A new book supposedly “proves” that Jesus really lived, performed miracles and was the divine figure that modern Christians take him to be. Titled The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, the text was written by Dr. Brant Pitre, a professor of sacred scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He previously wrote Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper.
He is also the latest in a long list of “scholars” who sell their integrity to religious fanatics. To do that, he must ignore hundreds of years of research and real evidence presented in the Gospels themselves.
To start with, he claims the four Gospels were written by Jesus’ disciples. If so, that would really buttress any of his historical claims. However, the disciples could not have written those texts. Mark, the oldest, wasn’t even mentioned until 130 C.E., about 100 years after Jesus died. Then, Papias, an early Christian leader, cited both Mark and Matthew. From inferences in the text, Mark had to have been written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., when more than 1 million Jews were killed. That’s probably 40 years after Jesus died.
Matthew and Luke both borrowed extensively from Mark. About 80 percent of Matthew comes directly from Mark, not the other way around. So, Matthew and Luke had to be even later. As such, they could not have been written by a disciple, unless that person was more than 100 years old. No Christian writer mentions any surviving disciple, an omission that is impossible to imagine.
Like Mark, Matthew is not mentioned until the end of the 1st century Papias and then by Ignatius, who also recorded the star of Bethlehem and identified several Jesus quotes, which appear only in Ignatius' letters and in Matthew. That means that either Ignatius wrote the Gospel or the anonymous author read the letters and inserted the new material in the text. Either way, the information became available long after the disciples lived.
Matthew also separates Christians and Jews, reflecting a reality that didn’t occur until the end of the first century. For example, he cites “their synagogues” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54), even though early Christians worshiped in synagogues.
Luke isn’t even mentioned until 140 C.E., and then by Marcion, who would later be declared a heretic. To him, Luke was the only valid Gospel, and he was referring to a different version than the one used today. Luke also borrows from Josephus, the Jewish historian of the day. Josephus did not publish his books on the Roman War with the Jews until 95. Luke had to have been written after that.
John is definitely to be much later, exhibiting Christian beliefs that only developed after Judaism and Christianity completely separated.
Then, too, as Pitre certainly knows: the Gospels don’t agree on much. Here are some very clear examples:
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus traveled about as a preacher for about a year. John has Jesus ministering for two to three years. Jesus in the first three books goes to Jerusalem only once; in John, he makes three or four trips. He even has friends in nearby Bethany, which was located on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem.
In addition, the first three authors have a different scenario from John for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. For them, the Last Supper was the first night of Passover. They insist the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body, met on a holiday to interview Jesus and then had him handed over to the Romans.
|Modern view of Jesus' arrest|
In contrast, John has Jesus arrested the day before Passover. He is also crucified and buried before Passover. That way, to John, Jesus represents the lamb traditionally sacrificed prior to the religious holiday.
The list of such discrepancies is very long: Mathew and Luke think Jesus was born in Bethlehem in different years; Mark and John do not. John thinks Jesus was 50; the other three believe he was about 30; and so on.
None of that counters Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus. Belief doesn’t require a single fact. At the same time, however, historical research has proven conclusively that the Gospel texts disagree and that they do not reflect actual history. In fact, as the Roman Catholic Church admits, the texts contain “the belief” of the authors and nothing more.
When an author tries to build a book on that kind of shifting sand, he is writing not to “prove” anything, but for two more compelling reasons: to buttress his own faith and to make money.
The latter incentive always proves the most powerful in the world of Christian theology, where believers easily invest gobs of money in any absurdity,
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University and an M.A. in communication from Kent State University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is the author of the famed novel The Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus as well as The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Comparative Religion for Dummies. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.
In addition, you can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1