Who Was Jesus? (Part 2)

Here’s the second half of my review of Who Was Jesus?, an ebook by Acharya S. The book can be purchased for a “donation” of $5 or more. I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

Chapter 5: Textual Harmonization

Chapter 5 covers the problems Christians have had with “harmonization”, which is the process of reconciling the conflicting versions of the New Testament (NT). Actually, Christians seem to have a lot of problems with harmonization, since they seem to be incapable of living in harmony with non-Christians without starting wars, or at least complaining a lot about being “persecuted”.

The author states:

The difficulty of harmonization is profound, particularly when the many different manuscripts of the New Testament are factored into the puzzle, with upwards of 150,000 “variant readings,” including not only differences in wording but also errors.

150,000 is a lot of variations! In fact, she then quotes from The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:

It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the [manuscript] tradition is wholly uniform.

That’s right. Not one sentence is completely reliable. How can this be the inerrant word of God?

She further quotes from The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:

Many thousands of the variants which are found in the [manuscript] of the NT were put there deliberately. They are not merely the result of error or of careless handling of the text. Many were created for theological or dogmatic reasons… It is because the books of the NT are religious books, sacred books, canonical books, that they were changed to conform to what the copyist believed to be the true reading.

Are we to believe that every single copyist was “divinely inspired”? And even if it were true, why are they divinely inspired in so many different directions? To my mind, this completely destroys all of the Bible’s credibility. The best you can do is use these stories as morality tales.

Chapter 6: The Gospel Dates

When were these things written? The book’s author summarizes the current beliefs of various scholars:

  • Matthew: 37 to 100 AD
  • Mark: 40 to 73 AD
  • Luke: 50-100 AD
  • John: 65-100 AD

I’m inclined to believe in the later dates, for various reasons that she summarizes in the book. The earlier dates are mostly proposed by Christian apologists (“Christian Apologetics” is a term which I find peculiar. They have not yet begun to apologize for all of the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity!).

Many Christians are convinced that the gospels were written by the evangelists for whom they are named. This, of course, would not be possible if the later dates are correct. She addresses this issue with this interesting fact:

In reality, it was a fairly common practice in ancient times to attribute falsely to one person a book or letter written by another, and this pseudoepigraphical attribution of authorship was especially rampant with religious texts, occurring with several Old Testament figures and Church fathers, for example.

She then gives further evidence that the gospels were written years later by other people. She also mentions briefly that there is new evidence suggesting that the gospels were actually written toward the end of the Second Century C.E.

All of this just further convinces me that these stories lack credibility.

Chapter 7: Extrabiblical Testimony

That’s all we need, extra Bibles! As if the first one didn’t cause enough problems in the world! Actually, this refers to evidence outside the Bible that can shed light upon the credibility of the stories within the Bible.

This chapter of the book won’t be a surprise to anyone who has approached this subject with an open mind. I suspect, however, that it will cause massive cognitive dissonance among the fundies, who will likely be hearing this for the first time. She does an excellent job of summarizing the evidence:

However, when we go looking for material outside of the New Testament that might validate the events described there, we come up empty-handed. In other words, there is no contemporaneous evidence outside of the New Testament to attest to Christ’s advent and ministry—or even his existence.

This fact is singularly astounding, in consideration of the repeated assertions in the gospels that Christ was famed far and wide, drawing great crowds because of his miraculous healings, causing a fracas with the local and imperial authorities, and, upon his death, creating astonishing and awful miracles and wonders the world had never seen before, including not only an earthquake and the darkening of the sun and moon, but also dead people rising from their graves and visiting people in town.

“Brains!!” (Sorry. Back to the book…)

One would think that if all these things happened, someone somewhere would have written about them. But, inspecting the literary, historical and archaeological record produces nothing.

Chapter 8: Who are Elijah and Elisha?

She summarizes the characters of Elijah and Elisha, then presents a table showing the similarities between Elisha and Jesus, concluding with the question:

Considering these numerous, detailed and remarkable correspondences between Elisha (“God saves”) and Jesus (“God saves”), it is fair to ask whether or not the gospel writers had in mind closely reproducing in Jesus the figure of Elisha and/or other Old Testament characters.

Chapter 9: Jesus as Fulfillment of Prophecy

This leads into the issue of whether Jesus is the messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. This chapter summarizes some of the similarities between Jesus and the prophesies. The author concludes:

On the surface of it, if taken literally the New Testament appears to record the advent of the messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament. However, there may be a different reason for this appearance. In scrutinizing all of the Old Testament “prophecies” that purportedly relate to the coming messiah, it is evident that the gospels were designed in order to show that these scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. When these and other [Old Testament] scriptures are studied and seriously considered, therefore, it is logical to ask if they constitute “prophecies” and “prefiguring” of the advent of a historical Jesus Christ—or if they were used as a blueprint in the creation of a fictional messiah.

Chapter 10: Questions about the Gospel Story

This is an excellent chapter. It summarizes some of the many problems with the whole Jesus fable. The author talks briefly about these issues:

  • Miracles
  • Contradictions
  • Errors
  • Failed prophecies
  • Chronological discrepancies
  • Erroneous translations
  • Erroneous interpretations
  • Lack of character
  • Illogic
  • Repulsive deeds, sayings, and doctrines

Repeatedly, she uses examples of each of these issues to suggest that much of what the Bible says about Jesus are fictional accounts, designed to “prove” his divinity.

Chapter 11: Conclusion

I like her Conclusion chapter. It does a good job of tying together the evidence presented in earlier chapters. I was predisposed to her thesis from the beginning. I’m sure people with contrary opinions can come up with a few good counter-arguments.

Although this chapter runs more than one page, I’ll leave you with this brief excerpt:

The fact is that, when all the evidence is weighed, it would seem irresponsible and unscientific to merely assume the gospel tale is historical, either in part or as a whole. The most honest perspective would be to approach it as if it is not historical until evidence is presented otherwise.

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