What's particularly interesting about this is that the specific way in which the birth narratives were made up turns out to be strong evidence that Jesus actually did exist historically. If the whole Jesus Christ myth was not based on a historical figure, the authors would have left out everything about Nazareth and cleanly said Jesus was born and raised in the City of David, as promised. But it's clear that the audience knew that Jesus was from Nazareth, and in order to cast the historical Jesus as the promised Messiah, they needed to make up a story about how he was really born in Bethlehem.Physics Guy wrote: ↑Thu May 07, 2020 5:25 amI'm not an expert on New Testament by any means, but my understanding is that there are enough points on which Matthew and Luke agree, yet which are absent from Mark, that the existence of a lost written source "Q" has been inferred. So it's not true that wherever Mark was silent Matthew and Luke made things up independently. That sure does seem to have been what they did for the birth narratives but that's not what they did the whole time.
My point is that the gospels are hodgepodges and the two birth narratives are by far the hodgiest parts. To make out that their wild divergence is typical of the whole Jesus story is seriously misleading. The whole story isn't nearly that bad, and there are obvious reasons why the birth narratives would be expected to be much less reliable than the rest.
My understanding is that the "Q source" was just a collection of Jesus' teachings and parables, but doesn't actually contain any biographical details of his life. It's an interesting theory, but I have no idea why it isn't just as likely that Luke was based on Mark, and Matthew was based on Luke.
In any case, it seems fair to concede that when looking at the biographical details of Jesus' life, the points where Mark and John agree really happened, or at a minimum were based on an early common source or widely told story. This gets us to Jesus being a preacher from Nazareth who was once a disciple of John the Baptist, that he taught in parables, healed the sick, performed some miracles, and was crucified by Pontius Pilate.
In general, Hitchens skates a bit too close to the Jesus Mythicist crowd for my taste, but even then, he does articulate the Nazareth argument as being strong evidence in favor of Jesus actually existing historically.
Here is another passage that better illustrates where Hitchens is coming from (this is ending a long analysis of the story of the woman who was almost stoned for being "taken into adultery" but was then forgiven because only non-sinners can cast the first stone):
If the New Testament is supposed to vindicate Moses, why are the gruesome laws of the Pentateuch to be undermined? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the killing of witches may seem brutish and stupid, but if only non-sinners have the right to punish, then how could an imperfect society ever determine how to prosecute offenders? We should all be hypocrites. And what authority did Jesus have to “forgive”? Presumably, at least one wife or husband somewhere in the city felt cheated and outraged. Is Christianity, then, sheer sexual permissiveness? If so, it has been gravely misunderstood ever since. And what was being written on the ground? Nobody knows, again. Furthermore, the story says that after the Pharisees and the crowd had melted away (presumably from embarrassment), nobody was left except Jesus and the woman. In that case, who is the narrator of what he said to her? For all that, I thought it a fine enough story.
Professor Ehrman goes further. He asks some more obvious questions. If the woman was “taken in adultery,” which means in flagrante delicto, then where is her male partner? Mosaic law, adumbrated in Leviticus, makes it clear that both must undergo the stoning. I suddenly realized that the core of the story’s charm is that of the shivering lonely girl, hissed at and dragged away by a crowd of sex-starved fanatics, and finally encountering a friendly face. As to the writing in the dust, Ehrman mentions an old tradition which postulates that Jesus was scrawling the known transgressions of others present, thus leading to blushing and shuffling and eventually to hasty departure. I find I love this idea, even if it would mean a level of worldly curiosity and prurience (and foresight) on his part that raises its own difficulties.
Overarching all this is the shocking fact that, as Ehrman concedes:
"The story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel."