Links and Comments: Historical Jesus; God’s Plan; Sagan on religion v science

Relevant to some of my current reading, and the recent Easter holiday:

Salon from last year, Valerie Tarico, 5 good reasons to think Jesus never existed.

Most antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.”  In other words, they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity.

At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.

Familiar ideas, some of which overlap my current reading and own thoughts about reading the New Testament. Her five points are: 1) No secular evidence; 2) earliest NT writers have least to say about Jesus’ life, later ones somehow have more; 3) NT stories aren’t first-hand accounts; 4) the gospels contradict each other; 5) modern scholars disagree with each other about the nature of the putative ‘historical’ Jesus.

On the second item, she makes this key point:

Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded.  “Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.”

So when Paul and others were writing all those epistles that fill out the NT, the gospels hadn’t been written yet! (The NRSV and Miller volumes I have do mention presumed dates of authorship of all these books, but I haven’t seen either make this it-seems-to-me crucial point. But I am still working my way through the NT; have just finished Luke.)


And a reminder that the Jesus story is hardly unique, just the best-known: All the Gods That Rose From the Dead in Spring Before Jesus Christ.

In the same way many ancient Mediterranean societies told tales of gods born to virgins (some on December 25) before the time of Christ, the archetype of gods rising from the dead is likewise older than Christianity, an uncomfortable historical fact for many religious people but not necessarily unforeseeable given the power of human imagination and the long stretch of human history before the Common Era (or Anno Domini, A.D., if you prefer). …


Via Facebook, here is a Twitter post with an #Easter Quiz, with answers. Sample:

1. Who first came to the tomb on Sunday morning?
One woman (John 20:1)
Two women (Matt. 28:1)
Three women (Mark 16:1)
More than three women (Luke 23:55-56; 24:1,10)
Correct answer: A, B, C, and D.


Also via Fb, yet another alternate Ten Commandments:

New Ten Commandments

Sample: “Prayer is for man. I don’t need your groveling. It’s supposed to make you feel better. If it doesn’t — stop doing it.”


“You don’t know as much as you think you do. When in doubt forgive. When certain use reason or set example.”


Latest Jesus and Mo comic, again one from a while back, but still pertinent: plan2: “Having created sinful man, I then contrive to get myself killed in order to save him from my wrath, for it is only the spilling of my own blood that can appease me, and cleanse man’s sin…”


Again, from quite some time back — 1985 — a video with Carl Sagan being interviewed by Studs Terkel, about extraterrestrials, with these key points:

It’s inevitable that humans would project their hopes and fears upon the cosmos. ….

There is a tendency in both schools of thought [science and religion] that they have a corner on the truth. I mean, a way to look at it is, science and religion on some level are after the same thing. Take the questions of our origins. Both science and religion attempt to approach this question. But the religions all contradict each other, so they can’t all be right. The Judeo-Christian Islamic religion holds that the world is about 6,000 years old, you just count up the begats in the Old Testament. It’s very clear, 6,000 years old. The Hindus have an infinitely old universe, with an infinite number of creations and destructions of the whole universe. Now those two major religions can’t both be right. How do you tell which is right and which is wrong? Well, the only way is to appeal to the natural world around us, and the natural world around us show that the Earth, for example, is about 4.6 billion years old, and nothing like 6000 years old. So a literal reading of the Bible simply is a mistake. I mean it’s just wrong, it’s just wrong. As a work of science it’s flawed, it’s the science of the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. We’ve learned something since then.

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