Uncommon Sense

December 13, 2019

Presuppositions To the Left of Me . . .

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:55 am
Tags: , , ,

I have been re-reading a bit of Bart Ehrman because I remember being impressed with his work when I first read it but have acquired some doubts now, having read some scholarly criticism of his works. I had at hand Ehrman’s Jesus Before the Gospels so I thought I would delve into that.

I was brought up abruptly by the very first paragraph of the Introduction, which I supply here:

JESUS DIED IN ABOUT the year 30 CE, but our earliest surviving accounts of his life did not start to appear until some forty years later (beginning with the Gospel of Mark). During the intervening years—and even in the years after our Gospels were written—stories about Jesus were in oral circulation, starting with tales told by those who were eye- and earwitnesses to the things he did and said. I am deeply interested in how Jesus was being “remembered” and “misremembered” by those who were telling such stories, both those who actually knew him and those who heard stories from others, some years, or even decades, later, before our written Gospels appeared.

Uh, hello? “During the intervening years . . . stories about Jesus were in oral circulation, starting with tales told by those who were eye- and earwitnesses to the things he did and said.” WTF? How is this known? Were these written down? Is there some record of these? Is there even any mentions of these in historical records?

This is stated as if it were a fact. And stated well before the following:

When it comes to Jesus, all we have are memories. There are no lifelike portraits from his day, no stenographic notes recorded on the spot, no accounts of his activities written at the time. Only memories of his life, of what he said and did. Memories written after the fact. Long after the fact. Memories written by people who were not actually there to observe him.

And, if there were no historical Jesus as described, then what are these “memories”?

Ehrman wants to talk about the studies on the oral transmission of stories, through gossip, by bards (through songs and poetry), etc. But he starts by saying there was an oral tradition. He doesn’t say he is going to establish that there was such a tradition and how we might go about recovering from it what we may. He says “There was an oral tradition.” Why? Because there must have been one to supply the fodder from which the gospels were written. Hello?

Let’s, instead, take a step back (not in time, but away from the narrative being “sold”).

Jesus died circa 30 CE, according to “tradition,” and the first gospel was written shortly after 70 CE, so at least 40 years after any event described. Did anything happen between those years (other than an oral tradition)?

Ever hear of the Apostle Paul?

Paul’s authentic epistles (there were more forgeries than actual letters) were written to “churches” (the word church at the time referred to a congregation, not a building). And these were written (ca 50-64 CE), clearly, with the full knowledge that such letters would be copied and shared around to other groups of Christians. If they had not been copied, we would not now have any copies as all of the originals have perished. (There are some referred to and not, as yet, found; they may still turn up). So, an itinerant preacher, like Paul, had the wherewithal to have letters written for him (he possibly could have done so for himself, but scribes were not hugely expensive, especially scribes recently converted to Paul’s way of thinking).

So, writing things down was possible. “Churches” had the ability to copy documents and clearly did for several decades before the gospels were written. And according to some there were dozens and dozens of Jesus stories flying around . . . but none of them got written down, to share, for 40 years? There is a hypothetical document, Q, which was supposedly a source of Jesus sayings. And, no church copied this or shared it in written form? It was not considered important? So, for forty years the only words associated with Jesus were things people said? Like “Well, you know what Jesus said, blah, blah, blah”? Amazing.

And, as I have suggested before, no rich convert before giving away their wealth wouldn’t have sought out all of the people who knew Jesus in person and debriefed them? Even one such account would have been powerful propaganda. (I am amazed that no one has forged such a document. Maybe the Gospel of Judas might qualify . . . if it hadn’t been written even later than the canonical gospels. FYI The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel whose content consists of conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. It is thought to have been composed in the second century by Gnostic Christians, not by Judas, since it contains late-second century theology.)

When you ask moderns to identify sayings from the book they claim is the word of their god, they get things massively wrong. Many people think that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible, for example (it is not). President Trump has a favorite Bible verse and that is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” the only verse in the OT that Jesus is recorded as speaking against. (Jesus responds with the “turn the other cheek” and “give money to any who ask” idiocy.) Now, granted, the folks of first century Palestine had fewer draws on their attention, but I suspect that the volume of gossip transmitted daily was hardly less than it is now, excepting for the amplification of mass media. People like to talk, even when there is little to talk about.

I do not know whether I will finish Ehrman’s book, having read it before. I may skip over the memory bits as I recall them fairly well. If I think it important I will review the book when finished (if finished).


  1. It’s really not complicated when you consider Jesus was simply a metafictional device invented by 1st Century crisis cultists.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by john zande — December 13, 2019 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

    • Well, I think he’s got a good point, although he hasn’t argued it yet. The Samaritans had their history (real news) and along come these exiled “returnees” who are claiming a different history (fake news) and they duke it out. Explains a lot.

      Image the exiled lords (who weren’t lords in Palestine as those had already died off in Babylon, these were their heirs) coming back and wanting to fit right in at the top of the totem pole where they belonged. Imagine the Samaritans thinking “Who are these wankers?”

      So, there is a good history growing up around fictional histories.

      Then along comes the Roman oppression and the lusting for a savior/messiach. They keep showing up and the Romans keep killing them, so “Wait a minute, Murray … I got an idea. Who was that last messiach that the Romans killed, Jesus what’s his name? Josiah, Jeshua? Whatever, let’s say he didn’t die but got resurrected? And, why? Oh this is gonna sell, bubbie, I tell you, this is gonna sell.” Makes sense.

      In mathematics there is an aphorism: “if you can’t derive it, define it.” And this seemed to be a time-honor tradition of the elites trying to pull the wool over the common folk’s eye to make sure they paid their tithes in a timely manner. This was a protection racket for sure. (“Hey, that’s a nice goat pen you got there. It would be a shame is something were to happen to it.” Actually considering their practice of using tax farmers, this wasn’t far from the truth.)

      On Fri, Dec 13, 2019 at 1:03 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 13, 2019 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

      • Is this comment meant for this post, or your other about Israel?


        Comment by john zande — December 13, 2019 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

        • Lordy, lordy, it ain’t just scripture that is all jumbled up … sorry!

          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — December 13, 2019 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

          • No, sorry, the latter part of the comment made sense. My bad.


            Comment by john zande — December 13, 2019 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

            • What, I made sense? I must be slipping!

              Slow day at work, John? :o)

              On Fri, Dec 13, 2019 at 1:30 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


              Liked by 1 person

              Comment by Steve Ruis — December 13, 2019 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

      • To your point about the story selling, I think it was Paul who ‘sold’ the story to the northern diaspora… which is exactly where the church first rose. To them, a resurrection tale would have been gold.


        Comment by john zande — December 13, 2019 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for getting into Ehrman. You answered most of my questions. I was wondering about that Q business and the “oral” tradition stuff he sets great store in. I can see some of what he writes but question the whole overall.


    Comment by Formerly Holding The Line In Florida — December 14, 2019 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  3. Here is something to consider. Why does the 70 CE date matter, why is it so commonly given as the date for Mark(at least)? What actual proof is there of it? For that matter, what proof is there of the Christian timeline outside of carefully controlled Christian sources? What proof is there for Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and Justin Martyr having lived and wrote during the times attributed to them?

    As I see it, there is no proof for any of the Gospels being of first century provenance. Some of them could be, but is there a reason to believe it was 70 CE? That was arrived at by assuming that because the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in that year, Mark at least must have been written then because it alludes to the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple. Discounting prophecy, 70 CE is the earliest year that could be arrived at, and Christians are happy to repeat that year now, because it is the closest year to Jesus that critical study allows. Then they just need to appeal to “oral tradition” passed down from “eyewitnesses”. Nothing in my opinion from studying the gospels suggests “eyewitnesses” or any other witnesses. Why in supposedly 2nd century sources like the Epistle of Barnabas and in the Writings of Theophilus of Antioch do we find such strange things about Jesus and Christianity? Theophilus gives an account that Christians are called that because they are anointed in oil, gives a summary of the world’s chronology and important events without mentioning anything about Jesus, and has no idea of anything like Christian salvation(in his account it hinged on obedience to the Jewish law). By that time the “traditions” and writings(the gospels) were supposedly well in place. Justin Martyr does not even mention Paul, that is another important topic.

    Have you heard that Jesus was born in a cave? Nowhere in the canonical gospels, though the Infancy Gospel of James mentions such a story. There is another version where Jesus is born in a cave with dragons. The cave birth is mentioned by Justin Martyr(our first apologist) and other Christian writers. There is even a cave that was assigned as the birth-place of Jesus, formerly it was a cult site of Adonis, a deity with some parallels to Jesus. Jesus being born in a cave in the middle of nowhere contradicts both Luke and Matthew as well. I find the associations with Adonis and Attis to be interesting. Some Christians taught self-castration or at least total sexual abstinence, much like what was required of the eunuch priests of Cybele and Attis. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew encourages castration(becoming a eunuch) for the sake of heaven. Jewish law excludes all such men from Yahweh’s assembly, so where could Christians have gotten that idea from? I have heard of a Jewish tomb of this period that has both a menorah and a figure of the dancing(resurrected from the dead) Attis.



    Comment by K — December 20, 2019 @ 6:12 am | Reply

    • Yes, yes, yes, and more. 70 CE is probably the earliest for Mark. (Some scholars put all of the gospels into the second century.) There are other clues than the destruction of the second temple. References are made as to who is high priest and whatnot. These can be used to “help” affix a date for the writing.

      It has not been all that long that the vice grip of the orthodox narrative enforced by “the church” has been broken and we finally now know that the number of Christian sects was rather large. The coordination between these sects was, obviously rather poor, but to my mind, a large number of sects would face the same problem then as it does now, being how to distinguish themselves from those, other (heretical) sects. Zealous members of the sect might just write some really wild stuff to make their sect stand out. Many of these things didn’t survive as when the orthodox “church” acquired state power, they shifted into high gear to root out pagan religions and then “heretical” Christianities. Often the only reference we have to some of these things are the excoriations made by the anti-heretical sleuths.

      The mere fact that there were so many sects indicates that there wasn’t some core documents or core people to consult (No Q, no disciples, etc.) so people were free to make up whatever bull stuff they felt compelled to write.


      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 20, 2019 @ 8:27 am | Reply

      • The core issue is that traditional Christians consider the bible as the sole source of information related to the times and events surrounding their Jesus. The other writers of the time are discounted … unless, of course, they write something the Christians like.

        And, as K mentioned … there was a plethora of sects and beliefs and practices even in the early days of the faith. No surprise the same thing exists today.


        Comment by Nan — December 20, 2019 @ 11:37 am | Reply

  4. I guess by now you’re heard Putin’s assessment of tRumpsky’s “guilt.” I rarely read Twitter, but I would imagine there has been NUMEROUS tweets from our illustrious leader related to this “confirmation of innocence” from his best buddy.


    Comment by Nan — December 20, 2019 @ 11:43 am | Reply

    • “With friends like those …”

      On Fri, Dec 20, 2019 at 11:43 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 20, 2019 @ 11:52 am | Reply

      • I think I may have posted this comment on the wrong blog since it’s off-topic. Sorry ’bout that. I’ll try to do better next time. 😛


        Comment by Nan — December 20, 2019 @ 12:02 pm | Reply

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