This Jesus Fellow

Puff goes Jesus

multiple-personalityLet’s be brutally honest: Islam is a circus tent of contradictions, a mesmerizing colossus of interpreted and re-interpreted absurdity, but Muslims can at the very least claim that the temporal lobe epileptic merchant from Mecca with a name that would give any sane stationary printer a nightmare,  Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim, was real. He lived, he spoke gibberish, fools listened, and eyewitnesses – unfortunately – copied it all down. Christianity can’t claim the same. Christianity in fact can’t even produce a single gram of evidence – hard or soft – to prove its central character, Jesus, ever even lived. What does exist is an awful lot of absolutely nothing other than 50-odd wildly differing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Century versions of a story centred on a 1st Century Judean gnostic character who exhibits different personality traits doing completely different things at entirely different times depending on which account you read. Since his invention in 1939, Batman has also exhibited over 50 entirely unique versions of himself depending on which account you read.

In the original 1939 version Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, but in DC Comics Azrael’s version it’s the computer science graduate student, Jean-Paul Valley, who assumes the role of masked crusader. In Batman Earth Two Bruce Wayne is born in 1910, but in Gotham by Gaslight Batman starts his crime fighting career in 1889. In The Batman of Arkham Bruce Wayne is a psychiatrist who runs the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, while in Castle of the Bat, Bruce Wayne is a geneticist who brings to life a patchwork corpse containing bat DNA and the brain of his father. Like Batman, Jesus suffers similar bipolar fits of character. Man of peace? “Put your sword back into its place, for those who live by the sword, die by the sword (Matt 26:52), or, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10.34). Man of strong family relationships and brotherly love? “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) or perhaps, “For I come to set the son against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” (Matthew 10.35,36).

So who was this Jesus fellow? Real person? Given the evidence highly unlikely. Fictional character? Almost certainly, but it’s a little more complicated and potentially a lot more interesting than just that. “Jesus” was more than likely a metafictional character. That is to say an orally transported literary devise knitted together by 1st Century Judean crisis cultists to impart a series of socio-philosophical teachings. Most superheroes, Batman included, were and still are to this day invented for much of the same reasons. The really interesting part is not however that, rather the seemingly obvious but also seemingly overlooked metafictional nature of the stories. stranger_than_fictionMetafiction is a cunningly clever narrative tool used to expose the ‘truth’ through illusion by implanting a work of fiction inside another work of fiction, like Will Ferrell’s character Harold Crick in the movie, Stranger than Fiction. The purpose of this method is to draw the audience deeper into the story in the hope they will get more out of it. It’s a layered effect, a technique of immersion which until recently was believed to have only first been used in the 20th Century. That, however, has proven to be incorrect. Leeds University’s Owen Hodkinson has demonstrated the tool was not only known to the ancients but was in use throughout the eastern Mediterranean well before the 1st Century.

Importantly, as a tool or method of storytelling, a metafictional story does not seek to hide the fact that it is fiction. Instead it intentionally reminds the audience that they are participating in a fictional story and quite purposefully draws attention to itself. In fact, it shouts out “Look at me, I’m fiction!” and that’s the method’s genius. The function of this devise which deliberately jogs the audience’s mind to remember they’re experiencing fiction (like Emma Thompson’s voiceover narration in Stranger than Fiction) is to encourage the individual to engage the ‘truth’ at a deeper level. Another excellent example is Douglas Adam’s character, the Guide, in his comic masterpiece The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:

A TOWEL

The metafictional tool in use, “A towel, it says…” promotes immersion greater than that experienced through simple dialogue. Instead however of encyclopaedic entries used by Adam’s Guide, the character Jesus uses parables which are in and by themselves an even better example of metafiction in action: a fictional character using fictional micro-stories to make doctrinal points. The character Jesus in fact ‘speaks’ in parables thirty separate times, and unlike the sometimes wild variations in what the character does, when he does it, and where he does it these parables do not change to any great extent from one version of the story to another.

He set another parable before them, saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed…” (Matthew 13:31–32)

 He spoke also this parable to certain people… (Luke 18:9-14)

 Then Jesus told them this parable: … (Luke 15:3-7)

 Jesus spoke to them again in parables… (Matthew 22:1-14)

The notes to the parables appear to be there on purpose. They are identified, which is a hallmark of the tool in use. They’re spotlighted, even announced, and given that this core of thirty parables are repeated across both gnostic and synoptic gospels are a pretty clear indication that they were in fact the aboriginal root of the original Judean story; a story centred on teachings, not a man per say. As if to hit this point home the Jesus character in the wholly Judean gnostic gospel of Thomas (which predates all synoptic gospels by at least two generations) does not move or eat or exhibit any life at all. The character simply speaks in cryptic kōans, a form of single-person dialogue, and more specifically in parables when the character himself is addressing larger (fictional) audiences. It’s an ingenious method which exposes the real audience to a fictional audience listening to a fictional character. It’s doubly-ingenious when you consider how easy these core doctrinal points were then able to be transported. A travelling gnostic teacher needed only to remember the parables and sayings, and having those down he or she could easily spin additional parts of a story so as to appeal to different audiences. And spin it they most clearly did, leaving us a veritable zoo of differing characters, but not radically differing versions of the parables themselves.

To be sure, the use of this metafictional tool is deceptively clever, but being handled by numerous orators meant the character Jesus was bound to grow a few extra heads, and sure enough he did. Indeed, of all the Jesus’ none is more aberrant than the one contained in the gospel of Thomas which is for quite obvious reasons simply ignored by Christian polemicists today. And no one can really blame them for ignoring it. In Thomas the character Jesus isn’t even crucified which indicates that that element of the story was an embellishment added by other – much later – storytellers who despite using the same vehicle to relay the sect (or sects) teachings felt free enough in the metafictional medium to change the tracks of the story for creative effect.

Now let’s be serious, missing the crucifixion is like the Elephant Man missing his Elephantiasis, comparable perhaps only in script deviation to the corrupt Batman in The Tyrant who singlehandedly takes control of Gotham City and turns it into a police state, or the even more bizarre Batman in The Kingdom Come where a time-ravaged Bruce Wayne keeps Gotham’s peace using remote-controlled robots.

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29 thoughts on “Puff goes Jesus

  1. The depth and detail of your research into the metafictional christ is quite remarkable.

    I have remained more or less ambivalent regarding the physical existence of an historical jesus, mostly because I simply don’t care much one way or the other.

    I must say, your devotion to the facts and details have pretty much convinced me of the fictional nature of the character.

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    • To tell you the truth Richard, the metafictional idea is just a theory of mine. It seems logical, but as far as I can see there isn’t any other reference to it on the interwebs. Owen Hokinson certainly had never entertained the idea.
      I’m with you though on the actual importance of it all. Real gnostic hippy or metafictional literary invention… either way, this jesus chap wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a god, a demigod, or even a prophet.

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      • “…either way, this jesus chap wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a god, a demigod, or even a prophet.”

        We’re in complete agreement.

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  2. Well said! Abdun Nur has also done some great research into origins of christianity – and he’s none-too-pleased with the new ‘christianized muslims’, either – something I had no idea even existed.

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  3. I will stop blowing up your boards today. But I must say, compared to the last post I responded to, this is wildly speculative and has several factual errors concerning the historical Jesus, the early church, formation of the Bible, your interpretation of these things, and so on. I could reply to all of these, but the post would be incredibly long just to cover it all. Would you rather I respond or direct you to academic resources? I think this would help you make more informed comments on the subject. If you would rather not approve this comment and have me contact you directly through e-mail, let me know. Peace!

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    • Don’t be absurd…you can haunt these boards as much as you like. Debate is good and fun!

      Sure, you can point me in the direction of any source, but I assure I’m very well read in this area.

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      • Thank you for your thoughtful responses as well. These discussions can, unfortunately, turned heated and unhelpful quickly. Just as a point of reference, have you read any works counter to your arguments? I’m sure that you have, but I mean from a distinctly evangelical viewpoint (when I say evangelical, I feel like I need to add a caveat and say “not the Jerry Falwell type” lol). For example, I would consider myself somewhat conservative theologically, but my background is anything but that. And the library we have at school has many diverse works which are good to consult, just to understand the breadth of works out there. Lee Strobel has a couple good works, “The Case for Christ” and “The Case for the Real Jesus” which introduce people, through an interview-style, to several different scholars who work in those respective fields. And these scholars are not of the fundamentalist brand of Christian scholarship, but rather considered to be a middle ground between that brand the Protestant liberalism. I think that, without going too much into detail on the specifics, those would be good places to start. Plus, because of the way they are organized, it is easy to just pick it up and flip to specific topics you are interested in. Even if you disagree with their conclusions, the authors presented in these works would be the fitting “counterpoint” to study.

        And I would also consider looking at Bart Ehrman. I personally feel Bart goes way too far with many of his conclusions as a biblical scholar. He is not a Christian, but used to self-identify as one. Now he is a critical biblical scholar, and a well-respected one at that. But as far as the first assertion goes, he would strongly argue for a historical Jesus. The vast academic consensus is that a Jesus figure must have existed, and several books can flesh that out. I list Ehrman just to show that the debate on whether Jesus was real or not is not one just based off of faith, but also fact and historical probability.

        Thanks again for your graciousness!

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      • Hi Derek

        Well, I’m sure you expecting this, but a vast majority of scholarly work also once contended the earth was flat. Until just three generations ago the going theory of the sun was that it was a giant smouldering coal ball; a chemical reaction cooking away in space. What is believed today is not necessarily what will be taught tomorrow, and I’m of the opinion the growing body of work concerning the false assertion that Jesus lived with prevail. The simple fact is this: there isn’t a single shred of evidence outside the gospels to confirm this man’s life. I’m of the opinion the story is rooted in metafiction, which makes a lot of sense… although that is just my idea. This is not to say I’m anti-Jesus in any way. I really couldn’t care less if he lived or not. Christianity is about as nonsensical and fabricated as Scientology.

        Thanks for the suggestions! I’ve read a little of Strobel’s work but do find Ehrman a tad slapstick. The problem for all apologists remains the complete absence of external evidence. This simply means all positive conclusions are speculative assumptions at best. As you said so yourself, “probability.”

        Personally, at the end of the day I’m not really concerned with the historical accuracy of Jesus or not… so there’s no need to get heated on this subject. It doesn’t change the larger reality that all gods are the invention of the human mind: a fear response. I can understand why people invented the gods and to this day cling to them, and to them i feel genuine sympathy. My real beef is with crazy fundamentalists trying to impose their insane beliefs on our secular societies.

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      • I understand that previous scientific inquiry may have led some people to believe false things, such as in a flat earth. But this is an extreme example of premodern science that was basically phenomenological, although even the claim of everyone believing in a flat earth is a bit overblown. However, with our advances in all of the sciences, we can’t simply dismiss current findings because of past issues unrelated to the one at hand.

        There is no way to make sense of the Christian movement without a real Jesus. The writings, which modern textual criticism would account for being 99.6% the original wording of the original first century documents, all made claims of eyewitness accounts of the person Jesus. These were claims made in a context where they would be easily unverified. The issue wasn’t verification, though, it was in the theological claims. People knew Jesus existed because they knew Jesus. Archaeology is one field that has helped in showing even more reliability to the Scriptures.

        The fact is that the books of the New Testament were chosen if they could be proven, through reliable witness in church history (including the writings from the followers of the apostles, and that chain of evidence), to be from first century eye witnesses with some church authority, or written down by companions of those people who wrote for them. Giving all of the evidence for this would take up much more space. Other books were rejected from the New Testament for several reasons. Some, though still read in the churches and respected, were rejected because they did not have “apostolic authority,” just meaning that they were not from 1st century eyewitnesses. But there were many followers of these 1st century writers, quoting from the books that we now call the New Testament, which is another evidence for the reliability of what our Scripture says today. Other books were obviously written from a non-Christian perspective in an effort of syncretism with other beliefs, the most famous being the Gospel of Thomas and gnosticism. That writing was never accepted in the main stream of orthodox Christianity and for good reason. Those who wrote it probably didn’t mean for it to be, either. Everywhere anything was changed, modern Bibles have changed back to the original. This is why we see, based off of new manuscript evidence, some differences in the King James and modern translations. Most scribes only made changes to help the grammar made more sense, to “clean up” the sentences if you will. No major (or minor) doctrine is in question.

        But beyond that, other sources have referenced Jesus and his early followers, even them worshiping him “like a god,” showing that this was not something added much later on in church history. Now why would contemporary sources not say much about Jesus? Well, to them, he wasn’t all that important! They wrote about major Roman wars and judicial hearings, and so on. A rabbi carpenter from Bethlehem would not have caught their attention. What caught their attention is when the people who knew Jesus and truly believed they had seen God in their midst – based off of miracles and rising from the dead and ascending into heaven – started growing and were willing to give their lives, without provocation, for these beliefs. Many people will die for something they BELIEVE is true, but I can’t think of anyone who would die for something that they KNOW is not true (so I believe they must have known it was true). These were people like Peter, who definitely would have known if what he was saying was true or not (Peter, interestingly, denied Christ before — so what changed? I would suggest that seeing him rise from the dead and ascend to heaven changed everything). If you want to read some of the 1st and 2nd century non-Christian references to Christ and Christians, check out a copy of Bettenson’s “Documents of the Christian Church.” Tacitus (c.60-c.120) even assumed the reality of the historical Jesus, saying he was “executed at the hands of Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.” As a non-Christian historian, and a critic of Christians, I believe he most certainly would have pointed out that Jesus wasn’t a real person. A separate source is Josephus. Although most think that the works of Josephus were tampered with to give a positive view of Jesus, those people would also say that not ALL of his mentions of Jesus are fabricated – just those that run contradictory to Josephus’ own views.

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      • The “other sources” are the ones I listed in that last paragraph, although I did not list them all specifically by name. But Tacitus wrote in either the latter part of the first century or the first part of the second century, very much pro-Rome. Some of these are in that Bettenson book I referenced. But actually I just did a quick Google search and found this website: http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4223639/k.567/Ancient_Evidence_for_Jesus_from_NonChristian_Sources.htm

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      • Tacitus was writing at least three generations after the supposed life of Jesus. The fact is there isn’t a single contemporary source. Not one. Now I’m not doubting Christian sects emerged in the late 1st Century. My contention is they emerged in the Jewish diaspora based on a terrible blunder in the interpretation of a metafictional character invented by Judean crisis cultists.

        But to tell you the truth, Derek, I’m quite bored with this subject. I’ve had this debate many times before and Christians (from my experience) tend to just ignore the facts as they stand. Believe me, I’ve heard every excuse under the sun regarding why no one mentioned Jesus. None of these excuses hold any water. Now, if you want to believe in the man then go right ahead. If you find comfort in it then great. If it helps you be a better person then even better. I would only implore you not to proselytize or work against secularism.

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      • I don’t think it is the Christians who are ignoring the facts. You said there were no contemporary sources. As far as ancient sources go, within the same century is pretty good. And Tacitus doesn’t seem to be getting this information from a Christian source, nor does he deny it. And there were others as well that were listed. I too have had similar debates. It seems like many atheists will say “let me see proof” and we will answer “see: proof” and then atheists will answer “oh … well I still don’t believe it, and I’m bored with the subject.” And then the conversation ends, having their objections answered but their blinders on.

        As for as some other comments about fundamentalism, not stopping secularism, and absolutes I just must say this: for someone who doesn’t believe absolutes exist, you sure do make a lot of absolute statements, such as “there are no absolutes”. I think that something more consistent with what I sense is your postmodern understanding of truth would be “I don’t believe there are probably any absolutes.” But anytime someone makes a statement about how life should be, they are claiming an absolute and a worldview. So, you would rather fundamentalists keep their religion to themselves. Now, I am not a “fundamentalist” in any way, but let’s think about this. You have made a statement that they should stay out of the way. Why is that? Are you claiming to have some sort of truth superior to theirs? And is that not a truth claim? And is that truth claim not based on some absolute, even if the absolute is that there are no absolutes? It’s is an inescapable logical inconsistency. Most of the time I hear atheists call for less dogma and more tolerance, but that really just means they want a different dogma (their own) and more agreement with their own truths (“tolerance” = compromise by agreeing with us).

        To close though, I’m more than happy to stop discussing it. It has been fun and cordial, which I appreciate. And I hope that people coming to your blog will at least get to view it as a counterpoint that isn’t just full of the ramblings of a severely misled lunatic, but a gracious and well-read Christian. To assume that all Christians are somehow ignorant, superstitious, or nonsensical because of their views is, I would say, pretty arrogant. Just like it would be arrogant for Christians to do that to anyone else. Unfortunately, Christians have done that, and still do. And that behavior is not Christ-like. But I would hope that these are not claims that you yourself are making.

        Grace and peace

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      • Cheers Derek…. Counterpoint understood! And yes, histography aside, it would be a pleasant change if the extreme elements of your religion would behave more like Jesus. Again, you seem to be a decent bloke and this has been fun.

        Now apologies if I sort of brushed the subject off. Evidently you know your stuff so you know how long these back-and-forths can go on for. As nothing new was being raised I however saw the discussion really wasn’t going anywhere. Thank you, though, for not bringing up Josephus and the Testimonium Flavianum. That is the most maddening of all the claims of proof.

        Just to your point: “You have made a statement that they (fundamentalists) should stay out of the way. Why is that?” Here I could write 10,000 word essay and still only be warming up. I will however just provide two examples: George W. Bush banning stem cell research in 2001 for no reason other than his religion got in the way of the public good, and two, Creationism. In the first 3 months of this year SIX creationist bills have been rammed through Republican led state legislators. Creation: the six-day creation myth, talking snakes, Noah. This is patent lunacy. It’s insanity to the highest order. These efforts to have children taught this myth as some sort of “science” is regressive to the extreme. It is, in all reality, child abuse. Such lunacy then inspires representatives like Paul Broun (R-GA) who said, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell… And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” This is dangerous, and I think even you would agree to that.

        Cheers
        J

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      • Oh, one last point. Do you believe in Alexander the Great? Why? Do you just accept it as fact? Did you know that the earliest biography on him was written hundreds of years after his lifetime, rather than within 30-40 years (which, for Christ, this would just be the written versions we have, but there may have been an earlier “Q” tradition, and a fantastic and reliable oral tradition)? Now you might say, “well, I know he existed because of the legacy he left.” But then you come dangerously close to admitting Christ may have been a real man, so beware!

        Refusing to accept the quite logical and very-accepted reasons I gave for Jesus “not” having more non-biblical references (even though he does some, which disproves your previous claim) may deceive your own intentions here. It would seem that you aren’t so much interested in understanding or in the truth, but are just interested in argument and disagreement. Are you getting some of this from Bill Maher? I mean, he’s pretty funny sometimes, but he is no scholar.

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      • I know Alexander’s story very well. I have a copy of Arrians, Anabasis, not 3m away from me as i write this. On the campaign travelled the professional historian, Callisthenes of Olynthus. He wrote the Deeds of Alexander (since lost) from which most later accounts are drawn, and reference. There however exists numerous Persian accounts from the time, and of course 23 Alexandria’s… entire cities. Again, trying to use Alexander as some sort of example here is amateur apologetics, at best.

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      • I was hoping you would mention these things in response to my point, which was more about reliability of Scripture as historical documents. Just wanted to see if you thought followers could write faithful narratives and if later references back to those works could shed light on the originals. But yeah, I know how long these back and forths can go 🙂 We could go at this all day, and any point could be drawn out and debated … but we’ve got jobs, families, and other hobbies. It can be quite time consuming. The best to you.

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      • I didn’t mean to come off as rude in the last comment. If I did, I apologize whole-heartedly. Some sarcasm is okay, but it is better in person when the humor in the tone can be sensed. But seeing as how these debates must somehow come to an end, and this is your blog, please feel free to have the last word. I promise not to post another diatribe in response lol

        Grace and Peace

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  4. Pingback: This Adult Life | Average Atheist

  5. John, a very good article on Jesus. I have to admit, I never really studied if Jesus was an actual human being that walked the earth. However, towards the end of my Christian days I knew that his messages were often conflicting. Christians can say that he’s all loving all they want, but he can’t be if he’s like his “dad” for he says “when you see me you see my Father in heaven”. Both the Old and New Testaments (Covenants, Teachings, etc) show that God is very, very angry. People say that Jesus is loving and peaceful, but he clearly states in Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple.” I have heard Christians state that He doesn’t really mean “hate”, He just means that people need to “love” Him more than others. Yeah, right. It’s easy to see that the Sermon on the Mount, i.e. “The Beattitudes” in the Gospels is clearly to keep people down. Be a peacemaker, bless the meek, etc. In other words, don’t make waves, “go along to get along”.

    I will definitely have to come back and re-read this at another time. Thank you.

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    • Cheers C. You’re right, the gospels are an utter mess of contradictions. The 4th and 5th Century editors would be hard-pressed getting a job even the Wasilla Post today 🙂

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