I didn’t think to write a second part of this article, but there is an issue with mythicists in general that really upsets me, and it has to do with their criticism of the criteria of embarrassment and dissimilarity as possible pointers toward Jesus’ historicity.

The argument in general as advocated by Robert Price and Richard Carrier, among others, goes like this (and I hope not to misrepresent their positions):

The arguments from embarrassment and dissimilarity are seriously flawed, because if the Gospel writers were “embarrassed” by the information they were sharing or told something that contradicted their narrative, they would not have included it in the text. Actually, if it was included, it is because it proves a point that the Gospel writer is trying to make.

Here is a fuller description of this rejection. I disagree with this statement, but to illustrate my point, I want to show how it is used, not only in New Testament criticism, but in actual historiographical labor regarding other historical subjects.
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Eusebius and an Angry Constantine Not Caring about Christ

Constantine

Emperor Constantine

It is known and very well established by scholars that Eusebius of Caesarea is not exactly the best reliable source in the universe if you want to know anything about the actual history of Christianity or what happened during the Emperor Constantine’s reign. Recently, Donald Robertson wrote an excellent article on how Eusebius seems to have made up the persecution against Christians supposedly engaged by Marcus Aurelius. The statement agrees fully with what scholars have found about stories of martyrdom in early Christianity, and which have been publicized by Candida Moss’ excellent book, The Myth of Persecution. In his article, Robertson quotes Eusebius himself when he states in one of his writings:

“That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.”

Jakob Buckhardt, the nineteenth century historian of Antiquity, is famous for characterizing Eusebius as a compulsive liar, needless to say that for him, the description of Eusebius as “historian” does not fit well, but rather “propagandist”.

Therefore, if you want to read a book such as Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, we should expect more propaganda than and actual systematic objective narrative. For instance, most people think that Constantine’s apparition of the Cross in the heavens as told by that book is historical, and that it was the point where he converted to Christianity. Yet, when we go to the Arch of Constantine, which commemorates his victory in the Battle of  Milvian Bridge, there is no sign of Christ anywhere, nor of the Labarum, nor the chi-rho symbol that supposedly he saw with the Labarum, nor do his soldiers appear with it inscribed in their shields. We see evidence, though, of an homage to Sol Invictus. Needless to say that Constantine used Sol Invictus’ symbolism everywhere, from his statue, to coins, to legislation, etc. In fact, no one else knows Eusebius’ account of his conversion (notoriously different from Lactantius), and he says that Constantine told him the story in secret and under oath (!) (see Book 1, ch. 28). Yes we agree that the chi-rho sign was distinctive of Constantine’s reign and we have evidence for it (and the use of the Labarum), but is it clear that it is a Christian symbol? Some scholars dispute it, given that the earliest account of an actual vision apparently as told publicly by Constantine himself, occurred in 310 CE, where the Sol Invictus and the goddess Victory handed him a military standard with the description of a symbol that is suspiciously similar to the chi-rho sign. Of course, nobody was able to ask Constantine about any of the claims of the apparition of the Cross, given that when Eusebius’ book was written, the “sole eye-witness who swore this under oath to him and no one else” was dead.

Yet, not everything that Eusebius wrote about Constantine is a lie. Some of the facts he tells us did happen, perhaps not in the way he portrays it. Besides, there are many aspects where Eusebius seems to be surprisingly honest. For instance, when he reproduces Constantine’s own letters and official documents. How do we know that he didn’t distort them? Mainly because of … the criteria of embarrassment and dissimilarity. AS in the case of the Gospels, these letters actually served Eusebius to make an immediate point in his narrative, BUT by using this information, he reveals Constantine’s true attitudes towards Christianity that do not serve the author on other grounds.

If Eusebius’ writings are apologetic to the core, then we must ask, what was the purpose of his Life of Constantine? Apparently, from reading the text, and what we know about his exaggerated claims and omission of information, we can infer that Eusebius wanted to show Constantine as a Christian model, following the archetypal path of Biblical figures such as Moses and David. That is what we see page after page of Eusebius accounts. There is no question about it in the realm of scholarly Antiquity. Yet, in order to tell us about the Council of Niscea, and Constantine’s role in it, he has to tell us about Alexander and Arius’ dispute about the nature of Christ: Was Christ a lower divinity in the same nature as the Father, but not God Himself? Or was He as God as God the Father, coeternal and cosubstantial?

For Constantine, this was not a trivial matter, but not because he was bothered subjectively regarding this Christian conviction. He was worried because the dispute was generating a level of conflict that literally was tearing apart his Empire, the one he fought so hard for so many years to unify. Eusebius tells us that when he knew about this dispute, he was deeply saddened by it. In order to find unity among Christians, he wrote a letter calling Arius and Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria, to peace. Because the letter itself could not resolve this dispute, Constantine called for a Council to decide this debate once after all. In this sense, the letter served Eusebius’ point, that Constantine cared for the peace and unity of Christians (a real Peacemaker with a capital “P”), especially by calling for a Council that decided what was the Truth (with a capital “T”).

Yet, if we read the letter itself, we can see Constantine’s true attitude towards the whole subject. His motives were political, not doctrinal in any sense. He couldn’t care less about whether Arius or Alexander was right. He wanted a unified Empire. This is transparent in the letter. Here are some observations about it (if you want to read the letter in its entirety, see Book II, chs. 64-72). From the letter we get that Constantine condemns Arius and Alexander, both, for disputing about a subject he describes with these words:

  • “… having made a careful inquiry into the origin and foundation of these differences, I find the cause to be of a truly insignificant character, and quite unworthy of such fierce contention” (ch. 68, my emphasis)
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  • “I should say, that you [Alexander] asked them something connected with an unprofitable question, then you, Arius, inconsiderately insisted on what ought never to have been conceived at all, or if conceived, should have been buried in profound silence” (ch. 69, my emphasis).
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  • “For those points of discussion which are enjoined by the authority of no law, but rather suggested by the contentious spirit which is fostered by misused leisure, even though they may be intended merely as an intellectual exercise, ought certainly to be confined to the region of our own thoughts, and not hastily produced in the popular assemblies, nor unadvisedly entrusted to the general ear. For how very few are there able either accurately to comprehend, or adequately to explain subjects so sublime and abstruse in their nature?” (ibid., my emphasis).
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  • “For as long as you continue to contend about these small and very insignificant questions, it is not fitting that so large a portion of God’s people should be under the direction of your judgment, since you are thus divided between yourselves. I believe it indeed to be not merely unbecoming, but positively evil, that such should be the case.” (ch. 71, my emphasis)
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  • “But let us still more thoughtfully and with closer attention examine what I have said, and see whether it be right that, on the ground of some trifling and foolish verbal difference between ourselves, brethren should assume towards each other the attitude of enemies, and the august meeting of the Synod be rent by profane disunion, because of you who wrangle together on points so trivial and altogether unessential? This is vulgar, and rather characteristic of childish ignorance, than consistent with the wisdom of priests and men of sense.” (ibid., my emphasis)
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  • “And this I say without in any way desiring to force you to entire unity of judgment in regard to this truly idle question, whatever its real nature may be. For the dignity of your synod may be preserved, and the communion of your whole body maintained unbroken, however wide a difference may exist among you as to unimportant matters” (ibid., my emphasis)
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  • “For while the people of God, whose fellow-servant I am, are thus divided among themselves by an unreasonable and pernicious spirit of contention, how is it possible that I shall be able to maintain tranquility of mind?” (ch. 72, my emphasis)

And HERE is where the criterion of embarrassment (and also dissimilarity) kicks in!

Does this letter serve Eusebius? Again, yes, it does!  Read in its totality, it serves to point out how much of a peacemaker he was towards Christians, and how concerned he was for “true peace” within the one true Catholic Church.

Yet, it also contains elements that do not favor the main thesis of his book! How likely is it, that Eusebius would make up a letter that has so much unflattering things to say about both sides of the discussion (including the “orthodox” side represented by Alexander)? There is next to no chance, since we know that Eusebius is notorious for distorting facts to his brand of Christianity. How likely is it that Eusebius would make Constantine regard the issue as “unimportant”, “a trivial and foolish verbal difference”, “positively evil”, and so on? Minute, almost non-existent. Yet, these elements are there for one reason… and one reason only: because historically, Constantine did write the letter, and because he did not care about Christology. This is the criterion of embarrassment in action! This is why it is useful in the field of history.

We are still left with a question. Why couldn’t he just forge the letter? For one simple reason: that he is still living in a time where Constantine just died, but his advisers, his friends, his militia, his scribes, Arian friends of the Emperor (like Eusebius of Nicomedia), and so on, were still living. He would have been caught with the forgery if that happened.

In general, it is unlikely that Eusebius could have made up material that would be contrary to his intent of presenting Constantine as a devout Christian, and in such “embarrassing” levels.  Yet, he still used the letter, because despite of some of its content, it “proves” that Constantine was a Peacemaker.

Is this criterion a sort of the criterion of dissimilarity? Yes. And all of the above shows that these criteria are useful in History as a discipline.
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The Criteria of Embarrassment and Dissimilarity in New Testament Scholarship

How does this apply to the New Testament? In our previous post, we saw that Jesus’ baptism was an inconvenient factor for all of the Gospels’ authors. They are not properly speaking “embarrassed” on the whole of the story, in the sense that it deals with how Jesus was actually declared Son of God at the moment of his baptism. As a matter of fact, the whole episode in the Synoptic reads like a prophet anointing a new king (just like Samuel anointed David). This is emphasized apparently in Luke, in whose original text (or at least according to some scholars) the Holy Spirit appears pronouncing the verses of Psalm 2, regarding the king being begotten as the Son of God (Ps. 2:7; Lk. 3:22).

John the Baptist

John the Baptist

But still, any attentive reader should feel nagged by the premise of John’s baptism:  this is a baptism of confession and repentance of sins!  That’s why people were being baptized by him. Why did Jesus go there? Why not just begin his ministry separately from John the Baptist. The historical answer is that Jesus began as John’s disciple. In order to eliminate the inconvenience of this undeniable fact, the Gospel writers (specifically Mark’s Gospel) changed the meaning of his baptism: Jesus’ is not a baptism of confession and repentance of sins; in this particular case, it was an “anointing” by a known prophet. Then, according to Mark, Jesus had a vision and knew that he was the Son of God … even though he never said that publicly!

An this fact is another inconvenience. What is the evidence that Jesus was the Son of God? The problem, Mark would say, is that when he was recognized as the Son of God by demons or others, he ordered them to shut up; but his disciples were supposed to know, yet never understood him.  There is no debate among scholars that this claim, as absurd as it sounds, is the literary motif of that Gospel.  Don’t believe me?  Read that Gospel from beginning to end! That’s the whole idea! Even after his resurrection, the women never told the disciples about those news (remember that the Gospel actually ends in Mark 16:8, the rest of the verses were a later addition).

Why? Again, Mark wanted to explain why Jesus historically never appeared to have called himself Son of God in public, and wanted to explain away why the Messiah, who knew since his baptism that He was the Son of God, never revealed it publicly: because he either shut people up about it, or he was misunderstood by his disciples.

If we go to the other synoptic Gospels, we find another inconvenience for both of their authors. This time, their common source, the Q text, tells us about John’s reaction when he heard the news about Jesus’ activity. According to Q (or at least what it supposedly should have said, Q is a hypothetical document):

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me’ (Lk. 7:18-23; Mt. 11:2-6).

Of course, this served both Matthew and Luke regarding their immediate point: to confirm the authors’ conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the miracles that he carried out proved without a doubt that he was “the one who is to come”. Yet, now a question nags: “But, wait a second! According to Matthew, John actually did know that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt. 3:14)! And in Luke, even when John didn’t baptize Jesus, he was a close relative of his and should have known all of the fantastic stuff that happened to Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, and his mother Elisabeth, and he must have known that Jesus was the Messiah, right? (Lk. 1-2)”  If you follow both Gospels, John should have known better than to ask that inconvenient question, and yet, historically speaking, John seems not to have known that Jesus was “the one to come”. Still with that problematic issue, both Gospel writers used it to prove their immediate point, that Jesus’ activity did show that he was the Messiah, and THAT was included in Jesus’ reply to John. This is the reason why scholars think that most probably this event of John sending his disciples to ask Jesus actually took place.

Now, why didn’t any of the Gospel writers follow the path of the Gospel of John, of omitting (or even denying) that Jesus was baptized? Very simple!  Because Mark’s account, which is the basis for both Matthew’s and Luke’s, apparently collected  early traditions among Christians. Besides, through critical scholarly analyses, we know that during the first century, John the Baptist also had disciples, and his sect gradually became confrontational with Christians. This can be shown in John’s Gospel, when (apparently responding to this sect) states clearly that John was not the Light, but he was a “witness to the Light” (John 1:6-8). Also, it was widely known at the time, that the custom of Baptism in Christianity had its roots from John’s activity as a baptizer. The author of the Gospel of John is far enough from that historical moment in order to omit (or deny?) that Jesus was ever baptized by John. Not so in the case of the earlier Gospels, whose writing took place when a wide variety of people, including Christians, did know that Jesus was baptized by John. Besides, the Gospels reflect an admiration for John that was shared by all Christians … they just think that Jesus was greater than John.

Note: If you want to read how can scholars have an idea of the disputes between Christians and the followers of John the Baptist, read Raymond Brown’s book, The Community of the Beloved Disciple.

So, they didn’t change the fact of the event initially, but rather changed the meaning of the event. This was at the beginning, but as I showed in my previous post, at least from a literary point of view, the first account of Jesus’ baptism shows him being baptized by John; in the second account (Matthews’) we see a bit of an effort of the Gospel writer to explain this fact; then in the third account (Luke’s) Jesus’ baptism is dissociated from John; until finally (in John’s Gospel0, Jesus was not baptized by John, nor baptized at all.

Everything in all four Gospels points at some level of “embarrassment” regarding these issues. The only explanation for why they initially had to tell the story, is because historically Jesus was baptized by John, and everyone knew that. If THAT is the case, then Jesus is not a fictional or mythical character of a story, and most probably (to the point of almost absolute certainty) he truly existed.
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The Limits of the Criterion of Embarrassment

Is this criterion infallible? Absolutely not. There are cases where it fails, and mythicists are right that it can fail often. Yet they forget some important factors:

  1. To discard this criterion because it fails sometimes does not mean that it will fail all of the time. We can see in this article at least four cases where it clearly shows that it does help us obtain some historical information: 1. that Jesus was baptized, 2. that he never claimed to be the Son of God, 3.that John didn’t know about Jesus being “the one to come”, and 4. that Constantine wrote a very unflattering letter to Christians and didn’t care about Christology.
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  2. They give the public the impression that these limits are not being discussed among New Testament scholars.

Regarding this second point, this is simply untrue. The limits of the criteria of embarrassment and dissimilarity are widely discussed by scholars in the field and are very well known (see here, here, here and here). However, we have several good news:

  • Although these criteria have a subjective degree that it cannot be denied, their discussion with scholars who hold very different points of view on the matter help refine their methodological use, given that they cannot be mechanically applied to everything (e.g. to Jesus’ cry of Psalm 22 on the Cross).
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  • These discussions also help combining these criteria with several others (criteria of coherence, consistency, social and cultural context, literary style and message, etc.)
  • Mythicists often complain against these criteria saying that many ancient writings contradict themselves. Yet, what they miss is that often these contradictions are examined by critical scholars and historians in order to explain them. When it is a appropriate, guess which two criteria (among many others) do they have in mind when they examine them?

In all this discussion, let’s remember that not only the NT reconstruction of the “historical Jesus”, but also all of the History is this incredibly difficult process of arming a coherent jigsaw puzzle that takes the bits and pieces left to us from the past (documents, archaeological discoveries, etc.) and reconstruct the past into the best picture we are able to. This is the reason why people often we see historians “revising” history. This is not because there was an original infallible picture of what happened in the past, and then those “damned liberal” historians want to distort it … History is rather an ongoing process of refining its methods, reevaluating the evidence, and refining their historical theories using criteria (all of themfallible) to formulate the best theoretical picture we have of what actually happened in the past.

Like the natural sciences, this happens frequently. Unlike the natural sciences, this is not an exact hard discipline like Physics. Finding an accurate picture of the past is a lot harder and includes a lot of things that Physics doesn’t have to deal with: for example, cognitive science, sociology, economics, political science, and so on.

So, if anything, we have shown once again the validity of the arguments of embarrassment and dissimilarity, and saw how they point at the fact of an actual historical Jesus.

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The Last Supper - Tintoretto (1594)

When I used to be Roman Catholic, there was no ceremony or subject I would love more than the Eucharist, only followed by the devotion to Our Lady. It became the center of my religious life.

After I became a Religious Naturalist, my spirituality has changed considerably, although, some of my views are touched by drops of Eucharistic metaphors. While researching on Paul the Apostle for the publication of my book’s third edition, I found a perspective that apparently is becoming very popular in some Spanish scholarly circles. Unfortunately, due to the fact of language, many other Bible scholars around the world usually don’t engage very much with Spanish-speaking scholars or read works written in Spanish.

Antonio Piñero de Sáenz

Antonio Piñero de Sáenz

This perspective whose most visible representative figure in Spain is Antonio Piñero de Sáenz, I consider to be the most complete, sound, and thorough view on the Eucharist I have ever seen thus far. In these series on the Eucharist, I’m going to make an exposition of his views. I will also add a bit more information that might confirm them (I will note them so that people do not confuse his opinion with mine). The reason I’m doing this is because I detect a certain discomfort about this subject among scholars regarding the big elephant in the room, that the traditional story of the Eucharist has its actual roots in Paul, and not the Apostles, nor the Last Supper itself. I hope that I represent Piñero’s opinion accurately.

NOTE: I want to make clear that with these series I do NOT intend to present my position as being de facto superior to the opinions of the vast majority of scholars in the world. I think that I’m right, but another thing is if I am right. This is my opinion for the moment and an exposition of a respected scholar’s view that I think should get more attention in the English-speaking world. Yet, at the very end of the day, the consensus of Bible scholars is more authoritative than anything I write. I respect it! I am an outsider looking at what is going on in Bible scholarship. Do NOT take these blog series as being as authoritative as Biblical scholarship in general. On the contrary, be critical of everything I say. THAT said, let’s continue …

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The Stories of the Last Supper

In this first blog, I would like to make an exposition of the stories of the Last Supper as they appear in the New Testament in chronological order.

Let’s start with the earliest one we have, which appears in one of Paul’s genuine letters (all quotes are from the NRSV):

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat and drink from this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

1 Corinthians is treated by scholars as being one whole letter written by Paul, while others think that they are two letters edited into one. Whichever the position, the content of 1 Corinthians seems to have been written around the years 52-54 C.E. This constitutes the earliest story we have regarding the Last Supper.

Let’s explore the next one, which appears in the Gospel of Mark, written around 65-70 C.E.

While they were eating, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after  giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:22-25).

In the Gospel of Matthew, written around 80-90 C.E., we find a similar story.

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never gain drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:26-29).

For now, these three versions look very similar to each other in form, structure, and words. There are slight differences, but it is one basic story.

Finally, we have the Gospel of Luke, also written around 80-90 C.E. Here we notice that the story changes in very strange ways:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took the loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined but woe to the one by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:14-23).

What makes this passage particularly interesting is the fact that Jesus blesses and offers the cup twice. What is going on in this case?

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Earliest Sources on the Celebration of the Eucharist

What makes this issue a bit more interesting is the fact that we have some scarce news about the way the Eucharist was being celebrated at the time. Among them we find two (besides 1 Corinthians). One comes from the Acts of the Apostles, which expresses a very early tradition of the Jewish character of the Eucharist:

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their good with glad generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:43-47)

This passage talks about the “breaking of the bread” activity as a way to gather and share in community. Most scholars are careful with this passage, since it presents an excessively idealized situation that is later contradicted in that same book (e.g. Acts 6:1). Yet, in its story of the Eucharist, there is no allusion to any offering of  vicarian blood for others or atonement for the forgiveness of sins, and it also shows early Christians as being devoted Jews who celebrated in the Temple of Jerusalem.

The other more important source regarding the Eucharist comes from a text called the Didaché, also known as the Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, which many scholars date to the early or late second century C.E. The Lord’s Prayer appears there in its full version (Matthew’s) as well as several other important teachings and ceremonies. In it, we find the following, regarding the celebration of the Eucharist (from the New Advent, Catholic translation):

Now concerning the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup: “We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever.” And concerning the broken bread: “We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.” But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs” (Didaché IX).

This is mostly odd, given that it is the cup that is blessed and offered first, before the bread. And in none of the words of thanksgiving do we find any reference at all to Jesus’ vicarian sacrifice or forgiveness of sins.

Again, what is going on here?
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Next Step: Beginning the Qualification of the Evidence

Maybe someone is asking: “What about John‘s version of events?” What is interesting regarding the Gospel of John is that it has a Last Supper, but has no blessing of the bread and wine, just a very long speech by Jesus (John 13-17). There may be a reason for this.  If you look at the passages in the Synoptic Gospels, we notice that they present the Last Supper as a Seder, that is, as a Passover meal. A Lamb is sacrificed the day before the Passover feasts begin, and then it is eaten afterwards. According to the Synoptics, this last part happened before the crucifixion. Yet, for John, the Lamb (i.e. Jesus Christ) would not be sacrificed until his crucifixion … the day before the Passover feasts begin. So there was no Eucharistic offering during the Last Supper. According to that Gospel, the moment of crucifixion would be the moment of glorification for “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world”. So, the main reason, why the thanksgiving does not appear in its version of events is for theological reasons.

Besides this very special case, we find ourselves with a bunch of problems with the data provided by Paul and the Synoptic Gospels. Let’s look at them carefully.

  • First, one of the most notorious things that we notice of Paul’s version of events is that he does not tell us at all if the Last Supper was a Seder or another sort of ceremonial meal. He only limits himself to say that it occurred the night when “he was betrayed”. Although this is the current and popular translation, the word usually translated as “betrayed” could also mean “delivered {to other hands}” or “handed over” (“παρεδίδετο” from the term “παραδίδωμι”), which could mean the night when God delivered Jesus to be sacrificed. Yet, we are not clear when exactly did this happen in relation to Passover.
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  • The words attributed to Jesus in Paul’s version of events most probably were not pronounced by him. On the contrary, at best, this could be a later tradition elaborated after Jesus’ death, which was reinterpreted in light of the Suffering Servant’s expiatory act prophecy (Isaiah 53) by the Judeo-Christians in Palestine, which was later reinterpreted once again as a vicarian sacrifice in Judeo-Hellenistic circles. In here, I follow the conviction of many scholars, that it is plausible that Jesus did not know that he was going to be crucified as a way to sacrifice himself, and “spill blood” for everyone’s salvation (a vicarian notion of his death). The problem with this vicarian notion of Jesus’ death  is that not only did the Jews (including Jesus) NOT expect a Messiah who would be sacrificed, but that the notion of vicarian death was most probably regarded as Pagan, and foreign to Palestinian Jews in general.
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  • This leads us to the next problem. Not only the words, but also the very steps with which Jesus blesses and offers the bread and the cup, seems to break with ceremonial Jewish meals in a very radical manner.  In a Seder meal or in a kiddush, you find that the wine is blessed first and then the bread. Note that the Didaché version of the celebration of the Eucharist respects the kiddush order of events, even when the traditional story of the Last Supper reverses both. The words of prayer in the Didaché are also remarkably close to the ones pronounced as a Birkat ha-Mazon (a Grace after Meals as was practiced in Judaism).  The Synoptics’ main story also have a strange Passover meal, because there is no reference at all to the sacrificed lamb being consumed, nor is there any reference at all to the bitter herbs.
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  • The fact that early Christians celebrated the Eucharist on a daily or weekly basis may be a sign that it was not originally celebrated as a Passover meal (which would have been celebrated yearly). The fact that nothing in the Didaché version makes any allusion to Passover reinforces this conviction.
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  • The Gospels in general give different days for when the Last Supper occurred. For Mark, it happened in the day of the first day of Unleavened Bread, which he describes as the day when the Passover lamb was sacrificed (Mark 14:12). Actually, the lamb was sacrificed the day before. Yet, Matthew and Luke agree with MarkJohn disagrees for theological reasons … but ironically he might be closer to the truth. This is highly problematic, because later all of the Synoptic Gospels argue that Jesus was processed during a Passover feast day, which is highly improbable. The Jewish leadership would have been busy with Temple rituals and ceremonies, and would not have much time to address Jesus’ prosecution. If the Synoptics present the Last Supper as a Passover meal, it is most probably (also) for theological or a apologetical reasons: perhaps a memory of the nearness of Passover when Jesus was crucified, and the fact that gentile Christians began to not celebrate the Passover, and needed to justify it. After all, according to Luke, Jesus told his disciples that he wouldn’t celebrate the “Passover meal” again until the Kingdom of God is realized. Speaking of which …
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  • When we go to MarkMatthew, and Luke, we notice something that Paul’s version lacks, the following words of Jesus: “I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” This might be a hint of history, given that Jesus always compared God’s Kingdom with a collective meal (Q [Luke] 13:29; 14:15-21,23; Luke 22:29-30). It would indicate that the Last Supper may have been a sort of “farewell” meal.

What do we do with all of this? This is what these series are all about. But for now, let’s make some several statements:

  • Jesus’ crucifixion was a historical fact, there is no dispute among scholars about this. Yet, if there was a process by the Jewish authorities and by Pontius Pilate leading to his death, most probably it took much more than one evening and day, and the Gospels seem to have shrunk the whole story to one evening and day. Most possibly the crucifixion happened near the feast of Passover, perhaps the day before.
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  • There are huge problems interpreting Jesus’ activity as being a “Passover meal”. It is better understood at a historical level as a kiddush celebrated as a farewell meal. This is the basic tradition preserved by the Didaché, and (as I will argue in my next blog), the Gospel of Luke.
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  • There are also huge problems with the assumption that Jesus blessed the bread first and the cup second, while claiming that the former was his body and that the latter contained his blood (understood in expiatory or vicarian terms). Simply speaking, it is highly improbable that Jesus would have said these words.

Where did Jesus’ words come from? Our earliest source seems to mention exactly where it comes from:  from Paul’s own revelatory experiences. Jesus as he experienced him in his vision, revealed this story. Not every scholar accepts this interpretation. For example, we must take into account the criteria of multiple attestation that we find in the New Testament:  that multiple sources confirm the story. The word that Paul uses for receiving the information (“παρέλαβον” from the term “παραλαμβάνω”), seems to imply that it was transmitted as a result of an oral tradition whose source he believed was the Lord. Can these reasoning be contested? Piñero and others think so.

Then what really happened during the Last Supper? This will be examined in the next blog posts of these series. For now, let’s convene that apparently most scholars agree that the Last Supper was no Seder.
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Bibliography

Boff, Leonardo. Pasión de Cristo, pasión del mundo. Hechos, interpretaciones y significados. Ayer y hoy. Santander: Ediciones Sal Terrae, 1987.

Ehrman, Bart. “Does Paul Know about Judas Iscariot?” The Bart Ehrman Blog. December 9, 2015. http://ehrmanblog.org/does-paul-know-about-judas-iscariot/.

Klawans, Jonathan. “Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?” in Biblical Archaeology. July 01, 2014. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/was-jesus-last-supper-a-seder/.

Mazza, Enrico. The Celebration of the Eucharist: The Origin of the Rite and the Development of Its Interpretation. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999.

Piñero, Antonio. Guía para entender a Pablo de Tarso. Una interpretación del pensamiento paulino. Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2015.

Piñero, Antonio y Eugenio Gómez Segura, editores. La verdadera historia de la Pasión. Según la investigación y el estudio histórico. Madrid: EDAF, 2011.

Riddle, M.B. and Kevin Knight, translators. Didaché. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm.

Vidal, Senén. Hechos de los Apóstoles y orígenes cristianos. Santander: Editorial Sal Terrae, 2015.

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Adoration of the Shepherds

The Christmas Stories in the New Testament

Contrary to what people use to think, there is no one Christmas story in the New Testament. There are two of them: one in Matthew 1-2, and the other in Luke 1-2. As pointed out by many Bible scholars, both of the stories are incompatible, and critically divergent from more reliable historical data.

According to both stories, Jesus was born of a virgin called Mary, and who was betrothed to a man called Joseph, and that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Practically the similarities end there. After that, both stories diverge from one another in significant ways. Generations of Christians have tried to reconcile these contradictions without distorting their content, with no apparent success. For example,

In the case of Matthew 1-2

  • Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, became pregnant without Joseph’s intervention.
  • In dreams, Joseph is announced by Yahweh’s angel that the child is the act of the Holy Spirit and that her child is the Son of God (the Messiah).
  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem, because both Joseph and Mary lived there (Matt. 1:11).
  • Certain Magi went to Jerusalem searching for the “King of the Jews”, and who were following a star in the sky.
  • According to Matthew’s Gospel, Herod the Great and “all of Jerusalem” were startled by the claim.
  • Herod asked them where was this “King” who was born, and to indicate where he was when they find him.
  • The Magi follow the star to Joseph and Mary’s house.
  • The Magi worship him and offer the newborn three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh,
  • Later, they are told in dreams to avoid Herod and go another way.
  • Joseph is told by an angel of God in a dream to take the baby and flee. He does so, and flees to Egypt.
  • Herod unleashes a persecution against two years old children and below.
  • Herod dies, and Joseph is told in a dream to return.
  • To avoid Herod’s son, Archelaus, Joseph avoids his hometown in Bethlehem. So, Jesus’ family made Nazareth their new home.

In the case of Luke 1-2 (omitting the story of John the Baptist):

  • Mary lived in Nazareth and was betrothed to a man called Joseph.
  • Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, telling her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Son of God.
  • She was told that she was going to get pregnant by an act of the Holy Spirit of God, by covering her with His shadow.
  • Gabriel told Mary that her family relative Elizabeth, despite of her advanced age, was six months pregnant.
  • Mary traveled from Nazareth (Galilee) to Judea to visit Elizabeth. There, Elizabeth’s baby skipped in her womb, and Mary recited the Magnificat, and stayed with her for three months.
  • By the time when Cirinus was Syria’s governor, Ceasar Augustus implemented a census everywhere in the Roman empire.
  • Due to the census, Joseph (and a pregnant Mary) had to go to Bethlehem, because Joseph was David’s descendant.
  • They had to stay in an “Inn” (most probably the part of the house where animals were kept).
  • Jesus was born there, and was placed in a manger.
  • Angels gave the shepherds the good news of Jesus’ birth saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
  • Shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the child in the manger.
  • The child was called Jesus.

Why are these stories incompatible?  Let’s begin with Jesus’ own birth date. For starters, according to Matthew, Jesus was born when Herod the Great was still alive. He died in the year 4 B.C.E. Since, he ordered children to be killed from 2 years old below, that would suggest that Jesus was born from from 6 to 4 B.C.E. Yet, according to Luke, Jesus was born when Cirinus was Syria’s governor, which was the year 6 C.E. So, there is an 11 years distance (remember there is no year 0 C.E.) between Matthew’s account and Luke’s. 

[Note: Many people ask scholars when was Jesus born, and expect a “definitive” answer. Scholars may actually tell you one of these dates. Reality is that, given these dates, no one knows when Jesus was born. Anyone who claims otherwise is either deluded (in all his or her sincerity) or lying to you. Yet, for reasons that escape me, the public won’t accept “we don’t know” as an answer. But look at the New Testament material that we have, can you decide on its basis which is the real date?]

Another source of contradiction has to do with the place where Jesus’ family lived originally. “Matthew” assumed throughout the story that Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem, since they had their house there (Matt. 1:11). This is so, presumably because he was David’s descendant. then he moved to Egypt, and then to Nazareth. Yet Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, and for reasons of the Augustus’ census, had to move to Bethlehem, so that Jesus would be born there. In Luke, there is no story of the travel to Egypt or Herod’s persecution.

To make matters worse, none of these stories are considered historical by serious Bible scholars and historians. Even when they talked about historical figures (Herod the Great, Archelaus, Caesar Augustus, Cirinus), none of the alluded facts check out historically:

  • Matthew’s story:
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    • There is no record of the Magi’s visitation that “startled Herod and all of Jerusalem”.
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    • There is no record of Herod ever carrying out a massacre or persecution in Bethlehem. 
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  • Luke’s story:
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    • There was no census carried out by Caesar Augustus for the whole empire at the time.
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    • Even if there were a census, at the time, there was no irrational requirement for people to move to the cities of their ancestors’ origins. As a matter of fact, historians find Joseph’s move to Bethlehem particularly unbelievable, since David, his ancestor, was born in Bethlehem a thousand years before. And why David has to be the criterion and not any other ancestor before or after? Bart Ehrman always asks his students at this stage: “Imagine that the IRS in all of its wisdom required that you move to the city of your ancestor who lived a thousand years before. Where would you go?! And no one else in antiquity mentions this, not even ‘their newspaper’?!”

Obviously as a Religious Naturalist, I question a supernatural intervention by the Holy Spirit, or the virgin birth. Even without being a Naturalist, these two factors as they are told are considered highly improbable (to the point of impossible) to be integrated to history.

The Mythical Background of the Stories

If none of these stories can be considered historically accurate and reliable, then where did the stories come from? Why were they written the way they were written.

The answer is twofold, because they are two stories, written by two different authors, with two very different worldviews, two different mindsets, and two very different messages they wanted to convey to their respective communities. 

Before starting this analysis, know that it is a popular belief that the Christmas stories are just Xeroxed copies of Pagan legends of gods who were born and raised. Yet, as most historians specialized in the subject and serious Bible scholars agree, this is not the case. The similarities with much of these legends is simply accidental, but as we will see, they are more inspired in the Hebrew Bible than on Pagan legends.
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A. Matthew’s Story’s Background

If you look at the author of Matthew’s Gospel (we’ll call him “Matthew” with quotes), you see a behavior everywhere that you don’t see in Luke. About every story you read in it, the he says: “… and this was to fulfill such and such a prophecy”.  Reading the text in Greek, we know that whoever the author of the gospel was, wanted to convince the Jewish sector of the diaspora that Jesus was the Messiah. So, he engaged in copious statements about how Jesus fulfilled God’s prophecies. 

There is one small detail, though. “Matthew” evidently didn’t know Hebrew (one of the reasons we think that the author of this gospel was not Matthew (a.k.a. Levi). In fact, he used the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible extensively. The problem with using the Greek version (probably a version of the Septuagint) is that much of it is translated in a way that is close to the meaning in the original Hebrew, but there are other significant passages that distort the original meaning considerably.

To make matters worse, in order to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, he tried in many passages to fit Jesus deeds to the mistranslated prophecy from Hebrew to Greek. For example, Matthew’s Gospel is the only gospel where it says that Jesus entered Jerusalem seated on top of two animals, a donkey and a colt (Matthew 21:1-7). If you are scratching your head confused, don’t worry. We all are at first. However, the confusion dissipates once you realize that the reason why Matthew’s Gospel does present Jesus making an amazing physical feat, it is because it was prophesied in the Greek passage that said this:

Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of donkey”
(Matthew 21:5)

Yet, the original Hebrew prophecy actually said this,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout out aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9)

Notice that it doesn’t say, “on a donkey and a colt” (which is what the Greek version said), but really on a colt (to emphasize the humble reception of the king). So, not knowing that, “Matthew” (whoever he was) made Jesus ride on a donkey and a colt to fulfill the Greek version of the prophecy.

The same very thing happens with the story of Jesus’ birth. In Hebrew, the prophecy about the birth of “Emmanuel” talked about a “young woman” (‘almah) being pregnant with “Emmanuel”.(Isaiah 7:14). Yet, scholars know that the Greek version of that same prophecy translated ‘almah to the Greek parthenos (meaning “virgin”). In “Matthew”‘s mind, this meant that Jesus mother had to be a virgin! (Matthew 1:22-23)

The rest of the Christmas story is to emphasize that Jesus, not only was the Messiah, but also a Second Moses … even better than the First Moses. This is a theme that appears everywhere in Matthew’s Gospel. For instance, in the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revises and culminates the Torah (the Law). Why on a mountain? Because Moses was given the Torah in Mount Sinai (or Horeb).

In the same way, the story of Jesus’ birth is reminiscent of the Genesis and Exodus stories, but adapted to Jesus’ birth in Palestine:

  • Joseph descends from Jacob, just like Joseph the Patriarch (Matthew 1:16). And who is the next important patriarch after Joseph? Moses, right? Jesus is the very next in line after Joseph, betrothed to Mary.
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  • Just as the patriarch Joseph received and interpreted Yahweh’s induced dreams, so does Joseph, Jesus’ father has dreams from the Angel of God (Genesis 36:5-33; 40-41; Matthew 1:20-21).
  • The visit of the Magi and their gifts reminds us of a prophecy of (Third-)Isaiah about foreigners visiting Israel (Isaiah 60). The three gifts, gold, frankincense, and myhrr are simultaneously symbolic of Jesus’ kingship, divinity, and burial.
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  • Just as Moses had to be saved from the massacre by pharaoh, Jesus had to be saved from Herod’s cold infanticide (Exodus 1-2:10; Matthew 2:12-18).
  • Just as Moses fled and returned to Egypt to save Yahweh’s people from slavery, Jesus returned to Ancient Palestine to save it (Exodus 3; Matthew 2:19-23).

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B. Luke’s Gospel’s Story

“Luke”‘s story (whoever “Luke” was) has tangential similarities with Matthew’s as I stated at the beginning of this article. Yet, the reasons for the similarities are very, very different from Matthew’s. 

We have to point out that some analyses made by some scholars indicate that Luke’s Gospel was originally planned to begin the text in what we now call chapter 3. The stories of Jesus’ birth apparently were added later by the same author. This point is still debated by scholars, but I wanted to point it out anyway.

“Luke”‘s story include the story of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, which is intermingled with Jesus’. If you take both stories side by side, you’ll notice that they are mostly the same story with the same structure. The stories only differ in the degree of importance of the main characters involved, John the Baptist and Jesus

  • John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, hence, he is born first.
  • Both Zechariah (John’s father) and Mary (Jesus’ mother) question the Archangel Gabriel on how would their respective children being conceived. Yet, Zechariah’s question expresses doubt, which is the reason why he is chastised with dumbness. Mary’s question is an inquiry, not doubt.
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  • Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:49-56) is more glorious for her than is the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79) is for Zechariah and John the Baptist. As a matter of fact, the Benedictus, praises Jesus (“God’s savior”). It is very important to point out that in the case of the Magnificat, some ancient authorities attribute this saying to Elizabeth. Many scholars believe that Elizabeth was originally the one who sang the Magnificat, while later copyists may have added the phrase “And Mary said …”. In either case, the Magnificat seems to praise Mary, “God’s servant” (e.g. Luke 1:38,48).

Yet, why are both stories so similar in structure. The explanation is very simple. They are both a mix of two stories we can find in the Hebrew Bible: 1) the Yahwist story of the conception of Isaac (as announced by Yahweh’s Angel), and 2) the story of the conception of Samuel (Genesis 18:1-13; 21:1-8; 1 Samuel 1-2). In both cases, there was an old couple who tried to have children for years together, and then Yahweh announced that they were going to have a child, which was exactly what happened. Yet, when you look at “Luke”‘s narrative, you see that its structure is mostly similar to that of 1 Samuel.  In fact, the Magnificat, and the Benedictus express exactly the same ideas and in a similar poetic form that Hannah Song does (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

Some scholars go even further, it is not only that “Luke” narrated two stories that are strikingly similar to another, but that Jesus’ birth story, may have been based on John the Baptist’s birth story, which is also based on the stories of the Hebrew Bible. The thing that leads some of them to think this way is that “Luke” makes Mary and Jesus’ birth look better than Zechariah and John the Baptist’s conception. After trying many times, God finally lets Zechariah and Elizabeth have their own child. Yet, Jesus birth is even more extraordinary, because neither Joseph nor Mary “knew” each other (in the Biblical sense), making Jesus’ conception altogether 100% miraculous, because the whole thing happened without Joseph’s intervention. Elizabeth was not a virgin, but Mary was! Why is that? Because Jesus is not only the Messiah, but the Son of God, because God’s own Spirit made her pregnant … hence, HE is the Father! (Luke 1:35)

Maury giving Joseph a Parternity Test
(LOL … Sorry, I couldn’t resist!  Ahem… Let’s continue!)

Notice that in this case the reason why Mary was a virgin had little to do with prophecy, and much to do with “Luke”‘s particular notion of why Jesus was called “Son of God” and why his birth was superior to John the Baptist’s. He also insinuates that he received this information from Mary herself, which is historically unlikely (Luke 2:19,51).

Further, some other themes appear throughout the story that were inspired by the Hebrew Bible:

  • Gabriel said that the way that Mary was going to be pregnant was by being covered by the shadow of God’s spirit, which reminds readers about God’s glory covering the Tent of Meetings, to make it sacred (Luke 1:35; Exodus 40:34-35).
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  • Mary visited Elizabeth and John the Baptist skips in her mother’s womb, which reminds readers of how David danced in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant (Luke 1:40-44; 2 Samuel 6:16).
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  • Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months, which reminds the three months the Ark of the Covenant stayed with David in Obed-Edom and his household (Luke 1:57-58; 2 Samuel 6).

No wonder Catholics noticed these pattern and included in the Litany’s to Mary the name “Ark of the Covenant”.

There are many other stories being borrowed in “Luke”‘s account, but this is enough for our literary and historical analysis.
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Comments

As popular it is that the idea of Jesus’ birth derived from Pagan birth stories, the evidence is clearly abundant (even to the point of literary content and structure) that the stories derive from stories in the Hebrew Bible. They are not historical precisely for this reason, and because they clearly conflict from other historical information that scholars and historians consider far more reliable.

Does that mean that we cannot know where and when Jesus was born?

Actually, both stories give us hints … but it is not Bethlehem. As we can see, both of these stories make Jesus be born in the City of David to emphasize that he was David’s descendant. Yet, there are also four things we have to notice:

  • Mark, the earliest Gospel (65-70 C.E.), does not begin with a birth story. In that text, Jesus apparently was revealed (to himself) to be the Son of God when he was baptized, and ministry begins when John the Baptist was arrested (Mark 1:9-11,14,15). Why wasn’t Jesus’ birth story included? Presumably and probably, because it wasn’t remarkable (at least to the gospel’s author). After all, our earliest report on Jesus’ birth (and affirmation of his humanity) comes from Paul, where he says that he was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).
  • When comparing both stories, we can see that their authors are trying very hard to explain why did Jesus’ family live in Nazareth (Galilee) while simultaneously accounting for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Judea). Since the stories are too invested in explaining this fact and that the stories clearly conflict, then it seems more reasonable to suppose that he was not born in Bethlehem. That Jesus’ family lived in Nazareth, and that, most probably, he was born there.
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  • John’s Gospel seems to pick up the tradition that Jesus actually came from Nazareth (John 1:46). Notice also that this Gospel does not have Christmas story, nor does it say anywhere that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
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  • Another reason why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem is the fact that Nazareth in Galilee was an extremely poor town, which would make it (in the minds of many) unlikely for the Messiah to have been born in. John’s Gospel confirms this fact when he reports that Nathanael said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)  

Archaeologically, we know that Galilee was mostly Jewish (especially in the rural towns). Hence, Nazareth was mostly Jewish. Houses and structures from the first century confirm that it was extremely poor, and its small economic life was possible due to the fact that it was close to Sephoris. Presumably, as an artisan, Joseph and Jesus took advantage of that fact. The fact that Nazareth didn’t appear in Roman maps at the time, far from establishing its non-existence (as many people mistakenly argue), it establishes how unimportant it was. Even “Matthew” feels forced to provide a reason (a prophecy) for why did Jesus’ family ended up living there (Matthew 2:23).

So, if anything, one of the very few historical factors that critical analysis leads us to is that Jesus was born and raised in Nazareth. The other historical important factor from the stories seems to be that he was born between 6 B.C.E. and 6 C.E.

Yet, I have only addressed Jesus’ birth stories from a critical literary and historical points of view. But do these myths actually capture something valuable for all of us, and what is their spiritual message for today? That will be the subject in my next post…

To be continued …

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About True New Testament Scholarship vs. Simcha Jacobovici

On December 6, 2014, in Religion, by prosario2000

In my earlier blog, I responded an article written by Simcha Jacobovici regarding his recent discoveries “proving” that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. This is the n-th claim for that, even though there is no evidence to support it.

Of course, my problem is that I am not a New Testament scholar, and amateurish at best. However, as I indicated in my previous blog post, Richard Bauckham (a recognized New Testament scholar) has been responding to Jacobovici’s and Barry Wilson’s claims in their new book The Lost Gospel. I want to share with you the series of responses written by him. I hope you see why Jacobovici and Wilson are misleading the public. Bauckham’s whole writing is called “Assessing The Lost Gospel“, and there are 7 parts of it linked to NT Blog, managed by Mark Goodacre. Thank you Mr. Goodacre for making these available!!!!

I hope you enjoy the reading. Again, this is an intellectual elephant stepping on an intellectual ant on this subject. Yet, you can always learn a lot in this process.

Recently, the famous filmmaker Simcha Jocobovici wrote an article pertaining a book he recently co-authored with Prof. Barrie Wilson titled: The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene.  I won’t spend too much time talking about the book, because some real Bible scholars have dedicated some articles debunking its claims, needless to say that they point out Jacobovici and Wilson’s utter carelessness regarding their deal with available documents (take for instance renowned scholar Richard Bauckman’s essays debunking Jacobovici’s claims herehere, and here) .

I’ll concentrate my efforts in illustrating why no one should give Jacobovici any credibility whatsoever. I’ll be using his recent article as a means to that end. In fact, his article (as well as the book, TV series and documentaries) shows his incompetence when dealing with issues regarding the Bible.

For example, he states that the evidence for Jesus’ being married to Mary Magdalene before writing his book “has been overwhelming”. What is his evidence? Let’s look at each of them:

1. “This may come as a shock to most people, but the fact is that none of the four Gospels say that Jesus was celibate. The Gospels call Jesus ‘Rabbi’ (Matthew 26:49, Mark 10:51, John 20:16). Rabbis, then as now, are married. If Jesus wasn’t married, someone would have noticed.”

Actually, they did notice!  First of all, it is a very popular opinion that during the first century CE, people could only be called “Rabbi” if they were married. Many people may be astonished to know that this rule did not exist during Jesus’ lifetime. This rule only existed after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and specifically after the Pharisaic reforms during the last two decades of thee first century CE. This rule began to be enforced during the second century CE. This was after Jesus.

Second, there were plenty of people called “Teachers” during Jesus’ lifetime who were celibate. The clearest examples of this were the Essenes, Jews with a monastic lifestyle who lived in Qumran, and who wrote the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. We have testimony from Josephus and from archaeology itself that they never married.

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. “The greatest promoter of celibacy for Christians was Paul.”

Actually, both Jesus and Paul were promoters of celibacy. In fact, Jesus was anti-family in many important ways.  Don’t believe me?  Here, let me show you some passages?

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Then [Jesus] went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” …

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers, and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-21; 31-35)

Apparently, Jesus was implying that you should give up your family to do God’s Will (and also implying that neither his mother nor his brothers were doing it, because they were not backing his mission). Did he oppose to the notion of having a family in principle? The answer is “No”. He was aware that Yahweh considered family important, as the Torah (the Law) dictated. At one point, when a rich man asked to follow him, Jesus asked if he observed the Law, even the commandment “You shall honor your father and mother” (Matthew 19:16-22).

Yet, why would Jesus oppose his own family (see that the Gospels never mention “his wife”), and even tell other people to “hate” (a prophetic hyperbole) their own families to do God’s work?  The answer lies in the fact that Jesus was an apocalypticist. He thought that the Kingdom of God was at hand and that the full duty of everyone is to prepare for its arrival. There is no time to lose!!!  Family, in this sense, is a distraction from an urgent duty.  As a matter of fact, Jesus saw celibacy as a valid choice for anyone looking for Yahweh’s Kingdom:

“[Jesus’] disciples said to him, “if such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But [Jesus] said unto them, “not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matthew 19:10-12).

Jacobovici states that the Apostle Paul was a fanatic about celibacy, that “only when it came to sex Paul was more severe than Moses and Jesus put together.” Yet, it was Paul himself who expressed exactly Jesus’ position on this matter very clearly when he wrote to Christian converts in Corinth. Just like Jesus, Paul was an apocalypticist, as was every first century Christian in his time:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:

It is well for a man not to touch a woman.

But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband … To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

To the married I give this command –not I but the Lord— that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife [Paul here is referring to Jesus’ actual words on the matter — Matthew 19:1-9; Mark 10:2-12].

  …

Now concerning virgins. I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife?  Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (fragments of 1 Corinthians 7).

Jesus would actually endorse every single suggestion made by Paul in this letter.
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3. The whole story of Attis and Cybele. (Read it in Jacobovici’s article, too long to place it here).

The whole point made by Jacobovici regarding Paul thinking that Attis looked very much like Jesus, and the whole story of Attis castrating himself is made bogus by our previous analysis. Regarding celibacy, Paul was within the mainstream of early Christian apocalypticism, even to the point of total and absolute coincidence with Jesus’ own teachings … even to the point that Paul actually quoted Jesus when giving Corinthians advice!

Also note that Paul had a visceral hatred towards Pagan religions and rituals. These are expressed throughout his letters, and he does so in a very Jewish manner –talking about pure and impure, etc.– (e.g. advice not to go to Pagan courts for Pagans are perverts 1 Corinthians 6; or Pagans as being associated with the unjust and all sorts of perversions Romans 1:18-32).
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4. If one looks at the Gospels without Attis-colored Pauline glasses, there are many, many hints that Jesus was married. Specifically, after the Crucifixion, the Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash and anoint Jesus’ crucified body (Mark 16:1).

Let’s remember that the Gospels also talk about Mary Magdalene and other women who were always by his side during his ministry (e.g. Joanna the wife of Chuza; Mary, the mother of Jacob and Joses — the latter probable family–; Salome). The reason for trying to prepare Jesus’ body for an appropriate burial was because he was buried in a hurry two days before. These women were not “Jesus’ wives”, but rather Jesus’ economic sponsors and followers, and who were devoted to him during his ministry.

[During Jesus ministry:] Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Jacob, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1)

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.  On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared … Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and the other women with them who told [that Jesus resurrected] to the apostles (Luke 23:55-24:1,10)

So, I think that the context of the reason why Mary Magdalene visited Jesus’ tomb for anointment is perfectly clear, and it has nothing to do with whether she was married with Jesus or not (most probably NOT!)
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5. Besides the canonical Gospels, there are the so-called “Gnostic” Gospels. The Gnostics — or “wisdom seekers” — were an early branch of Christianity, whose origins we don’t know. What we do know is that they represent the losers in the Christian orthodoxy game. After the fourth century, the Church burnt Gnostic holy books and the people who believed in them. As a result, until recently, we had almost no Gnostic Gospels to refer to … They all tell the same story — Jesus was married. More than this, for his Gnostic followers, Jesus’ marriage and sexual activity was more important than his death and resurrection. Simply put, they were more interested in his passion in bed than in his “Passion” on the cross.

This is yet another evidence that Jacobovici does not know what he is talking about … He has NOT read ANY of the Gnostic Gospels, and he does not know anything about Ancient Gnosticism.  If you read any of the Gnostic Gospels — and I mean ANY of them — you will never find any reference at all to “Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s passion in bed”. This is one of the claims he produced out of his rear.

The Gnostics hated all of bodily pleasures, and I mean ALL of them (including sexual pleasures). This is a constant theme in all Gnostic literature. They embraced and radicalized the Platonic view that everything that is matter and of the flesh is intrinsically evil. As a matter of fact, according to the Gnostics, the one true God did not create the material physical world, He inhabits a place of spiritual perfection called the “pleroma”.  The physical world was created by Yaltabaoth, or the Tetragrammaton, an evil god. This god is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible. He, along with the supervisors (archons) of the world, imprisoned souls in the material body, and kept them as slaves of the world using all sorts of pleasures and desires.  Hence, all pleasure is evil. The Gnostics considered themselves to have the light of “knowledge” (gnosis), and that Jesus was one of those pure spirits who incarnated (or did not, depending on the Gnostic sect), and revealed this “knowledge” to special people … such as Mary Magdalene.

(Notice that “gnosis” is a Greek word that means “knowledge”, not “wisdom”. Jacobovici does not know Ancient Greek, making a mistake in his exposition. The Greek word for “wisdom” is “sophia“.)

If you read the two Gnostic Gospels which express a certain closeness between Jesus and Mary Magdelene (the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip), you see that there is no “passion” nor “bed” anywhere.  In the case of the Gospel of Mary, you find a Jesus who appears to Mary in a vision (not in a body) and reveals some esoteric teachings regarding the soul, knowledge, and the ignorance created by the material world. Some of the Apostles have an imperfect knowledge of this teaching, which is a reason why Peter objected, and Levi defended her, even when he did not know what this teaching meant. This is all there is!  If you don’t believe me, I kindly invite you to read the Gospel of Mary (or what we have of it) for yourself (click here to access it).

What about the Gospel of Philip (access it here)? In this Gnostic Gospels, the Apostles are actually furious that Jesus is kissing Mary more than he is kissing them. Why is everyone kissing each other?! If you think that this is a Romantic action, guess again … it isn’t!  For Gnostics, kissing is a sign of “passing gnosis” (passing knowledge). Notice that nothing in the Gospels indicate that he kisses Mary more because she is his wife. Instead, he is giving her a privilege over all of the other Apostles. When the Apostles complain, Jesus says: “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.” … ~ My face of confusion~.

You might say that this Gospel describes Mary as his “companion” (koinonos), yet, contrary to popular opinion, this word just means “companion”, not necessarily wife or sex partner. The range of meanings of “companion”, and the lack of use of the term for “wife”, tells us conclusively that Jesus and Mary were not married.

Last, but not least, I am just assuming (for the sake of the argument) the most extreme and sensationalistic interpretation of a manuscript that is all broken (i.e. that Jesus kissed Mary more than the Apostles, that Jesus kissed Mary in her mouth, etc.) Today, some scholars on this subject agree with that the original text most probably looked like this (the brackets indicates the actual holes in the manuscript we have available and how these scholars fill that gap):

As for the Wisdom who is called ‘the barren’, she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of [the saviour was Mar]y Ma[gda]lene. [Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disci[ples, and used to] kiss her [softly] on her [hand]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”

But notice a pattern here! Mary is constantly being given privilege over the Apostles?  Why is this? This is not a historical fact, but a widely used literary device. As you can see, the Gnostics saw themselves as those who really, really, really knew what the truth is. What about the rest of the Christians (who beg to differ from them)? They simply have either imperfect knowledge or no knowledge at all. By this literary device, Gnostics are saying: “We received that real knowlege from Mary Magdalene, while the rest of Christendom received ignorance from the Apostles.” This is not an unusual literary device. The author of John’s Gospel (although not Gnostic) used something similar to underscore how the “beloved disciple” was vastly superior in knowledge and closeness to Jesus than Peter, Jesus brethren, or the rest of Jesus’ disciples.  We see this literary resource again in the Gospel of Judas, where Jesus confides in Judas and reveals to him why he wants to die: because Jesus hated his own body, regarded as something evil. We also see the “kissing act” in the Second Apocalypse of James, where Jesus kisses Jacob (James) on the lips to give him knowledge.

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6. The documentary Last Tomb of Jesus and Jacobovici’s book Jesus Family Tomb.

Besides the fact that all serious Bible scholars (and again, I mean ALL of them) have criticized both the documentary and the book for sheer sloppiness of fact, we need to say a few words about it. In both the book and the documentary, Jacobovici makes the claim that he found the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth along with the tomb of “Mariamne”, and other names that are strongly associated with Jesus’ disciples and family. As scholars have pointed out, names like “Jesus”, “Jacob”, “Levi”, “Joseph”, “Mary” and so on, were extremely common. In a time where there were no last names, you had to refer to them by some attribution “Jesus of Nazareth”, “Mary, the mother of Joses”, “Levi also known as …”, “Joseph, son of Heli” and so on. Hence, a lot of the probability statistics used in the documentary and the book are far from being an exact criteria to determine that these names indeed correspond to Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene and the Apostles. In other words, the probability calculations are bogus.

Regarding the rest of the claims, just read the Wikipedia pages regarding the Last Tomb of Jesus (here), and Jesus Family Tomb (here). See? Jacobovici is incompetent!

The rest of the article is bogus and, again, I leave the response to a competent scholar, Richard Bauckman (links are provided at the beginning of this article).  But, as you can see, Jacobovici does not know as much as he makes the public think he knows. It’s all for public manipulation and money!

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Introduction

Luke was a physician. He knew the human body better than any of the other Gospel writers. Think about it! Matthew was a tax collector (Mt. 9:9-13). John was a fisherman (Mt. 4:21; Mk. 1:19; Lk. 5:10), and Mark …  well, we don’t know much about him, except that tradition holds that he was Peter’s companion, who, by the way, was another fisherman (Mt. 4:18; Mk. 1:16; Lk. 5:1-9). We all know for a fact that Luke was a dear friend of Paul the Apostle (Philm. 24), who worked with him in many of his missions (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). He was sometimes called “Paul’s dear physician”, so, we know about his profession (Col. 4:14).

Many argue that we know for certain that this is the same Luke who wrote the “Gospel of Luke”, because as a physician he included an episode about something that Jesus went through. I’ll highlight the passage.

He came out and went, as was his custom; to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (Lk. 22:39-46).

This is a remarkable and moving story. Notice that the highlighted passage is not found in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John. This confirms beyond a doubt, that Luke knew about this physical phenomenon because he was a physician. Luke is the undisputed author of the Gospel of Luke …

… or is he?

Not only is this passage absent in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John … but it is also absent in many manuscripts, especially the most ancient and best ones we have. Yes, this highlighted passage got into our Bibles because several manuscripts have it. Yet, as many scholars have argued, this was a later interpolation by a scribe in one of the manuscripts, and it had been copied in many other manuscripts ever since.

It is an interesting case, because some scholars even go as far as to say that the author of the Gospel of Luke could not have written this passage, because it goes against his own theology. Remember our earlier post, when I say that in the Last Supper episode in Luke there was a later interpolation that said (and I highlight the interpolated passage):

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in rememberance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you in the new covenant of my blood.  But see, the one who betrays me is with me … (Lk. 22:19-21)

These two interpolations I just discussed constitute the only two passages that allude to Jesus’ passion and suffering, the spilling of blood for others’ sake. Yet, this is not the theology being held in the Gospel of Luke. If you read the entire Gospel on its own (i.e. independently from the other Gospels), you realize that Jesus does not save others by spilling his blood, but rather the crucifixion would serve as a catalyst (a stimulus) for people’s conversion, especially in Gentility (not in Judaism, since the Jews are almost always portrayed as rejecting Jesus’ message). Gentiles are those who are lost, who are somehow away from God. Because of Jesus’ suffering, he would attract Gentiles to him, while the Jews would stand in jealousy. This is the reasoning behind many specific parables in the context of Luke’s Gospel: the parables of the Prodigal Son, of the Lost Dracma, of the Lost Sheep, and so forth. There is no allusion at all about Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice for others’ sins in Luke.

Even in the case of Jesus’ “passion”, we have the first manifestation of what scholars call a “passionless passion”. Mark’s version of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion is filled with pathos, where you feel that Jesus is shocked by what is happening to him, you even feel his disgrace as both of the crucified criminals were mocking him, and he ended up yelling and crying because God abandoned him. Luke’s version of events is not that way at all: Jesus does not throw himself to the floor (as in Mark), but kneels, he does not ask his suffering to go away … period (as in Mark), but rather submits calmly to God’s will, he silently stands all the mockery, on the way to Golgotha he talks to women asking them not to cry for him but “for their children”, when he is nailed to the cross he asks forgiveness for the Romans, he has a conversation with both crucified criminals, and, unlike Mark, Jesus does not yell or cry out to God, but gives God his spirit.

Why was this episode of Jesus sweating blood-like drops added to the main text? Simply because without it, the whole Lukan episode of Jesus’ passion would be too passionless. Apparently, the scribe who added this passage was in conflict with second-century Christian sects known today as the “docetists”, who argued that Jesus was never a divine being incarnated in human flesh, but rather one who adopted the appearance (in Greek dokeos) of a human being, as if he had a human body. Apparently the scribe felt the need to underscore Jesus’ humanity by adding this little passage.

In Bart Ehrman’s 2012 debate with his arch-friendly-nemesis, Christian scholar Dan Wallace, he stated that this was the explanation, and Wallace confirmed that he agreed completely. Not only did he agree, but Wallace also added to the discussion the fact that in John’s Gospel we have another instance of a passionless passion, one which was far “more passionless” than Luke’s version. He is indeed correct. According to one of the experts in the field, Raymond E. Brown, the Gospel of John explicitly denies any agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. At one poin t, in Jesus’ discourse before the Last Supper, the Gospel says:

[Jesus speaking:] “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. (Jn. 12:22).

He said in his discourse in the Last Supper that he was always in control, and the powers that be (the “ruler of the world”) had no power over him. And in the Mount of Olives (Gethsemane’s Garden) it is not Jesus who kneels and prays, but the soldiers were the ones who were forced to fall to the ground when Jesus revealed his divine nature with the “I am” (Jn. 18: 4-8). Not only is Jesus calm during the whole passion, he is absolutely in control over the situation, even to the point of expiring just when he said: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:28).

But this whole discussion, which may seem pointless regarding the issue at hand (i.e. did the Church as a single-all-powerful entity distort the Bible to “hide the truth”), reveals all of the points regarding this subject!

The Problem of Authorship

So, we cannot use the episode of Jesus sweating blood-like drops to confirm that Luke was the actual author of the Gospel of Luke. The question is: Is there anything else to confirm that Luke was the author? The answer is that scholars generally think that the real Luke (the friend of Paul) did not write the Gospel of Luke. Whoever wrote this Gospel, also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. And even when this author claims to have helped Paul in his mission, this author did not share Paul’s theology. According to Paul, Jesus died as a self-sacrifice for humanity’s sins and save all of those who embrace the faith in him as the Messiah. As we have seen, this is different from what we find in Luke’s Gospel. Not only that, there are too many anomalies in Acts to credit it to a Pauline disciple: for instance, he seems totally unacquainted with Paul’s letters, there are clearly unhistorical episodes, and Paul appears holding theological positions that contradict the ones he holds in his letters, etc. Hence, whoever “Luke” was, he was not Paul’s friend. Whenever Acts says that its author was with Paul’s missions, he is actually falsifying the information.

Note: If you know Spanish, you may be interested in my recent book where I discuss Paul from a historical approach, which includes a critical evaluation of the Acts of the Apostles.

Matthew (or Levi, as he is named in the other Gospels) the Apostle could not have written the Gospel attributed to him. This is because the name of the actual Apostle implies that he is of Jewish origin. Presumably he would be acquainted with Jewish customs in Judea. However, the text of the Gospel reveals that he seems unacquainted with the Hebrew Bible, and frequently uses a (mis)translated Greek version.

John could not have written the Gospel attributed to him, but many people infer that he did because its teachings are remitted to a “beloved disciple” of Jesus. There was a triad of disciple closest to Jesus (Peter, James and John). It could not be Peter or James because they are clearly distinguished from the “beloved disciple”, so, people think it is John. On the other hand, many scholars have concluded that this “beloved disciple” (who remains unnamed in the Gospel) is a fiction, a literary device for the writer of the Gospel to legitimize his message. Beside the fact that the historical John was illiterate (Acts 4:10), scholars have long shown that what we call the Gospel of John is the result of several layers of traditions, writings and re-writings of the main text during the end of the first century. The actual text of the Gospel of John as we know it (with the exception of 7:53-8:11) was published in its almost-final form during the period of 90-100 C.E. 

Scholars are unanimous regarding the fact that Mark’s Gospel is chronologically the first one, yet, we have no idea if Mark wrote it. The Gospel itself originally had no title that said “Gospel of Mark”, and in the early stages of the second century C.E. this text was known as “Peter’s Memoirs” by some Christians. It seems that later, this Gospel was identified with the name Mark for unknown reasons, and the other Gospels were identified as those of “Matthew”, “Luke” and “John”. These names were made “official” by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (France), who justified the canonicity of the four Gospels, as opposed to many other Gospels being published at the time.

More to the point I want to stress … Not only do we not know who the authors of the Gospels were… but if you read them, you realize that they disagree, and often contradict in many aspects. In Mark’s Gospel, you have a very human Jesus who is the Messiah. In Matthew, you have a Judaizing Jesus who tries to fulfill every single prophecy in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. In Luke, you have a more Gentile Jesus, and in John you have a more divine Jesus (as conceived by the Judeo-Hellenistic understanding of the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible), who was in control of his death and resurrection. And, as you can see above, these contradictions often go beyond the mere “difference of opinion” among Christians, some of them are dedicated to attack earlier versions of Jesus in earlier Gospels.

Let’s look at this phenomenon more closely.

 

Conceptions of Jesus we Have Seen in This Discussion

In case you have missed all of the views on Jesus we have seen until now, let me enumerate them for you:

  1. Mark’s Version: A very human Jesus (who gets angry sometimes, who is shocked and desperate during his passion), who is adopted as Son of God at the moment of his baptism (Adoptionist view of Christ).
  2. Luke’s Version: A Jesus inclined to condemn Jews to attract Gentiles, who goes through a relatively passionless passion, who never spilled his blood as self-sacrifice for sins. He is (was not adopted as) Son of God ever since the time of birth, because he is the son of David, who is the son of Adam, who is the Son of God, and/or because the Holy Spirit of God made Mary pregnant without a man’s intervention (Lk. 1:32-35; 3:23-38).
  3. Matthew’s Version: A Jesus who is Son of God, because the Holy Spirit made Mary pregnant, but, this is a very pro-Gentile-but-Judaizing Jesus, who is a sort of “Second Moses” (or someone better than Moses), who went through a passion.
  4. John’s Version: A Jesus who is a divine being or God himself (John 1:1-3), who is the masculine Sophia (Wisdom), that is a Logos (translated often as “the Word”), whose speeches often resemble a Hellenistic monologue, who is in control over the world, who has conquered the world and took it away from the “ruler of the world” (presumably Satan). This Jesus is crucified, not exclusively to suffer for others, but conceives the crucifixion as the “hour of glorification of the Son of God” (Jn. 3:14-15; 17:1-26). He didn’t have an agony, nor did he have any suffering passion.
  5. Docetist Views: Jesus was not human at all, but only appeared to be human. He was never crucified, nor did he resurrect.
  6. Paul’s Views: Jesus is the Messiah who was glorified after the crucifixion, not at the moment of the crucifixion. He was a human who was born without sin, and self-sacrificed to atone the sins of all of those who were baptized and believed in him.

I wish to emphasize that I have just given you few of all of the divergent points of view we already find within the New Testament itself.

There are far more discrepancies than people are willing to admit. Colossians and Ephesians are letters attributed to Paul which contradict Paul. So is 2 Thessalonians, which seems to unauthorize the genuine Pauline letter 1 Thessalonians. 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus have even more discrepancies with the Pauline letters, Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians. And still, the views of the author of the Letter of James differ dramatically from the Pauline views as well as Colossians and Ephesians. And STILL, the letters of Peter (who were not written by Peter either) hold different views between each other. In fact 2 Peter and Jude have more in common than with 1 Peter. The 1 and 2 letters of John coincide only with the Gospel of John, while the Apocalypse of John was written by a Judaizing Christian in Gentility who didn’t write Greek very well, and whose vision seemed to differ from the Judeo-Hellenistic Christianity in general (i.e. the pro-Gentile writings of the New Testament a.k.a. most of the New Testament).

And these are only most of the first century and early second century Christian writings that we find in the New Testament! From the second century on, there were still MORE Gospels with even MORE divergent views on Jesus and doctrinal issues. In fact, as scholars have pointed out pretty often that from the relative “uniformity” of doctrine we find by the years 33-47 CE, we find a variety of divergent positions in churches in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy, and many other places around the Mediterranean Sea as Christianity continued to spread in Gentility, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem around 70 CE. These divergent and incompatible positions about Jesus and his doctrine kept branching and multiplying like rabbits everywhere, as many people kept elaborating it and incorporating non-Jewish thinking to it.

Here, we have a big doctrinal MESS among Christians who were arguing against each other. In fact, scholars think that this is the reason why Christians invented codices, for the task of arguing among themselves. What are codices? You know that in ancient times, the usual form of publication were scrolls. Yet, it is very difficult to find passages to justify your position with a sacred text in the form of a scroll. Therefore, they took the pages of these sacred, joined them in one corner of the pages, and you have a codex (today we call it a book), which is a LOT easier to manage when searching for passages during disputes!

However chaotic this entire situation may seem, that does not mean that during the second century there were no centers of power among Christians. Many of these centers were well-known (e.g. Rome, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, and Alexandria), and ultimately the authority on Christian doctrine gravitated around those centers. But still, there would be disagreements among Christians, sometimes within the churches themselves, and even among the centers of power!  For example, by the year 95 C.E. we have a letter from Clement (bishop of Rome) to the church of Corinth asking them to reinstate their own bishop (we don’t know the response or the outcome of the church of Corinth).

Again, it was during this time that the most radical changes to the New Testament took place, usually as responses to other Christian divergent positions: such as the passage where Jesus sweat blood-like drops, or such as interpolated passages telling women not to speak in church (1 Cor. 14:33b-36); or an interpolation in Mark that seems to indicate that Jesus declared all food “clean” (Mk. 7:19b), or such as the lovely long interpolation about love in one of Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 13), and so on.

Conclusion in the form of a Question: Given this scenario do you REALLY think that there was enough coherent and solid institutional Church that distorted the Bible to confirm its doctrine?  If you answer “Yes”, which one of all of the doctrines?!!!

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Introduction

I’ve been studying the Bible for many years now from a historical standpoint. In fact, my interest in the origins of the Bible has been there ever since high school. Contrary to people’s impression of me when they meet me, in high school I was a fan of conspiracy theories regarding the Church, even with all of my religious Catholicism. I actually came to believe that the Church (especially in the form of Roman Catholicism) distorted the Bible on purpose to hide information. This conviction was reinforced by the fact that, for some time, I believed in A Course in Miracles, a book supposedly inspired by Jesus of Nazareth to Helen Schucman. Its doctrine is so different than the one we find in the New Testament that evidently the difference required an explanation. Although not adopting a conspiracy theory in general, many of the statements from Kenneth Wapnick, for instance, suggested a distortion of Jesus’ message due to the writers’ and the churchs’ own egos (in the Course’s sense of the term).

However, my skepticism about the Church went deeper than that. I remember reading in high school El enigma sagrado (the Spanish translation of Holy Blood, Holy Grail), which was the book on which Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was based on, and discussed it with several friends of mine. This got exacerbated with my reading of Robert Ambelain’s books on Jesus, Paul, the Templars, and how the Church hid most of the information so that the public wouldn’t know “the truth”.

However, as years went by and became acquainted with the way scholars have been working with the Bible, and how they were studying it and researching it, the more I came to realize that none of these conspiracy theories were true. Let me be clear about this … I’m not saying that such conspiracy on editing and modifying the Bible is highly improbable (hence, there might be a chance of such a conspiracy being true)…  I’m saying that such a conspiracy is historically impossible. In these series of articles, I want to show you why.

Evidence of Distortion of the Bible

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is ample evidence of modifications in the Bible (called “textual variants”), at least since the time of an Englishman called John Mill (unrelated to John Stuart Mill, of whom you might have heard before), we have known this fact. No Bible scholar today denies this. There is no question whatsoever that there are textual editings in all of our available manuscripts of the New Testament.

One of those who first wanted to study these discrepancies was John Mill. He decided to create what is today call an “apparatus”. An apparatus is a reference where scholars can look up the discrepancies among the manuscripts of the New Testament. In an era where he lacked computers (1707), the creation of his apparatus took about thirty years. For this apparatus, he used about a hundred of what he understood the best Greek “original” manuscripts he had in his disposition. His apparatus was published under the title Novum testamentum graecum. The scholars of his time were shocked when they learned that Mill had found about thirty thousand textual variations and textual disagreements (take into consideration the fact that he did not include all variations, but only those he considered important).

Today we don’t have only a hundred manuscripts, but about 5,800 ancient copies of the New Testament. By the way, there are more ancient copies of the New Testament than there are copies of any renowned author in the Ancient world, even some of my favorite authors, such as Plato and Aristotle. Why is that? Because the vast majority of manuscripts were reproduced by monks in monasteries, mostly interested in copying the Bible.

We are in the era of computers, the era when we think that there might be a count of the number of textual variations in these 5,800 copies. About 94% of these manuscripts come from the ninth century and later. To this day, no one knows exactly how many there are. Some calculate between 200,000 to 400,000 textual variations. Bart Ehrman, who has dedicated his life to the subject of textual variations uses this datum: There are more textual variations and differences among the ancient manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. No good Bible scholar denies this fact.

The Majority of Variations Don’t Matter

Of course, we might wonder about certain variations of the New Testament … did the Church edit all of these texts to “hide the truth”?

Let us begin with a proper analysis fo these texts. First of all, the vast majority (about 80%) of textual variations do not matter at all. Let me repeat in the words of Ehrman, just in case people misunderstand what I just said:  “Most of the mistakes [variants] we have in our manuscripts are completely insignificant, immaterial, and matter for nothing more than to show that scribes in the ancient world could spell no better than my students can today.” Many of the scribes were not qualified for the job, sometimes they were tired, they didn’t see very well, were confused by the letters of the words themselves, and so on …  so, they made LOTS AND LOTS of mistakes.

Let me give you some ideas of how this happened. The first way that it happened has to do with the carelessness of some scribes. For example, some of them were so disinterested or so untrained in their activity, they misspelled the Greek words many times. You can find, for instance, the same word misspelled three times in the same page.

Other times, there were confusions in the process of copying. One of the most prevalent problems is due to what scholars call “parablepsis due to homoeoteleuton” (skipping a text because the eye fixes it on the way a text ends). Although this term sounds exotic and difficult to understand, it is so common that many people (like me!) do this thing all the time when we copy manually a quote from a book. To give you an idea of what it is, let me use this Biblical passage:

[Jesus talking:]

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others
I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.
But whoever denies me before others,
I also deny before my Father in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth,
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [Matthew 10:32-34]

But what we find in some manuscripts is something similar to this:

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others
I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth,
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

What happened here? Was there an evil plot of the Church to somehow omit an “inconvenient” passage? Ummm… not exactly! See … imagine yourself to be inside a closed monastery, with an open window, with a candle in front of you. Since you don’t a computer (we are, after all, in the Middle Ages) … there is no “Cut & Paste” feature at your disposition. You have to write carefully each passage of the Bible. Imagine that you’ve been doing this for hours… getting tired, all sweaty, wanting to go and eat something… but you are stuck there, copying. In that sort of environment, imagine you copying a word, looking at the manuscript, then looking at the page you are writing as you copy, then looking at the text, and then copying … and so on.

This is not exactly an Indiana Jones kind of situation. It is, perhaps, one big boring job… but someone has to do it! Yet, in the whole process of copying, you probably missed the fact that you skipped a Biblical passage. Here is the reason:  during the whole tiresome activity, you read the first phrase “… before my Father in heaven.” Then, you looked at the paper you are writing to copy it, then your sight goes back to the manuscript, and rests on the second phrase “…before my Father in heaven”. Believing that it was the passage you just copied, then you proceed with “Do not think that I have come to ….”, hence omitting the passage in question.

Some other variations don’t matter. For example, there are variants where the order of the words is altered, but still it does not alter at all the meaning of the verses. In fact, these errors of word order are so insignificant, that even John Mill excluded them from his apparatus. They cannot even be reproduced in English or any other language.

Accounting for All the Sorts of Variations

This prevalent problem, created in itself another very big problem: corrections of mistakes. Of course, it would be strange to claim that correcting passages would create problems. On the contrary, corrections give us more certainty regarding the texts.

Some of the corrections are actually understandable and pose no threat whatsoever. The vast majority of the cases, they just correct some screw-ups by earlier scribes. Dan Wallace makes an interesting analogy, where he illustrates a situation similar to the mistake an ancient scribe would make copying the Constitution of the United States who has written: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Onion, establish justice …”  Obviously, the original text does not mean “Onion”, but “Union”. So a later scribe corrects the situation, and no harm done.

Yet, in some other cases, “corrections” have helped confuse more the whole situation. Let me give you the following example of a well known passage (I’ll highlight the verse I want to focus our discussion). By the way although most passages talk about a “leper”, apparently it was about a man who had a skin illness, but I’ll translate as leper for simplicity’s sake:

A leper came to [Jesus] begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with [compassion], Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone” (Mark 1:40-44).

Yet, what is interesting is that in our earliest and best manuscripts, it says the following:

A leper came to [Jesus] begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved by anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (Mark 1:40-42).

What? That Jesus got angry at the leper? This obviously can’t be!  It doesn’t make any sense!  Yet, an increasing number of scholars (even Christian scholars) are more inclined to think that Jesus getting angry was the original text, for the following reasons:

  1. First, obviously someone altered the passage. What is more likely? That the original passage said that Jesus was compassionate and changed it to mean that Jesus was angry? Or the other alternative, that the original passage said that Jesus was angry, and someone did not understand the passage and changed it to mean that Jesus was compassionate? The latter is far more probable than the former.
  2. Second, when this passage appears in Matthew and Luke (who copied them from Mark), what do they say? Surprisingly, they omit the detail on whether Jesus was angry or compassionate. This is more likely to happen when both writers find an embarrassing passage in Mark that is inconsistent with their view of Jesus. None of them have any problem with a compassionate Jesus … but the angry Jesus appears rarely in these Gospels. Hence, it is more probable that the omission has to do with the fact that Mark’s original passage contained an angry Jesus.
  3. Finally, an angry Jesus actually makes better sense in this Markan passage. Read it again completely this time … Jesus “sternly warns” the healed leper and “sent him away” (i.e. practically almost threw him out).

Why would anyone alter the passage? An evil conspiratorial Church wanting to present a kinder Jesus? Well… not exactly! Of course, the Church sympathized more with a compassionate Jesus, and the vast majority of the manuscripts have this passage. Yet, the reason why it was reproduced so much, is not so much an “evil plot” by the Church … but, scholars say, by a “common ancestor” (a root copy) on which all of these manuscripts are based, where Jesus appeared compassionate. So, it was not a making of “the Church”, but a making of a single person, who thought there was a mistake to “correct”. When the scribe in question saw the word “ORGISTHEIS” (ὀργισθείς), he thought that it was a gross misspelling of “SPLANGNISTHEIS” (σπλαγχνισθείς), because, for the scribe, an angry Jesus who heals a leper made no sense to him. This naïve “correction” of the Markan story was powerful enough so that, even today, it is included in even our best Bible translations (often with a footnote saying that there are manuscripts that say that Jesus got angry).

Another sort of “correction” also appears in Luke’s version fo the Last Supper. Many manuscripts say the following:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in rememberance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me, and his hand is on table. (Luke 22:14-22).

Hmm…  there is something strange about that passage. Jesus blessing the cup two times? But in some manuscripts you find the following:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body. But see, the one who betrays me, and his hand is on table”.

But, wait a second!!!  Where is the statement that the body “will be given for you”. And where is the statement about the cup being Jesus’ blood?  Well, today many scholars think that the passage we just quoted was the original passage, while the former was the more elaborate passage. One of the reasons for it is that the latter passage is very unlike Mark’s and Matthew’s versions of the event. So, a scribe altered the passage, in part, because he thought that he was filling what he regarded as an early omission by another scribe.

Last case we’ll see, but not least, of how ancient “corrections” confuse our views on these passages. The Resurrection story in Mark ends up this way:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week [Sunday], when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. AS they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid …[Mark 16:1-8]

The end!  …  This is the actual end of the Gospel of Mark! Because of some features of the ending of the text, many scholars seem to think that very early in the Gospel writings, a page of Mark’s Gospel was lost which may have told the story of what happened with Jesus’ disciples in Galilee. Of course, some scribes felt the need to fill the big hole at the end of the Gospel. In some manuscripts you don’t find anything else after this end. In others you find some “corrections” such as this one:

And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

But the one that has affected the public more are the eleven verses added after the passage by a scribe who “retold the story of the Resurrection” (Mark 16:9-20). This is the passage where Jesus says that when believers pick poisonous snakes, they won’t be affected by their bite. This has been the source of the famous Christian sects who manage poisonous snakes. Someone should tell (on the way to the hospital) that this passage was not originally in Mark’s Gospel.

Conclusion: Evidence of Tampering by “the Church”?

Ok, here are some fun facts given by Bart Ehrman himself and that are not challenged by any other scholar:

  • Our earliest relatively full manuscripts date from the third and fourth century. These manuscripts are many times different from one another, more than ninth century and later manuscripts differ from one another. Yet, these earlier manuscripts differ more significantly from the ninth century and later manuscripts.
  • Many scholars note that most of the intentional changes into New Testament manuscripts took place during the first two centuries of Christianity. This is significant for reasons I’ll discuss in my next post, but let me give you a hint: during the first two centuries there was no single Church controlling the manuscripts. In fact, at that time there were many, far too many churches with very different visions of Jesus. Many of the changes in these texts, instead of being controlled by “an evil single Church” was actually the result of several disputes among early Christians who held very different points of view at the time.
  • It seems, from the quotes of second century and third century Christians, that these earliest copying dynamic was much worse than ninth century and later manuscripts.

This means that the vast majority of the intentional (i.e. non accidental) changes to the New Testament took place very early in Christianity, when there was no institutional Church as such, but a variety of churches, many of them diverging in views from one another.

So, this leads us to our conclusion:

  • There have been many changes to New Testament writings, about 80% of them are purely accidental mistakes. These never show intentional tampering by the Church to “hide the truth” (they were just accidents!). Other modifications were not written to hide any information, but rather to “correct” or fill_in_the_blanks.
  • Out of the rest of the 20%, the vast majority of them took place during the first two centuries of Christianity, when there was no “single” institutional official Church… hence “the” Church was unable to hide anything because “the” Church didn’t exist, period! Maybe some churches tried to hide information (and we know that some of them really tried), but the problem is that we have other manuscripts available that were not controlled by those churches, and whose texts still survive today. Even in the Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church was powerful, if the Pope and the whole head of Cardinals in the Vatican tried to suppress material, there would still be manuscripts in churches not subject to it in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia.

Many conspiracy theorists seem to suppose that the Church as having a sort of single manuscript or a few manuscripts of the Bible somewhere, on which all of the manuscripts depend, while the Church changed the text considerably in history while it burned out the rest “to hide the truth”. In fact, the overabundance of manuscripts, many of them from the third and fourth century (and sometimes earlier have been found) indicate that this is not correct. And a comparison between text variants, far from revealing a manipulation of texts by a single entity, rather reveals that most of the intentional variants occurred because the process of copying was not controlled by a single institution.

Given the evidence we have, conspiracy theorists will have a very, VERY hard time creating a historical model that would support their views in this matter.

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A Fragment of a Lost Gospel Discovered!

The scholar of Coptic and Gnosticism, Karen King at Harvard Divinity School has made what could potentially be one of the biggest discoveries of the twenty-first century.  It is a fragment of a papyrus manuscript, smaller than a credit card.  These are the images and translation obtained from Karen King’s own website:

Front:  written text

Fragment of Manuscript

] “not [to] me.  My mother giave to me li[fe …”
] The disciples said to Jesus, “[
] deny. Mary is worthy of it [
] …..” Jesus said to them, “My wife … [
]… she will be able to be my disciple .. [
] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [
] an image [

Back:

Back of Fragment

] my moth[er
] three [
] . . . [
] forth which … [
] (illegible) [
] (illegible) [

The fact that it is written in front and back is significant, because, if authentic, it tells us a little about the origins of the text and what it was used for.  As many of you know, the vast majority of books in the ancient world were written in scrolls.  However, Christians originated what could be considered one of the most revolutionary steps in publication:  publishing books in codex.  Scrolls are written only in one side of the papyrus, but not so in codex.  A codex is basically taking one page and binding them together in one of their margins, creating what looks like modern books today.  And, just like today’s books, the papyri pages were written on both sides.

Why would Christians do this?  Mainly because of disputes among themselves regarding passages of writtings considered sacred. It is a lot easier to search for passages in the middle of a dispute with a codex than with a scroll.  How early was this tendency?  It was a tendency we can actually trace to the second century C.E.  For example, our earliest New Testament manuscript that we have is called P52 (you can see it here), a piece a bit bigger than this new controversial scrap, and we know that it comes from a codex because it is written on both sides.  It contains some verses of the Gospel of John and paleographers have dated it to a period from  117 to 150 C.E.

What makes Karen King’s piece of codex so controversial in terms of its content is the apparent claim that Jesus had a wife.  Due to the degree of lack of text, we are not sure if the Mary talked about is either his wife or his mother, although it is highly probable that he refers to his wife.  King thinks this piece of codex dates to the fourth century C.E. and may be based on a second century original text, probably a Gnostic text.

Did Jesus have a Wife?

No one can say with absolute certainty (100% accuracy) whether Jesus was married, but all the available evidence points towards the fact that he was not.  The New Testament contains what is practically the earliest testimonies we have about Jesus.  The earliest writings are those from Paul.  His letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians) is the earliest surviving Christian text (50 C.E.).  The latest New Testament books seem to be the so-called letters of Peter and the Pastoral Letters, which are dated to the first part or mid-second century C.E.  Of all of the four Gospels, Mark seems to be the earliest (68-75 C.E.), and the other Gospels were written later:  Matthew and Luke (80-100 C.E.), and John (100 C.E.).  Matthew and Luke were based on Mark’s Gospel, but they also seemed to have shared another writing now lost which has been called “Q” by scholars, and it seems to be dated from 50 to 70 C.E.  There could be other Matthean, Lukan or Johanine early traditions that were included within these late Gospels.

As any scholar will tell you, none of these writings have a monolithic view of Jesus.  Quite the contrary, as they could tell you, even when many of the Gospels share the same story, their views on Jesus are dramatically different.  For instance, Mark’s perspective of Jesus passion is different from Luke’s in significant ways.  In Mark, Jesus agonized and suffered tremendously.  He seemed to be in a state of shock before the authorities and Pilate, being silent the whole time, and at the very end there was a cry of desperation and he died.  Luke’s perspective is different, for he does not portray Jesus agonizing or suffering at all (in fact the whole episode of Jesus sweating like blood was added later by some unknown Christian scribe), he was perfectly calm during the whole process, even to the point of establishing a conversation with women along the way, and having an intelligent conversation with the criminals who were crucified with him, and there is no cry of desperation at all. This is what is called by scholars a “passionless passion”.  In John’s account, there is even less passion.  Mark does not seem to share the high Christological level that John had.  For Mark, Jesus is pretty much human and deeply emotional.  John made Jesus the pre-existing Logos and divine (perhaps God Himself), rational, and in control at all times.

So, the Gospels may agree on some of the facts, but it would be a very big mistake to think that they share the same view about Jesus, or that they thought about him exactly the same way.  To be more to the point, there is absolutely no reason for these Gospel writers (at least for Q and Mark, and perhaps Matthew and Luke) to have hidden information about Jesus’ marriage in any way.  Also, Paul had absolutely no reason to hide this information.  Contrary to what people think, Paul was not himself against marriage of any kind.  He was just worried that Jesus was “soon to come” and that we should be prepared for his arrival, and marriage could be a bit of a distraction.  But Paul worked intensively with the assistance of couples, and once he mentioned the Apostle’s own wives as a positive thing (the negative part being that Paul was criticized for having women working for him).  Paul stated several times that he actually met and talked to Jesus’ own “brother” James, at least three times (the three times he visited Jerusalem).  There is no mention Jesus’ wife or children in any of his references to his visits.  There is also no mention of any “Mary” wife of Jesus (he did mention other  Mary’s, though).

The Gospels, which are later writings, but that kept earlier traditions do not mention Jesus’ wife or children.  In many occasions you learn, implicitly, about the fact that some Apostle was married (for example when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law), but no mention of Jesus’ wife.  There is, strangely, no reference to Jesus’ wife either looking at his crucifixion from afar (in the Synoptics), or even at the foot of the cross (in John’s Gospel at least).  There is no mention of his wife assisting the other women when they went to the tomb.  There are no news at all about Jesus’ wife or children, anywhere after he died or what happened to them.

More to the point, little reference to any issue about the existence of Jesus’ wife or lack of anywhere during any discussion or writing during the first three centuries of Christianity.  I want to say this in order to deflate any “conspiracy theory” regarding embarassing information that “the Church may have wanted to hide”.  Today we have many documents with all sorts of insults made against Jesus during the first four centuries C.E.  For instance, we know of an accusation that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was a prostitute who slept with a Roman soldier called Panthera, a claim made by the philosopher Celsus during the second century C.E.  In the Gospel of Thomas, we learn that Jesus may have had a love affair with a disciple called Salome, who complains to Jesus about sharing her bed with him (ambiguous phrasing), and eating at her table.  The text itself is ambiguous enought to interpret one of two things:  either Jesus slept with her, or that Jesus slept on her bed at some moment alone to rest.  In the case of the former (the worst case scenario) it is interesting that at no point Salome complains to Jesus about Jesus’ being married and cheating.  There are other sorts of insults where Jesus is being compared to a donkey as some Jewish texts seem to imply.  Apparently this insult was prevalent enough to be found in Rome (of all places), and today it is known as the Alexamenos graffito, that displays Jesus crucified with the head of a donkey.  It is thought to have originated in the third century C.E.

Alexamenos Graffito
The scribing is in Greek: Αλεξαμενος ϲεβετε θεον
Translation:  “Alexamenos, worships God”

In the texts of the Holy Fathers of the Church, and the renowned Non-Christian (and sometimes Anti-Christian) texts, the issue of Jesus’ wife remains completely silent, as if it were not an issue at all, nor a .  The closest we have to something like that has to do with a reference to “Jesus family” in later centuries, but probably meaning the descendants of Jesus’ own “brothers and sisters”, who were, apparently, Judaizing Christians.  Other than that, no reference to Jesus’ wife or descendants.  At most, we have some evidence of it being an issue by Clement of Alexandria (late second century) making a reference about Christians who insisted that Jesus did not marry.  That would mean that at least in the late second (perhaps third?) century it was an issue among Christians, but relatively a minor one in relation to other well known doctrines and claims about Jesus that the Fathers of the Church were trying to fight against, such as the claim that Jesus was not human at all.  Others argue that the fact that Paul shows himself as an example of being single and not Jesus is proof that the latter was married.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  After all, for the churches he wrote to, he is a more immediate and live example of being single and an authority, but having a lifestyle, than Jesus, who is gone and will come back later.

As it is often objected, many people assume by default that he was married, because you had to be married in order to be considered a “rabbi”.  Yet, as archeological and textual evidence have shown, there were many celibate teachers in this period.  The Essenes of Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) are an obvious example of this.  Contrary to what many people think, the Essenes did not just live in Qumran.  Yes, Qumran was their center of worship, but many of them (men, women and children) lived all throughout Judea, and perhaps Galilee.  As far as we know, not even John the Baptist seems to have married.  Paul himself seemed to allude to Jesus’ teachings on celibacy too for the sake of God’s kingdom.   So, it is not unhistorical to say that there were teachers in the time of Jesus who were celibate, and that Jesus was one of them.

But what if King’s new fragment is authentic?  Karen King herself tells readers to be cautious about her findings.  She says in her website, the following:

No, this fragment does not provide evidence that Jesus was married. The comparatively late date of this Coptic papyrus (a fourth century CE copy of a gospel probably written in Greek in the second half of the second century) argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus. Nor is there any reliable historical evidence to support the claim that he was not married, even though Christian tradition has long held that position. The oldest and most reliable evidence is entirely silent about Jesus’s marital status. The first claims that Jesus was not married are attested only in the late second century CE, so if the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife was also composed in the second century CE, it does provide evidence, however, that the whole question about Jesus’s marital status arose as part of the debates about sexuality and marriage that took place among early Christians at that time. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better to marry or to be celibate, but it was over a century after Jesus’s death before they began using Jesus’s marital status to support their different positions. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married, but now the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife shows that some Christians claimed Jesus was married, probably already in the late second century.

So, with this caution in mind, and the fact that practically the vast majority of scholars (all across the spectrum) tend to think that Jesus was celibate, we shall proceed to the next question:   Is the Fragment Authentic?

 
Is the Fragment Authentic?

For scholars, the issue of whether Jesus was married or not is relatively uncontroversial, most of them believe he was celibate, but there is still (minor) debate about it.  If there is some element that could be considered truly controversial regarding this discovery, perhaps it is about the fragment’s authenticity.  Karen King is not a coptologist nor a paleographer, but she did talk to experts in those areas:  Roger Bagnall (perhaps one of the most renowned papyrologists in the world), and AnneMarie Juijenijk of Princeton.  In their opinion, apparently the fragment is authentic, and that it was written around the fourth century C.E.  (the details can be found in this PDF document written by Prof. King).  Other scholars, such as Scott Carroll of Oxford University has dated the fragment to the first half of the fifth century.

Yet, what surprised me was how cold has been the reaction of the experts in the field.  While the big corporate media and the social networks have expressed overwhelming enthusiasm in this area, scholars have not reacted the same way.

In a blog post titled “Reality Check: The ‘Jesus’s Wife’ Coptic Fragment“, Daniel Wallace tells about the first reactions of scholars when the announcement was made:

Dr. Christian Askeland, in attendance at the International Association of Coptic Studies conference in Rome, noted that about two thirds of those in attendance were very skeptical of its authenticity, while one third were “essentially convinced that the fragment is a fake.” Askeland said he did not meet anyone at the conference who thought it was authentic (posted at the evangelical textual criticism website on Wednesday, 19 September 2012). This presumably does not include Professor King. A number of noted coptologists have pronounced it a fake or have expressed strong reservations, including Alin Suciu of the University of Hamburg, Stephen Emmel of the University of Münster, Wolf-Peter Funk of l’Université Laval in Quebec, Hany Sadak the director general of the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Scott Carroll, Senior Scholar at the Oxford Manuscript Research Group, and David Gill of the University of Suffolk.

There are a number of reasons why some scholars think so.  One of the things you might note above is that the edges of the writings have been cut.  Such cuts are characteristic of modern cuts, not ancient.  With a very suggestive title (The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife:  How a Fake Gospel-Fragment was Composed), Francis Watson (University of Durham) questions how old is the ink, which should be tested in some way.  He also thinks it is a fake because it uses individual phrases found in the Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas and shows how this might this might have been accomplished (Here is the Summary, Here is the Complete Text of his Analysis.  See also his “Addendum:  The End of the Line?“).  Other scholars have pointed out to the “too good to be true” sort of discovery.  What are the odds that the only surviving fragment of an entire writing happens to contain a very controversial claim?  Did a person “cut” the fragment because it is controversial and preserved it?  In such case, why not cut the whole integral text so that we can contextualize the writing better?  Other scholars have pointed out that the writing “looks fake”, or that there are grammar problems.  See comments by these scholars:  Christian Askeland (here), and other scholars such as Stephen Emmel, Alin Suciu and Wolf-Peter Funk (here).

Conclusion

There is nothing to conclude yet, as far as I know.  At the end of the day, if it proves to be authentic, it would only show that some Christians in the fourth (or fifth?) century, more likely a minority, believed that Jesus married, and that would be all.

As a Roman Catholic and Christian, if this “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” turns out to be authentic, it wouldn’t be any threat at all to my faith.  And if someone could prove that Jesus married, it would not be a threat to my or anyone’s faith, anyway!  If Jesus really married, it would only show that he was human and was married (something that does not contradict any article of faith in any Christian denomination as far as I know).  However, I do think, at least in the historical dimension of the problem, that it is highly unlikely that Jesus was married (mostly for the reasons I’ve stated above).

Regarding the scholarly part of the issue, it is very early to call the manuscript as being definitely a fraud.  However, I do agree with Bart Ehrman, after the first analyses made by some renowned scholars, things don’t look so well for people who believe in its authenticity.

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The Metadivine Realm

One of the most brilliant Israeli scholars in the world called Yehezekel Kaufmann, tried to do his best to find the common denominator of all pagan religions, and wanted to see what was unique of Judaism since the times of Ancient Israel.  His analysis on Paganism is astoundingly accurate, but, unfortunately, his views on the uniqueness on Ancient Israel isn’t.  Kaufmann’s view was that Ancient Israel went through a “revolution”, that is, a very drastic change of view in a very short period of time, from polytheism to monotheism.   As we have seen in our previous blog post, this is not the case.  Ancient Israel went through a slow evolution, not a revolution.

Before exploring the world of “paganism” in the Hebrew Bible, I want to point out that personally I feel very uneasy with the term.  One of the reasons for it is that the word “paganism” is a generic name for a whole variety of religions and ritualistic behaviors that are many times completely different from one another.  As a matter of fact, it is a generic term that usually means “not-Jewish” or “not-Christian”.  It doesn’t say anything about any particular beliefs, or thought systems, or rituals.  Sometimes, this generates very confusing situations from a historical standpoint, because it leads a lot of historians to hold certain views about “pagan” beliefs and practices as if they shared a lot of their teachings.  It also presents Judaism or Christianity with the unwarranted position of being the only ones “unique” among religions, as if the others were not unique in their own right too.  Hence I want to use the word “pagan” here with a grain of salt.  Here I will deal with a genuine distinction between Judaism and the rest of pagan religions, but again reminding ourselves that at least Kaufmann was wrong in trying to display Ancient Israel as drastically distinct from the rest of the regions.  As we shall see, there are differences, but they are not all that different.

At least one common denominator that could be said about original myths, and that Kaufman pointed out correctly is the conviction of the existence of a metadivine realm, that is a realm that is superior to the gods themselves.  In antiquity, gods were conceived as having certain powers or conducts determined by the way they came to be, or the interaction between them.  Their point of origin and what determines their nature is what Kaufman called “metadivine realm”.  It could be the waters, or the darkness, or the abyss.  Since gods are limited by a metadivine realm, they are not omniscient, or omnipotent, or even immortal.  The following story begins with a specific metadivine realm, the waters …

 

Enûma Eliš

One of the most ancient mythological stories we know has been discovered in the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh in today’s Iraq.  It is essentially a story of creation as a result of a battle among gods.

Tiamat and Marduk
Representation of the Battle between Tiamat and Marduk

The name of the mythological story is called “Enûma Eliš“, whose name comes from the first words of the story:  “E-nû-ma e-liš …”  that means “when on high”.

At the very beginning of the story, we are told that there were waters that came in two forms:

  1. Apsû, the fresh water, who was the male principle
  2. Tiamat, the salty waters, who was the female principle

Both of them were monsters, specifically Tiamat is represented as a dragon (a sort of gigantic winged snake-like animal).  From their mating, gods came to be.  When their children rebelled against their parents, the latter declared war on the former.  Apsû was defeated by the god Ea, who then substituted Apsû as the chief god.  He along with Damkina, his consort, had a son, Marduk, who is the sun-god.  It was Marduk who started playing with wind and dust storms, which made so much noise that disrupted Tiamat’s body as a vast ocean, and made some of the gods unable to rest.

Given this reality, and to take revenge for the death of Apsû, Tiamat creates 11 monsters to help her win the battle against the gods, and chooses Kingu both as her new consort and the supreme leader of her army.  The gods were afraid of what is about to happen, and they chose Marduk as their leader.  He accepted, but under one condition, the after the war, the gods must vow to recognize his supreme leadership and sovereignty over them, that he must be the king of the gods.  After accepting the terms, Marduk assumed the leadership of the army of the gods, confronting Kingu’s soldiers.

During the war, Marduk fought Tiamat, and, with an arrow, Marduk pierced her heart and split it in two, leading to Tiamat’s death.  He took her corpse and divided it in two.  Her first half was used to create the firmament, i.e. solid ceiling to “keep the waters up”, and with the second half he created the land, the earth.  And thus began the creative process.  Marduk created the stars, and arranged them in constelations.  Then he assigned gods to be in charge of each of the celestial bodies and constelations.  Thus we account for the different stations of the year, and the months.  He also placed the sun and the moon to establish the difference between the day and the night.

However, during the process of creation, Tiamat’s gods, who were forced to labor heavily, complained to Marduk about the fact that they had to work hard to care for the little things.  Marduk wanted to provide a relief for them, so he killed Kingu, and used his blood to create humankind, so that they would become slaves of the gods.  As a way to honor Marduk, Babylon was established, and a temple was built there.

Purpose of Enûma Eliš

One of the most renowned scholars to study this myth is Nahum M. Sarna.  According to him, there are several purposes behind the story:

  • Theogonic Purpose: It explains the origin of the gods.
  • Cosmological Purpose:  It explains the origin of the universe.
  • Political Purpose:  It legitimizes the political power of Babylon and its king.
  • It also explains the origins of the city of Babylon
  • Cultic Purpose:  The conflict between Tiamat and Marduk symbolizes the perpetual struggle between chaos and order.  This struggle is dramatized by the cycles of the seasons.  The recreation of this struggle maintained the stability of the cosmos.

There are some other things to point out here.  The gods are not necessarily moral.  In this story, it is hard to identify who is “good” and who is “evil”.  The world itself is neither good or evil either, it is absolutely neutral, having no moral value whatsoever to anyone.  None of the gods are in a sense eternal, since they have a beginning and they can have an end.  Finally, humanity appears here as servants of the gods, and that is the only place they are in, according to the story.

Creation According to P

As we have stated in our previous blog post in the series, we have presented more or less the Documentary Hypothesis as we know it today.  Chronologically speaking, the first story of creation was written by the Yahwist tradition (J), which was written approximately in the ninth to eighth century B.C.E.  Yet, as we discussed in that blog post, it was the Aaronid dynasty, the authors of the Priestly Tradition (P), who carried out the job of compiling all of the four traditions together, hence explaining why do we find that the first four books of the Pentateuch begin with a P story or text.

Perhaps out of all traditions, P is the easiest to identify.  Its style tends to be repetitive and arid, with a focus on amounts and quantities, and fixed on rituals.  There are some phrases which could be considered its trademark:  for instance, “be fruitful and multiply” is one of them. Each time you see it in the Hebrew Bible, be confident that the text where it appears comes from P. Its repetitive style explains why there is a pattern that appears again and again all through P‘s story of creation:

And Elohim said, “yadda yadda”,
and yadda yadda was made
and He saw it was good,
and there was evening and there was morning, X day.

And Elohim said …

So, we know that this style is the typical P.  Instead of reproducing the entire text, let me enumerate the whole process of creation:

0.  The prime state of the world:  according to P‘s story of creation, what existed before everything was water and the deeps:

When Elohim began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the wind from Elohim swept over the face of the waters  (Gen. 1:1-2; my modification in the translation).

1.  First Day:  Elohim creates the light and separates it from the darkness.  He called the light “day” and the darkness “night” (Gen. 1:3-5).

2.  Second Day:  Elohim separates the waters by creating a sort of dome.  This dome was the firmament, a solid ceiling to keep part of the waters above, while the rest of the waters become the oceans.  This dome was called “Sky” (Gen. 1:6-7)

3.  Third Day:  Elohim made the dry land appeared, and made vegetation appear for the first time. (Gen. 1:8-13)

4.  Fourth Day:  Elohim created some lights for the dome to deparate the day from the night.  The supreme light of the day was the Sun, and the supreme light of the night was the moon.  He also created the stars.  All of these lights would rule the day and the night (Gen. 1:14-19).

5.  Fifth Day:  Elohim created living creatures from the seas and also those that fly beneath the dome (the birds) (Gen. 1:20-23).

6.  Sixth Day:  Elohim created all sorts of land mammals, and humans (Gen. 1:24-28).

7.  Seventh Day:  Elohim rested (Gen. 2:1-4a).

There are some things to point out of this story.  Not only the form of the text repeats itself constantly as I have pointed out above, but also there are parallel texts within the story itself.  Notice the fact that the creation of objects and creatures from the fourth to sixth days correspond exactly to the creation as told from the first to the third days.  Here …  let me show it to you clearly:

1st-3rd Days of Creation 4th-6th Days of Creation
1st Day:  Day and Night 4th Day:  Sun, Moon-Stars
2nd Day:  Sky and Oceans 5th Day:  Birds and Creatures of the Waters
3rd Day:  Land and Vegetation 6th Day:  Land Creatures and Humans

There is also a very interesting thing that many people wonder about.  When Elohim creates humanity, he says:

Then Elohim said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So Elohim created humankind in his image,
in the image of Elohim he created them;
male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27)

 “Our” image?  Why does Elohim speak in plural?  Everything is clarified when we realize that the name “Elohim” is nothing more than the Hebrew plural of the name “El”, the Cannanite god we discussed in our previous post.  The reason why he is called the plural of El is to allude to the plurality of his own powers, especially made evident in this mythological story.  Remember, El (or Elohim) is the supreme authority and the father of the rest of the gods, at least according to Canaanite and Ancient Israelite thinking.  How did the P tradition conceive Elohim and the rest of the gods?  The answer is:  pretty much like us — male and female.

Similarities and Differences between P’s Story of Creation and Enûma Eliš

Remember, all of the P text was created as an alternative to the JE text produced shortly after the Shilo priests had to flee to the Kingdom of Judah.  As I have stated in our previous blog post, there are actually two theories regarding P‘s origin.  For the majority of scholars, P was written during the Babylonian exile, and one evidence of this is this story based on a Mesopotamian text, Enûma Eliš, a writing popular in Babylon. The Israelites needed to distinguish themselves from the Babylonian culture to maintain their own identity, hence the differences from the Mesopotamian mythological story.

I happen to disagree with this scenario and go more along the lines of Yehezekel Kaufmann and Richard Elliott Friedman, since the arguments of the latter convince me much better.  This second stance, less favored by scholars, regards P as being produced during the time of King Hezekiah, especially while he was carrying out a reform.  According to the scholars who favor this view, they did need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Middle Eastern culture, including the Assyrian religion, the force that invaded the Northern Kingdom and threatened the  Kingdom of Judah.  In such a case, it adopted a well known mythological story in the Middle East, since they were close to other Middle Eastern nations, yet modified it considerably to affirm their cultural identity.

There are obvious similarities between P‘s creation story and Enûma Eliš, are evident.  The text of Enûma Eliš is told in seven tablets, almost reminiscing the “seven days” of creation (although, if you think about it carefully, they are six days of creation).  The division of the waters using a dome, almost in the same way as described in Enûma Eliš, creating a dome to separate the waters “above”.  Implicitly (and in Genesis explicitly), the sky conceived as a dome explained how does it rain:  all the gods have to do is to open the windows of the sky and “down came the waters” (e.g. Gen. 7:11; 8:2).  One of the greatest keys that this story was inspired from Enûma Eliš has to do with the very beginning of the story in Genesis, where there is an allusion to Tiamat in the original Hebrew.

… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep … (Gen. 1:2)

The original Hebrew word translated as “the deep” is tehom (תְהוֹם), word that has the same root of the name “Tiamat”.

Yet, the difference between the creation stories are far more remarkable than their similarities.  As Nahum Sarna pointed out, in P‘s creation story, there is no theogony at all.  It seems as if all of the gods, including Elohim, existed from the very beginning.  There is no birth of the gods from the waters, there are no gods dying either.  The waters were already there, but there is no explicit admission that Elohim or any other gods came from them.   In other words, there is no metadivine realm in this story.

There are no battle scenes with primordial monsters, not even with the already-existing waters.  Marduk is identified as the sun-god, but Elohim is not a sun-god.  In fact, Elohim (El) is not specifically identified with any of the powers of nature, He is above them.  Marduk created the bodies by his mere activity, he physically places everything where they want them to be.  Yet Elohim accomplished the same thing just by willing it.  Finally, Marduk created humanity to serve as slaves for the gods, Elohim begs to differ in this aspect.  Once he created the first human couple, He says:

Elohim blessed [the man and the woman] and Elohim said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”  Elohim said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.  Elohim saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Gen. 1:28-31).

This lovely passage shows Elohim as appreciating his creation and, in a sense, He wants humans to be like Him … after all, they were created in His Image and after His likeness … right?!  This is very interesting, while the Babylonians conceived humankind as being originally slave, the priestly author conceived us almost as important as the gods.

According to Sarna, apparently, P‘s story of creation reflects a relatively late stage of demythologization process in Jewish thinking at the time.  And there are only two purposes in this story:

1.  Cosmological Purpose:  To account for the story of the universe.

2.  Cultic Purpose:  The reason why Elohim rested in the last day was to legitimize the Sabbath as the day of rest, one important factor for P (Ex. 20:1-17).

Regarding the cosmos, it is not neutral in P‘s creation story.  On the contrary, everything is fundamentally good.  In fact, when He created humankind, He actually regarded the whole of creation as very good.

Other References to Enûma Eliš in the Bible

The influence of Enûma Eliš on the Bible does not stop in Genesis.  Allusions to the struggle between Marduk and Tiamat is present in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament.

Leviathan slain by Yahweh

For instance, the Hebrew Bible alludes constantly to a sea monster called Leviathan, who has been slain by Yahweh, almost in terms reminiscent to the struggle between Marduk and Tiamat in Enûma Eliš.

You Elohim my King is from old,
working salvation in the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for creatures in the wilderness.
You cut openings for springs and torrents;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you established the luminaries and the sun.
You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
you made summer and winter (Ps. 74:13-17).

On the day of Yahweh with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will keep the dragon that is in the sea (Is. 27:1).

Let those curse it who curse the Sea,
those who aree skilled to rouse up Leviathan (Job 3:8).

There are other references to Leviathan, but these are the clearest association between the monster and Tiamat.

Saint Michael and the Dragon

In the New Testament we find another indirect reference, this time in the Book of Revelation:

… Then another portent appeared in heaven:  a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his head.  His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.    And a war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.  The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.  The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. …  So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had gien birth to the male child. …  Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. (Rev. 12:3-15)

In this case, the stars are equivalent to the angels of heaven.  This reminds us of Tiamat and her army, while Michael reminds us of Marduk and his army.  So, John of Patmos picked the mythological symbol of the struggle between Marduk and Tiamat and changed it to deliver his message about how the People of God (i.e. the Church) was going to be chased by the evil forces of Satan as they were manifested by the Roman persecutions.

P’s Story of Creation and Adam and Eve

P‘s story of creation has very little to do with J‘s story, which includes the creation of Adam and Eve. It is not that P does not recognize the creation of Adam (see for instance, a P text:  Gen. 5:1), but in creating his own alternative to JE, P is denying J‘s version of events.  As we continue with our journey, keep the following things in mind:

  • In J, Yahweh does not create men and women simultaneously.
  • In J, Yahweh does not create humankind to be anything remotely similar to Himself or the rest of the gods.  In fact, that is the LAST thing he wants.
  • In J, the sequence of events is very different from that of P
  • In J, it only takes Yahweh one day to create the world.
  • In J, the story does not begin with the waters, but with the earth.
  • More to the point, J‘s story of creation is based on an entirely different Babylonian text than the text on which P is based on.

Note:  All of the Biblical quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is today the best Bible translation available made by top scholars in the field.  I used the original Hebrew whenever possible to express a point that is clearer in that language.  I specifically use the most recent version of The HarperCollins Study Bible, also created by top scholars in the field today.

References

Friedman, R. E.  (1997).  Who wrote the Bible?  NY:  HarperOne.

Halpern, B. & Adams, M. J.  (2009).  From gods to God:  the dynamics of Iron Age cosmologies.  Mohr Siebeck.

Kaufmann, Y.  (1956).  The Biblical age.  In Great ages and ideas of the Jewish people. (L. W. Schwarz, ed.).  NY:  The Modern Library.

Kaufmann, Y. (1972).  The Religion of Israel.  NY:  Schocken Books.

Pagels, E.  (2012).  Revelations:  visions, prophecy and politics in the book of Revelation.  US:  Viking.

Pritchard, J.  (1955).  Ancient near eastern texts relating to the Old Testament.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press.

Sarna, N. M.  (1966).  Understanding Genesis.  NY:  Jewish Theological Seminary.

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Introduction

For the moment, I’m at home ill, and I need to finish a particular job for the university.  However, I can be a pretty good procrastinator, especially when I find myself an excuse to procrastinate.  This blog post is it … at least for a few hours …  THEN I’ll have to do my tedious job.

Anyway …  in the same vein I have dismissed with prejudice the belief that Jesus is a Xerox copy of Horus, today I want to see the real Pagan background of many of the Biblical stories … and this time with proper reliable foundations along with the opinion of the experts.  The reason I choose the Adam and Eve story is because it is one of the most misunderstood stories in the history of Judeo-Christianity, and still continues to be misunderstood.  The purpose of this series of blog posts is to somehow recover a bit of what is the background of the Adam and Eve story, including its Pagan roots.

 

Historical Background of the Adam and Eve Story

If you are acquainted with a bit of Bible scholarship, you know that in the Hebrew Bible you find, not one, but two creation stories.  The existence of both versions is explained by what is called today the “Documentary Hypothesis“, first formulated by Julius Wellhausen in the nineteenth century.  The brilliance of the proposal of this Bible scholar has been confirmed again and again over the years through the meticulous analysis of the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible.  Over the years the hypothesis has been altered as more, and more evidence is gathered from the Hebrew Bible’s own text, and in light of new discoveries being made on Ancient Israel since then.  I follow one of the branches, which was begun by Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889-1963) as it has been continued by scholars like Richard Elliott Friedman, who regards Tradition P as originating in King Hezekiah’s reign rather than during the Babilonial exile.  Of course, Kaufmann’s and Friedman’s views do not reflect the actual opinion of the virtual majority of experts on the subject, yet, it seems to be more reasonable and more fitting the evidence, than the view that P was produced during the Babylonian exile. Despite this, I want to point out too that Friedman is a great scholar and is being highly regarded and respected in the field.

For those of you who don’t know, the Documentary Hypothesis as it is formulated today says that the Pentateuch was created out of four distinct traditions by two priestly groups:

Yahwist Tradition (J):  This is the oldest of the four traditions, usually dated to the end of the Salomonic era (950 B.C.E.).  It concentrates all of its stories in the southern territory of the land of Ancient Israel, and it makes no reference at all to the northern tribes.  Its style seems to reflect the ideology of the Aaronid priests (the supposed descendants of Aaron) who worshipped Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple.  It shows Yahweh as being a sort of “close to Earth” sort of God, with very anthropomorphic qualities:  he walks, he is temporarly ignorant of what is going on, he regrets, and so on.  It is called the Yahwist tradition, because in Genesis it is the tradition that calls God “Yahweh”.  So, whenever you read a story in Genesis with the name Yahweh on it, just know that its core comes from the Yahwist tradition.  It’s usual representation in scholarly discussion is the letter J, mostly because when the Documentary Hypothesis was first proposed, it was in German, and Yahweh is written like “Jahweh” with a “J” in German.

—  Elohist Tradition (E):  This is the second oldest tradition was produced  by the most important priesthood of the Northern part of Ancient Israel.  The texts suggest strongly that this tradition was produced by this priesthood, because all of its stories concentrate in the North or refer to northern tribes.  We also know that this was produced after the division of Ancient Israel into two Kingdoms:  the Kingdom of Israel (North), and the Kingdom of Judah (South).  How do we know this?  Because the Shilo priesthood explicitly denounces the cult using golden claves instituted by the northern king, Jeroboam (Exod. 32; 1 Kings 12:25-33).  The Shilo priests were marginalized from this cult, so they made up the story about Moses destroying the golden calf as a way to denounce the golden calves’ altars in Bethel and Dan (1 King 12:31; 14:1-19).  This means that this tradition appeared approximately during the second half of the tenth century B.C.E.  It is usually thought that the Shilo priests were Moses’ descendants, mostly because they were the original guards of the Ark of the Covenant.  It is called the Elohist Tradition, because in Genesis, it refers to God as Elohim.

Priestly Tradition (P):  After the Assyrian invasion of the Northern territory of Ancient Israel, the Shilo priests had to flee from the North, and establish themselves in Jerusalem along with their rivals, the Aaronid priests of the Jerusalem Temple.  Given the situation, during their stay, someone or some group fused traditions J and E, creating a sort of JE document (721-716 B.C.E.).  Apparently the Aaronid priests did not like that at all, and they took advantage of a moment of crisis (Assyrian invasion under Senacherib’s leadership) and created its own alternate version of the JE document, this is the Priestly Code, or the Priestly Tradition (P).  It is very easily recognizable in the Hebrew Bible because of its repetitive style.  We know today that the first version of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:4a) was created by them precisely because of this repetitive style.  Its style is arid and shows God as an abstract, distant, and, yet, an all-powerful entity.  It is also very prescriptive in terms of the Law.  Another reason we know that the first version of creation was written by them is because it was created to justify the Sabbath as a holy day:  Elohim (God) created the world in six days and on the seventh He rested.  All of the Book of Leviticus is basically Priestly Code, since it is prescriptive from beginning to end.  They also shaped it so that it made the Aaronid priests the supreme authorities in the cults to Yahweh in the Temple, lessening the role of other Levite priests.  It is thought by most scholars that it was produced by the Aaronid priests during the Jewish Babylonian exile (5th century B.C.E.), I am of the thinking that it was produced during the years 715-686 B.C.E., much as Richard Elliott Friedman argues.

Deuteronomistic Tradition (D):  This tradition is actually a response of the Shilo priesthood to P.  They adopt some of the Priestly Code, but removing the excessive legislation, and the Aaronid privileges.  It centers around a writing said to be found beside the Ark of the Covenant, which later became the center or core of the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 12-26).  D is distinctive in so far it only recognizes the stories told in JE while ignoring those in P, which shows once more the angry disputes between the Aaronid and Shilo priests.  D was produced during the sixth

Much later, after the Jews returned from the Babilonian exile, some priest (thought to be Ezra) or a group of priests coming from the Aaronid dynasty compiled all of these traditions together (JEPD) creating the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, as we know them today.  We know that because, with the exception of the Book of Deuteronomy, each and every one of the books of the Pentateuch begins with a P story or text.

A Polytheistic Ancient Israel?

Most traditional Jews and Christians are actually surprised by the fact that the Torah (the Pentateuch) was the result of conflicts among priesthoods.  Archaeology may point to the fact that perhaps the disputes had a wider reach, given the fact that ever since before the time of David and Salomon, Ancient Israel was fundamentally a polytheistic society.  There may have been many more priests dedicating their cult to other gods before Yahweh.  In fact, it was in a point of eclecticism, which means that it absorbed from the beliefs in deities all around the Middle East.  As we know from archaeology, far from coming from nomad escapees from Egypt, Ancient Israel rose from an uprising by lower class Canaanites.  Their main god was El (אל‎, where the word “Elohim” (אֱלֹהִ֔ים) comes from), usually represented as a man, but also symbolically by a calf, and who was not particularly associated with any natural power.

Gebel el Arak Knife
This illustration of the Gebel el Arak Knife shows the God El in the Middle

El was the supreme god, the head and father of the rest of the gods.  Simultaneously, in the spirit of eclecticism, many of the Canaanites in the Southern part of Israel sympathized with a Shasu god called Yahu (יהו), where  the name “Yahweh” (יהוה) seems to have come from.  Later, the gods El and Yahweh became in some way one sole god, the head of all the other gods.  It is no accident that in the Hebrew Bible, the name “Yahweh” was revealed to Moses while staying in Midian, since that town was the place where the Shasu lived and Yahu was worshipped (Exod. 3).  It is no accident either that the north seemed to concentrate itself on the name “Elohim” while the south on the name “Yahweh”.

Evidence of the fusion between El and Yahweh has been found archaeologically and in the Bible itself.  For instance, when Yahweh revealed his name to Moses, the text says:

Elohim also spoke to Moses and said to him.  “I am Yahweh.  I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and jacob as El-Shadday (אֵל שַׁדָּי), but by my name ‘Yahweh’ I did not make myself known to them” (Exod. 6:2-3).

Another piece of evidence comes from archaeology.  We know for a fact that the Canaanite god El had a wife or a consort called Asherah, with whom El had 70 sons.  This has been recorded in the clay tablets of Ugarit.

The Goddess Asherah

However, another inscription was found where Asherah appears as Yahweh’s consort or wife.  The inscription itself, dating from the eight century B.C.E., was found at Khibet El-Kom near Hebron (in the south of Ancient Israel), and it says this in Ancient Hebrew:

בירכתי אתכם ליהוה שומרון ולאשרתו

(I have blessed by Yahweh of Samariah and by his Asherah.)

There is also more hidden evidence about the worship of Asherah along Yahweh in the Bible.  For instance, we find this passage in 2 Kings:

The carved image of Asherah that [King Manasseh] had made he set in the house of which Yahweh had said to David and to his son Salomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever” (2 Kings 21:7).

[King Josiah] brought out the image of Asherah from the house of Yahweh, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people.  He broke down the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the house of Yahweh, where the women did weaving for Asherah (2 Kings 23:7).

King Josiah lived during the sixth century, which means that before that, the worship of Asherah was widely accepted, even to the point that Manasseh included its worship in a temple dedicated to Yahweh.  There is still another part of the Hebrew Bible where the worship of Asherah appears, but it is not very evident.  She appears in a poem recited by Moses shortly before he died.

[Moses] said:  Yahweh came from Sinai, and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran.  With him were myriads of holy ones; at his right, his own eshdat (אשדת). (Deut. 33:2)

The word “eshdat” has been a pain in the neck for a lot of Bible scholars for years.  The term does not seem to correpond to anything we know in Hebrew.  Sometimes it is translated as “fiery law” or “host”.  However, in this context, it does not seem to be clear that this is its meaning.  Perhaps one of the best ways to solve the problem is to think of the Book of Deuteronomy as being altered after the Asherah worship was banned.  Then, it makes a lot of sense.  The Hebrew letters for ashdat (אשדת) look extremely similar to the letters of the words for Asherah (אשרה).  So, according to one very interesting hypothesis, the original text may have been this one:

[Moses] said:  Yahweh came from Sinai, and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone foth from Mount Paran.  With him were myriads of holy ones; at his right, his own Asherah (אשרה). (Deut. 33:2)

Where is the evidence that the Biblical Yahweh or Elohim was the head of other gods, just like the Canaanite El?  You need to look no further than the Hebrew Bible itself.  Let me quote these passages (I will underscore the important parts of certain passages, others will be self-evident):

Then Elohim said, “Let us make man (adam) in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the Earth.”  So Elohim created him in his image, in the image of Elohim he created them; male and female he created them.  (Gen. 1:26-27).

Then Yahweh Elohim said:  “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3:22).

Who is like you, O Yahweh, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? (Exod. 15:11)

Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of Yahweh:  I saw Yahweh sitting on this throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him” (1 Kings 22:19).

… those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens; those who bow down and swear to Yahweh, but also swear by Milcom {an Aamonite deity}; those who have turned back from Yahweh, who have not sought Yahweh or inquired him (Zeph. 1:5).

Yahweh has taken his place in the divine council;  in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:  “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?  Give justice to the to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.  I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.” Rise up, O Elohim, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you! (Psalm 82).

In other words, Elohim or Yahweh is the supreme deity, father of the rest of the gods.  These gods are national gods who rule other nations.

Many people ask about the real meaning behind the first commandment.  Notice that it doesn’t say:  “You shall not believe in any gods, just Me”.  It rather says:

I am Yahweh your God … you shall have no other gods before me. (Exod. 20:1,3).

So, does this commandment say that Israelites do recognize the existence of many other gods, but are only allowed to worship one?  The answer is “Yes”.

Then how is it that Judaism is now associated with monotheism?  This is because religions change and adapt over time as a reaction to a whole variety of social events.  Yahweh was unquestionably the Jewish national God, and was worshipped as such.  A worship of other gods other than Him might mean disloyalty not only to Yahweh, but to Ancient Israel itself.  This is the reason why in so many parts of the Bible, Yahweh’s prophets denounce the infidelity of many Israelites who worshipped other gods, and interpreted a lot of their disgraces as Yahweh’s punishment for Israel’s idolatry.

For this reason, the Aaronid and the Shilo priesthood, even when being rivals, tried their best to concentrate the worship on Yahweh/El as a way to guarantee national security.  Notice that the Priestly Code and the Deuteronomist Code appeared just when kings Hezekiah and Joshiah made their respective religious reforms requiring two things:  that all israelites concentrated their worship on the national God, Yahweh; and the elimination of all worship to other gods, including the Asherah worship.  So, from polytheism, Judaism evolved to henotheism or monolatry, the worship of one God, even recognizing the existence of many other gods.  When the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant (regarded as Yahweh’s own holy presence) disappeared, those Jews who were exiled to Babylon began to worship an omnipresent God, and gradually were leaving behind their belief in the existence of other gods, until by the second or first century B.C.E., basically Judaism became monotheistic.  This did not stop many in the general population to worship other gods.  In the Second Book of Maccabees, there is a reference to Israelites who secretly worshipped other gods and died in the field of battle (2 Mac. 12:38-45).  Yet, from the first century C.E. until today, Judaism has remained monotheistic, just as Christianity has.

 

Our First Conclusion

As we have been able to see here, the story of Adam and Eve has a very complex background.  The original story comes from Tradition J, but we see that when J was written at the time polytheism, at least in the form of henotheism, was practiced.  As we shall see in our next post, not only does Yahweh appear in the story, but He also appears implicitly as the head of an assembly of gods.  It also means that Asherah may appear in some way in the story, since her cult seems to be associated in some way with the “Tree of Life”.  As we shall see, the monotheistic viewpoint that came later, and also many of the elaborations by later Christian authors, have obscured the original meaning of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis.

For those Jews or Christians who doubt this information, I regret to inform you that this is a standard view in Bible scholarship.  You will find this information in every respected research entity or university what I have just said above ….  Contrary to the “Horus=Jesus” thing, this is not just a mere invention of a Puerto Rican philosophy teacher, or any lunatic.  This has been very well researched and discussed by the best authorities in the area (Jews, Christians, agnostics, atheist or otherwise), especially archaeologists, paleographers, anthropologists, among many other people in the field of Bible scholarship.  If you want more information about reliable scholars in the area, see the section of “References” below.

Here I share with you a documentary on this subject.  I highly respect Frenceska Stavrakopoulou (I always have a hard time spelling her last name 😛  Geez!)  … I beg to differ from her interpretation that these discoveries practically “collapses” the foundations of modern monotheism.  I think it does so only in ultraorthodox and fundamentalist Judaism and Christianity (as seen in the documentary).  For the rest of us who do not belong to these groups, we have absolutely no problem with these discoveries and research.  In fact, a lot of the people who are elaborating on this research are believing Jews and Christians.  Most of us have incorporated an evolutionary model where God reveals Him/Herself through historical processes, and this is one.  I also disagree with their conclusion that Jews and Christians are closet polytheists.  We use a lot of symbolic types that came from the polytheistic era, but their meaning has changed dramatically, and their use is concentrated on the worship of a single God.  Symbolic types do not have static meanings, they always change throughout history.

 

Note:  All of the Biblical quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is today the best Bible translation available made by top scholars in the field.  I used the original Hebrew whenever possible to express a point that is clearer in that language.  I specifically use the most recent version of The HarperCollins Study Bible, also created by top scholars in the field today.

 

References

Barton, J. & Stavrakopoulou, F. (2010).  Religious diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah.  London:  T&T Clark.

Dever, W.  (2002).  What did the Biblical writers know and when did they know it?:  what archaeology can tell us about the reality of Ancient Israel.  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Dever, W.  (2003).  Who were the early Israelites and where did they come from?  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Dever, W. G. (2005). Did God have a wife?:  archaeology and folk religion in Ancient Israel.  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Dever, W. G.  (2012).  The lives of ordinary people in Ancient Israel:  when Archaeology and the Bible intersect.  Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Fleming, D. (2012).  The legacy fo Israel in Judah’s Bible:  history, politicas, and the reinscribing of Tradition.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.

Friedman, R. E.  (1997).  Who wrote the Bible?  NY: HarperOne.

Friedman, R. E.  (1999).  The hidden book of the Bible.  NY:  HaperOne.

Friedman, R. E.  (2003).  Commentary on the Torah.  NY:  HarperOne.

Halpern, B. & Adams, M. J.  (2009).  From gods to God:  the dynamics of Iron Age cosmologies.  Mohr Siebeck.

Stavrakopoulou, F.  (2012).  Land of our fathers:  the roles of ancestor veneration in Biblical land claims.  London:  T&T Clark.

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