Happy Easter Everyone

Every year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, Christians celebrate Easter, as they have ever since the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Easter is the day on which they believe their Saviour’s body came back to life after suffering a horrendous death, and that he was seen in corporeal form for several weeks before ascending to ‘heaven’ on a cloud. This is the very basis of the Christian religion.

JC

They believe it because some of the Gospels (not all of them, as we’ll see) say it happened. But most Christians have never read the New Testament in full, let alone studied it. They don’t know who wrote it, or when, or how it came to be in its final form. Nor are they aware of the inconsistencies and contradictions it contains.

If they read it, knew its history and thought about it, Christians would realise that the Gospel accounts of the resurrection are just as implausible as a three day old mangled dead body coming back to life would be today!

The church says the contradictions don’t matter, but they would, wouldn’t they? What matters is that believers accept their version of events without question, as a matter of faith, without letting inconvenient facts getting in the way.

But surely for the New Testament stories to have any real value they must be substantially true, which means historically accurate. Otherwise they are on the same par as the Tales of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and other stories written to make a point – thought provoking but works of fiction nonetheless.

What the Gospels Actually Say

The church claims that the entire New Testament was written by people who were all either present at the events they describe or who spoke to eyewitnesses and then presented accurate, unembellished accounts of what they saw or heard.

But this simply isn’t true!

The earliest gospel was written around 70 CE, and most Biblical scholars agree that it is probably the most historically reliable. The second and third were written around 80-90 CE and the fourth between 99-100 CE. All four were unnamed until the late second century when the names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were ascribed. But they didn’t reach their final form until much later, after they had been translated and mistranslated many times and many additions and redactions had been made.

The longer the period between the actual events, the writing of the manuscript and its reaching its final form, the more embellished became the story.

The earliest New Testament writings are seven of the letters attributed to Paul of Tarsus (Thessalonians 1, Philippians, Philemon, Corinthians 1 and 2, Galatians and Romans). These date from 53-58 CE, a quarter of a century after the crucifixion. The other letters in Paul’s name were written much later after his death, not by him.

Paul had met with at least two of the disciples who knew Yeshua, Peter and James, yet he never claimed a physical resurrection. He wrote that Yeshua appeared in changed form. He wrote (1 Corinthians 15: 3-7): ‘For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received,’ and went on to report a number of ‘appearances’ to the twelve disciples (strange – after Judas’s suicide there were only supposed to be eleven) and to a wider group of believers.

The First Gospel (later named ‘Mark’) originally ended with the body missing and an angel telling the disciples to return to Galilee where they would see him. They were clearly not expecting this, and fled in terror (Mark 16:5-8). Much later, another section was added by an unknown author (Mark 16:9-19) in which Yeshua ‘appeared’ to them several times and spoke. Nowhere did either author claim that he had risen in bodily form.

The Second and Third Gospels (written around 80-90 CE and subsequently named ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’) used the First as a guide and added their resurrection narratives. reported dozens of sightings, although their accounts are remarkably inconsistent. Most of them began and ended mysteriously, for instance, he ‘drew near,’ then ‘disappeared from sight’ like a ghost.

The Third Gospel expanded the story, adding several more appearances in which Yeshua ‘came near’ and ‘stood among them’, showed them his wounds, ate fish, then vanished. Later, he ‘withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.’ (Luke 24:51) None of these incidents are found in the other Gospels. Moreover, far from fleeing to Galilee, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and ‘were continually in the temple.’ (Luke 24:50) Perhaps he wasn’t sure of his facts or like any good journalist didn’t want to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The Acts of the Apostles, written by the same author as the Third Gospel, merely says he ‘presented himself alive’ to the disciples over a forty day period.

By the time the fourth Gospel was written, it was clear that most Jews did not accept Yeshua as the Messiah, and this was reflected in the increasingly exaggerated claims made on his behalf.

Whereas the first three Gospel writers portray Yeshua as what G-d would be like if he took human form, the Fourth Gospel (‘John’) thought he was G-d! This work is regarded by scholars as an abstract work of theology rather than a serious attempt at historical accuracy. Here Yeshua appeared to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb but warned her not to touch him since he had not yet ‘ascended to the Father’. (John 20:17)  Later he ‘stood among’ the disciples and invited ‘doubting’ Thomas to touch his wounds. He also he appeared to different disciples on various occasions, in one instance filling their nets full of fish and offering bread and fish for breakfast. On this occasion, in common with most of his ‘appearances’, they did not recognise him immediately.

The Gospels agree on only two details – that the tomb was found empty on the third day after the crucifixion, and that Mary Magdalene was one of those who discovered the empty tomb. None of them say that Yeshua was seen walking out of the tomb, nor do they explain how he was seen fully clothed, considering the burial clothes were left in situ.

What happened to the body?

The Second Gospel has an interesting postscript that illustrates the writers’ dilemma: explaining what happened to Yeshua’s body. According to ‘Matthew’, the Jewish leaders, petrified of what would happen if the word got out that Yeshua had come back to life, paid the soldiers guarding the tomb to spread the story that the disciples came by night and stole the body while they were asleep. ‘This story is still told among the Jews to this day,’ he wrote fifty years after the crucifixion. (Matthew 28:15).

It was normal practice to leave crucified bodies on the crosses until the vultures had torn off the flesh, then remove the bones and dispose of them in sulphur pits outside the city used as a crematorium. It is highly probable that this is what happened to Yeshua’s body too.

But to say so would not have suited the gospel writers. Instead they wrote that Pilate allowed the body to be taken by an influential follower and placed in a sealed tomb. Quite why the Pilate would have allowed this particular troublemaker to be given special treatment is unclear.

When Yeshua died, his disciples were scared and confused, their hopes that the ‘kingdom of God’ was about to appear and reform the world shattered. Then, as the decades rolled by, their successors began to see him as the personification of G-d, and then G-d himself in human form. But how could G-d die? How could they execute G-d as a common criminal and leave his remains to rot in a sulphur pit?

Hence the Easter stories transformed Yeshua’s death and abject defeat into a noble sacrifice, the triumph of life over death, the victory of the Saviour over the Romans and the ultimate vindication despite not being recognised as the Messiah by the Jews. This was their purpose.

A miraculous presence

Apart from the apparent disappearance of the body, the only other historical fact of which we can be sure is that some of Yeshua’s followers believed that they felt the miraculous presence of their dead Master and perhaps saw visions of him. We can’t say exactly what these, but they obviously felt real because many of them suffered and died for it. It’s not unusual for bereaved people today to ‘see’ a departed loved one or ‘feel’ their presence – it happened to me when my father died.

But, in common with Paul, Peter, James and the authors of the First and Second Gospels, I don’t believe his body came back to life in a physical sense. If he had, the events would surely have been mentioned in the historical records of the day, not just the Gospels, and the Jewish population would surely have been won over. But they weren’t.

Diabolical Mimicry

There were many myths concerning a dying and resurrected god-man across the Middle East from the 5th Century BCE onward. In Egypt:

  • He was God made flesh, the Son of God.
  • His mother was a mortal virgin.
  • He was born in a humble cowshed before three shepherds.
  • He turned water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
  • He rode triumphantly on a donkey while people waved palm leaves to honour him.
  • He died, and on the third day rose from the dead and ascended to heaven in glory.
  • His followers awaited his return as judge in the last days.
  • His death and resurrection were celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine which symbolised his body and blood.

This was not Yeshua ben Yosef, the man whose life inspired the Christian religion, but the Egyptian god-man Osiris, five hundred years before his birth! The similarities were so obvious that the Second Century Roman satirist Celsus described Christianity as ‘diabolical mimicry’ and accused Yeshua of ‘having invented his birth from a virgin’. But this is unfair – Yeshua knew nothing about this (and neither did his mother) since the virgin birth stories were invented long after their death.

Of course, the resurrection is not verifiable in a factual/historical sense. You either believe it or you don’t. If you believe, no evidence, no insights, no knowledge, no common sense will shake your belief.  That’s the way the human mind works; it’s also the nature of belief.

© David Lawrence Preston, 25.3.2018

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

David Lawrence Preston illuminates biblical inconsistencies in new book

David Lawrence Preston illuminates biblical inconsistencies in new book

A historical/factual perspective on Christian doctrine, discrepancies therein contained

BOURNEMOUTH, England — David Lawrence Preston notes that he was inspired to write “201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)” (published by Balboa Press) after his investigation of Christian doctrine, which lead to the discovery of a significant amount of inaccuracies and contradictions within the canon text. Here, he labors to irradiate these inconsistencies while still finding value in Christian mythology from a non-religious viewpoint.

Preston dismantles discrepancies with clear language, intent on instruction for the wider public. The 201 points format provides further accessibility to the reader. Preston aims to inform people about scripture in the Bible they may not have otherwise been aware of had they ended their religious education after Sunday school.

An excerpt from “201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)”:

“If I have to believe in a virgin birth, voices from the sky, walking on water, dead and decomposing bodies coming back to life and a man being carried up to heaven on a cloud before I can realise my spirituality, then Christianity hinders me. It’s a barrier. I can study it, learn from it and borrow the sayings and parables that make sense to me. The rest I can reject without fear of eternal damnation (a loving God wouldn’t do that to me anyway). That’s what more and more people are doing in this enlightened age.”

More information is available at http://blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk/.

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

 

“201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)”

By David Lawrence Preston

Hardcover | 5.5 x 8.5 in | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336994

Softcover | 5.5 x 8.5 in | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336970

E-Book | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336987

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

 

About the Author

David Lawrence Preston is a speaker, life coach and author specializing in life enrichment, holistic health and spirituality. His interest in Christianity dates back to his school days and his passion researching the world’s great spiritual traditions. He lives by the sea on the South Coast of England, where he dedicates himself to helping create a kinder, more authentic and spiritual world.

 

He Never Came Back (Even Though He Promised)

Social media recently reported that a Roman Catholic Cardinal, Georgio Salvadore, has stated that it looks as if Jesus Christ is not coming back, thus refuting a core Christian doctrine that lasted for nearly two thousand years. The cardinal is said to have then astounded his audience by claiming that when Jesus promised to return he must have been drunk!

Christians at first were upon in arms and later relaxed when the word spread it was a hoax. Apparently there is no such person as Cardinal Georgio Salvadore.

Even so, the fictional  Cardinal was touching on a raw nerve. The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke, originally written between 70 CE and 85 CE) make it perfectly clear that their prophet, known as Yeshua in his lifetime, promised many times before his death that he would return at Father God’s instigation to establish the kingdom of God on Earth, and he would do so within a generation.

If you doubt this, take a look at Mark 9:1: ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.’ If that doesn’t convinced you, Mark 1:15 reports him as saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

He reaffirmed it in his Last Supper speech, telling his disciples, ‘I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it with you in my Father’s kingdom’ (Matthew 26:29). He didn’t mean a kingdom somewhere else and in the far distant future, but right here on Earth within the lifetime of those present.

By the time the Fourth Gospel was written around the turn of the 1st century, it was already clear that Yeshua’s prophetic words had been empty. Christians were embarrassed and widely mocked. He had not returned, and far from God establishing a kingdom for the Jews, the Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed by the Romans along with the rest of the city. Jews who survived had scattered in fear of their lives. That’s why the Fourth Gospel hardly mentions the supposed return.

It’s also why the last book of the New Testament to be written, the Second Letter attributed to (but not actually written by) Peter, felt the need to make excuses for the uncomfortable fact that the kingdom promised by Yeshua nearly a century earlier had still not materialised. ‘Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,’ it pleads, ‘that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.’ (2 Peter 3:8)

Why doesn’t the church have more to say about this part of Yeshua’s message? Is it because they worry that bringing it to people’s attention would make a vital part of his core teachings irrelevant in our time? After all, he was wrong. The world was not transformed within the lifetime of his disciples. God did not appear, and neither did he. And he probably never will.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 7.11.17

 

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015

David Lawrence Preston highlights biblical inconsistencies in new book

Front cover 201 things

A historical/factual perspective on Christian doctrine.

BOURNEMOUTH, England — David Lawrence Preston was inspired to write “201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)” (published by Balboa Press) after his investigation of Christian doctrine. It led to the discovery of a huge number of inaccuracies and contradictions. He highlights these inconsistencies and asks what value Christian doctrine has since it is based on shaky foundations.

Preston dismantles discrepancies with clear language, intent on instruction for the wider public. The 201 points format provides further accessibility to the reader. Preston aims to inform people about scripture in the Bible they may not have otherwise been aware of had they ended their religious education after Sunday school.

An excerpt from “201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)”:

“If I have to believe in a virgin birth, voices from the sky, walking on water, dead and decomposing bodies coming back to life and a man being carried up to heaven on a cloud before I can realise my spirituality, then Christianity hinders me. It’s a barrier. I can study it, learn from it and borrow the sayings and parables that make sense to me. The rest I can reject without fear of eternal damnation (a loving God wouldn’t do that to me anyway). That’s what more and more people are doing in this enlightened age.”

More information is available at http://blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk/.

 

“201 Things about Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To)”

By David Lawrence Preston

Hardcover | 5.5 x 8.5 in | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336994

Softcover | 5.5 x 8.5 in | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336970

E-Book | 250 pages | ISBN 9781504336987

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

 

About the Author

David Lawrence Preston is a speaker and author specializing in life enrichment, holistic health and spirituality. His interest in Christianity dates back to his school days and his passion researching the world’s great spiritual traditions. He lives on the South Coast of England where he dedicates himself to helping create a kinder, gentler, more authentic and spiritual world.

Facebook and Twitter

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

 

Is it possible to come up with a modern concept of G_d, based on 21st Century knowledge?

What can we say about the Christian G_d that is taught in schools, worshipped in churches and referred to in religious broadcasts every day of the week?

Is it possible to come up with a modern concept of G_d, based on 21st Century knowledge?

G_d

  • It (if you are uncomfortable calling G_d ‘it’, I suggest you examine your religious programming) is the sole reason why the universe and everything in it exists and functions as it does.
  • It is everywhere, in everything and ever present at all times.
  • It is all knowing.
  • It can willfully intervene in the world and frequently does.
  • It can make things happen which defy the known laws of science and nature.
  • It can make things happen instantaneously, such as healing without going through the usual intermediate steps.
  • It knows all our innermost thoughts. It speaks to us individuals, and listens to us too.
  • We each have a personal relationship with it.
  • It is intimately concerned about our personal virtue and constantly watches us. At the end of our earthly lives it will judge us. Only those who meet its stringent criteria will be granted salvation. So will those who sincerely ask forgiveness for their wrongdoings and repent.
  • It loves us unconditionally.
  • We can ask it for what we want and, depending how well behaved we are, we will receive.
  • It is to be worshipped, obeyed, thanked and praised.
  • Although G_d is omnipotent, it has granted humans free will. We make our own choices, but if we choose unwisely we suffer the consequences.

You will have noticed that most of the conceptions of G_d were identified long ago, when humans were relatively ignorant about the world and the universe, limited to a narrow geographical area and guided largely by superstition. For example, the Biblical passages that first describe the Jewish G_d were written around 950-800 BCE, and the letters of Paul of Tarsus that conceptualised the Christian G_d around 54-60 CE.

Could we scientifically weigh up the evidence and make a rational, reasoned judgement? This has been tried, without success; there simply is no evidence for a being, entity or force matching these criteria.

And there probably never will be!

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 4.8.2017

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Visit blog.davidlawrencepreston.co.uk

Now available through Amazon and all good book shops on Balboa Press:

Front cover 201 things

 

 

 

Yeshua’s Greatest Hits

20

The Transfiguration

Yeshua takes three of his disciples up a mountain to pray. Suddenly, his face changes, his body is transformed and his clothes become dazzling white light. The prophets Moses and Elijah appear and engage him in conversation. A cloud overshadows them, and a voice says, ‘This is my son, my chosen, listen to him.’ The disciples turn away, terrified, and fall to the ground. Wisely, on their return to civilisation, they choose to keep quiet about what they have seen. Even in those days, one could be locked up for telling tall stories!

(Mark 9:2-10)

19

Ask and you shall receive

‘Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,’ proclaimed Yeshua. People loved it, and they still do. If all you have to do is ask, then let’s ask for whatever we want – money, fame, youth, new toys, Pacific cruise, why not? Unfortunately for those craving the material things in life, Yeshua was not talking about earthly, but spiritual riches. Hence this oft quoted saying is understood by few – including, one imagines, Howard Hughes and the unfortunate King Midas.

(Matt 7:7-8)

18

Sharp words

Everyone enjoys seeing a bully humiliated and unable to retaliate, and when Yeshua let fly, he let fly! ‘You brood of vipers,’ he exclaimed with a group of Pharisees in his sights, ‘you hypocrites,’ ‘you snakes, how can you escape the sentence of hell?’ How the audience enjoyed his outbursts! (There is no record of what he did for an encore.)

(Matt 12:34, Matt 23: 29-33)

17

The Last Supper

Before being led away to his death, Yeshua shared bread and wine with his disciples and, in an impressive demonstration of clairvoyance, let slip that he knew which of them would betray him. Who would have thought that two thousand years after the event, people the world over would still be breaking bread and sipping wine mimicking a symbolic act intended only for those present at the time? Incredibly some of these people believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Yeshua! Yuk!

(Mark 14: 17-25)

16

Washing the disciples’ feet

A demonstration of service and humility that would not go amiss in the boardrooms and corridors of power in every land.

(John 13:4-10)

15

The Prodigal Son

A cautionary tale loved especially by young men who have left home, messed up and crawled home expecting a warm welcome, a good meal and new clothes. A lesson for the elder brother in controlling jealousy too. Poor thing – he thinks he’s missed out, but doesn’t realise he had it all, all the time. Perhaps he should spare a thought for the fatted calf! There are always others worse off than yourself.

(Luke 15:11-32)

14

Love your enemies

Yeshua’s great injunction is admirable but rarely put into practise. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ he said. ‘For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?’ So, come on people of the world – and that includes you all you politicians, and religious leaders – shape up!

(Matt 5:44-46)

13

The crucifix: a universal symbol of fellowship

Bit gruesome, this one, and not of Yeshua’s making for he was long dead before the idea caught on. It owes much to the misogynist and religious obsessive Paul of Tarsus who wrote, for example, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God;’ and, ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ Strangely, some are more inspired by Yeshua’s ghastly death than his exemplary life.

(1 Corinthians, 1:18 and Galatians 6:14)

12

The Lord’s Prayer

Two thousand years after being dictated to a massed throng, various translations and mis-translations of the Lord’s Prayer – surely the world’s favourite prayer (even more so than the Prayer of Saint Francis) – are recited by millions on a daily basis. All together now:

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.’

(Matt 6: 9-13)

11

A novel way of paying taxes

Yeshua is reminded that even the Messiah has to pay taxes, so he sends a disciple to the lake and tells him next time he catches a fish, to open its mouth, and he will find a coin sufficient to clear their arrears. (If only it were always so easy!) So if you plan to go fishing when the wife wants you to do some jobs around the house, tell her this! But bear in mind, nowhere does it say Peter took Yeshua’s advice.

(Matt 17: 24-27)

10

Ascending to heaven on a cloud

Acts of the Apostles tells us that forty days after returning from the dead, Yeshua told his disciples that they would soon receive a great power and preach his message to the ends of the earth. Then a cloud took him out of their sight. Two white-robed men then appeared and said that he would one day come in the same way as he went. So if you ever see a man descending on a cloud, that’s him!

Incidentally, Luke’s Gospel says he ascended ‘soon’ after the resurrection. We know that the two accounts were written by the same author – dementia, perhaps?

(Acts 1: 9-11 and Luke, Chapter 24)

9

The Sermon on the Mount

The greatest piece of oratory ever? Even Monty Python were inspired by the birds of the air and the lilies of the field! Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Churchill’s wartime speeches or Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ don’t even come close.

Original version: Luke 6:20-49

Extended long playing version with sampled bonus material: Matt 5, 6 and 7

8

Casting out demons

Yeshua cast out a host of demons from a madman and sent them into a herd of pigs. The pigs, it is said, stampeded into a lake and drowned. Impressive, but tough on the pigs!

(Mark 5:1-13)

7

The feeding of the five thousand

Five thousand people, starving after a hard day’s hero-worshiping, fed to excess by five loaves and two small fishes. Beat that, Sai Baba! Would be usefully replicated in places like Eritrea, Darfur and the Congo. Where’s G_d when you need it?

(Mark 6: 30-44)

6

Render unto Caesar: a stunning riposte

Everyone enjoys seeing a smart-ass humiliated with a neat reply. In this case, a group of Herodians asked Yeshua a trick question: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Yeshua knew that if he said yes he would alienate his followers, and if he said no he would be arrested by the Romans. So he took a coin and asked them whose image was on it. ‘Casear’s,’ they replied. Then he told them to give the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to G_d the things that are G_d’s. Game, set and match! How today’s politicians wish they could emulate this stunning riposte!

(Matt 22: 15-22)

5

Throwing the bankers out of the temple

Wouldn’t everyone like to see bankers, currency dealers and speculators get their comeuppance? Well try this: go into the head branch of any bank, open the tills and tip the contents on the floor. Tell the manager his bank is nothing but a den of robbers, then try to leave. See how far you get

(Mark 11:15)

4

Walking on water

Cephas couldn’t do it, but Yeshua could. Even Evel Knievel never managed this – nor Houdini, nor David Blaine –  the ultimate stunt for show-offs!

(Matt 14:25-32)

3

Raising Lazarus from the dead

Lazarus had been dead for four days and making quite a stench when Yeshua brought his rotting corpse back to life. Isn’t it amazing that G_d continues to allow such suffering in the world if his son is capable of such feats?

(John 11:1-44)

2

Rising from the dead

There’s plenty of speculation on this one, and no-one except Yeshua really knows the truth. Even so, it’s quite a claim and, amazingly, a quarter of the world’s population believe it!

(See, for example, Matt 28:1-20 and John 20:1-30)

1

Changing water into wine

The ultimate party piece! He did it for his mother (doesn’t everyone want to please their mother?) Amazingly, in surveys eight out of ten said they would rather be able to turn water in to wine than come back from the dead.

(John 2:1-10)

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 30.7.2017

 

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015. Available through Amazon and other retailers.

 

The truth about Ascension and Pentecost

Pentecost and Ascension

In 1st Century Palestine (and throughout the Western World), the Earth was believed to be flat. Heaven, where God lived, was above the clouds and hell below ground. So when two of the gospels, ‘Mark’ and ‘Luke’, said that the risen Master was carried up to heaven and placed at the right hand of God,[1] this accorded with the worldview of their readers, as did Acts when the author (the same man who wrote the Gospel of Luke) wrote that the disciples watched as Yeshua was ‘lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.’[2]  Interestingly, the other two gospels have nothing to say on the subject.

Now we know there’s nothing unusual about New Testament books contradicting each other, but here something even more remarkable happens: the same author, the man who wrote both ‘Luke’ and Acts, contradicts himself.  In ‘Luke’s’ Gospel he says the Ascension happened soon after the post-resurrection appearances, probably the same day; in Acts he says the Christ figure appeared for forty days before a cloud took him away.

Of course, very few people – apart from a handful of nutters willing to disregard 500 years of scientific knowledge – still believe in a three-storey world with hell below and a heaven above. The prospect of a man being physically lifted up into the sky on a cloud is ludicrous now we know the Earth is a globe and there’s only space above the clouds; but, if you are to take Christianity literally and the Bible as factual truth, you are required to believe that this actually happened!

Yeshua’s return

The early Christians believed that their prophet, Yeshua bar Yehosef, would soon return to Earth to establish the Kingdom of God and save those who believed in him from eternal annihilation. Many modern day Christians still believe this and it is regularly expounded from church pulpits on Sundays. Most do not specify a timescale. The Gospel writers clearly thought it would happen in their own time since Yeshua has promised it within a generation.

Most do not feel the need to explain why it has not yet happened, nor do they explain how he will return. If he really is ‘up there’ somewhere, can we expect him to float down on another cloud or strap on a parachute, or what? If so it would be worth seeing!

Pentecost

Two Gospels end with Yeshua’s ascension; ‘Acts of the Apostles’ begins with the events of Pentecost.

At Pentecost, Acts says the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem when a sound came from heaven, tongues of fire rested on each of them and they were filled with the ‘Holy Spirit’.  They began to speak in other languages and onlookers thought they were drunk.  Cephas (Peter) then delivered a speech aimed only at Jews announcing Yeshua as the Messiah and urging them to repent and be baptised.

Thus began a chapter in the life of the early church in which the disciples (now called ‘apostles’) travelled widely spreading their message, not always to receptive audiences. Resistance among Jews who did not believe in Yeshua as the Messiah grew. There were many reports of riots among sceptical Romans and Jews. Some apostles  died horrible deaths; some were executed. But somehow the religion spread, and much of the credit is due to the tent maker, mystic, man of letters, former Pharisee and religious fanatic, Paul of Tarsus.

Whether you believe the Ascension and Pentecost stories are literally true is, of course, a matter for you. But looked at through 21st Century eyes, there are plenty of reasons to doubt!

©David Lawrence Preston, 3.5.2017

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter

Balboa Press, 2015

 

[1] Mark 16:19 (in the coda); Luke 24:51

[2] Acts 1:9

Easter Myth #10: Yeshua’s immediate followers believed he was the Son of G_d

Ten Easter Myths

Most leading historians, archaeologists and linguists don’t believe that the four official Christian Gospels can be relied upon as accurate records of historical fact. Most Christians aren’t aware of the inconsistencies in the scriptures because they have never read them from cover to cover. The gospels are riddled with factual errors, contradictions and unsupported statements that challenge the very basis of the religion.

This series presents ten myths about the Easter stories drawing on Gospel sources and historical records from the period.

Myth #10: Yeshua’s contemporary followers believed he was G_d’s messenger

There is no concrete evidence that Yeshua was seen as G_d’s unique messenger around the time of his death, let alone the Messiah or Son of G_d.

But beliefs about him continued to evolve. As the 1st Century CE progressed, Christians began to experience his memory in new ways. His followers came to believe that he was more than just a great prophet and teacher, but the very incarnation of G_d. By the time the Fourth Gospel was written around the turn of the century he was no longer seen as a person of flesh and blood, but a supernatural being free of restrictions in time and space. He had become G_d.

Today, Easter – the day he is said to have come back from the dead – is unquestionably the most important day of the Christian calendar, although Christmas is celebrated more enthusiastically. Christians believe it because the gospels say it happened, or so they think. But the gospels are far from clear on the nature of the ‘resurrection’ or the timing of the ‘Ascension’, and most Christians aren’t even aware of the inconsistencies in the scriptures.

The Easter stories transformed Yeshua’s abject shame and defeat into a noble sacrifice, the triumph of life over death, victory over the Romans and his ultimate vindication before G_d. Easter became the crux of traditional Christianity, marking the beginning of the process by which a humble but brave teacher and religious zealot from Galilee became transformed in the minds of his later followers into their saviour, Messiah, judge, way-shower and G_d.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 11.2.2017

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Balboa Press 2015

Easter Myth #9: Early Christians quickly adopted the sign of the cross

Ten Easter Myths

Most leading historians, archaeologists and linguists don’t believe that the four official Christian Gospels can be relied upon as accurate records of historical fact. For instance, the Easter stories are highly dubious as factual accounts.

On Easter Day Christians believe their saviour came back to life and was seen in corporeal form for several weeks before ascending on a cloud to ‘heaven’. This is the very basis of their religion.

They believe it because the gospels say it happened, or so they think. But most Christians aren’t aware that the gospels are riddled with factual errors, contradictions and unsupported statements that challenge the very basis of the religion.

This series presents ten myths about the Easter stories drawing on Gospel sources and historical records from the period.

Myth #9: Early Christians quickly adopted the sign of the cross as their symbol

The cross (or crucifix) is the main symbol of Christianity. In churches it is often shown on a portrait or statue showing a contorted male in agony, festooned with thorns and dripping with blood. At Easter time, wooden crosses are carried through the streets in many countries.

However, the earliest Christian art (dating from the 1st Century) doesn’t show the sign of the cross but the fish (signifying Yeshua’s connection with the fishing trade). The cross was considered shameful since crucifixion was reserved for the lowest criminals. The first reference to Christians using the cross as a symbol date from around 200 CE in North Africa. Christians there traced the sign of the cross across their foreheads. This has remained part of the baptism ceremony although nowadays it is usually made across the abdomen as a form of blessing or protection.

The use of the crucifix as a symbol owes much to Paul of Tarsus. He wrote, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of G_d;’ and, ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’[1]

Personally I would prefer to see the benign image of the statue of Christ the Redeemer which looks on the world from the top of Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro as the universal symbol of love and compassion. I think Yeshua would probably agree.

 

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 11.2.2017

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Balboa Press 2015

[1]1 Corinthians, 1:18 and Galatians 6:14

Easter Myth #8: The risen Yeshua appeared to hundreds of ordinary people

Ten Easter Myths

Most leading historians, archaeologists and linguists are extremely doubtful that the four official Christian Gospels can be relied upon as accurate records of historical fact. For example, the Easter stories are highly dubious as factual accounts.

Easter is unquestionably the most important day of the Christian calendar. On Easter Day Christians believe their saviour Yeshua came back to life and was seen in corporeal form for several weeks before ascending on a cloud to ‘heaven’. This is the very basis of their religion.

They believe it because the gospels say it happened, or so they think. But most Christians aren’t aware of the inconsistencies in the scriptures.

Myth #8: The risen Yeshua appeared to hundreds of ordinary people

Paul of Tarsus claimed that the risen Yeshua appeared to over five hundred people. We have no way over verifying this number of people felt they had had this experience; however they all had one very important thing in common –  Paul’s letters state that  all were Christian believers.

Why? If the Jewish people as a whole, or both Jews and gentiles, were his intended audience, why not appear to believers and non-believers alike?

Psychologists tell us that we are just as likely to see what we believe as believe what we see. In other words, our beliefs colour our perceptions. There’s no verifiable evidence for a physical resurrection, just the words of a handful of devoted people keen to show that G-d vindicated Yeshua even though its chosen people had not recognised him as the Messiah?

It seems surprising to non-Christians that otherwise reasonable people in the 21st century should so readily believe tales such as these, but we should remember that closed communities tend to conform to the prevailing beliefs of the group, whether Christians, Scientologists, Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.

Of course, the resurrection cannot be verified. You either believe that the gospel writers told nothing but the truth, or you don’t. (If you do, you still have to explain which of the conflicting New Testament versions you believe.)

Regardless of the facts, whatever you decide to believe is true – for you. That’s the way the human mind works.

©David Lawrence Preston, 1.3.2017

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Balboa Press 2015