Chrysostom, Lysias, Appion of Alexandria.

    Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library. Yet in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged passages in the works of a Jewish author, and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers, there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ.

    Philo was born before the beginning of the Christian era, and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ’s miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

    He was there when the crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead took place — when Christ himself rose from the dead, and in the presence of many witnesses ascended into heaven. These marvelous events which must have filled the world with amazement, had they really occurred, were unknown to him. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although this Word incarnate dwelt in that very land and in the presence of multitudes revealed himself and demonstrated his divine powers, Philo saw it not.

    BTW, there’s also nothing about Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls — and there should be.

    1. By this illogic, I can write about Teddy Roosevelt and I can be considered a witness, even though he died before I was born. Sorry, but no.

      1. Maybe they meant a metaphorical witness. Metaphor is some powerful stuff meant to tell us what God really means. Also maybe when they said five thousand people were fed loaves and fishes, maybe they meant two nuns in a rowboat. This would explain why Pliny the Elder hadn’t heard about it.

      1. The DSS are said to be an Essene collection of writings. Since the Gospels are rough on the Sadducees and the Pharisees but don’t mention the Essenes, some theorize Jesus may have been an Essene. If the gospel account is accurate and Jesus was an Essene, we should expect to see something written about him in the writings somewhere. The coins found in the area show it was occupied continuously from before 100 BC to about the time of the war between the Romans and Jerusalem.

      2. The scrolls were written by apocalyptic Jews living in Jerusalem before, during, and after the period when all this is supposed to have happened. Had Jesus been even a shadow of the figure portrayed in the Gospels, he would have been impossible to have been missed.

        Imagine searching the archives of the Tennessean from 1950 through 1990 and not finding Elvis’s name in there once.



          1. I havne’t read the Scolls, myself, so I wouldn’t at all presume to offer a meaningful answer. But they do contain copies of Isaiah, which features not only messianic figures but the prophecies that Jesus is alleged to have fulfilled.

            But, remember. We’re not talking about random homeless schmucks muttering in their beards.

            We’re talking about Jesus Christ, the founder of the most powerful religion in all of human history, the man who triumphantly entered Jerusalem, preached wildly popular sermons to huge crowds, and who, in so doing, so threatened The Powers That Be that the Sanhedrin were practically reduced to flinging poo at him at his trial, and he made an idiot out of the local head of the Roman government. That’s simply not somebody the authors of the Scrolls could have ignored, whether to comment favorably or disparagingly upon him. Nor could have Philo, Pliny the Elder, the Roman Satirists, or any of a host of other surviving sources.

            That’s stripping out all the supernatural stuff, of course. I don’t think any Christian would accept as Jesus somebody who didn’t also raise the dead, heal the sick, turn water into wine, and get hand jobs from Thomas. But, even if we’re so desperate to look for the “real” “historical” Jesus that we’d pretend none of that matters, I really don’t think you can strip away anything from my previous paragraph and still call the man in question, “Jesus.”

            If you did, then I’d have just as much right to pull out a London phone book, look for somebody named, “Harold Porter,” and declare him to be the “real” “historical” Harry Potter whose adventures Ms. Rowling chronicled.



              1. I think it safe to call, for example, Sun Myung Moon and David Koresh real messianic figures. Not that the theologies they preached were even remotely true, but that they were real historical figures viewed as messiahs by their followers.

                I also think it quite safe to state that most religions with central messianic figures are founded on fictions, even when they are founded by sociopaths who fit the Moon / Koresh mold. Xenu is an imaginary messianic figure (in a somewhat perverted way) invented by Hubbard, who was a real sociopathic nutjob. Same deal with Moroni and Smith. Martin Luther also fits the mold, though he didn’t do nearly as much to change the back-story.

                The historicist claims for the origins of Christianity are either the Christian one that the Gospels are an essentially accurate account of historical events, which we can trivially dismiss as laughable; and the “Jesus as a random schmuck in the mold of David Koresh.” And that latter theory also falls quite flat.

                Indeed, the much better parallel would be Paul in the role of Joseph Smith and Jesus as Moroni. Paul and Smith both took an extant religion and morphed it into something recognizably new using other very popular and easily-identifiable thematic elements in the popular milieu.

                Further complicating matters is that Paul was not at all acting in a vacuum; all sorts of others were doing the same thing at essentially the same time, but (of course) coming up with their own spin on things. That’s how Marcion had Jesus beaming down like Captain Kirk at the beginning of his gospel, and how the Ophites had Jesus as a snake god — and all of them much closer in time to each other than to the first third of the first century.

                Similarly, the Gospel authors all cribbed extensively from each other, but, at the same time, “fixed” things they considered problematic in the “originals” they were working from.

                If ever there were the perfect example of a religion from stone soup (minus the stone), it’s Christianity…but, I suppose, with the caveat that the original ingredient wasn’t merely water, but the broth of Judaism, and the contributions were not raw vegetables but the pre-cooked demigods and philosophy of the Greeks.



              2. From my Jewish origins, I take issue with the word “messianic”, coming from Messiah, who was supposed, by Jewish tradition, either to bring peace to the world (historical) or help maintain peace after the world, itself, has worked to achieve it (the version I grew up with, from the mid-range of Judaism, in the mid-1900s).

                Since there is no peace, this has been no messiah. No “real” messiah, anyway. That was always the key bone of contention between Jews and Christians, or so I was raised to believe.

                The rest are false messiahs.

              3. Of course, if using the word in its religious sense, then there have no more been real messiahs than there have been saints or angels or demons.

                But the adjectival form of the word generally doesn’t apply to strict literal examples, any more than a particularly gentle healing soul can be saintly and angelic or how Torquemada was demonic.

                I would argue that David Koresh is a good fit for the secular definition of a messianic figure, whilst cheerfully agreeing that he was a very deranged mortal and nothing at all like the peace-bringer of traditional Jewish belief.

                Unless I’m quite mistraken, pithom’s original challenge to me was whether or not the Scrolls contain a reference to a Koresh-style real-human messiah figure, and not to an actual instance of the Jewish Messiah (since, of course, we’re agreed that they don’t mention Jesus who was claimed as such despite all the character’s repeated war-mongering and death dealing).



            1. But they do contain copies of Isaiah, which features not only messianic figures but the prophecies that Jesus is alleged to have fulfilled.

              -I should have typed “contemporary real messianic figures”.

              1. Why should it matter when they recoded such figures?

                They clearly cared about messianic figures. They clearly cared about contemporary events. They clearly cared about prophecies and prophetic fulfillment. They clearly cared about the end of times. They clearly cared about blessings (“beatitudes”) and war and peace and other topics central to the Gospel stories.

                That they failed to notice the ultimate combination of all that they cared about should put paid to the notion that said combination actually existed.

                You seem convinced that there was a real, historical Jesus in the first third of the first century, and that it would be reasonable for such a figure to have gone unnoticed by all his contemporaries. Would you care to not only describe who you think this Jesus was, not only cite the positive evidence you have that supports this position of yours, but also reconcile it with the extensive descriptions we do have of Jesus (most notably, Paul, the Gospels, and Justin Martyr) which describe Jesus as radically different from an unimportant random schmuck so inconsequential as to escape notice?


    2. Jim Jones, late on my part, but natheless, this is hopeless.

      You demonstrate no knowledge of the sources for first century Palestine, nor what one can reasonably expect in the literature. I can tell that all you have done is copy and paste an argument that appears convenient to your ideas without bothering to do the research. This is how I can tell: take a sample of your list of ‘authors who do not mention Jesus’.

      Dio Chrysostom, none of whose historical works survive; his orations on philosophical, moral and political subjects are extant, but none mentions Jesus or Christianity. Or Damis; one would not expect Damis’ writings, if they or he ever existed, to speak of Jesus, for he was the student and lifelong companion of Apollonius of Tyana. Or Martial; his epigrams pre-date by 9 years any secure Roman reference to Jesus or his followers. Or Persius who died at 28 before the First Gospel was written; a Stoic, he could have been interested in the emergence of a new sect at the other end of the Empire and may, being an inhabitant of Rome, have come across its first converts in the eternal city. Or Fabius Quintilianus, (Quintilian), from the first century, whose only extant work is on the rules of rhetoric. Or Lucius Annaeus Florus, aka Florus Lucius, fl. 2nd century – writer of a patriotic history of Rome up to 25BCE. Or Marcus Annaeus Lucanus – the poet Lucan, and adversary of Nero, whose surviving work is on the Roman Civil war. I could go on. This is a list appended to a dishonest rhetorical point on Remsberg’s part. Why do you reproduce it?

      On Roman relations with Palestine, read Gibbon onwards for Judea’s importance to the Roman ruling-class empire-wide – economically, militarily, geographically (clue – barely registers). No Roman source mentions Josephus. Hardly any mention Herod Agrippa or Herod Antipas; they weren’t interested in that minor Roman colony. Why would they mention just another Jewish apocalypticist? And believe your history book, they really were ten-a-penny.

      You, Jim, do not know, contra your affirmation, that “Philo was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem”, because no-one knows when he was in Jerusalem in the only time in his life. What you wrote was untrue. What’s more it’s false that Philo lived “in or near Jerusalem”; he was an Alexandrian Jew. I know of no Philoine “account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth.” This again is not true. He was a proto-theologian, whose works containing verifiable historical claims form a small part of his corpus.

      Yes, Philo developed the idea of Logos; he shared and inspired, probably via the Ephesus-based Apollos, some elements of Hellenistic-inspired Judaism with the Johannine Monarchian Prologue (John 1:1-18) but he did not view the Word as incarnate. The Word for him was in the past, part of the Creation, not, as in the earliest Christian conception, and which difference you evidently don’t know, made flesh in the form of the Christ; that’s how the early apocalyptic Christians differed from the non-eschatological Philo, even though they often used the same allegorical approach and terminology. In parentheses, Philo was far more a scholiast of the Pentateuch, rather than of the Prophets who, to a far larger extent, inspired the earliest Christians’ main source of defectus litterae (i.e. allegorical interpretation).

      Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason why there should be anything in the Dead Sea Scrolls about Jesus; have you attempted to find out what they wrote about, or even when they wrote? Very briefly, the writers of the Scrolls, the Essenes, were concerned with their own theology and community rules. Have you read them? I very much doubt it.

      Before you make grand unjustifiable claims about what an ancient source “should” discuss, please do the proper historical research, first. This is a site for detached academic enquiry, not a forum for grand-standing and alleging baseless and misleading Velikovskyesque iconoclasms.

      1. Or Damis; one would not expect Damis’ writings, if they or he ever existed, to speak of Jesus, for he was the student and lifelong companion of Apollonius of Tyana.

        Pish and tosh. Rivals mention each other all the time.

        The rest of your kvetching is in the same vein, offering up excuse after excuse for why the most influential human in all of history, the very founder of the most powerful religion ever, really was such a nobody that was so unlike what everybody said he was that of course nobody would have paid him a second thought.

        Your characterization of Philo is another especially sorry bit of apologetics. You don’t think he’d notice the actual (or, at least, claimed) human incarnation of the very philosophical invention he was most passionate about? That his relatives in Jerusalem wouldn’t have at least drawn his attention to it, and that he wouldn’t have mentioned the rousing success of his work with it gaining such rapid popularity even amongst street preachers?

        You do know that the last thing he wrote was an account of his embassy to Caligula to protest the unjust treatment, including crucifixions, of Jews at the hands of Romans? Do you not think it a wee bit strange that he could have failed to have noticed the most prominent such example?

        Or perhaps your own Jesus wasn’t even crucified. Hell, I bet your Jesus was really named “Fred,” or maybe “George.” Sure would explain a lot.


    1. I’ve read it twice, and find that it is a lot more interesting if you read it along with a guide of some sort. I recommend either “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” by Isaac Asimov or “Ken’s Guide to the Bible” by “Ken Smith, B.A.” The latter takes the Bible about as seriously as it should be taken.

      There are a number of things in Asimov I now disagree with, but Smith seems fairly reliable though brief (144 pgs). 🙂

  33. The mass feedings in Mark are repeated in Matthew. Randel Helms points out that Elisha fed 100 people with 20 loaves of bread in 2 Kings 4:42-44. Dennis MacDonald shows that Telemauchus, Odyseus’ son, attended two feasts, one with 4500 and the other with 5000. Like Jesus, Telemauchus sailed to one and walked to one. Jesus is in the role of Telemauchus until he arrives and then assumes the role of host. His apostles are amazed both times, like the servants were in the Odyssey.

  34. Why, when someone hits me, am I supposed to turn the other cheek and let him hit me again?

    As the late former Communist Party Leader of the former Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev put it, he had a good opinion of Yeshua of Nazareth but disagreed with the latter on the subject of turning the other cheek. “When someone slaps my face, I don’t turn the other cheek, I knock his block off,” said Nikita.

  35. Given the prominence of many of Jesus’ monarchical contemporaries in Western culture – representations in renaissance art, literary interpretations from Wilde to Graves, opera from Buini to Strauss, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there were multiple sources for their biographies: but there are not.

    Take Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, under whom Christ was crucified. The references for him, apart from the NT, are:
    Cassius Dio c. CE 150 – 235
    Josephus, Antiquities 17–18, War 1–2.
    Gospel of Peter
    Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius

    Suetonius, who refers a lot to Tiberius and to Caligula, does not mention him.

    Take Herod Agrippa, who appears in Acts. His non-NT references are:
    Josephus, Antiquities xvii. 2. § 2
    Cassius Dio lx. 8
    Philo – his very distant relation by marriage

    That’s 2 of the 3 most influential Jews of first century Palestine; the other one, Josephus, is mentioned not at all. From this we can conclude that, of the documents that have come down to us, Palestine barely registered in the Roman intellectual conversation. When Hitchens referred to the place as being a backwater compared with, say, China, he was absolutely right.

    In that context, we need to view the likelihood of Jesus being referred to extra-biblically. We probably all know of Josephus etc. But Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, (c 810-893) and who rather interestingly also raises doubts about Josephus’ 2 references to Jesus, discusses the Jewish historian Justus of Tiberias, whose 2 works are no longer extant. The latter was a contemporaneous political enemy of Josephus, and P was familiar with Justus’ work, adding that Justus did not mention Jesus of Nazareth.

    There are rather enigmatic questions raised by the Antipas-John the Baptist story. How does Matthew know that Antipas said, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work with him.” (Mat: 14:2) and how does he know the whole story within the corridors of power? Luke supplies an answer, alleging that Joanna, wife of Antipas’ steward, is a Christian; perhaps she provided the establishment gossip. Did Luke realise the problem with the Matthew account, or is he telling the truth? Or both? Or neither? Or did it just not happen? We’ll probably never know, but you have to read the story very closely to come up with these suppositions.

    Another puzzle. When Paul appears in Acts, accused of being a follower of Jesus, and the trial is deciding whether these proto-Christians should be executed, what is going through the mind of Gamaliel, one of the Pharisee judges? Gamaliel was the grand-son of Hillel, one of the Pharisee masters; he was also the mentor of Paul, as an ephebe in Pharisaic doctrine. Paul became an extreme adversary of the early Christians, actively seeking them out to persecute them. Yet, now Paul appeared before the pacific Gamaliel as their apologist. What’s more, the first name of Paul’s new-found messiah was the same as Gamaliel’s son. What glances were exchanged between Paul and Gamaliel when they discussed the messiahship of Jesus? What frisson did Gamaliel feel in seeing his erstwhile mentee as his theological rival? What were his reasons for recommending that Paul be set free? If it happened.

  36. “Why, exactly, should I love my enemy? What if my enemy does horrible things?”

    Well, being your enemy, almost by definition s/he will. Certainly the command to “love your enemy” is the most radical in the Scriptures, and it’s certainly arresting, and sounds commendable at first glance. My problem with it is the idea that love can be commanded. It’s like the thought-crime of covetting. You can’t tell people what to want or feel. I think a lot of christians imagine they do obey it when they just feel they ought to.

    “Why, when someone hits me, am I supposed to turn the other cheek and let him hit me again? Wouldn’t it be better to run away, or smite him back?”

    Well, better for whom? I think the original idea was just not to retaliate, but someone (almost certainly not the historical Jesus, if any) overdid it.

    “After all, someone who smites might think twice if he’s smitten back.”

    Isn’t that the same mindset as “Arm the teachers!”? I think the smiter is supposed to be smitten by remorse at your example. I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said, “Love your enemies. It will drive them crazy.”

    ‘“Resist not evil”? Why not combat evil?’

    There are different ways of doing that.

    1. Well, better for whom? I think the original idea was just not to retaliate, but someone

      I love all these attempts to defend the scriptures with claims like “I think the idea was…” or “I think it means…” If Jesus meant “do not retaliate,” why didn’t he say that? What he actually said, according to the Bible, is that we should turn the other cheek, which has a rather different connotation than simply not retaliating.

      Isn’t that the same mindset as “Arm the teachers!”?

      More like the same mindset as punishing criminals for their crimes. If they’re made to suffer when they do something wrong, they’re less likely to do it again. And others are also less likely to do it if they see the consequences for the criminal. It’s called deterrence. Seems reasonable to me.

      There are different ways of doing that.

      Yes, but if you’re in a situation where you’re actually being smitten, it’s a bit too late for that.

  37. At least you hit this milestone of endurance a day before your birthday so it can’t be said that this was a b’day celebration.

    1. I’ve made it as far as Kings 1. Please tell me it’s OK to miss out all these deranged prophets with the silly names at the end of the OT. I can’t wait to get to the exciting stuff in the NT.

  38. The husband and I were given a novelization of the bible for Presentmas this year; neither of us has touched it yet, but I imagine one of us shall. It will be interesting to see what was left in and what was tossed, and how the bs is reconciled internally

    In the meantime, the boy cat seems to enjoy sleeping on it. The heathen.

  39. After 6 months I am with Marcel in the Guermantes’ library, two-thirds of the way through the last volume of ‘In Search of Lost Time’. Can’t help feeling my time has been better spent than Jerry’s.

    1. I spent a significant length of time as a boy sitting around in a car with only a bible for company: Sunday School (which my father taught) was before Church, and I justifiably decided (and got parental concession) that it was unfair to make me sit through both Sunday School *and* church, but in that case I’d have to sit in the car and wait till church was over. As a consequence I know the holey babble pretty well. (“Take another book to church to read in the car? But it’s *Sunday*!”)

      To this day I can’t look at the genealogy in Chronicles and Kings and all that malarkey without feeling the bursting need to urinate.

      In later life I tried creating a family tree based upon the genealogical lists (“Eber, Peleg, Reu” is allegedly the shortest verse in the OT) and wondering about the fact that they are internally not-100%-consistent.

  40. Anyone who reads their way through the entire Bible from start to finish deserves credit for perseverance. Hopefully, by the time he finishes Jerry will feel it was a worthwhile exercise.
    It seems to me there are two reasons why it may be. First, as has been pointed out above, it permits an authoritative response to those who claim the Bible provides evidence for the existence of God or justification for seeking to enforce some “moral code” or other. If you are familiar with the Bible you can point up the contradictions and logical flaws.
    The second reason, though, is because of the cultural importance of the Bible. A huge amount of great art, literature and music is based on or inspired by the Bible (I stress that I am not arguing that this in any way provides evidence for the ‘truth’ of the Bible) and a working knowledge of the Bible is helpful in appreciating many of these works. Virtually everyone would recognise what a painting of the crucifiction, say, is about but references in art to more obscure parts of the Bible pass most of us by.

      1. Seems to me a very dodgy story. The two elders falsely swore they saw Susannah having it off with a young guy in the orchard, but when questioned separately, each said it was under a different type of tree.

        What if they both by chance hit on the same type of tree? What if there was only one type of tree in the orchard? What if one or both said (quite justifiably) ‘Tree? I didn’t notice the tree, it’s irrelevant’?

        Story’s full of holes. Also bears distinct resemblance to that Italian saint girl who chose death rather than dishonour, btw.

  41. Haven’t the Palestinians and the Israelis each been doing that smite him back to make him stop thing for quite a while now? How’s it working out for them?

    The Irish had the same problem, with one generation avenging the deaths of their fathers, only for their sons to find they must then do likewise in their turn. Somehow they’ve managed to wind down the re-retaliations there. Who knows how long it will be before one person manages to find a way to spark a conflagration anew.

    1. One of the driving forces behind the Irish peace process was the philosophy behind the various womens’ movements. A significant step along the way was when the protestant women were lined up along one side of the street and the catholic women were lined up along the other, and they met in the middle and just hugged. To those of us who were concerned (most of the UK, it seemed to me at the time) it was a tear-jerkingly intense moment.

      One wonders whether the very real intellectual liberation for women currently being fought for hard by the various widely-supported initiatives in certain hard-line Muslim nations will have a direct and telling effect on the religious stranglehold on those places. One hopes it will.

      1. Thanks for the explanation. I’ve always wondered what changed to make it possible. Women stepping out from behind the men and asserting their sane perspective is wonderful.

        I hope they never let the hot heads bring it back.

  42. Turn the other cheek is okay when others do it, but when humans insult God, does God turn the other cheek? Nooo, he drowns humanity, sends plagues, throws fireballs at cities, etc.

  43. I do believe that Richard Carrier is about to release a book that will firmly place “Jesus” in the category of mythology.

  44. Jesus’ philosophy of non-violence has commendable elements but is only a basic prototype that isn’t very carefully thought out. It would not work against Nazis- indeed it can only work with someone who at least shares some things in common with you. Gandhi (who I don’t entirely agree with either) had thought this whole non-violence thing out a lot more carefully.

    1. Besides which, Jesus was the antithesis of non-violence.

      First, there’s Armageddon, where Jesus will personally lead the Christians to triumph by killing all non-Christians.

      Then there’s Luke 19, where Jesus tells a parable that’s the exact same plot, with Jesus playing the role of a king who commands all his followers make a ritual blood sacrifice of all non-Christians at Jesus’s altar.

      And then there’s all that “I come not to bring peace but a sword,” stuff, especially the bits where Jesus positively gushes his fantasy about how he’ll make children and parents kill each other

      And there’s the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus orders, on pain of infinite torture, all men who’ve ever had lustful thoughts about a woman to gouge out their eyes and chop off their hands.

      And even that’s all just the tip of the iceberg…the moneychangers at the Temple, the cursing of the fig tree, “brood of vipers,” all that hellfire and brimstone…

      …no, I’m afraid that, though he certainly was wont to utter pleasant platitudes, the Jesus character is one of the meanest, ugliest, nastiest, most evil sons of bitches in all of literature, surpassed if at all only by his father, YHWH.



      P.S. Even the pleasant platitudes are all deepities, and most of them will get you and those you love unpleasantly dead if you were to actually try to follow them. b&

      1. Ben,
        Point taken though my focus would be to say that the Biblical Jesus has multiple-personality issues.
        Are you familiar with Phillip Pullman’s novel in which Jesus has an evil twin brother and the cool stuff is said by J while the bad stuff is said by the evil twin? That’s what it sometimes looks like to me.

        I was focusing my attention on the Jesus of the Golden Rule and the Good Samaritan simply for the sake of the argument.

  45. I’m surprised you managed to read through the description of the tabernacle!

    Too bad the best book in the New Testament is the last one. Revelation is kind of fun, it sounds like a giant ayahuasca trip. Never tried it myself, but I’ve heard ayahuasca stories before and that’s how they sound like.

  46. “How do Christians explain these words of Jesus to his disciples (Matthew 16:28)?

    Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

    Is that some kind of metaphor?”

    That’s how modern Christian apologists interpret it, but it wasn’t originally intended as a metaphor. The sentiment expressed here is corroborated at Mark 14.62 where he tells members of the Sanhedrin that they will see (ὄψεσθε) the son of man descending from the clouds at the right hand of the mighty one. Obviously, no one who was alive at the trial of Jesus has seen Jesus descend from heaven on clouds at the right hand of god.

    Of course, the writer might have intended everything that Jesus says to apply to whoever is reading the story (Mark 13.14) and not to any of the other characters in it. But that would make the entire original gospel an extended metaphor and 100% fiction.

    Either way, it is still a failed prediction. Theologians like C.S. Lewis were ok with Jesus failing predictions because they were like “it makes him more human”.

    What’s ironic is that apologists like to claim certain things as metaphor that originally weren’t — like Jesus’ failed predictions — and try to prove things as true that were originally metaphor. Like the existence of the towns Bethphage and Bethany, where Jesus curses an unripe fig tree and is mourned over and prepared for burial, respectively. Bethphage, in what is is supposed to be metaphor, literally means “house of unripe figs” and Bethany literally means “house of mourning”. The gospels (at least Mark) are littered with a bunch of ironic wordplay like this that people who don’t know the original languages will never get and think that this stuff actually happened.

    1. J.Q.

      Could you comment on the idea that the story of the beating of the fig tree involved its being a metaphor for Jewish wisdom?

      I’ve never heard it explained that way until just recently. It never made sense to me that a Bible writer would want to make Jesus look so foolish as to get upset about a tree having no figs out of season.

      This would have been inserted, I suppose, because someone wanted to inspire Jews to become Christian or perhaps to justify Christians holding Christ-denying Jews in contempt.

      1. The fig tree being unripe is a cipher for the Jerusalem temple. Reading it sequentially, Jesus sees an unripe fig tree (in the house of unripe figs – “bethphage”) and curses it. The very next scene has Jesus cleansing the temple. After cleansing the temple, he comes back to the unripe fig tree and it’s been withered at its root; meaning that this unripe fig tree will never produce fruit again, because Jesus cursed it. Just like he cursed the Jerusalem temple which, after 70 AD, also will never bear fruit again.

      2. Johnnie,

        The fig tree was then and remains today a symbol of the Torah and of Torah scholarship. A simple Google search for “Fig Tree Torah” will give you lots of Jewish apologetics explaining the analogy.

        By cursing the fig tree for failing to produce fruit out of season, Jesus was really condemning Jewish scholars for failing to produce wisdom and not-so-subtly claiming that their time had passed and that they’ve been supplanted by Jesus.

        The fig tree incident is but one of a great many examples of rampant anti-Semitism in the Gospels. There’s the “brood of vipers” epithet, the scene with the moneychangers, the portrayal of the Sanhedrin at the Trial, and many more.

        You may be surprised to think of the Gospels as virulently anti-Semitic, especially since Jesus was ostensibly Jewish. But, in reality, Jesus was as thoroughly Greek as was Orpheus, even though Orpheus was cast as a Thracian — and the portrayal of Thracians in Orphic myth is every bit as hatefully racist, and in the exact same ways and for the exact same reasons, as the portrayals of Jews in Christian myth.



  47. A character contrived of myth, folklore, stories, plagiarism, various historical persons, etc. is no person at all. Peel away all the layers of the onion and, guess what, the onion is gone.

    1. I tell you solemnly there are some reading this comment who will not taste death until the year 2012 has come to an end & the new one begins.
      Doesn’t work, does it? He clearly meant something that wasn’t to come in the near future (which in Matthew he knows will be at Passover), but would do within a generation. It didn’t. So it was either Jesus was wrong or the story was made up. Occam’s razor cuts through so much apologetics!

  48. People who have so little understanding of the teachings of Jesus should never endeavor to comment on it, much less to propagate it. I don’t have the time in my day to point out these errors and educate you. I will give you a little ‘clue’ here though.

    Jesus taught a way to love that is beyond our human ability… nobody can naturally love their enemy. That takes a supernatural enactment of God in us. If we live in releationship with Him this is possible. And He wasn’t referring to letting someone beat you up. If you’ll read the text more carefully, He said, “If a man strikes you on the right cheek…” This was a common expression for someone giving someone a back-handed slap (picture it… he’s facing you… the common way one would strike you on the right side of the face is by taking their right hand and back-handing you. This was a form of INSULT. That’s what He was referring to!

    And as far as no secular references to Jesus in history, you need to do your homework. You’ll find all kinds of historical references to dispell your ignorant assertion that he didn’t exist. I don’t have the time to ‘spoon-feed’ you any more. We live in the ‘information age’…there is therefored no excuse for this level of ignorance.

    1. @Steve: I can accept the view that if we don’t study the Bible, we have no grounds on which to criticize Jesus and Christianity. But if we DO study the Bible, and discover it to be primitive and irrelevant, we are still not allowed to comment?

      It sounds like you’re saying that the only people who should be allowed to comment on Jesus and the Bible are those whose opinions are in line with Christian doctrine.

    2. Steve,
      as far as the teachings of Jesus are concerned, you really need to read the gospels yourself rather than rely on what your pastor (or whatever title your sect uses) tells you.

      Historicity – well, as you say, this is the ‘information age’…there is therefore no excuse for your level of ignorance.

    3. Methinks you should practice your own advice, considering your utter ignorance of Jesus.

      For example, the earliest of your “secular historical references” to Jesus were made by men not born for years, if not decades, after the “fact.” In stark contrast, the libraries worth of writings we have by people who would have been Jesus’s contemporaries had he been real didn’t notice anything even vaguely resembling him or his antics.

      …except, of course, for all the other Pagan demigods whom the earliest Christians themselves extensively catalogued as indistinguishable from Jesus.

      You really owe it to yourself to read Justin Martyr’s First Apology and Lucian of Samosata’s delightful telling of the passing of Peregrinus. Do that, and you’ll understand the true origins and nature of Christianity.



    4. I love the way these morons say they “don’t have time to spoon feed” us when what they mean is they don’t have any of the proof they claim history is copiously strewn with. That’s because there isn’t any, if there was they would have all the time in the world to cut and paste it ad nausium.

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