Harmony of the gospels

The BibleI've been reading through the gospels and comparing the different versions of stories. It's interesting, not just for the fact that all four of these books can't be literally and totally inerrant since they contradict each other in many details. That's certainly true, but I don't know when I last believed that the Bible was inerrant. I'm pretty sure that while I was at Truman and ACC I thought it was inspired, but not word for word flawless. But even taking that moderate approach, the differences in stories are fascinating. Mark is almost always briefer, more apocalyptic and he paints Jesus as a secretive person. Either more information came to light over time, or the later writers felt free to embellish. Matthew and Luke add to and change the stores in different ways. Matthew seems to spiritualize things more. Compare his version of the beatitudes to Luke's. Is it the poor or the poor in spirit that are blessed? The hungry or those who hunger after righteousness? The evangelists certainly share a single focus and purpose, inspiring belief in Jesus. And most of their details line up, but it's interesting to think about why they don't agree in some places.

Then there's John. I never realized before that almost none of the stories in John are in the other gospels, and vice versa. John's Jesus boldly proclaims who he is, which really stands out against Mark's secretive Jesus. John adds in so many details and lengthy transcriptions of the words of Jesus. I read the Garden of Gesthemane story in John, then the other gospels. John makes the prayer go on for much longer than the others. The other gospels tell about one of Jesus' followers cutting off a soldier's ear. John goes two steps further. He names the follower (Simon Peter) and the soldier. If that was known when the earlier gospels were written, then why did they leave it out? If not, how did the author of John know about it? It seems like the kind of change that would happen as the story becomes legendary.

Mark is generally considered the earliest gospel to be written. You would think that the writing that is closest to the time of the actual events would be the most reliable account. The author of Mark was more likely to have spoken to eyewitnesses and there had been less time for the story to grow with the telling (30 years is still plenty of time for that, but much less time than John's 60 years). When Mark comes to that central event in the Christian story, the resurrection of Jesus, there is almost nothing said. Bibles today have Mark 16:9-20, an ending that was not in the earliest copies of the book. Most Bibles include a note to this effect. It's likely that this ending was tacked on by a later scribe to make up for the disappointing ending in the original writing.

So, what does the original ending of the earliest gospel have to say about the resurrection?

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

(Mark 1:1-8)

This brings up lots of questions. First, where is Jesus? The other stories have him appearing to various people. Why wouldn't the author of Mark mention that? Compare how the news of the resurrection is discovered in each of the gospels. Mark says that the women who found the empty tomb left and "said nothing to anyone" (Mark 16:8), but Luke says that they came back from the tomb and "told all these things to the Eleven" (Luke 24:9). Matthew agrees with Luke (Matthew 28:8). And John characteristically expands and dramatizes the event. The women tell the men and the men have a foot race then go into the empty tomb and look around.

Second, and more significantly, if verse 8 were true and the women never told anyone what happened, then how did the others find out and how did it come to be generally known that Jesus was raised? It seems to me that when Mark was written, the author assumed that it wasn't generally believed that Jesus was risen. He's revealing a secret that has been hidden for many years. This fits in with the theme of secrecy which runs throughout Mark.

If Mark was written to introduce ideas about Jesus that were unheard of at the time, then he would need a device to explain the fact that he was teaching something new. If no one had heard of Jesus or at least no one had heard of him claiming to be the Son of Man and rising from the dead, then how could Mark start teaching this 30 years after the fact? So, Mark says that when Jesus healed someone or someone proclaimed who he really was, then Jesus told them to keep quiet about it. And when Jesus rose from the dead, only 3 women knew about it and they never spoke of it.

Claiming to reveal some secret knowledge of past events is a very common device. Dan Brown used it in The Da Vinci Code. Masons, Scientologists, Mormons, Gnostics and many Greco-Roman mystery cults have all claimed to give secret knowledge to their initiates. It's easy to defend because of course there's no evidence for it, it was a secret! And if you find contradictory evidence, well, then that's just part of the coverup.

If Christian faith is based on the historical event of the resurrection, then the New Testament is the only possible historical record of that event. As I'm reading it now, it seems less like reliable historical accounts and more like legend or propaganda that was expanded and embellished over time to suit the needs of it's writers, who, after all, were compiling these stories to create and strengthen belief.

It seems clear to me that the idea of verbal inerrancy is impossible. Contradicting accounts cannot both be true. Either the women told no one or they told the disciples. But if you dismiss that idea and still believe that the gospels give the real story of the historical Jesus, then you have to deal with the changes that were introduced to the story over time. The changes between Mark and Matthew are noticeable, but mostly minor. The changes to the story in the 30 year period between Mark and John are extensive. By the time John was written, there were already at least three books about Jesus in circulation. Yet even with the possibility of being compared to he existing written accounts, John was composed with a vastly different set of stories, sayings, emphasis and even theology. How different, then, could Mark's version of the story be from what really happened? He wasn't even restricted by other written accounts. No one could check his story against the other extant versions and the with the secrecy device he preemptively answered questions like, "If Jesus was so great, why haven't we heard of him?" His changes may have been much more dramatic than John's.

If Mark was the closest to the real Jesus, then we can follow the trajectory of the changes back in time and estimate what Jesus was really like. My guess is that he was a traveling apocalyptic preacher like John the Baptist. I doubt that he ever performed a genuine miracle or claimed to be the Son of Man. He may have predicted the end of the world and the coming of a new kingdom. He probably didn't say a lot of the things attributed to him. He may have offended some powerful people and and he probably was executed. But, like every other human in history, he stayed dead. His execution happened to occur during the Passover holiday, so his followers began to associate him with the Passover lamb that dies to save the people. From there, it's not hard to imagine how the stories about him would grow as the movement grew until someone had the idea of writing the first biography.

Further reading:
The endings of Mark 16
Messianic Secret
184 NewTestamentcontradictions
More New Testament contradictions
An Easter Challenge for Christians
How is John different?

"Unnecessary" quotation marks

Hillary and Blackwater

In an earlier post I mentioned that Romney has a connection to Blackwater. Well, so does Hillary. It's more indirect, but I thought it was only fair to mention it.

Spooky

Want a good scare? Watch this Bill Moyers report on Christians United for Israel. Famous pastors, congregants, congressmen and presidential hopefuls recently descended on DC to conduct a fiendish mixture of Christian revival and war-drum beating. John Hagee is on stage quoting scripture and calling for the US to preemptively invade Iran. Hagee is fairly certain that Iran is going to play a key role in the looming apocalypse This would be funny if there weren't so many people taking it seriously, including John McCain.

I don't know which is worse, saying that the world is going to end in a massive battle between the US and Iran, or saying that we should start another preemptive war.

It was only a few years ago that I saw some nut on TV saying that the war with Iraq would be the opening round of Armageddon. And only a few years before that, it was the Soviet Union. Even when I believed in God I thought this type of thinking was bullshit. Normally the apocalyptic worldview produces a mildly harmful fatalism ("We don't need to fix that problem, Jesus will come back soon"), but this talk of invading Iran is dangerous. CUFI says that God promised the land to Israel and there can't be a peace plan that involves Israel giving up land.

Anyone who thinks we should invade Iran has clearly not been watching the news in the last 5 years. Even if things in Iraq were going great, we don't have the people, money or political will to start another war. Not to mention the fact that preemptive war is immoral.

State blog

If you were a staff member in the US Department of State and you were tasked with naming the brand new department blog (welcome to 2001, by the way), what is the stupidest name you could get away with?

blogs.state.gov/

If you can think of a dumber name, I'd like to hear it.

(via Wonkette)

The evils of Socialism

Today George Bush exercised his veto power for the fourth time in his presidency to stop a bill that would provide heath care to around 6 million children. He said the bill was too expensive and it could be the beginning of a shift to Socialized Medicine [cue the spooky music].

Good for him. It's about time someone stood up against the evils of Big Government Socialism. I look forward to seeing what he can do to deal with this problem in other areas as well:

Education

America's children have been on the dole too long when it comes to education. It's time to cut the red tape. Bush should propose an initiative to cut all federal, state and local funding for schools. Private corporations can buy the school buildings and turn them into private schools. Rich people can send their kids to great schools, middle class students can have mediocre schools, and children whose parents can't afford private school tuition can find gainful employment at their local mine or factory.

Fire protection

Ever noticed how most fire engines are Red? Coincidence? Bush still has a year to privatize the nation's fire departments. There's no need to waste government money putting out every little fire that starts. Let people pay private firms and when a fire starts, the private FD can put out the blaze without going through any red tape (provided the homeowner has paid their fees). The poorest citizens won't have to worry about this change because they don't have homes to worry about.

Law enforcement

Right now we have socialized law enforcement. Police, judges and prison guards are all paid from the government treasury. This is a slippery slope toward Communism. What people need is choice. People should be free to maintain their own militia or bodyguards if they want protection from burglars and murderers. Once your bodyguard captures a bad guy, you can simply pay to have him placed in a nearby private prison. This could be a way for Walmart to produce more goods stateside. Those that can't afford their own protection or legal representation still have options. They can arm themselves, hide in a cave or move to a country with socialized police.

Road construction

Why do people feel entitled to roads? If Bush really wants to fight the dangers of Socialism, he'll move to privatize roads and highways. Every road will be a toll road and/or lined with billboards. But it's a small price to pay to know that we're doing it the capitalist way.

Military

Bush has already made great strides toward privatizing the military, but there's more work to be done. Sure, we have 20,000 to 100,000 armed contractors in Iraq now, but why not disband the entire Department of Defense and contract the whole thing out to Blackwater? A private company can do the job cheaper and won't be bound by international treaties and quaint conventions. Perhaps one of the possible successors to George Bush will be able to see this plan through. Mitt Romney has already brought a Blackwater vice chairman on board as his national security advisor.

Mr. President, there will be many more socialist bills crossing your desk between now and that sad day when someone else becomes the decider. I look forward to seeing you fight for our capitalist way of life.

36 Nations?

When I watched President Bush's Thursday night address, I expected to see him paint a rosy picture of the Iraq war. I expected to see him gloss over the difficulties and bend the truth as far as possible to avoid admitting that the war was a mistake. He did all of that, of course, but this time he went a step further and told a lie that is easy to debunk.

To the international community: The success of a free Iraq matters to every civilized nation. We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy.
(Whitehouse.gov)

Thirty-six nations!? Several sites have fact-checked this:

Talking Points Memo
FactCheck.org
The Washington Post
Wonkette
TPMmuckraker.com

The State Department puts the number at 25. The total number of non-US troops is around 11,000 and falling steadily.

SCO files for bankruptcy

Good riddance.

SCO is best known these days for its baseless intellectual property claims against Linux companies and Linux users, but as it became increasingly clear that the legal cases against IBM, Novell, Red Hat, and others were without merit, the stock price dropped as investors stopped betting on the cash boon they were gambling on winning. The company's stock lost 43% of its value today, last trading at 37 cents, down from around $20 a share in 2003, shortly after the company filed its first lawsuit.

Thirty-seven cents! This should serve as a lesson to any other companies that are trying to make baseless lawsuits their main source of income [cough, RIAA, cough].

(via Linux.com)

Web host search

I'm in the market for a new web host. I think we've outgrown shared hosting. Dreamhost has a good set of features and it's very affordable, but the slowness and downtime are getting unbearable. So, I'm looking to jump up to a VPS host. I would love to hear any recommendations and tips that anyone has. I'm considering vpslink.com.

See the Dragon in Google Earth

I found the locations mentioned in See the Dragon and added them to Google Earth. To find some of the spots I had to overlay Vietnam maps from the internet into Google Earth. The .kmz file with all of the locations and maps is available at SeeTheDragon.com/maps.

See the Dragon kmz screenshot

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