Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Monday, May 31, 2010

Christopher Hitchens...

...has a fascinating article over at Slate discussing whether the Vatican should be considered a sovereign state, and the significance of that decision to the child sex abuse cases.

Catholic News Service:

The Bible may well be the best proof that God works in mysterious ways. Rather than one writer being divinely inspired to pen a clear outline of the duties men and women have to God, to each other and to the world around them, he commissioned numerous writers. Many are anonymous and never even wrote anything down, passing the wisdom along verbally.

This process produced a book more than 1,000 years in the making. Instead of a blueprint for humanity, the Bible is a mix of essays, poetry, short stories, moral tracts, numerologies, do's and don'ts, and genealogies. Adding to the confusion today is that the Bible was written in several ancient languages, meaning that practically all contemporary readers are seeing it in translation. And while the Bible is divinely inspired, there is no evidence that translations are.


For all of its insistence that the Bible is inspired, the article from which I took the above quote contains a number of remarkable admissions.

I generally find that Catholics have a much more accurate and healthy understanding of the history of the Bible and its role in Christianity. Relying as they do on the Pope (rather than the Bible) to discern God's perfect will, Catholics are freer to discuss the Bible's obvious limitations. By contrast, Protestants, who deny the Pope's authority, invest the Bible with the undeserved patina of infallibility that once belonged solely to the Pope.

China Running Low on Labor?

WSJ.com:
That labor supply is running dry might seem strange in a country of 1.3 billion people. But the trend's been discernible for a while, as the effects of an aging population and China's one-child policy kick in. In the past 10 years, the population of 20-to-39-year-olds -- from which most manufacturing labor is drawn -- has fallen 22%, Merrill Lynch says.

The UK is Starting to Get It

TimesOnline:
Plans to link retirement age to life expectancy are being studied by the man in charge of welfare reform.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, signalled that he thought longer retirement periods were bad for the economy.

The Government has already begun an inquiry into raising the retirement age to 66 not sooner than 2016 for men, and 2020 for women.

“It is an absolute imperative to start moving that retirement age up,” said Mr Duncan Smith, seeing it as attractive to link the state retirement age to rising life expectancy.


I like the idea, though I do have concerns about politicizing the calculation of life expectancy.

Great Wall of China Held Together by Sticky Rice

Who knew?

First Human Infected with Computer Virus

Well, kinda.

Hat tip: Rachel Green

China Has World's Second Fastest Computer

Uh oh.

Breast Cancer Vaccine Possible, Scientists Say

Sounds like pretty big news.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Europe's Looming Demographic Crisis

NYT.com:
Across Western Europe, the “lifestyle superpower,” the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.

Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.

Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. “The Europe that protects” is a slogan of the European Union.

But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.

With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.

“We’re now in rescue mode,” said Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister. “But we need to transition to the reform mode very soon. The ‘reform deficit’ is the real problem,” he said, pointing to the need for structural change.

The reaction so far to government efforts to cut spending has been pessimism and anger, with an understanding that the current system is unsustainable.

In Athens, Aris Iordanidis, 25, an economics graduate working in a bookstore, resents paying high taxes to finance Greece’s bloated state sector and its employees. “They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pensions,” he said. “As for us, the way things are going we’ll have to work until we’re 70.”


Fortunately, America's demographics are better, but not that much better.

Medical Marijuana

MaryJane may extend life of those suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Unbelievable

The son of a grandmother fatally shot by Yuba City police says his mother was likely startled when a census worker and officers showed up after dusk.

Police said they were called at 9:04 p.m. Thursday after a census worker reported a man with a gun answered the door of a Yuba City home. The census worker reported residents of the home pointed a firearm at her, said they would not answer any questions, then closed the door, said police spokeswoman Shawna Pavey.

Officers arrived and arrested 51-year-old Lionel Craig Patterson at about 10:20 p.m. on suspicion of assault with a firearm on a peace officer.

During the arrest, Victoria Roger-Vasselin, 67, approached officers from the house carrying a shotgun, Pavey said. Roger-Vasselin was shot multiple times, dying at the scene.


Full story here.

Good Thing For Kendra That She Doesn't Live in China

Time.com:
Ma Yaohai is a man who stands up for his beliefs. That has caused problems for the former computer science teacher, because one of his beliefs is in the virtues of group sex, which is against the law in China. On May 20, Ma was sentenced by a Nanjing court to a three-and-a-half year prison term for the crime of "group licentiousness."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1991029,00.html?xid=rss-topstories#ixzz0orShpKCJ

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Part II, Chapter 8: Intentionally Different

As noted in the right margin of this page, I've decided to serialize and publish on this blog a book that I've been working on for some time. Below is the next installment. Consult the Table of Contents at the right of this page for a chronological listing of chapters.
__________________________________________________________________


The greatest of all the Reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by it's lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dung hill.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, October 31, 1819.




So, if we don't know who wrote any of our canonical gospels or whose "testimony" they supposedly preserve, what do we know about them?

Well, for one, we can tell with some certainty the order in which the gospels were written thanks to the science of textual criticism. Literalist scholars and critical ones alike generally accept that the gospel we now call “Mark” was the first written. It is believed to have been written around 65 to 70 CE, though this dating rests upon a number of Literalist assumptions that even critical scholars have been loathe to abandon. As we shall see in Part III of this book, it's possible that all the gospels, even our earliest, were written much later. Regardless, for purposes of this chapter, we will assume the generally accepted dates for now.

Textual criticism suggests that "Matthew" was the second gospel produced, and that it was written in Antioch between 80 and 85 CE. By that time “Mark's” gospel (which wasn't likely called that then) had already been circulating within parts of the early church for as much as twenty years.

We know that the unknown author of Mathew knew of Mark’s gospel because he relied upon it heavily in constructing his own, often copying huge sections from Mark verbatim. More than 600 of Mark's 612 total versus are found in Mathew, almost always in the identical order. But, very importantly, Matthew didn't hesitate to change or “correct” Mark's account, sometimes very subtlety and sometimes drastically, when doing so suited his purposes. Matthew was especially intent on editing out of Mark passages or phrases that could arguably present Jesus in an unfavorable light. As just one example, Matthew strategically omitted the portion of Mark 3:21 where Jesus' kinsman were said to believe Jesus to be deranged.

Textual criticism suggests that the Gospel of Luke was the third written, though the order of Luke and Matthew is sometimes disputed because they were authored about the same time, around 80 to 85 CE. Luke, like Matthew, had access to Mark's account and made liberal use of it, again copying large portions verbatim. However, also like Matthew, Mark was inadequate to suit Luke’s purpose and so Luke never hesitated to make changes, or even contradict Mark, when doing so advanced his agenda.

Luke wrote his Gospel, and addressed it to the Roman official Theophilus, in hopes of convincing Rome to cease its persecution of Christians, a persecution that was reinstated under the Emperor Domitian around 81 CE. During the 20 years or so since Mark had been written, the Jews had revolted (again) against Rome and were mercilessly crushed, with the Temple being destroyed in 70 AD. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews were dispersed across the empire. By the time of Luke's writing the first generation of Christian leaders, all originally Jewish, had apparently died out or been killed.

Q

While both Matthew and Luke made liberal use of Mark, they both also contain material, primarily sayings of Jesus, that are not found in Mark. For example, among other things, Mark does not include the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, the story of Jesus healing the centurion’s son, or the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan. Because Matthew and Luke, each writing in different places at different times both describe these events similarly, they clearly had access to source material apparently unknown or at least unappreciated by Mark, source material that has since been lost.

Scholars have for some time called this unknown source material “Quelle”, a German word meaning “source”, which was then abbreviated to Q for short. Due to its contents, scholars hypothesize that Q must have been primarily a collection of Jesus' teachings and sayings rather than a chronological biography like our present gospels, though some believe that the Gospel of the Hebrews could have served as the source. The reader will recall that Papius described his version of Matthew as just such a sayings document. Also, the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas is such a sayings document. Scholarly estimates date Q's creation to around 55 CE, over a decade before Mark was written.

Given that Mark was written before Matthew and Luke and that the latter two depended upon the former (as well as an unknown source, Q) for significant portion of their accounts, what can we conclude?

First, we can conclude that neither Matthew nor Luke considered Mark to be infallible, for they consciously changed Mark's account, and even contradict it in several places. In the middle of lifting whole passages almost verbatim from Mark, they often make minor (and sometimes major tweaks) to Mark's story. As Bishop Shelby Spong has noted :

[The author of Matthew] did not regard Mark as either Holy Scripture or as literally inerrant, for Matthew altered Mark’s text frequently to suit his agenda, his writing task, his audience, and his theological perspective. Because Matthew wrote after Mark, the need to define Jesus had had more time to develop, had more challenges to meet and more false ideas to confront. The way Matthew changed the Marcan text made this clear. (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, at 150).


Second, we can conclude that the synoptic gospels most definitely do not preserve three separate, independent, individual eyewitness accounts of the life and times of Jesus handed down by three different disciples, as has been traditionally assumed. They are not “memoirs of the apostles”, or at least not different apostles. It is evident that both the author of Matthew and of Luke plagiarized Mark extensively, and each likewise had access to an additional source, Q, that they often quote verbatim. If we remove from Matthew and Luke all Marcan and Q-based material, there is very little left of their respective works.

Thus, even if we assume without basis that Mark accurately preserves the direct testimony of some unnamed disciple, Matthew and Luke most definitely do not, at least to the extent that they simply rehash the contents of Mark and Q. As to their Marcan content, each can be seen as simply editing Mark's account for their own purposes. They likewise lifted the and edited the Q material from an ancient, unknown source. In short, Matthew and Luke most definitely do not preserve independent accounts of Jesus' life, but rather almost completely dependent ones. Their testimony doesn't corroborate Mark's but simply remakes it.

The same cannot be said of the fourth gospel, John, however. It is evident that whoever wrote the John either did not have access to Matthew, Mark, or Luke or, if he did, that he didn't deem them to be worth citing or emulating. John was written about 90 to 95 CE, never quotes from the synoptic gospels and, in fact, preserves a completely different tradition concerning Jesus, a tradition that contradicts the others in a variety of important ways.

Despite their many contradictions (a few of which we will catalog shortly), the first three gospels are called called “synoptic”, meaning “seeing with one eye”, because they at least agree on the big picture items such as the length of Jesus' ministry, the general order of the places he visited, the day he was crucified, etc. John’s Gospel, on the other hand, offers a different understanding of these events and includes some information not found at all in the other gospels, such as the Wedding at Cana and the Raising of Lazarus.


Literalist Rationalizations

The above understanding of the history and origin of the gospels presents a number of problems for Literalists. As we shall see shortly, the various gospels offer differing accounts of Jesus life. Sometimes these differences are minor (e.g., as to whether the sun had risen or not when Mary went to the tomb on resurrection Sunday), but at other times the differences are much more important and troubling. How do Literalist handle the cognitive dissonance that arises from these discrepancies? By rationalizing it away.

As previously alluded, one traditional Literalist explanation for these differences is that the gospels preserve the testimony of four different, independent eyewitnesses writing from four different, independent perspectives. Not every eyewitness would have seen the same things, they argue, either because some were present at times when others weren't or because normal human limitations hindered their perception or their ability to communicate truth. In other words, any time we have authentic eyewitness testimony, it's normal to have “variations on a theme”, we are assured, with each account being “incomplete” and requiring supplementation by other eyewitness accounts to arrive at the true story.

While this rationalization might explain contradicting accounts in “normal” human affairs, it fails to explain their apparent presence in a “divinely inspired” and 'infallible” book like the Bible. After all, God the Inspirer must have been aware of the happenings at all times and places, and he was certainly capable of inspiring his scribes to overcome their normal, human insufficiencies in communicating his truth.

But more importantly, we have shown that the synoptic gospels most certainly weren't written by eyewitnesses and, even more importantly, they don't offer independent perspectives. Where Matthew or Luke correct or contradict Mark (as opposed to merely supplementing him with Q material), it's because they intended to do so. There is not other explanation as to why they would copy entire portions of Mark practically verbatim, only changing a few things here and there.

Note that this conclusion is true even if our supposed order of authorship is wrong. In other words, even if Matthew were written before Mark, for instance, the striking verbatim consistencies between the two indicate that one was based upon the other. Therefore, any changes in the plagiarized material, especially where those changes are meaningful, must have been purposeful. Thus, regardless of their order of authorship, Matthew, Mark and Luke are not independent accounts.

Knowledge that latter gospel writers intentionally altered the accounts of earlier ones helps us dispense with another common Literalist method of dealing with cognitive dissonance: The “both/and” argument. This theory holds that most apparent gospel inconsistencies can be reconciled by assuming that each account happened just as each author describes, only at different times. Where Matthew disagrees with Mark, we can reconcile the difference by accepting that both what Matthew said was true and what Mark said was true. In other words, one account doesn't replace or contradict the other, it just supplements it.

For instance, if Mark says that the stone covering Jesus' tomb had already been removed when the women who approached it on resurrection Sunday arrived, and Matthew insists that the stone was still in place and that the women witnessed an angel rolling it away, then what actually happened, we are assured by Literalists, is that the women must have approached the tomb twice—once where they witnessed the angel move the stone from the tomb's entrance, frightening them away, and then again a short time latter after regaining their nerve. Matthew simply preserves the first approach story and Mark the second. Voila! Problem solved.

But, this “solution” has many defects. First, are we to believe that God intends us to understand “what really happened” to Jesus only by piecing together the various differing gospel accounts on our own so as to, in effect, create a fifth gospel that represents the one “true/complete” story of Jesus' life, a gospel that no single eyewitness bothered to leave for us? This seems unlikely.

Second, while the “both/and” approach, contrived though it may be, can successfully resolve some very minor inconsistencies found in the gospels, it collapses under its own at other times, as we shall see. Said another way, applying the both/and approach diligently results more often than not in even more rather than fewer inconsistencies and stretches credulity to the extreme. The resulting "fifth gospel" borders on the absurd.

And third, since we know that Matthew relied on Mark for his account of Jesus' resurrection (or less likely, vice versa), then we must conclude that discrepancies between the two accounts are intentional. If Matthew wanted to supplement rather than contradict Mark', then Matthew could have easily done so by, for instance, explicitly describing the two separate approaches to the tomb. That he didn't indicates that his intention wasn't to simply supplement Mark, but to supplant him, either because doing so advanced his religious agenda, or because Matthew had access to a tradition that contradicted Mark's own.

Different in Most Every Important Detail


With these ideas in mind, let's take a look at how our gospels describe some of the more important aspects of Jesus' life.

To put it bluntly, the gospels disagree as to the details of most every major aspect of Jesus' life, and this despite nearly two thousand years of editing and harmonizing interpretations. For instance, just to name a few, the Gospels disagree about:

1)Jesus' ancestors
2)The nature of Jesus’ birth and childhood
3)The order of his travels and the length of his ministry
4)The identity of his disciples
5)The nature of Jesus’ divinity
6)The events surrounding his baptism
7)The events surrounding his anointment
8)The events surrounding his crucifixion
9)The events surrounding his resurrection

Although we wont' have time to explore the inconsistencies in all of these areas, we will now examine a few of the more interesting ones.


Jesus' Ancestors

Only two of our gospels, Matthew and Luke, provide Jesus' genealogy. Whereas Matthew’s genealogy emphasizes Jesus’ Jewishness by tracing his ancestry back to Abraham, the original Jewish patriarch, Luke, who wrote his gospel in an attempt to placate the Roman official Theophilus, emphasizes that Jesus was a descendant of Adam, father of all nations.

Both trace Jesus' lineage back through King David (for the expected Messiah had to be David's descendant), but in doing so they provide a wholly inconsistent and irreconcilable record. Consider, for a moment the record back to King David as provided by each:


Matthew/Luke

Joseph/Joseph
Jacob/Heli
Matthan/Matthat
Eleazar/Levi
Eliud/Melchi
Achim/Jannai
Zadock/Joseph
Azor/Mattathiah
Eliakim/Amos
Abiud/Nahum
Zerubbabel/Esli
Shealtiel/Naggai
Jeconiah/Maath
Josiah/Mattathiah
Amon/Semein
Manasseh/Josech
Hezekiah/Joda
Ahaz/Johanan
Jotham/Rhesa
Azariah/Zerubbabel
Joram/Shealtiel
Jehoshaphat/Neri
Asa/Melchi
Abijah/Addi
Rohoboam/Cosam
Solomon/Elmadam
David/Er
(None)/Joshua
(None)/Eliezer
(None)/Jorim
(None)/Matthat
(None)/Levi
(None)/Symeon
(None)/Judah
(None)/Joseph
(None)/Jonam
(None)/Eliakim
(None)/Melea
(None)/Menna
(None)/Mattatha
(None)/Nathan
(None)/David


The problems presented by the genealogies for the Literalist are numerous. For example, how can Jesus have been born of a literal virgin when Matthew and Luke both trace his lineage, and therefore his legal claim as Messiah to the throne of David, back to David through Joseph? Also, if the Bible provides an infallible historical record, why don’t the genealogies from Matthew and Luke agree? They don't even agree on who Joseph's father was! Did Jesus descend from David through Solomon or through his other son Nathan? Why don't hardly any names on one list appear at least somewhere in the other? The questions just keep on coming.

Literalists have frankly fallen all over themselves trying to explain these genealogical discrepancies. Noting the difference in the lengths of the lists, some Literalists have tried to employ the “both/and” defense, asserting that the lists are not inconsistent at all--Luke simply gives a comprehensive version while Mathew offers an abbreviated one. But this argument is easily dispensed with as follows:

Was Joseph’s father Jacob or Heli? Likewise, from which son of David did Jesus descend, Solomon or Nathan? And if one list is a condensed version of the other, then why don't most names in the condensed one appear somewhere in the complete one? These are not idle questions. If we answer them honestly, then it is clear that one list is not simply an abbreviated version of the other, but rather the two are inconsistent and irreconcilable.

As additional evidence of this fact, note that Mathew says plainly at 1:17 that his list is comprehensive and not simply a summary when he emphasizes that there were only 28 generations between Jesus and David--fourteen from David to the exit in Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus. This plainly and directly contradicts the 43 generations provided by Luke starting at 3:23.

Another theory proffered by some Literalists is that, despite what they plainly appear to say, one genealogy traces Christ’s ancestry back through Joseph's line while the other goes through Mary's, thus explaining the differing names on each list. But this explanation fails for several reasons. For one, Mary's ancestors are never mentioned in either list. Also, why would one side of Jesus' family have 42 generations between Jesus and David while the other has merely 28? Are we to believe that one side of Jesus’ family was just incredibly short lived, or in the alternative that the other was incredibly long-lived?

Faced with the problem of explaining how Jesus could have descended from David if his true father wasn't Joseph but God, some Literalists have argued that perhaps Mary the Mother was a descendant of David. If so, they argue, Christ could have been both born of a virgin and still have descended from David. But this theory fails to explain why both Matthew and Luke go to great pains to trace Jesus line back to David through Joseph and not Mary. Some Literalist claim that females simply weren't mentioned in genealogies of the time, but this is patently untrue since Matthew's listing goes out of its way to mention by name some of Jesus' female ancestors, most of them women dubious sexual histories!

Finally, some Literalists argue that Jesus was “adopted” by Joseph and became equivalent to his blood heir as a result. In this manner, they argue that Christ could have been both born of a virgin, and (arguably) retained a legal claim to the throne of David. Unfortunately, this argument is inconsistent with the idea that the Messiah would be a blood heir of David. Furthermore, even if we could assume that the “adoption theory” at least arguably explains how Jesus could have been born of a virgin and still had a claim to David’s throne, it still fails to reconcile the obvious discrepancies in numbers and names between Matthew's and Luke's genealogies.

If we are honest, we must conclude that either Matthew or Luke simply got things wrong. Or, perhaps they both did.


Jesus’ Birth and Early Childhood

Although this fact is somewhat obscured by the order in which the gospels are placed in our Bibles, only two of them, Matthew and Luke, actually describe the events surrounding Jesus birth. Inexplicably, our original Gospel, Mark, makes no reference at all to Jesus’ supernatural origins or “virgin” birth, facts that Mark surely would not have failed to mention had they been known to him. John, while alluding to Jesus’ pre-existence “in the beginning”, doesn’t mention anything about virgins or Bethlehem or shepherds or wise men. In fact, like Mark, John apparently knows nothing of Jesus' earthly life prior to the start of his ministry as a grown man.

Matthew says that Jesus was born prior to Herod the Great's death (accepted as 4 BCE), while Luke says it happened during the first Census of the region, which was conducted while Quirinius was governor of Syria, which happened between 6 and 7 CE per the Jewish historian Josephus.

These dates are not reconcilable based on any known historical evidence. It is not possible that Herod died as late as 6 CE, and we know that Qurinius was not governor of Syria until 6 CE at the very earliest. From 3 to 5 BCE, Quirinius was in Turkey, and there is no evidence that he was military commander over Syria during this time, as some Literalists suggest. There is, in fact, no record of Quirinius conducting any census of the region prior to 6 or 7 CE, and in any event Luke goes to pains to tell us that Quirinius' was the first census in the region. Luke's indication that this was the first Roman census of the area is further supported by Josephus, who noted that the Jews revolted against Rome as a result of it. Apparently this census idea was both novel and unpopular.

There is simply no elegant way to reconcile to the historical record the varying dates that Luke and Matthew offer for Jesus' birth. But, that's not the only thing they disagree upon. No.t even close.

Of the gospels that describe Jesus’ birth, only Luke mentions shepherds keeping watch or a manger, while only Matthew mentions magi (“wise men”), wandering stars, or the Massacre of the Innocents. It is inconceivable that Luke, who says that he will provide Theophilus with a chronological (“orderly”) accounting of “all” events known to him “from the beginning” (1: 3), would have failed to report these latter three facts had he known of them. And, it's also inconceivable that, had the Massacre of the Innocents happened as Matthew describes, Luke's “careful investigation”, if indeed it was as careful as Luke would have us believe (see Luke 1: 3), would have failed to stumble upon stories of it. Such a devastating, horrible event in Jewish history would have been etched in the collective memory of the Jewish community for generations. And yet, despite the fact that devout Jews are well known for chronicling and memorializing their collective hardships over the centuries, and that much of the Jewish liturgical year is dedicating to remembering the tragedies of those hardships and their deliverance from them, Jewish extra-biblical sources from the time know absolutely nothing of Herod's wholesale slaughter Jewish children throughout a large part of the Jewish homeland. And tellingly, neither does Mark or Luke or John.

After Jesus’ birth, Matthew records that Jesus and family, having been forewarned of Herod's intentions, escaped the Massacre of the Innocents only by traveling immediately from Bethlehem to Egypt where they remained until after Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-23), presumably for several months or even years. However, inexplicably, Luke makes absolutely no mention of Egypt or Herod’s pursuit of the family or, as previously noted, his Massacre of the Innocents. Instead, after being visited by shepherds (not wise men) in Bethlehem very shortly after his birth, Luke says the family went straight to Jerusalem (Luke 2:21-24), where Jesus was presented at the temple on the fortieth day after his birth. Then, according to Luke, the family simply went home to Nazareth in Galilee (Luke 2:39), which was part of Herod’s very jurisdiction (Luke 23:6, 7). There, in Nazareth, Luke says that Jesus lived peacefully and continued “to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom…” (Luke 2:40). And from there, Nazareth, the family made regular annual trips to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41).

For Luke, Nazareth was Jesus' home town, and Luke takes great pains to get the holy family out of Nazareth and to Bethlehem at the appropriate time via the device of Quirinius' census. But, Matthew has the holy family living in Bethlehem all along and doesn't place them in Nazareth until after their return from Egypt, and then only because they couldn't return to Bethlehem for fear of Herod's son who ruled there (see 2:22-23). For Matthew, it was an simply an accident of fate that caused Jesus to end up in Nazareth, and he says that this accident happened "so that scripture should be fulfilled" (2.23). Luke has no need for such accidents since, according to his understanding, Nazareth was always Jesus' place of origin.

Luke says explicitly that the family remained in Bethlehem for 40 days (until the time for purification was completed), and then they traveled to Jerusalem to be presented at the Temple where they remained for a few days before returning home to Nazareth. According to Luke, the boy grew and became strong in Nazareth, traveling to Jerusalem in the spring of every year for Passover. Otherwise, Luke's supposed comprehensive account of everything he'd been able to gather about Jesus' life mentions no other travels.

Matthew likewise has Jesus born in Bethlehem, and he's apparently still there, residing in a house, months or years later when he is visited by the Magi. The very strong implication is that the Magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem, for that's where they predicted he had been born (2.1), and that is where Herod sent them to look for the child (2.8). Also, that Judea is where the family sought to return after their flight to Egypt (2.22), only changing their mind upon learning that Herod's despised son controlled the area and God told them in a dream to go to Galilee.

Matthew mentions no travels from the time Jesus was born until his escape to Egypt prior to the age of two after being visited by the Magi. This is consistent with the idea that Matthew believed Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem all along and simply remained there after Jesus’ birth, never placing them in Nazareth as Luke does.


"Both/And" Bologna

So, how can we reconcile these to accounts? Well, Literalists attempt to do so most often by taking a “both/and” approach. They insist that, by taking both Matthew's account and Luke's account and combining them, we can get a clear picture of what actually happened. That's fine if we don't consider things too closely, but what happens when we do? Well, there are a couple of possibilities, neither vary elegant:

1) Mary and Joseph originated in Nazareth (as Luke suggests), traveled to Bethlehem for the census (as Luke suggests), remained in Bethlehem for 40 days (per Luke) traveled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem 40 days later to present their newborn child at the temple (as Luke states), returned to Nazareth a few days thereafter (per Luke), traveled again to Bethlehem at some undisclosed time but exactly when the Magi were searching for Jesus there (per...well...nobody), were found in a house in Bethlehem by the Magi (per Matthew), fled to Egypt prior to Jesus' age two (per Matthew), sought to return to Bethlehem for unknown reasons upon Herod's death (per Matthew), changed their minds and returned back to Nazareth in Galilee only after learning in a dream that Herod's despised son ruled Judea (per Matthew), witnessed the child grow strong there (per Luke), all while failing to miss even a single Passover celebration in Jerusalem (per Luke).


OR

2) Mary and Joseph originated in Nazareth (as Luke suggests), traveled to Bethlehem for the census (as Luke suggests), traveled to Jerusalem with a newborn child 40 days later to be presented at the temple (as Luke suggests), returned to Nazareth a few days thereafter (per Luke), were visited by the Magi in a house in Nazareth (per...well...Matthew, but only by implication and by assuming much), fled to Egypt prior to Jesus' age 2 (per Matthew), sought to return to Bethlehem for unexplained reasons upon Herod's death (per Matthew), changed their minds and returned back to Nazareth in Galilee only after being warned in a dream not to return to Judea (per Matthew), witnessed the child grow strong there (per Luke), all while failing to miss even a SINGLE Passover celebration in Jerusalem (per Luke).


As for the two alternatives, I suppose the second “both/and” hypothesis is the more reasonable, for it requires the peasant family to engaged in a little less travel during a time when travel was truly a hardship on even those with means, and it doesn't require the Magi to just happen to stumble upon Bethlehem at a time when the Holy Family was visiting there. But, even so, it still has some fatal problems:

First, as previously noted, there was no known Roman census prior to Herod's death. In short, there is no known way that the holy family could have traveled to Bethlehem for Quirinius' census and yet still have had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod. Per the historical record, Herod's death and Quirinius' census are almost a full decade apart!

Second, accepting either hypothesis above requires us to ignore Matthew's explanation as to how they “came to reside” in Nazareth as merely superfluous, supplementary information. Rather than saying that they were diverted to Nazareth to escape Herod's son so that scripture might be fulfilled, Matthew need only to have said that they returned from Egypt to Nazareth because...well...that was their hometown! Which is easier, to explain their locating to Nazareth because of Herod's son or because that's simply where they originated from anyway?

Third, it is simply inconceivable that the Holy Family could have done all of the above travel without missing a single Passover celebration in Jerusalem, as Luke assures us. Did they travel from Egypt to Jerusalem each year during their exile? If so, no one mentions it, and this seems unlikely.

Furthermore, Herod is believed to have died in March or April (around Passover time). So, even if they were in Egypt for less than a year, and even if Herod died before Passover, it is exceedingly unlikely that the family would have learned of Herod's death in time to travel the considerable distance to Jerusalem in time to attend the Passover immediately following. Plus, neither Matthew nor Luke, both of whom take pains to chronicle the family's travels, mention any such a visit on the way back from Egypt. In fact, Matthew's account would prevent it, since he specifically says that God warned Joseph in a dream not to return to Judea after their exile and instead to proceed directly to Galilee. And Luke's account would prevent it by implication, since he indicates that the family traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem each year for Passover. Are we to believe that the Holy family traveled from Egypt to Nazareth and then back to Jerusalem, all in the limited time between Herod's spring death and the Passover?

Fourth, Joseph was warned by God in a dream to avoid Judea (Matthew 2.22) for fear of Archelaus. Matthew states that he observed the warning by going to Galilee where he "came to reside" in Nazareth (curious language if indeed he was from there originally as Luke states). Thus, Matthew makes no mention of the family's annual visits to Judea for Passover, which continued to be governed by Archelaus until 6 AD, for such travel would be inconsistent with God’s warning to avoid the area. Are we to believe that once a year Joseph chose not to heed God's warning to avoid Judea (per Matthew) and risked everything to attend the Passover there every spring (per Luke)? I suppose it's possible, but neither gospel tells us this and it seems unlikely.

In short, not even the most tortured reading can fairly reconcile Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the events in the years immediately after Jesus’ birth. The Holy family could not have been both in Jerusalem/Nazareth and also in Egypt. Historically speaking, either Matthew or Luke is just plain wrong. Or, more likely, both of are!


Events surrounding Jesus’ Crucifixion

Most disturbingly, things don't get any better when we move on from the descriptions of Jesus' birth to those of his death.

One of the most famous “historical” events in Christian history is the Last Supper, presumably Jesus’ last meal. It is the whole basis for the sacrament of the Eucharist, or Communion. And yet, the gospel accounts of it disagree.

The Synoptics proclaim the Last Supper was the Passover meal (see, e.g., Mark 14:12-24; Matthew 26:17-28; Luke 22:7-20). However, John clearly states that the meal took place before Passover (see John 13:1; and by implication 19:14-33). The Synoptics present Jesus as giving the familiar Last Supper teaching (i.e., “this is my body” and “this is my blood”) during the supper, but curiously John’s account never mentions Jesus’ body or his blood and instead presents Jesus as washing his disciples feet and then presenting a whole host of near-Gnostic teachings not found anywhere in the other Gospels.

On the night of the Last Supper, all of the Gospels suggest that Jesus and some disciples went out to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. There Mathew, Mark and Luke recount how Jesus prayed for God to spare him. Later versions of Luke include a scene where Jesus is so disturbed that he actually sweats blood, but this episode is absent from the earliest and most reliable versions of Luke, and it does not appear in any of the other three Gospels. As we have previously noted, it was a spuriously added a century or more latter to help the orthodox counter the docetic heresy.

After a series of subsequent events, all four Gospels agree that Jesus is ultimately turned over to Pilate that same night, yet their accounts of how this happened and what happened next vary. There are a large number of discrepancies in these accounts, but none as potentially telling as how each gospel account increasingly exculpates Pilate (Rome) and blames the Jews for Jesus' death:

It is an illuminating exercise to trace the treatment of Pilate [the Roman Governor] through our surviving Gospels. The more he is excused, the more the Jews are blamed. Our earliest account, Mark, shows Pilate and the Jewish people reaching a kind of agreement to have Jesus crucified. Pilate then orders it, and Jesus is taken off immediately to his death (Mark 15:1-15). In Matthew’s Gospel, written somewhat later, Pilate is warned by his wife, who has had a bad dream, not to be involved in the affair; Pilate then shows that he wants nothing to do with Jesus’ death by washing his hand of the business. “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves,” he declares. The Jewish crowd then responds, “His blood be on us and our children” (Matt 27:25), a response doomed to wreak havoc in the hands of Christian persecutors of Jews throughout the Middle Ages.

In Luke’s Gospel, written about the same time as Matthew, Pilate declares Jesus innocent three times, to no avail, and tries to arrange for King Herod, in town for the Passover Feast, to do the dirty work for him. But again it is to no avail. With little way out, Pilate yields to the demands of the Jewish leaders and orders Jesus crucified (Luke 23:1-15). In John’s Gospel, the final canonical account to be written, Pilate again declares Jesus innocent three times, and then finally, when his hand is forced, turns Jesus over—not, however to the Roman soldiers but to the Jewish people. Jesus is then crucified. (John 18:28—19:16). (Lost Christianities at 21)


This shifting of blame from Rome to the Jews over time is exactly what we’d expect to see after Rome had crushed the rebellion and destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, eventually assuming control over the compilation and editing of the Bible:

[The Jewish historian] Josephus notes that all historical works form this period suffer from two main defects, “flattery of the Romans and vilification of the Jews, adulation and abuse being substituted for the real historical record.” (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus at xxii)


While the Synoptics present Jesus as dying on the morning following the Passover meal (see, e.g., Mark 14:12,22; 15:25), John insists that he died in the afternoon the day before that meal (John 19:14).

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ last words on the cross were “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are curious words indeed for someone who, according to Literalists at least, understood completely the significance of his death as part of God’s grand plan to redeem humanity. Perhaps the later Gospel writers, Luke and John, recognized the strangeness of this pronouncement, for in their versions Jesus never speaks such uncomprehending words. Instead, Luke states that Jesus’ last words were a much more knowing, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”, while John records that he simply said “It is finished”, also suggesting that Jesus understood his mission and the significance of his death.

Mark indicates that Jesus’ death was marked by the veil of the Temple being torn in two. Matthew mentions the veil, but also states that the earth shook (Matthew has a penchant for earthquakes, being the only gospel writer to claim that one occurred both upon Jesus' death and resurrection), rocks split, tombs were opened, and many dead saints were raised (and appeared to many in and about Jerusalem). Matthew 27:51-53. Luke mentions the veil being torn, but like Mark and John, he knows nothing of earthquakes, splitting rocks, or risen corpses walking around Jerusalem. Surely these are events that Mark, Luke and John’s “eyewitnesses” would not have failed to mention if they had known about them. And surely they would have known about them if they had truly happened.

Again, not even the most tortured, contrived reading of scripture is able to reconcile all of these various anomalies in a manner that doesn't create additional complications or otherwise stretch credulity to the extreme.


Events Surrounding Jesus’ Resurrection

Literalist Christianity is built upon the foundation of Jesus’ physical, bodily resurrection from the dead. If that event didn’t happen, then Literalist Christianity and its assorted doctrines cannot stand. And yet, the Literalists’ own scriptures provide inconsistent and in some cases completely contradictory versions of this most important of events. Let’s consider their varying accounts in the order in which they were written, paying particular attention to the legendary accretions over time.


Mark's Original Ressurection Account

Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection is pretty basic and begins at Chapter 16. Mark explains how, after the Sabbath, three people (Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome) approached Jesus’ unguarded tomb on Sunday morning after sunrise for the purpose of anointing his dead body. As they approached, they noticed that the stone covering the entrance to the tomb had already been rolled away. They entered the tomb and saw a single young man wearing a white robe to their right. The man told them that Jesus was not there—that he had risen. The young man instructed them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them all in Galilee. The reader may recall that Jesus had previously told his disciples that he'd meet them in Galilee after he had “been raised” (Mark 14:28). The three astonished women then left the tomb and “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). At this point the original version of Mark ends! Nothing further is said. In other words, our oldest Gospel does not chronicle any post-resurrection appearances by to his disciples! This fact is truly remarkable, but few Literalist Christians are even aware of it, and most modern Bibles disguise this fact by mentioning it only in a vague footnote that says something like "some of the earliest manuscripts do not contain verses 9-20". In fact, none of the earliest ones do!

Had he known of them, how could Mark have omitted something so important as Jesus' post-resurrection appearances and teachings? And, as nothing is more central to Literalist Christian than the fact that Jesus rose physically from the dead and walked among his followers, how could Mark not have known if the story was true and widely believed at the time?

Taking the original Gospel of Mark at face value, it is important to note here that nothing really miraculous necessarily happened. The person that the women met at the tomb is not described as an angel, but simply a “man” in a white robe. The stone covering the entrance to the tomb was removed prior to their arrival, not by some angel as Matthew would later insist. There are no eyewitnesses who see Jesus’ resurrected body, not even Mary Magdalene, and there is no account of Jesus’ latter ascension into heaven. In short, the first gospel ever written suggests that the empty tomb could be explained by natural causes. For instance, Jesus could have survived the cross and was resuscitated and rescued by certain of his followers, among them a man in a white robe. Or, in the alternative, Jesus’ dead body may have been placed in a temporary tomb near his crucifixion until after the Sabbath was over, and then after the Sabbath was completed (i.e., after sunset on Saturday night) and prior to Mary’s arrival (after sunrise the next morning), it was removed by Romans and placed somewhere more permanent and secret--secret so as to prevent Jesus' more zealous followers from venerating his grave and using it to inspire rebellion. As originally written, Mark would support either of these interpretations.


Mark's Revised Resurrection Account

First century Gnostic Christian and pagans noticed this fact as well, and leveled this very charge at the Literalists (Matthew tells us as much). For this reason, at some later date, Literalists, who unlike Gnostic Christians insisted on Christ’s literal bodily resurrection, altered Mark’s original text to support their position. As discussed previously, later manuscripts of Mark (and our modern Bibles) contain resurrection material that does not appear in any of the earliest known versions of the Gospel. Specifically, Chapter 16 verses 9-20 of Mark do not appear in the Codex Sinaiticus or the Codex Vaticanus. Likewise, they do not appear in the oldest known manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate or the Old Syriac.

These spurious verses added at the end of Mark purport to document how the resurrected Jesus physically appeared first to Mary Magdalene at an unspecified location. Mary then reported Jesus appearance to other followers who refused to believe her. Jesus then appeared “in a different form” to two of these followers while walking in the countryside. These two likewise shared the good news of Jesus' resurrection with “the others”, but they still refused to believe. Finally, Jesus appeared to the eleven around a dining table, reproached them for failing to believe, and commissioned them to spread the good news throughout the world. He then ascended into heaven to take his seat by God.

Not only is the inauthenticity of these verses betrayed by their absence in all our earliest texts, but the vocabulary used in this added section is peculiar and inconsistent with Mark’s writing style, though this fact is more evident in the original tongue. Also, many of the expressions contained in the expanded conclusion documenting Jesus’ post resurrection appearances are unique in the New Testament. For all these reasons, no one seriously considers the expanded conclusion of Mark to be genuine. It was clearly inserted by later Literalist scribes, probably in the later part of the 3rd Century CE, to counteract claims by some Christian groups, primarily Gnostic ones, that Jesus never resurrected physically (i.e., in the flesh) but only spiritually.


Matthew's Resurrection Account

Matthew’s fantastic account of Jesus’ resurrection begins at Chapter 27:57, and it contradicts Mark’s in many ways. Obviously sensitive to the criticism to which Mark’s original account had left Literalist Christians exposed, namely that Jesus hadn’t resurrected but rather that his disciples or Romans had simply stolen his body, Mathew emphasizes that the tomb was guarded to prevent just such interference. At dawn on Sunday, only two people (Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary”), rather than three (as Mark suggested), approached the tomb. As they did so a severe earthquake shook the earth, and an “angel” wearing white descended from heaven, rolled away the stone for the two Marys, and sat upon it. The posted guards fainted from fear, but the two Mary's were apparently tougher. The angel spoke to them and told them not to fear and that Jesus had risen. This angel then invited the women to view the empty tomb for themselves and instructed them to go tell the disciples that Jesus had “risen from the dead” and would meet them in Galilee. They immediately departed the tomb to tell the disciples the good news, contradicting Mark's original account in which they told now one what they had seen.
On their way to tell the disciples, they were met by Jesus himself, and they clung to his feet and worshipped him, somewhat to Jesus' chagrin. On Jesus’ instructions, they then continued on their way and delivered the good news to the other disciples.

The eleven disciples then proceeded to Galilee to meet Jesus, as instructed. There Jesus appeared to them for the first time, not around a dining table, but on a designated mountain. Even then though, some of them were doubtful. Jesus then commissioned them to spread the good news to all the world, and the story ends.

Because Mark's account of resurrection appearances were added long after original Mark was written, the first “documented eyewitness account” (and I use that term very, very loosely) of Jesus' physical resurrection appears in Matthew. But, Matthew was written some 50 years after the events in question, and more than a decade after Mark's original account. It's difficult to believe that there were very many true eyewitnesses still around at that time.

Matthew knowingly chose to contradict Mark’s account of the resurrection in important and telling ways, ways that protected Literalist from attacks by Gnostic Christian and pagan detractors. Contradicting even the revised and supplemental Marcan account, Matthew indicates that the tomb was guarded; that two women rather than three approached it; that it was closed rather than open when they arrived; that the stone was removed only when an angel, heralded by an earthquake, descended from Heaven to remove it for them; that the angel instructed them outside of the tomb (as opposed to Mark’s “man” instructing them inside); that Jesus appeared first to two Marys, not just Mary Magdalene; and that Jesus first appeared to the eleven not indoors at a dining table, but outdoors on a mountaintop. In short, these stories are wholly irreconcilable, and intentionally and knowingly so!

Matthew had no qualms contradicting Mark’s account, or supplementing it when doing so would help Christians defend themselves against the charges to which Mark’s original account had left them exposed. In doing this, Matthew clearly didn’t consider Mark’s account to be infallible scripture. Why should we?


Luke's Resurrection Account

Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection begins at Chapter 23:50. Luke recounts how unnamed and unnumbered “women” (apparently according to a later verse including Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Joanna among others) approached the tomb early Sunday morning and, like Mark’s women, found that the stone had already been removed. They entered the tomb of their own volition and found it empty. Suddenly, not one, but two men appeared next to them in the tomb wearing dazzling clothes. These men pronounced that Jesus had risen. The women then returned from the tomb to tell the eleven and the rest of Jesus’ followers what they had found, never running into Jesus along the way. Not surprisingly, the others refused to believe.

Contradicting Matthew’s account that he appeared first to the women as they were exiting the tomb, Luke’s Jesus appears first to two of his male followers (unnamed) as they traveled on the road to Emmaus. Despite conversing with him at length, they did not recognize Jesus at first, but eventually “their eyes were opened.” They then returned to Jerusalem to tell the others about the risen Jesus. While they were doing so, Jesus suddenly appeared to all of them, but many still didn’t believe. Jesus invited them to view his injuries and to touch and feel him, proving that he had resurrected “in the body.” He then ate with them and taught them. Finally, he led them to Bethany in Galilee where he ascended into heaven.

Remembering that Luke had Mark in front of him as he wrote, it’s apparent that Luke also did not consider Mark’s account infallible, for he sought to "correct" Mark’s record in several ways. Contradicting Mark, Luke indicates that more than three women approached the tomb (while Matthew insists that there were only two women). Luke agrees with Mark, and contradicts Matthew, that the tomb was unguarded and the stone was already removed upon the women’s arrival. Like Mark, but unlike Matthew, Luke knows nothing about earthquakes or an angel rolling away the stone. Yet, Luke supports Matthew’s contention that there were two men present at the tomb announcing Jesus’ resurrection, specifically contradicting Mark’s account that only one was there. In the original version of Mark, the women ran away and told no one what they had seen (i.e., the empty tomb), while Luke makes it clear that they went to the eleven and told all they knew. Matthew says that Jesus appeared first to the women as they fled the tomb, Luke says he appeared first to unnamed travelers on the road to Emmaus. Neither Matthew nor the original version of Mark know anything about Jesus’ ascension to heaven, but Luke does.


John's Resurrection Account

As if the evidence weren’t muddled enough at this point, we then have John’s account which begins at Chapter 20. John contradicts the combined testimony of the other three accounts in significant ways. He recounts how, before dawn on Sunday, Mary Magdalene approached Jesus’ tomb alone to find that the stone had already been removed. Rather than entering, as she explicitly did in the prior accounts, she ran to tell Simon Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. Peter and the other disciple then ran to the tomb, with the other disciple arriving first but not entering. He peered into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings that had once covered Jesus’ body. Peter then arrived and entered the tomb and saw the same wrappings. They then left to return to their own homes, leaving Mary standing outside the tomb weeping. She then looked into the tomb and saw two angels wearing white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain. They spoke briefly to her and suddenly Jesus himself appeared to Mary, even spoke to her, but she did not recognize him at first. After he called her name, she did recognize him and cleaved to him. He instructed her not to touch him and to go tell his disciples the good news.

Later that same day, Jesus mysteriously appeared to the disciples in a closed room, showing them his hands and side. Jesus then breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Eight days later Jesus appeared to them again in the same room, and Thomas placed his finger through Jesus’ hands and his hand in Jesus’ side.

Sometime Later Jesus again appeared to his disciples on a beach at the Sea of Galilee. John specifies that this was only the third time that he had manifested himself to his followers, the other two being previously described. Jesus teaches them, and the story ends.


Comparing all Four Accounts

And so our four witness have left us very muddled accounts of this most important of Christian events, Jesus’ resurrection. By all accounts, Mary Magdalene approached Jesus tomb early on Sunday morning. Mark says that the sun had already risen while John insists that is was still dark and the other two witnesses state that it was about dawn. Mark says that two other women accompanied her, Mathew indicates that only one other woman accompanied her, Luke indicates that more than two other women accompanied her, and John indicates that she approached the tomb alone. Luke, Mark and John agree that the tomb was unguarded and that the stone had already been removed by the time that Mary arrived, but Matthew vehemently disagrees on both counts. Luke, Matthew and John agree that two men announced the good news to Mary at the tomb, while Mark says there was only one. In Marks account the women ran away and said nothing to anyone, and in the original version his story ends there. In Matthew’s account the women are the first to meet Jesus face to face and do so before delivering the good news to the disciples while in Luke’ they tell the disciples the good news but never meet Jesus face to face. John splits the difference by having Mary Magdalene describe the empty tomb first to Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” before she met Jesus. She then meets Jesus and only later that same day goes to tell the other disciples the good news. John stresses that the risen Jesus only appeared to the disciples on three occasions (not counting his appearance to Mary)—he appeared to them once in a closed room in Jerusalem on the same day that he appeared to Mary (i.e., the same day as his resurrection), he appeared to them again eight days later (also in a closed room, perhaps the same one, presumably in Jerusalem), and he made his final appearance at a beach in Galilee. By contrast, our oldest Gospel, Mark, in it’s unaltered form, knows of no post-resurrection appearances. In Matthew’s account Jesus appears once to the women on the day of his resurrection, and then makes one other appearance to the disciples on a mountain in Galilee, contradicting John’s insistence that he appeared only three times, twice in a room and once on a beach (i.e., never on a mountain). Ignoring his appearance to Mary, Luke agrees with John to a point—Jesus appeared first to his disciples in a closed room in Jerusalem. According to Luke, Jesus then led them all to Bethany where he ascended to heaven. In Luke’s account, Jesus never goes back to Galilee. By contrast, Mark, Matthew and John know nothing about Jesus’ ascension, a fact they surely would not have failed to report had it been known to them.

Once again, not even the most contrived reading can successfully reconcile these varying accounts. Furthermore, it is clear that where Matthew and Luke contradict Mark as opposed to merely supplementing him, it is because the deemed Mark's account to be wrong and not simply incomplete.


Conclusion

Despite centuries of editing and harmonizing interpretations, the canonical gospels can’t agree on even the basic details of the Jesus story. Who were his ancestors? Where did the holy family go after his birth? On which day did he die? When was the Last Supper held? Did he appear to his disciples after his resurrection and, if so, when, where, and how many times?

On these points, and on so many others, the gospel accounts contradict each other, and often time intentionally so. What are we to make of all these gospel discrepancies?

[O]nce we begin to suspect the historical accuracy of our Gospel sources, and find evidence that corroborates our suspicions, where does that lead us? With regard to our questions about the nature of orthodoxy and heresy in early Christianity, it leads us away from the classical notion that orthodoxy is rooted in the apostles’ teaching as accurately preserved in the New Testament gospels and to the realization that the doctrines of orthodox Christianity must have developed at a time later than the historical Jesus and his apostles, later even than our earliest Christian writings. (Cite to follow)


Said another way, neither the Bible itself nor any other evidence supports the Paradigm of Historicity. Given all the evidence summarized so far, we must conclude that the Bible is a fallible book written by humans, not an infallible book written by God. And, we must interpret it accordingly.

Does this mean that the Bible is useless? Of course not. Or, at least no more so than any other religious book. Like so much religious literature, the Bible attempts to impart certain timeless spiritual truths the usefulness of which is not dependent upon historical events. In fact, reading religious literature historically actually hinders one's spiritual understanding of the text.

Many of Jesus' earliest followers, especially the Gnostic Christians, did not have the same understanding of Jesus as we do today. Rather, their understanding was informed by cultural and religious traditions of the time, traditions that were actively suppressed once Christianity was imposed upon the Roman Empire by force. Before we can gain some understanding of how many of Christ's earliest followers understood him, we must gain a clearer understanding the cultural and religious traditions that preceded Christianity. Such is the subject of Part III of this book.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Man Creates Life Form

"The first life form created entirely with man-made DNA opens the door to manufacturing new drugs and fuels, while raising the possibility that mail-order germs may one-day be available for bioterrorists."

Full story here.

The Catholic Church warns against it, but hey, it warns against lots of things. Some scientists are worried too though.

Seems that the singularity is closer than ever.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Tragic Death in a No-Knock Raid

CNN.com:
Police in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday expressed "profound sorrow" at the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old girl in a police raid.

Aiyana Jones was shot and killed by police executing a search warrant as part of a homicide investigation, Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee said in a statement.
"This is any parent's worst nightmare," Godbee said. "It also is any police officer's worst nightmare. And today, it is all too real."

The warrant was executed about 12:40 a.m. ET Sunday at a home on the city's east side, Godbee said. Authorities believed the suspect in the Friday shooting death of 17-year-old high school student Jarean Blake was hiding out at the home. Blake was gunned down in front of a store as his girlfriend watched, Godbee said.


I'm pretty sure that they could have found a better time to raid/search this house, like maybe during school hours when kids aren't likely to be home. Why did they have to break in at 12:40 am? Couldn't they have just posted some guards till morning?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

You Think Gold MIGHT Be Near a High?

Apparently guests at a UAE hotel can now buy gold bars in a vending machine. That (combined with the fact that you can't drive a mile these days without seeing a "we buy gold" sign) should tell us something.

How Not to Measure Temperature

Do you think that temperature readings might show warming if you place the thermometer on an asphalt tarmac?

Oh, the Irony!

The New Scientist has a magazine cover out seemingly suggesting that climate skeptics are trying to silence climate alarmists. The irony!

Cathar Country

The NYT has a wonderful article discussing, among other things, the suppression of the "heretical" Cathar Christians by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.

I allude to this travesty toward the end of chapter 6 of my book.

Part II, Chapter 7: Anonymous Authorities

As noted in the right margin of this page, I've decided to serialize and publish on this blog a book that I've been working on for some time. Below is the next installment. Consult the Table of Contents at the right of this page for a chronological listing of posts.
__________________________________________________________________

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

--Walt Whitman, Song of Myself



Despite their penchant for suppression, the Literalists ultimately proved unsuccessful at completely ridding Christianity of “variant” forms. And, somewhat surprisingly, orthodox editors of the bible were not even successful at synthesizing a “standardized' version of the life of Jesus for use in their own churches. It seems that different Literalist churches throughout the empire were so attached to one or more versions of the gospel story that, in seeking to unite the Christian world under their authority, the best orthodox, Literalist leaders could accomplish was a compromise whereby four different versions of Christ's life story (now called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were accepted, centuries after they were supposedly written, as canon.

Literalists answer the questions posed at the end of the last chapter by insisting that their understanding of Christianity is anchored in these four Gospels, and that we can depend upon these gospels because they represent eyewitness accounts of actual historical events concerning the life, death, teachings and resurrection of Jesus, and infallible ones at that. But, there are many problems with the idea that the gospels are eyewitness accounts, as we shall see in this chapter and the next.


Hearsay Accounts are Not Eyewitness Accounts

The first major problem is that we have no way of authenticating any of the gospels. One reason for this is that no one knows who actually wrote them. While they were eventually attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John decades or centuries after they were written, even Literalists admit that all four were, in fact, originally written anonymously. The startling fact is that none of our canonical gospels identify their respective authors (the "titles" of the "books" in our Bibles were added by editors long after the "books" themselves were written). In fact, the idea that the Gospels even represent eyewitness accounts decades if not centuries after they were written, when some later Christians in other countries came to view them as “memoirs of the apostles.” The gospels themselves, as we shall see, don't claim to be eyewitness accounts.


Mark

In partial recognition of this, the early church never even bothered to argue that Mark and Luke were written by Jesus' contemporaries. Rather, based on rather dubious attributions that we will discuss shortly, it contended that the unknown author of the gospel that we now call “Mark” was a supposed companion of the disciple Peter (not even a disciple of Peter), and that the unknown author of that gospel we now call “Luke” was a companion (not even a disciple) of the apostle Paul. Curiously though, neither book actually claims such status. If “Mark” did indeed intend to preserve the eyewitness testimony of such a notable apostle as Peter, and Luke of the greatest of all apostles, Paul, then why in the world didn't either of author begin their accounts by saying so?! For instance, why doesn't either say something like: “Thus is the testimony of Peter/Paul, apostle to the Lord and eyewitness to the resurrection, as transcribed by his devoted companion Mark/Luke at such-and-such place at such-and-thus time”? Why indeed.

Nevertheless, even if we accept on faith the the gospels of “Mark” and “Luke” were written by persons so named, and that those persons were indeed companions of Peter and Paul respectively, we are still left with a startling conclusion: These gospels constitute unreliable hearsay and not true eyewitness accounts.

Most Western courts, especially those from the English tradition, distinguish authentic eyewitness testimony from hearsay. True eyewitness testimony that that offered to us by the person who actually saw the events in question. By contrast, hearsay evidence is offered by someone who was not a witness himself but who nonetheless heard what an actual witness had to say on the matter (hence, the term "hearsay"). Western courts generally do no allow “hearsay” evidence except in limited circumstances because it is notoriously unreliable. To understand why, we must first better understand what hearsay is.

Hearsay occurs when a person in court seeks to offer the testimony of an actual witness to the events who is not in court in order to prove a contested issue. For instance, suppose that parties A and B were in a car accident at an intersection with a traffic light. Party A, who was injured in the accident, sues Party B alleging that Party B ran a red light. To prove this, Party A calls Person Y to the stand. Person Y testifies that she did not see the actual accident, but that Witness Z, who is not around, told her that he did see the accident and that Party B ran the red light. This statement is inadmissible as “hearsay” (i.e., Witness Y says in effect, “I heard Witness Z say that Party B ran the light”). Perhaps Y misunderstood Witness Z? Or, perhaps Witness Z got Party A and Party B's names mixed up? The court can't know because Witness Z isn't there to testify. Thus, we generally do not permit people to testify about things that they didn't themselves witness.

So, if we were to hold a trial to determine the reliability of the gospel known as Mark, how would the hearsay rule inform our conclusion? Well, at the very best (and this assumes much), all counsel for the Literalists could argue is that some person otherwise unknown to history named “Mark” wrote down what he heard Peter say. Same with “Luke” as regards Paul. Thus, as far as "testimony" goes, Mark and Luke's gospels are clearly hearsay accounts even if we assume the best possible facts. But, in fact, the facts get worse. Much, much worse.

For instance, the only reason that we even attribute our gospel called Mark to the stranger and supposed companion of Peter named “Mark” is thanks to the writings of Papias (c. 125 CE), writings that survive to the present only because portions of them were quoted extensively in later writings of some Church Fathers. In these surviving quotes, Papias explains how he came to learn that Mark authored "Mark". Specifically, Papias says that he had occasion to speak with a group of unnamed persons, persons that Papias refers to as “the elders” (or presbyters). Papias tells us that these unnamed elders told him that they had known some of Jesus' disciples. Papias continues:

This is what the elder used to say, “when Mark was the interpreter of Peter he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord's words and deeds—but not in order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him; but later, as I indicated, he accompanied Peter, who used to adapt his teachings for the needs at hand, not arranging, as it were, an orderly composition of the Lord's sayings. And so Mark did nothing wrong by writing some of the matters as he remembered them. For he was intent on just one purpose: not to leave out anything that he heard or to include any falsehood among them.

So, when it comes to establishing the validity of the testimony of the Gospel of Mark, all we have to rely on is the following: Certain Church Fathers say that they read writings (which we no longer have) of a person named Papias to say that Papias heard some otherwise unknown "elders" say that they heard unnamed disciples of the Lord say that a persona named Mark was an interpreter of Peter, and this Mark took it upon himself to write down what Peter said he heard Jesus say. Not only is this hearsay, but it is at least quintuple hearsay! And not only quintuple hearsay, but anonymous quintuple hearsay (since we don't know who the unnamed disciples were who shared this information with the unnamed Elders who shared it with Papias). Anyone familiar with modern news gathering knows how unreliable unnamed sources can be, and anyone familiar with the "telephone game" knows how things can be misinterpreted when repeated several times by different parties.

Furthermore, and disturbingly, it should be clear from the above quote that whatever gospel Papias attributed to Peter's companion named Mark, it wasn't our present day “Gospel of Mark”! For Papias is insistent that his Mark did not preserve the “Lord's words and deeds” in order. And yet, our present day Gospel of Mark is quite diligent at providing a very specific chronological account of Jesus deeds and sayings. There is nothing disorderly about it. Consider, for instance, 2:1, 2:23, 4:35, 6:2, 6:45, 6:53, 9:2, 9:30, etc. where our version of Mark goes out of its way to note the progress of time, order of happenings, and chronological changes of venue.

Papias' testimony is, plain and simple, the worst and least reliable kind of hearsay. And thus, so is our Gospel of Mark. One may, as a matter of pure faith, accept the Gospel of Mark as God's infallible word, but to claim that it represents eyewitness testimony is patently absurd.

And yet, we have other reasons to question Papias on these matters. One is that Papias has been discredited as a source on so many other points. His writings were do untrusted (or unorthodox?), in fact, that the early Christian Literalists failed to copy and preserve them except in quoted form, a fact that defies explanation since it is only the writings of Papias that permit us to attribute Mark to a supposed companion of Peter (and as we shall see, Matthew to Matthew). The only reason that we have any inkling today of what Papias once said about these elders and disciples and companions is because certain Church Fathers saw fit to quote him when doing so advanced their theological agenda. And yet, because none of Papia's writings survive in their original form, we have no way to confirm the quotations.

But, the words of Papias that do survive are telling in that they reveal a peculiar theological perspective, and contain quotes of Jesus's words handed down to Papias as hearsay by these same “elders”, quotes that are not found in our gospels and that no modern Christian (and few ancient ones) accept as authentic. Thus, it seems more than a bit disingenuous to accept the testimony of Papias and his “elders” when doing so conveniently advances one's theological agenda while rejecting or doubting it when it does not.

In short, we have no verifiable reason to believe that the Gospel of Mark was written by a companion of Peter so named. Our sole means of attribution, the testimony of Papias, is unreliable because it relies on numerous levels of hearsay and because the gospel that Papias attributes to Mark clearly wasn't our extant version of Mark. Thus, if we are honest, we must admit that we simply don't know who wrote Mark, whose testimony it purports to preserve, whether it was intended as "testimony" at all, exactly when it was written, or exactly where it was written (though the answers to these last two questions can be teased out with the aid of textual criticism). Can you imagine attempting to offer a writing in court as evidence to prove a matter when you can't even state with certainty who wrote it, when it was written, where it was written, or whose testimony it purports to preserve! How silly.


Arguments of Literalist Apologists

Literalists bend over backward to explain away such problems. One common explanation is that the writers of the gospels were just so humble, so modest, that they preferred to remain anonymous, thereby keeping the focus on Jesus. But, this explanation is too cute by half. First, one of the supposed (and in some cases explicit) purposes of writing these Gospels, according to Literalists and even the unknown gospel writers themselves (e.g., Luke 1: 3-4 and John 21: 24) is so that people who were not eyewitnesses to these events might believe. And yet, given that the gospels describe unlikely events and numerous miracles, the identity and credibility of the witnesses is therefore paramount in gauging their reliability. Thus, remaining anonymous for the sake of humility undermines the very purpose for which the gospels were written! If their purpose was to help the world believe, then the the identity of the witnesses whose testimony they preserve definitely matters and, under such circumstances, insisting upon anonymity is the height of self-indulgence.

Second, supposing that the authors of Mark and Luke were indeed motivated by modesty, this still does not explain why they don't at least identify their sources. For instance, an anonymous Mark could still say, “Thus is the account of Peter, disciple of the Lord, as relayed to good-ole-anonymous-me by Peter himself at such-and-thus place on such-and-such dates.” But, he doesn't. And Luke, were he indeed a companion of Paul (who based on his epistles didn't seem to share the evangelists' concern for anonymity), could say the say the same thing about Paul without compromising Luke's own identity. And finally, Luke could have easily named the sources that he says he consulted to compile his complete account (see again Luke 1: 1-3) while still remaining anonymous himself. But, he doesn't.

Another common Literalist defense is that the authors didn't identify themselves because the audience for which they were writing already knew their identity. But, if true, then there was no reason to remain anonymous out of humility, was there? In other words, if Mark's contemporary audience knew him personally and knew that he authored the text, then humble anonymity was out of the question from the beginning.

Furthermore, if true, the fact that Mark's contemporaries may have known him does nothing to help the modern day faithful, for we don't know him. If the first believers were expected to trust the authors of the Gospels primarily because they knew them personally—in other words, if the credibility of the testimony depended upon personal knowledge and trust of the testifiers—then why aren't today's Christians at least permitted to know with certainty who those testifiers were? Why are we expected to believe miraculous stories--stories that challenge everything that we know from personal experience is possible--without even knowing who wrote them, when they were written, or whose testimony they offer?


Luke

Moving beyond “Mark”, authenticating the other gospels is equally difficult. The unnamed author that we call “Luke” tells us outright that his gospel is a hearsay one, compiled after a “careful investigation” on his part (no such investigation would have been required had he possessed first-hand knowledge of the events in question), which apparently included interviewing people who had received the Christian tradition directly from supposed eyewitnesses (see Luke 1:1-3, which curiouslymakes absolutely no mention of Paul, Luke's supposed mentor). Even though Luke mentions eyewitnesses, his account is not an eyewitness one, but only an admitted hearsay account. And, how many layers of hearsay is impossible to determine as Luke never says he himself interviewed eyewitnesses, only that he intends to preserve a story that has been "handed down to us" by eyewitnesses (1:2), with the "us" possibly referencing his generation of Christians as a whole and not necessarily himself in particular. In other words, Luke may have gotten his information not from supposed eyewitnesses themselves, but from other Christians who claim to have gotten their information from eyewitnesses. Given that Luke's stated objective (1:3) is to convince Theophilus that he can believe with “certainty” the things that he had been taught about Christ, it is curious that Luke fails to identify even a single of these witnesses.

So, who wrote Luke? We don't know as the book doesn't tell us. The author of “Luke” addresses the book to “Theophilus.” Who was Theophilus? We don't know as we aren't told. What investigation did Luke perform in order to compile his account for Theophilus? Who did he interview? Whose “eyewitness” testimony is it based upon? On all of these points, “Luke” is silent.


Matthew

Unfortunately, things don't get any better when we turn to the Gospel of “Matthew”. Attribution of “Matthew” to Jesus' disciple of the same name is again based on the testimony of Papias, but Papias tells us even less about Matthew's gospel than he does Mark's, saying (via Eusebius' Church History) only that:

Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interpreted them to to the best of his ability.


Unlike with Mark, Papias provides no source at all for this knowledge, not even unnamed "elders". Regardless, it is indisputable that our oldest surviving manuscripts of Mathew are not simply a collection of “sayings” of the Lord (but rather are a chronological biography), and they are all written in Greek (not Hebrew as Papias indicates was true of his copy). Thus, we have no reasonable basis for attributing authorship of our present day Gospel of “Matthew” to a disciple of Jesus' so named. Like Mark and Luke, we can't say who wrote the gospel of Matthew, when it was written, where it was written, or whose testimony it purports to offer.


John

So, what about the fourth gospel, John? Well, like Luke, John readily admits that his account is hearsay, saying in verse 21: 20-24 that it represents a compilation of the testimony of an unnamed “Beloved Disciple” of Jesus. The author of John never says that he is himself the Beloved Disciple, or that he ever actually met or talked to the Beloved Disciple. To the contrary, "John" only writes about the Beloved Disciple in the third person (e.g., in verse 21: 24 where he says “we know that his testimony is true”). In saying this, the author identifies himself among the “we” who knows that “his” testimony is true, not as the testifier himself. Thus, like Mark, Luke and Matthew, we have no firm basis for attributing authorship of John to a disciple of Jesus' so named. We don't know who wrote it, where it was written, when it was written, or whose testimony if purports to preserve.


How Little We Know and How Much We Could Have

The simple truth is that there is no verifiable basis for the historical claim that the gospels preserve reliable, eyewitness testimony about the events of Jesus' life. In fact, when viewed as evidence of the historical events described therein, they are incredibly weak sources--much weaker than one would expect from a "divinely inspired" biography of Christ. They were written anonymously at unknown times in unknown places. They don't identify the sources of their information. They present us with multiple levels of anonymous hearsay. And, they describe a highly unlikely series of events.

Most troubling, all of these problems of authenticity were clearly avoidable to someone with Jesus', or even his disciples', supposed capabilities. As noted previously, if Jesus had intended for his church to be built upon biographies of his life that preserved his teachings, he could have penned an authoritative one himself. He could even have done so in stone (as the Pharaohs did) so that it might be preserved indefinitely, and he could have written it in some self-authenticating, miraculous way, a way that would leave no doubt at to its authenticity. Or, in the alternative, he could have formally commissioned his biography and appointed an authorized, official biographer, one whose account could have been verified and authenticated (in customary ways of the time or in some miraculous way) by Jesus himself and specific, named disciples who were known to have traveled with him. Or, finally, he could have at least arranged for his life story to have been preserved by actual, known eyewitnesses, writing under their own names, and corroborating those accounts with testimony from even other witnesses and by inclusion in Roman and Jewish records of the time.

But, regrettably, none of this happened. Instead we have only the often contradictory “testimony” of unknown persons that we now call with undeserved confidence the Gospels According to ”Matthew”, “Mark”, “Luke”, and “John”.


A Mormon Example

It is troubling that Literalists insist that they are imminently reasonable in accepting the testimony of these unknown persons as God's infallible truth. They certainly would not accept the authenticity of other documents, especially religious ones, that are so weakly authenticated.

For instance, consider the evidence supporting the authenticity of the gospels, which we just discussed, with that offered by the Book of Mormon, at text that most Literalists dismiss as illegitimate at best and Satanic at worst.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (i.e., Mormons), consider the Book of Mormon to be “another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Virtually all Literalists reject this claim out of hand despite the fact that the Book of Mormon is far, far better authenticated than the New Testament gospels. For instance, my copy of Book of Mormon (given to me by missionaries who knocked on my door several years ago) contains the following certification in its introduction(redacted for brevity):

TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH

“On the evening of the...twenty-first of September [1823]...I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God....

While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.

[A detailed description of the personage follows]

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of god to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account fo the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates/ and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted Seers in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating this book.

[Detailed descriptions of additional visits by the personage follow]

Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth.

[A detailed descriptions of his recovery of the plates and stones follows, including attempts by others to steal them prior to translation]


Using the stones Urim and Thummim, Joseph Smith tells us in his testimony that he then translated the plates into modern English, resulting in the revelation of the Book of Mormon, "another testament of Jesus Christ". But, we don't have to take just Joseph Smith's word for it, we also have preserved for us the testimony of several named witnesses as follows (taken again from the Introduction to my Book of Mormon):

THE TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES

Be it know until all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, unto who this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know it is by the grace of god the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear a record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto that commandment of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris


And additionally, we have the following (too taken from the introduction to the Book of Mormon):

THE TESTIMONY OF EIGHT WITNESSES

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer Hiram Page
Jacob Whitmer Joseph Smith, Sen.
Peter Whitmer, Jun. Hyrum Smith
John Whitmer Samuel H. Smith

Comparing now the testimony supporting the Book of Mormon to that of the New Testament, we can see that there is simply no comparison. The Book of Mormon identifies its discoverer/translator by name, Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith's testimony is written in the first person and describes events taking place at specific dates and locations where he was personally present. The existence of the plates and of Smith's translation of them is attested to in writing by eleven different named eyewitnesses, all of which are known historical personages. Unlike with the New Testament Gospels, we don't have to wonder who compiled the Book of Mormon, where they did it, when they did it, or whose testimony is represents. We know with certainty.

Does this mean that the Book of Mormon is "true"? Of course not, as most any mainline Literalist will insist. Mosts Literalists reject Mormonism as inauthentic and are often highly critical of it, some going so far as to label it Satanic. Imagine, if the reader would, just how much more critical and dismissive of the book Literalists would be if it were written by an unidentified person at an unknown place at an unnamed time, and counted for its authenticity only the testimony of a church historian with dubious motives who said the he was told by unnamed “elders” that the Book of Mormon had been written by Joseph Smith who said that they heard Joseph Smith say that he heard an angel named Moroni say certain things!

Those living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Rather, they should move!