Nativity fiction

Two of the four canonical Gospels—Matthew and Luke—give accounts of the conception and birth of Jesus. John tells us only of the Incarnation—that the Logos “became flesh”—while Mark says nothing at all about Jesus until his baptism as a man of perhaps thirty. Either Mark and John know nothing about Jesus’ background and birth, or they regard them as unremarkable.

Certainly Mark, the earliest Gospel, knows nothing of the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth. It is clear from 3:20-21 that in Mark’s view the conception of Jesus was accompanied by no angelic announcement to Mary that her son was to be (in Luke’s words) “Son of the Most High” and possessor of the “throne of David” (Luke 1:32 NEB [New English Bible]).

According to Mark, after Jesus had openly declared himself Son of Man (a heavenly being, according to Daniel 7:13), his family on hearing of this “set out to take charge of him. ‘He is out of his mind,’ they said.” Surely Jesus’ mother and brothers (so identified in Mark 3:31) would not have regarded Jesus’ acts as signs of insanity if Mark’s Mary, like Luke’s, had been told by the angel Gabriel that her son would be the Messiah.

But Mark’s ignorance of Jesus’ conception, birth, and background was no hindrance to the first-century imagination. Many first-century Jewish Christians did feel a need for a Davidic messiah, and at least two separate groups responded by producing Davidic genealogies for Jesus, both to a considerable extent imaginary and each largely inconsistent with the other. One of each was latter appropriated by Matthew and Luke and repeated, with minor but necessary changes, in their Gospels. Each genealogy uses Old Testament as its source of names until it stops supplying them or until the supposed messianic line diverges from the biblical. After that point the Christian imaginations supplied two different lists of ancestors of Jesus.

Why, to show that Jesus is “the son of David,” trace the ancestry of a man who is not his father? The obvious answer is that the list of names was constructed not by the author of Matthew but by earlier Jewish Christians who believed in all sincerity that Jesus had a human father. Such Jewish Christians were perhaps the forbears of the group known in the second century as the Ebionites.

The two genealogies in fact diverge after David (c. 1000 B.C.) and do not again converge until Joseph. It is obvious that another Christian group, separate from the one supplying Mathew’s list but feeling an equal need for a messiah descended from David, complied its own genealogy, as imaginary as Mathew’s in its last third. And like Mathew’s genealogy, it traces the Davidic ancestry of the man who, Luke insists, is not Jesus’ father anyway, and thus is rendered pointless.

Moreover, according to Luke’s genealogy (3:23-31) there are forty-one generations between David and Jesus; whereas according to Mathew’s, there are but twenty seven. Part of the difference stems from Mathew’s remarkably careless treatment of his appropriated list of names.

Thus we have a fascinating picture of four separate Christian communities in the first century. Two of them, Jewish-Christian, were determined to have a messiah with Davidic ancestry and constructed genealogies to prove it, never dreaming that Jesus could be thought of as having no human father.

But gentile Christians in the first century, who came into the new religion directly from paganism and were already infected with myths about licentious deities, had a much different understanding of what divine paternity meant. Plutarch speaks for the entire pagan world when he writes, in Convivial Disputations, “The fact of the intercourse of a male with mortal women is conceded by all,” though he admits that such relations might be spiritual, not carnal. Such mythology came with pagans converted to Christianity, and by the middle of the first century, Joseph’s paternity of Jesus was being replaced by God’s all over the gentile world.

“The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)

The Septuagint, from which Matthew quotes, uses, at Isaiah 7:14, parthenos (physical virgin) for the Hebrew almah (young woman) as well as the future tense, “will conceive,” though Hebrew has no future tense as such. Modern English translations are probably more accurate in reading (as does the New English Bible), “A young woman is with child.” We can scarcely blame the author of Matthew for being misguided by this translation (though Jews frequently ridiculed early Christians for their dependence on the often-inaccurate Septuagint rather than the Hebrew). We can, however, fault him for reading Isaiah 7:14 quite without reference to its context—an interpretative method used by many in his time and ours, but a foolish one nonetheless. Any sensible reading of Isaiah, chapter seven, reveals its concern with the Syrio-Israelite crisis of 734 B.C. (the history of which appears in I Kings 16:1-20).

It is clear, however, that though the mistranslated and misunderstood passage in Isaiah was Matthew’s biblical justification for the Virgin Birth, it was not the source of the belief (indeed Luke presents the Virgin Birth without reference to Isaiah). The doctrine originated in the widespread pagan belief in the divine conception upon various virgins of a number of mythic heroes and famous persons in the ancient world, such as Plato, Alexander, Perseus, Asclepius and the Dioscuri.

Matthew writes that Joseph, having been informed in his dream, “had no intercourse with her until her son was born” (Matt. 1:25). Luke gives us a different myth about the conception of Jesus, in which the Annunciation that the messiah is to be fathered by God, not Joseph, is made to Mary rather than to her betrothed. Embarrassed by the story’s clear implicit denial of the Virgin Birth notion, Luke or a later Christian inserted Mary’s odd question (“How can this be, since I know not a man?”), but the clumsy interpolation makes hash of Jesus’ royal ancestry.

In due course, Jesus was born, growing up in Nazareth of Galilee, a nationality different from the Judean inhabitants of Jerusalem and its near neighbor, Bethlehem. After Jesus’ death, those of his followers interested in finding proof of his messiahnship in the Old Testament worked a Christian reinterpretation of Micah 5:2 concerning the importance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of David and his dynasty:

You, Bethlehem in Ephrathah, small as you are to be among Judah’s clans, out of you shall come forth a governor for Israel, one whose roots are far back in the past, in days gone by.

That is, the one who restores the dynasty will have the same roots, be of the same ancestry, as David of Bethlehem. Prophesying, it would appear, during the Babylonian exile, Micah (or actually a sixth-century B.C. interpolator whose words were included in the book of the eight-century B.C. prophet) hoped for the restoration of the Judaean monarchy destroyed in 586 B.C.

But since some first-century Christians did read Micah 5:2 as a prediction of the birthplace of Jesus, it became necessary to explain why he grew up in Nazareth, in another country, rather than Bethlehem. At least two different and mutually exclusive narratives explaining this were produced: one appears in Matthew, the other in Luke.

Matthew has it that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and continued there for about two years, fleeing then to Egypt. They returned to Palestine only after Herod’s death. For fear of Herod’s son, they did not resettle in Bethlehem but moved rather to another country, Galilee, finding a new home in Nazareth.

Luke, on the other hand, writes that Mary and apparently Joseph lived in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem just before Jesus’ birth to register for a tax census. They left Bethlehem forty days later to visit the temple in Jerusalem for the required ritual of the first-born, returning then to their hometown of Nazareth.

Examination of these two irreconcilable accounts will give us a good picture of the creative imaginations of Luke, Matthew, and their Christian sources.

In most of Matthew’s Gospel, the major source of information about Jesus is the Gospel of Mark (all but fifty-five of Mark’s verses appear in Matthew, either word-for-word or with deliberate changes). But Mark says nothing about Jesus’ birth. When one favorite source fails him, Matthew inventively turns to another—this time to the Old Testament, read with a particular interpretative slant, and to oral tradition about Jesus, combining the two in a noticeably uneasy way.

We must remember that for the Christian generation that produced our Gospels, the Bible consisted only of what Christians now called the Old Testament, and a particular version thereof, the Greek Septuagint. But before they wrote the New Testament, Christians created another entirely new book, the Old Testament, turning the Septuagint into a book about Jesus by remarkably audacious and creative interpretation. Meanings it had held for generations of Jews, its historical and poetic content especially, ceased to exist; it became not a book about the past but about its own future.

Of course, other groups such as the Qumran sect also read the Bible oracularly, but Christians specialized this technique, finding oracles about Jesus of Nazareth. If a passage in the Septuagint could be read as a prediction of an event in the life of Jesus, then the event must have happened. Thus, if Micah were understood to mean that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, then Jesus must have been born there, no matter what his real hometown. But as it happens, the Bethlehem birth story, dependent upon the Christian interpretation of Micah, and the magi-and-star legend, dependent upon Hellenistic and Jewish oral tradition, fit together very uneasily. The story of the magi (“astrologers” is a more meaningful translation) says that “the star which they had seen at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay” (Matt 2:9).

In all the stories, the astrologers point to a special star, symbol of the arrival of the new force (Israel, Abraham, Jesus). Says Balaam: “A star shall rise [anatelei astron] out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel, and shall crush the princes of Moab” (Num. 24:17 LXX). The astrologers in Matthew likewise point to a star: “We observed the rising of his star” (Matt. 2.2).

Now the source of the story of the king (Nimrod, Herod) who wants to kill the infant leader of Israel (Abraham, Jesus) shifts to the account of Moses in Exodus, the classic biblical legend of the wicked king (Pharaoh) who wants to slay the new leader of Israel (Moses). Indeed, the story of Moses in the Septuagint provided Matthew with a direct verbal source for his story of the flight into Egypt. As Pharaoh wants to kill Moses, who then flees the country, so Herod wants to kill Jesus, who is then carried away by his parents. After a period of hiding for the hero in both stories, the wicked king dies:

And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, “Go, depart into Egypt, for all that sought thy life are dead” (tethnekasi gar pantes hoi zetountes sou ten psychen—Ex: 4:19 LXX).

When Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel for those who sought the child’s life are dead” (tethnekasin gar hoi zetountes ten psychen tou paidiou—Matt 2:20).

Of course, Moses flies from Egypt to Midian, while the Holy Family flees to Egypt through Midian.

“This was to fulfill the words spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matt. 2:23). There is, however, no such passage in all the Old Testament. Matthew had apparently vaguely heard that such a verse was in the “prophets,” and since he really needed to get the Holy Family from the supposed birthplace to the known hometown, he reported the fulfillment but left the biblical reference unspecified.

Like Matthew, Luke faced the same problem of reconciling known Nazarene upbringing with supposed Bethlehem birth. His solution, however, was entirely different, and even less convincing. Whereas Matthew has the Holy Family living in Bethlehem at the time of the birth and traveling to Nazareth, Luke has them living in Nazareth and traveling to Bethlehem in the very last stages of Mary’s pregnancy. Though Luke 1:5 dates the birth of Jesus in the “days of Herod, king of Judaea,” who died in 4 B.C., he wants the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem to have occurred in response to a census called when “Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

As historians know, the one and only census conducted while Quirinius was legate in Syria affected only Judaea, not Galilee, and took place in A.D. 6-7, a good ten years after the death of Herod the Great. In his anxiety to relate the Galilean upbringing with the supposed Bethlehem birth, Luke confused his facts. Indeed, Luke’s anxiety has involved him in some real absurdities, like the needless ninety-mile journey of a woman in her last days of pregnancy—for it was the Davidic Joseph who supposedly had to be registered in the ancestral village, not the Levitical Mary.

Worse yet, Luke has been forced to contrive a universal dislocation for a simple tax registration. Who could imagine the efficient Romans requiring millions in the empire to journey scores of hundreds of miles to the villages of millennium-old ancestors merely to sign a tax form!

Needless to say, no such event ever happened in the history of the Roman Empire.

_______________________________

This is part of the chapter “Nativity legends” in Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms that I typed directly from the book. I omitted adding ellipsis between unquoted passages.

Published in: on December 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Infanticide in the historical Israel

Below, a Spanish-English translation of pages 602-608 of my book Hojas Susurrantes. For a broader context of the subject of infanticide, see the Metapedia article (here).


In the past, the shadow of infanticide covered the world, but the Phoenicians and their biblical ancestors, the Canaanites, performed sacrifices that turn pale the Mesoamerican sacrifices of children.

The Tophet, located in the valley of Gehenna, was a place near Jerusalem where it is believed that children were burned alive to the god Moloch Baal. Later it became synonymous with Hell, and the generic name “tophet” would be transferred to the sacrificial site of the cemetery at Carthage and other Mediterranean cities like Motya, Tharros and Hadrumetum, where bones have been found of Carthaginian and Phoenician children.

Semitic-offering-to-molech

According to a traditional reading of the Bible, stories of sacrifice by the Hebrews were relapses of the chosen people to pagan customs. Recent studies, such as Jon Levenson’s The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity have suggested that the ancient Hebrews did not differ much from the neighboring towns but that they were typical examples of Semitic peoples of Canaan.

The cult of Yahweh was only gradually imposed in a group while the cult of Baal was still part of the fabric of the Hebrew-Canaanite culture. Such religion had not been a syncretistic custom that the most purist Hebrews rejected from their “neighbor” Canaanites: it was part of their roots. For Israel Finkelstein, an Israeli archaeologist and academic, the writing of the book of Deuteronomy in the reign of Josiah was a milestone in the development and invention of Judaism.

Josiah represents what I call one of the psychogenic mutants who firmly rejected the infanticidal psychoclass of their own people. Never mind that he and his aides had rewritten their nation’s past by idealizing the epic of Israel. More important is that they make Yahweh say—who led the captivity of his people by the Assyrians—that it was a punishment for their idolatry: which includes the burning of children. The book of Josiah’s scribes even promotes to conquer other peoples that, like the Hebrews, carried out such practices. “The nations whom you go in to dispossess,” says the Deuteronomy, “they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (12: 29-31). “When you come into the land that the Lord is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering.” (18: 9-10).

This emergence, or jump to a higher psychoclass from the infanticidal, is also attested in other books of the Hebrew Bible. “The men from Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men from Cuthah made Nergal, and the men from Hamath made Ashima; the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim” (2 Kings: 17: 30-31).

There were kings of Judah who committed these outrages with their children too. In the 8th century B.C. the thriving King Ahaz “even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites” (2 Kings 16: 1-3). Manasseh, one of the most successful kings of Judah, “burnt his son in sacrifice” (21:6). The sacrificial site also flourished under Amon, the son of Manasseh. Fortunately it was destroyed during the reign of Josiah. Josiah also destroyed the sacrificial site of the Valley of Ben Hinnom “so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech” (23:10). Such destructions are like the destruction of Mesoamerican temples by the Spaniards, and for identical reasons.

Ezekiel, taken into exile to Babylon preached there to his people. He angrily chided them: “And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and made them pass through the fire” (Ezekiel 16: 20-21). The prophet tells us that since his people wandered in the desert they burned their children, adding: “When you offer your gifts—making your sons to pass through the fire—you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. Am I to let you inquire of me, O house of Israel? As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will not let you inquire of me” (20:31). Other passages in Ezekiel that complain about his people’s sins appear in 20: 23-26 and 23: 37-39.

A secular, though inspired by Jung, way to see God is to conceive it as how the ego of an individual’s superficial consciousness relates to the core of his own psyche: the Self. In the following diatribe by Ezekiel (16: 35-38) against his people we can hear this inner daimon, the “lord” of the man Ezekiel:

Therefore, you prostitute, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Lord says: Because you poured out your lust and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood in sacrifice, therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger.

When a prophet—that is, an individual who has made a leap to a higher psychoclass—maligned his inferiors, he received insults. Isaiah (57: 4-5) wrote:

Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not a brood of rebels, the offspring of liars? You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags.

Ezekiel wrote in the 6th century B.C.; Isaiah in the 8th B.C. Although Julian Jaynes would say that their visions were bicameral, it has been said that some of those diagnosed with schizophrenia have a much higher moral standard of values than the average individual. The very psalmist complained that people sacrificed their children to idols. But what exactly were these sacrificial rites?

Since the 10th century B.C. the spoken tradition of what was to be collected in biblical texts centuries later complained that Solomon “built a high place for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites,” and that his wives made offerings to these gods (1 Kings 11: 7-8). And even before, from the third book of the Torah we read the commandment: “Do not give any of your children to be passed through the fire to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God.” (Leviticus 18:21). A couple of pages later (20: 2-5) it says:

Say to the Israelites: “Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.”

Despite these admonitions, the influential anthropologist James Frazer interpreted some biblical passages as indicating that the god of the early Hebrews, unlike the emergent god quoted above, required sacrifices of children. After all, “God” is but the projection of the Jungian Self of a human being at a given point of the human theodicy. Unlike Larry S. Milner, a Christian frightened by the idea, I do not see it impossible that the ancient Hebrews have emerged from an infanticidal psychoclass to a more emergent one. In “The Dying God,” part three of The Golden Bough, Frazer calls our attention to these verses of Exodus (22: 29-30):

Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.

A similar passage can be read in Numbers (18: 14-15), and this one (3: 11-13) seems revealing:

The Lord also said to Moses, “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”

The psychohistorian Howard Stein, who has written several scholarly articles on Judaism since the mid-1970s, concludes in an article of 2009 that the gathered information suggests a particular interpretation. According to Stein, the substrate of fear for the slaughter “helps to explain the valency that the High Holiday have for millions of Jews world-wide,” presumably echoes of very ancient happenings.

In contrast to what we were taught in Sunday school as children, Moses did not write the Torah: it was not written before the Persian period. In fact, the most sacred book of the Jews includes four different sources.

Since the 17th century thinkers such as Spinoza and Hobbes had researched the origins of the Pentateuch, and the consensus of contemporary studies is that the final edition is dated by the 5th century B.C. (the biblical Moses, assuming that ever existed, would have lived in the 13th century B.C.). Taking into account the contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible—for example, Isaiah abhorred animal sacrifice—it should not surprise us that the first chapter of Leviticus consist only of animal sacrifices, which the “Lord” called holocausts to be offered at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. After killing, skinning and butchering the animal, the priest incinerates everything on the altar “as a burnt offering to the Lord; it is a pleasing aroma, a special gift presented to the Lord.” A phrase that is repeated three times in that first chapter, it also appears in subsequent chapters and reminds me those words by Cortés to Charles V about the Mesoamerican sacrifices (“…they take many girls and boys and even adults, and in the presence of these idols they open their chests while they are still alive and take out their hearts and entrails and burn them before the idols, offering the smoke as the sacrifice”). In the book of Exodus (34:20) even the emerging transition of child sacrifice to lamb sacrifice can be guessed in some passages, what gave rise to the legend of Abraham:

For the first foal of a donkey, they should give a lamb or a goat instead of the ass, but if you do not give, you break the neck of the donkey. You must also give an offering instead of each eldest child. And no one is to appear before me empty-handed.

Compared with other infanticidal peoples the projection of the demanding father had been identical, but the emergency to a less dissociated layer of the human psyche is clearly visible. As noted by Jaynes, the Bible is a treasure to keep track of the greatest psychogenic change in history. The Hebrews sacrificed their children just as other peoples, but eventually they would leave behind the barbaric practice.

isaac sacrifice

After the captivity in the comparatively more civilized Babylon in 586 B.C., the Jews abandoned their practices. In his book King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, published in 2004, Francesca Stavrakopoulou argues that child sacrifice was part of the worship of Yahweh, and that the practice was condemned only after the exile. Like their Christian successors, the Jews had sublimated their filicidal desires in the Passover ritual. Each year they celebrate the liberation of their people and remember how Yahweh killed the firstborn Egyptians: legendary resonance of the habit of killing one’s eldest son.

But the biblical Moloch (in Hebrew without vowels, מלך, mlk), represented as a human figure with a bull’s head was not only a Canaanite god. It also was a god of the descendants of the Canaanites, the Phoenicians. The founding myth of Moloch was similar to that of many other religions: sacrifices were compensation for a catastrophe from the beginning of time.

Above [i.e., in my book] I said that Plutarch, Tertullian, Orosius, Philo, Cleitarchus and Diodorus Siculus mentioned the practice of the burning children to Moloch in Carthage, but refrained from wielding the most disturbing details. Diodorus says that every child who was placed in the outstretched hands of Moloch fell through the open mouth of the heated bronze statue, into the fire. When at the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. Agathocles defeated Carthage, desperate and immersed in the most abject magical thinking the Carthaginians began to burn their children in a huge sacrifice as a tactical “defense” before the enemy. The sources mention 300 incinerated children.

Blake-Moloch

Had I run a career of film director, I would feel the obligation to visually show to humanity their infamous past by filming the massive red-hot bronze statue while the Greek forces besieged the city, engulfing child after child, who would slide down to the bottom of the flaming chimney. In addition to Carthage, the worship of Moloch, whose ritual was held outdoors, was widespread in other Phoenician cities. He was widely worshiped in the Middle East and in the Punic cultures of the time, including several Semitic peoples and as far as the Etruscans. Various sacrificial tophets have been found in North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, outside Tyre and at a temple of Amman.

Terracotta urns containing the cremated remains of children, discovered in 1817, have been photographed numerous times. However, since the late 1980s some Italian teachers began to question the historicity of the accounts of classical writers. Tunisian nationalists took advantage, including the president whose presidential palace near the suburban sea is very close the ruins of the ancient city of Carthage.

The Tunisian tourist guides even make foreigners believe the Carthaginians did not perform sacrifices (something similar to what some ignorant Mexican tourist guides do in Chiapas).

Traditional historians argue that the fact that the remains are from very young children suggests sacrifice, not cremation by natural death as alleged by the revisionists. The sacrificial interpretation of Carthage is also suggested by the fact that, along with the children, there are charred remains of lambs (remember the biblical quote that an evolved Yahweh implies that the slaughter of sheep was a barter for the firstborn). This suggests that some Carthaginians replaced animals in the sacrificial rite: data inconsistent with the revisionist theory that the tophet was a normal cemetery. To make matters worse, the word mlk (Moloch) appears in many stelae as a dedication to this god. Had there been simple burials it would not make sense to find these stelae dedicated to the god of fire: the graves are not marked with offerings to the gods.

Finally, although the classical writers were bitter enemies of the Carthaginians, historical violence is exercised by rejecting all accounts, since the time of Alexander to the Common Era. The revisionism on Carthage has been a phenomenon that is not part of new archaeological discoveries, or newly discovered ancient texts. The revisionists simply put into question the veracity of the accounts of classical writers, and they try to rationalize the archaeological data by stressing our credulity to the breaking point. Brian Garnand, of the University of Chicago, concluded in his monograph on the Phoenician sacrifice that “the distinguished scholars of the ridimensionamento [revisionism] have not proven their case.”

Nonetheless, I must say that the revisionists do not bother me. What I cannot tolerate are those individuals who, while accepting the reality of the Carthaginian sacrifice, idealize it. On September 1, 1987 an article in the New York Times, “Relics of Carthage Show Brutality Amid the Good Life” contains this nefarious phrase: “some scholars assert, the practice of infanticide helped produce Carthage’s great wealth and its flowering of artistic achievement.” The memory of these sacrificed children has not been fully vindicated even by present-day standards.

The Carthaginian tophet is the largest cemetery of humans, of boys and girls in fact, ever discovered. After the Third Punic War Rome forced the Carthaginians to learn Latin, just as the Spanish imposed their language to the conquered Mexicans. Personally, what most worries me is that there is evidence in the tophets of remains of tens of thousands of children killed by fire over many centuries. I cannot shudder more over imagining what would had become of our civilization had the Semitic Hannibal reached Rome.

P.S. for this blog:

And the traitors of today are planning to make a movie depicting the non-Aryan Carthaginians as the good guys and the Romans as the bad guys of the film…

Matthew Kersten’s hilarious review

Of the Holy Bible

1-First-Edition-King-James-Bible-1611

Poor editing, logical fallacies, one-dimensional characters, and narrative inconsistencies ruin an otherwise imaginative dystopian fantasy novel in which a vengeful deity enslaves humanity into worshipping him. The King James Bible has an extremely intriguing premise, but the execution of that premise is poor and doesn’t do it justice at all. Regardless, the King James Bible is one of the world’s bestselling books of all time and has garnered a massive cult following, and understandably so, as it comes with a provocative promise of eternal life after death for anyone who believes it to be true. After reading it for myself, I find belief in this book’s alleged validity to be impossible.

It is worth noting that the King James Bible is not simply one book but an anthology of books (which are categorized under two iterations labeled as the Old and New Testaments) spanning many generations, all written by different authors at different points in time. And it shows. Oftentimes books in this collection offer redundant information and, at other times, contradictory information. In fact, the very first two chapters of the first book, titled Genesis, which lays out the origins of the book’s fictional universe, heavily contradict each other, and it all goes downhill from that point on. The editing in this book is absolutely atrocious.

The story starts off simple enough. There’s an omniscient, omnipotent, immortal celestial entity that has existed before the universe even began. This being, known as God, is bored and lonely and decides to create the universe to amuse himself. He creates light, which he calls day, followed by darkness, which he calls night, before he creates the sun. He then creates a flat earth of water, followed by dry land, grass and plant life, two great lights (one to rule the day and one to rule the night, even though the latter of which—the moon—isn’t actually a light and the former of which—the sun—would have been vital to the survival of the previously created plant life); firmament through which precipitation may occasionally be allowed to pass, creatures, and man. There’s also a tree with fruit that gives knowledge to whoever eats it and a sneaky, malicious talking snake, so if you’re into fantasy novels, the creation story at the beginning of Genesis should hold your interest.

It doesn’t take long before things go awry. The talking snake convinces the first woman, Eve, to eat fruit from the knowledge tree. Eve then convinces Adam, the first man, to do the same. God, despite supposedly being omniscient, is shocked to learn that they have done this and starts laying down the law on them, saying that men will be forced to work all the days of their life and women will be subservient to men. (To add insult to injury, childbirth will also be painful.) He punishes all of humanity for the disobedience of the first humans.

It seems puzzling that an omniscient God couldn’t devise a better creation plan. Even more puzzling is that the humans who disobeyed him were punished, along with all future members of humanity, for what they did despite not having any knowledge of what the consequences would be beforehand. Besides, if a creation is bad, does the blame rest upon the creation or the creator? Still more puzzling is that God doesn’t bother to attempt to refine his human design but sticks with the original failed one.

Things get all screwed up and a few chapters later. God, despite being omniscient, comes to a realization that his creation plan was a massive failure and that most of humanity is a lost cause and decides to destroy the world in a giant flood. That’s right; the world is destroyed at the very beginning of the book, and only a select few of each species are allowed to survive, somehow all crammed into an ark made from gopher wood. (How the plant life survives is not explained, nor is it explained how aquatic life survives salt water and fresh water mixing together, nor is it explained where the excess water ends up after the flood is over.) Why this omnipotent God couldn’t just stop the hearts of all humans who displeased him is quite beyond me. This flood plan is remarkably inefficient and serves as filler material, as the surviving human family needs to engage in incest to repopulate the world just like the first humans needed to engage in incest to originally populate the world. It’s just the same scenario rehashed. I can’t help but feel as though the contrived flood account was interpolated into the beginning of Genesis to dress it up and make it appear more impressive. It might help hook some readers early on, but I found it to be unnecessary.

Through various semi-comical, semi-irritating mishaps involving a giant tower, a child sacrifice practical joke, and a sold birthright, a tribe known as Israel arises. Israel is the tribe that God favors over all others, though it doesn’t take long for the Israelites to become enslaved in Egypt despite possessing the guidance of this omniscient God.

The second installment in the anthology, Exodus, deals with their emancipation from Egypt. God decides to give this guy named Moses some cheat codes for the universe, so that he’ll be able to use them in an attempt to intimidate the Pharaoh into allowing the Israelites to go free. Whether or not this plan would have actually worked is anyone’s guess, as God decides to violate the Pharaoh’s free will to allow the Israelites to leave (Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 7:13, 7:22, 8:19, 9:7, 9:35, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, and 14:8), giving himself an incredibly flimsy excuse to send ten plagues on all of the Egyptians, punishing them for the Pharaoh’s compulsory obstinacy, just to show off. After this fiasco, the Pharaoh is finally allowed to let the Israelites go. Very shortly thereafter, the Pharaoh changes his mind about letting them go and chases them with his army. He almost catches them, but Moses uses his magical powers that God gave him to divide the waters of the Red Sea so that the Israelites can walk through them. There’s also a pillar of fire separating the Egyptians from the Israelites. If you enjoy fantasy epics, Exodus should be right up your alley.

Once the Israelites are through, the fire pillar dissipates and the Egyptians very stupidly charge into the path between the parted waters. The waters collapse onto the Egyptians, drowning them, and the Israelites celebrate the grisly deaths of their enemies before setting up camp in the desert.

This is where the real fun begins. From the remainder of Exodus and all throughout Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the vindictive, tyrannical God establishes a delightfully sinister theocracy under which basic happiness is impossible. He endorses slavery (Exodus 21:2-27, Leviticus 25:44-46, and Deuteronomy 20:10-14), public execution by stoning for failure to worship him on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), stoning of unruly children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), and death as punishment for nearly every crime, usually by stoning. (Stoning seems to be his preferred method of execution.)

He also demands that virgin women who are raped marry their rapists (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), calls for genocide (Exodus 23:23-27, Leviticus 26:7-8, and Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 12:2-3), and condones all sorts of other atrocities. The Israelites, who witnessed his power during the plagues and parting of the waters, have no choice but to submit to this new horrific celestial totalitarian regime.

After the death of Moses, Joshua takes over as leader of the Israelites. In Joshua, the sixth installment, the Israelites fulfill God’s call for genocide by fighting battles with other tribes all throughout the desert, winning them simply because God rigs them in their favor. After some initial victories, the Israelites forget about God’s power and start worshipping other gods.

In the next book, Judges, God, who freely admits to being jealous (according to Exodus 34:14, his very name is Jealous), punishes them for doing so and delivers them into bondage. When they repent, a “judge” is sent to free them. This happens multiple times throughout Judges, making for repetitive reading. (God also allows a man named Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter to him in exchange for a battle victory in Judges 11:30-40; a testament to how much he loves human death.)

After this nonsense goes on for awhile, delaying exposition, the Philistines arrive on the scene and pose a major threat to the Israelites. A guy named David scares them away by killing a Philistine giant by firing a rock at his head with a slingshot. He then becomes Israel’s king. (There’s also a disgusting yet somewhat amusing anecdote in which David slays two hundred Philistines, cuts off their foreskins, and gives them to Saul as a dowry for his daughter, Michal, in 1 Samuel 18:25-27. This seems like a very poor deal to me. I’ll bet that Saul later had buyer’s remorse.)

Some less important, not particularly memorable (save for God’s killing of King David’s illegitimate seven-day-old son in 2 Samuel 12:15-18, a census mishap in 2 Samuel 24:1-15, and an incident involving two she bears in 2 Kings 2:23-24) events take place throughout the next nine books before the reader is forced to trudge through 150 chapters of dull, repetitive, excessively slavish poetry written to God by one of his more abject followers in Psalms.

The author of that book has the audacity to claim that both God and his statutes are perfect (Psalms 119:142, 119:151, 119:160, and 119:172), even though this would mean that God would need to follow his own rules, which he doesn’t. It is also claimed in Psalms that happiness can be derived from bashing children’s heads against rocks (Psalms 137:9), which is a proclamation that thoroughly baffles me. I’m not sure what the author was going for here. Perhaps this verse is supposed to be some sort of black comedy joke intended to express the impaired judgment of those living under the theocratic dystopia depicted in this collection of books, or it might have been included to emphasize the ghastly nature of the aforementioned theocratic dystopia, or it might just be there for shock value.


[Chechar’s interpolated note: I think I have psychoanalyzed well those barbaric Semites in a passage of my book Hojas Susurrantes. Just click on this link and then scroll almost to the bottom of that entry until you hit the subtitle “The historical Israel”.]


Whatever the case may be, it’s far too mean-spirited. The author of Psalms also frequently and redundantly berates anyone who is not a member of the tribe(s) that God favors, making for tiresome and irritating reading.

The next three books provide even more dull reading material. After slogging through these books, the reader arrives at the writings of the Old Testament prophets.

Throughout Isaiah and Jeremiah, God ruthlessly annihilates entire nations that fail to submit to his terrorist demands. Isaiah also mentions unicorns (Isaiah 34:7), dragons (Isaiah 34:13), and satyrs (Isaiah 34:14) and identifies them as legitimate safety hazards, so if you enjoy fantasy novels, you should enjoy chapter 34 of Isaiah.

Furthermore, Jeremiah 10:1-5 forbids cutting trees out of the forest, adorning them with decorations, and displaying them as a holiday custom. A substantial portion of the cult followers who claim to live by this book’s teachings fail to uphold this passage, which is puzzling. (In fact, there are many passages that they fail to uphold.) It’s almost as if they don’t even realize that decorated trees are explicitly forbidden by their highly revered literary work, but that would mean that they haven’t actually read the entire book for themselves and are blindly accepting the subjective interpretations of others, which would be just plain absurd. Right?

The next book in the series is Lamentations, which is just as pathetic as it sounds. (The entire Old Testament is excellently summarized in one sentence by Lamentations 2:21.)

The celestial terrorism continues throughout Ezekiel, in which God sinks to a new low by demanding that Ezekiel eat cakes containing human excrement (Ezekiel 4:12). (The entire Old Testament is excellently summarized in one sentence in Ezekiel 25:17.) Ezekiel also sees creatures that each has four faces, four wings, and straight feet with calf’s soles in Ezekiel 1:5-28, so if you enjoy fantasy novels, you should enjoy that passage.

Some more less important events happen throughout the next ten books, which consist mainly of more divine terrorism and ultimatums. Jonah, in which a man survives being swallowed by a giant fish and is vomited up three days later, is amusing.


The second (much shorter) iteration of the King James Bible, the New Testament, starts off with this guy named Jesus, who is supposed to be God in human form, gathering followers on Earth and spreading his word to them.

Given how much of a tyrannical, ethnic-cleansing maniac God was in the Old Testament, one would most likely expect Jesus to be a Terminator-style infiltrator who goes on killing sprees, but instead he’s a hippie. This almost complete character reversal makes the main protagonist (I use that word loosely) seem even more contrived and unbelievable.

Granted though, traces of God’s evil do remain within Jesus, as he brings his followers the most horrendous news of all; that anyone who fails to accept him as his or her totalitarian slave master will be tortured for all eternity after death! It is the epitome of horror, revamping God’s vindictive, petty, unforgiving nature that was established in the Old Testament.

The inherent problem with the premise of the Jesus story is that a man who is an omniscient deity incarnate would have extremely advanced knowledge; knowledge far beyond that of the humans who wrote this collection of books, called gospels. However, the gospel authors were able to work around it in an extremely clever way. The four authors telling the story of Jesus and his time on Earth all pieced together a generalized account of his life from minor, disjointed details and the four resulting accounts all heavily contradict each other. Brilliant!

Some fans of this book claim that Jesus abolishes the atrocious laws established in the Old Testament, making up for them. This, however, is not the case, as Jesus himself states in Matthew 5:17-18 and Luke 16:17 that he came not to “destroy the law” but to fulfill it and that not “one tittle” of the law would fail until “heaven and earth pass.” Once again it seems as though those who claim to admire and adhere to this book don’t actually know it very well. Go figure.

Two of the gospel authors claim that Jesus was born to a virgin, which is rather far-fetched, but then again, it is a fantasy novel. Jesus also claims that anyone who has faith in him will be able to magically transfer mountains and trees into the sea (Matthew 17:20 and 21:21, Mark 11:23, and Luke 17:6), further emphasizing the alternate, fictional universe (where sorcery is possible) in which this story is set.

Also, in this universe, all ailments are caused by demons, which Jesus is able to cast out of the ill and physically deformed.

The end of the story of Jesus and his time on Earth, however, ruins the whole thing, as it is completely nonsensical. Jesus (also God) is there to die for the imperfect nature of all humans (in which God created them) as a blood sacrifice to God (also himself) simply so that he can ask God (also himself) to forgive all humans for involuntarily existing in an imperfect nature in which they were created by God. It is supposed to be a noble sacrifice, but it instead comes across as utterly absurd and obscene.

It isn’t even a sacrifice, because Jesus magically comes back to life three days later, which he knew ahead of time would happen. Besides, given the other resurrections throughout this anthology of books (1 Kings 17:21-22, Ezekiel 37:9-10, Matthew 27:51-53, Mark 5:41-42, Luke 8:54-55, and John 11:41-44), the Jesus resurrection doesn’t seem all that significant. It would have had greater effect if those other completely random resurrections had been omitted. As I’ve already stated, this book would have benefited tremendously from better editing.

The next 22 books describe the actions and teaching of the followers of Jesus. The writings of his followers contradict each other numerous times regarding what is required to attain salvation. (Is it faith or works or both?)

Most of these books are written by some guy named Paul and are comprised of rambling about how faith is the only way to attain salvation (even though Paul apparently was made witness to the spirit of Jesus in Acts 9:3-6, making faith for him impossible, making him a hypocrite) and how sex is evil and women are inferior and must be submissive to men and all kinds of other crap that Jesus doesn’t say in any of the gospels. The writings of Paul are irritating and dull. (Although 1 Corinthians 1:18-29 is good for a laugh.)

After these writings, the final book, Revelation, describes the end of the world when Jesus comes back to kill all nonbelievers. Revelation is replete with cartoonish imagery and prophecies more vague than an astrology horoscope. It feels to me as though it was tacked on as an afterthought so that the book could have a climactic ending, no matter how contrived. What exactly was the point of adding all of this extra material to the end of the book if the savior of humanity was already dead and resurrected?

As far as dystopian novels go, I prefer George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four by a long shot. That book isn’t self-contradictory, poorly written, fallacious, or outright absurd and it doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence by claiming that Big Brother is good.

Jesus’ miracles (Synoptics)

To overcome the deranged altruism of the white man that created the colored tsunami that’s killing us, Christianity must be debunked.

Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ fourth chapter, “Miracles I (The Synoptic Narratives)” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted):


Käsemann’s judgment is that the “great majority of the Gospel miracle stories must be regarded as legends.” The kind of incidents which in fact commend themselves as being historically credible are “harmless episodes such as the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever and the healing of so-called possessed persons.”

The next two chapters will examine the thirty-odd narratives in the Gospels which depict the Synoptic and Johannine attitudes toward miracles, demonstrating their literary lineage, and discuss how these fictional or legendary stories came to be composed.

Narratives about Jesus’ performing miracles were virtual requirements, given first-century Christianity’s understanding of the Old Testament. Matthew 11:2-5 makes this quite clear:

John, who was in prison, heard what Christ was doing, and sent his own disciples to him with this message: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect some other?” Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor are hearing the good news.”

Matthew has Jesus list what are, in fact, signs of the advent of the New Age, as Isaiah had predicted: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart” (Isa. 35:5 LXX). Matthew combined Second Isaiah’s declaration using that prophet’s very words from the Septuagint.

The resurrection of a dead son

Both Elijah and Elisha mediate two striking miracles, the creation of abundance from little and the resurrection of a dead son. If these sound familiar to a reader of the Gospels, we should not be surprised.

Since Luke’s account of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son so clearly betrays its literary origins in the Septuagint, I shall begin with it:

And it came to pass [kai egeneto] afterwards that Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. As he approached the gate of the town he met a funeral. The dead man was the only son of his widowed mother; and many of the townspeople were there with her. When the Lord saw her his heart went out to her, and he said, “Weep no more.” With that he stepped forward and laid upon the bier; and the bearers halted. Then he spoke: “Young man, rise up!” The dead man sat up and began to speak; and Jesus gave him back to his mother. Deep awe fell upon them all, and they praised God. “A great prophet has arisen among us,” they said. (Luke 7:11-16)

Either Luke or some Greek-speaking Christian behind Luke composed this story on the basis of the account in the Septuagint version of Kings depicting the raising of the dead son of the widow of Sarapeta (III, [I] Kings 17:8-10, 17, 19-23 LXX). Both stories begin with a favorite Septuagintal formula, “And it came to pass.” Both concern the dead son of a widow (chera). In both the prophet “went” (eporeuthe) to the town, where he met a woman at the “gate of the city” (ton pylona tes poleos—LXX; te pyle te poleos—Luke), even though archaeological study has shown that the village of Nain in Galilee never had a wall. Nain’s fictional gate is there for literary reasons: Sarepta’s gate transferred. In both stories the prophets speak and touch the dead son, who then raises and speaks. In both stories it is declared that the miracle certifies the prophet (“Behold, I know that thou art a man of God”—LXX; “A great prophet has arisen”—Luke). And both stories conclude with precisely the same words: “and he gave him to his mother” (kai edoken auton te metri autou).

The raising of Jairus’ daughter

Early Christians knew, on the basis of Isaiah 26:19, that raising of the dead was to be one of the signs of the advent of God’s kingdom. The only Old Testament narratives of resurrection are in the stories of Elijah and Elisha. In Mark 5, Matthew 9, and Luke 8, the president of an unnamed synagogue, one Jairus (whose name, “He will awaken,” betrays the representative and fictional nature of the account), comes to Jesus. Like the Shunnamite woman to Elisha, “falls at his feet and entreats him many times,” saying, in both Mark and Luke, that his only daughter was dying. In Matthew, to align more closely with the story’s Old Testament source—as is typical of the careful and knowledgeable first evangelist—the child is already dead.

The story stays close to the Old Testament original. In both, the prophet, on the way to the child, receives a message that it is dead, but continues resolutely. In both stories the prophet seeks privacy for the miracle: “After turning all the others out, Jesus took the child’s father and mother and his own companions and went in where the child was lying,” just as Elisha shut the door upon himself and the child. And in both, the prophet touches the child and speaks, and the child awakes. In Mark, the parents were “ecstatic with great ecstasy” (exestesan… ekstasei megale—Mark 5:42); in Kings, the mother of the child is “ecstatic with all this ecstasy” (exestesas… pasan ten ekstasin tauten—IV Kings 4:31 LXX). Just as the widow of Nain’s son began as the widow of Sarepta’s son, so the daughter of Jairus began as the dead child of Shunnam.

The other process, the heightening of the miraculous and the elimination of hints about the limitation of Jesus’ power to work miracles, is evident in later treatments of Mark’s account of Jesus at Nazareth. There in his own town, says Mark, he was not notably successful:

Jesus said to them, “A prophet will always be held in honour except in his home town, and among his kinsmen and family.” He could work no miracle there, except that he put hands on a few sick people and healed them, and he was taken aback by their want of faith. (Mark 6:4-6)

Matthew, with a more “advanced” theology and a more fully deified Jesus, could not accept Mark’s assertion, so he treated it as fiction, untrue; it was not that Jesus could not perform great miracles in the face of lack of faith in him, rather he chose not to do so. Bearing this in mind, we may more readily grasp why Matthew and Luke chose to leave out altogether two of Mark’s miracle stories. Jesus is asked to heal a deaf mute:

He took the man aside, away from the crowd, put his fingers into his [the man’s] ears, spat, and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, he sighted, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” With that his ears were opened and at the same time the impediment was removed and he spoke plainly. (Mark 7:33-35)

In the next chapter, Jesus is asked to cure a blind man:

He spat on his eyes, and laid his hands upon him, and asked whether he could see any thing. The blind man’s sight began to come back, and he said, “I see men; they look like trees, but they are walking about.” Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; he looked hard, and now he was cured so that he saw everything clearly. (Mark 8:23-25)

For Matthew and Luke, who eliminated both these stories from their revisions of Mark, the notion that Jesus needed any kind of ritual (magic word) or medicinal (spittle) help, or even that he needed a little time and repetition of the treatment, was unthinkable. (Matthew characteristically depicts Jesus’ miracle-working powers as instantaneous.)



A Romanized Jesus in this painting found in a Christian catacomb in Rome. The beardless Jesus (Romans regarded the beard as a feature of the Barbarians) also has short hair and is wearing a Roman tunic.





Matthew ensures his story replaces the two he removed from Mark by depicting the man as both mute and blind.

Then they brought him a man who was possessed. He was blind and dumb, and Jesus cured him, restoring both speech and sight… But when the pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub prince of devils that this man drives the devils out.” (Matt. 12:22-24).

A miracle story grows here before our eyes. Luke’s mute becoming mute and blind.

Food miracles

Like so many of the other miracle stories, these too have their origins in the Old Testament.

The disciples, though they have presumably just witnessed Jesus feed five thousand with five loaves, naively ask, “How can anyone provide all these people with bred in this lonely place?” —Mk. 8:14. Mark obviously found two stories in unrelated layers of oral tradition and, failing to grasp that they were different versions of the same story, put them into narrative sequence, making the disciples appear unbelievable stupid.

In any event, both narratives stem from IV [II] Kings 4:42-44 read as a typological foreshadowing of the career of Jesus. Both Testaments specify the number of hungry persons (one hundred in the Old; four and five thousand—much greater miracles!—in the New); both specify the inadequate amount of food available (twenty loaves in the Old Testament; five and four loaves—again greater miracles—in the New). In both the prophets instruct their disciples to feed the people, and in both the disciples protest the inadequacy: Elisha’s disciple complains, “I cannot set this before a hundred men” (IV [II] Kings 4:43); while Jesus’ disciple asks “How can anyone provide all these people with bread?” (Mark 8:5). Finally, in both stories, the meager loaves are miraculously amplified to feed all present and more: “And they ate, and left some over” (IV [II] Kings 4:44); “They all ate to their heart’s content, and seven baskets were filled with the scraps that were left” (Mark 8:9).

Interestingly, the miracle of the loaves and fishes is one of the very few Synoptic miracle stories which have also been used in the Fourth Gospel.

Stilling the storm; walking on the sea

Jesus also showed his power over nature in fictions about water. The ancients knew from Psalm 107 what power Yahweh has over the sea (Ps. 107:25-30). In Jonah, the sailors “called on the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, do not let us perish’” (1:14); in the Psalm, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble.” As a consequence, Jonah says, the “sea stopped raging” (1:15); the psalmist, “the storm sank to a murmur, and the waves of the sea were stilled.”

Matthew knew, unlike Mark, that the stilling of the storm was based in part one on the Book of Jonah, for again he rewrote his version of Mark’s narrative. Taking key words from Jonah—“Lord,” “save us,” “we perish”—Matthew rewrites Mark: a fictional correction of a fictional account, each of which is based in its own way on the Old Testament.

With this in mind, the nature of the rest of the miracle story as Mark first wrote it is more easily grasped. If it seems strange that Jesus could sleep in the stern of a small open fishing-boat in the middle of a storm so violent that waves were breaking over the vessel and filling it with water, Jesus’ sleep should be seen not as a description of an event but as a literary necessity.

Jesus also showed his power over the sea by walking on it (Matt. 14; Mark 6; John 6); a variant of the stilling of the storm.

Both versions reveal their origin in the same part of the Old Testament, Psalm 106 of the Septuagint (107 Heb.), with perhaps additional influence from the Book of Job. Early Christians knew from Job 9:8 that the Lord “walks on the sea [peripaton epi tes thalasses] as on dry ground”; thus they also presented Jesus “walking upon the sea” (peripaton epi tes thalasses—Mark 6: 48). But for the basis of their narrative about this “predicted” event, they went to the Septuagint Psalms, as may best be seen by comparing Mark’s and John’s versions of the pericope. Matthew enriches his account with a fascinating addition about Peter’s effort to copy his Lord.

Chechar’s note:

It is tragic that erudite criticism on the New Testament, which started in the third century with the textual analyses of Porphyry, was lost after the Imperial Church burned all copies of Porphyry’s book. We had to wait until Reimarus in eighteenth-century Germany for the science of critical studies on the New Testament to be developed again.

Below, one of the few surviving fragments of Porphyry’s book, a comment about Matt. 14.25 & Mark 6.48:

Another section in the gospel deserves comment, for it is likewise devoid of sense and full of impossibility; I mean that absurd story about Jesus sending his apostles across the sea ahead of him after the banquet, then walking [on the sea] “at the fourth watch of the night.” It is related that they had been working all night to keep the boat adrift and were frightened by the size of the storm surging against the boat.

Those who know the region will tell us that, in fact, there is no “sea” in the locality but only a tiny lake which springs from a river that flows through the hills of Galilee near Tiberias. Small boats can get across it within two hours. And the lake is too small to have whitecaps caused by storm. Mark seems to be stretching the point to its extremities when he writes that Jesus—after nine hours had passed—decided in the tenth to walk across to his disciples who had been floating about on the pond for the duration!

As if this isn’t enough, he calls it a “sea”—indeed, a stormy sea—a very angry sea which tosses them about in its waves causing them to fear for their lives. He does this, apparently, so that he can next show Christ miraculously causing the storm to cease and the sea to calm down, hence saving the disciples from the dangers of the swell.

Again, this was written 1700 years ago!

How to begin a Gospel

Excerpts of the first chapter can be read here.

To overcome the deranged altruism of the white man that created the colored tsunami that’s killing us, Christianity must be debunked.

Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ second chapter, “How to begin a Gospel” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):


A central working hypothesis of this book and one of the most widely held findings in modern New Testament study is that Mark was the first canonical Gospel to be composed and that the authors of Matthew and Luke (and possibly John) used Mark’s Gospel as a written source. As B.H. Streeter has said of this view of Mark:

Its full force can only be realized by one who will take the trouble to go carefully through the immense mass of details which Sir John Hawkins has collected, analyzed, and tabulated (pp. 114-153 of his classic Horae Synopticae). How anyone who has worked through those pages with a synopsis of the Greek text can retain the slightest doubt of the original and primitive character of Mark, I am unable to comprehend… The facts seem only explicable on the theory that each author had before him the Marcan material already embodied in a single document.

When the author of Mark set about writing his Gospel, circa 70 A.D., he did not have to work in an intellectual or literary vacuum. The concept of mythical biography was basic to the thought-process of his world, both Jewish and Graeco-Roman, with an outline and a vocabulary already universally accepted: a heavenly figure becomes incarnate as a man and the son of a deity, enters the world to perform saving acts, and then returns to heaven. In Greek, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world, such a figure was called a “savior” (soter), and the statement of his coming was called “gospel” or “good news” (euangelion). For example, a few years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Provincial Assembly of Asia Minor passed a resolution in honor of Caesar Augustus:

…in giving to us Augustus Caesar, whom it [Providence] filled with virtue [arete] for the welfare of mankind, and who, being sent to us and to our descendents as a savior [soter]… and whereas, finally that the birthday of the God (viz, Caesar Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel [euangelion] concerning him, therefore, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth.

A few years earlier, Horace wrote an ode in honor of the same Caesar Augustus which presents him as an incarnation of the god Mercury and outlines the typical pattern of mythical biography: Descent as a son of a god appointed by the chief deity [Jupiter] to become incarnate as a man, atonement, restoration of sovereignty, ascension to heaven—a gospel indeed, and so the pattern of the Christian Gospels!

The divine emperor. When a Roman emperor died he was traditionally regarded as having become god. Here Claudius, in life a timid man with a stutter and a limp, has been transformed into Jupiter (Vatican Museum, Rome).


The standard phrase “the beginning of the gospel” (arche tou euangeliu) of Caesar (or whomever) seems to have been widespread in the Greco-Roman world. A stone from the marketplace of Priene in Asia Minor reads: “The birthday of the god (Augustus) was for the world the beginning of euangelion because of him.” Mark uses the same formula to open his book: “The beginning of the gospel (arche tou euangeliu) of Jesus Christ the son of God [theou hyios].” Even the Greek phrase “son of god” was commonly used for Augustus. On a marble pedestal from Pergamum is craved: “The Emperor Caesar, son of God [theou hyios], god Augustus.” Mark begins his mythical biography of Jesus with ready-made language and concepts, intending perhaps a challenge: euangelion is not of Caesar but of Christ!

The early Christians could have found out what we would call historical information about Jesus, but in fact they did not. Neither Mark nor anyone else in the Christian community (perhaps circa 70 A.D. Rome) had been in Palestine at the time; all the participants were now dead, and Mark had a book to write.

Certainly, there lived a Jesus of Nazareth, who was baptized in the Jordan by John, who taught, in imitation of John, that “the kingdom of God is upon you” (Mark, 1:15); and who was killed by the Romans as a potentially dangerous fomentor of revolution. Of the outline of Jesus’ life itself, this is just about all that Mark knew. Mark possessed a good many fictional (and some non-fictional) stories about Jesus and a small stock of sayings attributed to him, and he incorporated them in his Gospel; but he had no idea of their chronological order beyond the reasonable surmise that the baptism came at the beginning of the ministry and the crucifixion at the end. Mark is, in other words, not a biography; its outline of Jesus’ career is fictional and the sequence has thematic and theological significance only. As Norman Perrin bluntly puts it, “The outline of the Gospel of Mark has no historical value.”

Mark certainly knew what to put first: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). But Mark’s beginning comes when Jesus is already a grown man only a few months away from death. His Gospel says nothing about Jesus’ birth or childhood, has almost no meaningful chronology, presents very little of Jesus’ moral teaching (no Sermon of the Mount, no parables of the Prodigal Son or Good Samaritan), and has a spectacularly disappointed ending: the Resurrection, announced only by a youth, is witnessed by no one, and the women who were told about it “say nothing to anybody, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). End of Gospel.

Mark wrote some forty years after the Crucifixion, when Jesus was already rapidly becoming a figure of legend. John the Baptist presented genuine problems. Since the baptism made John look like the mentor of Jesus and the initiator of his career, the Baptist had to be demoted, but not too much; the initiator became the forerunner. Mark’s method of performing that demotion is fascinating because, paradoxically, it does in fact the opposite, and had to be corrected, three different ways, by the other three evangelists.

The baptism itself was the first awkward fact. Ordinarily, John’s baptism stood as a sign that one had repented of sin: “A baptism in token of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). It appears not to have troubled Mark that he presented Jesus as a repentant sinner. There is no hint in Mark’s first chapter that Jesus was in any way the Son of God before his baptism; indeed, there is the clear hint that at least Mark’s source, if not Mark himself, held the “adoptionist” theology.

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist,
from a fifth century mosaic in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Ravenna.
Note Jesus’ nudity and his youthful, beardless face.

All things considered, Mark does not begin his story of Jesus very satisfactorily. Indeed, within two or three decades of Mark’s completion, there were at least two, and perhaps three, different writers (or Christian groups) who felt the need to produce an expanded and corrected version. Viewed from their perspective, the Gospel of Mark has some major shortcomings: It contains no birth narrative, it implies that Jesus, a repentant sinner, became the Son of God only at his baptism; it recounts no resurrection appearances; and it ends with the very unsatisfactory notion that the women who found the Empty Tomb were too afraid to speak to anyone about it.

Moreover, Mark includes very little of Jesus’ teachings; worse yet (from Matthew’s point of view), he even misunderstood totally the purpose of Jesus’ use of parables [see below]. Indeed, by the last two decades of the first century, Mark’s theology seemed already old-fashioned and even slightly suggestive of heresy. So, working apparently without knowledge of each other, within perhaps twenty or thirty years after Mark, two authors (or Christian groups), now known to us as “Mathew” and “Luke” (and even a third, in the view of some—“John”) set about rewriting and correcting the first unsatisfactory Gospel. In their respective treatments of the baptism one obtains a good sense of their methods.

Mark had used his source uncritically, not bothering to check its scriptural accuracy. But Mathew used his source—the Gospel of Mark—with a close critical eye, almost always checking its references to the Old Testament and changing them when necessary, in this case dropping the verse from Malachi wrongly attributed to Isaiah and keeping only what was truly Isaianic. [Mark writes as if he quotes Isaiah 40:3 but his verse is a misquotation of Malachi 3:1]

Mathew disliked Mark’s perhaps careless implication that Jesus was just another repentant sinner, so he carefully tones it down, inventing a little dramatic scene. When Jesus

came to John to be baptized by him, John tried to dissuade him. “Do you come to me?” he said. “I need rather to be baptized by you.” Jesus replied, “Let it be so for the present; it is suitable to conform in this way all that God requires.” John then allowed him come. (Matt. 3:13-15)

This scene is found in no other Gospel and indeed contains two words (diekoluen, “dissuade”; prepon, “suitable”) found nowhere else in the New Testament. The verses are Matthew’s own composition, created to deal with his unease at Mark’s implication about the reason Jesus was baptized—not as a repentant sinner but to fulfill a divine requirement. Why God should require Jesus to be baptized, Mathew does not say.

Like Mathew, Luke was also unhappy with Mark’s account of the baptism and made, in his own way, similar changes. The Fourth Gospel takes an extreme way of dealing with the embarrassment of Jesus’ baptism by John: you will find there no statement that Jesus ever was baptized.

Developing theology creates fictions. Moreover, each gospel implicitly argues the fictitiousness of the others. As Joseph Hoffman has put it, “Every gospel is tendentious in relation to any other.” This is especially true with regard to Mark and the Gospels—Mathew and Luke in particular—intended to render Mark obsolete. The fictionalizing of Mark is one of the implicit purposes of the First and Third Gospels, whose writers used what were probably, in their communities, rare or even unique copies of Mark and who clearly expected that no more would be heard of Mark after their own Gospels were circulated. We do an injustice, Hoffman notes, “to the integrity of the Gospels when we imagine that these four ever intended to move into the same neighborhood.”

This becomes quite clear, for example, in two synoptic scenes describing Jesus’ telling the parable of the sower and the seed:

When he was alone, the Twelve and others who were round him questioned him about the parables. He replied, “To you the secret of the kingdom of God has been given; but to those who are outside, everything comes by way of parables, so that (as Scripture says) they may look and look, but see nothing. They may hear and hear, but understand nothing; otherwise they might turn to God and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12)

It is not difficult to imagine Mathew reading this passage, scratching his head, and wondering how Mark could so totally misunderstood the purpose of a parable—a small story intended to illuminate an idea, not obscure it. But Mark was a gentile, living perhaps in Rome; and though he clearly knew little of the tradition of Jewish rabbinic parabolic teaching, he was familiar with Greek allegorical writing, which was often used to present esoteric ideas in mystifying form. Mathew, on the other hand, was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian who knew perfectly well that a rabbi’s parables were intended to elucidate, not obfuscate. Yet, here was Mark clearly insisting that Jesus’ parables were meant to prevent people’s understanding his message or being forgiven by God: a passage, moreover, that cites Scripture to prove its point.

We can imagine Mathew’s relief when he checked the reference in the Old Testament and found that Mark had got it wrong. Actually, Mark’s citation of Isa. 6:9-10 agrees with the Aramaic version rather than with the Septuagint, but Mathew went to the latter for his quotation, which allowed him completely to change the point of Jesus’ statement. Jesus speaks in parables to enhance people’s understanding, insists Mathew, not to prevent it. That Mark’s account of the scene is simply wrong is Mathew’s implication [see Matt. 13:10-15].

Mathew and Luke found that one way of dealing with the Sonship question lay in the nativity legends already circulating about Jesus: he was the Son of God because God impregnated his mother. Both Mathew and Luke added birth narratives to their revisions of Mark, basing them on legends quite irreconcilable with each other. The next chapter examines these nativity legends.

Published in: on May 14, 2012 at 3:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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