Response to the Ultimate Easter Quiz!
Response to Easter Quiz
A reader named Christian Huls was good enough to take the time to tackle my Ultimate Easter Quiz on the Mu Sasha blogpage, and challenged most of its ten points. Here are his objections and my response, which shows why, with all due respect, aptly named Christian’s rebuttal is completely wrong.
#1 Matthew and Luke don’t say what hour He was crucified, just when the darkness came, the last three hours (Matt. 27:45; Luke 23:44). Mark states that He was crucified at the 3rd hour (Mark 15:25), and then speaks of the same three hours of darkness (Mark 15:33). The only difference is John’s Gospel which has Him standing before the crowd at the 6th hour. The synoptic Gospels are using Hebrew, daylight time, while John uses Roman time which began at midnight.
I’m afraid that's far from the only difference. The Synoptics have the crucifixion occurring on Passover - though their accounts continue to grow and expand and start contradicting their source, Mark. For just one example, Mark (14:53 -15:1) has all seventy-one judges of the Sanhedrin pulling an all-nighter at the High Priest’s house and wrapping up the trial at dawn (even though this is just a couple of the many, many historical inaccuracies of Jesus’ trial). Luke (22:66) gets off to a late start, and doesn’t even have the council start arriving until daytime! (He has Jesus brought to the High Priest’s house too (22:54), but just so he can be roughed up and mocked) - but John goes way beyond even that - his Jesus doesn’t even get crucified on the same day.
In Mark’s original Gospel story, the sequence of events is laid out very clearly, beginning a few days (at least two days) after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (11:1-11). Mark tells us it is the 13th of Nisan, “two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (14:1). On this day, while the chief priests and scribes, outraged by his cleansing of the temple that week, plot against Jesus (14:1-2), Jesus is anointed by an unnamed woman at the house of Simon the leper (14:3-9), and then Judas goes to the priests and offers to betray Jesus to them (10-11). The next verse starts on 14 Nisan, as Mark 14:12 says: “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him “Where do you want us to prepare, that you may eat the Passover?” This is the Day of Preparation for Passover. At sunset it becomes the new day, 15 Nisan, Passover itself. That evening they have a Passover meal, the Last Supper, go to the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas betrays him, he is arrested and his trial lasts all night. At dawn of Passover morning, the Sanhedrin session wraps up and he is led away to Pilate, where he is condemned and then crucified. Mark tells us exactly when this is: at “the third hour”, that is, 9 a.m. At the sixth hour, darkness covers the land, and at the ninth hour (3 pm) he dies. According to Mark (and Matthew and Luke, who copy him), Jesus dies on the afternoon of Passover, the 15th of Nisan.
Matthew and Luke follow Mark, but both take their own liberties with Mark’s storyline, making corrections and additions. For instance, Luke expands on the basic story considerably and gives us three different interrogations, two different episodes of identical mockery, a scourging, at least five different foot trips (one while carrying a cross uphill!), an exchange between the Governor and the city of Jerusalem, and a farewell speech from Jesus from Golgotha – all in three hours!
But John, as usual, completely breaks with the other Gospels. In his story, the Chief Priests and Pharisees (in real life, bitter political enemies, not co-conspirators) are not upset about Jesus driving the moneychangers from the temple - because John has that story take place three years earlier! Instead, in John, the motive for them plotting to kill Jesus is because he has raised Lazarus from the dead (11:1- 46). So he has stopped traveling openly and has been hiding out with his disciples in the remote wilderness hill town of Ephraim (11:54) - contrary to the Synoptics, who say during this same time he has been slowly making his way from the Galilee to Jerusalem (10:32 - 33) by way of Capernaum (9:33); the Jordan (10:1), Jericho (10:46), Bethphage and Bethany (11:1) - followed by multitudes of people! (10:1)
On the 9th of Nisan, “six days before the Passover,” Jesus comes to Bethany (12:1). Here, he is anointed by Mary, Lazarus’ sister, in Lazarus’ (Not Simon’s) house (12:1-8). The next day (12:12), 10 Nisan, Jesus makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (12:12-15) before huge crowds who have all come to see Jesus and the newly risen Lazarus (12:9-12). Days later, but before Passover (13:1), Jesus has a last dinner with his disciples. Jesus does not talk about the bread and wine being his body and blood (John’s Jesus already gave that speech in Galilee way back in chapter 6:53-56). Instead he washes the feet of his disciples. After dinner and 5 whole chapters (13 -17) of talk, he takes them to an unnamed garden past the Kidron brook (18:1). By then it is night (13:30). Judas arrives later that night and Jesus is arrested (18:2-11).
John has them take Jesus not to Caiaphas, but to his father-in-law Annas’ house (18:13). John also makes an interesting blunder here: He has Peter follow Jesus into the High Priest’s courtyard (18:15) and also has the High Priest (18:19) interrogating Jesus – all this before Jesus is taken to the High Priest! (18:24). And in John, Jesus is beaten at Annas’ house, not at Caiaphas’ house (18:24) then led off to the Praetorium (18:28) with no Sanhedrin trial at all. John tells us this is still before Passover (12:28). Jesus’ trial concludes and he is crucified at about the 6th hour (noon). And John finally tells us (three times) what day this is: The Preparation Day of the Passover, the 14th of Nisan (19:14, 31, 42). (It’s been 14 Nisan since dinner). According to John, Jesus dies on the afternoon of the Preparation Day of the Passover, the 14th of Nisan.
Incidentally, according to Jewish law, neither of these two conflicting scenarios is plausible. No trial would have been held either on the Day of the Passover (as Mark’s Gospel has it) or on the Day of Preparation for the Passover (as John’s Gospel claims), or even on the eve of either day. No matter whether you choose to believe the anonymous author of the Gospel of Mark, or the anonymous author of the Gospel of John, neither date works. To make matters worse, both Gospels claim Jesus was crucified on a Friday – even though Mark has Passover falling on a Friday, and John has Passover falling on a Thursday.
# 2 & #3 There are some Non-Christian and anti-christian witnesses. Phlegon, a historian who lived in the first century, wrote a history called Chronicles which was quoted by Julius Africanus, Origen, and Philopon. He recorded that in A.D. 32 there was a day that darkness caused by an eclipse occurred from the sixth to the ninth hour all over the world and that it was followed by a great earthquake.
I discuss Phlegon (and many other supposed “witnesses”) in NAILED. First, Phlegon was no eyewitness. He did not live in the first century; he wrote in the mid-second century c. 140. Third century monk Julian Africanus did cite him, but when we read what Phlegon actually wrote, he says absolutely nothing of Jesus, nor that the eclipse took place during a full moon (which would have been impossible at Passover), nor that it lasted three hours, nor that it occurred in Jerusalem, nor that it occurred during 33 AD, the alleged year of Jesus’ crucifixion - all of which Julian attributes to him! (Nor that it covered the entire world, as you claim. And if you think about eclipses, you quickly realize that a world-wide eclipse is impossible, anytime) And the earthquake Phlegon mentions did not take place in Jerusalem, but in the city of Nicaea, in Bithynia, over 600 miles away in Asia Minor.
And btw, do you really think that there was a mass resurrection of holy men in Jerusalem? And if so, that no one else in the world commented on it - not even the other Gospel writers?
#s4-5 This is not a disagreement. None of the gospels say “only Mary went.” Some just focus on the character that they felt was most important. If you study a harmony of the Gospels, these are describing different times (for the most part). And as before, one writer focused on the angel who spoke. To say, “there was an angel there.” Doesn’t mean that there couldn’t have been two.
This is typical apologetic tortured logic. Sorry, but when Mark says they came and saw an open tomb, and Matthew says they came and saw a closed tomb, that is a disagreement. When Mark says they went inside that open tomb and found a young man sitting inside on the right, but Matthew says an armed guard of Roman soldiers stood watch over the closed tomb before there was a great earthquake and an angel descends from heaven, his face blazing like lightning and his clothing white as snow; utterly terrifying the Roman guards who all faint dead away and then that angel rolls away the stone and sits on it, that is a disagreement.
And please keep in mind that there are many, many more discrepancies than just these - I didn’t even mention all the post-resurrection contradictions alone! - but it would take an entire encyclopedia (and it has, several of them) to list them all – these are just a sampling of some of the more blatant ones.
When you read each story, it’s painfully obvious that these are four different stories, and these gospels (and still more that didn’t make it into our bible) all stood on their own, in their own communities of early Christian believers, for decades before anyone ever even thought to combine them all in a collection. An artificial “harmony” of them is just a modern attempt to try and make them all match, but even that only creates a fifth story that no one ever had before. Besides, no gospel harmony has ever even come close to succeeding - the two conflicting nativity stories in Matthew and Luke alone are enough to stop that before it even gets started.
#s6-7 The women came to the tomb, which had already been opened by the angel who sat on the stone and terrified the guards. They saw the tomb empty and Mary fled to tell Peter that they took the body. Peter and John ran to the tomb. The women saw the two angels and one of them said that He is risen. He told them to go report it to Peter and the disciples, but they fled in fear and didn’t. John arrived and looked in, and then Peter arrived and ran inside. They saw the wrappings and left. Mary had returned as well and was weeping. She encounters Jesus, believing Him to be the gardener. She returned to the group and reported what she saw, and then the other women added what they saw as well. But the men did not believe. Two men encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and returned to Jerusalem to report it to the group, who still did not accept it. Jesus then appeared in the room where they were meeting and convinced them. Only Thomas wasn’t there, so the met again the next Sunday and he didn’t believe until Jesus appeared again. After that He appeared to some of them while fishing and fed them. He also appeared to James at some point, but the Gospels don’t record this. It’s included in the early creed (dated to within 3 years of the events) found in 1Corinthians 15. They had been told to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee, and He appeared to them there and gave them the final words before He departed to Heaven.
I don’t want to be unkind, but here’s a perfect example of a failed harmony attempt. Halfway through your first sentence, you’ve already disagreed with Matthew, and the rest of the line conflicts with the other three gospels. The whole thing is just a messy hodgepodge crammed with everyone running back and forth like crazy, with so many dropped plot elements that you couldn’t make fit together. I think even you’d admit if nothing else, the whole attempt here sounds just a bit desperate. Read your new version here, then read any of the gospels and ask yourself if all this hubbub was what REALLY happened, would anyone have written their gospel the way they did? If you’re honest, I think you’ll have to say no.
#8 Mark 16:19 also mentions the ascension as well. Again, each of the writers focused on different details. Matthew clearly refers to the major events of the 40 days in summary. He never states that all of the events occurred in the same day.
I’m sorry, but you are completely wrong here on every point. As the majority of Biblical scholars have long recognized, everything after Mark 16:8 is a later interpolation. Mark 16:9-20 is one of at least three different ending tacked on to Mark, none of which appear in our oldest and most reliable manuscripts. To our best knowledge, the original author of Mark ended his gospel with the angel saying they should go to the Galilee, where they would see him (16:7) and the women running from the tomb in fear and never telling anyone what they saw (16:8).
I never claimed that Matthew said all those events occurred on the same day - that is what Luke says. Matthew follows Mark and has the angel (and somewhat redundantly, Jesus himself) tell the women that they will see him appear on a mountain in the Galilee (60-100 miles away from Jerusalem, incidentally). You claim “Matthew clearly refers to the major events of the 40 days in summary.” Really? Matthew says nothing of the kind. In fact he only says, and I quote: “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them” (28:16).
As I said, it’s Luke who has all this happen on a single day (the longer ending to Mark also follows Luke, contradicting the genuine Mark who said Jesus would see them in Galilee). Don’t believe me? Read Luke 24 again: Jesus appears to them at dinner that same evening (24:1, 33-36), eats with them (24: 41-43) then after the meal he commands them - contrary to Matthew and Mark - to wait in Jerusalem (24:49) and takes them out to Bethany, where he promptly ascends to heaven (24:50-51).
#9 What is your evidence for any of this other than dogmatic the claims of other skeptics? John claims to be the writer of John (John 21:24). There is evidence that Matthew was written well before the close of the first century. There is outside evidence by other second century Christians that the gospels were written early, and by the four named writers. And just because the synoptics are similar, it is an assumption that they all borrowed from Mark. If they did, then why are there a few things in Mark NOT included in the others? Furthermore, none of the gospels contradict. They appear to be different eyewitness testimonies.
Let’s break this down.
1) What is your evidence for any of this other than dogmatic the claims of other skeptics?
What’s my evidence that the Gospels weren’t written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? It’s certainly not “the dogmatic claims of other skeptics” (as I think you meant to type). The majority opinion of all biblical scholars (Christian or not) is that the attributions on our four familiar gospels simply appear to be names added to them some time during the second century, long after they were written. Most scholars agree the Gospels and other writings used for reading in church at first existed without titles, until Christian communities acquired more than one and needed some way to tell them apart.
And this isn’t just opinion; but is well established by the evidence. For example, all were written in Koine Greek by educated Greek speakers; there never was an Aramaic or Hebrew original of Matthew, for instance, as some early church fathers claimed (besides, the apostles were supposed to be illiterate anyway, accord to Acts 4:13). In fact, some passages have Jesus saying puns that only work in Greek. The evidence is so well supported that this isn’t controversial at all. Even very conservative Christian scholars who do believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were actual historical figures recognize that they did not write the works that bear their names.
2) John claims to be the writer of John (John 21:24).
This is doubly wrong. First of all, the author of this Gospel never claims to be anyone named “John;” the apostle John never even appears in this gospel, let alone seems to be dictating it. (Besides, scholars have long recognized that John originally ended a chapter earlier, at John 20:31, so everything in chapter 21 is a later addition to begin with). The author claims the text is the work of the mysterious unnamed “disciple who Jesus loved.” No other Gospel even makes any mention of this unnamed disciple or his special bond with the savior, and even in this Gospel he only starts appearing towards the end of the story (13:23, 19:25-27), and usually one-upping Peter (see John 20:1-8, 21:7, 20-22)
You are right in that the Gospel ends by finally claiming the Beloved (though apparently not very modest) Disciple is its author – but the same line inadvertently hints that this was in reality written long after his time, by others: ”This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21: 24) So who was the Beloved Disciple really supposed to be? Several different candidates have been proposed, including Lazarus, who is said to be loved by Jesus (John 11:3, 5), and various other unnamed disciples who appear in John (1:35-40;18:15-16). No one really knows.
Of course this would never do for a Gospel’s author, and in the 2nd century, the Church finally solved the problem by declaring the author was the Apostle John, son of Zebedee. How did they know? Guesswork, actually. Clearly it had to be one of the three who was closest to Jesus in the other Gospels, so they narrowed it down to Peter, James, or his brother John. Since it wasn’t Peter, and James was supposed to have been killed early (Acts12:2), it could only be John. Christian tradition has generally attributed the fourth Gospel to him ever since. But since this gospel was written well in the second century (among other reasons), it couldn’t really be written by anyone from the alleged time of Jesus.
3) There is evidence that Matthew was written well before the close of the first century. There is outside evidence by other second century Christians that the gospels were written early, and by the four named writers.
First, I think you’re confusing Matthew with Mark, which was the first Gospel written and may well have been written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. I discuss the second century evidence in NAILED - there is no first century evidence for any Gospel - and how it points to a date after the war with Rome. Mark was not written any earlier than that, no matter how badly some apologists wish it was earlier. Scholars across the theological spectrum (though some still debate it) tend to agree that Matthew was written a decade or two after Mark. I’ve already discussed why we know the authors weren’t Matthew, Mark, Luke and John above - and again, that is not a controversial statement. Neither is this: Matthew and Luke each took Mark’s gospel, and reworked it for their own purposes. Biblical scholars call this Markan Priority, and this is not some radical controversial theory concocted by atheists; it has been the majority opinion of all Bible scholars for well over a century and one of the basic foundations of biblical scholarship.
4) And just because the synoptics are similar, it is an assumption that they all borrowed from Mark. If they did, then why are there a few things in Mark NOT included in the others?
The Synoptics are not similar - they are identical, except where they deliberately alter Mark’s text or add to it. This is not an assumption; it is the “Synoptic problem,” overwhelmingly acknowledged by biblical scholars for over 200 years. The authors of Matthew and Luke simply reworked an original story by “Mark,” a non-eyewitness who knows little or nothing about Judaism or the geography of Judea, and who appears to have written his Gospel decades after the events he describes, using various sources for his material, including midrash, classical Greek literature and philosophy, Jewish numerology, astrological motifs and sacred geometry. It also appears that he wrote it as an allegory, and fully expected his educated readers to recognize that.
“Matthew”, and later, “Luke” kept the outline and much of Mark’s material, (50% in Luke, a whopping 90% in Matthew) and simply padded it with additional material and fictional touches they came up with themselves. There are many cases of intercalation, which is when Mark arbitrarily switches scenes and then goes back to the action again. One way we catch Matthew and Luke copying Mark is when they follow these same personal touches of Mark themselves.
Matthew also corrects many of Mark’s mistakes about Judaism, Judean life, politics and geography, even repeated misquotes of scripture (unlike Luke, who fails to catch them and repeats Mark’s mistakes).
And where they aren’t copying Mark outright, Matt and Luke disagree completely with each other on even the most rudimentary information about Jesus. We can also demonstrate conclusively that Luke also borrowed freely from histories that Josephus completed after the year 93, so his Gospel could not have been written before that, and it’s probably much later; the most recent dates I’ve heard proposed are around the year 115 - 130. Needless to say, since Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark, then their accounts of events cannot be considered independent testimony. So then for the events depicted in the Synoptic Gospels we have not three perspectives, but just one.
“John’s” Gospel, on the other hand, is totally different from the Synoptics in nearly every way from the other three, giving a different timeline of events and a different personality and theology to Jesus. And all four Gospels show signs of later editing: changing, snipping, or adding material to an evolving story. And as I pointed out in the quiz, for the first 200 - 300 years, we have very little or often nothing at all, to determine how faithfully any of the original New Testament writings were preserved at all.
5) Furthermore, none of the gospels contradict. They appear to be different eyewitness testimonies.
So...you admit a few things in Mark are NOT included in the others, but this isn’t a contradiction? How does that work? Actually, it doesn’t matter, because we’ve already seen several examples of contradiction: detailed reports that are in complete contradiction to one another - was Jesus in Judea often, going back and forth to Jerusalem before hiding out after raising Lazarus, as John says? Or did he travel to Judea and Jerusalem with a multitude of followers for the very first time a week or so before his death, as Mark says? In fact, the Gospels contradict each other everywhere from before Jesus’ birth to after his death, and everywhere in between. This doesn’t necessarily mean one of them might not be true, anyway, but there simply no way all of them can be.
What makes you say these appear to be eyewitness accounts? We all know apologists have long insisted they are, but none of these third person narratives appears to be anyone’s testimony. Take a look: they don’t just often contradict each other in detailed, convoluted and fundamental ways, they often get basics of first century Judea embarrassingly wrong, have historical mistakes, anachronistic mistakes, have omniscient narrators telling us what Mary thought or what angels told Joseph in dreams, or reporting things that no one could possibly know, like details of secret meetings of the Pharisees or the exact moment when Satan enters Judas’ heart.
Besides, none of them even claim to be eyewitness testimony - quite the opposite. The four Gospels were all originally written anonymously; none of them mention the name of their author. Only John’s Gospel even purports to be written by an anonymous disciple, and this claim has clearly been tacked on by a later editor. Luke is the only one to claim that he is writing history; He even claims that his is the ONLY Gospel out of many, many others, that is giving the real story, as handed down to him. And even this is demonstrably a total lie, since he hasn’t done any research; he’s only ripped off Matthew and Mark’s gospels, along with other material like Josephus’ history and the nativity story of John the Baptist from his cult’s scriptures, which was a rival to early Christianity for over a century. As I discuss in NAILED, he is crappy historian, even by ancient standards (although he’s a brilliant novelist!)
And all four gospels contain giveaways that they are being written long after the facts: Luke opens by telling us his story has been handed down to him (Luke 1:1-2) and Matthew lets it slip that he is writing long afterwards, such as when he described the cover-up of the resurrection, “this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day,” (Matt. 28:15) and the story of Judas’ field of blood (“Wherefore that field was called the field of blood, unto this day" Matt. 27:8).
And there are other indications that make this even more apparent, not least of which is that all four Gospels make clear allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70, some four decades after their stories take place: Mark's "Little Apocalypse" in chapter 13 lists details that happened only after the war, not during the alleged lifetime of Jesus; The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew and Luke (Matt. 22:2-14; Luke 14:16-24) and the statements in John 2:13-22 and 11:48 all presuppose the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the temple, and there are still several more instances where the Evangelists accidentally add elements to their tales that never could have occurred during the time they are depicting.
And of course, you are right on for #10. Resurrection day is better. The Roman Catholic church began calling it Easter much later.
Finally we agree on something!
Note to Christian: I don’t mean to come down to hard on you personally; you seem like a decent enough guy, but I have to say you’re repeating outdated apologetic misinformation that’s been stinking up the place for way too long. The facts simply aren’t what so many preachers and apologists have confidently been trumpeting for years, if not centuries. Which is why I wrote my book NAILED in the first place...
All the best,
April 25, 2011