Easter

According to Wikipedia, “Easter is the most important religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. It is believed by the Christians to be the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe occurred on the third day after his crucifixion around AD 33.”

In fact, it might be said that Christianity stands or falls based on whether or not the resurrection of Jesus actually occurred.

The “evidence” is sketchy.

Jesus isn’t credited with writing anything himself and there are no contemporary accounts of his life or death. The earliest texts mentioning him come from “Paul the Apostle.” Paul never met Jesus, and Paul’s first writings are dated roughly 15-20 years after Jesus’ supposed death (and Paul doesn’t reveal any knowledge of Jesus’ birth, or much of his life or his ministry, so he isn’t a good source for an historical Jesus).

Paul relays stories of people who he says Jesus appeared to after his death and ends this list with himself (1 Corinthians 15). It is certainly unclear if he is describing some kind of “spiritual vision” or an actual bodily resurrection since he includes his experience on equal footing with the other appearances (and his experience seems to have been of the former type).

The four so-called “Gospels”–which are supposed to be the primary accounts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection–were written even later, decades after the fact (and none of those were written by actual eye-witnesses). [We can include the “Acts of the Apostles” here as well.]

We do not have the original copies of any of these texts. The earliest sufficiently complete copies we have come hundreds of years after the supposed events. They are fragmentary and are copies of earlier copies, which are themselves copies of earlier copies, and so on, to an unknown degree removed from the originals. Comparisons of the various copies that we do have indicate variations between them and indicate that copying errors occurred.

The sudden appearance of new sections of text in later copies (text that doesn’t appear in any earlier copies) suggest that some things were added later and were most likely not contained in the original versions. This opens up the possibility that additions were made before the earliest copies available to us as well.

Even the originals, from which the flawed copies are derived, were written years and/or decades after the supposed events took place. None of them were written by actual eye-witnesses, so they are second-hand accounts at best. They are actually even further removed from the supposed events than that, either based on prior writings that are lost to us and/or oral traditions that were passed down over time. [The reliability of stories passed down orally should be is suspect to anyone who has ever played the game “Telephone.”] Additionally, the original authorship of the various texts is entirely unknown (except for some of the ones said to be written by Paul).

The various texts that we are left with are in conflict with one another in many details regarding the events that supposedly took place. They are also in conflict with what we know about the history, culture, and traditions of that time, place, and people.

They include accounts that are suspiciously similar to other earlier stories that were told about other god-men that we now consider mythological, and these accounts claim various extraordinary and supernatural events taking place that most of us would consider wild, outrageous, and unbelievable were they to be told about something happening in today’s world with no more evidence than what we have here.

Even if we assume that Jesus existed and that the whole story wasn’t an invention, distortion, or in any way embellished, that the written translations were more or less uncorrupted and somewhat accurate translations from the original texts, and that the original texts were based on accurate reports of more or less uncorrupted and somewhat accurate oral accounts given in good faith by actual eye-witnesses (which is quite a lot to assume), there is still the possibility that the witnesses were mistaken or deceived.

So we have flawed translations of conflicting reports by biased and/or anonymous authors who were relaying hand-me-down hearsay-accounts of wild, extraordinary, and supernatural events given by unsophisticated witnesses, who were possibly duped, mistaken, or lying (if the authors themselves weren’t fabricating or embellishing, which appears likely), and that are suspiciously similar to earlier stories circulating at the time which we now consider unbelievable mythology.

This kind of “evidence” would be laughed out of any court of law today.

It is certainly not much to base your life on.

Occum’s Razor and common sense suggest that there are any number of other more rational/natural explanations for these accounts of supposed events than the one Christians believe.

I think it unlikely that most Christians would even believe it, if they were presented with this evidence for the first time as adults and not brought up to believe it as children when they were most impressionable.

Regardless, as Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

In this case, we have some very extraordinary claims which lack even the minimal requirements for evidence of even ordinary claims.

PS: Resurrection Myth Development

While I’ll not get into the conflicting resurrection story details found in the various Gospels, I’d just like to review how the resurrection myth developed over time in the Gospels themselves….

In Mark (the oldest gospel), you have an empty tomb and a young man in a white robe to tell what has happened, saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee. In Matthew there is an earthquake and the young man has turned into an angel blazing like lightning, flying down from above to zap a couple of guards and roll away the stone to the tomb with one hand, then saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee (but instead, he shows on up right away and repeats what the angel said). In Luke, the one boy is now two men in dazzling raiment, but rather than Galilee, the place to see the visions has become Jerusalem. Then some more time goes by and we get to the story of John (the last gospel) where the boy in Mark has become two angels!! and Jerusalem is again the place to see visions.

Also, as the myth grows, we see Jesus go to more and more trouble to prove that he has a physical body. In Mark, he isn’t there. In Matthew, they grab at his feet. In Luke, he asks his disciples to touch him and eats some fish. In John, he shows his wounds, breathes on people, and lets Thomas put his fingers into the wounds themselves.

It is as if the authors have more and more they want to try to prove about the resurrection, so they keep adding more details and taking it further and further.

Now it has been taken so far that it has become The Greatest Lie Ever Told.

PPS: Matthew’s Resurrection Zombies

Some of my favorite humorous parts of the Bible are the fabrications “Matthew” spreads regarding the aftermath of the resurrection…

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” – Matthew 27:51-53

Matthew is the only one to report any of this. None of the other Gospel writers mention it, and there is no extra-Biblical support for it (as you would imagine there should be for such an extraordinary event).

One of the funniest commentaries about this I’ve ever read is from Thomas Paine in his “Age of Reason.” He sounds almost like Mark Twain here….

“It is an easy thing to tell a lie, but it is difficult to support the lie after it is told. The writer of the book of Matthew should have told us who the saints were that came to life again, and went into the city, and what became of them afterward, and who it was that saw them — for he is not hardy enough to say he saw them himself; whether they came out naked, and all in natural buff, he-saints and she-saints; or whether they came full dressed, and where they got their dresses; whether they went to their former habitations, and reclaimed their wives, their husbands, and their property, and how they were received; whether they entered ejectments for the recovery of their possessions, or brought actions of criminal conduct against the rival interlopers; whether they remained on earth, and followed their former occupation of preaching or working; or whether they died again, or went back to their graves alive, and buried themselves.”

Bible Notes #2

Wherein I briefly expand on a couple of the Gospels from the first set of notes (see: HERE) and try to very briefly review the growth of the resurrection myth….

I could write a book of fiction about events taking place in today’s world, referring to real places and real surrounding events. For example, I could write a story about an imaginary person living in Washington, DC, visiting the Capitol or Washington Monument and advising President Obama. Just because someone might dig up evidence for the Capitol, the Washington Monument, or Obama at some point in the future, doesn’t do much to establish the reality of the imaginary person I wrote about. I admit it might be better than if they never found evidence of anything in my story, but it wouldn’t be much to establish the reality of the imaginary person. Let’s say that I give the imaginary person I write about the ability to fly. Digging up a piece of the Washington Monument isn’t going to do anything to give evidence of that.

Anybody can write that people rose from the dead, there were 500 witnesses, or whatever nonsense they like, but until you can establish that the person writing is trustworthy that is all meaningless. Even if you believe in the earliest dates for the Gospels and that these authors are generally reliable (and the documents we have are fair copies of the originals, etc. etc.), you have to admit that every step of the way you are choosing to accept the most favorable viewpoint to confirm your belief.

It might not be as big of a deal if we were talking about whether some sheep farmer lived 2,000 years ago that herded sheep. That would be much easier to believe than some son of god performing miracles.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and there is just too much debatable stuff here to be convincing (esp. when it sounds like many other myths). Even if we had some empirical evidence for the miracles, that wouldn’t prove that this was the Son of God (e.g.: it could be some supernatural demon trying to deceive us, or it could be a more intelligent and advanced being from another planet, or it could be an alien that had technology much greater than ours).

Matthew & Some Mark

Boy! I could really get into it here if we wanted to go through the whole book: the genealogy that doesn’t match Luke’s version to try to prove some prophecy that becomes irrelevant once the virgin birth myth comes in; the fact that “Matthew” wouldn’t have anyone’s word for it (other than Mary’s?) about the virgin birth thing anyway, or what angels might have said to Joseph or Mary; the problems with the indicated year of his birth; the absurdity of people going to the city of their birth to register for a census (which would have been a bureaucratic nightmare and which there is no external historical evidence for); the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ story (which there is no external historical evidence for); the quick trip to Egypt (which is yet another of many poor attempts “Matthew” makes to sell readers on the idea that Jesus fulfilled prophecies that he doesn’t understand and gets wrong when he makes up stuff, the biggest blunder of that type occurring when he has Jesus riding two donkeys into Jerusalem at the same time because he misread Zechariah 9:9!), and so on and on, but I’ll try to repress myself and skip to the end.

As we get into some of the other details, it seems that “Matthew” wasn’t even there at all (nor does it seem any of his speculative “eyewitness” sources might have been). He talks about 30 pieces of silver being weighed out, when they didn’t “weigh out” pieces of silver during that time and place (coins were minted) and “pieces of silver” weren’t used as currency, but I’ll pass over that as an instance of poetic license to get to one of my favorite parts: the zombies that came out of the broken tombs after the earthquake!!!

Wow! You would think that there would have been some external historical account about something as odd and significant as that, but it didn’t seem to be something significant enough for even the other gospel writers to relay. Dead people coming out of their graves and going into Jerusalem appearing “to many” yet only Matthew seems to bother to record this amazing event.

I can see how this could get very long even though I’m skipping over so much. I will pass over all the conflicting details between gospels regarding the time and day of crucifixion, the conflicting reports of how he behaved or what he said (and other minor things like the fact Romans didn’t crucify robbers, which Mark and Matthew say Jesus was crucified between, for example). For now, I’ll even pass over the differing reports between gospels about who came to see Jesus in the tomb and what they saw once they arrived. I’m sure some would say that is exactly what you would expect from different eyewitness accounts. [This is why eyewitness accounts aren’t considered reliable testimony.]

Matthew narrates the book in the third person and tells about things he wouldn’t have any direct knowledge about.

For example, the whole story about Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This account (like the rest of the book) is written like someone would write a fiction novel.

If this happened, who else would be there but Jesus and the devil? So where would Matthew have gotten this story from? Jesus or the devil (or was there was some unnamed person spying on them to serve as the eyewitness)? So, where did “Matthew” get this from? Was it something he heard Jesus tell about? Was it something that he heard from someone who said they heard it from Jesus or the devil? Do you think “Matthew” decided to tell the story because he was inspired by God? How reliable would you take this story to be?

This is the way all the gospels are written. Time after time when I read through them, I come across passages where I wonder how anyone could have gotten that information. Like who checked Mary out to make sure she was a virgin, or did someone just take her word for it? It seems more likely that someone made it up – Paul doesn’t seem to know that story (or many of the other fascinating things relayed in the gospel stories). At least he doesn’t mention them, even if it could help him make a point. It looks to me that a lot of this stuff was added to the story (made up) after the fact. “Matthew” tries too hard to sell Jesus, to the point he gets prophecies wrong over and over. If there is no external evidence whatsoever of things like people going to the city of their birth to register for a census (which doesn’t even make logical sense) or the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ story (which you would expect there would be) it seems you would start to wonder at how much of this stuff was made up to try to satisfy some prophecies (esp. when mistakes are made like Jesus riding two donkeys, or when he tries to bring in things that weren’t prophecies about a Messiah at all).

Unlike Mark, but like Matthew, Luke gets into the genealogy, but it is almost entirely different (as are a lot of the other details). Like the others, this one gets into relaying events you wonder how the author came to know, like a conversation between Mary and her cousin Elisabeth near the beginning of the book.

Resurrection

Now let’s look at the resurrection story and see how the myth developed over time….

In Mark (the probable oldest gospel), you have an empty tomb and a young man in a white robe to tell what has happened, saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee. In Matthew there is an earthquake and the young man has turned into an angel blazing like lightening, flying down from above to zap a couple of guards and roll away the stone to the tomb with one hand, then saying Jesus would be seen in Galilee (but instead, he shows on up right away and repeats what the angel said). In Luke, the one boy is now two men in dazzling raiment (and you have the extra drama of Peter rushing in to see the empty death shroud), but rather than Galilee, the place to see the visions has become Jerusalem. Then some more time goes by and we get to the story of John (the last gospel) where the boy in Mark has become two angels!! and Jerusalem is again the place to see visions.

Also, as the myth grows, we see Jesus go to more and more trouble to prove that he has a physical body. In Mark, he isn’t there; in Matthew, they grab at his feet; in Luke, he asks his disciples to touch him and eats some fish; in John, he shows his wounds, breathes on people, and lets Thomas put his fingers into the wounds themselves.

It is as if the authors have more and more they want to try to prove about the resurrection, so they keep adding more details and taking it further and further.

Was the tomb open or closed? Who did the women see? How many women were there? Were they supposed to go to Jerusalem or Galilee? I could go on and on here…

But that’s enough Bible notes for now.

Bible Notes #1

The Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Estimated dates they were written and approx. dates of the earliest fragments we have of them…

Matthew: written (70-110) / first fragment (150-200)

Mark: written (66-70) / first fragment (350)

Luke: written (80-100) / first fragment (175-250)

John: written (90-110) / first fragment (125-160)

General information about the source material

All of the authors wrote about events decades after the fact, allowing time for legends to grow in the telling before they were written. None of the authors were likely eyewitnesses to the events they report, and all the authors are anonymous.

The first fragments we have for Luke and Matthew are almost 100 years after they were written (more or less), for Mark it is almost 300 years. There is a shorter time for John, but that account is different and later (as far as when it was written) than the others, and is probably the least reliable (aside being further removed from the events when it was written, as well as different than the earlier ones, it appears significant sections were added because they don’t appear in the earliest copies).

Remember we are talking about the earliest fragments, not the earliest complete copies, and fragments are just that, a small piece of a page in many cases. The first complete copies don’t come until the 4th century, allowing plenty of time for copying mistakes and alterations.

Matthew

It seems most Biblical textual scholars think that the anonymous author of Matthew lived in a Jewish-Christian community in Roman Syria, and there is evidence to indicate he wrote his book after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The author of Matthew doesn’t identify himself. Toward the end of the second century, a tradition arose that it was written by Matthew the tax collector. This tradition may have originated from comments made by Papias of Hierapolis (approx. 100-140 AD) about someone named Matthew (who he doesn’t identify beyond that) collecting Hebrew sayings and translating them “as best he could” (but he doesn’t relate this directly to what people refer to the Book of Matthew today). The Gospel of Matthew doesn’t show any signs of translation from another language, and most Biblical textual scholars think there were three sources: Mark, a hypothetical earlier source that is lost to us which is referred to as “Q,” and his own sources (or imagination).

Mark

Mark is considered to the oldest gospel by most scholars.

As with Matthew, the author of Mark doesn’t identify himself, and, once again, we have Papias of Hierapolis (writing in the early 2nd century) to thank for crediting it to someone. He credits it to John Mark, a companion of Peter. It seems that odds of association may be somewhat greater here than it was with Matthew, and the more traditional scholars still accept this view. Most modern scholars don’t however (partly because of the author’s use of varied sources), and they consider this book to be of anonymous authorship written in Syria around 66 AD. It does appear to be a major source for both Matthew and Luke.

Everything after Mark 16:8 seems to be highly questionable. Either the story ends with the empty tomb and a young man in a white robe telling Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James), and Salome that Jesus has risen and is “going ahead of you to Galilee” (at which point it says that they “neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid” and that’s where it ends), or the original ending is lost. There are four different endings (additional text after 16:8) found in later transcripts, but there isn’t very good evidence any were original. They seem to be in a different style and use different words than the rest of Mark. It seems to be a question whether the ending at 16:8 is intentional or not, but it appears that some people had a problem with it ending there and decided to add something else on.

Luke

Once again, there isn’t enough evidence to say for sure who wrote Luke, so it must also be considered anonymous. Tradition is that it was written by Luke (the companion of Paul, or the sometime companion of Paul), who was not an eyewitness (and neither was Paul). Whoever wrote it also may have written the Acts of the Apostles, but this can become an argument against it being written by Luke the companion of Paul, since the Book of Acts contradicts the letters of Paul on several points. The sources seem to be Mark and the hypothetical Q source, as well as some sources of his own.

John

Like the others, the authorship of John is anonymous. The author claims to be the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” which could be intended to mean either Peter or John. Most modern scholars today don’t believe either John, Peter, or any other eyewitness wrote it. It appears to have been written in 2-3 different stages over time (possibly by more than one author), being completed around 90-95 AD (or later). It is very different than the first three gospels and shows how the myth grew. Most scholars think it is the least historically reliable and furthest removed in time from the events (the last gospel written), however it appears the version we have today may be the closest of all the gospels to the original document.