All posts © Rosa Rubicondior. Contents may be reproduced without permission provided credit is given to the author, it is not altered in any way, the context is made clear and a link is provided to the original.

Income generated from ads will be donated to various charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. Hopefully religious and other offensive advertising content has now been blocked from this site. Please let me know if you see any.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Hey Christians! Is Matthew For Real?

When asked for evidence of the historicity of Jesus, many Christians will trot out the standard dogma that the 'Gospels' of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are contemporaneous accounts written by witnesses to the events they relate, and so are good historical sources.

This ignores the fact that they are contradictory in many places and relate details of the conception and birth of Jesus of which they could not have been eye-witnesses, but that's not the main point of this blog.

As Jonathan MS Pearce points out in Matthew and the guards at the tomb, and as is pointed out in the comments to that excellent blog, Matthew effectively debunks that argument itself, as does Luke. The most sensible conclusion is that the claim of being eye-witness accounts was a later claim and not intended by the author. Indeed, no where does Matthew claim to have been an eye-witness to the events he describes and he always writes in the third person, using 'they' not 'we'.

This centres around the rather curious and implausible account of the guards on Jesus' tomb, something none of the other 'witnesses' mention, not even Luke who, since he quotes Matthew extensively, must have had access to either his version of events or the source from which he drew it, yet Luke opens his account with:
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
In effect, Luke is disputing Matthew's account of guards by omitting it in what he clearly states is only an account of what is believed; not what he witnessed or even what is known, but what is believed.

But that's not the main problem, fatal though that might be for the notion that these were eye-witness accounts.

Firstly, there is the problem of just how exactly Matthew could have been a witness to what was said between Pilate and the chief priests and Pharisees
Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
or to the conspiracy between the hapless guards and the chief priests and the elders.
Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
So, these unfortunate guards were to try to get away with the absurd tale that they were asleep but none-the-less saw what happened.

We are expected to believe that and that these soldiers were the sole witnesses to the greatest event in Christian history - Jesus' resurrection - and to have seen a great earthquake and an angel descend from Heaven and roll the stone away then sit on it talking to Mary Magdalene and 'the other Mary' and yet they remained unconverted.

Just to emphasise that point: the only human witnesses to the alleged resurrection of Jesus were not convinced by it! Instead, they accepted money to lie about what they had seen.

We are also expected to believe the chief priests of Judaism, having just been told by people with nothing to gain by lying that Jesus indeed rose from the dead just as he had said he would, and so fulfilled the prophesies, also remained unconverted even though they seem to have believed the guards and so needed to buy their silence. Having been given the astounding news that Jesus was indeed God, they decided to forgo eternal salvation and everlasting life and bribed the soldiers to keep quiet about it.

And we are expected to believe that the chief priests and Pharisees were concerned about the body being stolen yet didn't think to even ask for a guard until a day later, and that Pilate didn't think to ask how they would know it hadn't already been stolen.

Now, what of Matthew's final clause in 28:15 "... until this day"? What day? Why would someone writing this soon after the events described use that phrase? This phrase would only be used by someone writing long after the events being described to conveys the impression of the passage of some considerable time. It would be like someone writing about the American Declaration of Independence a short time after it was signed in 1776 and saying it has existed 'until this day'. That would be understandable if written now, but why would an eye-witness to its signing use that phrase?

In fact, Matthew uses almost the same phrase when relating the tale of the betrayal by Judas, when he says:
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.

Again, not the phrase of someone writing a contemporary eye-witness account but of someone writing a story about the distant past.

So, Christians, a few questions. If Matthew was an eye-witness to the events he described:
  1. How did he know what was said between the chief priests and Pharisees, and Pilate concerning the setting of a guard?
  2. How did he know about the secret conspiracy and bribing of the guards?
  3. Who would have believed the guards when they reported what they had seen whilst asleep?
  4. Why did the guards, who allegedly were the only people to have witnessed Jesus' resurrection, take the bribes rather than being converted by the event they witnessed?
  5. Why were the chief priests and Pharisees concerned enough about the truth of the guards' account to need to buy their silence and yet not enough to be converted to Christianity by it?
  6. Why did Matthew use the phrases 'until this day' and 'unto this day'?
  7. Why does Luke omit them from his account of what Christians believe and yet quotes Matthew extensively and verbatim in other places?
It should be perfectly plain to anyone who thinks rationally about this that, presented in court as the statement of an eye-witness, and subjected to cross-examination by an even half-competent defence counsel, Matthew's account would be ruled inadmissible, being either the work of a liar, or of someone writing stories long after the events they purported to be describing. Hence, as an historical source document it could at best only be regarded as a secondary source corroborating some primary source or other and then only if this primary source existed and Matthew was known not to be aware of it. Otherwise, it has no more credibility than any other novel based on a mythical person.


Share
Twitter
StumbleUpon

Reddit
submit to reddit

8 comments:

  1. I'm not sure if you're really interested in answers, but here they are.

    > How did he know what was said between the chief priests and Pharisees, and Pilate concerning the setting of a guard?

    and

    > How did he know about the secret conspiracy and bribing of the guard?

    Because top Jews like Nicodemus (and according to tradition Gamaliel) became Christians, and were known to Matthew.

    > Who would have believed the guards when they reported what they had seen whilst asleep?

    The idea seemed to be to convince people that the guards had been lax. They're not claiming they saw things when they were asleep, but they went to sleep, and when they woke up the body was gone.

    > Why did the guards, who allegedly were the only people to have witnessed Jesus' resurrection, take the bribes rather than being converted by the event they witnessed?

    We don't know whether or not the guards became Christians, we do know the chief priest tried to bribe them. And no, the guards weren't the "only" witnesses.

    > Why were the chief priests and Pharisees concerned enough about the truth of the guards' account to need to buy their silence and yet not enough to be converted to Christianity by it?

    Presumably because the guards' account was embarrassing for them.

    > Why did Matthew use the phrases 'until this day' and 'unto this day'?

    Because he's writing (depending on when you date it) 20-60 years later.

    > Why does Luke omit them from his account of what Christians believe and yet quotes Matthew in other places?

    That small details are mentioned or not mentioned in two different accounts are normal for two accounts of the same events. Matthew concentrates on things which were important Jews at the time, and he includes details which are important for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think much of what you say is ad hoc. You put possibility over plausibility which means that the strength of your final conclusion can only be as strong as the weakest premise or foundation that it is built upon.

      Words like"presumably" and "we don't know" are telling.

      We have to look, as Richard Carrier would say, at a Bayesian analysis of the context and claim. What are the prior probabilities of such a claim? What is the standard of evidence? Is it more probable that these accounts were made up (especially given that these guard details appear completely unknown to the others, as did an earthquake and the sun being covered for three hours, something which is utterly unattested all over the world, and something which has never happened like that in recorded history).

      Inn the scramble to make the Gospels make sense, theists fight for possibility. Bu they forget plausibility and probability.

      This is, as Carrier also says, the fallacy of possibiliter ergo probabiliter.

      Delete
  2. Here's the REAL treat of the book of Matthew... Matthew 5.

    Most people only read the beginning and end of the "Sermon on the Mount", but it's the middle that's really interesting. It amazes me that my fellow atheists fail to mention this chapter as it contains a few gems that are fun to trot out to Christians. Specifically, verses 27-37:

    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

    I guess Christians must REALLY be restrained, then. I haven't seen a lot of Christians with missing hands and eyes, so either they missed this part of the New Testament (ironically, it's Jesus who's quoted here) or they decided to pick a translation that made this sound less bad than it is. What's even funnier is that they insist that they should apply their biblical "morals" to secular laws and that such an action is perfectly acceptable, yet I don't see the crime of looking lustfully at a woman to hold the punishment of being mutilated a popular one.

    Otherwise, how could Newt Gingrich still have both eyes and both hands?

    31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

    ...and THAT'S why divorce is illeg- wait a second. It's not, and Christians often argue that gay marriage will "ruin the sanctity of marriage." According to their own god, they've ALREADY ruined the sanctity of marriage by allowing divorce in more than just cases of "sexual immorality."

    33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[g]"

    That must be why Christians are so willing to pledge to the flag of whatever country they're from or swear their oaths to hold office or testify on the bible. Jesus blatantly states that such an action is "from the evil one", yet Christians seem to have no problem with swearing such oaths.

    It's really quite astonishing how people miss this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've always wondered how you can remember not to think of committing adultery without thinking of committing adultery. It must be like trying not to think about elephants. Close your eyes for ten minutes and really try hard not to think of elephants. The harder you try the less you succeed.

      That looks like a trap to me. Setting people up to fail so they feel guilty about something they haven't done.

      Delete
  3. My simple question is to Rosa. Do you think that Jesus existed? One word answer will suffice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why one word? Were you worried about the cognitive dissonance you'd have to cope with if I gave a reasoned, qualified reply?

      Delete
  4. A) no record of him written by anyone who personally saw him
    B) accounts of his family having to flee to Egypt patently, demonstratably false
    C) incompatible, contradictory accounts of his tomb
    D) his confused, incorrect references to Jewish law
    Etc, etc

    NO

    ReplyDelete

Obscene, threatening or obnoxious messages, preaching, abuse and spam will be removed, as will anything by known Internet trolls and stalkers.

A claim made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Remember: your opinion is not an established fact unless corroborated.

Sorry but the spammers are back so I've had to restrict who can post again.

ShareThis

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Web Analytics