Sunday, December 26, 2010

Does Chiasmus Prove the Book of Mormon is True?

Chiasmus is a literary technique in which either words, ideas, or grammatical structures are repeated in an inverted way. In 1787, Anglican bishop Robert Lowth discovered that chiasmus is used in the Bible. For example, in Matthew 19:30 the words "first" and "last" get repeated in reverse order:

  But many that are first
      shall be last;
      and the last
  shall be first.

Another example is found in Psalms 124:7 where the words "escaped" and "snare" create an inverted parallelism:

  Our soul is escaped as a bird
      out of the snare of the fowlers:
      the snare is broken,
  and we are escaped.

Chiasmus can be unintentional at times, but there are other instances where it's obviously done on purpose, such as in Isaiah 6:10:

  Make the heart of this people fat,
      and make their ears heavy,
        and shut their eyes;
        lest they see with their eyes,
      and hear with their ears,
  and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Here, the pattern is heart, ears, eyes, eyes, ears, heart.

In the late 1960's, John W. Welch, the founder of the Mormon apologetic group Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), discovered that there is chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. For example, Mosiah 5:10-12:

 And now . . . whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ
    must be called by some other name;
      therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
        I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name . . .
          that never should be blotted out,
            except it be through transgression;
            therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,
          that the name be not blotted out of your hearts . . .
        I would that ye should remember to retain the name . . .
      that ye are not found on the left hand of God,
    but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called,
 and also, the name by which he shall call you.

Welch claims that it would have been very unlikely for Joseph Smith, who produced the Book of Mormon, to have known about chiasmus, therefor, the existence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon proves that Joseph Smith didn't write it.

Does this mean that the Book of Mormon really was written by ancient Jews living on the American continent?

In his book, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, D. Michael Quinn obliterates Welch's claims in a footnote. Quinn points out that Robert Lowth's study of chiasmus in the Bible from 1787 was available in an American edition by 1815, well before the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon. Welch himself admits this in his 1970 master's thesis, although he hasn't acknowledged it since.

Chiasmus received much more recognition with the first American edition of Thomas Hartwell Horne's Introduction To the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures in 1825. Not only was Horne's book advertised in Palmyra's newspaper (which Joseph Smith was known to have read), but the 1818 London edition of the book was for sale by 1820 in the Canandaigua Bookstore (which also had a lending library) only nine miles from Smith's home.

Far from being nearly impossible, Joseph Smith being aware of chiasmus is actually rather likely. He could have found out about it by going to a nearby library or bookstore, by noticing the advertisement in the newspaper he always read, or by having a conversation with someone who'd heard about it. Sorry John, but chiasmus does not prove the Book of Mormon is true.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Against Apion

In his book, Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus relates the history of the Jewish people from the creation of the world up to the time of the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans. The main source for his history is the Old Testament, although he also borrows from the Apocrypha as well as some other sources now lost to us. Understandably, there were many critics who doubted the historicity of his narrative. Josephus responded to his critics in a book titled Against Apion. This is his answer to those who doubt the story of Noah's ark:

Berosus shall be witness to what I say: he was by birth a Chaldean, well known by the learned, on account of his publication of the Chaldean books of astronomy and philosophy among the Greeks. This Berosus, therefore, following the most ancient records of that nation, gives us a history of the deluge of waters that then happened, and of the destruction of mankind thereby, and agrees with Moses's narration thereof. He also gives us an account of that ark wherein Noah, the origin of our race, was preserved, when it was brought to the highest part of the Armenian mountains; after which he gives us a catalogue of the posterity of Noah, and adds the years of their chronology, and at length comes down to Nabolassar, who was king of Babylon, and of the Chaldeans. (Against Apion Book I, 19)

There you have it, critics! Berosus says it happened and he's well known by the learned, so it must have happened!

To prove that the Jews really are an ancient people, Josephus quotes from several writers who mention Jews in history, including the following story from Hecateus which demonstrates the triumph of skepticism over psuedo-science:

As I was myself going to the Red Sea, there followed us a man, whose name was Mosollam; he was one of the Jewish horsemen who conducted us; he was a person of great courage, of a strong body, and by all allowed to be the most skillful archer that was either among the Greeks or barbarians. Now this man, as people were in great numbers passing along the road, and a certain augur was observing an augury by a bird, and requiring them all to stand still, inquired what they staid for. Hereupon the augur showed him the bird from whence he took his augury, and told him that if the bird staid where he was, they ought all to stand still; but that if he got up, and flew onward, they must go forward; but that if he flew backward, they must retire again. Mosollam made no reply, but drew his bow, and shot at the bird, and hit him, and killed him; and as the augur and some others were very angry, and wished imprecations upon him, he answered them thus: Why are you so mad as to take this most unhappy bird into your hands? for how can this bird give us any true information concerning our march, who could not foresee how to save himself? for had he been able to foreknow what was future, he would not have come to this place, but would have been afraid lest Mosollam the Jew should shoot at him, and kill him. (Against Apion Book I, 22)

Josephus doesn't get around to the titular Apion until Book II. Here, we learn about Apion's claim that the Jews worship the golden head of an ass. Josephus wittily replies that Apion has an ass heart:

Apion ought to have had a regard to these facts, unless he had himself had either an ass's heart or a dog's impudence; of such a dog I mean as they worship; for he had no other external reason for the lies he tells of us. (Against Apion Book II, 7)

Take that Apion! You're the one who worships animals, not us! You think we worship an ass? Well... you're an ass!

And say you so, sir! as I may reply; then does Apion load the ass, that is, himself, and lays on him a burden of fooleries and lies. (Against Apion Book II, 10)

In response to Apion's criticism of the Jewish practice of animal sacrifice, Josephus questions Apion's ethnicity:

However, he accuses us for sacrificing animals, and for abstaining from swine's flesh, and laughs at us for the circumcision of our privy members. Now as for our slaughter of tame animals for sacrifices, it is common to us and to all other men; but this Apion, by making it a crime to sacrifice them, demonstrates himself to be an Egyptian; for had he been either a Grecian or a Macedonian, [as he pretends to be,] he had not shown any uneasiness at it. [...] Yet if all men had followed the manners of the Egyptians, the world had certainly been made desolate as to mankind, but had been filled full of the wildest sort of brute beasts, which, because they suppose them to be gods, they carefully nourish. (Against Apion Book II, 14)

If we didn't perform animal sacrifice, the world would be so overrun with wild tame animals that mankind would be in danger of extinction! As a final coup de grâce, Josephus makes fun of the way Apion died:

Which makes me think that Apion is hereby justly punished for his casting such reproaches on the laws of his own country; for he was circumcised himself of necessity, on account of an ulcer in his privy member; and when he received no benefit by such circumcision, but his member became putrid, he died in great torment. (Against Apion Book II, 14)

Apion made fun of circumcision... and then he died from having one! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Wow. Josephus was a jerk.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Body is a Temple

When the scriptures say the body is a temple, what do they mean by that? Jesus refers to his body as a temple, but it's not entirely clear why:

Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building , and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. - John 2:18-22

Paul uses the temple metaphor for the membership of the church as a whole:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. - Ephesians 2:19-22

Here Paul is addressing the church at Corinth, so the "you" is plural:

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. - 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

So all the members of the church together form the temple and the Spirit of God dwells within. If that's the case, how does one defile the temple of God? One traditional interpretation is that tattoos and body piercing are forbidden. However, the Bible never forbids body piercing and only forbids tattoos indirectly in that they can be considered graven images. One could make the argument that since we are created in God's image, modifying our bodies is an insult to God (with the one notable exception of circumcision).

Another interpretation of the phrase is we should be physically fit. Smoking, drinking, over eating, and anything else that makes us less physically fit is a defilement of our bodies. We should make our bodies as perfect as possible through diet and exercise just as we would want our place of worship to be perfect and without flaw.

Other people think that when the scriptures compare our bodies to temples it means that abortion is forbidden. However, abortion is never condemned in the Bible (unless you count the Apocrypha).

My own theory about this phrase involves looking at when the scriptures were written. According to tradition, the Pauline epistles were written between 50-70 AD, however there's no evidence of their existence until the second century. If they are second century creations, the epistles were written after the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD. The Temple was the only place where God was said to have dwelt.

Theology had to change once the Temple was destroyed. The practice of animal sacrifice was stopped. (Today, modern Jews argue whether the practice should continue if the Temple gets rebuilt.) Also, the idea that God dwelt only in the Temple had to change.

"Lift the stone and there you will find me. Split the wood and I am there." - Thomas 30

Now, instead of only being able to commune with God at the Temple in Jerusalem, Christian Jews could commune with God anywhere. God was no longer limited to a single building. Every member's body was now a temple. (Even if the epistles were written before the Temple was destroyed, the idea that God dwelt everywhere could have been arrived at by Christian Jews who were barred from the Temple.)

So my theory was that when early Christians speak of the body being a temple, they mean that you can worship God wherever you are. You don't have to go to a special building designed for worship. Wherever you go, God goes also. My theory might even be what the phrase originally meant, unfortunately it's not backed up by the scriptures as we have them today.

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. - 1 Corinthians 6:18–20

That's right. When Paul talks about the body being a temple, what he really means is that you shouldn't have sex. How disappointing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Eye of the Needle

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:25, Matthew 19:24, Luke 18:25)

When I first heard this phrase in Sunday school, I thought it was nothing more than a bit of hyperbole illustrating how difficult it is for a rich person to get into heaven. However, when I got to seminary, I was taught that this phrase actually referred to an anti-smuggling gate in the city wall of Jerusalem called "The Eye of the Needle" which was so narrow, a camel couldn't pass through unless you removed its packs. Victorian tourists to the Holy Land even claimed to have seen this gate.

The phrase suddenly made more sense. A rich man can enter heaven, he just has to leave all his possessions behind to do so. A variation of this explanation states that the camel can only pass through the gate on its knees like a repentant sinner. Some have said the phrase refers to a small gate for pedestrians on the side of the larger gate through which camels would pass. Some say the gate was only used at night. In another version, "eye of the needle" refers to a mountain pass so narrow that merchants had to dismount from their camels to get through. Another explanation is that it referred to ancient inns having small entrances to thwart thieves.

The problem with this explanation and all its variations, however, is that there's no evidence that such a gate ever existed. A gate to Jerusalem being called "the eye of the needle" is an urban legend which began in the Middle Ages.

So what does this phrase really mean? An explanation that's been put forth is that the Greek word for camel (kamilos) is a misprint of the Greek word for a ship's cable (kamêlos), which some late New Testament manuscripts actually use. Since dialects change over time, the two words probably would have been pronounced the same way at some point. A camel passing through the eye of a needle is pure nonsense, but someone trying to thread a needle with a large rope, while still nonsensical, at least makes more sense. A rope at least belongs to the same class of objects as a thread. This explanation is certainly possible, but is it the most probable?

Another possible explanation relies on the theory that the Gospels were originally Aramaic, not the Greek of all our surviving manuscripts. In Aramaic, the word for camel and rope are both spelled the same (גמלא). Since ropes were sometimes made of camel's hair, the Aramaic word "gamla" can mean either "camel" or "rope" depending on the context. Again, this is possible, but since the evidence for the Gospels originally being written in Aramaic or based on an Aramaic oral tradition is quite weak, this explanation is unlikely.

Some say that the needle spoken of in the phrase is a six inch carpet needle and "camel" refers to a rope made of camel hair. "A rich man getting into heaven is as easy as passing a rope through a big needle" doesn't sound so difficult.

All these explanation are interesting, but ultimately unnecessary. They're all based on the assumption that the phrase as it is can't be right. Is it really so hard to believe that there would be an ancient saying discussing a camel going through a needle's eye? We use sayings today that would seem quite nonsensical to people living a thousand years in the future. If we put this phrase in the context of other sayings of the time, it suddenly doesn't seem so out of place:

They [dreams] do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle. - Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth, 55b (i.e. Men only dream of things which are possible, not things which are impossible such as an elephant going through the eye of a needle.)

Rabbi Sheshith answered Rabbi Amram, "Maybe you are from the school at Pumbeditha, where they can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle." - Baba Metzia 38b (i.e. Rabbi Amram is making an argument so convoluted that he's able to convince himself of the impossible.)

A needle's eye is not too narrow for two lovers, but the whole world is not wide enough for two enemies. - Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Mibhar HaPeninim, c.1050, #281

The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle's eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and [camels?] - Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs, 5.3

The largest animal in the regions where the Babylonian Talmud were written was the elephant. The elephant was virtually unknown in Israel, so the largest animal they would be familiar with is the camel. Basically what the phrase is saying is that it's impossible for the largest known animal to pass through the smallest known opening. Today, we'd say something like a rich man getting into heaven is like a whale slipping through a water purifier.

While the other explanations offered are possible, they are unnecessarily complicated. If the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one, then my initial Sunday school interpretation which took the phrase at face value is correct and we've come full circle.

"Slipping the rich through the eye of a needle is easy as getting a camel to heaven." - Meat Puppets

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Definition of "Militant"

Militant Muslim: Someone like Osama bin Laden who was responsible for the deaths of 2,974 people on September 11, 2001.

Militant Jew: Someone like Baruch Goldstein who opened fire inside a mosque in 1994, killing 29 people.

Militant Buddhist: Someone like cult leader Shoko Asahara who was responsible for the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in 1995 which killed 13 people.

Militant Christian: Someone like the 1996 Olympics bomber Eric Robert Rudolph who killed 4 people or fellow anti-abortion activist Reverend Paul Jennings Hill who killed 2 people.

Militant Atheist: Someone like Richard Dawkins who once wrote a book claiming that God almost certainly doesn't exist.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Gospel of Thomas

Scholars in search of a historical Jesus usually stick with the canonical writings, although there's really no reason to consider the canonical writings more authoritative than the non-canonical writings of the same period.

When Biblical scholars do venture outside the canon, The Gospel of Thomas, sometimes called the Fifth Gospel, is the text they are most likely to include. Thomas likely predates Mark, Matthew, Luke and John as it contains no reference to later ideas such as the crucifixion or resurrection, nor does it speak of Jesus as a Messianic figure. However, several sayings from Thomas are found in Matthew and Luke. The hypothetical Q document both Matthew and Luke quote from could be a modified Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas was branded as heretical by Eusebius, and thus all copies of it were destroyed. However, in 1945 several gnostic documents were discovered accidentally by some farmers in Nag Hammadi, Egypt including the Gospel of Thomas. The documents are dated to around 340 AD, when the Catholic church had just been founded to unify the numerous competing brands of Christianity. Since gnosticism was now considered a heresy, the gnostics had to bury their writings in caves so they wouldn't be destroyed.

The earliest references to the Gospel of Thomas are made by Hippolytus of Rome and Origan of Alexandia around 230 AD. However, the Oxyrhyncus papyrus fragments of the Gospel of Thomas date to as early as 130 AD, much earlier than the first papyrus fragments that exist for the canonical gospels.

It is difficult to date the Gospel of Thomas since, just like the canonical gospels, sayings were added to it and taken away from it by different editors over the years. The earliest version of Thomas was probably written around 50 AD, while the version we have today was written much later. We do know the canonical Gospels were written later since they show an awareness of Thomas, but Thomas shows no awareness of them. Thomas also lacks any reference to the end of the world indicating it was written before the Roman wars with the Jews.

The Gospel of John particularly shows an awareness of Thomas. John attempts to put down Thomas (and by extension his Gospel) by portraying Thomas as someone who doubts the resurrection of Jesus. Both John and Thomas speak of a divine Light and personify the Light as Jesus. John 1:9 (That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world) is a reference to the idea found in Thomas 77 (Jesus says: I am the Light above them all, I am the All. All came forth from me, and all attained to me.) John and Thomas also both emphasize salvation via the logos of Christ.

Peter is portrayed as the successor to Jesus in the canonical Gospels. However, before the canonical Gospels were written, Peter was subservient to James. As Paul tells us:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (Galatians 2:11-12)

This is another indication that Thomas predates the canonical Gospels. Thomas agrees with Paul that James, not Peter, was the leader of the early Christian movement:

The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being." (Thomas 12)

There is a striking similarity between 1 Corinthians 2:9 and Thomas 17 which indicates one author may have been aware of the other:

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
I shall give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard and no hand has touched, and what has not come into the human heart. (Thomas 17)

Since the Gospel of Thomas was written before Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, and since Thomas, like the epistles of Paul and every other first century Christian writing, lack any historical information about Jesus, we're forced to conclude that no historical information about Jesus existed in the first century. Christians simply didn't care about the biography of Jesus until about 130-140 AD when the Gospel of Mark was written.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dating the Gospels


When were the Gospels written? A simple question with a complicated answer. Perhaps the best place to start is with the physical evidence. Some have postulated that fragment 7Q5 of the Dead Sea scrolls (68 AD at the latest) is a fragment of Mark 6:52-53, although the papyrus is so small and of such poor quality, we can't even be sure what the individual letters are, much less what words they spell, so saying that it's from Mark is purely wishful thinking.

The Rylands Papyrus (P52), supposedly containing John 18:31-33 and 37-38, has been dated to around 125 - 150 AD. However, this dating is uncertain since it is based on handwriting analysis. Carbon dating isn't used since the manuscript is so small sacrificing any part of it for carbon dating would ruin it. Therefore, the Rylands Papyrus could easily be either earlier or later than 125 - 150 AD. Even if the date is correct, we aren't even completely sure the text really is from the Gospel of John since we only have five complete words and nine partial words on one side and six complete words and seven partial words on the other. This fragment could just as easily belong to the Gospel of Nicodemus or another text entirely.

Leaving aside fragments which may or may not be from the gospels, the earliest genuine Gospel fragments of Matthew, Luke, and John date to around 200 AD which is about the same time we start seeing depictions of Jesus in artwork. Surprisingly, the oldest genuine copy of Mark now extant is the highly fragmentary Chester Beatty papyrus (P45) written around 250 AD. We know, however, that Mark had to have been written before this date since both Matthew and Luke are based on Mark.

The oldest surviving New Testament is the Codex Vaticanus written around 300 AD, although it's worth pointing out it contained a different canon than our present day Bible. Interestingly, the King James Bible originally included the Apocrypha, so our current canon is a more recent development than many people realize.

In addition to the Codex Vaticanus, there are other versions of the Bible which include different texts, as well as different versions of the Gospels. For example, one of the earliest versions of Mark ends with the death of Jesus, while later versions tack on a resurrection story. So even by the late date of 300 AD, the Gospels had not yet evolved into their final form.

In 324 AD, Emperor Constantine assembled the Council of Nicaea to unify the different versions of Christianity that had thrived in previous centuries. As part of this unification, a single version of scripture, as well as a single version of history, had to be decided upon. Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea rewrote his History of the Church at least five times to conform to the changing doctrine of the time.

"How far it may be proper to use fictions as a medicine for the benefit of those who require to be deceived"
-Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea, The title of Book 12, Chapter 31 of Praeparatio Evangelica (circa 324 AD)

Eusebius obviously had no problem with rewriting history. He tells us in Martyrs of Palestine that he intends to only list the inspiring events and leave out everything that makes the early church leaders look bad. He quotes from documents that no one before or since him had access to such as a passage from Quadratus of Athens that claims people raised from the dead by Jesus were still alive during his time, and a passage from Phlegon of Tralles which states that the day turned to night and an earthquake happened when Jesus was crucified.

Eusebius is thought to be the interpolater who inserted the reference to Jesus (known as the Testimonium Flavianum) into the writings of the historian Flavius Josephus. This obvious insertion not only breaks up the flow of the passage and was an unlikely statement for a Jew to make, but it also doesn't match Josephus' writing style, although it does match Eusebius'. Also, this passage isn't mentioned by any Christians before Eusebius.

Outside sources

So, keeping in mind that the historical record when it comes to early Christianity is unreliable, when are the Gospels first mentioned? The Epistle of Barnabas, written around 97 AD and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch written around 110 AD have no knowledge of the Gospels. The first epistle of Clement of Rome, written around 95 AD mentions the epistles of Paul, but not the Gospels.

Writings by Thallos (55 AD), Mara bar Serapion (73 AD), Pliny the Younger (100 AD), Tacitus (116 AD), and Suetonius (120 AD) all mention Christ (or another variant of the name such as Chrestus), yet provide no historical information about him, so there's still no evidence the Gospels have been written yet.

An earlier form of the epistles of Paul were probably written by this time, although it's worth noting that the epistles as we have them today were rewritten to conform to later theology. However, with the exception of a couple of later interpolations, even the current version of the epistles contain no historical information about Christ. Indeed, Paul talks about the crucifixion of Jesus as if it had been committed by demons before the world began. It's entirely likely that the original Christians were gnostics who believed in a spiritual Christ and only started believing in a historical Christ leading up to the time of Eusebius.

Around 130 AD, Papias of Hierapolis refers to a book by Matthew compiling the sayings of Jesus, but this is not the narrative Gospel of Matthew that we're familiar with. Papias also mentions the memoir of Peter as written down by Mark, but we have no way of knowing if this is the same as the present day Gospel of Mark.

However, even this early reference is doubtful since other Christian sources from this period such as The Book of Hermas and the writings of Polycarp still don't mention the Gospels. Also, our only source for this quote from Papias is by the pious fraud Eusebius centuries later.

The Exigetica written by the gnostic Basilides around 135 AD contained references to Gospel stories. Although, as we have no proof that the Gospels were written before this time, it's more likely the Gospels borrowed these stories from gnostic traditions rather than the other way around.

In 140 AD, Aristidies of Athens refers to "the holy Gospel writing" but we can't be sure he's refering to the same texts that we think of as the Gospels today.

The first New Testament canon was compiled by the gnostic Marcion around 144 AD. It contained ten of Paul's Epistles and one Gospel which lacked references to the nativity, the Old Testament, etc. In Against Marcion 4.2, Tertullian claims Marcion's unnamed Gospel was a stripped down version of Luke. However, as there's no evidence Luke existed before this time, it's more likely that Luke is an expanded version of Marcion's Gospel.

In his first Apology written around 150 AD, Justin Martyr refers to the writings of Mark, Luke, and Matthew as memoirs, and by about 160 AD, Tatian combines the Gospels together into a book called the Diatessaron.

Non-Christians still don't know much about Jesus during this period. Lucian of Samosata (about 165 AD) just refers to Jesus as a cruficied sophist. It isn't until about 175 AD with Celsus that non-Christians start paying attention to Christianity. In about 178 AD, Celsus wrote:

Clearly the Christians have used the myths of Danae and the Melanippe, or of the Auge and the Antiope in fabricating the story of Jesus' virgin birth. ...It is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction. I have heard that some of your interpreters are on to the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the original writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism.

In Against Heresies written about 180 AD, Irenaeus claims that there should be four Gospels and labels competing texts as heresies. The reference to the Gospels in Irenaeus is largely considered to be the first solid reference to the Gospels that we have since the earlier references to the gospels are second hand accounts quoted in later writers.

However, even the reference by Irenaues could have been written later and falsely attributed to him. Psuedopigraphs, a modern writing falsely attributed to an earlier author in order to give it more authority, were extremely common, so we can't be absolutely sure that the Gospels were even written by 180 AD. However, since we do have papyrus fragments of the Gospels from around 200 AD, it's not unreasonable to assume that the reference to them in Irenaeus is genuine.

So, based on references to the Gospels from outside sources and the existing artwork and papyrus fragments, the Gospels were most likely written sometime during the second century. Earlier or later dates than this are possible, but not very likely.


Turning to the text of the Gospels themselves, we know they were definitely not eye witness accounts due to several anachronisms. For example, Pilate was a Prefect, an office which was done away with in 46 AD, yet the Gospels refer to him as a Procurator.

Another anachronism is the existence of the city of Nazareth, as well as synagogues in Galilee, which archeology tells us weren't around until after 70 AD. Pharisees also weren't in Galilee until after 70 AD. The title of Rabbi is used to refer to Jesus, yet this title didn't come into use until the second century. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus refers to the murder of Zechariah, son of Berachiah (which happened around 70 AD) as if it had happened in the past.

The Gospels explain Jewish customs to the reader and get the geography of the area wrong, indicating that they were not written for a Jewish audience, nor were they written by someone who lived in the area.

The rabid anti-Semitism of the Gospels also indicates that they were a second century creation. After all, Christians were originally Jews, and even when Christianity began to spread to the Gentiles, they still remained on good terms with the Jewish Christians until the end of the first century where we find a Jewish prayer, the Shermoneh Esrei, cursing Nazarenes and other Christians.


For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. (Mark 5:8-13)

Scholars have long speculated that Legion is a reference to an occupying Roman force. Perhaps the tenth legion spoken of by Josephus:

And when he had staid three days among the principal commanders, and so long feasted with them, he sent away the rest of his army to the several places where they would be every one best situated; but permitted the tenth legion to stay, as a guard at Jerusalem, and did not send them away beyond Euphrates, where they had been before. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews Book VII, Chapter 1, Paragraph 3)

William Harwood tells us more about the tenth legion in Mythology's Last Gods: "Since the fall of the city a few months earlier [about 70 AD], Jerusalem had been occupied by the Roman Tenth Legion [X Fretensis], whose emblem was a pig. Mark's reference to about two thousand pigs, the size of the occupying Legion, combined with his blatant designation of the evil beings as Legion, left no doubt in Jewish minds that the pigs in the fable represented the army of occupation."

Mark was certainly written after the Romans had conquered Jerusalem, but how far after? Most mainstream New Testament scholars think Mark was written during the First Jewish War of 66 - 73 AD due to the so-called Little Apocalypse of Mark 13. However, most mainstream New Testament scholars are Christians with an obvious agenda to prove that the Gospels are at least partially historical. We have no outside proof that Mark was written this early. In fact, the Little Apocalypse of Mark is actually a better reference to the Second Jewish War of 132-136 AD.

And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. (Mark 13:2)

This is an obvious reference to the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in 70 AD. Because of this passage, no serious scholar claims Mark could have been written before this date. However, great buildings were also destroyed in the Second Jewish Revolt.

For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. (Mark 13:22)

There were certainly false prophets during the First Jewish Revolt as there have been all throughout Jewish history, however, the Second Jewish Revolt had a rather high profile false prophet. Simon ben Kosiba (or Bar Kochba) not only lead the Second Jewish War against Rome and was considered the Messiah by many, but he was also said to have spewed fire from his mouth, fitting the description of one who shows signs and wonders.

But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. (Mark 13:9)

The Jews first instituted a curse upon apostates in the 90s and their hatred of Jewish Christians was at its peak in the decades immediately following. We have no evidence of Jewish violence against Christians during the First Jewish War.

The abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains. (Mark 13: 14)

The "abomination of desolation" Daniel mentions in Daniel 9:27 is a statue of Zeus put in the Temple of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes about 165 BC. Hadrian modeled himself on Antiochus and actually provoked the Second Jewish War by erecting not just a statue, but an entire temple to Zeus in Jerusalem. There wasn't a clear "abomination of desolation" during the First Jewish War.

The aside by Mark (let him that readeth understand) is a formula used in the Bible to indicate that the author can't directly say what he means. We see the same thing in Revelations where John refers to Rome as the "Whore of Babylon," since he, like Mark, is unable to criticize Rome openly.

And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. (Mark 13:18)

The reference to a flight in winter only makes sense when applied to the Second Jewish War when the Roman armies partially withdrew to regroup, making escape for the Jews trapped in the city possible. This same scenario didn't happen during the First Jewish War.

And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. (Mark 13:7)

This indicates that the author was aware that the First Jewish War wasn't the end, that there would be more fighting to come.

Could Mark have been written during the First Jewish Revolt, then updated after the Second Jewish Revolt? It's certainly possible. However, if we also consider the evidence of papyrus fragments and references to Mark in other historical works, we don't see any evidence to suggest Mark was written at such an early date. However, since Mark's Jesus is largely based on the stories of Elijah and Elisha as found in 1 & 2 Kings, the outline could possibly have been written any time in the previous centuries.

Who wrote Mark? Mark, the assistant of Peter isn't very likely given the evidence. Some scholars have suggested the gnostic Marcion. Others think it may have been composed by Cerinthius who founded the Cerinthians in about 140 AD since they relied solely on the Gospel of Mark. Ultimately, we don't know for sure, but as to when Mark was written, all evidence points to the 130's AD when the Second Jewish Revolt occurred and the first reference to Mark is made by Papias.


If Eusebius' quote of Papias is to be believed, Papias also referred to Matthew having collected the sayings of Jesus. This obviously wasn't a narrative story, but could this be the hypothetical Q document?

Q is a hypothetical text which hasn't survived, but many scholars believe existed since when you compare Matthew and Luke side by side, Jesus will often say the same things but in different contexts. If Luke had copied these saying from Matthew or vice versa, rearranging the order of the sayings doesn't make any sense. Therefore, the sayings common to Matthew and Luke came from a different source, a sayings document similar to the Gospel of Thomas.

Q is mainly composed of sayings from Cynic and Stoic philosophy predating the Gospels by centuries, which isn't surprising given that the Gospels were originally written in Greek and show tremendous Greek influence. Not only is the word synagogue Greek, but Jesus' disciples Andrew, Philip, and Simon have Greek names. Matthew even quotes from one of Aesop's fables (Matthew 11:17). Why Papias would associate these sayings with Jesus is unknown, but once the connection was made, both Matthew and Luke thought it would be a good idea to expand Mark's Gospel by adding these sayings to it.

The fact that the Gospel of Matthew is based on the Gospel of Mark immediately places it at a later date. However, there are also other indications that Matthew is a second century creation.

First, the nativity story of Matthew 2 involving the slaughter of innocents is based on the nativity story of Moses as told by Josephus. We know Matthew used Josephus because the version found in Exodus doesn't mention a prophecy.

One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king, that about this time there would a child be born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages. Which thing was so feared by the king, that, according to this man's opinion, he commanded that they should cast every male child, which was born to the Israelites, into the river, and destroy it. (Antiquities of the Jews - Book II, Chapter 9, Paragraph 2 written around 94 AD)

Second, Matthew quotes from the letters of Ignatius of Antioch written around 110 AD.

No one who professes faith falls into sin, nor does one who has learned to love hate. The tree is known by its fruit. (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 14:2)

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. (Matthew 12:33)

In all circumstances be wise as a serpent, and perpetually harmless as a dove. (Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp 2:2)

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

Unless we accept the improbable scenario of a Christian trying to pass off the wisdom of Jesus as his own sayings, we're forced to conclude that Matthew is quoting from Ignatius instead of the other way around.

Third, Matthew attempts to discredit second century rumors:

Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

The claim that Jesus' body was stolen from the tomb was first mentioned in 160 AD, therefore this attempt to refute it was probably made later. At least, it couldn't have been made much earlier.

His disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter CVII, written around 160 AD)

This is your carpenter's son, your harlot's son; your Sabbath-breaker, your Samaritan, your demon-possessed! This is he whom you bought from Judas. This is he who was struck with reeds and fists, dishonored with spittle, and given a draught of gall and vinegar! This is he whom his disciples have stolen secretly, that it may be said, 'He has risen', or the gardener abstracted that his lettuces might not be damaged by the crowds of visitors! (Tertullian, De Spetaculis 100.30 written about 200 AD)

Most scholars agree that the genealogy of Jesus listed in Matthew 1 included four women of questionable backgrounds who nevertheless lived lives of repute in order to dispel rumors that Jesus' real father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. If these women with questionable backgrounds nevertheless lived lives of virtue, so did Mary. However, the first mention of this claim wasn't made until 175 AD by Celsus.

The Gospel of Matthew was most likely written around 150 AD when it is first mentioned by Justin Martyr, however, both earlier and later dates are possible.


Like Matthew, Luke is also based on Mark with the addition of Q. Luke also gets the idea for his nativity story from Josephus, but instead of referring to the Slaughter of Innocents at the time of Moses, he instead refers to the census of Quirinius (sometimes transliterated as Cyrenius).

Now Cyrenius, a Roman senator, and one who had gone through other magistracies, and had passed through them till he had been consul, and one who, on other accounts, was of great dignity, came at this time into Syria, with a few others, being sent by Caesar to be a judge of that nation, and to take an account of their substance. (Josephus, Antiquities Book 18, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1)

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. (Luke 2:1-3)

However, the Census of Quirinius was based on property, not head count. There would be no reason for Joseph to return his family to his ancestral homeland for this census. The Kata Oikian census taken in Egypt in 104 AD that did require temporary city dwellers to return to their regular domiciles fits the census mentioned by Luke better.

Another reference to this census, the purpose of which was taxation, is made in Acts. As many scholars have noted, Acts seems to be a continuation of Luke written by the same author.

Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. (Acts 5:37)

It was that a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countrymen to revolt, and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and would after God submit to mortal men as their lords. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 8, Paragraph 1, written around 79 AD)

Josephus is the only person to associate Judas the Galilean with the Census of Quirinius besides Luke. Since Josephus provides more details than Luke, it's highly unlikely that Josephus copied from Luke, therefore, Luke had to have copied from Josephus.

Luke actually relies upon Josephus quite heavily. He is the only writer other than Josephus to use the word haireseis to refer to different sects and the Latin word sicarii to refer to Jewish rebels.

They both use the same three rebel leaders Judas the Galilean (see above), Theudas (Acts 5:36; Antiquities 20.97) and a rebel refered to only as "The Egyptian" (Acts 21:38; Wars 2.261-263, Antiquities 20.171). They both refer to the death of Agrippa I as being a punishment from God (Acts 12:21-23; Antiquities 19.343-352).

The passages where Luke connects Agrippa II with Berenice (Acts 25:13, 25:23, 26:30) and Felix with Drusilla (Acts 24:24-26) are confusing unless the reader is already familiar with Josephus' accounts (Antiquities 20.145, 20.143).

There are many other examples such as the mention of Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1; Wars 2.215, 2.247, Antiquities 19.275), the mention of a famine during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28-29; Antiquities 3.320, 20:51-53, 20.101), the similarity between Josephus' description of Herod and Luke's parable of the hated king (Luke 19:12-27; Wars 1.282-285), the siege of Jerusalem being described in a similar way (Luke 19:43-44; Wars 6), and the similarity between Pilate's attack on the Galileans in Luke 13:1 and Pilate's attack on the Samaritans in Antiquities 18.85-87.

Luke admits that he's not an eye witness, but rather constructed his Gospel by referring to historical records, so it's not surprising he relied so heavily upon the works of Josephus. In fact, Luke is the only Gospel which makes an attempt at historical accuracy.

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus. (Luke 1:1-3)

It's worth noting that the only Theophilius known to early Christianity was made Bishop of Antioch about 170 AD. If Luke is addressing his writing to this Theophilius, which is likely, his Gospels couldn't have been written before this date. However, as Theophilius literally means "friend of God", some have speculated that Luke is not addressing a particular person, but rather Christians in general. If this is the case, Luke could have been written a couple decades sooner.


Mark, Matthew, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because they all follow the same basic outline. The reason for this, of course, is that Matthew and Luke are based on Mark. John, however, is quite different.

The writer of John had no knowledge of Semitic languages and instead uses pagan vocabulary. Jesus lacks a Jewish genealogy and is not referred to as a Jewish Messiah. In fact, John is entirely anti-Semitic, going so far as to condemn the Jews as Satanic.

This, however, doesn't help us with dating. John could either be a later writing in which the Jewish element has been stripped out, or an earlier writing written before the Jewish character was inserted. Of course, it's also possible that John was written at the same time as the synoptics by a different community drawing on similar traditions.

Most scholars would say that John was written last due to its more advanced theology and the fact that the end of the world isn't right around the corner. However, other scholars contend that John was written first.

Tradition places the date of the Gospel of John at 96 AD due to the statement of the Monarchian Prologue (written around 200 AD) that "[John] wrote this Gospel in the Province of Asia, after he had composed Revelation on the Island of Patmos." However, it's extremely unlikely that the author of the Gospel of John is the same as the author of Revelations since the two books are so completely different from each other. Also, John doesn't read like an eye witness account, so it's doubtful that Jesus' disciple, if he existed, had anything to do with writing it.

Some have found similarities between the Gospel of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls (written between about 150 BC to 70 AD), including duplicate phrases and themes particularly in the Rule of the Community scroll (1QS 3:13 - 4:14). However, since these themes and phrases occur elsewhere, it's not certain that there's a relationship between the documents at all, and even if there is, it's more likely John copied from the Dead Sea Scrolls rather than the other way around since the Dead Sea Scrolls predate the earliest copies we have of John.

Some have pointed out similarities between the Gospel of John and the writings of Justin Martyr (about 150 - 160 AD). Again, we can't be sure of who is borrowing from whom.

Some have proposed that John is a response to Valentinus' Gospel of Truth written about 160 AD, or even a Catholic rewrite of Cerinthius' Gospel written around 140 AD. Indeed, many scholars have noted that John does appear to be a gnostic gospel that was rewritten to conform to Catholic theology.

The reoccurring theme in John of the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues indicates the earliest possible date of composition to be about 100 AD. The ideas behind John, of course, go back much further.

Philo of Alexandria (who lived from about 20 BC - 50 AD) was a Jew who worshipped Greek gods. He used the concept of Logos to try to reconcile the two traditions. Since Christianity is basically just a blend of Greek and Jewish religious traditions, one might almost say that Philo was the first Christian. His conception of Logos (the Word) is most famously brought to life in the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,14)

John's Jesus is not portrayed as a human. He displays no emotions or sensitivity to pain. In John, there is no nativity story, Jesus simply appears. Jesus, being perfect, does not require baptism nor does Satan try to tempt him in the wilderness since one cannot tempt a God. The synoptic Jesus refuses to give signs of his authority or say who he is, while John's Jesus is constantly giving signs and speaking of his identity.

Before 200 AD, Christianity was so similar to Greek mystery cult worship that most people couldn't tell the difference. Early church leaders such as Justin and Tertullian had to defend Christianity against charges that it was the same as Dionysus or Osiris worship.

Could John have been written before the other Gospels? The gnostic idea of Jesus as God certainly predates the Christian idea of Jesus as a man. However, as John does show an awareness of the synoptics and refutes them at times, it was probably written afterwards, placing its composition at some time around 170 AD.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Apocalypse Soon has a Rapture Index which tracks how close we are to the end of the world by measuring such items as Oil Supply, Liberalism, Crime Rate, and Floods. Whoever runs this site obviously hasn't read the Book of Revelations. For one thing, the Rapture isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Go ahead, check. Also, while antichrists appear in the Johannine epistles, there isn't actually an Antichrist in the Book of Revelations.

Each of the 45 categories on the Rapture Index has a rating between 1 to 5, but it's not clear how that rating is determined. Right now, for example, the False Christs category gets a 3 because "a gentleman in Florida has made news by claiming to be Christ." Financial unrest is at a 5 because "The U.S. dollar is down sharply, and gold is at a new high." The Antichrist gets a 3 because "The EU now has President. This office could be a precursor to the AC." Crime Rate gets a 4 because "Violent crime has dominated the news." I guess the author of this site isn't aware of the statistics that show that while news reporting of crime has increased dramatically, crime itself is actually on the decline.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about Revelations. For example, an email circulated about a year or so ago claimed that Barack Obama was the Antichrist because according to Revelations, the Antichrist was Muslim. Not only is Obama not a Muslim, but the Muslim faith wasn't even founded until hundreds of years after the Bible was written. Muslims aren't mentioned anywhere in Revelations.

It's easy to trick people into thinking something is in Revelations when it isn't because most people don't bother reading the Bible. To guard against this, I suggest you read Revelations. It's a short book, so it won't take too much of your time. To make it fun, I recommend reading it at,  which includes Lego reenactments.

All this has made me wonder, how many of the Biblical prophecies of the Book of Revelations have actually come true? I hereby present the only Rapture Index that's based on the Bible. Events that have already occurred appear in bold, events which have yet to occur appear in italics.

1. Every creature says "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." (Rev. 5:13)

2. One sitting upon a white horse goes forth conquering. (Rev. 6:2)

3. One sitting upon a red horse takes peace from the earth. (Rev. 6:4)

4. One sitting upon a black horse holds balances in his hand. (Rev. 6:5)

5. Death rides a pale horse and kills one fourth of the earth. (Rev. 6:8)

6. The sun becomes black, the moon becomes blood, the stars fall from heaven, every mountain and island is moved from its place. (Rev. 6:12-14)

7. Every man hides himself in the rocks of the mountains. (Rev. 6:15)

8. Four angels prevent wind from blowing by holding the four corners of the earth. (Rev. 7:1)

9. 144,000 male virgin Jews receive the seal of God on their foreheads.
(Rev. 7:4, Rev. 14:4)

10. Hail and fire mingled with blood burn up a third of the trees and all of the green grass. (Rev. 8:7)

11. A great mountain burning with fire is cast into the sea, a third of the sea becomes blood. (Rev. 8:8)

12. A star called Wormwood falls from the sky, a third of the waters become wormwood. (Rev. 8:10-11)

13. A third part of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened. (Rev. 8:12)

14. Locusts wearing breastplates with crowns of gold and faces like men, hair like women, teeth like lions, and tails like scorpions torture everyone without the seal of God on their forehead for five months. Their victims want to die, but death flees from them. (Rev. 9:3-11)

15. Four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates are freed and slay a third of all men. An army of two hundred thousand thousand kill by spewing fire, smoke, and brimstone from their mouths and by using their serpent like tails. (Rev. 9:14-19)

16. Two witnesses who breathe fire and have the power to stop rain, turn water into blood, and smite the earth with plagues prophesy for 1,260 days. They will be killed, lie dead for three and a half days, then come back to life and ascend to heaven on a cloud followed by a great earthquake which kills 7,000. (See Rev. 11:3-13)

17. The temple of God is opened in heaven accompanied by lightning, voices, thunder, hail, and an earthquake. (Rev. 11:19)

18. A red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns tries to eat the offspring of a woman clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet and a crown of twelve stars. The woman and her child are saved, and the dragon and his angels are cast out of heaven by Michael and his angels. (Rev. 12:1-9)

19. A beast with seven heads, ten horns, and ten crowns rises out of the sea. The beast and the dragon are given power for 42 months. All that dwell upon the earth worship him. (Rev. 13:1-8)

20. A second beast with two horns like a lamb and speech like a dragon comes out of the earth. He tells the inhabitants of earth to make an image of the first beast, which he brings to life. He causes all to receive either the mark, the name, or the number of the beast (666) upon their right hand or in their foreheads. (Rev. 13:11-18)

21. One like unto the Son of man with a gold crown sitting upon a white cloud reaps the earth with a sickle. Another angel comes out of the temple of heaven with a sharp sickle and gathers the vine of the earth and casts it into a great winepress. Blood comes out of the winepress. (Rev. 14:14-20)

22. Men with the mark of the beast are afflicted with a sore. (Rev. 16:2)

23. The sea becomes like blood and every living soul in the sea dies. (Rev. 16:3)

24. Rivers and fountains become blood. (Rev. 16:4)

25. Men are scorched with great heat. (Rev. 16:9)

26. The beast's kingdom is full of darkness and they gnaw their tongues. (Rev. 16:10)

27. The river Euphrates is dried up. (Rev. 16:12)

28. Voices, thunder, lightning and the greatest earthquake since men were upon the earth. (Rev. 16:18)

29. Every island flees, and the mountains are nowhere to be found. (Rev. 16:20)

30. Hailstones the weight of talents fall upon men. (Rev. 16:21)

31. Someone named Faithful and True rides upon a white horse to judge and make war. The armies of heaven follow him upon white horses. He smites the nations with a sword that comes out of his mouth. (Rev. 19:11-16)

32. Satan is imprisoned for a thousand years, then set loose. He gathers together an army as numerous as the sands upon the sea which God devours with fire. (Rev. 20:1-8)

33. Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:14)

34. The Lamb of God gets married to a city. (Rev. 21:9-10)

See? Nothing about increased crime rates or unemployment. In the interests of accuracy, the Rapture Ready people should really add fire and meteors to their rapture index and take away famines, droughts, floods, and volcanoes to put it more in line with what Revelations actually says.

OK, so let's add up the score:

1. While there are a few humans who praise the Lamb, we're far from every creature, so I don't think we can count this one.

2. While I don't know of any specific conquerer who rode a white horse, I wouldn't be surprised if there were dozens, so let's go ahead and count this one.

3. Not yet.

4. I've never heard of a rider upon a black horse carrying balances, but there's nothing stopping anybody from doing it, so if you send me a picture of someone riding a black horse while carrying balances, I'll count this one.

5. Not yet.

6. I don't think the sun becoming black refers to a simple eclipse, since eclipses happen all the time. Also, while the moon does sometimes appear to have a reddish tinge to it, I don't think you can count that as the moon becoming blood.

7. Not yet.

8. Not yet.

9. Not yet.

10. Not yet.

11. Not yet.

12. Not yet.

13. Again, you might say that a third of the sun, moon, and stars being darkened could happen during an eclipse, but given the other revelations, I don't think John of Patmos is speaking poetically.

14. Not yet.

15. Not yet.

16. Not yet.

17. Not yet.

18. Not yet.

19. Not yet.

20. Not yet.

21. Not yet.

22. Not yet.

23. Not yet.

24. Not yet.

25. Really depends on your definition of a "great heat." I'm thinking this is a heat so extreme we won't be wondering whether it's the predicted heat or not.

26. I don't think the darkness referred to here is simply night time. Besides, when have you ever known a large amount of people to all gnaw their own tongues?

27. While it's true the river Euphrates is shrinking, it hasn't completely dried up yet. However, this is certainly one prophesy to watch.

28. The greatest magnitude earthquake on record is the 1960 Chile earthquake. It registered a 9.5 on the Mw scale and a 8.5 on the Ms scale and caused tsunami damage in Northern California 9,000 miles away. As far as I know, it wasn't accompanied by voices, thunder, or lightning. However, it's possible the greatest earthquake occurred before we had a means of measuring it and it was accompanied by voices, thunder, and lightning. Unfortunately, that's too speculative to count this one.

29. Not yet.

30. How much a talent weighs varied in the ancient world, but among the Jews during the New Testament time, a talent weighed a whopping 129.6 pounds. The largest hailstone to date has weighed only a paltry 1.67 pounds. This prophecy still has a ways to go.

31. Not yet.

32. Not yet.

33. Not yet.

34. Not yet. Maybe this is why Christians are so afraid of gay marriage. If you allow gay marriage, who's to say legalizing city marriage won't come next? And then, before you know it: the end of the world.

Rapture Index is currently at 1 out of 34.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sarah Palin and the Ten Commandments

On a recent episode of The O'Reilly Factor, Sarah Palin suggested that the United States "create law based on the God of the Bible and the ten commandments." Since she didn't clarify which version of the Ten Commandments she was referring to, let's first take a look at the Ten Commandments Version 1.0 found in Exodus 34:11–27:

Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
A government based on laws like these almost certainly can't fail! "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk." I guess Palin wants to make cheeseburgers illegal. If that's what she's planning, she'd better come up with a better plan. After all, "When cheeseburgers are outlawed, only outlaws will have cheeseburgers."

OK, let's give Palin the benefit of the doubt and assume she's referring to the Ten Commandments Version 2.1 as found in Exodus 20:3–17. (I'll skip Version 2.0 (Deuteronomy 5:7–21) since it's basically the same as Version 2.1)

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Since this is the God of Israel speaking, it's pretty clear that in order to obey the First Commandment, we're all going to have to convert to Judaism. Since 98% of the U. S. population isn't Jewish, Palin's set herself a rather large goal. C'mon, Sarah! How can you expect everybody to become Jewish when you haven't even converted yourself yet?

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

I guess the Statue of Liberty has got to go. Mount Rushmore too. All those statues of Jesus people kneel in front of and pray to? Not allowed in Sarah Palin's America.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Some people interpret this Commandment to mean "Thou shalt not swear", but that's not what it says. According to God, you can swear all you want as long as you don't take his name in vain. My prediction is that this will be one of those laws that's on the books, but is never enforced. Really, how could you enforce it?

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

"Manservant" and "maidservant" were the King James way of saying "slave." If Palin wants to bring slavery back, she's bitten off more than she can chew. It just isn't going to happen, Sarah. As for not working on the sabbath day, does Palin seriously think that the US economy won't be devasted if all stores were required to be closed every Saturday? Then there's all those difficult questions as to whether flipping on a light switch counts as work or not. Probably be easier to just not make this a law in the first place. Just saying.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

This is all fine and good as long as you happen to have parents worthy of honoring. What about children who've been sexually abused by their parents? Is Palin going to pass a law forcing them be respectful towards their abusers? And again, how does she plan on enforcing such a law?

6. Thou shalt not kill.

Wow. I'm surprised Palin would come out as against the death penalty, but there it is. It's really brave of her to risk losing her support amongst conservatives and take the moral high road like that.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Really? Right after coming out against the death penalty, Palin is suggesting we start stoning adulterers to death. Some consistency would be nice, Sarah.

8. Thou shalt not steal.

This is already a U. S. law! Finally got one.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

People often interpret this commandment to mean "thou shalt not lie." Fortunately, the Ninth Commandment doesn't say that. As long as you're not bearing false witness against your neighbor, you can lie as much as you like! Major loophole.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

There's that uncomfortable assumption that we're all slave holders again. Enough with the slaves already, Sarah. It's just not going to happen. As far as coveting goes, be honest: how many of you have purchased something such as a pair of shoes, a cell phone, or even a car because you saw someone else had one and you wanted it? Making this a law would be the end of America. If we weren't so obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses, the economy would die. Why does Sarah Palin hate American so much?

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I recently listened to a podcast in which a born again Christian said he didn't know where atheists got their morals from. By way of introduction, a born again Christian is someone who cherrypicks out scriptures like Romans 3:28 (Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law) and ignore scriptures such as James 2:17 (Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone).

Born again Christians believe that if we were judged based on our actions alone, all of us would go to Hell because we're all sinners. The only way to avoid this is to accept Christ's sacrifice and all sins will be washed away. If you're the kindest, nicest, most moral person who ever lived, but you don't accept Christ, you go to Hell. If you're the rottenest, meanest, most sinful person who ever lived, but you do accept Christ, you go to Heaven.

There's no point in doing good deeds or avoiding sin. As long as you have faith that Christ died for your sins, you can do whatever you want. This idea really isn't that different from other forms of Christianity which teach that you shouldn't sin, but if you do, you can just repent and it doesn't count. The extreme form of this is the death bed confession, where an entire life of sin is forgiven at the last minute.

Why do Christians wonder where atheists get their morals, when we can just as easily ask where Christians get their morals? If repentance or even simple faith in Christ means you can do whatever you want without being punished, why be good?

Although they're not really enforced, a few states in the US have laws preventing atheists from holding public office, serving on juries, or being witnesses in a trial. If an atheist swears to tell the truth, you can't believe them. However, there's nothing to prevent a Christian from lying then repenting of it later; so in reality, you can't believe them either.

It goes without saying that every person, except for those who die very young, has committed at least one immoral act during their lifetime. It's also common knowledge that some people are more moral than others. There are moral and immoral atheists, moral and immoral Christians. Do these morals come from the Bible?

Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

There are numerous scriptures in the Bible which show that slavery is acceptable (Genesis 17:13,27, Exodus 20:10, Exodus 21:1-4,7-8,20-21,26-27, Deuteronomy 15:12-18, Deuteronomy 20:14, Deuteronomy 21:10-14, Deuteronomy 23:15-16, Leviticus 19:20-22, Leviticus 25:39,48-53, Numbers 31:28-47, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Yet, there are none that say the institution of slavery is bad (although keeping a fellow Jew as a slave is forbidden.) Yet, even the most orthodox believers in the truthfulness of every letter of the Bible don't practice slavery today.

If Christians get their morals from the Bible and the Bible says slavery should be practiced, how come very few Christians today believe that slavery is moral? The fact is, Christians don't get their morality from the Bible. Modern society decided that slavery was immoral despite what the Bible said.

The only way someone can get their morals from the Bible is to pick out the scriptures they agree with and ignore the scriptures they don't. Numerous passages in the Bible, such as the ones advocating slavery, are definitely not moral by modern standards. Both Christians and atheists rely on their own internal sense of right and wrong to tell them which scriptures are moral and which aren't.

Does this internal sense of what's right and wrong perhaps come from God? If so, you'd be forced to say that God changes, since our internal sense of what's right and wrong varies based on culture. Why else would God tell the ancient Israelites to keep slaves and tell modern people they shouldn't?

You might be thinking that morals really aren't different across cultures. Don't all societies believe that murder is wrong? Well, not really. Some cultures believe that killing is wrong no matter what, while others say it's OK to kill in self-defense, in defense of others, for the death penalty, during wartime, by accident, if someone has insulted your honor, etc. The Bible even says it's OK for a parent to kill a disobedient child (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

I recently attended a debate in which a Christian argued that atheists only have subjective morality. Objective morality, he claimed, came only from God. He didn't explain what he meant by objective morality, so I'm left to guess. If objective morality is the same morality found in the Bible, then it's not moral at all by today's standards. If objective morality is our own internal sense of what's right and wrong, why wouldn't atheists have it and why does it change over time? Maybe he meant that to be truly objective about morals, one has to exist outside the universe and not interact with it. If objective morality exists outside the universe, then it's a moot point whether it exists or not since we have no way of accessing it.

If this internal sense of right and wrong doesn't come from the Bible or from God, where does it come from? Part of it comes from evolution. Animals who've never read the Bible or heard of God nonetheless perform acts of kindness towards each other. An ape who steals food gets ostracized and is less likely to reproduce than an ape who shares with the community. Kindness to others ultimately derives from self interest. You're nice to other people because you expect they'll be nice to you in return. Those who don't play by the rules get shunned by society. Those who contribute to society generally get rewarded.

Atheists and born again Christians are moral not because of religion, but because our society teaches us to be moral. The functioning of society is dependent upon the majority of people in that society behaving morally. A society in which rape or murder were acceptable would tear itself apart. Societies value morality because it keeps the people in that society safe. People practice the Golden Rule in order to ensure the inverse of the Golden Rule is also observed: Don't do to others what you don't want done to you.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Deconstructing Jesus

In his book, Deconstructing Jesus, Robert M. Price opens by pointing out that scholars in search of the historical Jesus often create him in their own image. Depending on what parts of the scriptural record you consider to be genuine, Jesus could have been a messianic king, a progressive Pharisee, a Galilean shaman, or a Hellenistic sage. However, if Jesus can be interpreted to be whoever you want him to be, it makes the whole question of a historical Jesus meaningless.

In order to uncover the true historical Jesus, we must take away everything which came from a different source. Price points out anachronisms in the Gospels proving certain sayings couldn't have been said during the time of Jesus. For example, there were virtually no synagogues or Pharisees in Galilee until after 70 CE. Also, the term "Rabbi" wasn't used as a title before the second century.

The mystery of what the number 153 means in John 21:11 ("Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.") is solved by turning to Pythagoras. One of the miracles of Pythagoras involved him correctly guessing the exact number of fish in a net. 153 is a significant number to Pythagoreans because it's the sum of 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12+13+14+15+16+17. It's also what you get when you add 1+(1X2)+(1X2X3)+(1X2X3X4)+(1X2X3X4X5). Also, if you add together the cubes of the three digits in 153, you get 153. It's what Pythagoreans call a "triangular" number.

Price examines the Sufi preserved sayings of Jesus and also notes the similarities between the sayings of Jesus and aphorisms of the rabbis in the Mishnah as well as Cynic and Stoic philosophers. In a very interesting chapter, he details how Rene Girard's scapegoat theory can be applied to the story of Jesus.

Price also devotes a chapter to ancient romance novels such as Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe, Iamblichus' Babylonian Story, the Ephesian Tale of Xenophon, Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon, Longus' Daphnis and Chloe, Heliodorus' Ethiopian Story, and Apuleius' The Golden Ass. A common plot involves the heroine falling into a coma, being prematurely buried, and kidnapped by grave robbers. Her lover is shocked to find her tomb empty, eventually finds her, but gets crucified because the king wants her for himself. The lover is saved from crucifixion at the last moment and is reunited with his love, although he thinks that she's a ghost at first.

Price points out parallels between Jesus and other mythical savior figures (like Dionysus, Jesus turns water into wine and describes himself as a life-giving grapevine (John 15:1-10)). Also, he points out how parts of Jesus' story are borrowed from other messianic figures. The trial of Jesus is lifted straight from the trial of Jesus ben-Ananias as described by Josephus. The cleansing of the temple is based on Simon bar-Giora. Jesus is also based on Cleomenes, Carabbas, Theudas, Jesus ben-Sapphiah, Jesus bar-Abbas, Elymas bar-Jesus and Jesus Justus among others. Jesus is also based on Old Testament figures such as Joshua (which is a variant form of Jesus), Jonah, Elisha, and Moses. Mark's crucifixion account is taken from Psalm 22.

It's not even certain that Jesus was crucified by Pilot since there is another tradition in which Jesus is crucified by Herod. There's also a Jewish tradition that Jesus died in 100 BCE. 1 Corinthians 2:8 and Colossians 2:15 attribute the death of Jesus to spiritual entities rather than earthly rulers.

So, after we remove the borrowed stories and sayings, what are we left with? Nothing. Just as with Hercules, there might have originally been a historical figure behind the myths, but when you strip the myths away, nothing of the historical person is left. If there was an historical Jesus, no information about him survives.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Historical Jesus Criterion

It's impossible to prove a negative. You can't prove that unicorns don't exist. However, it's reasonable to assume they don't until evidence that they do exist surfaces. Likewise with Jesus. Until we have proof of his existence, assuming that he didn't exist is entirely reasonable.

There are some who claim that the burden of proof should be on those who claim Jesus didn't exist. After all, it's the minority opinion. The majority of scholars believe Jesus existed, so they're right. The problem with this line of thinking is that truth isn't a democracy. There was a time when the majority of people believed the sun revolved around the earth. The popularity of an idea has nothing to do with how true it is. If we really want the truth, we need to examine the evidence. Simply dismissing a theory because it isn't popular is counterproductive.

Another common misconception is that we should assume Jesus existed because of Occam's Razor. It's simpler to say that Jesus existed than to say he was a hybrid Greek/Jewish god who had a biography composed of Old Testament prophecies and a list of Cynic sayings attached to him. However Occam's Razor doesn't state that the simplest explanation is the right one, it states that the simplest explanation that fits all the evidence is most likely the correct one. Stating that Jesus existed simply doesn't fit the evidence as well as saying he didn't exist (see previous posts).

Some try to discredit those who present evidence that Jesus didn't exist by claiming they have an agenda. An agenda is certainly at work behind recent movies such as Religulous, The God Who Wasn't There, and Zeitgeist. I find it unfortunate that when most people think of the Christ Myth theory, they think of these movies which present a highly simplified and oftentimes counterfactual version of the theory. It's easy to dismiss the theory the way these movies present it.

However, scholars who advocate the Christ Myth theory don't believe that similarities between Christ and other deities alone is evidence for his non-existence. Serious scholars don't think that Christianity was a Roman conspiracy or that it was invented from whole cloth by Paul. It was a gradual process which evolved over hundreds of years. Besides, even if mythicists do have an agenda, it doesn't automatically mean that they're wrong.

Why do scholars doubt the existence of Jesus, but not other historical figures? Actually, some scholars do doubt the existence of other historical figures such as Confucius, Muhammad, Aesop, and William Tell. Some scholars even doubt the existence of Paul and John the Baptist. Socrates is another figure which some scholars think may not have existed, but there is more evidence for his existence than for Jesus. (See No one questions the motives of those who doubt Socrates' existence since scholarly curiosity is motive enough.

I could just as easily be writing a blog doubting the existence of Lao Tze, the alleged originator of Taoism. However, I choose to write about the existence of Jesus because I was raised in a predominantly Christian culture and I find the question of Christian origins fascinating. I have no axe to grind, I'm simply interested in the subject. Besides, even if I did have an axe to grind, that wouldn't invalidate the evidence. Shooting the messenger won't change the message.

Except for fundamentalists who believe everything in the Bible is literally true, everyone agrees that the Jesus portrayed in scripture is at least partly mythical. Scholars in search of an historical Jesus use a set of methods to separate the man from the myth. Miracles such as walking on water likely didn't happen, however, could there have been a man named Jesus who was crucified by the Romans? Since Jesus was a common name and the Romans crucified often, there were no doubt numerous crucified Jesuses, but was one or more of them the basis for the Jesus of scripture?

I don't think it's possible to know for sure one way or the other. However, some scholars think there is evidence for an historical Jesus, so let's examine some of the methods they use to look for him.

Criterion of cultural congruency: A source is more credible if it fits the culture context.

This criterion can help us rule out a lot of sources, but it doesn't help us determine if Jesus really existed.

Criterion of linguistics: Since Jesus spoke Aramaic and the Gospels were written in Greek, anything that only makes sense in Greek wasn't spoken by Jesus.

Again, this is helpful to rule out sources, but not rule anything in. However, as an aside, there was a tremendous amount of Greek influence in Israel before, during, and after Jesus' time, so it's not impossible for Jesus to have spoken Greek.

Criterion of ancientess: The older the source, the more reliable it is.

Fair enough. However, most scholars assume Jesus lived during Pilate's time and this hasn't fully been established. Perhaps the historical Jesus lived further back in history than has popularly been assumed. For example, many scholars assume that Christianity predated Gnosticism, but it could just as easily be the other way around. Christianity could have evolved out of Gnosticism.

G. R. S. Mead presents compelling evidence that Jesus may have lived in 100 BC. The mingling between Jewish and Greek cultures goes back hundreds of years before that. The anachronisms in the Gospels (such as the presence of Pharisees in Jerusalem before the destruction of the temple, Jesus being born and raised in Bethlehem and Nazareth before those cities were founded, and Jesus referring to the murder of Zechariah in Matthew 23:35 long before it happened) prove they were written long after the time of Pilate. Paul provides us with scant details about the life of Jesus. For all Paul tells us, Jesus could have lived earlier than 100 BC. If the Jesus of the Gospels was based on someone who lived hundreds of years before and of whom almost nothing was known, then speaking of an historical Jesus at all is meaningless.

Criterion of embarrassment: Anything that would have been embarrassing to the early Christians must have really happened, otherwise they wouldn't have mentioned it.

The problem with this criterion is that we can only guess what would have been embarrassing to the early Christians. The criterion of embarrassment is often used to prove that Jesus was crucified as a criminal because early Christians would have been embarrassed to admit that. Why would the crucifixion of their leader be embarrassing? Mormons aren't embarrassed by the fact that Joseph Smith was shot to death in jail. Having a leader considered an outlaw by the authorities is far from embarrassing if you consider the authorities evil and your leader wrongfully executed.

Criterion of attestation: If two or more independent sources state the same thing, the event must predate both sources.

This is tricky, because you have to determine what is considered an independent source. Matthew and Luke were both based on Mark, so if all three say the same thing, it doesn't count as three separate witnesses, just one. Even the Gospel of John shows an awareness of the synoptics, so that can't be counted. Historical sources, such as the references to Jesus in Josephus, are questionable at best. The epistles give us no biographical information except the crucifixion, and that's also questionable. Q is often cited as an independent source, but Q is a hypothetical document and much of Q is based on Cynic writings which go back centuries. We have to find independent sources first before this criterion is useful.

Author's agenda: If something fits the author's perceived agenda, it is suspect.

This criterion can be used to rule out pretty much everything in the Gospels. The writers of the Gospels wanted Jesus to fulfill every prophecy in the Old Testament, therefore any time he does fulfill a prophecy, we should assume the author made it up. The Gospel of Mark reads like someone went through the Old Testament and combined all the prophecies together into a narrative story. When you rule out everything with an Old Testament precursor, you're not left with much besides Gnosticism and Cynic philosophy.

Could the historical Jesus have been a Gnostic or a Cynic philospher? Several scholars have advocated just that. However if we're left with no biographical information to speak of, the historical Jesus could just as easily be the collected sayings of an entire community. Proposing that all of the sayings come from a single person is unnecessary and unprovable.

Criterion of difficulty: If a character is invented, material that creates difficulty for the narration will be left out.

It's been argued that Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but raised in Nazareth fits the criterion of difficulty. Both Matthew and Luke create absurd stories to explain why Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but raised in Nazareth. According to Luke, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but had to go to Bethlehem for a highly unusual census. According to Matthew, Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem but had to flee to Nazareth to avoid the slaughter of innocents. This account contradicts Mark and John which state that Jesus was born in Galilee where Nazareth is located (Mark 6:1, John 7:41-43).

Therefore, Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem, but Matthew and Luke invented stories to say he was so that he would fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2. Jesus being from Nazareth creates difficulty for the narrative, therefor Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical person. If Jesus had been invented, the authors would just say he was from Bethlehem to begin with and avoid any reference to Nazareth.

This criterion seems reasonable at first glance, but upon closer inspection, it's revealed to be quite silly. Consider Matthew 21:1-7 where Jesus rides both a donkey and her colt into Jerusalem at the same time. If we apply the criterion of difficulty, we'd be forced to say that Jesus really did ride upon two donkeys at once because this rodeo stunt creates serious difficulty for the narrative.

However, things make a lot more sense if we ditch the criterion of difficulty and instead say Matthew misunderstood the poetic repetition of Zechariah 9:9: "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."

As for Jesus being from both Nazareth and Bethlehem, that's easily explained the same way. Matthew and Luke are trying to fulfill two contradictory prophecies: Micah 5:2 and the one referred to in Matthew 2:23 which says the savior will be a Nazorean. Difficulties in the narrative don't have to be caused by trying to fit a real person into prophecy when they can be explained more easily as an attempt to accommodate two contradictory prophecies.