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Of the many scrolls recovered from Nag Hammadi, Egypt, two shed light on the creative writing strategies of the early Christians.

The first one, an ancient, possibly pre-Christian epistle called “Eugnostos the Blessed,” outlines a doctrine of obscure Jewish theology concerning the firstborn celestial Son of God, aka Savior and Son of Man. The second, a later Christian Gospel called the “Wisdom of Jesus Christ,” lifts direct quotations from Eugnostos and places them on the lips of the Lord to fabricate a post-resurrection dialogue between Jesus and his disciples.

Here we have clear evidence of early Christians inventing and pirating to create their tales, and we have no reason to assume this isn’t how it was always done.

Nearly every detail of the life of Jesus as presented in the Gospels relates back to some prior scripture, mostly from sacred writings in what we now call the Old Testament. Christian clergy have traditionally explained the parallels between the story of Jesus and Hebrew scripture by claiming Jesus “fulfilled” various prophecies. But there are serious problems with this claim.

First, the Gospel authors knew exactly what to write in order to satisfy the prophecies, and we have nothing independent of the Gospels to prove the events they describe weren’t just a literary fulfillment of scripture.

Second, many of the parallels don’t relate back to prophecies at all, but instead refer to stories about different people, or simply to songs and poems. Verses from Psalms, for example, informed much of the Jesus tale.

  • Thou art my son, this day I have begotten thee. — Psalm 2:7
  • I will open my mouth in parable, I will utter dark sayings of old. — Psalms 78:2-4
  • A pack of villains encircles me, they pierce my hands and my feet…They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garments. — Psalm 22:16-18
  • All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. — Psalm 22:7
  • … and for my thirst they gave me vinegar. — Psalm 69:21
  • My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? — Psalm 22:1
  • He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. — Psalm 34:20

In his newly published book, “On the Historicity of Jesus,” historian Richard Carrier writes: “The entire crucifixion scene is a fabrication, a patchwork assembled from the verses in the Psalms in order to depict Jesus as a standard Jewish mythotype of ‘the just man afflicted and put to death by evildoers, but vindicated and raised up by God.’”

Moved by their messianic fever, some pre-Christian Jewish sects wrote apocalyptic peshers — documents attempting to discover hidden messages in scriptures by searching for secret connections among disparate, previously unrelated passages. One such pesher, a Dead Sea Scroll called the Melchizedek Scroll, appears to link the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 52-53 with the coming Anointed One of Daniel 9: 24-27, who they expected to die to atone for sins shortly before the end of the world.

These Isaiah passages, as well as some from Zechariah, were favorites among apocalyptic Jews.

  • … despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows…wounded by our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities…he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors. — Isaiah 53:4-32
  • They look upon me who they have pierced. — Zechariah 12:10
  • … make a crown and set it on the head of Joshua ben Jehozidak (literally Jesus, son of Jehovah the Righteous). — Zechariah 6:11

“The Wisdom of Solomon,” another important pre-Christian scripture, also presented a son of God who was killed, resurrected and crowned in heaven. The concept wasn’t new.

Finding hidden messages in scripture was a common pastime. In fact, the Apostle Paul was adamant that the Christ he preached was known to him not by hearsay or tradition, but only from Hebrew scripture (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4) and his own revelatory visions (Galatians 1: 11-12).

Matthew claims multiple times in his Gospel, “All this was done to fulfill scripture.” And he insisted on a literal interpretation, as evidenced by his treatment of Zechariah 9:9 — “Lo, your king comes to you riding on a donkey, on the foal of a donkey.” Matthew decides to change Mark’s rendition (Mk 11:7) and has Jesus ride into Jerusalem upon two donkeys simultaneously. (Mt 21:7)

To some it is evident that the Gospels were deliberately designed to give the impression these scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Even the renowned theologian John Dominic Crossan sees through the artifice: “Hide the prophecy, tell the narrative, invent the history.”

The Gospel tale almost writes itself. So do these recombined, out-of-context scriptures constitute a prediction of a Jewish messiah, or is it more logical to assume they were used as blueprints in the literary creation of a long-awaited Christos?

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Ed Neumann is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society

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(11) comments

meklos

...and while y'all are talking about stuff that doesn't really matter, the real Jesus is motivating his followers to continue the work of salvation. Things like continuing the work of the St. Clare Health Mission, and preparing to open the new Catholic Charities warming center and St. Lawrence emergency services center in downtown La Crosse and so much more. These mental games are not where it's at. Helping people is, has always been, and will always be the real proof of God's existence and the earthly life, death, and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ. "By your fruits shall you be known." And before you tell me that all of that can be done without belief in God, show me (and government projects don't count).

Buggs Raplin

meklos is playing the ol' "you can't be a good person without Jesus" game. Any rational person knows that is total bunk. Most Christians even know that's total bunk. Since you aske4d for an example, I, myself, am no saint, but I give generously and consistently to charities, I help out my neighbors, I've committed no crimes, and I don't want anything to do with the Christian religion. There are millions of people just like me.

Kronosaurus

I got people knocking on my door telling me to "believe". I am told I will go to a bad place and be punished if I don't believe. So figuring out the truth of the Jesus=God assertion is fair game. That's great if believers are nice, charitable people, but wouldn't it be great if charity did not need to depend on forfeiting your rational faculties? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't but I was raised to be honest and part of honesty is being honset with youself. Can I believe something that is patently false just because it might motivate me to be kind? I don't "believe" that is necessary.

Technomom

Jesus was Jewish.

tower

I wonder if we are now to suffer all the conservapukes going on about how Christians plagiarized their works from those done before them.

neandros

Knowledge of a historical Jesus is conspicuously absent in 1 Peter as well. The author describes himself as an apostle (one who has visions of the Lord) rather than a disciple (close follower). 1 Peter: 10-12 describes the actual process by which facts about Jesus were discovered -- by scripture and revelations to apostles. In this epistle Peter should be able to cite examples of Jesus' life and death, but instead he quotes/paraphrases Isaiah 53.

And by the way, bugs, there were scriptures not in the old testament that are lost to us now.

Buggs Raplin

You'd think any scripture THAT important to the Jewish religion would have been preserved.

Buggs Raplin

Excellent column. It's apparent the gospel writers or their later editors just made stuff up to promulgate the Christian religion. Sometimes they really goofed. For example, in Luke, Chapter 24, verses 44-46, Jesus instructs his disciples that "it is written" the messiah would, suffer, die, and rise again on the 3rd day. Except that in the entire history of Jewish thought including, of course, the Old Testament, there is nothing "written" about the messiah suffering, dying, and rising on the 3rd day.

Machiavelli

Re: "Jewish messiah"

Well, this sort of kooky stuff involves lots of ancient cults, whirling and swirling to and fro about this and that. Lots of backflow between all of them, including the Mithras cult and the Greco-Roman religons. Some of you are familiar with the Christian phrase "faith of a mustard seed," but that did not always have a pejorative connotation: the Greek mathematician Thales may have been a monotheist.. he had calculated that God himself could physically be no bigger than a mustard seed. So, in those days, faith of a mustard seed implied that you had a lot of faith, more faith than could reasonably fit into the knapsacks and satchels of the time.

Modern science places God's physical size at about that of a grape. That's in tune with the Holy Bible, which is chock full of stuff about grapey wines.

"Roman Religion"

roman-empire.net/religion/religion.html

"You're basically killing each other to see who's got the better imaginary friend." - Richard Jeni

57

Yep- Please come down and show yourself. Oh I'm PO God would have loved to run A 9.3 Hundred,A 11.3 ? come on please

saltydogscientist

what????/

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