Saturday, June 19, 2010

287: The Passion of The Christ & Matthew: In Review

Matthew 27-28
"When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." - Matthew 27:35-37

Early that morning, the elders sentence Jesus to death, and they send him off to the Roman governor, Pilate. Judas, upon seeing Jesus's conviction, returns the thirty silver coins to the elders and promptly hangs himself. Contrary to the popular image of Judas as a great villain, I see only a victim. Jesus, according to his own words, could have at any point stopped his execution. Or he could have turned himself over to the elders instead of having Judas (or another of his disciples) betray him. Would this not be the most compassionate approach? Especially if he could foresee Judas's death (and subsequent torture, if you believe Dante).

While Judas is hanging himself, Jesus is confronting Pilate. Pilate asks if he is king of the Jews. Jesus says yes. Pilate asks if he hears the testimony the priests are bringing against him. Jesus gives no answer.

The bible then says that Pilate has a yearly custom of releasing one prisoner. He gives the crowd the option of freeing either Jesus or the notorious criminal Barabbas. At this time, Pilate's wife sends him a message telling him not to mess with Jesus. She says that she's suffered a great deal in a dream on account of Jesus. Suffered how? The wording implies that Jesus was torturing her in the dream.

Pilate asks the crowd again (apparently ignoring his wife) which they would free. They all say "Barabbas". He then asks what they would have him do with Jesus, and they all say "crucify him". Pilate asks the crowd what crime Jesus has committed (doesn't he already know?). Instead of answering, the crowd just shouts "crucify him" louder.

Pilate sees that the crowd is getting out of hand, and washes his hands in front of the crowd. He tells them that he is washing his hands of Jesus's blood. He then tells the crowd that Jesus is their responsibility. The crowd responds by saying "let his blood be on us and on our children." Why would they wish for Jesus's blood to be on their children? Pilate then has Jesus flogged (why?) and hands him over to be crucified.

As Jesus is being held for crucifixion, the Roman soldiers put a red robe on him, give him a staff, and a crown of thorns. They then mockingly worship him, saying "hail, king of the Jews". Finally, they change him back into his own clothes and lead him to the crucifixion.

On the way to the crucifixion, the Roman guards see a man named Simon and force him to carry Jesus's cross. The bible doesn't explain why Simon needs to carry the cross. Also on the way, they offer Jesus wine mixed with gall, but Jesus refuses. The bible then says that Jesus is crucified (no description) and his clothes are divided up among the guards. They put a sign over his head that reads "This is Jesus, The King of the Jews". The bible also mentions that two robbers were crucified with Jesus, but gives no further description of them.

For awhile Jesus is mocked by the priest (who has apparently tagged along to see the crucifixion). In the same way, the bible says, both the robbers who are crucified with him hurl insults at him.

As Jesus's death approaches, the land grows dark. Just before his death, Jesus yells "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". Doesn't Jesus know the significance of his death? Why is he asking a question that he knows the answer to? Someone then offers Jesus a sponge soaked with vinegar to drink. Yum?

Jesus yells in a loud voice one last time, and dies. At the point of his death, there is an earthquake. The curtains of the temple are ripped, and tombs are ripped open. The bodies that fall out of these tombs are immediately resurrected and start roaming the land. Well nobody ever told me that fun little factoid. Jesus's eventual resurrection is becoming less and less impressive with every other person that is miraculously resurrected. The bible makes resurrection sound almost common.

As evening approaches, Joseph (one of Jesus's disciples) gets Jesus's body from Pilate, and buries it in a tomb that he created. He then rolls a large stone in front of the opening to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" (the virgin Mary, I presume) stay sitting opposite the tomb. The Pharisees come to Pilate the next day, and ask for guards to be placed outside of Jesus's tomb. Otherwise, they say, the disciples might steal the body and claim Jesus was resurrected. Only then do they go and place a seal on the tomb.

On that Sunday, Mary and the other Mary go to check on the tomb. There is then another earthquake (the bible doesn't say if the Marys are there yet) and the stone is rolled away from the opening to the tomb by an angel. The guards are so afraid of this angel that they have seizures and become "like dead men". When the Marys get there, they find and empty tomb. The angel tells them that Jesus has risen, and gone to Galilee.

On their way to Galilee, they see Jesus. He tells them to go get the disciples and meet him on a mountain. The disciples meet him, but the bible says that some of them doubt this resurrected Jesus. Why would they have doubts? Maybe this is a better question. If the disciples, who could see Jesus with their very eyes, have doubts, how are we (hearing this second/third hand 2000+ years later) expected to have no doubts?

The whole tomb scene seems very strange. After the bible spends all that time convincing us that the tomb won't be empty (with guards, seals etc.), it turns out to be empty. The only witnesses (the guards) are having some sort of neurological attack, so we don't get to hear from them what happened. As far as the bible says, the Marys got there and the tomb was (miraculously or otherwise) empty.

The idea that the tomb was guarded is undermined by the fact that the tomb was unguarded for a full night. Who cares if the guards sealed the tomb if the disciples already had plenty of time to take the body? This is not to mention that the tomb builder himself was one of the disciples. Considering we can't examine the tomb, it's impossible to rule out a menagerie of alternate explanations to Jesus's resurrection/disappearance.

Matthew: In Review
I think reading the bible has done more to hurt my preconceived notion of Jesus than any person ever could have.

I'll grant that Jesus seems to be reluctant to hurt people while on the earth. Though he seems to have no qualms with casting people into eternal hellfire for simply not acknowledging his omnipotence. I'm really not sure what's worse. I'd probably have to choose the finite torment of fire and brimstone over eternal hellfire.

While relatively tame in comparison to casting people into hell, I wasn't expecting Jesus's selfish douchebaggery. First, he seems to call his disciples idiots at every turn. If they don't understand even one of his vague parables, they're suddenly "dull" and faithless. At best Jesus is a bad teacher. At worst he's intentionally setting people up to go to hell (i.e. speaking in parables with the intent that people not understand).

Second, and most recently, he denied the poor food so that he could have expensive perfume poured over his head. With the idea that the poor will always be around but he won't be around forever. Not only is this selfish, but none of us are going to be around forever. What's his point? I could just as easily say "I can't give to the poor because I'm going to die some day, WWJD".

Yes, Jesus says "love your enemy" and "treat others as yourself", but does he practice what he preaches? Or is he just really fun to quote mine?

On the good side, Matthew it mostly non-repetitive and had a bunch of interesting things to talk about. It's definitely (from a reading standpoint) much better than anything in the Old Testament.

Can the bible be trusted? One man thinks so, and has plenty of (bad) reasons:
The Bible is unique among the “holy books”; it is rooted in and intertwined with actual human history. The Bible is the word of God. It records the interaction of God with historical people and nations. It reveals the meaning of life and the responsibility of human beings to their creator.
I can almost guarantee that any Muslim would say the exact same thing about the Quran. It reveals the meaning of life, and the responsibility of humans to their creator... If you already believe that to be the case. I wouldn't call this something "unique" about the bible.
The remarkable structure of the Bible should also be stressed. Although it is a collection of 66 books, written by 40 or more different men over a period of 2,000 years, it is clearly one Book, with perfect unity and consistency throughout. The individual writers, at the time of writing, had no idea that their message was eventually to be incorporated into such a Book, but each nevertheless fits perfectly into place and serves its own unique purpose as a component of the whole.
Maybe I should stop reading this article. This guy is obviously talking about some other "bible" that I've never read. Perfect unity and consistency? The bible doesn't even have good unity, much less perfect unity. To me, most of the bible is clearly meant to be a standalone book. Why, if it were mean't to be one book, would there be so much shameless repetition (see 1/2 Chronicles, Psalms, Deuteronomy, etc.)? Not to mention that the Old and New Testaments openly contradict each other (e.g. eye for an eye vs. turn the other cheek). That's certainly not something I would expect one unified book to do.
Prophetic fulfillment…; The Bible stands superior because every prophecy written thousands of years ago continues to be fulfilled to this day. Fulfilled prophecy from the book of Genesis to the book of Malachi, the Old Testament abounds with anticipation of the coming Messiah. This relates to His birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Here are some examples: Seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15), Virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), Bethlehem as place of birth (Micah 5:2), ministry of miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6), sold for 30 shekels (Zechariah 11:12), and His resurrection (psalms 16:10, 22:22). [links added]
I don't have time to address all of these "prophecies" (I've already talked about a lot of them anyway). But I encourage you all to click on a few of them, and tell me if you think these are the clear, succinct, prophecies you would expect from and all knowing, all powerful creator.
Another striking evidence of divine inspiration is found in the fact that many of the principles of modern science were recorded as facts of nature in the Bible long before science confirmed them experimentally; Round of the earth, (Isaiah 40:22), almost infinite extent of the sidereal universe, (Isaiah 55:9), Law of conservation of mass and energy, (2 Peter 3:7), hydrologic cycle, (Ecclesiastes 1:7), vast number of stars, (Jeremiah 33:22), paramount importance of the blood in life processes, (Lev 17:11), gravitational field, (Job 26:7) etc. [links added]
If you're convinced by any of these "scientific revelations" I have no chance of having a logical conversation with you. None of these passages even seem remotely relevant to the scientific process they supposedly describe. Maybe you have to close your eyes and wish real hard before the genius of these passages reveals itself. For the sane among my readers, click the links if you need your daily dose of fundie illogic.


  1. No need to debate you on the content. It seems you addressed most of my points. I confess that many Christians are biblically illiterate. I have read the Bible from cover to cover about 4 or 5 times, and the Gospel of Matthew at least 15 times. I love that book. I am disappointed to see that your reading of Matthew did not change your mind, but not surprised. Interesting that you did not comment on Matthew 28:18-20. Take care of yourself and may you be blessed as you continue your study of the New Testament.

  2. Matthew 28:18-20 is an interpolation that was add much later, maybe at the First Council of Nicaea (325 CE), Council of Hippo (393 CE) but most likely before the third Synod of Carthage (397 CE). This is common knowledge among biblical historians.

  3. What source do you have for Matthew 28:18-20 being an interpolation?

  4. Matt 27:1-2. If he had been found guilty of blasphemy, why would they hand him over to the Romans? Blasphemy was a crime under Jewish, not Roman, law, and the punishment was death by stoning.

    Matt 27:3. Why does Judas seem surprised by the outcome. What did he think they were going to do with Jesus, that they would pay Judas to betray him.

    Matt 27:5-7. More story constructed entirely out of random OT passages. Matthew, as is his wont, even tells us which ones he (and his source, Mark) is using.

    Matt 27:11. Why does Pilate ask Jesus if he is "King of the Jews"? This doesn't appear to be the charge against him by the Sanhedrin. Certainly, claiming to be the King of the Jews is not blasphemy. It could, however, be taken as a threat to Roman rule, in which case Pilate would have had him summarily executed regardless of what the priests said.

    Matt 27:11. Once again, the translation that you have linked to is faulty: The Greek has Jesus' reply as merely "You say so," not "Yes, it is as you say." In other words, Jesus isn't actually claiming this to be true.

    Matt 27:15. There is no known historical record of any such custom (releasing a prisoner on Passover). Moreover, it is hard to imagine the Romans releasing a notorious anti-Roman rebel.

    Matt 27:16. Intriguingly, "Barabbas" means "Son of the Father." Moreover, in some manuscripts he is "Jesus Barabbas."

    Matt 27:17. "Jesus (who is) called Christ" is the exact same wording as in the genealogy in Matt 1. Also in Josephus' Antiquities 20 (in a different case).

    Matt 27:21. No Woger, no Woderick....I shall release Bryan.

    Matt 27:20-25. If Pilate just wanted to release Jesus, he could've just done so. There was no reason for him to listen to the crowd. This whole passage smacks of a whitewash, trying to deflect blame from the Romans onto the Jews. As if they would really say, "Let his blood be upon us and our children." Why don't you hear Xtians calling Italians "Christkillers"? Considering the centuries of anti-Semitism and pogroms that resulted from this Gospel, this has to count among the most offensive passages in the whole Bible.

  5. Eusebius witnesses copies of Matthew dating to before the Council of Nicea in which the text read "baptizing in my name." Here is a reference: Arthur W. Wainwright, "The Trinity in the New Testament" (London: SPCK, 1962), pp. 238-9.

  6. "almost infinite extent of the sidereal universe"

    How the fuck can something be almost infinite?

  7. Fun fact: the verse quoted as predicting the earth's spherical nature (Isa.40:22) does exactly the opposite: the image is of God draping the sky over the "circle" (i.e. disc, not sphere) of the earth like a canopy/tent, something impossible to do unless said circle is flat.



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