How Legends Develop in Our Own Time

How Legends Develop in Our Own Time July 10, 2018

Health foods were popular in the Victorian period—foods such as Kellogg’s corn flakes, Grape-Nuts cereal, and graham crackers all came from food fads of this time—but the most interesting story might be that of Horace Fletcher, “The Great Masticator.” He advocated a low-protein diet, said that more efficient digestion could halve the amount of food a person needed, and claimed that capacity for work would increase and need for sleep decrease with his methods.

Chewing was the key. He famously warned, “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate” and advised, “Chew all solid food until it is liquid and practically swallows itself.” Success could be measured when bowel movements (“digestive ash,” as he called it) were negligible and had “no more odor than a hot biscuit.”

At age 54, he easily performed the exercises given to the Yale varsity crew though he “had for several months past taken practically no exercise other than that involved in daily walks about town.” At 58, he beat Yale athletes on tests of strength and endurance. He said that “perfect alimentary education” would deliver to society “no slums, no degeneracy, no criminals, no policemen, [and] no criminal courts.”

Should we all become Fletcherites?

Some of these are just handwaving promises (calories halved or no criminals, for example). But some are tests with places, dates, and quotes from named professors, such as the claims of physical strength and endurance. What do we make of this?

I’m skeptical. Maybe Fletcher embellished his claims. Maybe other authors reporting on the benefits of Fletcherism were caught up in the excitement and passed on stories without fact checking. Fletcherism might have been popular, but we must distinguish popularity from the truth of health claims (astrology is popular, but that doesn’t mean that the planets influence our lives).

The biggest issue is that we’ve had a century of scientific progress since Fletcher, and no science predicts that his simple regime could deliver what he claimed. Society today gives plenty of encouragement for new eating regimes, valid or bogus, and yet nothing has come of Fletcher’s philosophy.

Fletcherism vs. Christianity

This is an over-the-top story about a guy a century ago that we can see through, but we’re to believe the far more fantastic Jesus story?

For starters, Fletcher makes bold claims, but they’re all natural claims. They can be tested. By contrast, the Jesus story is nothing without its supernatural parts. The “like what?” test applies here. You say Jesus is supernatural? Like what? There is no accepted precedent for the remarkable supernatural claims made about Jesus.

We have originals of Fletcher’s story, written in our own language and coming from our own Western culture. There are no copyist errors and no puzzling idioms to decipher. Contrast that with the difficulty of reading the Bible. Native speakers from millennia past didn’t provide us with Ancient Greek-English or Ancient Hebrew-English dictionaries, so modern scholars must create their own imperfect ones. Not all words are easy to interpret. For example, the Hebrew reem was a puzzle, as in this sentence: “Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the reem.” It’s now translated as “wild ox,” but the King James Version translated it nine times as “unicorn.” Scholarly theological papers are written analyzing single Bible verses or phrases.

Fletcher’s story can be explained by some combination of wishful thinking, error, deliberate lie, and legendary growth. Why wouldn’t that very unsurprising explanation apply to the gospel story as well? We don’t have the originals of the New Testament books, and an average of 200 years separates the individual chapters of Matthew from the originals, to take one example (more on this time gap here).

I’ve made a similar comparison between the claims of Mormonism and Christianity (guess which one wins), and I argue that the Jesus story is a legend here.

The Argument from History

A popular Christian argument from history goes like this: you say the historical record for Jesus is poor? We show the gospel story is true in the same way that you show that the story of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar is true, through the historical record. You want to discard the gospel story? Then be consistent and discard the story of every great figure in ancient history.

In the first place, the evidence for Alexander and Julius Caesar is far better than that for Jesus (more here and here). And second, historians scrub out supernatural claims for historical accounts. Remove the supernatural from the stories of Alexander and Caesar (yes, there was plenty), and you have the accounts of those great men from history. But remove the supernatural from the Jesus story, and you’re left with nothing—just an ordinary, uninteresting man.

Let’s zoom out from this critique of Jesus vs. Alexander to bring in a more contemporary giant of history, Horace Fletcher. Point by point, the Fletcher story beats the Jesus story on its own criteria—shorter cultural gap, shorter period of oral history, more reliable copies, and so on. Until Christian apologists embrace the great truths of The Great Masticator, I will conclude that they are applying their standards inconsistently.

More modern legends

Let me pile on with more modern legends. With each one, ask yourself: if this can happen today, with our modern understanding of science, geography, anthropology, and what’s plausible, how reliable a foundation can Christianity have been built on?

  • According to a story begun in the early 1980s, astronaut Neil Armstrong heard the Muslim call to prayer on the moon and converted to Islam. Who would give such a ridiculous story credence? Enough people, apparently, that it was worth Armstrong denying the story in 2005.
  • Did you hear the one about how Pope Francis would sneak out of the Vatican disguised as a priest and minister to the homeless? This was popular early in his papacy, but it is false. How can a false story about the whereabouts of one of the world’s most famous people get going? And if that’s possible, what might you expect 2000 years ago after forty years of oral history in a prescientific melting pot of different religious beliefs?
  • Atheist Hector Avalos, in a 2004 debate with William Lane Craig, said that as a Pentecostal preacher, he had people raised from the dead in his own church.
  • The story of John Frum and cargo cults is a fascinating modern example of legend developing among pre-scientific people.
  • Is Barak Obama a Muslim? A 2015 CNN poll showed that 29 percent of Americans think so (and more than half of Republicans, depending on the poll).
  • How many people thought that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11? It took more than two years for the fraction of Americans who thought that he was behind it to drop below fifty percent (source).
  • The Gilligan’s Island sitcom began airing on television in 1964, and the U.S. Coast Guard received telegrams urging them to rescue the stranded people. (And this was a show with a laugh track.)
  • Did you know that North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was the world’s best golfer, despite only playing the game once? He shot eleven holes in one in a single 18-round game. He was also a fashion trendsetter, he had a supernatural birth, and he didn’t poop.
  • Remember the violence in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina? The Associated Press reported, “Storm victims were raped and beaten, fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as flooded-out New Orleans descended into anarchy today” (“today” being September 1, 2005). The reports were wildly exaggerated. There was looting, though most of it seemed to have been people looking for food and water. There were hundreds of dead, but these were caused by the hurricane, not from violence. There were several shooting deaths, but these were from police.
  • You can’t buy an electric fan in South Korea with a simple on/off switch. They all come with timers. This is because of the widespread fear of “fan death,” the idea that being in a closed room with a fan running is potentially deadly.
  • The idea that blood types determine personality had been popular in Japan, and the idea that children born in the year of the dragon are more successful is popular in China. Science supports neither idea.

Christian apologists might demand, “How could the story about Jesus get traction if it weren’t true??” But this is similar to, “How could the modern legend about <pick your favorite> get traction if it weren’t true?” The same answer would be reasonable for both.

God is a comedian
playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.
— Voltaire


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  • RichardSRussell

    I’m a lifelong science-fiction fan, but I’ve never confused the “fiction” part with the “science” part.

    • ThaneOfDrones

      Yeah. There used to be a science & science fiction magazine called Omni. They seemed to confuse the two.

      • Greg G.

        I used to subscribe to Omni. I didn’t know that some of it was science fiction. >Face turning red.<

      • RichardSRussell

        Omni caused SF writers to salivate, because it paid way better than the pulp digests that were their normal market, tho not as well as Playboy; OTOH, the fun-bun mag only ran 1-2 SF stories a year, whereas Omni had several in each issue. A former subscriber myself, I always thot they did a decent job of distinguishing between the fact and the fiction, even tho the “fact” part was more like Popular Science for TV Guide readers.

      • There is a TV channel called the “History channel.” It is sometimes confused in a similar way.

        • Bob Jase

          Like the Military Channel or American Heroes Channel that feature shows glorifying the Mafia and other criminals?

      • al kimeea

        Yeah, it did confuse them

    • eric

      Personally I think being a fan often makes it easier to not be confused. Once you’ve read 100 fantastical stories, it’s pretty easy to recognize fantastical story #101. And it also becomes easy to recognize that Bob’s story (which Bob takes seriously) sounds a lot like Alice’s sci-fi story and Charlie’s fantasy story. I don’t mean to imply all fans grow this sort of skepticism. But I bet a lot do.

      • RichardSRussell

        I agree. I also think a lot of SF fans come to the genre because they’re already interested in the “science” part.

      • Pofarmer

        As a comment on that, I know several religious people, including my wife, who can’t watch horror or very scary movies. They simply can’t separate fiction from reality at that level because of what they’ve been taught is “true”. Their irony meter is busted.

  • Ctharrot

    Even in rationalistic, industrial modernity, when access to information is at an historic apex, thousands (possibly millions, depending on one’s source) of people around the world ascribe to Scientology, for Crom’s sake. An obviously fraudulent, artificial religion/movement concocted by a troubled, cash-strapped fiction writer a mere six decades ago.

    We. Are. Gullible. We are gullible now, we were gullible two centuries ago when Joseph Smith literally pulled a religion out of his hat, and we certainly were gullible two millennia ago.

    • Joseph Smith literally pulled a religion out of his hat

      At least that’s better than where so many pull their religion out of.

      Ah, no–on second thought, it doesn’t much matter. It stinks regardless.

      • Ctharrot

        Now that you mention it, according to some Greek sources, all the gods trace their lineage back to, ahem, Uranus.

        • Greg G.

          Speaking of where religions are pulled from, does Uranus have taste buds?

        • Ctharrot

          Hmm. Your question is troubling me in a very David Cronenberg kinda way. I can formulate no response.

        • Michael Neville

          Because the name of the planet is the source of countless poor and tasteless jokes, the International Astronomical Union is considering changing to name of Uranus to Urectum.

        • al kimeea

          Urahole… Urehhole

    • Brian Curtis

      Indeed, the whole point of the scientific method was developing ways to NOT fool ourselves quite so often.

  • (I was moved by the Spirit to add one more section to this post, “The Argument from History.” FYI, if you want to go back and read it.)

    • Jim Jones

      > We have originals of Fletcher’s story, written in our own language and coming from our own Western culture.

      More recent:

      Cassie Bernall – Wikipedia

      Cassie René Bernall (November 6, 1981 – April 20, 1999) was a student killed in the Columbine High School massacre at age 17. It was initially reported that Bernall had been asked whether or not she believed in God before being shot during the massacre, though further examinations of witness testimony revealed that …

      ‎Biography · ‎Mistaken martrydom claims · ‎She Said Yes: The …

      • Deathbed conversions is another category. There’s a false one about Darwin. Were there claims about Hitchens? I know he said shortly before he died that, if any appeared, that they would be false.

        • Jim Jones

          Tons. They claim Alexander converted on his death bed. He didn’t.

        • Kevin K

          You mean Constantine, don’t you?

        • Jim Jones

          Of course. I’ll fix that, thanks.

        • Doubting Thomas

          There was an apologist claiming something like a deathbed conversion from Hitchens. Hitchens, knowing the pattern of religious shysters, foresaw this and warned that any such claim should be dismissed.

          Does this mean Hitchens was a prophet?

        • I want St. Christopher to intercede for me. Maybe he can tell God to stop being a jerk.

        • RichardSRussell

          “I can report that he [atheist Christopher Hitchens, stricken with esophogeal cancer] does not mock those who say they are praying on his behalf. What you could really do, of course, if you’re interested in making Hitch happy, is buy his book [Hitch-22: A Memoir].

          “As for the few of you who wrote to Goldblog to say they were praying for Hitch’s death, I can say that he does not care one way or another what you do or think or pray, but on behalf of myself and the entire team here at The Atlantic, let me just say, Go fuck yourselves.

          “I believe God will forgive me for that one.”

          —Jeffrey Goldberg, columnist for The Atlantic, 2010 Aug. 9

  • Jim Jones

    > Health foods were popular in the Victorian period—foods such as Kellogg’s corn flakes, Grape-Nuts cereal, and graham crackers all came from food fads of this time.

    Named goods became popular at that time because no name products were very often fake, even dangerous.

    Spoiled milk could be treated chemically to make it seem OK. It gave thousands of children tuberculosis. Tea was bought used from servants and died with chemicals to make it look new. There were hundreds of examples like this.

    10 dangerous things in Victorian/Edwardian homes

    2. Boracic acid in milk
    Bread was not the only food being altered – tests on 20,000 milk samples in 1882 showed that a fifth had been adulterated – but much of this was done not by manufacturers but by householders themselves. Boracic acid was believed to “purify” milk, removing the sour taste and smell from milk that had gone off. Mrs Beeton told consumers that this was “quite a harmless addition”, but she was wrong. Small amounts of boracic acid can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, but worse, it was what boracic acid concealed that was particularly dangerous. Before pasteurisation, milk very often contained bovine TB, which would flourish in the bacteria-friendly environment created by the substance. Bovine TB damages the internal organs and the bones of the spine, leading to severe spinal deformities. It is estimated that up to half a million children died from bovine TB from milk in the Victorian period.

    • RichardSRussell

      C. W. Post (the guy behind Grape-Nuts and Post Toasties), brothers John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg, and Rev. Sylvester Graham of cracker fame were all nuts to a greater or lesser extent, some of them having suffered nervous breakdowns, others having been committed to sanitariums. They all shared a fascination with vegetarianism and the digestive process. Post went so far as to claim that Grape-Nuts could cure appendicitis. Graham advocated his bland crackers as a replacement for soda crackers because they’d do a better job of promoting sexual abstinence, which he apparently favored on general principles. The Kelloggs were devotees of 7th-Day Adventism, Graham was a Presbyterian minister, and Post, while not listed as having any particular religion, nonetheless initially named his corn flakes Elijah’s Manna, so they were all into several different forms of the woo.

      No complaints from me about their food, tho.

      • Wasn’t one of the goals of their food to reduce libido? Same goal as with saltpeter, I assume.

      • Jim Jones

        I tried Grape-Nuts once. It was like eating metal shot.

        • Michael Neville

          Isn’t Grape-Nuts an STD?

        • RichardSRussell

          I liked it as a kid. The trick is that you have to let it steep in the milk for about 5 minutes to soggify it.

        • Jim Jones

          A week might be better! ;P

        • Greg G.

          I like to put a tablespoon or so of them on my oatmeal for a crunchy variation.

        • Lurker111

          My grape nuts NEVER got soft. Remember the Folger’s Crystals commercials? Here we go:

          “Today we’ve replaced John’s Grape Nuts with kitty litter. Let’s see if he notices the difference.”

        • Bob Jase

          Kitty litter will get mushy in time and it doesn’t have that deoightful nutty taste.

        • Lurker111

          Maple-syrup-glazed gravel, then? 🙂

        • Bob Jase

          Sure, I can add raisins to that.

        • Greg G.

          From the bottom of the aquarium to give it a seafood flavor.

        • Lurker111

          You know, I thought of that, but “fish gravel” just doesn’t have the same snap as “kitty litter.”

        • epicurus

          Maybe that’s what they used back in the wooden ships days when they loaded the cannons with grape shot!

      • Otto

        One of the Kelloggs was also behind the male circumcision run up in the US.

      • Greg G.

        No complaints from me about their food, tho.

        Imagine S’mores made with oyster crackers.

  • Ctharrot

    With regard to the Argument from History, I have yet to encounter an apologist or commenter able to provide an intellectually rigorous argument that the ancient documentary record justifies belief, say, that Moses parted the Red Sea or that Joshua’s prayers stopped the sun in the sky at Gibeon, but not that Gautama Buddha emerged from the womb speaking like an adult or that Emperor Vespasian performed healing miracles. In fact, I think only one commenter here has ever really engaged me on this topic (a couple of years ago), and he ended up conceding that no documentary or archaeological evidence would ever persuade him of an ancient pagan miracle claim, even though he accepted the Joshua story based on a translation of copies of copies of copies of a long-lost, undated transcription of unknown authorship.

    • Kevin K

      Even worse, I have attempted for years to get Christians to demonstrate that any of the secular claims made in the NT are verifiable. Those were troubled times, and there were chroniclers of that time and place on site, making observations about daily life and the political strife, of which the Messianic preachers were part-and-parcel. Much of this work survives. And yet, when asked for contemporaneous eyewitness (or even near-eyewitness) verification of the secular events recounted in the NT … Nada. Nothing. Zip. Bupkis. The most-common response is the “Argument From Nobody” — that Jesus was a minor figure that no one paid attention to.

      And yet, there were the crowds of people he preached to … up to one-tenth of the ENTIRE population at a time. Surely, someone would have noticed that! And there was the terrorist act at the temple during the run-up to the holiest week in the Jewish calendar. That act would have been akin today to someone firing a missile into the Ka’aba during the Hajj. It would have been remarked upon. And when Jesus rode into Jerusalem in a way specifically designed to declare himself the new king, even the bible says the whole town shouted acclaim. How can a nobody suddenly be acclaimed by the whole town? And why did no one else notice it — so it was the whole town except for the people who were there at the time? And the whole business with Barabbas — show me an account of Pilate pardoning any seditionist ever. He never did; not for Passover and at no other time.

      Those are the events I want corroboration for. Not the magic tricks. Start there with Jesus on the donkey, and we can then take it to the next step.

      So far, silence. Or complaints that I’m being unfair for asking for such evidence.

      • epicurus

        I watched a GreatCourses Christian history series taught by Bart Erman a few years ago and he made the point that the temple complex was several football fields long so if Jesus tipped over a few money changers and chased a few people around that’s not going to clear whole complex that big.

        • Greg G.

          Why bother the money-changers? People came from all over the known world to sacrifice a pigeon or something. They needed the local currency to do the transactions.

        • epicurus

          Yes, Ehrman also mentioned that. It made no sense. They weren’t really doing anything wrong.

        • Greg G.

          It’s almost like the account was invented out of Old Testament passages.

          Isaiah 56:7 (LXX)
          I will bring them to my holy mountain, and gladden them in my house of prayer: their whole-burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon mine altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.

          Jeremiah 7:11 (LXX)
          Is my house, whereon my name is called, a den of robbers in your eyes? And, behold, I have seen it, saith the Lord.

        • Kevin K

          Exactly my point.

        • Right. The temple’s own rules said that you had to use temple money. The money changers were doing the Lord’s work–where’s the problem?

        • Bob Jase

          Simple, Jesus was broke and jealous, as god is according to the OT.

        • Otto

          I pointed this out once to a guy, that Jesus was the violent criminal in the story. He said that what Jesus did was not a violent act. I asked him if he would consider it violent if a guy who claimed to be god walked into his church and flipped over tables and chased people around during a Bake Sale.


        • Greg G.

          In John’s version, Jesus made a whip out of cords.

        • ThaneOfDrones

          Bingo! Bingo has been called

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yip…money with pictures of Pagans on them, or Pagan gods, weren’t allowed in the Temple…that was blasphemy. A good scam though. I don’t see how changing the money and then selling the pigeon makes any difference other than allow more scamming with exchange rates.

      • And then you’ve got the OT prophecy claims. They don’t match up with Jesus’s life for that very reason–they say that kings will be open-mouthed at this amazing person, and so on.

        Or complaints that I’m being unfair for asking for such evidence.

        “They didn’t have cell phones with cameras back then!” they say. My response: not my problem. For claims this dramatic, pics or it didn’t happen.

    • epicurus

      Sometimes you run into Christians who say pagan miracles did occur, but they were done by the devil to make Christian miracles seem less miraculous. I always use this as an opening to go into a monologue about how maybe Christianity is just a Satanic trick that God allows in order to test His chosen people the Jews to see if they remain faithful to Judaism.

      • Bob Jase

        Yahweh is Chemosh’s sock puppet.

        • Zeropoint

          Chemosh has high rates but he really comes through.

        • Ficino

          Mine is the Maytag repair man. Washing machine broken. Maytag man come. Washing machine no broken no more, work when Maytag man turn on. No fixee, no order parts! A miracle every time!

  • Grimlock

    This is only tangentially relevant, but consider for a second the claims of different sizes of crowds in the NT. You have the crowds that Jesus spoke to, and the 500 alleged witnesses in 1. Corinthians.

    Now consider contemporary estimates for crowd sizes. For one, the organizers are consistently the ones with the highest estimates, whereas those with the relevant expertise give lower estimates.

    Only based on this I’d say that the crowd sizes given in the NT are utterly unreliable.

    It’s a small point, I grant, but one worth noting.

    • yeah, but Trump’s inauguration was still the largest public celebration in the history of the planet, nay, cosmos.

      • Grimlock

        Well, yes, obviously. The crowds at Obama’s inauguration was photoshopped. The pictures weren’t photoshopped – the crowds were.

      • Zeropoint

        You ever notice how all the Miss Universe winners are from Earth? That seems kind of fishy to me.

    • Greg G.

      The Feeding of the 5000 and the Feeding of the 4000 are very similar to Elisha’s Feeding of the 100 in 2 Kings 4:42-44 but also like the two banquets attended by Telemauchus in The Odyssey where he walked to one and sailed to one, as Jesus did, and one of those had 9 groups of 500, so Mark rounded up once and down once. It is not just the numbers that are unreliable but the events themselves.

      But in 1 Corinthians 15, it says that Christ died for sins, was buried, according to the scriptures, and was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures. According to what scriptures? Most certainly it was Isaiah 53:5, 9 and Hosea 6:2. When Paul speaks of revelation, it seems to be that he read something in the scriptures and a new idea was revealed to him when he saw it. Paul insists he didn’t get it from a human source. I think that is what the “appeared to” is about. Cephas, the twelve, the 500, James, and Paul were just reading those verses and seeing them as a revelation. So if the twelve showed three people, then the 48 showed three people, and then the 192 showed three people, you would have about 500.

      • Grimlock

        Ah, interesting. That’d be another instance of that repeating-a-theme-from-the-Old Testament, yeah? I believe I’ve seen Matthew Ferguson refer to that as “midrash” or some such, and note how it’s a running theme through the gospels.

        • Greg G.

          As I Understand It:
          The Greeks called it mimesis where elements were borrowed from older writings, but in a way that the reader understands the allusion. The Homeric Epics were often used that way, even into modern times. The Bluegrass music was great in O Brother! Where Art Thou? but the Homeric themes were fun to pick out, too.

          The Romans called it imitatio, which is similar but it was used to highlight Roman ideals, like the way Virgil’s Aeneid was based on the Homeric Epics.

          The Jews called it midrash as it was a way of combining various scriptures to come up with new understandings and interpretations. Kind of like cherry-picking.

          Mark seems to have mastered them all with chiasm so the elements from the older stories could be reversed and the characters inverted. He uses Greek literature (The Homeric Epics, specifically), Hebrew scripures, Hebrew literature (Philo’s Flaccus), and Christian literature (some of Paul’s epistles).

        • Jim Jones

          It’s well worth looking at the definition of ‘midrash’.

      • MR

        The Feeding of the 5000

        “But they just found a frickin’ key! A key! That proves he fed them! Holy Shit, I’m converting, they found a key!”

        • They looked under the mat, and there it was.

        • Otto

          Only because the fake rock was yet to be invented.

      • Tommy

        For the appearance to the 500 people at once. Richard Carrier says that the 500 was a scribal error and that the text originally said “pentecost” as in “Christ appeared at the pentecost” because “five hundred” in Greek is similar to the word “pentecost”

        • Greg G.

          That is interesting. I haven’t checked the link yet but I did look at the Greek:

          πεντηκοστῆς / Pentecost / Acts 2:1, Acts 20:16, 1 Corinthians 16:8
          πεντακοσίοις / five hundred / 1 Corinthians 15:6
          πεντήκοντα / five hundred / Mark 6:40, Luke 7:41, Luke 9:14, Luke 16:6, John 8:57, John 21:11, Acts 13:20

          But the second half of 1 Corinthians 15:6 says “brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.”

        • He had a great observation. I noticed that the 500 witnesses weren’t in the gospels. Conclusion: the gospel authors themselves tell me that this claim is crap–either they never heard of it (bad) or they had and knew it was bogus (also bad). So they didn’t put it in.

          There’s another observation often made about Paul’s 1 Cor. 15 passage, that it looks like it was written in a different style. Christians say that it was an early creed that dated to within a year or two of the resurrection. But skeptics say that “looks different” could mean that it was added later.

          Put these two together, and maybe “Paul’s” famous passage was added after the gospels. That’s why it looks different (it was added by someone else and so had a different feel/style) and that’s why it wasn’t in the gospels (the idea of the 500 came after the gospels were written).

          That’s just one point. The whole article is quite good (if you are interested in putting just a few sentences under the microscope).

        • Greg G.

          Acts 2:1-13 is not about Jesus being seen. It is an inversion of the story of the Tower of Babel, quoting from the Sybil passage in Josephus’ account in Antiquities of the Jews 1.4.3. Verse 3 borrows Euripides’ The Bacchae line, “Flames flickered in their curls and did not burn them.” Instead of speaking different language, people from many countries understood them speaking their language. “Jews of every nation” is a reversal of “Jews scattered abroad.”

          There are many parallels between Acts and the Gospel of Luke. The Spirit descending parallels Luke 3:21-22 at the Baptism of Jesus.

          Luke may have got the Pentecost idea from 1 Corinthians 16:8, too.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Or Paul was just repeating a yarn he’d heard from someone else about a heavenly vision..

      • Lark62

        The Feeding of the 5000 and the Feeding of the 4000 are very similar to Elisha’s Feeding of the 100 in 2 Kings 4:42-44 but also like the two banquets attended by Telemauchus in The Odyssey where he walked to one and sailed to one, as Jesus did

        I’ve heard it claimed that Mark is a retelling of the Odyssey with Jesus as the star. I don’t know the Odyssey well enough to confirm, but it’s the type of thing people do to well known stories.

        • Greg G.

          it’s the type of thing people do to well known stories.

          The Odyssey is one of the most retold stories in history. Virgil based the Aeneid on it. O Btrother! Where Art Thou? is based on the Homeric epics. I have read that a list of writings owned by a library showed about 700 to 800 copies of Odyssey and Iliad with there being about 100 more of the former while the next highest number of a writing was around 90.

          Dennis R. MacDonald wrote The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. I first read Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark [Link] by Richard Carrier, which is pretty in depth. I got to the part that showed the parallels between the Cyclops story and the Legion demonaic story and started to read the Odyssey. When I saw the Cyclops’ name was “Polyphemus” I had to see if the “for we are many” phrase used “poly”. Sure enough, it was “polys”. Then I noticed in the Textus Receptus had the phrase “lego legio”. “Lego” is a word for speaking (“he said” here) and “Legio” is “Legion” so the phrase is: “He said, ‘Legion, my name, for we are many.'” I looked up what “Polyphemus” means. It means “famous”, or literally, “many speak of”, as it is “poly” as in “polygon” and “phem-” as in “blasphemy”. I think Mark was making a visual bilingual pun with the Greek “lego” (speak) and the Latin “legio”(many) to correspond to “Polyphemus”. A legion was a specific number of soldiers so Mark had to emphasize the “many” with “for we are many”.

          The Passion section of Mark seems to follow the Iliad. The Mocking of Jesus pericope has a series of parallels with the Mocking of Carabbas from Philo’s Flaccus. Mark seems to have used the same method of working some Old Testament passages into each of the stories.

          I think Mark intended for his audience to understand the sources he was using.

      • Jim Jones

        > “according to the scriptures”

        Which is really weird phrasing. Why isn’t he talking about witnesses? It’s as if he doesn’t believe it.

  • Bob Jase

    Basically there is no story too stupid or ridiculous for at least one person to believe it and then it either grows or dies, nowadays it seems like it usually grows.

  • Remove the supernatural from the stories of Alexander and Caesar (yes, there was plenty), and you have the accounts of those great men from history. But remove the supernatural from the Jesus story, and you’re left with nothing—just an ordinary, uninteresting man.

    But I thought that Jesus didn’t exist?

    • Greg G.

      When you take the magic out of the gospels, you are left with somebody traveling from place to place and doing nothing. The story is about an imaginary figure.

      • Kevin K

        One description I heard was that an alternative title to gMark is Jesus Christ, Demon Hunter.

      • Tommy

        …you are left with somebody traveling from place to place and doing nothing.

        So, like the Blair Witch Project?

        • Kevin K

          Ha! Have a shiny internet!!

    • Kevin K

      That, of course, is one of the many questions surrounding the inception of the cult that you are currently involved in.

      If someone could confirm his existence, that would go a long way to moving one more pavement slab down the road. My current (and long-standing) bar has been extra-biblical contemporaneous eyewitness (or near eye-witness) corroboration of the secular events outlined in the so-call “gospels”.

      Who other than the “gospel” authors declares that there was a person who preached to thousands upon thousands wherever he went? Who other than the “gospel” authors declare that a terrorist act was committed at the temple in the week leading to Passover? Who other than the “gospel” authors declares that someone rode into Jerusalem in a way specifically designed to declare himself a new king to the acclaim of the entire city? Who other than the “gospel” authors noted the trial and execution of a seditionist prior to Passover during Pilate’s time in the city? Who other than the “gospel” authors declared that Pilate gave the crowd a Passover gift of sparing the life of someone condemned to die? Heck, who other than the “gospel” authors declare that Pilate was even in Jerusalem during Passover/pre-Passover periods?

      Please note that I’m asking for recounting of these events from people who were in that place at that time. We have plenty of existing chronicles from multiple sources. The exploits of this “Jesus” fellow don’t appear to have attracted their attention at all. While many other Messianic preachers were commented on by name. Every name you’re going to propose — from Josephus onward — were not there. Mainly because they hadn’t been born yet.

      Find me contemporaneous eyewitness accounts of those events, and then we can move on. Until then, I remain skeptical.

      • Bob Jase

        Gospels = fake good news.

      • Simply showing that Christianity was started by a real guy isn’t particularly interesting. Mormonism was. Scientology was.

        • Pofarmer

          Sure, Christianity was started by real guys. It looks like Cephas, James, and Paul. The Christianity we know was started mainly by Paul.

        • I continue to be amazed at how different Paul’s “Jesus” is from the image in the gospels.

        • Pofarmer

          What about the imagery in revelations?

        • Rick

          How so? Have you covered this somewhere else?

        • Ignorant Amos
        • Rick

          You’re right. Loads of online articles allege contradictions. Some of the ones in the very list you provided refute those contradiction claims. As one of them said, “So we must be careful not to fall into the same misunderstanding of the kingdom that was shared by Jesus’ contemporaries.

          It behooves all of us to make a thorough search to understand both sides of complex issues. This is a complex challenge, but it is not an insurmountable task to research its intricacies.

        • Greg G.

          Was Jesus arrested before the Passover meal or after? The Synoptics say it was after, John says Jesus was dead and buried before the Passover.

        • Ignorant Amos

          You’re right.

          I know I am, I’m wondering how you didn’t know this stuff already.

          Loads of online articles allege contradictions.

          Allege contradictions? Yeah, the scholars “allege” contradictions, even the honest Christian ones. But I’m certain that you’ll punt to the woo-woo apologists with a bias on this issue. It’s called confirmation bias.

          Paul writes in his own words that he preaches a different message to that of Peter regarding the Law of Moses, something the gospels said Jesus had not come to change…so someone isn’t reading off the same hymn sheet. Called the “Incident at Antioch”, Paul butts heads with Peter over circumcision and dietary laws.

          Some of the ones in the very list you provided refute those contradiction claims.

          Indeed…they are a non-sequitur to your “how so?” question to Bob’s observation. Still, I gave a complete search for balance rather than cherry-pick those Christian scholars who admit there are contradictions.

          As one of them said, “So we must be careful not to fall into the same misunderstanding of the kingdom that was shared by Jesus’ contemporaries.”

          Which contemporaries? We know nothing of them outside non contemporary writing in the NT. Most of which has been bastardized over time. Written by who knows who, at unknown locations or when.

          Ya see, in the first couple of centuries there was a lot more than the half dozen genuine epistles that make up the Pauline corpus and the other forgeries that make up the NT. The texts that were used as holy scriptures were wide and varied and contradicted each other on the nature of Jesus even more than Paul and the gospels do.

          It behooves all of us to make a thorough search to understand both sides of complex issues.

          Ahem…there’s irony for ya.

          This is a complex challenge, but it is not an insurmountable task to research its intricacies.

          Something it appears you have failed to do. To avoid the accusation of bias, I’ll point to Christians who have no qualms in outlining the problems.

          I’m a bit of a fan of historian and Christian scholar, James Tabor. Mostly because his scholarship admits that historians don’t have a remit for asserting the supernatural, which makes him kinda honest in that respect.

          Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity

          In this “compulsively readable exploration of the tangled world of Christian origins” (Publishers Weekly), religious historian James Tabor illuminates the earliest years of Jesus’ teachings before Paul shaped them into the religion we know today.

          This fascinating examination of the earliest years of Christianity reveals how the man we call St. Paul shaped Christianity as we know it today.

          Historians know almost nothing about the two decades following the crucifixion of Jesus, when his followers regrouped and began to spread his message. During this time Paul joined the movement and began to preach to the gentiles. Using the oldest Christian documents that we have—the letters of Paul—as well as other early Chris­tian sources, historian and scholar James Tabor reconstructs the origins of Christianity. Tabor shows how Paul separated himself from Peter and James to introduce his own version of Christianity, which would continue to develop independently of the message that Jesus, James, and Peter preached.

          Paul and Jesus illuminates the fascinating period of history when Christianity was born out of Judaism.

          Other works include…

          Jesus vs. Paul: Christianity’s Greatest Lies Exposed

          Paul On Trial: Paul vs Jesus. Was Paul a liar?

          Faithful to Jesus Christianity: And the Truth about the False Apostle Paul

        • Jim Jones

          > Historians know almost nothing about the two decades following the crucifixion of Jesus, when his followers regrouped and began to spread his message.

          That’s because historians don’t mistake myths for history.

        • What is your position on these alleged contradictions? Are you saying that there are none? Are you saying that there are none of consequence?

          One of the many subjects I’m late in getting into blog form is this question of Bible contradictions.

        • Not thoroughly. That’s in my TBD file. However, this post will begin to make that argument:

        • Kevin K

          Christianity was as well … but it was Paul, not Jesus.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Or a number of guys at different places with variants thereof, that eventually coalesced under a single label, Christianity. Notice I didn’t say one religion…it was never one religion.

        • Kevin K

          Sadly, we’ll probably never know the true origins … my current favorite hypothesis is the cult was an outgrowth of the Essenes, who were active around 200 BCE to just after the temple was destroyed.

        • Jim Jones

          There are, IMO, 3 stages to the invention of this religion.

          1) Whatever came before Paul (possibly called “The Way”).

          2) What Paul invented and borrowed – which is only documented in a few letters: Corinthians 1 & 2, Romans and Philemon, and possibly a couple more. All the others are known forgeries which makes all these documents suspect.

          3) The reinvented religion which was voted on at meetings (the Council of Nicea etc.), very like a MLM system where the area reps changed the system to suit themselves. This became the core of Christianity as we know it.

          And the reinvention continued from the Trinity to the Pope’s infallibility.

          Christianity: 2,000 years of everyone making it up as they go.

        • Kevin K

          What’s your opinion of the role of the Essenes in the development of the proto-church? Is it possible that the earliest origins of Christianity date back to maybe 100 years or more before the events alleged to have occurred in Jerusalem?

        • Jim Jones

          The only dates we have for sure, and the evidence is weak, are the dates for Paul’s life. I’m sure he took something that already existed and hacked it into his religion – which was not the Christianity we know now.

          I don’t know how reliable his DOB is.

    • Not an argument that I make.

    • Ctharrot

      Some say that, some don’t. For my part, I know guys named Joshua and Jesus, as well as carpenters, preachers, and carpenter-preachers. You say there was an apocalyptic carpenter-preacher named Yeshua two millennia ago? Ok, whatever.

      But if you want me to believe he had the power to reanimate the dead, control the weather, sterilize insubordinate fig trees, etc., I’ll need better evidence than copies of copies of inconsistent narratives of uncertain authorship penned during humanity’s especially credulous adolescence.

      • Greg G.

        I think it is unlikely that there were not many carpenters named Yeshua in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. It’s just that the New Testament is not about any of them. The gospels are based on Epistle Jesus and Epistle Jesus is based on a conflation of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 and the Jesus in the Septuagint version of Zechariah 3, and other OT passages. The early epistles love to talk about Jesus but they don’t say anything about him that doesn’t seem to be drawn from the already centuries old texts.

  • Phil Rimmer

    We shouldn’t be so dismissive of legends.

    Without feet our legs would fray.