Saturday, January 31, 2015

NT: Luke 5-8

I’d forgotten how (comparatively) beautifully written the Gospel According to Luke is. It almost reads like Shakespeare - lilting and flowing - containing more imagery than Mark, less choppy, less crude. I know, I know - over the years, I have probably been indoctrinated by other commentators, but it’s true. Luke is readable, and it conveys much of the imagery that sticks with you when you construct your mental image of Jesus. Too bad they coupled this to the Hebrew Bible’s cosmology and deity. They could have really had something!

It’s the longest book in the NT - both by word count and verse count. The author of Luke and Acts was a wordy so-and-so! I did mention that both books are believed to have the same author, didn’t I?

Chapter 5 depicts the “miraculous catch of fish”, which appears no where else. We also are treated to a couple of healings, a few parables, and the parabolic questions about fasting and the presence of the bridegroom. Clearly, we are being shown Jesus’ care for the ailing and disadvantaged (as opposed to the well-off), while He also intimates “Last Days”.

Chapter 6 finds Jesus and his followers plucking ears of corn on the sabbath, which raises the ire of the Pharisees. It seems that he’s always getting the stink-eye from the Pharisees, but since these events tend to be recapitulated across the Gospels, it’s less often than it seems.

We also see Jesus explicitly pick his apostles from among his disciples. I don’t believe it’s done this way elsewhere, although it really makes no difference.

13 And when it was day, he called [unto him] his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;

...then proceeds to speak many of the blessings that we’re so familiar with:

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed [be ye] poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

It goes on like this for the rest of the chapter. He must have done a quadruple espresso that day!

In Chapter 7 we get a healing of a centurion’s servant, and a raising from the dead. Naturally, John the Baptist is intrigued, so sends some of his people to inquire about whether Jesus is the one that they seek:

19 And John calling [unto him] two of his disciples sent [them] to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? Jesus performs some more healings, JB’s entourage Entourage is suitably impressed and leaves with the news. Jesus then begins preaching again, using JB’s greatness (as a prophet) as a milestone against which He compares the greatness of those that belong to the Kingdom of God. Jesus is quite an effective salesman!

Chapter 8 brings us “The Ministering Women”, the “Interpretation of the Parable of the Sower”, “He who has Ears to Hear, Let him Hear”, “Jesus' True Kindred Relatives”, “Stilling the Storm”, the “The Gerasene Demoniac”, and “Jairus' Daughter and the Woman with a Hemorrhage”. If it looks like I’m cribbing from another source, I am! I have no analysis to add, just a crude list. My only comment is that each of these events is mirrored in both Matthew and Mark, except for The Ministering Women. Well done, author of Luke and Acts!


As I just alluded, Luke chapters 5 through 8 are pretty consistent with Matthew and Mark. In fact only one pericope in each chapter is unique to Luke, all others are found in either or both of the other Synoptics. The only concern is how they’re dispersed, as the ordering varies more between Luke and the other two, as opposed to just between Matthew and Mark alone.

Interesting stuff!

Friday, January 30, 2015

NT: Luke 1-4

1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
3 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,
4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

Thus begins the book of Luke. Chapter 1 gives us details about John the Baptist, which is (apparently) intended to allow parallels between John and Jesus to be drawn for the readers. There may have been a motive for this, possibly the audience for this was mainly followers of John, so drawing parallels to Jesus might have been just the grease to smooth the transition to this new, improved prophet. I'm just speculating.

Notice that the gospel is addressed to “most excellent Theophilus” but who Theophilus might have been remains a mystery. Here’s a site that ponders this fact. And, as always, here’s Wikipedia’s take.

Anyway - Chapter 1 is a looonnnggg one - by Bible standards - and traces John’s parent’s relationship with Mary and Joseph, through the conception of Jesus. We saw none of this in Matthew or Mark.

Chapter 2 presents us with material that we didn't see in Mark, and some that mostly - but not all - appears in Matthew. Here we get the truly lovely verbiage that we’ve all heard around Christmas time, and which probably formed my childhood understanding of Jesus:

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

There is also His circumcision, childhood in Nazareth, and boyhood hijinks in the Temple

43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not [of it].
44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among [their] kinsfolk and acquaintance.
45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

Clearly he was growing up to be special!

Chapter 3 is largely John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, John’s capture, and some (always) boring geneological stuff.

Chapter 4 finds Jesus being tempted in the wilderness

1 And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
2 Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.

He perseveres, returns to Galilee to preach, then

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
18 The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, presented with a sign that he is special - something I don’t think we’ve seen at this early stage of his ministry. We also see that some of the passages are getting out-of-order, when looked at from Luke’s perspective back to Mark and Matthew. It’s not prevalent, but enough to - again - catch the eye of the inquisitive.


As I already mentioned, Luke adds new material that is missing from Mark, and partially missing from Matthew. I think the weaving together of John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ stories is most significant, as well as is the lovely images given to us by the birth and adoration narrative. Have a look at Gospel Parallels, if you feel the need to get more in-depth.

NT: Mark 13-16

The Gospel According to Mark is the shortest of the gospels, and as we noted, somewhat unpolished in comparison to Matthew and Luke. I suppose that the first time I read it verse-by-verse - which was as a newly born-again Christian - I had no deep thoughts about why Jesus’ story needed to be retold after reading Matthew, other than a vague acknowledgement that multiple attestations of Jesus’ miracles, ministry and resurrection make for a more convincing case to the faithful. After re-reading the Gospels and other selected New Testament books more than a few times, it has become more like re-reading a surveillance report - I already know how it ends. If you’re a believer, then Jesus’ crucifixion signals good things. If you’re not a believer, then Jesus just dies. Jesus has a bad six hours either way you look at it, but I expect most of us know someone who has suffered for days or weeks to an extent that make Jesus’ suffering look trivial by comparison. Anyway, let’s wrap this up.

Mark Chapter 13 begins with Jesus giving some of the disciples insight into the coming “last days”, with destruction and desolation on the menu as prophesied by Daniel in the Old Testament. Clearly Jesus’ words appear to be an extension of Jewish lore, at least in the eyes of the author of Mark.

1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings [are here]!
2 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.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?


23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

He tells us that “Heaven and Earth shall pass away” but His words will not. He clearly indicates that the “master of the house” is coming, so be on watch.

Chapter 14 is most momentous, with the Last Supper, betrayal by Judas, Jesus’ arrest by the multitudes, and Peter’s two denials. Worth reading in its entirety, no need to quote from it here.

Chapter 15 brings us to Jesus’ crucifixion and the appearance of Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of Joses, Salome, and Joseph of Arimathea. After six hours, Jesus gives up the ghost, and is entombed by Joseph of Arimathea.

Mark Chapter 16 is notable for the controversy about its length. Bible historians tell us that the earliest copies of Mark end at 16:8, and describe Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James coming to the tomb, finding it unoccupied except by a young man, and fleeing in fear. The version of Mark that was canonized contains verses 9 through 20, which include Jesus’ reappearance to first Mary Magdalene, then to the remaining eleven disciples, whom he then charges with spreading the word. Then he ascends into heaven. Consequently, Mark 16:9-20 appear to be later additions that were not written by the original author of Mark. I don’t need to belabor this at the moment, but it’s worth noting that, in general, many books of the New Testament, maybe all, bear signs of being edited. Some edits are clearly innocuous, others appear significant. There are plenty of good resources on this kind of stuff (see Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”, Robert M. Price’s “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man”, et al.)

A brief digression: notice that in Chapter 15, it’s “Mary mother of Joses”, whereas in Chapter 16, it’s “Mary mother of James”. Compare to Matthew 28:1, where’s it’s “the other Mary”. I’m not saying this is either important or controversial, but it’s something that gets the attention of the moderately inquisitive. When you Google “Mary mother of James and Joses” without the quotes, you get references to sites that are as likely to ignore this as to clarify it. Among my first few hits were The Bible Gateway - which ignores Joses in the description of this other Mary, and Bible Hub - which seems to ignore the difference as well. Don’t you wish the Bible was more unambiguous? You’d think the divinely inspired authors would have had some guidance on how to accomplish this. Alas!


The Olivet Discourse in Mark maps to Matthew cleanly, while Mark and Matthew follow a similar chronology, with the exception of additions in Matthew prior to the Passion narrative, and Matthew’s Great Commission, which does not explicitly map to Mark. If you’re using the Gospel Parallels site (as I am) to see how each book and verse maps to the other Gospels, you’ll see that the end of Mark and Matthew *appear* not to be “parallel”, while only a few verses of Mark map to Luke’s ending (which we’ll get to soon enough). The slight differences in the endings of the three Synoptics are worth commenting on in a separate post.

Note that a word-for-word reading of Mark and Matthew’s accounts of the Passion yield minor discrepancies as well, even though they agree in the broad outline. I can’t see believers being concerned by this, because, for the uncritical types like my twenty-something self, the Gospels - at least the Synoptics - seem to confirm each other. I never questioned in what order they were written, nor why the second Gospel might be less clean and less elaborate than the first. As a non-academic, differences between the first two books are not such a big deal to me - especially if I try to look at it as if I were reading the NT for the first time

Next time, I’ll chip away at the Gospel According to Luke.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

NT: Mark 9-12

As pointed out elsewhere, Mark 8:26 is the point at which Jesus’ pre-Judean miracle-performing days are de-emphasized and the possibility of his divinity comes to the fore.

27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?

Chapter 9 begins with a continuation of dialogue with his disciples that began at Mark 8:27, then some very supernatural events including visions of Elias and Moses, then a voice from the clouds, which I presume is God or her executive assistant. He performs what appears to be an exorcism, then begins with some sayings about Hell being a bad thing.

43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

Chapter 10 finds our hero in Judea

1 And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again.

...where he begins referring back to Moses and (I presume) the prevailing Hebrew laws. He continues to imply what will occur in the end times, while performing another healing

Chapter 11 could be the Olivet Discourse - or fragments thereof. Let’s see.

1 And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples,

...but it doesn’t shape up that way. What we get is His entry into Jerusalem, some hosannas and recognition that He comes in the name of the Lord. We see some colt, some fig tree and some tabernacle action, and eventually a conversation between Jesus and his disciples, ending with a back-and-forth on “by what authority I do these things”. The disciples are being telegraphed pretty strongly that Jesus is acting on God’s behalf. I’ll admit that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a lot more subdued than it’s depicted elsewhere.

Chapter 12 brings us some parables and more intimations of God’s authority and a mention of resurrection, although not specifically Jesus’, as far as I can tell.


Referring back to the “Gospel Parallels site”, chapters 9-12 fall under the narrative headings “The Way to the Cross”, “The Ministry in Judea” and “The Final Ministry in Jerusalem”. You can see that the end of Mark 8 and all of Mark 9 map to Matthew 16, 17 & 18; Mark 10 maps primarily to Matt 19 & 20; Mark 11 maps to Matt 21, while Mark 12 maps to Matt 21 through 23. This is surprisingly clean.

You can see that Matthew has other pericopes that don’t appear in Mark, and that Luke and John have entire sections that have no parallels in Mark, nor anywhere else. We’ll defer those until later.

Next - Jesus’ Excellent Adventure!

Friday, January 23, 2015

NT: Mark 5-8

I may have neglected to mention that I’m using the King James Version of the Bible in my readings / reviews, via Blue Letter Bible for iPad.

The Gospel According to Mark Chapter 5 begins on the other side of the sea, in the country of the Gadarenes. Who the flip are the Gadarenes? you might ask. I had no idea either. Per Wikipedia:

Many New Testament manuscripts refer to the "Country of the Gadarenes" or "Gerasenes" rather than the Gergesenes. Both Gerasa and Gadara were cities to the east of the Sea of Galilee. ... Today they are the modern towns of Jerash and Umm Qais.

Our friend Jesus performs some crowd favorites:
  • An exorcism, wherein Jesus casts the demons into a herd of swine and causes them to plunge into the sea
  • a healing: Jairus (leader of the synagogue) daughter
In Chapter 6, Jesus continues the Marcan mix of teaching and miracles, now “in his own country”:

1 And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.

The action:
  • He teaches in the synagogue and villages
  • He charges the 12 to go out and teach
  • Herod hears of this (which can’t be good), subsequently, Herodias’ daughter requests the head of John the Baptist. Herodias’ daughter is a sicko.
  • in verse 32 - “And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.”, we see what may be the first foreshadowing of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Priscilla, in performance. Not to mention a unquestionably weird use of a seafaring vehicle to traverse the desert.
  • Loaves and fishes and walking on water - oh my!
Chapter 7 finds some friction with the Pharisees:

1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.

To get a little better sense of the “washing of the hands” conflict - refer to this commentary Jesus eventually exposes a really dark view of humanity:

21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

...then he goes on to perform an exorcism and heals a deaf/mute man

In Chapter 8, Jesus:
  • Feeds the multitudes (~4000) with 7 loaves and a few small fishes. Compare this to Matthew’s versions.
  • performs more minor miracles
You can tell by my yawning appraisal that I find Mark a relative mish-mash compared to the more crisply organized Matthew.Some insight into scholars’ reaction to Mark from Wikipedia:

There is no agreement on the structure of Mark.[20] There is, however, a widely recognised break at Mark 8:26–31: before 8:26 there are numerous miracle stories, the action is in Galilee, and Jesus preaches to the crowds, while after 8:31 there are hardly any miracles, the action shifts from Galilee to gentile areas or hostile Judea, and Jesus teaches the disciples.[21] Peter's confession at Mark 8:27–30 that Jesus is the messiah thus forms the watershed to the whole gospel.

Parallels to other Gospels

I just recently introduced “Gospel Parallels”, and pointed out how

Nothing of Matthew Chapters 1 & 2 is “paralleled” in Mark; passages from Matt 3 and 4 seem to be found in Mark 1 (and to a lesser extent Mark 3); and beginning with Matt 5, the parallels to Mark become even less linear and more disjointed.

Lets look at some Parallels from Mark’s perspective. At the appropriately named Gospel Parallels web site, you can look down the column under “Mark” and see all of the verses that originated in Mark and where they are paralleled in the other gospels. Because Mark is presumed to predate Matthew and Luke, the verse numbers listed for Mark are presumed to be the original text, whether in bold face or in lighter text.

The bold type in the tables indicates the verses in order for each gospel we can see from Mark 1 through Mark 8 how those original verses are distributed throughout the other Gospels, or omitted altogether. Very handy! Mark 1 through 4 are spread out from Matthew 1 through 13, for instance, while Mark 5 through 8 appear throughout Matt 8 through 16. We’ll revisit the parallels every few chapters for each book in the Gospels so that I can familiarize myself with how the stories are distributed.


I’m clearly not a historian nor a Bible scholar, but it’s not hard to see how, on the face of it, a reading of Mark would give the reader an impression of a rough, unpolished work, and lead to the suspicion that the more polished Matthew and Luke could have been derived from this work. That is (after much more research) just what most scholars conclude. Of course, the relative roughness of Mark is probably a less important datum than other contextual data that are observed, but it is prominent to me, because it reads like a laundry list as opposed to Matthew and Luke.

Next, Jerusalem!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Theory of the Supernatural - Part 2

In my prior, necessarily shallow, excavation into the mines in which we might find Supernatualism, my digging around yielded a few non-absurd pathways to conceiving of Supernatualism “S” and Naturalism “N” existing in our current reality simultaneously. Let me clarify and elaborate a little bit.

First, I ran across the term “transcendence”, and was inspired to apply it to the relationship between S and N in this reality that we all share. Recall my draft list of ways that I can conceive of S and N related to each other:
  • SR1. N-world and S-world are separate
  • SR2. N and S are partially separate, but share some characteristics
  • SR3. N and S are identical
  • SR4. one supervenes upon the other
  • SR5. one contains the other
  • SR6. they coincide but remain separate
Recall also that SR6 is redundant to SR1, so will be removed from further consideration. The term “transcendence” might be applied whenever we mean “beyond our experience (temporarily or permanently), beyond our comprehension (temporarily or permanently), beyond reality as we know it (and possibly inscrutable), universal in nature (possibly without regard to its effect on humanity)”. There are undoubtedly more and better definitions. The term transcendent, or transcendence, however, can be nearly synonomous with SR1 through SR5 as long as S is at least temporarily mysterious to us so that we cannot recognize it. It might be useful to define S as transcendent regardless of the specifics of its deployment in reality, so be forewarned! Next, I gravitate to postulates SR4 - N supervenes upon S, and SR5 - S contains N, as the most likely arrangements of S and N in the cosmos, because they appear to require fewer auxiliary explanations in order to ”understand” how S and N could collaborate. This could change, so I won’t dwell on it. As to how any of the SR postulates provide an environment for the existence of entities capable of affecting N, that is where we go next. Does S - can S - how does S do this? In each SR conception, we assume that there are sufficient dimensions to allow independent S-agents to exist and to retain awareness of N so that S-effects directed at N may appear in the time and place in which they are meaningful, which would be presumably where the S-agent(s) intended them. At the least, you’d expect S-world to require 2 spatial dimensions with a time dimension, and you’d expect that energy exist - but not necessarily matter - as a minimum requirement to support this. I’m making two gigantic assumptions here, both inspired by an ulterior motive. Gigantic Assumption #1 is that intelligence and or independent agency is possible in just two spatial dimensions. I can’t conceive of, nor defend this proposition, but I’m assuming that just because I can’t conceive of it doesn’t mean that it can’t be conceived of, or can’t in fact be real. Gigantic Assumption #2 is that there is no absolute necessity that material beings exist in order to achieve intelligence and or independent agency, thus my omission of matter as a requirement. Ulterior Motive #1 is that I’m trying to conceive of S in a simpler way than I perceive N, thus making the Ockham’s Razor objection harder to level against S, and by comparison to other conceptions, somewhat more plausible. I still don’t have a coherent conception of how S-objects maintain awareness of N, and how they affect N. Luminiferous ether anyone? Let me hallucinate my way through this minor detail. Luminiferous ether - or something SR1 says that S and N are separate. We already devalue this postulate for its complexity, but the implied “super system” in which S and N ostensibly would reside could provide a medium through which S-actions are transmitted to N, and possibly vice-versa. I still haven’t had an epiphany that delivers the solution of how to maintain temporal and spatial awareness between the two. Any help would be appreciated!

SR postulates SR2 through SR5 all give us more hope in regards to how S-agents maintain awareness of and affect N, since S and N seem to be anchored to each other at some fundamentally shared mooring. Consequently, S and N would be “in sync” throughout their shared history. I think I start to rule out SR1 based on this burgeoning idea.

Let me speed through to the possibility that non-deity entities might exist in S, so that we can get to the Truly Big Deal. If S-world presents an environment that allows independent agents to exist, to presumably be born, live, die, and evolve, then we can imagine anything from S-viruses to S-wizards, but need only concern ourselves with S-entities that have intentions and can act on those intentions such that N would be affected. Your faeries, elves, demons, poltergeists, spirit guides (etc) could exist in an environment like this. Although these would be fun to consider, they're just a detour on the road to a Theistic cosmos.

So, I’ve outlined, with many holes in it, an S+N schema that might be a suitable foundation for a discussion of general Theism “T”. We’ll have a look at that next

Saturday, January 17, 2015

NT: Gospel Parallels

There’s probably no better time to introduce the term “Synoptic Gospels” than right now, having dipped our toes into the waters of Mark.

Bible scholars have long recognized the similarity between the first three Gospels in the New Testament - Matthew, Mark and Luke. Obviously, this implies that the Book of John is substantially different, which will be a topic for another time. The similarity between the first three gives rise to the term Synoptic Gospels, in that they agree to a large part. That leads to a related "synoptic problem":

The "synoptic problem" is the question of the specific literary relationship among the three synoptic gospels–that is, the question as to the source upon which gospel depended when it was written.

I’ll leave the question of which source hypothesis is the most compelling as an exercise for the reader. My point is to make use of the copious amounts of comparison and analysis in our further reading of the first three Gospels. The most immediately interesting tools are “Gospel Parallels” - tables which list the common elements of Matthew, Mark and Luke to illustrate where and how they agree, and conversely, where they disagree or omit stories about Jesus.

None of this is new to anyone who has ever looked at the NT critically, but I want to list possible parallels that a reader might use:
  • The Synoptic Gospel Parallels - an in-depth treatment that also includes a comparison of John to the Synoptics
  • Gospel Parallels - listing 367 points of comparison among all four Gospels
  • The Synoptic Gospels Compared - a Mark-centric comparison between the first three Gospels only
  • Wikipedia - The Synoptic Gospels
  • An Introduction To Triple-Tradition Comparisons - possibly more in-depth than the others, showing seven comparisons:
    • one that designates identical words in all three Gospels,
    • one that designates agreements of inclusion by Matthew and Mark against Luke,
    • one that designates agreements of inclusion by Matthew and Luke against Mark,
    • one that designates agreements of inclusion by Luke and Marks against Matthew,
    • one that designates agreements of omission by Matthew and Mark against Luke,
    • one that designates agreements of omission by Matthew and Luke against Mark, and
    • one that designates agreements of omission by Luke and Mark against Matthew.
The first things that jump out at me are:
  1. the nicely delineated sermons in Matthew are not, for the most part, found in the other Gospels. The Olivet Discourse regarding the end times is found (in part or whole) in the three Synoptics, the Sermon on the Mount appears to be very similar to Luke's Sermon on the Plain (this is not a criticism, just a point of interest), but the other three are not apparent in the other Synoptics as written in Matthew
  2. the term “parallel" is really a misnomer. Nothing of Matthew Chapters 1 & 2 is “paralleled” in Mark; passages from Matt 3 and 4 seem to be found in Mark 1 (and to a lesser extent Mark 3); and beginning with Matt 5, the parallels to Mark become even less linear and more disjointed.
I’ll return to my very-high-level overview of Mark soon.

Friday, January 16, 2015

NT: Mark - Chapters 1-4

The Gospel according to Mark is **apparently** the first of the Gospels to be written, around 70 A.D, if scholarly consensus can be believed. It does not have the nice sermon-wise structure that Matthew has, so it may be a challenge. I’ll skim it quickly to see what structure I can discern.


I’m back! ;-D

A quick overview makes it appear that, for at least the first 8 chapters, each is situated at a named or described place. As noted several posts ago, there is a loose division into pre-Jerusalem ministry (through Chapter 8) and events in Jerusalem, ending in his capture, trial, and crucifixion. Finally, there is some post-crucifixion hijinks in Chapter 16 - for which there is a controversy:

Most scholars, following the approach of the textual critic Bruce Metzger, believe that verses 9-20 were not part of the original text.

...but let’s not worry about that now.

Chapter 1 bypasses all of the lineage and birth narrative that we found in the Book of Matthew, and gets right to Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist:

9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
11 And there came a voice from heaven, [saying], Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

A sparse and rather sudden beginning! Jesus then spends time in the wilderness,

13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

begins to assemble his Avengers avengers Assemble!... Errr ... Apostles, performs an exorcism, performs a healing and starts to become famous, all in 45 verses! Very efficient!

Where the opening chapter occurs in Jordan, Galilee, and Capernaum, Chapter 2 appears to occur completely in Capernaum, where Jesus immediately gets the hairy eyeball from the Pharisees, with whom he begins a dialogue on his preferred religious practices. He doles out a few sayings and parables.

Chapter 3 appears to begin in a synagogue in Capernaum, where he performs a healing on the Sabbath - a no-no - then spreads a few more parables. Rather brief, but we can bet that he continues to get the stink eye from the local elders.

Chapter 4 occurs at seaside, and is largely Jesus speaking in parables. At the end of the chapter, Jesus and disciples board a boat and set sail, where they encounter a gale. The disciples are afraid, Jesus commands the wind and the sea to be calm, which they do, and the disciples express their amazement.

Some late notes:

Bob Seidensticker points out why Why the Gospel of Mark Is Likely NOT an Eyewitness Account. Mark and Papias and Eusebius - oh my!

NT: Matthew - the Olivet Discourse and the Crucifixion

After some between-sermon parables and good works, Jesus gives his sermon on the Mount of Olives

3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
8 All these [are] the beginning of sorrows.
9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.

As you may surmise, Jesus is giving the Disciples a heads-up on what to expect as the end times begin, including this famously inept prediction:

34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

The sermon continues through the end of Chapter 25.

In Chapter 26, Jesus begins a more informal discussion on his coming arrest and crucifixion.

Chapter 27 contains the crucifixion, which is a lot less dramatic in Matthew than in, say, The Passion of the Christ.

35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

Chapter 28 is action-packed with Mary Magdalene, lightning, an earthquake, a resurrection (or more properly, word of a resurrection), the empty tomb, Jesus’ reappearance and some good words to the disciples. All in all, two thumbs up.

I suspect that, if I chip away at the Gospels, Acts, a few Pauline Epistles, and Revelation, that I might have reason to revisit my very-high-level notes on Matthew. As I said originally, my notes are meant only as reminders of what occurred and in what order, and may get revised as I delve into the other interesting books of the NT.

Good times!

A Theory of the Supernatural

After listening to the entertaining Lowder-Vandergriff debate, I thought I’d reconsider my concept of Supernaturalism (”S”) in a more detailed manner. Jeffrey Jay Lowder argued that S and N are symmetric claims, but that Theism (”T”) and Christian Theism (”CT”) require extra explanations that make them inherently less probable than Naturalism (”N”). This matches my thinking - with a caveat - although the internal monologue that I have on the subject usually involves more prerequisites to move from S to T to CT because I have no internal time constraints.

My caveat is this: I agree with the idea that “just N” and “just S” in isolation from each other are symmetric claims, and thus equally plausible. However, claiming that S exists **in addition to** N as an explanation for the world we live in is more complicated, and per Ockham’s razor, would not be preferred to N only, given that N provides adequate explanations for phenomena that we observe in the world so far. Still, in order to proceed with this exploration, I will stipulate that S is required.

The outline for the exploration is roughly this:
  1. a Natural world “N” exists.
  2. how can a Supernatural world “S” exist?
  3. how can S be a Theistic (”T”) world?
  4. how can T be a Christian Theistic (“CT”) world?
Please notice that I assume that S is superordinate or prerequisite to T, which is superordinate or prerequisite to CT. This seems to be a conventional and uncontroversial position, and leaves open the possibility that S in fact exists but T and CT do not. It also becomes a candidate explanation for our human propensity for claiming T or CT exists, when “in reality” S is all there is. Just a thought!

A Natural world “N” exists

We will take the proposition that “A Natural world “N” exists” as axiomatic. Without it, we can’t claim that anything outside our heads exists, making further discussion irrelevant.

We also presume - approximately - that space-time, matter, energy and their properties, behaviors and relationships are what constitutes N, and that these are consistent (though not necessarily unchanging), thus they are observable, measurable, and we can evaluate them and make inferences about them.

How can a Supernatural world exist?

Here’s where I think I’ll spend most of my time. Since the point of the S..T..CT schema has as its end point an argument for the existence of the Christian God, I won’t deviate far from the S or T entities found in mainstream Christian thought.

The Supernatural realm “S” is assumed to exist “above and beyond nature":

The supernatural (Medieval Latin: supernātūrālis: supra "above" + naturalis "nature", first used: 1520–30 AD)[1][2] is that which is not subject to the laws of physics or, more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature

One could make the claim that S is wholly separate from N, a claim that is uncontroversial, although quite meaningless. For S to have meaning, something about it must have an affect on N that can be observed within N.

That opens up the first line of inquiry, “what is S’ relationship to N”? Among possible auxiliary questions are: what does S allow, what does S contain, how does S and/or objects contained in S exhibit behavior and potentially affect N? I might also ask whether N-objects can communicate or use S or S-objects in some way.

What is S’ relationship to N?

Since we presume that space-time, matter, energy and their properties, behaviors and relationships are what constitutes N-world, we might intuit that there is some set of similar concepts that constitute S-world. But before we try to reason out what minimal features are required to constitute S, we should ask “how is S situated in a cosmos that would allow S and N to interact”? Here are some unsophisticated postulates on how S and N might relate to each other:
  • SR1. N-world and S-world are separate
  • SR2. N and S are partially separate, but share some characteristics
  • SR3. N and S are identical
  • SR4. one supervenes upon the other
  • SR5. one contains the other
  • SR6. they coincide but remain separate
These are all ways you might reasonably conceive of S-world and its hypothetical relationship to N-world. There are undoubtedly more.

Let’s consider postulate SR1 (the “SR” standing for Supernatural Relationship). Before we can start imagining a relationship between S and N as posited in SR1, he have to presume that S has a way to remain spatially and temporally coordinated to N. There are at least three cheap ways to conceive of how S and N remain coordinated. One, they are “free-floating”, similar to two isolated “bubble universes” Bubble Universe - kinda. This scheme requires S to somehow update its “awareness” of N-world across the void. Two, they are coincident, but separate. The two realms are anchored to a common mooring. This assumes that the fundamental physics of S and N are such that they can occupy the same time and space - as we conceive it - and remain coordinated so that S-actions in N are coherent. Three, somewhat similar to One, is that S and N are free floating in a superordinate realm that allows coordination so that S-actions in N are coherent. This leaves open the question of how S-entities that act on N have spatial and temporal awareness of N-entities so that they can perform something recognizable as Supernatural in N-world. Let’s tag this question as Q1, in case we need to return to it later.

If S and N are separate, then a creator God could be found in this scheme, if either S or the hypothetical superordinate system is primary to N. This seems like a violation of Ockham’s Razor, in that we have two or three things requiring explanation. For the moment, let’s set aside the thought that S and N are separate as unnecessarily complex.

Postulate SR 2 - “S and N are partially separate, but share some characteristics” - is a tweener that arose during my initial brain dump. If S and N share characteristics, then we presume it is a level that we can’t yet perceive. So we can then presume that at unimaginably small or unimaginably large scales, we’ll find those shared characteristics. Either way we go, it leads to the conclusion that some fundamental aspects of reality are prerequisite to both N and S, but N and S deviate from these fundamentals as we traverse the ontology towards earth-like life.

For the moment, we will set aside SR2 as similar to SR 1 - unnecessarily complex - and move on to SR3.

SR3 - the speculation that S and N are identical - might just be a way to say “I don’t know what I’m talking about”. If S and N are “identical”, truly identical, then there is no characteristic that tells us which is which. Can we then say that there are different things that the terms “the Natural” and “the Supernatural” refer to? Could they refer to different ways of looking at the same thing? In that case, isn’t S just N via different interpretation? Or is S just N-objects and behavior that traditional science hasn’t discovered?

The problem with any of the candidate “explanations” given for SR3 in the prior paragraph is that they can and will be dismissed until repeatable observations of S-objects and behaviors are possible. So, as a hypothesis, it’s not dead, but it certainly isn’t compelling.

Postulate SR4 is one of supervenience - the idea that lower level properties determine higher level properties. An example would be molecules supervene upon (or rely on) atoms for their existence. I’ll be honest, I’m throwing darts here. This could be interpreted as a clarification of SR2 through it’s bottom-up focus. It could be that S is fundamental, and N supervenes on it. This sounds suspiciously like the “God is the ground of all being” trope that you might have heard from some theologists, but once you get to known physical quantities, the “room” that you need for S-objects, particularly independent agents such as gods, seems to become occupied by N-objects. Let’s not rule this out.

Variation #2 of concept SR4 would be the reverse, that S supervenes on N. That is not obviously absurd, but it seems to preclude the eternal creator God that we hope to find in T and CT. Let’s label our two variations SR4a (N supervenes on S) and SR4b (S supervenes on N).

Postulate SR5 jumps out as me as plausible - that N contains S or S contains N. Lets mull this over. If N contains S, then N has primacy, and S will never get us to T-world, where we presume that an eternal creator God exists. However, if S contains N, then S is primary, and the possibility of eternal creator beings cannot be ruled out. In fact, a non-eternal but “sufficiently long lived” being that is powerful enough to create N would suffice to get to some semblance of T.

SR6 - the idea that S and N coincide but are separate, is just a clarification of SR1 in which the two are declared to be coincident, so let’s just roll this into SR1, and drop it as a separate conception.

This is becoming longer than I expected, so let me start next time with the remaining inquiries into the Supernatural, then proceed to T and CT.

Friday, January 9, 2015

How the Gospel of Matthew works

Before I whiz past the end of the book of Matthew, I want to elaborate on how coming to belief in Jesus might work, using my 1970's self as an example. I'm sure I'm quite typical.

First, there is the personal need. I was in the midst of two-decade long struggle with depression and anxiety that ended up being very easily fixed (10 years later), but which was a mystery to me, my parents and my doctor. Second, I was rooming with a guy that became born-again due to personal crises, which put me in proximity to The Word. Third, I had personal crises of my own. Fourth, the people of the church are warm, supportive and encouraging. That is enough to get me started. Then I started to read the New Testament.

Matthew works as a catalyst for deeper belief if you know very little about the Old Testament, or have never seriously thought about the implications that the Supernatural has on the Natural world. That was me. I'd been exposed to the Bible since my childhood, but probably never read an entire Book in any span of a year. Reading Matthew with such a vague, non-resistant background left me open to assume that the OT was true, that the depiction of Jesus was thereby true, and that he represented this message of love and redemption that would be foolish to deny. So, as I mentioned several posts ago, I probably got 5 or 6 chapters into Matthew, and was hooked. I read straight through Revelation (probably too fast for thoughtful reflection!) and was totally on-board with the program.

That's how it works.

Stay the hell away from the OT!

As you can guess, I didn't stay away from the OT, I read through at least Deuteronomy, and I realized that there was an extraordinary mis-match between what the NT presented and what the OT presented. Eventually, I thought it through, and the rest is history.

I still remain fascinated by the whole idea of religion, with Christianity being an easy target for study due to familiarity with it.

It's nothing personal. It's just life, the universe and everything!

NT: Matthew - the Discourse on the Church

The Discourse on the Church (or Sermon on the Church) is the fourth of the five clearly identifible sermons in Matthew. It begins in Chapter 18, and

It includes the parables of The Lost Sheep and The Unforgiving Servant which also refer to the Kingdom of Heaven. The general theme of the discourse is the anticipation of a future community of followers, and the role of his apostles in leading it

- Wikipedia

Jesus uses this parable of the children (and the others) to convey how he wants the apostles to behave and teach others to behave and believe.

(KJV) Matthew 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

In Chapter 19 we observe:

(KJV) Matthew 19:1 And it came to pass, [that] when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

...where he has a brief dicussion with the Pharisees again, performs some miracles, teaches his disciples, and intimates further about the Kingdom to come:

(KJV) Matthew 19:28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
30 But many [that are] first shall be last; and the last [shall be] first.

The good sayings continue into Chapter 20, where he eventually departs Jericho and restores the sight of two blind men. I won’t belabor it or Chapters 21, 22 & 23 except to say that Jesus continues parabolicizing. That these passages are not considered “sermons” as the 5 Discourses are, seems kinda nitpicky. If you’re a believer, there is good reason to pay attention.

When I continue, the sermon on the Mount of Olives.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

NT: Matthew - the Sermon in Parables

Jesus will complete his “Sermon in Parables” - or “Parabolic Discourse” - entirely within the limits of Matthew 13. But we shouldn’t get the idea that the structured sermons are the only place that Jesus’ words can be heard.

The Sermon in Parables is given to assembled multitudes on a shore line while he sat on a ship. He appears to interrupt the sermon to answer questions from his disciples:

(KJV) Matthew 13:9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

...then gets back to being parabolic. That “in-line interlude” is kinda weird, don’t you think? Regardless, if mystery religions are your thing, then this sermon probably catches your ear. He appears to be willing to let the masses hear the mysteries, but we’re left to assume that only “adepts” will be able to decipher the encoded message(es). Then:

(KJV) Matthew 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:
35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;

He then wraps it up:

53 And it came to pass, [that] when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed thence.
54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this [man] this wisdom, and [these] mighty works?
55 Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this [man] all these things?
57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

So he goes back home to teach in the synagogues, where he gets no respect. Ignoring the lack of respect, you can imagine how Jewish this time and place is, just by virtue of his relationship to Jewish establishments and people.

For the next several chapters, Matthew segues into what will be Jesus’ fourth sermon.

Chapter 14 is momentous: Herod beheads John the Baptist, Jesus feeds the five thousand with the fishes and loaves, Jesus walks on water. In between, there’s some healing and memorable sayings - all-in-all, two thumbs up!

Matthew 15 has Jesus bantering with the Pharisees about his disciples lack of adherence to the comands of the Jewish faith. He then does some healing and some parabolicizing

(KJV) Matthew 15:11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

...and feeds four thousand with a few loaves and fishes. The feeding the multitudes schtick was apparently so well received that he found it worth an encore!

Matthew 16 begins with Pharisees and Sadducees teaming up to tempt Jesus into showing them signs of heaven, to which he replies with some parables, then turns his attention to hungry disciples, who also get parabolicized. Soon the discussion turns to who the disciples think Jesus is (the son of God?)

(KJV) Matthew 16:20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.

...but he wants to keep that a secret. The last few verses of Matt 16 are famous, setting the stage for his eventual run-in with Pilate.

(KJV) Matthew 16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Chapter 17 begins Erlich tripping on mushroomswith Jesus transfiguring and looking shiny

(KJV) Matthew 17:2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

...and then the voice of God speaks from the clouds

(KJV) Matthew 17:5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

...which echoes what we heard when Jesus was baptized by JtB (Matt 3:17). From there, some more pronouncing in advance of the fourth sermon.

Let me be clear, I have mentioned my deconversion in connection to reading the Bible, but please don’t get me wrong. Its not that the Bible might be inconsistent or say things that are apparent nonsense. The Bible’s part in my deconversion and eventual (decades-long) transformation into an atheist is that it served as a catalyst. It made me think about the nature of God. It made me think about the possibility of the supernatural, the nature of religions, the nature of Christianity specifically, and allowed me the opportunity to conclude that the God around whom the whole religious endeavor revolves is not “God” in any sense that I would recognize it if I were to be born tomorrow.

You often hear “sophisticated" arguments for the existence of God that define God as omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, infinite, eternal, able to run, block and catch passes. That God is not described in the Bible. We assume that that’s the God being written about in religious texts, but the words don’t actually describe that God. So I concluded that the Bible was, at best, a poor early attempt at getting to “the real God”. And from whenever I deconverted - 1974? 1975? - to when I started to reconsider the whole idea of religion in the early 2000’s, I merely assumed that God existed, but in a form that human religions had so far been incapable of describing. I felt, up until the millenium, that my journey in life included finding that “real God”.

So, if I have a bone to pick with any believer - or the underlying belief tradition - it’s not about Yahweh or Jesus (or Allah or Krishna, et al). It’s that the holy texts we read and base our religions on don’t really provide any basis to mentally construct an entity that can do the things we ascribe to God (create a universe, create life, wipe out all life, define morals and ethics that we can live by, create a Heaven and Hell to serve as punishment and reward for those whole fail or succeed at living by the ethical and moral guidelines, offer redemption through Jesus). Jesus seems like a good guy, maybe better than most. Is he better than John the Baptist? I would love to have a gospel or two about JtB to allow comparison. How about Buddha? Ghandi? The Dalai Lama? Your neighbor Bill? My sister Judy?

In light of God being such an ill-defined, apparently incapable, unbenevolent, unknowing, localized entity, it seems like anyone in the 21st century that reads about Yahweh would be fully justified in considering the guy incapable of providing any threat to one’s corporeal or spiritual existence - so why spend even an afternoon worrying about him?

And in light of the above, why does anything Jesus says or does carry any weight in influencing the way we think or act?

I grant you, some of what I’ve read about Jesus I find inspiring. Some of what I’ve read is a muddle. Some is irrelevant. So I’m left assuming that, like everything else I’ve ever encountered, that Jesus provides lessons to be learned, and also he provides filler. Bulk that fills out the package but provides no nutritional (or spiritual) content.

So let’s stop fretting and read some more about him to see what’s up.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On the Historicity of Jesus

I started reading Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt” a little while ago, and thought it was worth an in-flight review. I’m only halfway through, but I’m satisfied enough that it was money well-spent to write up some impressions.

First, my background is an unbeliever who - for decades - has felt that Jesus was initially pretty unremarkable in the 1st century, and only became remarkable through the accretion of legend and then “normal” religious development. On the Historicity of JesusI haven’t ever had any deep insight into how this might have happened, but the absence of independent extra-biblical references to Jesus, the (to my untrained eye, vague) internal inconsistencies in the New Testament and the obviously myth-like elements of the Old Testament all combined to effect my release from Christianity as a guiding principle in life. I guess that makes me a mythicist-in-waiting, and thus amenable to Carrier’s thesis that mythicism is more probable than historicity with regards to Jesus.

Carrier’s work is scholarly, written as if it was a doctoral dissertation, but more thorough. I’ve read the prequel “Proving History”, which will be helpful when reading this volume, but there’s enough different material here to make On the Historicity (”OTH”) worthwhile on its own. OTH is well-organized, copiously foot-noted, and apparently well researched.

For the non-believer, I recommend it as a thought-provoking treatment on the plausibility that Jesus was a myth that was later historicized.

For the believer, some advance warning. Carrier doesn’t sugarcoat anything. His project centers on Bayesian Probability, so when he uses the word “absurd”, he’s not being dismissive in a mean-spirited way. He’s being dismissive in a “this has a one-in-a-million-chance-of-being-true” way. If you beg to differ, I’m sure he’d appreciate a well written and argued rebuttal. You’ll see the word “absurd” a number of times.

The good news - for believers and non-believers alike - is that he dismisses the absurd theories in both the historicist and mythicist camps at the very outset, instead choosing minimal theories for each position to argue, and hopefully, establish a relative likelihood. Additionally, he argues a fortiori for historicism in order to establish the most charitable case for it (to the detriment of the mythicist position).

More good news, although mostly for the mythicist, is that there are lengthy, detailed discussions of background information shared by both positions, and evidence for or against each position. The breadth and depth of this info alone is worth the price of the book.

Bad news for believers: I’m halfway through the book, and even though Carrier’s a fortiori case for historicism is the best one could hope for, there haven’t been any biblical, extra-biblical or historical sources that you can point to and say “this is the smoking gun for Jesus’ historicity”. The best individual pieces of evidence for historicity have not been more probable on the historicist position than the mythicist position, and usually less so.

If you’re familiar with the New Testament and are reverent toward it, this book will be jarring at times, particularly if you’ve never been exposed to the idea that the Gospel stories are not the first NT books written, are based largely on Mark, and become more elaborate and differ over time, that Paul’s Epistles - some of which are the earliest in the NT canon - do not acknowledge Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, and that Acts appears to be a largely literary invention by the author of Luke, and more.

I’m sure there will be more interesting stuff in the second half of the book, so back to my reading!