The Fiction of the Gospels

    By Mike Magee | 8 September 2005
    AskWhy!

    The life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels is that of the worldwide hero of mythology: The divine hero’s birth is supernaturally predicted and conceived, the infant hero escapes attempts to kill him, demonstrates his precocious wisdom already as a child, receives a divine commission, defeats demons, wins acclaim, is hailed as king, then betrayed, losing popular favour, executed, often on a hilltop, and is vindicated and taken up to heaven.

    Christianity perfectly illustrates evolution in religion. Central ideas pass from age to age, but here and there a refinement is made and occasionally a breakaway gives a novel synthesis of the central tenets. The chief teachings of Jesus, even his phrases and moral sentiments to a great extent, were paralleled in the literature of the time and common to priests of Isis, Serapis, Esmun, Apollo, Mithras, Ormuzd, and Yehouah, as well as wandering Stoic apostles. Not one point in the teaching of Christ was new to the world. The chief doctrinal features of the Christ of the gospels—the birth, death, and resurrection—were familiar myths at the time, and were taken from Paganism.

    Who wrote the gospels? No one knows. They do not claim to be written by any named authors. They are entitled “According to X”, where X is Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. They do not claim to be “by Matthew”, etc. Even if they professed to be written by definite people, it would not follow that they were. And even if Luke was written by a man called Luke, he admits in Luke 1:1-3 that he is not an eyewitness but is writing, as “many” others have done before him, an account of what they have heard about Jesus.

    Historians ask two questions about any reporter, “Did he know the facts?”, and, “Is he truthful?”. Did the men who wrote the gospels know the facts? Were they truthful? The vampires who foster superstition in the minds of the young and the simple are categorical that the writers were eyewitnesses and, as God’s instruments, could be nothing other than honest. Yet, the gospel writers were doing exactly what the priests and preachers have done since—lying to win over gullible minds.

    It will not do, and is no defence to say, “But we know it is true.” That too is a lie. They do not know it, however convinced they think they are. Millions of people are convinced they are being abducted nightly by aliens, but no one else sees them. The proper word for such conviction is delusion. They are not remotely likely to be true.

    The growth of such legends can be seen in fairly recent times. The Persian reformer, Ali Mohammed, called the “Bab” (Gate), a founder of the religion which became the Bahai faith, gained adherents in the west and biographies of him were written after his martyrdom at the hands of the Persian Shah. In 1844 AD, after a series of visions, he set out to reform the Moslem creed and to bring people back to the worship of a purely spiritual God. He and hundreds of his followers were put to death, in 1850, by the Persian government with the connivance of the ayatollahs. The first biographies written about him were simple accounts of the life of a saintly Moslem, but biographies toward the end of the nineteenth century were embellished with all sorts of miraculous and unbelievable additions.

    Enthusiasm, even innocently, always glorifies its cause with miracles. This magnification of an exceptional but perfectly human person happened little more than a century ago. Why then couldn’t it happen in far more gullible and less well recorded times? The gospels were not written until some decades after Jesus’s death, and must be read with caution, for even the best people can be found to be unreliable witnesses with the passage of time. When Spiritualism first became a fad, an eminent British judge published some such experiences he had earlier had. Questioned, he was compelled to admit his memory was wrong in every important detail.

    So, if the gospels were not written until several decades after the death of Jesus, if the stories about him passed from mouth to mouth for a generation after his death, absolute faith cannot be placed in them, and those who urge it are dishonest. In those days, few ordinary people could read and write. Moreover, the Romans had scattered the Jews over the earth in the year 70 AD, and the Hebraic Jews had earlier scattered the first Hellenized Christians. The story passed from mouth to mouth in these confused circumstances for several decades.

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