left biblioblography: The Greatest Story That Never Happened – A Dropkick In 3 Acts

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Greatest Story That Never Happened – A Dropkick In 3 Acts

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!lolbrb

By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out. - Dawkins

Today is that day the Christians hail as fundamental to their belief system, the resurrection of the larger-than-life mythical being we know as Jesus. In real life, we usually realize that when a story is chock full of ‘miracles’, it’s more likely than not what is termed a ‘fish story’ (to those of us who aren’t wide-eyed and gullible, that is). Until recently, we as a culture have been told ‘hands off’ when it comes to religious topics of any sort (unless they tend to be absolutely bugfuck crazythen it’s okay to mock) – but recent events as well as archeological discoveries have been the gale wind to knock down houses built on foundations of sand.

The first item on the agenda: the empty tomb. Somehow this has become one of those hoary old chestnuts we’re fed as children, inundated by cheery Xmas songs and the inculcated idea that the bible has any shred of veracity whatsoever. Yet, as we’ve seen over the past few centuries (as the religious tend to argue and war over petty items), nobody can seem to agree on where the damn thing is. The most basic point is best: this location would have been inundated by pilgrims from the get-go, especially if the mass conversion of many thousands in the Middle East was true. In fact, the standard measuring point in any form of historical veracity is the same as it is in the retail motto: location, location, location. Yet somehow this is overlooked in any discussion of the topic among the Christians.

Item two: the missing body. I think Richard Carrier puts it best:

In Acts' history of the Church, from the moment the Church first goes public, right in Jerusalem, nowhere do either the Romans or the Jews ever show any knowledge of a missing body, nor do they ever take any action to investigate what would only be to them a crime of tomb robbery and desecration of the dead (both severe death penalty offenses), or worse. The Gospel of Matthew even claims the Jewish authorities accused the Christians of such crimes before Pilate himself (Matthew 27:62-66, 28:4, 28:11-15). Although that is certainly fiction (as I have argued elsewhere, external and internal evidence confirms Matthew's story is a poetic and apologetic fabrication), it reflects what could not fail to have happened--if any body had gone missing.[17]

Since Christians were supposedly capitalizing on this fact, they would be the first suspects--or at least the second ones if (as the Gospels claim) Joseph of Arimathea was the last person known to have had custody of the body (Mark 15:43-46, Matthew 27:57-60, Luke 23:51-56, John 19:38-42). In that case he would be the first man hauled in for questioning. Yet he vanishes completely from this earliest history of the Church, as if no one knew anything about him, or he didn't exist at all. Though Christians would be suspects in a capital crime of grave robbery, and Acts records case after case of them being interrogated at trial before Jews and Romans on other offenses, never once in this history of the Church are they suspected of or questioned about grave robbery. It's as if there was no missing body to investigate, no empty tomb known to the authorities. Which means the Christians can't have been pointing to one. If they had, they would have been questioned about it (and possibly convicted for it, innocent or not). Yet Acts shows there were no disputes at all regarding what happened to the body, not even false accusations of theft, or even questions or expressions of amazement.

Thus, either Acts deliberately suppresses the truth about what happened to the body and what was really being argued, said, and done about it (which entails the truth must have been severely embarrassing to Christians), or there was no missing body and no one was claiming there was. In alignment with the latter conclusion are the facts already surveyed above, which suggest the original Christians were preaching that Jesus rose in an entirely new body, not the old one left in the grave, and the fact that Acts fails to mention any debate or discussion about any tomb being empty or any body being missing (e.g. it never occurs as an argument or a defense in any of the trials or debates it records).[18] Such an incident was evidently entirely missing from the history of the original Church.

The Romans would have had an even more urgent worry than body snatching: the Christians were supposedly preaching that Jesus (even if with supernatural aid) had escaped his execution, was seen rallying his followers, and then disappeared. Pilate and the Sanhedrin would not likely believe any of this resurrection or ascension nonsense (and there is no evidence they did), but if the tomb was empty, and Christ's followers were reporting that he had continued preaching to them and was still at large, Pilate would be compelled to haul every Christian in and interrogate every possible witness in a massive manhunt for what could only be in his mind an escaped convict (guilty of treason against Rome for claiming to be God and King, as all the Gospels allege: e.g. Mark 15:26; Matthew 27:37; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-22). And the Sanhedrin would feel the equally compelling need to finish what they had evidently failed to accomplish the first time (finding and killing Jesus). Yet none of this happens. No one asks where Jesus is hiding or who aided him. No one is at all concerned that there may be an escaped convict, pretender to the throne, thwarter of Roman law and judgment, dire threat to Jewish authority, alive and well somewhere, and still giving orders to his followers. Why would no one care that the Christians were claiming they took him in, hid him from the authorities, and fed him after his escape from justice (according to Acts 1), unless in fact they weren't claiming any such thing?

The best explanation of this strange omission is that the body was still in its grave, since then all the Christians' claims could be legally ignored. That's why those claims are dismissed as mere madness (Acts 26:24), involving no possible criminal charge of any kind under Roman law (e.g. Acts 18:12-17, 23:26-35). Otherwise, the crime of either robbing graves or aiding and abetting an escaped felon and royal pretender would certainly have been obvious grounds for an inquest or trial. Yet neither occurs. Thus, if Acts records any truth about the history of the first Church, its narrative all but entails there was no empty tomb, the body of Jesus was not missing, and that the earliest Christians, including Paul, were instead preaching a resurrection by transfer to a new body, residing in heaven (at least after the Pentecost), a fact known only by private revelations and interpretations of scripture.

Item three: the evidence of absence, or an argument from silence. We know of Julius Caesar quite well, for instance. There are statues and coins a-plenty. He wrote quite a few items – memoirs, some poetry. His enemies spoke/wrote of him, as did his extensive family. Yet the Christians make the claim that Jesus was indeed a historical figure, more so than any other. Yet there is a dearth of evidence surrounding this mystery figure. Of forty historians of that time period, not a word. Not from Philo Judaeus, nor Seneca the Elder or the Younger, not from Velleius Paterculus nor Livy. For someone who allegedly attracted droves of followers (so many that some were trampled underfoot), this is a suspicious silence. Josephus mentions him (among numerous other Jesii), but contemporary sources fall silent. Note that Flauvius was born seven years post ex facto, and brief mentions of rumors heard do not an account make. There is indeed, not one written account from an external source who looked in the face of our mystery man – no one who wrote about that day on Golgotha, or sat and ate a meal with him. Not a whisper. It’s well-established fact  that the Synoptics were written well past the given date by a century or more of the alleged event.

And there you have it. Three simple items that would not only make the less gullible amongst us pause, but those of us who have a sharpened sense of critical analysis laugh out loud. But it is difficult, when the meme has had centuries to take deep root, and the resistance squashed by those who claim to practice ‘turn the other cheek’ but in reality cannot internalize the concept.

Welcome to the 21st century, where finally these anachronistic superstitions will be laid to rest in a shallow, unmarked grave.

Till the next post, then.

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