Answering
the Jesus Seminar



Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman

After initial media excitement, the Jesus Seminar became an embarrassment, a lot of aging hippies sitting around talking about 'What Jesus means to me.' A field long yearning for respectability had not yet found it. The 'subtractive' school of 'Jesus' studies, which removes most attributes of the full-orbed gospel portrait of Jesus and declares the one remaining feature primitive, led to a proliferation of 'niche' 'Jesus's': the cynic philosopher, the Hebrew holy man, etc. But this 'Jesus of the month' approach soon saturated the market. With relief, the 'Jesus' publishing industry turned to Bart Ehrman: at last, a respectable scholar, who shares the dismissive attitude of the Jesus Seminar to Christianity, but can't be laughed away. Does he deliver the groceries?

Jack Sprat Who Is
Literacy Pagan Readers
Quick Learners Corruption
Thy Word is Settled Happenstance
Handmaids Spelling
Inspired Translations Riches over Poverty
Bible Contradictions Among the Phibionites
Jesus the Jew Slugs and Chimpanzees
Salvation by Child-bearing The Adulterous Woman
Dormitive Faculty Inerrancy
Savage Temper Problem of Evil
Suffering Servant

While he has more respect for plausibility than the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman lacks any sense of how things are connected. He can hear the classicists scoff at their very low estimate of ancient literacy, 2-3%, and so obligingly adjusts the number upward:

"In what is now a classic study, the 1989 book Ancient Literacy, William Harris, professor of ancient history at Columbia University, shows that modern assumptions about literacy simply are not applicable to ancient times. . .Harris argues that in the ancient world, at the very best of times, only about 10 percent of the population was reasonably literate." (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged, pp. 70-71).

Once the foundation stone is removed, can the conclusions which follow therefrom continue to rest in mid-air? Hey, why not! They invented these very low literacy rates in order to be able to conclude that the gospels are late and inauthentic. Ehrman is so lacking in any desire for logical coherence that he is willing to leave the conclusion as an otherwise unsupported scholarly consensus,— scholars agree, the gospels are late and inauthentic,— left over even after the a priori 'cross-cultural' data that formed the basis upon which the conclusion was drawn has been discarded in realization it's indefensible. The better way is to acknowledge that, if ancient literacy rates were as high as the actual evidence suggests, then there is no good reason to assume the gospels are either late or inauthentic. He tries to get some traction out of the bizarre conjecture that many more people could read than write, but would really like to drag the literacy number back down to 2-3%, or even 1%, which is where it has to be for anything these people are saying to be plausible.

The way this author's schtick works is, he suggests some head-turning explanation for a given textual question, say, that the ancients did not know that men and women belong to the same species. Now that's absurd on its face, but it's supposed to be. Weren't people silly back then! The corrective is a return to classical literacy. The 'Jesus' publishing industry would evaporate like the morning dew if the reading public were familiar with the classics:

The participants in the 'Jesus Seminar' hoped to invent a new and improved 'Jesus;' their pride and joy, their prized creation, the 'hippie Jesus,' did catch on in some circles and probably accelerated the flame-out of mainline Christianity. Bart is looking rather to invent a 'Jesus' so lame as to induce the deconversion of Christian young people. He dislikes mythicism, for example, because people just think it's silly:

  • “I myself am an agnostic. I identify both as an agnostic and as an atheist. I completely identify with the humanist agenda. I don't hate Christians and I don't think they're foolish. . . But I do think that if you want to promote a humanist agenda, the best way to do that and the best way to promote conversation is not to advance a position that most people in the world either have never heard of, or when they do hear of it they just think it's silly. And so I think that there are better ways to promote what I take to be the agenda lying beneath it all.”
  • (Robert Price vs. Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? Mythicist Milwaukee 1:51:02-1:51:41).

The issue for this author is not truth and justice, but simply what works to advance the humanist, i.e. atheist, agenda.

Elaine Pagels

This author, with her muddled thinking and political agenda, has set the terms for the contemporary discussion of gnosticism versus Christianity, much to the public's loss.

Silly Season Church Government
Ad Hominem Attack The Big Three
Modified Monotheism Bowdlerization
The Few and the Many The Vatican
Women's Lib Spin Doctoring
Ignatius the God-bearer

Rational classification requires sorting like with like. What could be more unlike than the monotheism of apostolic Christianity and the polytheism of the gnostics? There is a gulf fixed here that cannot be bridged. Except for Ms. Pagels, who finds it easy to bind apostolic Christianity and gnosticism together into the category 'Christianity:'

  • “But the discoveries at Nag Hammadi have upset this picture. If we admit that some of these fifty-two texts represent early forms of Christian teaching, we may have to recognize that early Christianity is far more diverse than nearly anyone expected before the Nag Hammadi discoveries.”
  • (Elaine Pagels, 'The Gnostic Gospels,' p. xxii).

Her later followers like Bart Ehrman go even further. Is gnosticism the original form of the Christian faith, or is it a hybrid between Christianity and Gentile paganism? The gnostics lost their historic competition with Christianity, but some people imagine that contemporary scholarship is the remedy for this misfortune:




The Jesus Seminar


  • "Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you." (p. 5, The Five Gospels).
  • "Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him, according to the Jesus Seminar." (p. 5).
  • "Jesus does not as a rule initiate dialogue or debate, nor does he offer to cure people." (p. 32).
  • "Jesus makes no claim to be the Anointed, the messiah." (p. 32).
  • "Jesus himself did not have specific foreknowledge of his death, although he may have realized the potential danger he incurred by challenging the status quo." (p. 94).
  • "The Jesus Seminar was in general agreement that Jesus did not make chronological predictions about the end of history at all." (p. 114).
  • "A majority of the Fellows doubted, in fact, that Jesus himself was celibate. They regard it as probable that he had a special relationship with at least one woman, Mary of Magdala." (pp. 220-221).
  • "This analogy is then made explicit in setting John the ascetic, who neither ate nor drank, over against Jesus the party animal, who was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, and also a crony of disreputable toll collectors and sinners (which would have included women of questionable reputation)." (p. 303).
  • "While the Fellows agreed that the words did not originate in their present form with Jesus, they nevertheless assigned the words and story [woman taken in adultery] to a special category of things they wish Jesus had said and done." (p. 426).
  • "They hand him [Jesus] a silver coin...In addition, he probably slipped the coin into his purse while they were haggling over what he had told them." (p. 526).

The Jesus Seminar should have taken as watchword, not "Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you", but, more candidly, 'Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to them,' as the "party animal" Jesus they 'found' may be congenial to some, but not to those who own Him as Lord. The habit of remaking Jesus into one's heart's desire, by stripping some of the qualities ascribed to Him by the sources and retaining others, is endemic to this field. Thus the Jesus Seminar discovers a non-judgmental 'hippy' Jesus, as other generations have discovered, or invented, their own 'historical' Jesus. It would seem that Jesus remains, as Haggai called Him, the "desire of nations." (Haggai 2:7).



While Shepherds Watched
While Shepherds watched their flocks by night.


Prophecy Historicized vs. History Prophesied

Secular Biblical scholarship is premised on the notion that prophecy is simply not possible.  Thus, if a Bible text contains a recognizable description of events subsequent to the author's time, why, then, the putative author could not have written it. Thus we hear of 'Deutero-Isaiah'; since Isaiah is a historic figure contemporary with Hezekiah, remarks about Cyrus cannot have been written by him. How, after all, can Isaiah possibly have known anything about Cyrus, a historical figure born centuries later?

Bible believers do not share this assumption. Indeed, Isaiah marked out as the dividing line between the True God and the pagan nothings, that God knew, and could communicate to man, the future: "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,'..." (Isaiah 46:9-10).

God foreknows not only what will happen, but everything that could have happened but never did. It seems to be beyond human comprehension how He could know an infinity of possible worlds, but when you look at scripture, it has to be that way. First of all, He knows what will be: "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." (Acts 15:18).

But not only that, He knows what might have happened...but didn't.  For instance, He answers David, "Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake.  Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant.  And the LORD said, He will come down. Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up. Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth." (1 Samuel 23:10-13; Matthew 11:21).

So God told David what people would do...except that they didn't do it, because forewarned by the prophecy, David skipped town.  So His foreknowledge is so complete as to include those things which would have happened under other circumstances, but never actually happened.  He foreknows all events of all possible worlds.

We, finite creatures bound by time, are like a caterpillar crawling along a twig.  Beneath our myopic gaze lies one little segment; we can only guess at what lies ahead, and reminisce about what lies behind.  But God does not grovel along the twig; He sees the whole complete: the "end from the beginning".

God's foreknowledge does not in and of itself constrain anyone, any more than my perceiving that 'You are sitting in your arm chair' constrains you to sit in the arm chair.  To Him, the entire continuum of past, present and future lies open to gaze. This is precisely what He foreknows, our freely chosen actions: "If then our freedom is preserved, however vast the number of inclinations it has to virtue or to vice and, again, to what is becoming or to what is unbecoming, it, along with everything else from creation and from the foundation of the world will be known to God before it comes to be for what sort of freedom it will be...And so, God's foreknowledge is not the cause of everything that will come to be, even of our freedom when we are made active by our own impulse...But if God takes the order for the governance of the universe from His foreknowledge, then all the more is our individual freedom useful for the ordering of the world." (Origen, On Prayer, Part One, B. VI.3).

It's a free country, and scholars are certainly entitled to reject the very possibility of God communicating future events to man. Great caution should be exercised, however, to avoid circular 'arguments' in which conclusions about dating drawn from the presupposition that prophecy is impossible are then used to rebut the possibility of prophecy; e.g., 'Second Isaiah lived contemporaneously with the events he 'prophesied', therefore there is no such thing as prophecy'.  This begs the question, since the theory that there is such a party as 'Deutero-Isaiah' is premised upon the denial that prophecy is possible.

The assumption that prophecy is simply not possible is indeed widespread in the world of unbelieving Bible scholarship; thus, so far at least the authors are correct in saying, "The scholarship represented by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar is the kind that has come to prevail in all the great universities of the world." (The Five Gospels, p. 35). This Copernican Revolution, of making fulfilled prophecy, not into proof that Jesus is the Messiah as traditionally understood, but rather that Jesus is a myth, goes back to the founders: "But the first and last expedients are purely arbitrary; and if in the alleged analogies there may be some truth, yet it is always incomparably more probable that histories of cures of the lame and paralytic in accordance with messianic expectation, should be formed by the legend, than that they should really have happened." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, p. 457). In other words, if we read in the gospels that the lame walk, fulfilling Isaiah 35:6, we are not entitled to infer that Jesus is the Messiah, rather only that it never happened, because it was prophesied. The lame walking is no doubt a supernatural occurrence, above the normal daily round, and the atheists refuse to believe any such report. Fulfilled prophecies wink out, unmasked as fiction. But this will become downright nutty at the hands of the 'Fellows,' as events in no way supernatural nor even unlikely are likewise declared fictional.

But wait — the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are fully prepared to take it to the next level!  Not only can prophets have no special insight into the future, but actual historic events cannot correspond with prophesy even by coincidence, nor by intent.  So, the manner of Christ's entry into Jerusalem having been prophesied, Jesus cannot have so entered Jerusalem, even though there's nothing supernatural about it at all: "Entry into Jerusalem. The account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is based on Zech 9:9 and Ps 118:26. The story was conceived to fit the prophecies." (The Five Gospels, p. 228). It strains credulity that a man should ride on an ass? A common mode of transport in the day? Why would not a man who thinks he is the Messiah be consciously patterning his behavior in accordance with the prophecies?

This seems to be a generalization of the principle, 'A watched pot never boils.' It's the same type of magical thinking people employ when they say, 'It didn't rain because I brought my umbrella'.  It's as if my saying, 'The Yanks will win the World Series', will 'jinx' them so that they cannot win the World Series, though this otherwise is not an impossible nor a supernatural outcome. The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar actually believe that, Christ's humble entry into Jerusalem having been prophesied, He cannot have so entered Jerusalem...even though that's actually a more economical alternative to entering the city on a richly caparisoned war-horse! People who find some discernible measure of 'rationality' in these measures have not thought the matter through.

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Brick by Brick

"The Fellows generally follow the rule: the simplest is the earliest." (The Five Gospels, p. 63).

Modern secular Bible study starts from an evolutionary perspective that would have gladdened the hearts of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin. Grain by painful grain, the trickling water wears away the stone, until inexorable uniform processes slowly produce visible results.  Thus the Fellows' rule, "the simplest is the earliest."

Even in the fields where that postulate originated, it's been superseded by punctuated equilibrium, the gaps in the fossil record having proven unbridgeable.  And what business did it ever have in the field of religious history, where new sects and movements spring forth like Athena fully formed from the brow of Zeus! No such brick-laying process is observable with those new sects whose origination is open to history.  Did Mary Baker Eddy first timidly propose that folks should pray about sprains; then the successor generation, gaining boldness, recommended prayer for the flu; finally producing the painfully won gains of the third generation, commending prayer for cancer? Of course not; either you have the whole project complete, or not at all.  Who would even have paid attention to a lady commending prayer for sprains?

The nineteenth century answer to the question, 'Where did this new thing come from?' was an adverb, 'gradually.' Even though this answer seems to be a grammatical error, it still works for some people. How was Jesus transformed from a Gentile Cynic Sage into a crucified Jewish Messiah? Why did His followers never notice nor complain at such a dramatic make-over? How could they follow a leader veering so wildly all across the plain? How could such a thing happen? Gradually: "Several observations will help. One would be that these shifts in characterization did not occur precipitously but took place incrementally over time." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 201). This is not an explanation, but seems to reduce the need for an explanation by making the phenomenon difficult to see, like grass growing.

Fish stories expand in the telling, unlike factual histories: "This is because it is always more natural to imagine the story growing in the telling, not shrinking." (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 12). This common historical perspective assumes a new sect is built brick by brick, as a bricklayer would lay a course of bricks, one element at a time. This is one reason they try to spread out the writing of the New Testament over as long a period as possible; to give themselves the several generations which correlate with the vast ages of Lyell and Darwin.

But what evidence is there that it ever works this way? The cargo cults sprang into existence within a few years. Father Divine began preaching that he was god as soon as he discovered the fact. The 'prophet' Elijah Muhammad made the bold claim that Wallace D. Fard was Allah walking around on the street.  Such a bold claim must have taken several generations to work up to, right? Well, no; Fard himself made that claim: "On Wednesday morning, November 23, Fard was apprehended while leaving his hotel room at 1 West Jefferson Street...According to police and press transcripts, Fard identified himself as the 'supreme being on earth' and claimed responsibility for starting the Nation of Islam, assisted by Ugan Ali, who was also arrested." (An Original Man: the Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, Claude Andrew Clegg III, p. 31).  Far from advancing Elijah Muhammad's more esoteric teachings after his death, the sect he founded made a lunge for the Islamic mainstream under his son's leadership. Is there any reason why the Holy Spirit cannot be as bold and quick as His imitators?

To nineteenth century Europeans, it was self-evident that they were the most advanced specimens of humanity on the planet. And, indeed, Zulu spears rarely prevailed against Gatling guns, so if anyone was disposed to argue, they had ways of silencing him. So they adopted a paradigm of 'evolution,' applying it even to the field of religion. And here we must lay out an ascending series, beginning with those other people, and ending with the Northern Europeans. And so, although there was a civilization along the Indus River long before there was anything like that in England, and the Hindus cannot be thought a younger people than the British, it was discovered that polytheism evolves into monotheism. This was counter-intuitive, given that monotheism is simpler than polytheism, but the Northern Europeans were monotheists so there you have it. There was a problem, however, with the Bible. The Bible did not show any evolution from polytheism to monotheism. Certainly as far as you can tell from the Bible, Moses came down the mount a convinced monotheist; but that won't work, we must have the people evolving from polytheism into monotheism. What to do? Cut and paste! And so an entire scholarly field was evolved, the 'Higher Criticism.' It applied the evolutionary paradigm to Israel's history:

"If, then, modern science in general has acted powerfully to dissolve away the theories and dogmas of the older theologic interpretation, it has also been active in a reconstruction and recrystallization of truth; and very powerful in this reconstruction have been the evolution doctrines which have grown out of the thought and work of men like Darwin and Spencer. In the light thus obtained the sacred text has been transformed: out of the old chaos has come order; out of the old welter of hopelessly conflicting statements in religion and morals has come, in obedience to this new conception of development, the idea of a sacred literature which mirrors the most striking evolution of morals and religion in the history of our race. Of all the sacred writings of the world, it shows us our own as the most beautiful and the most precious; exhibiting to us the most complete religious development to which humanity has attained, and holding before us the loftiest ideals which our race has known." (Andrew D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, p. 717).

What a surprise! Israel's history didn't exactly fit into the this Bed of Procrustes, but there is a solution to that problem. There was, of course, no independent evidence that Israel's religious history was any different from that related in the Bible; but, conceiving of the actual history as malleable, they just made it what it had to be, breaking up and rearranging the narrative as needed. And so, monotheism comes along late, like with 'Third Isaiah' or whomever. Why? Because evolutionary theory says polytheism comes first, then it 'evolves' into monotheism. Tell it to the Hindus.

To see the 'brick-by-brick' principle in action: the early church recorded the tradition that Matthew had written his gospel first, and that Mark's gospel was an epitome or digest of this earlier, larger work, prepared by Peter's translator. This understanding was discarded in the nineteenth century, on grounds that. . .Mark's gospel is the shortest, therefore it must be the first:

"One of the most influential attacks on the hypotheses that Mark used Matthew's and/or Luke's Gospel was made by F. H. Woods (1886, 66-67) who says: 'We cannot reasonably account for the remarkable omissions which St. Mark must continually have made, such as the Birth and Childhood of our Lord, the details of the Temptation, the Sermon on the Mount, the full ministerial directions to the Apostles or the Seventy, and above all the accounts of our Lord's appearances after His Resurrection. All these are topics which would have become of increasing interest and importance as the Church grew; and it is extremely unlikely that we should find them in the earlier Gospel, and not in the later.'" (quoted in The Progressive Publication of Matthew, B. Ward Powers, p. 57).

Thus we see that, as is the case with fictional legends, the story must become more detailed as time goes on, not like historical accounts, which lose detail as the eye-witness generation dies off: "I've discovered that the first recollections of the eyewitnesses are usually more detailed and reliable than what they might offer thirty years later." (J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, Kindle location 634). The assumption that the gospels must be like fiction, not historical reminiscence, is built in to modern secular Bible study, where Mark's priority is taken for granted. As with all this material, the discerning reader should beware of circularity: 'We know that the gospel deposit grew in the telling, because Mark wrote first.' And how do we know that Mark wrote first? 'Because his gospel is shortest.'

They sometimes ask, what possible reason could there be for Mark to produce a shorter gospel if Matthew's longer gospel already existed? This is like asking, why are there pamphlets on the table in the church lobby, when surely bigger books have been published on these topics. Meanwhile, the stated rule is nothing like, 'Innovate:' "Keep what thou hast received; thou shalt neither add to it nor take from it." (Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter XIV, Section 22, Wake, William (2012-05-17). Forbidden books of the original New Testament (p. 277). Kindle Edition.)

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Cynicism

"Jesus appears to have much in common with the Cynic teachers who wandered about in the ancient world, offering their sage advice." (p. 317).

Everything old is new again, they say.  But to those who love the Lord, it's less than obvious that He has "much" in common with Cynics like Diogenes: "Diogenes was a primitivist: happiness, he taught, means 'living according to Nature' -- that is, satisfying one's simplest 'natural' wants in the simplest manner.  Desire for anything beyond the minimal bodily satisfactions should be condemned as 'unnatural'; so, too, should any convention that inhibits the satisfaction of the basic requirements...Diogenes conveyed his principles by bon-mots and drastic action (for example, by masturbating in public to show how simply one's sexual desires can be satisfied)." (Anthony Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 82).

  • “These themes point to a way of life that historians recognize as a pattern of behavior highly recommended by popular philosophers during the hellenistic and Greco-Roman periods. Q1 enjoins a practical ethic of the times widely known as Cynic.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 114).

No doubt the 'Fellows' understand the Cynics to have been hippies, and thus soul-mates to their "party animal" Jesus.

"And the Socratic Antisthenes writes of the necessity of not abandoning what is called adultery. And even his disciple Diogenes, did not he freely associate with Lais, for the hire of carrying her on his shoulders in public?" (Clementine Homilies, Homily 5, Chapter 18).

By contrast, Jesus said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28). The Jesus of the gospels is a teacher who rules against divorce for His people, whereas the Cynics wanted it known that satisfying one's desires is as simple as visiting a brothel; no need to enter into entangling social alliances, despite every snare the 'Family Values' crowd sets to entangle the feet of the enlightened one. The solons of the 'Jesus Seminar,' however, have discovered seldom-seen 'puritanical' Cynics: "Some Cynics rejected all moral conventions, while others were puritanical." (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 213). Did Jesus reject all moral conventions? No, but they wish He had.

What was the first commandment, in Jesus' reckoning?: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:29). Did the Cynics share His perception that worshipping the one true and living God comes before all things? Or did they distrust and even mock the gods, whom they assumed to be plural:

"It was a proper answer, then, that Antisthenes used to give them when they asked alms of him: 'I do not support the mother of the gods; that is the gods' business.'" (Antisthenes, Frag. 70 Mullach, Frag. phil. Graec. ii., p. 169 Loeb Edition, Clement of Alexandria).
“Diogenes, when asked what was taking place in heaven, answered by saying, 'I have never been up there.'” (Tertullian, To the Gentiles, Book 2, Chapter 2, p. 238 ECF).

When someone drew Diogenes the Cynic's attention to the votive offerings at Samothrace, his reply called into question the religious enterprise itself:

"When some one expressed astonishment at the votive offerings in Samothrace, his comment was, 'There would have been far more, if those who were not saved had set up offerings.'" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Book VI, Chapter 2, 59)

Although the Cynics were not much impressed with religion, the 'Jesus Seminar' is impressed with them:

  • “Though it is not hard to produce numerous examples of Jewish proverbial wisdom that counsel us to trust in God like the rest of his creatures do, the gospel admonitions to renounce family and property and livelihood are paralleled only in Cynicism. They are so close as practically to demand a genetic relationship.”
  • (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 214).

Um. . .where is the parallel between giving things up for the sake of the kingdom of God, and evading responsibility to secure one's own good pleasure? What's missing in Cynicism is God, or any desire to serve God, or honor His law. Diogenes Laertius reports that his Cynic namesake "advocated community of wives" and "saw no impropriety" in "stealing anything from a temple." (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Book VI, Chapter 2, 72-73). The 'scratch what itches' character of Cynic sexual morality is reflected in Diogenes' saying, "'Go into a brothel, my lad, that you may see the little difference between vice and virtue.'" (Plutarch, Moral Essays, On Education, Section vii., Kindle Location 207 of 8561). So here we have a 'Jesus' domesticated, a truly modern 'Jesus' who mocks religion and takes an easy-going view of human sexuality. And, like wow, the best modern 'scholarship' has discovered that He was really just exactly like that.

In the 1960's and 1970's along came the hippies, who proposed to parasitize an affluent society, whose abundance permitted enough crumbs to fall from its well-stocked tables to give a living to bottom-feeders. One of the hippies even wrote a book entitled, 'Steal this Book.' The Cynics were aiming for a similar niche. They did not want to build a community, they wanted to be independent of the community:

"In fact, as injustice is ordinarily committed in matters relative to bonds for money and the acquisition of wealth, it would be natural that the people living so frugally on such small property should be called the justest of mankind: and the more so as the philosophers who place justice next to moderation, aim at independence of others and frugality as amongst the most desirable objects of attainment; from which however some, having passed the bounds of moderation, have wandered into a cynical [κυνισμος] mode of life." (Strabo, Geography, Book VII, Chapter III, Section 4, Volume I, p. 455).

A 'Jesus' who aims at "independence of others," atheism and sexual libertinism? That's the magic of modern 'Jesus' 'scholarship,' you can have any kind of 'Jesus' you like, even the 'hippie Jesus.' "They did that by creating a social space where it was okay to misbehave." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 12). John Dominic Crossan assures us, speaking of Jesus and His first followers, "they were hippies in a world of Augustan yuppies." (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 198). Whatever. Who could have predicted, the scholarly consensus among aging hippies is that Jesus was a hippie:


Sequence Protestant Miracles
Not God Foolish Obsession
Truth in Advertising Layers
Perjury The Least of These
Cynicism John the Baptist
Noble Warrior It's All Good
Gross Out The Nations



As if to underscore the utter stasis of this field of inquiry and its inability to make progress in any direction, we've lost our 'Make Love not War' Jesus; the latest fad is a return to the 'Failed Revolutionary' Jesus so beloved of old-line Socialists like Karl Kautsky. These two reductive schemes yield an almost perfect disjunction. In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Reza Aslan accuses the opposing camp of tailoring the evidence to fit their theory:

"Other scholars take this argument one step further and claim that the 'cleansing' incident never even happened, at least not as it has been recorded by all four gospel writers, because it so contrasts with Jesus's message of peace. . .Once again this seems like a classic case of scholars refusing to accept an obvious reality that does not fit into their preconceived Christological conceptions of who Jesus was and what Jesus meant." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, p. 263).

So do they, but so does he also. Jesus the Zealot? Was, wasn't: "The Jesus people were not organizing to fight Roman power or to reform Jewish religion." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 120). In fact this whole field is infected by the disease of allowing theory to determine its own evidence; if a documented fact conflicts with the author's pet theory, then it never happened! Could any theory ever be disconfirmed, if it is allowed to rule out contrary evidence? This is why no theory ever is disconfirmed in this field, instead they pass in and out of fashion. 'Scholars agree' is the mantra of the 'Jesus' publishing industry; but just wait five years, they'll get bored with the current fad and things will change.

It is not very likely a devotee of the 'Failed Revolutionary' Jesus will be able to persuade a fan of the 'Cynic Sage' Jesus to jump ship, inasmuch as the evidence to which each points is precisely the evidence which the other discards. Surely, though, someone needs to assess the plausibility of taking on the Roman legions with a squadron of eleven men equipped with two swords. They will need to form a narrow phalanx with a two-man front; but what if the Romans attack from the sides?




I am He

"In addition, these are I-sayings, which most of the Fellows doubt can be attributed to Jesus: it was uncharacteristic of him to speak of himself in the first person." (The Five Gospels, p. 343).

Thus the 'Fellows'. But to go by the recollection of Jesus' own followers, He just couldn't stop with the "I-sayings": "You are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24).  Oh, but Jesus did not say that.  And what is the evidence that Jesus did not say that?  Because it's an "I-saying", and "I-sayings" are "uncharacteristic" of Jesus. The proof that "I-sayings" are "uncharacteristic" of Jesus is, of course, the fact that He did not actually say all the mass of "I-sayings" reported of Him...as may be proven by the fact that "I-sayings" are "uncharacteristic" of Him.


Man, Therefore Not God Perjury
The Peasants Are Restless The Vineyard
Empty Tomb Docetism
Just-So Stories The First-born
Theism



Harmony

"Luke invents new words for Jesus to say: 'Go and prepare the Passover so we may eat.' This is irrefragable evidence that the evangelists do not hesitate to create words for Jesus to speak in their narratives." (The Five Gospels, p. 387).

Skeptics find a 'Bible contradiction' wherever one author reports Jesus as speaking words not recorded by another.  A 'newspaper contradiction' of like type might be found if, say, one paper reports Mr. Lincoln as having said, on the occasion of the Battle of Gettysburg, "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."  But a rival paper runs the quote, "But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground."  Since this blatant contradiction cannot be resolved, we are forced to conclude that Mr. Lincoln was a fictional character.

Book Market

In our contemporary book market, reminiscences by insiders are at at premium. If I sat down and penned a book, 'The Lady Diana I Never Knew,' how likely would I be to find a publisher? Since I never made Princess Diana's acquaintance, I'd not have many personal anecdotes to offer the public. Biographies are mostly written, nowadays, either by those with first-hand information about the subject, or by professional biographers and historians thought competent to tackle the job of sifting through the first-hand accounts.

To hear it from the 'Jesus Seminar', you'd think the ancient book market worked in reverse. They claim the gospels were penned by people who'd never met the Lord, nor knew anyone who did. But I can find no evidence that the ancient book market worked any differently than does the modern in this regard. The books about Alexander the Great were written by a.) insiders, or b.) professional historians. Although the ancient book market was not structured the same way economically as our own, writing a widely-read book opened income opportunities for an author then just as now. No one then wanted to read 'The Alexander I Never Knew,' just as no one now wants to read 'The Diana I Never Knew.'

Very early in the second century Pliny is reporting a wide diffusion of the Christian faith: "The contagion of that superstition has penetrated not only the cities but also the villages and country places..." (Pliny the Younger, letter to Trajan). So there must have been a demand while the eye-witness generation was yet alive for first-hand accounts, which were as valued in the ancient world as today. And unless 'the historical Jesus' lived alone in a cave, there must have been people who could meet the public's demand for speakers offering first-hand reminiscences of His life.

What would stop his inner circle from availing themselves of these opportunities? Surely the apostles were not motivated by greed in setting out on the speaking circuit; these brave men were faithful unto death, leaving no doubt as to the purity of their motives. Nevertheless it would have taken considerable self-denial for them to choose fishing instead. Why would these men have chosen to remain toiling at difficult and demanding physical occupations when the main chance came their way? They brought to market just what the public wanted: first-hand accounts of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yet the Jesus Seminar insists that no such accounts were ever offered to the eager public, only accounts by people who did not know the Lord and knew no one who had. Did the profit motive not operate in antiquity?

When Paul talked with Peter, what are they likely to have talked about but the Lord? They can't have argued all the time: "But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed." (Galatians 2:11). That letter was written before any of our four gospels was penned; some of Paul's letters are among the earliest documents in the New Testament. Perhaps it's from Peter that Paul knew of sayings of the Lord not recorded in our gospels, like "I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35).

When Paul's traveling companion Luke is preparing his gospel, he already has access to "many" written sources: "Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word..." (Luke 1:1).

Ancient authors talk about a book market: "He [Zeno] went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller's shop, being then a man of thirty." (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Volume II, Book VII, Chapter 1, 2). But modern secular Bible scholars have ascertained that there was no ancient book market...because most everyone was illiterate! Is this what the classical authors themselves say?


A Priori Desiderata
Reality It Takes a Village
School-houses Quintilian
Public Library Grants to Education
Normalcy Hellenic Civilization
Voting Child of Destiny
Liberal Education Old Deluder
A Father Set Free Caius and Caia
Down on the Farm Learned Slaves
Women's Literacy Enlightened Audience
Fame and Fortune The Public
Sign-board Fair Warning
Inscriptions Spare No Pains
Those Left Out Shorthand
Caesar's Army Small Print
Writing on the Wall Ordinary
Believe it or Not Barbarians
Balance



Garbage In, Garbage Out

Secular historians take denial of any possibility of supernatural occurrences as starting premise for doing history.  This has long been proposed as the correct starting premise, not a conclusion derived from the study of history: "In his view, historians who employ proper methods do not emerge from the examination of history with the discovery that no miracles have occurred, but rather bring to the study of history the certain knowledge that none has occurred." (Raymond Martin, The Elusive Messiah, p. 31). This presumed impossibility of the miraculous is a widespread assumption underlaying modern critical scholarship of the gospels: "Bultmann explained that 'this closedness means that the continuum of historical happenings cannot be rent by the interference of supernatural, transcendent powers and that therefore there is no "miracle" in this sense of the word.'" (Raymond Martin, The Elusive Messiah, p. 43).

While historians may begin their quest with whatever presuppositions they like, care should be taken to avoid circularity.  Often this denial of the supernatural which is in fact the starting premise of modern critical scholarship is reported as if it were the conclusion of the enterprise, founded on some imagined physical or documentary evidence.  This is the logical fallacy known as petitio principii, i.e., begging the question. The fuss kicked up by the Jesus Seminar's color-coding derives from the popular assumption that 'scholars' must base their conclusions upon evidence. This assumption is unwarranted in this case.



  • “This 'higher criticism' has been the pretext for introducing all the anti-historical monstrosities that a vain imagination could suggest. Here we have the other method of making the past a living reality; putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data; fancies whose merit is measured by their boldness, that is, the scantiness of the particulars on which they are based, and the peremptoriness with which they contravene the best established facts of history.”
  • (G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of History, Introduction, Kindle location 316).




Last but not least of this crowd comes John Dominic Crossan. This former Roman Catholic priest was one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar. He stands out from the pack. Up to this point many of these authors are well to the south of mediocre; they annoy the reader with their smug parroting of ignorant platitudes. Crossan, on the other hand, is a intelligent and engaging writer. Nevertheless it remains true that there is no more incoherent and irrational set of ideas than the kind of 'liberal' Christianity that this author, and others of his tribe, are peddling: they believe there is a God, kind of maybe, but not that He can do anything like a miracle; that would be unscientific. Crossan's 'Jesus' is a "peasant revolutionary" (John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? p. 212):




What is most distinctive about Crossan is his very dark, science fiction, evil empire depiction of Rome. He wants it understood that this 'honor-and-shame' society never felt anything for the slave but contempt. It is ironic that these university radicals are looking to the dusty hills of Palestine for what they'll never find there, when there were people in Rome who saw the world just as they do, near-Bolsheviks like Catiline the would-be incendiary. What is even stranger is that it was Catiline and Clodius who won, over the republicans who despised them. Their soul-mates were running the world, which oddly enough, was not a paradise. Julius Caesar was the radicals' champion, though I suppose you could say, he sold them out. Or rather he got killed. At any rate it was a hollow victory; once the military autocrats had used the radical levellers as stepping-stones to reach power, they had no further use for them. Still it's strange that Crossan can't tell his friends from his enemies. What he thinks were radical notions that could get you killed were platitudes, like that the slave is a human being. Plautus' 'The Captives' gives us a father, Hegio, searching for his long-lost son swallowed up into slavery, without realizing the slave he has just dispatched to the quarries is this very son. His son comes near to enunciating the Golden Rule, though as an expression of personal devotion, not as a general rule by which to treat everybody: ". . .and to prove it, sir, I swear by God Almighty that I'll never be unfaithful to Philocrates. . .or ever act any differently by him than I would by my own self." (Philocrates, in Plautus, The Captives, lines 426-428). . .and since the speaker is Philocrates, you can take it to the bank. How do you get something like the Jesus Seminar? Allow classical education to collapse; then the world of antiquity becomes a blank slate, which anyone can fill in with their fantasies. If imagination fails, then employ the 'cross-cultural' approach, and substitute someplace else, like medieval Japan or imperial China. It's not like anyone nowadays would notice the difference!

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Modern Times




Uniformitarianism

Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth to be utterly unique:

"No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." (John 1:18).

Jesus Himself claimed to be the only way to God:

"All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. " (Matthew 11:27).
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6).

The secular study of history proceeds on the premise of uniformitarianism: that things happen today as they have ever happened. The Christian proclamation of a unique event: the incarnation of God in a man, Jesus of Nazareth, an event not repeated in every town, in every generation, but once for all, does not fit easily into the historian's premise of uniformity. This premise is the starting point from which the historian proceeds, not a conclusion for which he can adduce proofs. This methodological principle is not an order given by the historian to the world, because the world cannot be expected to conform itself to orders given by historians, but an instruction on how to proceed the historian gives to himself.

That history always follows the same course cannot be demonstrated. If God can freely intervene in human history, then His very freedom introduces discontinuity. But strangely enough, it would mean much progress in this field of study if historians hewed to their own principle, instead of imagining antiquity as a never-never land in which people behave in a way no one has ever seen people behave. Actually adopting and, for once, adhering to the principle of uniformitarianism would free secular Bible study from its arbitrary starting principle, inherited from its parent unitarianism, that Jesus cannot possibly have claimed to be God:

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Prince of Tyre Salmoneus
Phya, the Tall Woman Saturn, King of Italy
Empedocles Zalmoxis
Menecrates Amulius
Demetrius Apsethus
Jesus of Nazareth Simon the Samaritan
Epiphanes, son of Carpocrates Little Gods
Jewish Messiahs Gaius Caesar
The Khlysty Muslim Gods
Wallace D. Fard Father Divine
Jim Jones The Maharaj Ji
Draftees Romulus
Apollonius of Tyana



Odd Gods

On the theme that a little more uniformitarianism would cure secular Bible study of its ills:

  • “Pythagoras of Samos, the son of Mnesarchus, said that God is the unit, and that nothing has come into being apart from this...He also commanded his disciples to maintain silence for five years, and in the end pronounced himself a god.”
  • (Epiphanius, De Fide VII, 9,12).

Certainly if God became man, there would be nothing unexpected in His saying so. People report facts known to them all the time. This is what is open to the historian's inspection: that the claim has been made. The background in the heavenlies is veiled to his gaze. And this claim is by no means uncommon. Just as Simon Magus' Samaritan followers let on that he was the "great power of God:" "'But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, 'This man is the great power of God.'" (Acts 8:9-10), so in the latter day Father Divine's devotees spoke.

Amongst claimants to deity are ranked Wallace D. Fard, who made this claim in an interview with the Detroit Police, and Yahweh ben Yahweh, currently incarcerated. Most of the persons who make this claim are deranged. Those close to Jesus, going with the odds, initially thought so as well: "But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, 'He is out of His mind.'" (Mark 3:21).

A noteworthy contribution to contemporary Jesus scholarship is 'Jesus the Jew,' by Geza Vermes, which proceeds on the principle that Jesus cannot have claimed to be God, or indeed anything or anyone unusual, because then He would have been atypical. Nor could His followers have made this claim on His behalf, because then they would have been out of the ordinary:

"A final word must be said about the bridging of the gulf between son of God and God. None of the Synoptic Gospels try to do this. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to contend that the identification of a contemporary historical figure with God would have been inconceivable to a first-century AD Palestinian Jew. It could certainly not have been expressed in public, in the presence of men conditioned by centuries of biblical monotheistic religion...Whether Jesus himself would have reacted with stupefaction, anger or grief, can never be known." (Jesus the Jew, Geza Vermes, pp. 212-213.)



The gospels records indicate that Jesus and His followers did not receive the kind of unanimous acceptance that can reasonably be anticipated for the ordinary and unremarkable. Jesus was crucified, Stephen was stoned, Paul imprisoned. So perhaps Mr. Vermes does have a point in suggesting that the claims they made were not such as would receive immediate or automatic acceptance. To assert that no such claim can ever have been made is, of course, unhistorical, given that such claims are made in the present day by inheritors of "centuries of biblical monotheistic religion" such as Father Divine and Wallace D. Fard. Jesus differs from the many other claimants to this title known to documented history only in the truth of His claim.


Family Grandiose Religious Delusion
Zero Sum James the Just
Bishop John Shelby Spong Ockham's Razor



Claimants to deity were of course common amongst the pagans; Herodotus records cases of outrageous imposture. They are also found in the monotheistic fold. The Druze even call themselves 'mowahhidun,' 'monotheists:' "The main actors were Tariq al-Hakeem, also known as al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the Caliph who claimed to be God, and Hamza bin Ali ibn Ahmad, the main architect of the movement. It was Hamza who first publicly proclaimed that al-Hakim was God. al-Hakeem was opposed by orthodox Muslims for what was considered apostasy...Because the Druze considered Tariq al-Hakeem to be the incarnation of God, they were persecuted by orthodox Muslims, especially after al-Hakeem's death in 1021." (Wikipedia, Article 'Druze.') Though 'official' Islam is hostile to deifying human beings, the trend persists: "To this day there is a sect known as the Aliallahi in Iraq and Iran that divinizes Ali." (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Heart of Islam, p. 77.)

If we are expected to believe that a Jew cannot claim to be God, then what about all the other Jews who have claimed to be God, like Jacob Frank, the eighteenth century Polish Messianic aspirant who claimed to be the second person of the Trinity? Sabbatai Sevi, a seventeenth century Messianic claimant, signed letters as "the Lord your God:"

"Shabbetai Zevi signed these pronouncements as the 'firstborn son of God,' 'your father Israel,' 'the bridegroom of the Torah,' and other high-flown titles; even when he started signing some of his letters 'I am the Lord your God Shabbetai Zevi' only a few of the believers seem to have been shocked." (Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 262)

Several of these latter-day claimants, whether in imitation of Christianity or by way of re-inventing the wheel based on Old Testament Messianic texts, rediscovered God's triunity: "Some time before his death Shabbetai Zevi dictated a longer version of this doctrine. . .institut[ing] a kind of kabbalistic trinity, called in zoharic terms the 'three bonds of the faith.' It consisted of The Ancient Holy One (Attika kaddisha), The Holy King (Malka kaddisha), also called the God of Israel, and his Shekhinah." (Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 269). These individuals too were "conditioned by centuries of biblical monotheistic religion." Flatly to rule out the possibility that persons in the past declared themselves divine cannot be reconciled with a uniformitarian approach to history.

It isn't to discredit Jesus that I bring up the numerous also-rans. The existence of counterfeit money does not prove there is no real money, but the contrary. Rather, when author Geza Vermes rules out the possibility that Jesus claimed what contemporary observers report He did claim, he is not writing as a historian, but as a devotee. History does not record that men "conditioned by centuries of biblical monotheistic religion" cannot claim to be God. This author, however, finds the claim inappropriate.

One well-known contemporary figure who has been dipping his toe in the divinization pool is the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who has made eye-catching claims both on behalf of a son who died in an auto accident and on his own behalf: "The Reverent Moon's hubris culminated later that year in a secret ceremony in which he actually crowned himself and Hak Ja Han Moon as Emperor and Empress of the Universe. Preparations for the lavish, clandestine event at Belvedere took months and hundreds of thousands of dollars." (In the Shadow of the Moons, Nansook Hong, p. 148). It is unclear in what tradition Rev. Moon should be classed; perhaps those who found their own assemblies, like Rev. Moon,--or, for that matter, like Jesus,--are most efficiently classed under their own new religion.

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A Cat Can Look at a King

My late cat Velma was a huntress. Her interest in this activity surfaced very early in life; in fact I named her 'Velma' after Velma Barfield, the notorious serial killer. Bowing to necessity, I made no effort to impede her safaris; my only request was that she not drag her triumphs into the home. 'Nature red in tooth and claw' belongs outdoors, I explained, not in the living room. By dint of much yelling and screaming I succeeded in communicating to Velma my feelings on the matter; but these feelings Velma was not willing to honor. In spite of having every reason to respect the opinions of the humans about her, who controlled her food supply, her living conditions, and were much bigger than she, Velma stuck to her guns. Her only concession to my sentiments was to adopt the rubric, 'don't do it while she's looking.'

Perhaps Velma looked to the day when Mom would finally 'get' how cool it was to drag a still-warm, bloody rodent on triumphal march across the living room rug. In any case it never occurred to her to subordinate her opinions in the matter to mine. This independence of judgment, claimed by the pea-brained cat, is denied by Bible scholars to those human beings who lived and struggled in Bible times. For example, Moses cannot have been a monotheist, they explain, because most of the people who lived in that day were polytheists. If Moses were a monotheist, he would have differed from the norm. Therefore, those monotheist sayings the Bible ascribes to Moses' authorship cannot have been spoken by him, but by latter-day scribes whose identity is unknown. It is a curious corollary of this concept that, while originality is denied root and branch to those persons you may have heard of, such as Jesus, Paul, Moses, etc., no amount of originality is denied to persons no one has heard of: the anonymous scribes who are proposed by this theory as the source of all novelty. 'Das volk' live on: "They had gotten along quite nicely with anonymous and collective literary production, with only the voice of a mythic Jesus ringing in their ears." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 200).

We all have known enthusiasts who insisted up to their last breath that the income tax is unconstitutional, that Anastasia lives, that the great tragedy of history is that Trotsky was assassinated, etc. My own late father alleged that people from outer space had built the pyramids, information which, he claimed, he had seen on TV. According to Bible scholars, no such persons existed in Bible times. We also know those resembling the New Yorker cartoon character who, amidst passers-by wearing t-shirts proclaiming causes like 'Save the Whales,' sported a t-shirt reading 'I Couldn't Agree More.' According to Bible scholars, this Mr. Milquetoast-type was the only form of humanity found in Bible times; the wayward juvenile, the child throwing a temper tantrum, the crank, did not exist; the only existent humans sought to conform their views to prevailing currents.

To add to the peculiarity of this view, if we adopt the consensus modern view of chronology (somewhat later than the Bible's own dating), then Moses flourished after Akhenaton's monotheistic reform had crashed and burned. Moses, brought up in Pharaoh's daughter's household, must have been aware of this signal event in Egyptian history. Some theologians in Akhenaton's employ offered ambiguous and inadequate expressions of monotheism, others offer perfectly acceptable expressions. This means that, to preserve the theory of Moses as polytheist or henotheist, these Bible scholars must assume that Moses was aware of, but made a conscious decision to reject, monotheism in favor of polytheism!

This imputation of a characteristic to the humanity of Bible times: blind and universal conformity,-- which no living observer has reported seeing in the humanity we see about us, is, again, an offense against the premise of uniformitarianism.

Chaos Monster

Modern Bible scholars reveal a 'Chaos Monster' described in the Bible. One can, as Bible-believing Christians do, read the Bible over and over again without encountering her. But she must be there, after all, because a 'Chaos Monster' is found in Babylonian mythology, and if no 'Chaos Monster' were found in the Bible, the Bible would be different from Babylonian mythology, rather than the same.

"On occasion (Isa. 51:9-11) there is linked to a reference to the Exodus (vs. 10) an allusion to the ancient creation myth (vs. 9), in which the god (in the Babylonian version, Marduk) cleft asunder the Chaos Monster (in the Babylonian version, Tiamat; but here in the west Semitic form, Rahab) in order to create the world. It is as if the prophet wished to say, in poetic language, that the struggle with primeval chaos begun at creation, and again taken up in the Exodus when God created for himself a people, is once more to be resumed." (John Bright, The Kingdom of God, p. 140)

Strangely enough for a primeval 'Chaos Monster,' 'Rahab' is listed as a place amongst places: "I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there." (Psalm 87:4). It is unclear how a man can be born in a primeval 'Chaos Monster,' though a man can easily be born in a place. Coinage shows that the crocodile, a real, not a mythological beast, was the emblem of Egypt, much as the bear is the emblem of Russia today. Exodus records the struggle, not between God and a primeval 'Chaos Monster,' but between God and Egypt, whose emblem is the crocodile. Isaiah 30:7 applies the title to Egypt: "For Egypt’s help is worthless and empty, therefore I have called her, 'Rahab who sits still.'" (Isaiah 30:7 NRSV). Although it certainly sounds like Rahab the crocodile is Egypt, if we so understand her, then where is our primeval 'Chaos Monster,' without whom the Bible would differ from Babylonian mythology?




George Washington

Raised in an irreligious environment, I grew up believing the Bible to be a collection of childish myths. The first Bible I owned was a Jerusalem Bible with elaborate notes. When reading a section of the Pentateuch, I would carefully peruse the information provided explaining which of the four authors cited had produced this material. Call me naive, I naturally assumed there must be in existence manuscripts which include some of this material but not the rest; why else would the editors impose upon their readers in this fashion? Imagine my surprise when I discovered there exists no manuscript incorporating any of this material which lacks the remainder. Rather, the text was divvied up on the basis of the different names of God employed.

I wondered if this theory had been properly tested with modern material whose authorship could be reliably ascertained. Consider, for instance, George Washington's First Inaugural Address, which cites, in order, "...it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe...", then "In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good...", next "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men...", then "...distinguished by some token of providential agency...", on to "...since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained...", then "...but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication...", wrapping up with, "so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous..." (George Washington, First Inaugural Address, delivered April 30, 1789.) This very brief address, which is not concerned with topics in theology, contains no fewer than five distinct divine titles.

It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that theories of this sort find a receptive audience, not because their verity is established by credible and sufficient evidence, but because they seem very 'daring' to persons who, unlike myself, are of a religious background. These people care passionately about the Bible and about Jesus in a way that no scholar really cares about Homer. The efforts of this class of scholars, of whom the Jesus Seminar is the most egregious example, serve to manufacture a Jesus with whom they can come to terms, who is no threat to their sense of themselves. Because there is no reason to think that the Jesus of history was someone with whom these people can come to terms, their efforts are properly categorized under the head of Bad Religion rather than scholarship.

Jeane Dixon

Jeane Dixon was a self-styled 'psychic' who spoke with Parade Magazine in 1956: "As for the 1960 election Mrs. Dixon thinks it will be dominated by labor and won by a Democrat. But he will be assassinated or die in office though not necessarily in his first term." (Quoted at Suburban Myths web-site). According to the methodology used in modern Bible study, this information cannot have been published in Parade Magazine in 1956, because it actually happened. Therefore it was published subsequent to the assassination. This 'discovery' in its turn 'proves' that it is impossible to predict the future.

Ms. Dixon, who fearlessly predicted this and many other events, was wrong so often as to richly satisfy the Biblical criteria for a false prophet. Yet even a false prophet cannot be wrong all the time. A false prophet calling coin tosses cannot call them all wrong; after all the odds are 50-50. If our false prophet draws also upon native shrewdness, then he or she might make a career of calling President elections.

Yet, believe it or not, this is just how they do it. Suppose a text contains a prediction that the temple at Jerusalem will be destroyed. This text is therefore dated subsequent to 70 A.D., because this is when the temple was in fact destroyed. Not only do these scholars not believe in prophecy, they do not believe in statistics. They are assuming all Christian prophecy must be 100% wrong all the time; otherwise how could a successful prediction be used as a dating device? Yet it is simply not possible for any attempt at prophecy: not guessing at random, not newspaper horoscopes, not Chinese fortune-cookies,-- to be 100% wrong all the time.

Criterion of Dissimilarity


  • “How might we account for traditions of Jesus that clearly do not fit with a 'Christian' agenda, that is, that do not promote the views and perspectives of the people telling the stories? Traditions like that would not have been made up by the Christian storytellers, and so they are quite likely to be historically accurate. This is sometimes, confusingly, called the 'criterion of dissimilarity.' Any tradition of Jesus that is dissimilar to what the early Christians would have likely wanted to say about him is more likely authentic.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Jesus, Interrupted,' p. 154).


  • “...the earliest form of a saying we can read may be regarded as authentic if it can be shown to be dissimilar to characteristic emphases both of ancient Judaism and of the early Church.”
  • (The Jesus of Heresy and History, John Dart, p. 151)


No one is surprised to see hot dogs fly off the assembly line at the meat-packing plant, because the machinery is geared to produce hot dogs. This criterion is a machine geared to produce a 'Jesus' unrecognizable to the church.


Criterion of Dissimilarity 153 Fishes
Dionysus, Mithras et al The Supernatural
Gospel of Mark Authorship
Nothing Human Here Magic Mushrooms
Second Chance Unimaginable
No Evidence Osiris
Daily Planet Cherry-Picking



The 'Criterion of Dissimilarity' works like so: to find the 'historical Martin Luther,' we subtract from the recorded words of Luther what is compatible with later Lutheran belief, and also whatever a random German Christian living in a world emerging from the medieval dream might be likely to say. But subtracting this material leaves little or nothing. Therefore, Martin Luther did not exist. Although of course no one does this to Martin Luther, that would be absurd!

On reading Robert Price's objections to Christianity, a reader might be forgiven for thinking he is in the presence of a hyper-rationalistic critic, who sets the bar very high for proof. But then, encountering his positive presentation of his own interpretations, the reader realizes this person is not rational at all:

  • “Paul never describes the crucifixion as a mundane execution at the hands of earthly governing authorities, though of course nothing he says rules out that possibility. What he does say is that Jesus was done to death by the rulers or archons of this aeon, the principalities and powers. Mythicists infer that the author of these epistles was writing at a time when Christians believed in a celestial man of light who had not appeared on the earth to teach and heal and die on a Roman cross, but who had been ambushed and slain by the demonic entities inhabiting the lower heavens. As we read in various surviving gnostic texts, this death would have occurred in the primordial past. His slayers harvested the sparks of his light body and used them to seed the inert mud-pie creations of the Demiurge, imparting life and motion to them, beginning with Adam. Thus the death of the primal light man turned out to be a life-giving sacrifice, just like that of the Vedic Parusha.”
  • (Debate, Robert Price vs. Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? Mythicist Milwaukee, 57:00-58:06).

We know this because Paul does not mention Pontius Pilate. If the author criticizes Christianity from a stance of hyper-rationalism, but his own positive views display abject lunacy, it does not appear that reason is really the issue at all. Have you heard of the Hairball God?:

"Let me just say that I don't think they had to invent a crucified Messiah, because I believe that the righteous Davidic King is a scaled down version of what was originally in ancient Israel the myth of the sacred king, who was God's representative on earth, could even be called God, and went through annually the myth of how Yahweh became king of the gods, by killing the Chaos dragons, being devoured, and emerging alive again and then taking the throne of the gods and creating the world." (Debate, Robert Price vs. Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? 1:05:44-1:06:23).

What could be more rational than a god spat up by the Chaos dragons? Is Christian belief really so ineradicable that it is necessary to resort to such devices to expunge it?

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Ernest Renan

I've added Ernest Renan's 'Life of Jesus' to the Thriceholy library, so that readers may discover in this unitarian devotional work the motives and thought-patterns underlying modern Bible scholarship. When Renan intones of John's gospel, "The spirit of Jesus is not there," does his bias follow from historical evidence, or betray a theological preference?: "Jesus never once gave utterance to the sacrilegious idea that he was God." (Chapter 5, The Life of Jesus, Ernest Renan). A fine 'scientific' endeavor, which proceeds to deduce historical 'fact' from what is imagined to be "sacrilegious"!

Ernest Renan
The Life of Jesus

The effort to shoe-horn unitarianism into first century non-Christian Jewish thought finds no support in the surviving literary remains of that era. However first century Jewish theology is to be categorized, 'unitarian' is not it:




In general, what the Bible critics do might be better classified as 'bad religion' than any form of scholarship. They delete unwanted material from the Bible, why? Because it conflicts with their prior religious convictions. For instance, are angels silly?:

"What had the angels to do in this scene ? Matthew tells us: to roll away the stone from the grave; on which it has already been remarked by Celsus, that according to the orthodox presupposition, the Son of God could find no such aid necessary for this purpose. . .Hence, nothing remains but to say: the angels belonged to the embellishment of the great scene, as celestial attendants who had to open to the Messiah the door by which he meant to issue forth; as a guard of honour on the spot from which the once dead had just departed with recovered life. But here occurs the question: does this species of pomp exist in the real court of God, or only in the childish conception formed of it by antiquity?"
(Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George (2014-02-07). The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 20825-20837) . Kindle Edition.)

But does anyone have reason to care that the German rationalists found angels "childish"? There is no special reason to believe we are the only intelligent creatures in existence. Why should the Bible be rewritten, with offending material withdrawn, to accommodate this arbitrary preference? Cults always maintain their own exegetical enterprise; no one is surprised that the Jehovah's Witnesses devote substantial effort to their own research, though it is of limited interest to outsiders. These people are cult leaders without portfolio: "And just as the believer is intrinsically a skeptic or critic, so, on the other hand, the critic is intrinsically a believer." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Concluding Dissertation, p. 757). No kidding! Their endeavors are no more impartial or of general interest than those of the Watchtower Society, and the quality control is just about on par. From the viewpoint of this savant, the problem with conventional Christianity is that it considers God to have become incarnate in a particular man, which must be reconfigured to 'mankind,' just as the serpent hissed to Eve. How to transform singular into plural? Recast the gospel as myth, where this transaction is common. The gospels must be recategorized as myth rather than factual history in order to make them available to Hegelianism, which teaches that God became incarnate not in 'a man,' but in 'mankind:'

"If reality is ascribed to the idea of the unity of the divine and human natures, is this equivalent to the admission that this unity must actually have been once manifested, as it never had been, and never more will be, in one individual? This is indeed not the mode in which Idea realizes itself; it is not wont to lavish all its fulness on one exemplar, and reciprocally complete each other— in the alternate appearance and suppression of a series of individuals. And is this no true realization of the idea? is not the idea of the unity of the divine and human natures a real one in a far higher sense, when I regard the whole race of mankind as its realization, than when I single out one man as such a realization? is not an incarnation of God from eternity, a truer one than an incarnation limited to a particular point of time.
"This is the key to the whole of Christology, that, as subject of the predicate which the church assigns to Christ, we place, instead of an individual, an idea; but an idea which has an existence in reality, not in the mind only, like that of Kant. In an individual, a God-man, the properties and functions which the church ascribes to Christ contradict themselves; in the idea of the race, they perfectly agree."
(Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George (2014-02-07). The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 22702-22717). . Kindle Edition.)

As if there were something 'scientific' and 'enlightened' about the idea that God became incarnate in 'mankind,' not in 'a man!' How this endeavor got mixed up with impartial scholarship is opaque.

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The Realm of the Possible

Just think how much fun it would be to do history if they let you do modern history like they do 'Jesus' history. For 'Jesus' history, the rules are that the historical Jesus can only have said things that somebody prior to His time had already said:

"Contrary to (what) some common opinion even among many scholars, we do have Jewish texts from before and around Jesus' time that depict the Jewish king, or a son of man or Messiah figure, as a son of God, as even begotten of God and even addressed as God. So we have Jewish texts, not a lot. . .Now notice this is not on any package, some texts have some of these things together, other texts have some of the others together, but it's at least possible."
(Dale Martin, dialogue with Mike Licona).

He is like a tape recorder; if He said it, someone else must have said it first, or He did not say it. Or like a mirror, which can reflect what is before it, but not invent a new thing. Thus making an inventory of what people had said up to that time gives us what is "possible." Onward!

Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, two notables of the nineteenth-twentieth century, can only have said those things which earlier thinkers had already said. In other words, whatever Karl Marx is reported to have said about 'surplus value,' he can only recapitulate what other nineteenth century socialists were saying at the time, he cannot say anything new or out of the ordinary. We search and cannot find these exemplars; then we realize we have uncovered tampering: some later socialist has doctored the archives. Mao Zedong must have discovered 'surplus value,' and then gone back and edited Marx's works, inserting 'surplus value' as an interpolation. Likewise, Albert Einstein cannot have mouthed the formula, e=mc2, unless someone else had already done so.

Does this not leave us with a dilemma? Sooner or later, somebody had to have expressed the formula e=mc2, because we see film of Hiroshima blown up, and surely the word must have come before the explosion. Or can it be 'turtles all the way down'? Sooner or later, somebody must have authored this saying, and must have been the first person to have done so. We are only 'passing the buck,' transferring from Jesus to Paul, the honor of original thought. What is gained by doing this? The joy of formulating a 'conspiracy theory'! Now that we have established that Albert Einstein cannot possibly have written or said e=mc2, we may cultivate whatever dark imaginings captivate us to explain why some later personage laid it on this obscure patent clerk, our hapless 'patsy,' who never said it because someone else said it shortly thereafter.


Thriceholy Radio

The Da Vinci Code

This page-turner lavishes on the reader, not only murders and car chases, but also bad theology. This best-selling novel alleges that Jesus Christ was promoted to the status of God at the fourth century Council of Nicaea:

  • “'I don't follow. His divinity?'
  • “'My dear,' Teabing declared, until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet...a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.'
  • “'Not the Son of God?'
  • “'Right, Teabing said.'Jesus' establishment as "the Son of God" was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.'
  • “'Hold on. You're saying Jesus' divinity was the result of a vote?'”
  • (The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Chapter 55).

In fact, it is the Bible which establishes Jesus Christ as Son of God, and as God:

Jesus is God

Who is Jesus?


The Son is God.


Your Throne, O God The Work of Your Hands Let Angels Worship
True God Express Image Visible and Invisible
For Himself Son of God Kiss the Son
A Son is born Honor the Son Only-begotten God
Pantocrator Believe on the Son Only Savior
The Dead were Judged Everlasting to Everlasting

Jesus is Jehovah God.

Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Jesus is Jehovah.


A Voice Crying Temple Visitor Stone of Stumbling
The Rock of Israel The First and the Last Lord of all
The LORD our Righteousness Holy, holy, holy Captivity Captive
House of David Answered prayers With all His saints
Israel's Savior Giver of Life Every Knee Shall Bow
Pastoral Supply I send you prophets Who forgives sin
I am He He is Lord Call upon the Name
Doxology God with Us Lawgiver
Great Shepherd You Only Lawful worship
Builder I AM THAT I AM Moses' Veil
Wine Press Lord Willing Secret Things
Boasting Excluded King of Israel Fount of Living Waters
Searches the Heart Till Death Do us Part Angel of the LORD
Take Refuge Has Reigned On His Forehead
Me Whom they have Pierced Stretched Out My Hands

Jesus is God.

Jesus our Lord.

Jesus Christ is God.


The Eyes of the Blind Thought it not Robbery Eternally Blessed God
Fullness of the Godhead Great God and Savior Faith in Him
Redeemed King of Kings Spirit of Christ
Destroyed by Serpents Lord of Glory Renewed in the Image
New Jerusalem's Lamp Now is Christ risen Upholding all Things
Light to the Gentiles My Companion Miracles
Prosecutors' Indictment Sun of Righteousness Thirty Pieces
Testator's Death Author of Life The Blood of God
My Lord and My God One Mystery of godliness
God was in Christ The Word was God Shared Glory
Omniscience Omnipotence Omnipresence
Change Not Yesterday, Today and Forever Whose Hand?
Not of Man Receive my Spirit Believe in God
Only Holy Sole Proprietor Priests
Walk on the Water


The Incarnation

God or Man?

Not only does the Bible describe Jesus Christ as God, but Christian writers of the early centuries also so testify. Pagan observers of Christianity likewise report this as the belief of the early church:

Readers curious to see what the Nicene Creed says, may judge for themselves whether the language is Biblical or newly invented:

Biblical Proof:





As noted previously, Jesus is the Desire of Nations. Those who do not like what He has to say nevertheless just can't leave Him alone. Our newly minted Jesus poses no threat to the sexual mores of academia. The real One does.

The Ossuary

The Discovery Channel has at long last revealed all the family members of the Jesus clan, including the imaginary ones:




Bishop John Shelby Spong

This author, retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, aims to eliminate from the Episcopal Church all the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, reduce the remaining residue to a few platitudes that would fit inside a greeting card, and then scamper off out of debris range awaiting the crash of this showy but hollowed-out ruin. It is nice that Bishop Spong still believes that 'God loves you,' except that having rid ourselves of the God who is "a being," who has been ejected from all dwelling places except human consciousness, all it now means to say 'God loves you' is 'We love ourselves.' Or rather 'Some of us (excluding of course the fundamentalist homophobes) love ourselves (excluding of course the fundamentalist homophobes), really quite a lot, too.' It is nice to reflect that Bishop Spong likes the people who think like he does, but rather less inspiring than the original:

Twelve Theses

A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile
A Call for a New Reformation

  • "1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. God can no longer be understood with credibility as a Being, supernatural in power, dwelling above the sky and prepared to invade human history periodically to enforce the divine will. So, most theological God-talk today is meaningless unless we find a new way to speak of God.
  • "2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So, the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  • "3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  • "4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes the divinity of Christ, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  • "5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  • "6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God that must be dismissed.
  • "7. Resurrection is an action of God, who raised Jesus into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  • "8. The story of the ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post­Copernican space age.
  • "9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in Scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  • "10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  • "11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior-control mentality of reward and punishment. The church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  • "12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination."
  • (pp. 453-454, 'Here I Stand,' John Shelby Spong.)



What is a "theistic deity"? Since theos means 'god,' no doubt a 'theistic god' is a godly god...as opposed, say, to an ungodly god. Give me the godly kind any day, because once we evict our godly god, it may be we can find nothing to put in his place but a bare abstraction. To judge by his vocabulary this author fancies himself a new Martin Luther, though unlike the original he does not stand to proclaim the gospel, but to discredit it. He does not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, thus in the Trinity, nor in the virgin birth (which even Muslims believe), nor in the resurrection, nor in the inspiration of scripture, nor in the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Though he believes none of the things Christians believe, nevertheless the Episcopal Church saw fit to make him the bishop of Newark, New Jersey, from which post he is now retired.

The Episcopal Church, once one of the major Christian denominations in this country, is going the way of the Unitarian Universalists. Once upon a time they called themselves 'Christians,' though never on the Bible bus, but nowadays when you walk into a Unitarian Universalist Church, you are as likely to find yourself sitting next to a self-professed Wiccan or Buddhist as anyone who will claim the Christian name. Religious controversialists taunt each other, 'Oh, so you're just going to rip those pages out of the Bible?;' Bishop Spong answers, 'yes.' Like many today, Bishop Spong expresses concerns about civility: "This is why, even in the twenty-first century, religion remains one of the most divisive and hostile forces in the world." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 217). Perhaps his tendency to characterize the opposing view as "religious close-minded ignorance wrapped in bigotry" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 215) is a touch divisive. But sometimes division is a good thing, and thus it is fervently to be hoped any Christian remnant left in this historic church will rush to find the exits.

Is Bishop Spong an atheist?


The church which made this author bishop of Newark, N.J., continues on its downward spiral. Bishop Spong wages war against God's word in the name of science, unfortunately it is often junk science:

"Finally I concluded by guessing the size of the congregation and then saying that if 10 percent of the population is homosexual (a number widely discussed at that time), the statistical probability was that the number of gay and lesbian people in the congregation that morning was. . .(and I would state the number)." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, Here I Stand, p. 335).

This number was "discussed," by people like Bishop Spong, but is laughable. He abandons Christianity in the name of science; how then does the science proceed? By making up numbers:

There is a dying church open to this sort of 'scholarship;' realize that this arrogant man is a bishop of a once-Christian denomination: "Our world is not one of miracle and magic in which virgins give birth, wise men follow a wandering star, or resuscitated bodies walk out of a tomb three days after burial. Literalized, those stories are nothing but religious nonsense." (John Shelby Spong, Here I Stand, p. 387). If Bishop Spong is the disease, then what is the cure?:

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Is Bishop Spong an Atheist?

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