Burton Mack
 and the Myth of 'Q' 

The Aryan Christ, thought to have been discredited with the demise of Nazism, comes roaring back to life with this project. Burton Mack was an influential member of the infamous 'Jesus Seminar,' and his vision of 'Jesus' as a Hellenistic Cynic Sage became one of the foundation pillars for that group's revisionism. Mack perceives first century Galilee, which was re-incorporated into Israel during the Hasmonean period, as an overwhelmingly non-Jewish region and assumes paganism, not Judaism, to have been characteristic of Jesus' constituency. Only through the myth-making of second generation 'Jesus people,' it is claimed, was this movement captured into the Jewish orbit.

Burton Mack is one of the 'People of the Book,' as the unlettered Arabian prophet used to call them; but his book is not the Bible, it is 'Q.' Some may object, but this book does not exist. Do you expect it will be easy to market a non-existent book? Perhaps you have underestimated the genius of American marketing, because Burton Mack has done quite well marketing 'Q' as the 'Lost Gospel:'

  • “Then the book was lost. Perhaps the circumstances changed, or the people changed, or their memories and imagination of Jesus changed. In any case, the book was lost to history somewhere in the course of the late first century when stories of Jesus' life began to be written and became the more popular form of charter document for early Christian circles.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 1).

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


How can 'Q' be marketed when it is "lost"? How can money be made selling a non-existent book? Well, actually, 'Q' is just excerpts from Matthew and Luke, familiar Bible lessons which were never lost, but there's a sucker born every minute: "After all, we already knew what the content of the document was, for the teachings from it were right there in the gospels of Matthew and Luke." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 48.) This collection of passages extracted from always available gospels has been marketed as if it were a recently discovered document: "The discovery of Q has forced a revision of the history of Christian beginnings." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 191).

The Q-making machine works like so: "Q is basically a mathematical abstraction dependent on Markan Priority. Determining all the material Matthew and Luke have in common and subtracting from this all the material that is in Mark as well, the result is a body of material called Q: (Common material in Matthew and Luke) — Mark's material in common with Matthew and Luke = Q." (B. Ward Powers, The Progressive Publication of Matthew, pp. 159-160)

'Q's' prestige come from its imagined priority:

  • “For this reason the New Testament is commonly viewed and treated as a charter document that came into being much like the Constitution of the United States. According to this view, the authors of the New Testament were all present at the historic beginnings of the new religion and collectively wrote their gospels and letters for the purpose of founding the Christian church that Jesus came to inaugurate. Unfortunately for this view, that is not the way it happened. Scholars locate the various writings of the New Testament at different times and places over a period of one hundred years, from the letters of Paul in the 50s of the first century, through the writing of the gospels of Mark and Matthew in the 70s and 80s, the gospels of John and Luke around the turn of the second century, and on to the acts, letters, and other writings during the first half of the second century, some as late as 140 to 150 C.E.”
  • (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 5).

What is the actual evidence as to the sequence and authors of the New Testament? Was this question investigated in antiquity, while documentation still survived, and what conclusions did inquirers reach at that time?:

  • Irenaeus
  • Tertullian
  • Eusebius
  • Jerome
  • Internal Evidence
  • Forgery

There is no documentary evidence surviving from antiquity in favor of 'Q;' the ancient testimony is all in favor of the priority of Matthew, the apostle. Modern secular Bible 'scholarship' begins, as its first move, with discarding all available evidence. Who needs all that shabby old evidence, anyway?

Our author situates his masterpiece 'Q' not among, but in place of the existing gospels:

"The first followers of Jesus could not have imagined, nor did they need, such a mythology to sustain them in their efforts to live according to his teachings. Their sayings gospel was quite sufficient for the Jesus movement as they understood it." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 3).

This substitution is the basis of our author's new religion, of which he is founding prophet, as so many of these people are. If indeed there was an orthodox sayings gospel, an unnecessary supposition, this is no evidence that the people who read it were not interested in the life of Christ. They used to publish books called, for instance 'The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.' The people who read these books did not disbelieve that Abraham Lincoln had saved the Union and freed the slaves, nor were they uninterested in these exploits. This little niche in the publishing industry seems to have collapsed, but the fact that one book contains Lincoln quotations while another aims at a biography, is no proof of competing movements. Different literary genres do not address different communities in our day, why are they assumed to have done so in prior times?

Who are the people who wanted 'Q'? For what market was this book originally crafted, by combining excerpts from Matthew and Luke? No one in antiquity. Burton Mack knows the answer, and doesn't mind telling it:

"When Harnack dared to publish the sayings of Jesus in 1907 he wanted the teachings of Jesus to be read without reference to the narrative gospels. With a single stroke he thought to eliminate the problem of miracle and myth and make it possible for readers to focus on what liberal theologians understood as the essence of Christianity." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 29).

'Q' is a modern book for liberals. It lacks miracles because liberals do not like miracles. Mack himself prefers it because, he imagines, it discredits Christianity:

"That in turn will make a difference in the way in which Christians read the narrative gospels. The narrative gospels can no longer be viewed as the trustworthy accounts of unique and stupendous historical events at the foundation of the Christian faith. The gospels must now be seen as the result of early Christian mythmaking. Q forces the issue. . ." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 10).

'Q' is whatever you need it to do; as an imaginary book, it has no rough edges, no stubborn facticity to frustrate its votaries: "A Q like this is, by its very nature, incapable of falsification. Seeing that an authentic copy of Q does not exist, there are no controls. Q is what you make it." (B. Ward Powers, The Progressive Publication of Matthew, p. 323). What became of it? Poof, it's gone, just as if it never was. Inasmuch as there is no reason to believe 'Q' ever existed, its disappearance presents no real perplexity, though a difficult puzzle for its advocates.

John Everett Millais, Lost Coin

The traditional church order of the gospels was that Matthew, one of the twelve, wrote first, then Mark, Peter's interpreter, set forth Peter's gospel, as an epitome of Matthew, and then Luke, then John. There is no defect in this theory. Luke portrays himself sitting before a table full of gospels, sifting through them and weighing and evaluating their contents. If he employed a simple weighting system assigning a double weight to narrative sections in which both Mark and Matthew concur, on account of the apostolic authority of Matthew and of Peter, Mark's sponsor, then it is understandable that he follows when both concur rather than one or neither.

What this theory has to offer is affirmative documentary evidence, from antiquity, that this is the order in which these books were written, and this is their authorship. One might compare this evidence to newspaper clippings, affirming that this is what happened. There is no countervailing testimony from antiquity. What does modern secular Bible 'scholarship' do with this evidence? Tosses it.

The idea that Mark wrote first attracted enthusiasm when in the theory of evolution became popular. This theory explains that simple things arise first, then complex things, and the answer to how they do so is an adverb, 'gradually.' Mark, as the reader will note, is the shortest gospel, therefore it must be the first. By this theory, Matthew and Luke worked up Mark's original gospel, so that the gospel account grew by accretion and combination upon the slender foundation of fact provided by Mark. This theory thus makes Matthew and Luke into fiction writers who invented incident and dialogue, which is where it derives its charm for those who hold to it, including our author:

"But as the Jesus movement spread, groups in different locations and changing circumstances began to think about the kind of life Jesus must have lived. Some began to think of him in the role of a sage, for instance, while others thought of him as a prophet, or even as an exorcist who had appeared to rid the world of its evils. This shift from interest in Jesus' teachings to questions about Jesus' person, authority, and social role eventually produced a host of different mythologies." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins p. 2).

Of course Mack considers the model gospel, Mark, itself to be fiction: "In spite of knowing that Mark's gospel was a fiction, the setting and logic of his story still served as the frame of reference for understanding the sayings and themes in Q2. . ." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 47). They then envision Matthew and Luke as locked in a room with access to no information about the world except Mark; what they 'add,' they make up. You can see why the traditional ascriptions of authorship do not 'work' for these people: because if the gospels were produced by apostles and associates of apostles, then there can be no question of speculation about "the kind of life Jesus must have lived"; His followers reported the kind of life He did lead. But there's a fly in the ointment: Matthew and Luke share many sayings not found in Mark. Where do these come from? Enter 'Q,' an imaginary work.

What is wrong with 'Q'? It's an unnecessary entity, and William of Ockham says to eschew unnecessary entities.


Protestant Miracles

We discover in Burton Mack's 'The Lost Gospel' that Protestants do not believe in miracles:

  • “So the quest for the historical Jesus was motivated by a Protestant desire to leapfrog over the entire history of Catholic Christianity and land at the beginning where, as it was imagined, the foundations of Christianity had been laid in the life and purpose of its founder. . .So Protestant scholars had to take another look. Upon a closer reading of the gospels, they had to agree that the gospels contained a good bit of mythology and too many miracles for comfort.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, Kindle page 17).

Who knew? One must concede, the dismissive Bible scholarship these folks admire originally made its home in formerly Protestant countries; but are the Bishop Spongs of a by-gone era properly categorized as 'Protestant,' which implies 'Christian'? And is our author's revelation true? Do miracles make Protestants uncomfortable? Should they make anyone uncomfortable?:

An Example Immutable God
Cautionary Note The Enlightenment
Benedict de Spinoza Pinball Machine
David Hume Natural Explanations

The argument advanced against the historicity of miracles is, as per usual, bluster and indignation:

  • “All of it? Are we to think that all of it is historical: portents, miracles, resurrections, cosmic journeys, apocalyptic visions, angels, a crucified god, divine 'breakthroughs,' and metaphysical transformations?”
  • (Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 10).

Whether 'Protestants' like miracles or dislike them, which way Mack votes is clear enough: "Mark's story of Jesus is packed with preposterous stories of miracles that Jesus performs and of miraculous things that happen to Jesus." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 64).


Not God

The bottom line, as it always is for these people, is that Jesus is not God, and never claimed to be; 'Q' confirms it: "Q demonstrates that factors other than the belief that Jesus was divine played a role in the generation of early Jesus and Christ movements." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, p. 8). . .or, not quite. The Bible, 'Q' included, says that He is God. Mack frets that the people of 'Q' had already overloaded the humble and unpretentious Cynic sage of his imagination with extravagant attributes: "And because he became the pivotal figure in the particular mythologized history that the group worked out, the teacher's wisdom eventually included a preposterous self-understanding." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 163). How preposterous?:

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 Head
Keeper of Israel The Amen

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

Since the Bible teaches the inconvenient truth that Jesus is God, we must go behind it, to 'Q,' to discover the Jesus who is not God. Except there is no such Jesus. . .nor is there any 'Q.' To the extent that any modern person who wishes to do so can craft a 'Book of Q' by excerpting the existing gospels, then any such unfiltered document will testify to the deity of Jesus Christ as insistently as do the real gospels. Our author's hope in this matter is no more than wish fulfillment:

"Instead, Q shows us that the notion of a pure origin is mythic and that the process of endowing Jesus with superlative wisdom and divinity was and is a mode of mythmaking." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of 'Q' and Christian Origins, Kindle location 4035).

In fact 'Q' testifies to the deity of Jesus Christ; see, for example, Jesus' identification of John the Baptist as Malachi's fore-runner: "This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Luke 7:27), QS 17, S 17. Before whose face? Jehovah God's:

"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:1).

'Q's' answer to the identity of Jesus Christ, is. . .He is God. It is futile therefore to try to position this modern work in antithesis with the gospels, which also teach that He is God. Isaiah Chapter 35 speaks also of this visitation by God, not another, to His people:

"Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped." (Isaiah 35:4-5).

According to Jesus, and 'Q,' was this visitation by God,— and that is plainly and explicitly what is in view,— something to be expected in the long distant future, or something they could see happening with their own eyes?

"When they tell him, John wants to know whether Jesus is the one he had announced as the one to come. He sends his disciples to inquire about this, and Jesus answers the question by telling them to report what they had seen and heard: 'The blind recover their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are given good news' (QS 16)." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 155).

Those who are blind to what Jesus is here saying do not include the editors of 'Q,' if there ever were any such, but only those who will themselves not to see, like our author.


Foolish Obsession

Let your mind run free. Suppose for a moment it is possible there is a God, and that He has chosen to communicate with His creatures. Would it then be foolish, or prudent, to consult His opinion?:

  • “Fascination with sacred scriptures seldom surfaces for observation or remark. Their mystique is subtle, something that most persons in a culture would hardly recognize even if mentioned. I have been pondering that mystique, asking why the Bible has such a curious hold on our minds and imaginations. I have not been thinking about the obviously embarrassing public displays of foolish obsessions with the Bible in our time, listening for the hoofbeats of John's four horsemen of the apocalypse, for instance, or citing Paul to prove that gays are sinners in the eyes of God. Madness of that sort can pop up in times of social and cultural crisis no matter what the issue or the mythic authorities might be. . .
  • “Most of these issues could be discussed without referring to the biblical heritage, but the Bible is always lurking in the background, and positions have been taken on all of them that ultimately appeal to the Bible as the final word. When that happens, thinking and reasonable discussion stop. We do not know how to proceed after the Bible has been invoked. We are all complicit in letting an appeal to the Bible count as an argument.”
  • (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, pp. 1-3).

There is no thought here that writing scripture is a process in which God participates, rather we are in Marx and Engels territory: "And what kind of sense does the Christian myth make? Every culture has a set of stories that account for the world in which a people find themselves." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 13). That scripture testifies to its own adequacy to accomplish its purpose of course means nothing to these people; our author feels the need sententiously to inform us, "Should we turn to the Bible for answers? Those saying yes, from Waco to Washington, including all the recent pronouncements to that effect by Protestant churches, cannot be right." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 307). Nevertheless it does:


Pure Words Sufficient
Blind Eyes The Logos
Unbroken Doctrine of the Trinity
To What Purpose? Tradition

Truth in Advertising

Entrepreneur Burton Mack assures the purchaser that 'Q' is a bona fide first century production:

  • “Q was a collection of sayings made by first-century followers of Jesus, not a modern selection of sayings by type that twentieth-century scholars had put together from different synoptic texts and traditions.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 34).

In reality, what Mack says 'Q' is not, is precisely what it is: a modern production, cobbled together from other books. As noted, the only reason to believe in 'Q' is that the assumption that Mark wrote first necessitates some other source for the material Matthew and Luke have in common. Discarding Markan priority takes 'Q' down with it. 'Q' is the kind of thing William of Ockham is talking about when he says 'unnecessary entities.'

Certainly, however, the idea of a 'sayings gospel' is by no means impossible; The Gospel of Thomas follows this pattern. Who wrote this book, and why?:



In Bible study conducted under church auspices, a theory as to the meaning of a particular text is disconfirmed when a skeptic adduces a different text at cross-purposes to the suggested meaning of the first text. This clips the wings of the eager interpreter. There is no comparable test applicable to the kind of Bible study done by Burton Mack and his colleagues. Rather, if other verses cannot be reconciled with the favored theory as to the meaning of the first constellation of verses, these non-conforming verses are promoted to another 'layer' of the text, and a different 'community' is invented to which they are credited. There is, in short, no discipline whatever; no theory of meaning can ever be disconfirmed, because the tools are ever at the ready to sequester and remove any conflicting evidence.

Students of Nazi Germany are familiar with the 'Aryan Christ;' he makes a comeback with this project. Mack's 'Jesus,' a Hellenistic Cynic Sage, only becomes Jewish when a segment of his second-generation supporters project their family conflicts onto him. This is the rediscovery of an ancient theme, which goes back to the gnostic heretic Marcion.

Richard Dawkins Thomas Paine
The Unchanging God Marcion
Issues Apion
A Different Perspective

Mack is the great seer and visionary of the 'Jesus Seminar,' who discovered that Jesus is a Cynic Sage. There is of course much in Jesus' teaching which is in no way reconcilable with Cynicism; His puritanical sexual morality, disapproving of divorce and adulterous ideation, is as far as the east is from the west from the Cynics' sexual morality, 'if it itches, scratch it.' A different 'layer,' no doubt. Much of the life-advice of the Cynics was distinctly hard-edged:

"Seeking to shock and provoke, Diogenes walked the streets of Athens dressed in simple clothes, carrying a walking stick, engaging anyone and everyone he met in philosphical conversation. He attacked all received wisdom, all prevailing custom, all long-standing taboos; one of his many mottoes was 'Deface the currency.' He was said to have masturbated and defecated in public. Diogenes challenged people high and low with one subversive act after another. He lived outdoors, slept in a large ceramic jar, walked everywhere, ate only vegetables, drank only water, and in all respects affirmed the simple life as a matter of principle." (Marcus Rediker, The Fearless Benjamin Lay, p. 101).

'Simple clothes' is okay, but 'deface the currency'? Perhaps we have unwittingly bypassed a juncture in the road. Jesus is the Desire of Nations, and the the aging hippies of the Jesus Seminar would rather He had been a Cynic, spoofing the conventional morality of His day, a hippie before His time: "And there is precedent for taking up an alternative life-style as social protest, from the utopian movement of the nineteenth century, to the counterculture movement of the 1960's, to the environmentalist protest of the 1980s and 1990s. The list could be greatly expanded, for much modern entertainment also sets its scenes against the backdrop of the unexamined taboos and prejudices prevailing in our time." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 117). Who knew first century Galilee was so much like 1960's America? The people were into cultural relativism:

"The Jesus people are best understood as those who noticed the challenge of the times in Galilee. They took advantage of the mix of peoples so tweak the authority of any cultural tradition that presumed to set the standard for others." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 119).

People were into doing their own thing: "What counted most, they said, was a sense of personal worth and integrity. . . .Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold. Speak up and act out." (The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 119). And so, He was a hippie: "They were hippies in a world of Augustan yuppies. Jesus and his followers. . .fit very well against that background." (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, Kindle location 9656). Or, maybe not. Maybe this is just the 'Jesus' Publishing Industry doing what it always does, remaking Jesus in their own image. The whimsical nature of this type of Bible-reading, the fact that it can lead wherever you would like it to lead, even to the hippie Jesus, ought to give the reader pause.

Is Mack aware that much of the gospel is in no way compatible with Cynicism? Of course, and see the bologna brought forth by way of explanation: "A sudden shift in tone awaits the reader of Q2. .  .the contrast in mood overwhelming." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 131). The fact that much of the gospel cannot be reconciled with the theory that Jesus was a Cynic Sage in no way disconfirms the theory, however, because nothing can disconfirm the theory. That's what 'layers' are for. In fact our author is aware his own thesis requires the gospel to undergo "stunning" shifts: "Their [the Corinthians'] experience of the Christ, the kingdom of God, freedom from the past, and the spirit of God is so far removed from the persuasions of the Jesus movement that the rapid development from the one to the other is simply stunning." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 126). Stunning indeed! Another way to put it is inexplicable; there is no passable route between a (Gentile) Hellenistic Cynic Sage and Christianity. More's the fun! Dear Reader, if you intended to develop a naturalistic theory of the development of the gospels, would you prefer one with "stunning" shifts no human mind can comprehend, or one with no such shifts, on the antique grounds that natura non facit saltum?



As noted above, this author invents his new scripture by postulating otherwise unknown 'communities' which purportedly produced various 'layers' of the gospels, thus enabling our author to pluck out his desired bits and pieces from real, existing works. This involved process of authorship-by-accretion requires decades to complete, with the work product passing through the hands of numerous creative 'communities,' so of necessity the New Testament documents cannot have been written by the stated authors. Is that a problem?:

"The problem seems to be that, if so, someone must have been lying. . .One helpful observation is that anonymous authorship of writings intended for use in social institutions such as schools, temples, and royal bureaucracies was standard practice in the scribal traditions of the ancient Near East. . .As for the later attribution of anonymous literature to known figures of the past, that also was a standard practice during the Greco-Roman period." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? pp. 6-7)

Really? Was pseudepigraphic authorship a non-controversial, universally accepted practice? Is it true that ". . .authorship was not understood as we moderns understand it." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 202)? According to our author, the 'Jesus people' simply invented the sayings they attributed to the Lord, and the proof that they did this,— the smoking gun, if you will,— was the school exercise, popular at the time, of assigning as class-work the task of writing a speech-in-character:

"In the modern sense of the term, the Jesus people were the authors of the sayings they attributed to Jesus. But as they understood what they were doing, it was a matter of inventing appropriate speech-in-character." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 202).

Is this plausible? Is it very likely that instructors of rhetoric assigned their pupils the task of inventing an appropriate speech for Alexander the Great to have given on the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela, because they wanted to encourage forgery and had great hopes and expectations their students might become expert forgers? From our author's perspective, this practice is proof positive that they saw nothing wrong with authorial imposture: "And, as we have seen, the practice of attributing speech to illustrious persons of the past was a skill learned in school." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 201). Or is it conceivable that people who assigned such an exercise to school-children were still capable of caring who had actually written the piece, and did not automatically add it to the collected works?:

Moses Twelve Tables
Untangling the Threads Fact-Checking
Seth Speaks Quintilian
Self-Incrimination Pythagoras
Who's Zooming Who? Historiography
False Musaeus Jerome's Vulgate
Publishing Contract

This, in the end, is Mack's explanation for why the Jesus of 'Q' is not a Cynic sage, as he imagines him to have been: "The common strategy was to attribute the wisdom they had achieved to Jesus, putting it in the form of instruction from him by revising his teachings to match the school of thought they were developing. They did this just as any Hellenistic school of philosophy would have done." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 70). This is the way of the modern 'Jesus' Publishing Industry. If the evidence doesn't work for you, you must explain away the evidence. Since 'Jesus the Cynic Sage' isn't the Jesus of the Bible, someone must have tampered with the evidence. True enough, but the guilty party is our author, not another. False attribution was not in fact the accepted procedure of the ancient schools of philosophy, though it did admittedly occur.


The Least of These

Burton Mack has noticed the gospel expresses God's sympathies with the poor and meek:

  • “In general it is clear that sympathies lie with the poor, the least, the humble, the servant, and those consigned to positions without privilege, more than with heir social opposites.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 112).

This gospel theme is represented by Burton Mack as if it were counter-cultural, revolutionary, unexpected. Did this sympathy for the poor set 'tradition' on its head, as he claims?:

"As instructions, the admonitions assume that the social world is an arena in which the people of Q will encounter those who are living by traditional rules. It is a jungle out there and the behavior enjoined is risky." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 112).

How unexpected! From whence can this concern for the poor come, other than from the Cynics (who were not the least bit concerned about the poor)? What would the tradition-bound say to these shocking new ideas? Well, it depends: what is your tradition? The Old Testament?:

"But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." (Psalm 37:11).

God has not changed; He has vindicated the poor from the time Hannah sang His praises for so doing:



Burton Mack's main influence came from his great discovery that Jesus was a Cynic sage. The celebrated 'Jesus Seminar' adopted and popularized this theme:

  • “New Testament scholars have often remarked on the Cynic parallels to much of the material in Q1. . .A Cynic look-alike Jesus would, in any case, present something of an embarrassment due to the fact that the Cynics are remembered mostly for their unlovable ways.”
  • (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 114).

Gosh, "unlovable"? What does that mean? Well, it's just plain unfair: "The modern caricature of the ancient Cynics is inaccurate and the modern use of the word cynic to describe the ancient Cynics is unfair." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 114). Move along, citizen, there's nothing to be seen here:

"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).

Burton Mack himself offers the example, "'When someone reproached him for frequenting unclean places, Diogenes replied that the sun also enters the privies without becoming defiled.' (DL 6:63)." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament, p. 55). Mack helpfully explains that 'unclean places' is "more than likely a euphemism for houses of prostitution." (p. 56). This is indeed typical of the Cynics. They were not into 'family values,' preferring other options for meeting physical desires without getting involved in entanglements like love and marriage. True romantics they were not: "And he [Antisthenes] says that 'Love is a vice of nature, and the wretches who fall under its power call the disease a deity.'" (quoted in Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book 2, Chapter XX).

There is a certain synergy between Cynicism and Christianity: both were counter-cultural, both scoffed at the conspicuous consumption that was so striking a feature of the first century world. But Cynicism and Christianity diverge at a basic level: namely, what is the point of doing these things? What are you trying to accomplish? According to the apostate emperor Julian, the Cynic aims at a life bleached of emotion: "Here then you have a theory on this question, though perhaps it is too far-fetched: but here is another more akin to Cynicism, only I must first describe more clearly the end and aim of that philosophy. Freedom from emotion they regard as the end and aim [Απαθειαν γαρ ποιουνται το τελος]; and this is equivalent to becoming a god." (Julian, The Orations of Julian, VI, To The Uneducated Cynics, p. 35). But the faith that encourages love of neighbor is not trying to elimination all emotion.

Compare the Cynics' 'scratch what itches' sexual morality with what Jesus taught about adultery and divorce,

"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). The 'puritanical' ones are distinctly scarce. The reader cannot avoid noticing an element of misogyny in the Cynic's dismissal of marriage: the 'complications' that result from sexuality, such as children, are not eliminated by this approach but simply fobbed off on the woman, who must bear the sole expense of child-rearing.

In his praise of Diogenes the Cynic, Maximus of Tyre lists among the freedoms of the Cynic lifestyle, ". . .neither oppressed by the education of children, nor suffering restraint through wedlock. . ." (Maximus of Tyre, The Dissertations, Volume I, Dissertation XX, p. 203). Jesus' teaching on marriage is not opposed to this "restraint"; the disciples rather feared He made marriage too binding. In any case the Cynics' lack of restraint in satisfying their sexual urges finds no resonance in Christian teaching. Did Jesus reject all moral conventions? No, but they wish He had. Their 'Jesus' is the convention-rejecter, and thus He is a Cynic: "Cynics played a very important social role as critics of conventional values and oppressive forms of governance. . ." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 114).

In the matter of bathroom etiquette, Christians do not follow Diogenes' lead in meeting these urges wherever they happen to be, without regard to modesty, such as in the middle of the market-place: "On the other hand when Diogenes made unseemly noises or obeyed the call of nature or did anything else of that sort in the market-place, as they say he did, he did so because he was trying to trample on the conceit of the men I have just mentioned.  . ." (The Emperor Julian, The Orations of Julian VI, To the Uneducated Cynics, p. 61).

Jesus inculcated not only a most un-cynical sexual morality, but also piety toward God: "Jesus answered him, 'The first of all the commandments is: "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 themselves obey the first commandment, much less encourage others to do so? To the contrary, the Cynics distrusted and even mocked 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 the Cynic used to say of Harpalus, one of the most fortunate villains of his time, that the constant prosperity of such a man was a kind of witness against the Gods." (Cicero, Of the Nature of the Gods, Book III, XXXIV).

“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)

The apostate emperor Julian complains about Oenomaus the Cynic, who wants to make of cynicism an atheistic, even communistic, platform: "If you had taken any trouble to study the subject, you would have learned this from that Cynic's 'Direct Inspiration of Oracles' and his work 'Against the Oracles,' in short from everything that he wrote. This then is his aim, to do away with all reverence for the gods, to bring dishonor on all human wisdom, to trample on all law that can be identified with honor and justice, and more than this, to trample on those laws which have been as it were engraved on our souls by the gods, and have impelled us all to believe without teaching that the divine exists, and to direct our eyes to it and to yearn towards it: for our souls are disposed towards it as eyes towards the light." (Julian, The Orations of Julian, VII, To the Cynic Heracleios, p. 85). Julian prefers the pious Cynics who are, as it happens, distinctly scarce.

What has any of this got to do with Jesus? Jesus is the Desire of Nations; almost everyone is drawn to Him, but some people find they must transform Him to relieve their discomfort at the things He says, the alternative being to repent and follow. Thus His words must be pulled apart, laminated into layers, for convenience in stripping and discarding the inconvenient material which has been segregated into unwanted, purportedly non-original 'layers.' A nip and a tuck here and there, and the living Jesus becomes the 'party animal' whom the aging hippies of the 'Jesus Seminar' can happily follow.

Although the Cynics were not much impressed with religion, the 'Jesus Seminar' is greatly 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).

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? Compare Jesus' instruction to the rich young ruler:

"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22).

The Cynic surrenders his property, not to give to the poor, but to relieve himself of an encumbrance. Crates did not give his estate to the poor, he simply abandoned it:

"Crates the Theban, when he was not pressed for payment and did not even owe anything, because he disliked the mere administration of property, its cares and distractions, abandoned an estate valued at eight talents and, donning cloak and wallet, took refuge in philosophy and poverty." (Plutarch, Moralia, That We Ought not to Borrow, Chapter 8, Complete Works of Plutarch, Kindle location 55976).

There is no intention to serve the poor or benefit the poor; these are not Cynic values. But they certainly are Christian values. According to common Christian teaching, the Cynics miss the point:

"It ought also to be observed, that he does not only enjoin him to sell, but likewise to give to the poor; for to part with riches would not be in itself a virtue, but rather a vain ambition. Profane historians applaud Crates, a Theban, because he threw into the sea his money and all that he reckoned valuable; for he did not think that he could save himself unless his wealth were lost; as if it would not have been better to bestow on others what he imagined to be more than he needed. Certainly, as charity is the bond of perfection, (Colossians 3:14,) he who deprives others, along with himself, of the use of money, deserves no praise; and therefore Christ applauds not simply the selling but liberality in assisting the poor." (John Calvin, Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels, Volume 2, p. 296).

Christians have never applaud the wasting of property for no purpose, only just to show off:

"Democritus is praised because he abandoned his fields, and suffered them to become public pastures. I should approve of it, if he had given them. But nothing is done wisely which is useless and evil if it is done by all. But this negligence is tolerable. What shall I say of him who changed his possessions into money, which he threw into the sea? I doubt whether he was in his senses, or deranged. Away, he says, ye evil desires, into the deep I will cast you away, lest I myself should be cast away by you. If you have so great a contempt for money, employ it in acts of kindness and humanity, bestow it upon the poor; this, which you are about to throw away, may be a succor to many, so that they may not die through famine, or thirst, or nakedness." (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter 23).

Sounds like an excellent idea; why did it never occur to Mack and his Cynics? The Cynics had no conception of piling up treasure in heaven, because they did not believe in heaven. So the end aimed at is altogether different. Philo Judaeus contrasts the two approaches:

"The Greeks celebrate Anaxagoras and Democritus, because they, being smitten with a desire for philosophy, allowed all their estates to be devoured by cattle. I myself admire the men who thus showed themselves superior to the attractions of money; but how much better were those who have not permitted cattle to devour their possessions, but have supplied the necessities of mankind, of their own relations and friends, and have made them rich though they were poor before?"
(Philo Judaeus of Alexandria. Delphi Complete Works of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 77) (Kindle Locations 27367-27370). On the Contemplative Life, Chapter II).

The author of the apocryphal work, The Acts of John, was quick to perceive the difference:

"Now on the next (or another) day Craton, a philosopher, had proclaimed in the market-place that he would give an example of the contempt of riches: and the spectacle was after this manner. He had persuaded two young men, the richest of the city, who were brothers, to spend their whole inheritance and buy each of them a jewel, and these they brake in pieces publicly in the sight of the people. And while they were doing this, it happened by chance that the apostle passed by. And calling Craton the philosopher to him, he said: That is a foolish despising of the world which is praised by the mouths of men, but long ago condemned by the judgement of God. . .But indeed my master taught a youth who desired to attain to eternal life, in these words; saying that if he would be perfect, he should sell all his goods and give to the poor, and so doing he would gain treasure in heaven and find the life that has no ending." (The Acts of John, Latin XIV).

While the Acts of John is not a respectable source of information about the early church, you must admit the author has a point. These two things are not the same, because the goal aimed at by the behavior is completely different. When we evaluate human behavior, we can scarcely overlook the whole point of the matter, that is, the end sought to be achieved by the behavior.

While not conceding the 'prosperity gospel,' one must admit the prosperity teachers are reading these texts more closely than the 'Cynic Sage' crowd. Biblical economics are opaque to the atheist: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom." (Luke 6:38). How can you give and have more left over? Next thing will be multiplying loaves and fishes! Plainly, the result of giving is penury, says the atheist. A Stoic author like Seneca, though fabulously wealthy himself, commended poverty. . .for others. But what of those texts which imply the result of giving will be abundance? So there seems to be more synergy than there really is, because God has been left out of the equation. To give to the poor is ultimately not quite the same as the Cynic abandoning his property or giving it to relatives, because the treasure in heaven probably consists at least in part of good-will, "And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." (Luke 16:9).

The Cynics' nasty language finds no parallel amongst Christians, who are not to say 'fool' to one another, though this kind of 'freedom of speech' came naturally to the hippies:

"Above all, be bold, be impudent; distribute your abuse impartially to king and commoner. They will admire your spirit. You will talk the Cynic jargon with the true Cynic snarl, scowling as you walk, and walking as one should who scowls; an epitome of brutality. Away with modesty, good-nature, and forbearance. Wipe the blush from your cheek for ever. Your hunting-ground will be the crowded city. You will live alone in its midst, holding communion with none, admitting neither friend nor guest; for such would undermine your power. Scruple not to perform the deeds of darkness in broad daylight: select your love-adventures with a view to the public entertainment: and finally, when the fancy takes you, swallow a raw cuttle-fish, and die. Such are the delights of Cynicism." (Lucian, Creeds for Sale).

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.'

Mack's argument ends simply as drivel, with the Cynics reconfigured after the image of Jesus, in hopes that by this means if no other a correspondence may be found, or at least imagined: "The use of the term kingdom of God in Q1 matches its use in the traditions of popular philosophy, especially in the Cynic tradition of performing social diagnostics in public by means of countercultural behavior." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 126). The term 'kingdom of God' does not occur in Cynic philosophy.

Diogenes the Cynic wanted to simplify his life, and so he tried the experiment of eating uncooked food, 'sushi:' "Diogenes ventured to eat a raw octopus in order to put an end to the inconvenience of preparing cooked food. In the midst of a large throng he veiled his head and, as he brought the flesh to his mouth, said, 'It is for you that I am risking my life.'" (Plutarch, On the Eating of Flesh, I, Chapter 6, The Complete Works of Plutarch, Kindle location 60712). While the lure of the simple life can appeal to Christians as to others, it really has very little to do with helping the poor, the stated motive for Jesus' command to the rich young ruler.

The honest inquirer should not fail to notice there is a convergence between the Cynics and the Sermon on the Mount, but there is also a very marked divergence. The divergence centers around the reasons according to which people act, the ends to be achieved, as even ancient observers noticed: "But it is impossible for a Cynic, who makes indifference his end, to know any good but indifference." (Justin Martyr, Second Apology, Chapter III). Our author's purported 'puritanical' Cynics are not really such, but rather Stoics, who believed in divine providence, lecturing the Cynics in their moralistic fashion, explaining that if they added piety, purity and propriety to their admirable detachment from possessions, they would be perfect. The Stoics themselves, like Lucius Annaeus Seneca, one of the richest men in the world of his day, were more into 'prosperity.' Quintilian accuses the orator who would condemn a Cynic for 'indecency,' of saying too much: "Yet even in scholastic declamations it occasionally happens that a mere proposition is in place of a statement of the case; for what statement has he to make who accuses a jealous man of ill-treating his wife, or he who accuses a cynic of indecency before the censors, when the whole charge is sufficiently expressed by a single word, in whatever part of the speech it be introduced?" (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, Book IV, Chapter II, Section 30). Since it goes without saying that a Cynic leads an indecent life, don't belabor the point.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

In the end there was a convergence between Cynicism and Christianity in the form of the monastic movement, which emerged triumphant, likely from a gnostic matrix, against its detractors in the fourth and fifth centuries. Basil speaks quite favorably of Diogenes: "I also admire the wholesale contempt of all human possessions which Diogenes expressed, who showed himself richer than the great Persian king, since he needed less for living." (Basil, Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, Chapter IX). Would that Basil had noticed that Diogenes' contempt for all human possessions, which is congruent with Christianity, concealed within its broad and admirable expanse a hatred for humanity, which is not. Cynics at the extreme could become misanthropes, like Timon the Athenian, as Christians may not:

"This even tenor of the mind, however, sometimes degenerates into a sort of harshness, and a rigorous and inflexible sternness of nature, entirely effacing all the human affections. The Greeks, among whom there have been many persons of this description, are in the habit of calling them apatheis. A very remarkable thing, too, is the fact, that among these persons are to be found some of the greatest masters of philosophy. Diogenes the Cynic, for instance, Pyrrho, Heraclitus, and Timon, which last allowed himself to be so entirely carried away by this spirit, as to become a hater of all mankind." (Pliny, Natural History, Book VII, Chapter 18).

What is further removed from loving your neighbor than hating everybody? All along, warning voices along the way from the Christian community complained that those who were going in this direction just did not 'get' it:

"Others, however, styling themselves Encratites, acknowledge some things concerning God and Christ in like manner with the Church. In respect, however, of their mode of life, they pass their days inflated with pride. They suppose that by meats they magnify themselves, while abstaining from animal food, (and) being water-drinkers, and forbidding to marry, and devoting themselves during the remainder of life to habits of asceticism. But persons of this description are estimated Cynics rather than Christians, inasmuch as they do not attend unto the words spoken against them through the Apostle Paul. Now he, predicting the novelties that were to be hereafter introduced ineffectually by certain (heretics), made a statement thus: “The Spirit speaketh expressly, In the latter times certain will depart from sound doctrine, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, uttering falsehoods in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats, which God has created to be partaken of with thanksgiving by the faithful, and those who know the truth; because every creature of God is good, and nothing to be rejected which is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (Hippolytus of Rome, Against All Heresies, Book 8, Chapter 13).

The point after all isn't to renounce possessions for the sake of renouncing possessions. And the rest of it,— like, for instance, sexual morality, or worshipping God,— the Cynics weren't into anyway. They were speeding full bore down the opposite track, which is no doubt why they find admirers in the 'Jesus Seminar' crowd.


John the Baptist

So how did Jesus, a Gentile Cynic Sage who roamed the Galilean countryside and attracted a small following of 'Jesus people,' and who was not crucified although he told his followers to pick up their cross and follow him, come to be transformed into the crucified Jewish Messiah? At this point the book becomes farcical. Those few of Jesus' followers who were Jewish began to be taunted by their relatives for their lapses from the purity code, see, and so they invented conservations between a now-Jewish Jesus and the Pharisees incorporating the witty ripostes they wish they had made in their arguments with these relatives. Then they invented a connection with John the Baptist, who may have been a real figure, though nothing can be known about him:

"The authors solved this problem at the beginning of their book of instructions by introducing the figure of a prophet of doom and letting this prophet and Jesus exchange views about each other. . .John must have been a known personage, or the stories about Jesus and John would not have worked their magic. But since this is the earliest mention of John on record (later to be called John 'the baptizer'), and since the other stories about him in the narrative gospels are further embellishments of the role assigned to him here in Q2, we cannot be sure about the real John." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 153).

Was John a historical figure? What can be known about him outside the gospels?



Noble Warrior

According to Burton Mack, the concept of Christ's atoning death is borrowed from the pagan idea of a noble warrior, because there is no such theme in Judaism:

"The clue to the logic of the kerygma lies in the phrase that christ died 'for us,' namely the congregation of Christians. Such a notion cannot be traced to old Jewish and/or Israelite traditions, for the very idea of a vicarious human sacrifice was anathema in these cultures. But it can easily be traced to a strong Greek tradition of extolling a noble death. The tradition has its roots in the idea that a warrior 'dies for' his country, its laws, or his people." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 216).

The example Mack offered of such a death of Socrates, a non-warrior who did not die 'for' anyone. Regardless, is there really no such theme in the Hebrew Bible?


It's All Good

Burton Mack is not good at seeing distinctions, even when they are glaring to other people's eyes, such as the distinction between Jesus and a Cynic Sage. One distinction that means nothing to him is the distinction between pagan polytheism and monotheism. As far as he is concerned, Judaism represents a typical temple-state, nothing out of the ordinary:

"The temple-state was a model of civilization that had been honed to perfection by three thousand years of fine tuning. . . The temple-state organized labor, administered justice, and distributed goods by means of bureaucracies centered in the temple buildings and palace compound. The temple announced national pride, served as monument to the achievements of the past, put people in touch with the world of the gods, provided daily pageantry, dispensed prescriptions for the healing of all ills, and called for civic processions, feasts, and festivals on the grandest scales possible. . .The book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible and the Wisdom of Ben Sira in the Apocrypha of the Christian Bible contain fine examples of the pride and piety possible in a temple-state." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 20).

Does it matter to what, or to what number, of deit[ies] the temple is consecrated? Don't be silly:

At the end of the prologue, just before the code begins, his [Hammurabi's] words are, 'When Marduk commissioned me to guide the people aright, to direct the land, I established law and justice in the language of the land, thereby promoting the welfare of the people.' . .With Pompey's intervention in 63 B.C.E., the Jewish experiment we call the second-temple kingdom was over. . .But in the end the fragmentation of Jewish society took its toll, and the Romans, responding to warring factions of new guerilla movements in Judaea, marched on Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in the Roman-Jewish war of 66-73 C.E. That even was final. It marked the failure of the last attempt any people had made in the wake of Alexander to continue to organize society on the model of the ancient Near Eastern temple-state. By dint, and against all odds, the Jews had kept the model alive." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, pp. 21-23).

Really, the Jews were conserving Hammurabi's cultural inheritance? Monotheism actually makes no difference at all? Does it matter whether a temple is consecrated to a slew of deities or only one? It can't matter at all, any more than it can matter whether Jesus was pro-marriage or, like the Cynics, anti-marriage. When you screw your eyes tightly shut, you can't see any difference, or indeed anything at all. To do this type of 'scholarship,' one must cultivate the ability not to see very important things, lest one make invidious and politically incorrect distinctions. It would be shocking to these people's sensibilities to suggest that Marduk is somehow not as good as Jehovah, that he just does not quite measure up. What, are you a cultural imperialist?

How is it possible to study religion diligently, and yet fail to 'get' it on such a colossal scale? In these people's minds, religion is not about God, in whom they do not believe in any case. It's all about human groups, and the rules they make up to live by: "We watch, fascinated, because living in groups defines the human enterprise, and a people in the process of changing their patterns of life and thought always catches our attention." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 75). Sociology shoves her way to the throne as queen of the sciences; as nothing about God can matter,— certainly it does not matter to them,— they can do nothing but make hash of theology in this way.

Notice how modern 'scholarship' works. Some of these people,— Hyam Maccoby, Reza Aslan, Bart Ehrman,— announce that, because Jesus is Jewish, He cannot have done and said the things that the gospels record Him as doing and saying, because these attitudes and activities are not typically Jewish, or at least are not typical of the rabbinic Judaism that came into formation in subsequent centuries. This is paradigm No. 1: Jesus the Talmudic Jew.

Others, like Burton Mack, explain that He is not Jewish at all, or at least not very. See if you can figure out, Dear Reader, who the 'Jesus people' are supposed to be; they are, it would appear, neither Jews nor Samaritans nor Galileans: "The patriarchs were not the private property of the Jews. Samaritans, Galileans, and the Jesus people were also the children of Abraham." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, pp. 144-145). Is there a considerable distance to be traversed here? Why, yes; it's astonishing!: "One can only be astonished at the claims these people were making for the importance of Jesus. It is a long jump from Cynic-sage to apocalyptic visionary." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and Christian Origins, p. 162). And we will leap over this chasm how? Why, gradually, of course, by one "incremental shift" at a time. Good luck with that.

How astounding that a non-Jewish Cynic Sage should end as a Torah-observant Jew; it boggles our author's mind: "Matthew' gospel appeared in the late 80s and comes as a complete surprise." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 161). The enterprise of naturalistic explanation commonly aspires to reduce incomprehension, not increase it, but we are in Jesus-land now; this pseudo-scholarly enterprise is properly categorized under the heading 'bad religion.' This is paradigm No. 2: the non-Jewish Jesus. Have these two paradigms any point in common? None whatsoever.

These people have no common frame of reference other than their shared contempt for the church. Is there any reason to take this kind of 'scholarship' seriously?


Gross Out

According to Burton Mack, Jesus' Easter morning resurrection was not only an ad hoc improvisation with no scriptural grounding, it was gross besides:

  • “It was that need to imagine God's involvement in an otherwise implausible martyrdom for a very problematic cause that resulted in the odd and grotesque notion of God raising Jesus from the dead. As we shall see, the myth of Jesus' resurrection achieved its purpose and became a winner, but not a single early Christian community was satisfied to leave it at the literal level. It was much too gross for that, and besides, the real stakes had little to do with questions about ghosts and bodies.”
  • (Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 84).

As the reader can see, our author employs the vocabulary of abuse of an internet atheist, endlessly describing the gospel as "grotesque," "patently absurd" (p. 117, Who Wrote the New Testament), "preposterous," etc. He delivers himself of such sentiments as, "It would be no wonder if the modern reader's eyes began to roll." (p. 120, Who Wrote the New Testament?). Yet his publisher fancies him an impartial scholar.

Mack's explanation for this purported improvisation, of a risen Lord, is as muddled and implausible as all the rest of his material. Is his accusation fair and reasonable? Is Christ's resurrection in the flesh either devoid of scriptural basis or gross, or at any rate any more gross than the fact that we living currently inhabit our flesh?:


The Nations

In contradiction, not only to all first century Jews whose views are recorded, whether in the New Testament or outside of it, but even to the later Rabbis who permitted proselytes, our author is perplexed by the idea that outsiders could join Israel at all, because that is, in his mind, an ethnic identity. He gives credit to Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, for introducing the idea:

  • “Paul's letter to the Galatians is actually a lengthy, passionate, and convoluted argument in support of that claim. It is the earliest recorded revision of Israel's history that tries to align the Christ myth with that history. . .
  • “It is the first elaboration of the Christ myth's logic that gentiles could belong to the people called Israel. And it documents the first serious effort to research the Hebrew scriptures as the way to support such a claim. . .
  • “As one can see, subjects, objects, antecedents, and the plain sense of the passages in Genesis were all violated in order to put the construction upon them that Paul did. To make the argument sound plausible, Paul had to turn the Jewish scriptures inside out.”
  • (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, pp. 115-116).

Huh? If, as this author elsewhere claims, Jesus was a (Gentile) Hellenistic Cynic Sage; and if His original Galilean followers were predominantly Gentile, then how did His movement come to be captured by Jews, who then pondered the difficult question of whether to admit Gentiles? How did the issue of admitting Gentiles to the Kingdom, under what terms and conditions, the history as described by the Book of Acts, ever become an issue at all in a church whose founder and original members were all Gentiles?

Mack is so certain that the race-based definition of the people of God subsequently offered by the Talmudic rabbis is correct that he disdains the possibility of any other interpretation, imagining that those who seek such an alternative view are 'desperate:'

"The apologists, in contrast, pored over the books of Moses in desperation and studied the prophets, the Psalms, and other writings in panic, not delight. They were looking for clues to some design other than the obvious. And like a dragon guarding a treasure, the same embarrassing question constantly rumbles just beneath the surface no matter what the topic for discussion might be. It was the question of how the history of Israel could possibly be read as the story of the Christians' God and thus count as the Christian epic not the epic of Israel that obviously pointed toward the establishment of a Jewish theocracy in Jerusalem. This was a disturbing question because it required the absolute appropriation of a story that was not really theirs." (Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth, p. 268)

One must wonder however, if indeed the racialist, xenophobic and anti-Gentile views of the later Rabbis, which probably arose in consequence of the destruction of the Jewish homeland in the early second century, had already been in place, who were the Jewish people who welcomed Mack's purportedly non-Jewish Jesus as their teacher of wisdom? If the Gentiles who clung to the Messiah could not be part of the people of God, then why did some of the people of God attach themselves to a Gentile, later reconfiguring Him as a Jew? It's perplexing that it's no problem at all for Jews to capture a (non) Messiah who's "not really theirs," while the Gentiles recapturing their own Messiah is grounds for "panic." As any thinking person could tell you, no need for panic: whatever mechanism by which a Gentile Hellenistic Cynic Sage became a Jew, why that is the very same mechanism by which His followers also became Jews!

Returning to reality, why did the Christian Church admit Gentiles? What does the Old Testament say about the Messiah and the Nations?: