Who Was Jesus? (Part 1)

D.M. Murdock writes under the pen name Acharya S. She’s a scholar, and some would call her a conspiracy theorist. She has two books published, The Christ Conspiracy and Suns of God, neither of which I have read. Wikipedia says:

Her contention is that all religion is founded in earlier myth and that the characters depicted in Christianity are the result of the plagiarizing of those myths to unify the Roman State.

I lean in that direction myself, but I’m open to all evidence.

Acharya has published an ebook, entitled Who Was Jesus? She sells it on her website for a “donation” of $5 or more. (I can’t figure out how to download it for free, so it’s technically not a donation.) The book is only 39 pages long, so you can get through it fairly quickly.

The book is a concise overview of the Jesus story. Who was he? Why are there so many versions? What evidence is there that he existed? There doesn’t appear to be any original research in here, but it’s an excellent summary of others’ work.

I like this book a lot. It’s well organized and edited, the writing is clear, and it makes its case well. I didn’t find any typos or grammatical errors, which is unusual for a self-published book.

I took a few notes while reading the book. Here are my thoughts, reactions, and comments (I’m presenting this in two parts for those of you with short attention spans. Hey, if you’ve got a short attention span, this book is ideal for you!)

Chapters 1–4: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

The book’s first four chapters summarize the events presented in the first four books of the New Testament. It also summarizes the discrepancies among them. All four versions can’t be correct. This just demonstrates to me that this is an oral tradition that wasn’t recorded until much later than the events. Of course, we can’t know that the events even happened.

It appears that there was a common ancestor to all four versions. As the story spread, its details diverged. You can’t take all four versions as the infallible word of God. In fact, you can’t even take one of them, because the divergence shows that they all changed over time. The best you can do is take a synthesis of the four and use it as a parable. Jesus might have existed, and he might have wandered around teaching. There is no evidence that any of the miracles occurred.

She has this to say about the Gospel of Matthew:

it appears that Matthew was concerned with painting Jesus and the disciples in a more favorable light, omitting Jesus’s displays of anger (Mk 3:5) and other overwrought emotionality (Mk 3:21), as well as the evident dimwittedness, hardheartedness and trepidation of the disciples (Mk 6:52; 8:17-21; 9:32). Matthew seems more aware of the (Jewish) readers’ sensibilities concerning religious customs [….]

Concerning these differences between Matthew and Mark, the Catholic Encyclopedia (“Gospel of St. Matthew”) states, “Omissions or alterations of this kind are very numerous.”

This passage shows that Matthew was written (or edited) with a specific human agenda in mind. Many Christians claim that God wrote the Bible through the evangelists. Why would God need to sugar-coat the events? Clearly, Matthew is a very human document.

The author mentions discrepancies between the King James Version (KJV) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV):

The KJV was translated from the Latin or Vulgate text, while the RSV utilized the most ancient Greek texts. Fundamentalist Christians nevertheless believe that the King James Version is “inspired” and “inerrant,” regardless of the fact that the Vulgate upon which it was based differs in many places from the earliest Greek manuscripts, which were not available during the translation of the King James Bible. The fact that various versions of the Bible differ from each other is very significant and needs to be kept in mind.

That’s right. The fundies think that the documents that are closer to the source aren’t credible, but much later versions are! Did God sneak down in the middle of the night sometime during the Renaissance and correct the Latin manuscripts?

The book has this observation about the Gospel of John:

John also appears to be more concerned with Jesus’s sayings and speeches rather than his deeds and miracles, concentrating particularly on Jesus’s interactions with the Jewish authorities, and displaying a more pronounced anti-Jewish tone and sentiment than the other gospels.

I can only surmise that John is Mel Gibson’s favorite Gospel.

Mel Gibson

The author makes this comment about some of the discrepancies between John and the other three:

There are many other pericopes in John that do not appear in the others. Some of the Johannine pericopes—such as the raising of Lazarus from the dead—are so significant it is difficult to believe that the others would not record them, if they had been aware of them. It is logical to ask if these verses were added later for specific purposes.

It seems likely to me that these events did not occur. They were merely jammed into the story later to make Jesus appear more miraculous.

Moreover, John does not mention the transfiguration, even though he was a witness to it! In his quest to demonstrate the divinity of Jesus, it would be highly logical for John to have reported the transfiguration, if it really happened. Nor does John mention the ascension, which is equally curious in light of his desire to reveal Christ’s divinity.

If you’re going to make up a lie, everybody involved should agree on the story beforehand.

(Next: The Bible as barbershop quartet: Four-part harmony.)

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