In Bart Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradiction in the Bible, the author introduces the reader to a variety of discrepancies and contradictions that many people overlook in the canonical Gospels. Bart Ehrman elaborates on the life of Jesus from a theological perspective but points out the flaws from a historical standpoint similar to many of Professor Boccaccini’s lectures. I will discuss some events mentioned in the Gospels and analyze the motives for creating such historically implausible narratives. A question that should be kept in mind throughout this analysis is did Christians take words and scriptures out of context and over exaggerate stories in order to push their agenda of labeling Jesus as the Messiah?
While spreading the messages of Jesus after his death, it is possible that Christians added in information and prophecies about the Messiah that did not exist in the Old Testament or in any Jewish sources. For example, Christians have dwelled on the fact the Messiah was supposed to suffer and die for the sins of others and then be raised from the dead (Ehrman 229). It is likely that followers of Jesus who believed he was the Messiah altered the old prophecies in order to tailor these messianic expectations directly to Jesus.
According to the Gospels, Jesus’ life was filled with many miracles ranging from his miraculous birth to his miraculous resurrection from the dead. Unfortunately, there is no historical way to prove that these miracles ever occurred and it is more likely that the miracles did not happen than did. Not that the events told in the Gospels are completely impossible, but as Ehrman says the chances of a miracle occurring are infinitesimal (Ehrman 175).
Additionally, there is no mention of Jesus being a divine Messiah or a deity in the Synoptics, but there is in the Gospel of John. Mark, Matthew, and Luke were written much earlier, and while they do not all say the same thing, their similar narratives served as a way to spread the word of Jesus to people who had never heard of him or did not know much about him. According to professor Boccaccini The goal of the Gospel of John is to make Jesus God, using “biblical” categories, and confirming the “biblical” concept of creation. Traditional Christian sources never included the divinity of Jesus, so it is fairly safe to assume that this belief was made up by later Christians to emphasize the power and importance of Jesus. The Gospel of John was the latest of the Gospels, so by that time oral stories of Jesus had been passed down for many decades claiming that he was the Messiah. Because Jewish people were not willing to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, John (made for a church of established Christians) wanted to stress that not only was he the Messiah, he was also equal to God in power to promote the Christian agenda.
Unfortunately, there are no original writings of any of the books in the bible. We have copies that were translated by scribes. What if the words in the new testament are not accurate because we only have oral traditions that were passed down 30-65 years before they were finally written and hand-copied versions that were translated by scribes? The Gospels are full of very distinctive discrepancies that should be questioned by readers. For example, in chapter 2 of John, we are told that Jesus’ first and very famous miracle was turning water into wine. A few verses later we are also told that Jesus performed several other miracles that were a part of his many signs proving that he was the Messiah. Two chapters later, after Jesus heals the centurion’s son the gospel states this was the second sign that Jesus did (John 4:54) How could it be that Jesus did many signs in Jerusalem, but then his second sign in Galilee? The sequence of this event does not chronologically make sense and we will never know if the details in this story were botched because they were untrue or because of a small mishap did by the creators.
Moreover, the synoptic gospels say that the Last Supper was the dinner Jesus had with his disciples during Passover. John on other hand does not refer to it as a Passover meal but as the last meal he had with his disciples because Jesus knew his time on earth was over. John says during this meal Judas has left because The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him (John 13:2)(Boccaccini). Jesus then washes the feet of his disciples and says he has to go. Peter asks Jesus “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” (John 13:36) A chapter later, Thomas says Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way? Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:5-6) Oddly enough, two chapter later Jesus says I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ?Where are you going?” (John 16:4-5) This particular narrative either wants to stress the fact that Jesus had a bad memory or this is a clear example of an unintentional faux pas in the Gospel of John, showing the carelessness of either the creator or scribe.
Ehrman makes a suggestion that as a reader of the Bible, people should try reading the stories horizontally. In other words, if you are reading a passage in the Gospel of Mark, you should find that same passage in the Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and John and try to spot the similarities and differences that exist (Ehrman 22). In doing that, we have to acknowledge the fact that the Gospels do not all tell the same stories all the time. For example, neither the Gospel of Mark nor the Gospel of John mentions anything about the nativity of Jesus and they often refer to him as Jesus of Nazareth. According to the Gospel of Luke and Matthew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but there are no recorded sayings of Jesus, which refer to his birth at Bethlehem, while Nazareth is commonly mentioned as his “home (Boccaccini). Although Matthew and Luke both document where Jesus was born, they give two strikingly different narratives on his birth. Ehrman states that the two gospels are simply trying to emphasize the same two points: that Jesus’ mother was a virgin and that he was born in Bethlehem (Ehrman 35) Christian tradition originated from Second Temple Judaism but diverged from the Jewish views sometime during the first century of Christianity. Jewish people believed that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem and would be a descendant of King David, a king who was promised an eternal rule over Israel by God. Therefore, to fulfill this prophecy, the creators of the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew had a motive to change Jesus’ birthplace to the little town of Bethlehem. The flawed part about the genealogy of Jesus we receive from Matthew and Luke is that Jesus is not actually in the line of King David. If Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and not Joseph, that would mean that he is only Jesus’ adopted father and therefore Jesus does not satisfy all of the prophecies of the religion, invalidating all claims that he is indeed the Messiah.
Jesus cleansed the Temple at the beginning of his ministry in John but at the end of his ministry in Mark Matthew and Luke. It is not very likely that Jesus would not have been arrested at the time or even let back into Jerusalem if he already disrupted the Temple before at the beginning of John. The Synoptics may be more plausible in this case in saying that Jesus only caused one disturbance in the Temple that ultimately led to his crucifixion.
The Gospels of Mark and Matthew depict the Trial of Jesus before Pilate in a very similar manner. Jewish leaders brought Jesus to Pilate who then asked him if he was the King of the Jews. When Jesus does not deny this, the crowd full of chief priests demanded Jesus to be crucified. Both Professor Boccaccini and Bart Ehrman believe that Pilate does not seem to see anything wrong in Jesus, and yet, eager to please the crowd, so he has Jesus flogged and crucified (Boccaccini). On the other hand, in Luke and John, Pilate expressly declares that Jesus is innocent, does not deserve to be punished, and ought to be released (Ehrman 45). A possible explanation behind the different details told by the gospels deals a lot with the audience each gospel is targeting. Mark and Matthew’s main audiences were Christians and followers of Jesus, while Luke was meant for a gentile audience and John was pretty anti-Judaism. For Mark and Matthew, the Romans may be considered responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus because they feared that Jesus was trying to overthrow their rule. It is widely known that Jesus preached that his 12 disciples would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel when the Kingdom of God came. This would mean that Jesus would have power over the entire kingdom if he was to remain alive. Meanwhile, for Luke and John (especially John) because the Roman emperor declared that Jesus was innocent, they suggest that the Jews in the crowd and chief priests are the people who are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.
During the resurrection of Jesus, all four of the canonical texts say that on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene visited the tomb of Jesus only to find it empty. The Gospel of Mark says that Mary Magdalene and a few other women went to Jesus’ tomb. They saw a man appear and told them that Jesus was raised, but out of fear, the women said nothing to anyone. Luke says they saw two men and told the apostles but no one believed them. Matthew says they saw an angel and John says that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone and she saw that there was nothing in the tomb. Afterward, Mary ran and told Peter and another unnamed disciple about her discovery. According to Professor Boccaccini, the finding of the empty tomb by the women is a likely event from the historical point of view (Boccaccini). Realistically, there was probably no man or angels at the tomb site and the narrative of the risen Christ is more than likely told to make Jesus’ death seem more interesting and powerful to Christian believers.
Historically, we know very few details about the life of Jesus, but we can strongly infer which components of his life are plausible and which are not. Jesus was Jewish and began his ministry as an apocalyptic prophet after being baptized by the apocalyptic preacher John the Baptist. Rather than agreeing with the ideas of the religious sects such as the Pharisees and Essenes, Jesus adopted his own views on the end of times based on the Torah. Jesus had 12 disciples whom he personally appointed and declared that they would soon become the rulers of the 12 tribes in Israel under the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ disciples followed him as he urged Jewish people to do what God had commanded in the Jewish law in order to get into God’s imminent kingdom. Jesus was a devoted Jew and was not trying to create a new religion.
Christianity happened to be the result of followers deeply believing that Jesus was the Son of Man that they were waiting for. After Jesus died, this new Christianity religion started to become widely popular, something that Jesus most likely did not expect. Bart Ehrman stated that Christianity is the religion about Jesus, not the religion of Jesus (Ehrman 267), yet many will fail to realize the truth behind this statement because of their strong devotion to the theological Jesus. The gospels contain a lot of information that does not match up with the historical studies of him and contradict each other on several occasions. The Bible should be viewed as a Christian theological narrative and not as a factual source about Jesus.
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