The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory

How a Fictional Jesus Gave Rise to Christianity

 By - 11/23/2014

Having written several pieces on the historicity of Jesus (Jesus Myth - The Case Against Historical Christ, Jesus Myth Part II - Follow-up, Commentary, and Expansion, The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory), I think it is of critical importance to not simply cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus, but to actually put forward plausible explanations for the development of early Christian writings and how the widespread belief in a real life Jesus was established. This piece builds on the evidence laid out in my prior writings and ties everything together into a cohesive explanation for the origins of belief in a human Jesus and the development of early Christian history.

I want to make something very clear: Not only do I think that "Jesus never existed", I think it's very possible, given the evidence, to build a solid case which proves "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Jesus did not exist. The primary pieces of evidence in my case against the existence of Jesus are in fact the Gospels themselves.

After having studied this subject for years, I have moved away from the term "myth" to describe the origins of "Jesus", and now view the origins of belief in a real human Jesus to be a product of misunderstood fiction. I call this the Fictional Jesus Theory. What I will do first is provide a basic overview of how I think the belief in a real Jesus and the rise of Christianity occurred, then lay out the evidence supporting my Fictional Jesus Theory.

Overview

A small messianic cult (one of many) arose in Jerusalem and the surrounding area that worshiped a heavenly messiah named Jesus some time in the early 1st century. Someone called James was likely the leader of this movement. This was a small explicitly Jewish cult that had little significance and was not widely known. Someone called Paul became a convert to this movement and began proselytizing about it to both Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) throughout the Mediterranean region. Up to this point "Jesus" was universally understood by the cult's followers as a heavenly messiah, uncorrupted by the material world, not an actual human being. Some time during the First Jewish-Roman War, most likely shortly after the Siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70 CE, some follower of Paul wrote an allegorical story that cast "Jesus" as the protagonist in a fictional narrative about the Jews, which portrayed the Jews as having brought the destruction of the war upon themselves. This story is what we now call the Gospel of Mark. The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke were both based on an intermediate expanded version of Mark, which has since been lost. The Gospel called John descends from the Synoptic narrative in some way, with the inclusion of additional literary elements as well.

Every single narrative about Jesus, canonical and non-canonical, descends directly or indirectly from the Gospel called Mark, making this fictional story the single point of origin for all belief in a real human Jesus. By the end of the 1st century the belief that the Gospels were "true" accounts of events that had really happened was common, as was the belief that Jesus had been a real person. Belief in a "real life Jesus" arose solely from the Gospel stories themselves. From the late 1st century through the early 3rd century there was widespread confusion over who Jesus was and whether or not he had ever actually existed on earth as pre-Gospel beliefs about Jesus were reinterpreted in the context of the Gospel narratives.

By the early 2nd century interest in the Jesus cult grew, largely as a product of the Gospel stories, which were exciting and of particular interest to the non-Jewish population following the First Jewish-Roman War as the Jewish Diaspora spread throughout the region. From the 2nd century through the 4th and 5th centuries (and beyond) many additional stories were written about various figures from the Gospel narratives, such as Mary and the so-called twelve disciples. These stories were themselves a mix of concocted fiction, mythology, and urban legends. Indeed many of these later stories, written by former pagans, incorporated elements of local pagan mythology. After the religion gained prominence in the 4th through 6th centuries, many stories mythologizing martyrs and early church figures were concocted. All of these fictional stories, from the Gospels through to the martyrdom tales, were "historicized" by "scholars" who believed that they were all true and wrote histories based on these stories as if they were authentic records of real history.

So the reality is that it's not just that "Jesus did not exist", the reality is that the majority of early Christian history is fabricated. For example I would say that we actually know nothing more about Peter, a key figure in early Church "history", than what was recorded in the letters of Paul, and it's highly doubtful that "Peter" had anything to do with the founding of the Church in Rome or that he even lived beyond the early 1st century. Peter was, most likely, simply a follower of James, whom Paul had associated with in Jerusalem in the early 1st century and really played no role whatsoever in the development of the religion beyond whatever role he played in the small Jewish cult's activities in Jerusalem. The "Peter" of importance to "Christian history" is just a fabrication based on the Gospel narratives.

I do think we can conclude that a few of the figures from the Gospel narratives and early Christian history were "real people", or at least based on real people. Those include Paul, James, John, Peter, Barnabas, Pontius Pilate, and Herod. John the Baptist may or may not have been a real person, it's difficult to determine, but impossible to rule out. However I would say that the authentic letters of Paul are the only somewhat reliable sources of information about individuals from the early Jesus movement, and everything else written about such figures was knowingly or unknowingly based on fabrications and misinformation.

What is important to understand about this is that such "fabrications" were not at all unusual at the time. After all, virtually all of these fabricated stories were produced by the same culture that created a rich mythology encompassing literally thousands of gods, demigods and heroes, and in which mythologizing the lives of real people was commonplace. It is critically important to differentiate, however, the origins of the Jesus cult, the Jesus narrative, and later Christian narratives and beliefs. The Jesus cult and early Gospel narratives are highly Jewish in their origin, with increasing pagan influences only coming later as the religion was adopted by Greeks and Romans from the 2nd century on.

The remaining question of course is why or how, then, did Christianity spread and become the dominant religion of the Roman world in the course of a few hundred years? This is a much more complicated question, and one that I don't think anyone today can fully answer, but at a high level I think there were two main avenues: The religion gained prominence both among a certain class of powerful "intellectuals" and among the poor, for largely different reasons. First let's address the "intellectuals". The belief that the Gospels held the key to predicting the future was extremely powerful among certain intellectuals and leaders. This belief stemmed ultimately from a misunderstanding of the literary allusions in the Gospels, which were interpreted as "prophecy" by early Christian apologists. These early Greek and Roman Christians believed that the Gospels proved that the Hebrew scriptures could predict the future, and they saw the "prophetic fulfillment" evidenced in the Gospels as "proof that the religion was true." This was a compelling factor among people in positions of power. Military leaders, governors, and even emperors were literally persuaded to believe that the Gospels provided solid proof of prophetic power, and that they or their Christian advisors would be able to use Christian and Jewish scriptures to predict the future. Of course the ability to predict the future was seen as the ultimate source of power by Greeks and Romans, who had long been fascinated with the notion of prophecy.

The other major factor that contributed to the early spread of Christianity was appeal of the religion to the poor. Judaism had a long tradition of sympathy toward the poor and dispossessed. This is very likely because the Jews were a relatively poor and dispossessed people living amongst very powerful and successful empires, such as the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, etc. The Jews were subjects or slaves of many of these empires at various points in their history. As such, Jewish religion dealt heavily with suffering, poverty and dispossession, unlike the religions of the more successful and powerful cultures that surrounded them, whose religions tended to espouse power, triumph and domination.

The Christian movement happened to come along at a time when poverty and unrest were on the rise within the Roman empire, and this movement, with its strong messages of support for the poor and dispossessed was appealing to the growing numbers of poor and dispossessed peoples of the region. Furthermore, and very importantly, major changes were taking place within the Roman army at this time. The Roman army was becoming increasingly filled with the ranks of the poor, immigrants, and men with families. As such, Christianity was particularly popular among the soldiers of the Roman army. As the rank-and-file of the Roman army became increasingly Christian, this put pressure on military leaders, and ultimately emperors, to embrace the religion. So basically, Christianity appealed to the poor more than many of the traditional religions of the region, and the Roman army was increasingly populated by the poor. In addition, the Christian promise of heaven and appeal to suffering and martyrdom proved useful to military leaders.

The idea, however, that Christians were heavily persecuted during the first few centuries of the religion's history is highly dubious. The reality is that if Christians were in fact heavily persecuted the religion would likely never have gained prominence. The stories of widespread Christian persecution during the first through third centuries are later fabrications that were concocted largely after the religion had actually gained dominance.

Furthermore, religion was viewed as something of a "lucky charm" by most people at the time, especially within the military. People frequently switched religions and the gods that they favored based on perceptions of related military success. As such, it was common among those in the military to adopt the religions or patron gods of people who were successful on the battlefield. Military successes by Christian warriors led to the conversion of other warriors, not so much because of any particularly Christian beliefs, but simply because, "So-and-so won a battle and So-and-so was Christian, therefore his god must be strong and helpful, so I'll worship that god too so I can be protected and successful in battle."

Christianity was more rapidly adopted by the Roman army and the armies of surrounding civilizations, such as the Visigoths, than it was by the civilian population. Christianity gained its dominance though this military avenue, basically rising up through the military from the foot soldiers to the officers and ultimately up to the emperor. Leadership had two compelling reasons to embrace Christianity: both their belief in the prophetic power of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and its widespread popularity among soldiers. Given the fact that the Roman empire by this time had essentially become a military dictatorship, the dominance of Christianity within the military had profound implications for the Roman population as well as the development of Christian institutions.

Politically, Christianity became revolutionary and a means of overthrowing the entrenched Roman aristocracy. As Christians gained political power they used sanctuary to encourage slaves of pagan owners to convert. Both Christians and pagans held slaves, but slaves of pagan owners who converted to Christianity could escape to churches and gain their freedom. This undermined the wealth and power of pagan aristocrats. In addition, as Christians gained political power they changed the laws to allow only Christians to inherit estates, they cut off funding to pagan temples, they de-funded libraries, and fought wars against non-Christian Romans. The Christian revolution of the 4th through 6th centuries was somewhat similar to the 20th century communist revolutions in its forcefulness, its use of propaganda, and in the manner in which it redistributed wealth from the aristocracy to the state by appropriating the property of pagan aristocrats and turning it over to the church and government.

So let's begin at the beginning and see how this all got started.

Apocalyptic Origins of Christian Theology

A central element of the Jesus story is the concept of Jesus as "The Messiah". But what exactly is a "messiah"? Today most Christian scholars would say that for Jews "at the time of Jesus" "the messiah" was the idea of a descendent of David who would lead the Jews to establish an independent Jewish state, usually by means of military victory over their oppressors. The reality is that 2,000 years ago there was no singular concept of "the messiah" among Jews. However, it is true that most descriptions of a messiah from Jews prior to "the time of Jesus" described the messiah as a human being.

Likewise, most messianic stories prior to the Jesus story describe the role of the messiah as somehow eliminating corruption within Jewish society and establishing some sort of idealized Jewish kingdom. How and why this would happen, or what the ultimate result would be, was highly variable among different Jewish writers of the time, and indeed there were Jews who did not believe in the concept of a messiah at all.

What sets the Jesus story apart, however, is the idea that the kingdom created by the messiah would not be on earth at all, but rather it would be in heaven. This has major implications for understanding the origins of the Jesus story - the idea that "the kingdom of God" established by "the messiah" would be in heaven. This is an idea that developed within a sub-sect of Jews, perhaps influenced by the Platonic idea that the material world is hopelessly corrupt and cannot be perfected. For this group of Jews, the idea of a "perfect" Jewish kingdom ever being established on earth was absurd. They knew that this would never happen. The corruption of the material world, and "the flesh", made it clear to these Jews that not only could a perfect kingdom only be established in heaven, but indeed the messiah himself must be heavenly - uncorrupted by the material world.

The theology of this sect stated that the messiah would destroy the material world, to make way for the creation of a new uncorrupted heavenly world. Within this framework, the idea of an earthly messiah makes no sense at all. The central concept here was that the material world itself was hopelessly corrupt and beyond salvation. Within this theology, the only thing that could be saved was man's immaterial soul, and this saving had to be accomplished by the complete and total destruction of the material world.

Of course this would not be achieved by an earthly messiah. The idea of a messiah who had ever been corrupted by becoming "flesh" was completely antithetical to the theology. What we see in the beliefs of so-called Gnostic sects that were documented in the 2nd through 4th centuries (as we will later explore) is the merger of the pre-Gospel concept of the immaterial Jesus with the Gospel narratives. This is why we have records in the early 2nd century, after the Gospel stories had become widespread, of many "Christian" sects who believed that the Jesus described in the Gospels was an immaterial apparition. It really makes no sense that such a belief would arise after the belief in a real human Jesus was already established. The belief that the Jesus of the Gospels was an immaterial apparition was a product of trying to reconcile the pre-Gospel belief in an immaterial messiah with the Gospel stories, which portrayed Jesus as a real live human on earth.

This is also why we see in the letters of Paul that Paul talks about the coming of Jesus, not the "second coming" or "return" of Jesus. For example, in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians he states:

1 Thessalonians 4:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever.

2 Thessalonians 1:
5 All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Notice that there is no talk of a "return" of Jesus, but that these events are described as the initial coming of Jesus. It was only after the writing of the Gospels that the coming of Jesus was re-cast as the "second coming" of Jesus.

The conflict between the core apocalyptic theology of Christianity and the Gospel stories has always been unsettling within the religion. Many core elements of Christian theology contradict each other, which has caused Christian theologians to perform philosophical gymnastics for centuries, and this all stems from the fact that at the very core of the religion there is this conflict between the theology of an immaterial heavenly messiah and a messiah who was "made flesh". This is why we end up with the Trinity and other logical impossibilities to try and explain Christian theology, because from the very outset Christian theology was inherently built on the concept of a corrupt material world that can only be saved by an immaterial messiah, yet stories about a real human messiah are central to the establishment of its legitimacy.

Creation of the Markan Narrative

Many New Testament scholars believe that the canonical Gospels and other early Christian writings about Jesus reflect either observations made by the writers and other people about Jesus, or at least that they reflect some collective oral narratives or anecdotes that emerged among groups of Jesus' followers. In other words, even if New Testament scholars agree that Jesus didn't really walk on water or miraculously heal people, they believe that such stories about Jesus must have developed within some community as oral traditions or teachings and spread by word of mouth to many people, before having been chronicled by the Gospel writers.

So, the vast majority of New Testament scholars still see the Gospel writers ultimately as chroniclers, whether or not they were chronicling real events or just "real legends" depends on who you ask, but nevertheless, the Gospel writers were merely people who were recording what they either observed or heard from other people. And the fact that other people, presumably many other people, had such tales to tell is ultimately traced back to the life of the real Jesus, who, one way or another, inspired these tales.

What I think the evidence shows is basically the exact opposite of this. I think the evidence shows that the first narrative about a human Jesus was a story that we call the Gospel of Mark, and that the scenes in this story are the invention of the author, not the reflection of any existing traditions or observations. My view is that there was no concept of a human Jesus until the story we call the Gospel of Mark was written, and that all narratives about Jesus and the various characters found in the Gospel called Mark are dependent, either directly or indirectly, on this story.

There was no oral tradition about Jesus walking on water or healing people, etc., until these story elements were invented by the author of Mark. What existed prior to the Gospel called Mark was a Gnostic cult that worshiped a heavenly Messiah called Jesus who was crucified by spiritual powers in heaven, and who was going to bring about a new "Kingdom of God" by destroying the corrupt material world and creating a new perfect immaterial world in heaven, into which the souls of the deserving would be brought, while the souls of the undeserving would be cast into eternal torment.

The author of the story called the Gospel of Mark was a follower of a Pauline ministry (whether he had any real direct knowledge of Paul is impossible to say), who likely became disillusioned with the cult after the First Jewish-Roman War of 66 - 73 CE and the sacking of Jerusalem. In response to the defeat of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem, this person wrote a fictional story in which he cast "Jesus Christ" as the protagonist, who leads the readers through a series of events meant to demonstrate the corruption and ungodliness of the Jews, to show that the Jews had brought the war upon themselves and that their defeat at the hands of the Romans was a punishment from their own god. That's what the story is about. The story we call the Gospel of Mark is a fictional story that was written in reaction to the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.

The reason that I think the story we call the Gospel of Mark is a fictional narrative about the First Jewish-Roman War is because of the nature of the literary allusions used in the story. The direct scriptural references and literary allusions that I have been able to identify (some of which have not been recognized by other Biblical scholars) are summarized below:

Scene Reference Subject of Reference
The Proclamation of John the Baptist Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40; 2 Kings 1 Judgment of God on Israel; Comfort to Israel for fulfillment of punishment through destruction; Identification of Elijah
The Baptism of Jesus Isaiah 11; Isaiah 42 Identification of God's servant
Jesus Calls the First Disciples Jeremiah 16 Punishment of Israel
The Man with an Unclean Spirit Isaiah 65 God's people don't recognize him
Jesus Heals a Paralytic 2 Kings 5 Elijah/Elisha healing miracles
The Purpose of the Parables Isaiah 6 Punishment of Israel
Jesus Stills a Storm Psalm 107 Identification of the Lord
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac Isaiah 64 Punishment of Israel
A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed 1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4 Elijah/Elisha healing miracles
Death of John the Baptist 2 Kings 2 Transfer of Spirit from Elijah to Elisha
Feeding the Five Thousand 2 Kings 4 Elijah/Elisha feeding miracles
Jesus Walks on Water Isaiah 43 Identification of the Savior of Israel
Feeding the Four Thousand 2 Kings 4 Elijah/Elisha feeding miracles
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection Isaiah 53 Suffering Servant
The Transfiguration Daniel 12 Description of eternal life and shining like a star for the righteous
Temptations to Sin Isaiah 66 Description of punishment for opponents of God
Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem Zachariah 14; Zachariah 9; Psalm 118 Identification of the ruler of Israel
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree and Clears the Temple Hosea 9 Admonition of the Jews, Punishment of Israel
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants Isaiah 5 Admonition of the Jews, Punishment of Israel
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold Isaiah 13, 14, 19 Admonition of the Jews, Punishment of Israel
The Desolating Sacrilege Daniel 9, 11, 12 Admonition of the Jews, Destruction foretold
The Coming of the Son of Man Isaiah 13, Daniel 7 Destruction, Punishment of the world; Coming of an eternal ruler
The Anointing at Bethany 2 Kings 9; 1 Samuel 10 Anointing of the ruler of Israel
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus Amos 2 Admonition of the Jews, Punishment of Israel
The Passover with the Disciples 1 Samuel 10 Preparations for kingship
Jesus predicts his Betrayal Psalm 41 Invocation for revenge against transgressors
Peter's Denial Foretold Zechariah 13 Wrath against betrayers
The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus Amos 2 Admonition of the Jews, Punishment of Israel
Jesus before the Council Isaiah 53; Psalm 110; Psalm 35 Suffering Servant; Prayer for deliverance from enemies; Prayer for retribution on oppressors
Jesus before Pilate Isaiah 53 Suffering Servant
The Soldiers Mock Jesus Isaiah 50 Suffering Servant
The Crucifixion of Jesus Amos 2; Psalm 22; Amos 8 Judgment on Israel; Prayer for deliverance from suffering; Admonition of the Jews, Punishment of Israel
The Burial of Jesus Isaiah 53 Suffering Servant

The writer of the story called the Gospel of Mark created a very clever multi-layered narrative, that he intended for his audience to be able to decipher and understand. The writer made extensive use of literary allusions as a vital part of the narrative, in such a way that the intention of the work was for people to recognize the literary allusions and then look them up in order to understand the story. Apparently, however, this isn't what happened. What happened was that many people believed the story to be literally true, and only recognized a relatively small portion of the literary allusions. The ones they did recognize they interpreted as "prophecy fulfillment" instead of literary allusions.

Much of the story called the Gospel of Mark follows the story of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and 2 Kings. In fact I would call the story of Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings the primary template for the Gospel called Mark. The story of Elijah and Elisha was popular and would have been well known to a Jewish audience. The borrowing from this story was intentionally quite overt. In fact the similarities between the Gospel called Mark and 1 and 2 Kings go well beyond the literary allusions outlined above. For anyone seeking to understand the Gospels, I strongly recommend reading the entire books of 1 and 2 Kings. In doing so you will see that there are really countless parallels between them and the Gospel called Mark.

The other pattern that we see among the literary allusions used in the Gospel called Mark is the abundant use of allusions to passages about punishment of Israel and God brining destruction on "his people". This is why I believe the story was written in reaction to the First Jewish-Roman War. For a more complete analysis of all of the literary allusions listed above you can refer to my piece, The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory.

However, I'd like to focus on one simple element of the story to demonstrate that this is a fictional story, crafted by the author with the intent that readers use the literary allusions to understand the story. In the Gospel called Mark, John the Baptist represents Elijah. Knowing this is important for understanding the story. How are readers supposed to know that John the Baptist represents Elijah in the story? Readers are told this at the very beginning of the story through the use of literary allusion. In fact, readers are clued into the fact that the story will parallel much of 1 and 2 Kings right from the beginning.

The author uses an implicit reference to the Hebrew scriptures when the author introduces the character of John the Baptist.

Mark 1:
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, 'The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'

Mark 1:6 refers to 2 Kings 1:8, which provides a description of Elijah.

2 Kings 1:
8 They replied, "He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist."
The king said, "That was Elijah the Tishbite."

This description of John the Baptist, as a man "clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist," is the only way that the reader can figure out that John the Baptist is Elijah. In order to figure that out, the reader has to recognize this literary allusion and know that it describes Elijah. To an audience of Jews who grew up listening to stories about Elijah, this probably wouldn't have been difficult. But what is important is that it's clear that the reader is supposed to be aware of the literary allusion, because the author makes use of information from it later on in the story.

Not only this, but Mark 1:2 is a reference to Malachi 3. The book of Malachi concludes in Malachi 4 by saying that the Lord will send Elijah before the day of his wrath:

Mark 1:
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.

2 As it is written in the prophets,
'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight"',

This refers to Malachi 3:1:

Malachi 3:
1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

Malachi 4:
5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.

As is typical throughout Mark we see "hidden meaning" in the narrative through the use of literary allusion. If you just read the narrative at face value the opening scene of Mark appears quite innocent and nice. However when you look at the literary allusions you see that the story is about the condemnation of the Jews and the destruction of Israel that occurred during the First Jewish-Roman War. The coming of Jesus is not a good thing, it is a harbinger of destruction, which is actually alluded to multiple times in the story.

So by looking at the literary allusions in the opening scene of Mark we see very complex foreshadowing and messaging. We are told in Mark 1:2 that John the Baptist is a messenger preparing the way for the Lord, who will come to the temple, which foreshadows the temple cleansing scene in Mark 11. We are told via the book of Malachi that the events unfolding are part of the coming judgment of God against Israel, which will result in destruction and punishment of the Jews, which will be preceded by the coming of Elijah. We then see John the Baptist identified as Elijah in Mark 1:6.

In Mark 6 we are told of the killing of John the Baptist by Herod at the urging of his wife Herodias in a scenario reminiscent of Jezebel's plot to kill Elijah from 1 Kings.

After the transfiguration scene in Mark 9 the disciples ask Jesus about Elijah.

Mark 9:
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 11 Then they asked him, 'Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' 12 He said to them, 'Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.'

It is here that the literary allusions from Mark 1:2-6 become important, because one has to realize from the literary allusion to 2 Kings 1:8 that John the Baptist is Elijah in order for this scene to make any sense. In addition, the question asked by the disciples refers to the passage in Malachi that talks about Elijah coming before, "the great and terrible day of the Lord."

And again in the crucifixion scene the author makes use of the reference:

Mark 15:
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole earth until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, 'Listen, he is calling for Elijah.' 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, 'Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.' 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

Of course Elijah does not come to take him down, because he has been killed by Herod.

All of this is just one example of how the author crafted an intricate multi-layered narrative, through the use of literary allusions, which it is clear that the author intended his audience to be able to decipher. This type of complex writing makes it clear that the author is crafting a story - the author is not merely chronicling events or recording anecdotes that he heard from other people. We see this all throughout the Gospel called Mark. The author makes copious use of symbolism, foreshadowing, irony and literary allusion, including foreshadowing through literary allusion. These are all hallmarks which indicate that the author invented this story from whole cloth himself. The narrative of the story we call the Gospel of Mark is clearly crafted with purpose and intent by the author.

Not only that, but much of the story is related to the destruction of the First Jewish-Roman War. The destruction of that war is a pervasive theme throughout the narrative, which means that the narrative can't be based on pre-existing anecdotes about Jesus from 30 CE - 60 CE, because so many of the scenes are based on literary allusions that deal with the war and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. That the story is really about the war is made evident in the opening lines when the author quotes directly from Malachi and Isaiah 11, both of which deal with destruction brought upon Israel as a punishment from God.

This goes directly against the idea that the author of this story was merely recording some pre-existing collection of anecdotes about Jesus that exited as part of some community-based oral tradition. The way that most scholars today view the Gospels, in particular Mark, is that even if we acknowledge that the writers had no direct knowledge of Jesus, it is assumed that the events they describe in their writing were not at all invented by the writers themselves. The assumption is that the events described in the Gospels are records of some existing narrative. The assumption is that in all of the early writings about Jesus, none of the writers were inventors, that what they wrote down didn't originate in the minds of the writers. The assumption is that all of the Gospel writers  were merely recording things that they had heard from other people - that the information came from some outside source.

My position on the Gospel called Mark is that this story was invented out of whole cloth by the author, and it does not reflect any significant oral tradition or pre-existing beliefs about Jesus. I don't think that there was any pre-existing story about Jesus having twelve disciples, being baptized by John the Baptist, healing people, feeding large groups of people, walking on water, throwing merchants out of the temple, being transfigured, being anointed, being betrayed by Judas, being tried, or even any narrative about his crucifixion. I think all of these things are pure inventions by the author of the story we call the Gospel of Mark.

The reason I think that is because all of these scenes in the Gospel called Mark are based on literary allusions, and all of these same scenes in other sources show clear dependence on Mark. This means that everyone else who wrote about these scenes is basing them on the accounts in Mark, which would only happen if there were no other accounts to go by. We know that the accounts in Mark aren't based on any oral tradition, because they are based on literary allusion. And the way that the narrative of Mark is crafted indicates that it can't possibly be some lose collection of pre-existing anecdotes, because the narrative itself fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. The only way that such a narrative can come into existence is through the intentional design of its author. And not only that, so much of the narrative revolves around events that occurred in 70 CE, namely the war and destruction of the temple.

If the narrative of Mark were based on some pre-existing oral tradition or based on accounts of real events that actually happened, then we would expect there to be entirely different independent accounts or independent accounts of these same events, and indeed for millennia it was believed that the four Gospels were evidence of independent accounts of the same sets of events. But now careful study shows us that the opposite is true. Careful study shows us that far from being independent accounts, every other account shows dependence on Mark, which is exactly what we are going to explore next.

Development of the other Gospels

One of the most interesting scenes in the Gospels from an analytical perspective is the famous "Cleansing of the Temple" scene. There are many reasons why this scene is so interesting, and why it is so critical to unlocking an understanding of how the Gospels were written.

 

As I explained in The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory, the temple scene is actually part of a literary allusion to Hosea 9 in the Hebrew scriptures. In the Markan narrative, the famous cursing of the fig tree is an integral part of the temple narrative. This is because the cursing of the fig tree and the expulsion from the temple are all components of the same literary allusion to Hosea 9. It is clear that the later Gospel writers, who copied from Mark, were unaware of this literary allusion, and were thus confused about how to handle the scene.

Lets take a look at how exactly this scene was originally authored by the writer of Mark, and how it was then handled by the later writers who copied it from Mark.

First, let's start with the passage from Hosea 9, to which the author of Mark was making a literary allusion:

Hosea 9:
1 Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; ...
7 The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this. Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac.
8 The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim, yet snares await him on all his paths, and hostility in the house of his God.
9 They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.
10 'When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.
11 Ephraim's glory will fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy, no conception.
12 Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one. Woe to them when I turn away from them!
13 I have seen Ephraim, like Tyre, planted in a pleasant place. But Ephraim will bring out their children to the slayer."
14 Give them, O LORD—what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry.
15 "Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there. Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house. I will no longer love them; all their leaders are rebellious.
16 Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring.'
17 My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him;

From this passage, the author of Mark crafted the following scene:

Mark 11:
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written:

"'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, they went out of the city.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

We can see in the Markan text that the cursing of the fig tree, the driving out of people from the temple (house of God), and the hostility toward Jesus, are all related elements which are drawn from Hosea 9. All of these elements, and the order in which they are presented in the Markan narrative, are necessary to make the association between Hosea 9 and the narrative.

Most important, however, is that if we accept the fact that the Markan narrative is actually a literary allusion, then it means that this scene is not based on any real event that ever took place. It means that "Jesus" never cursed a fig tree and "Jesus" never threw anyone out of the temple. None of this actually ever happened; this isn't a historical event. The scene is merely a literary allusion, but yet every other Gospel contains the cleansing of the temple narrative. If the cleansing of the temple comes from Hosea 9, not from a real world event, then the fact that it exists in all of the other Gospels means that all of the other Gospels, including John, had to have ultimately gotten the scene from Mark. We can see that the Gospel called Mark is where the scene originated, because it is only in Mark, as we shall see, that the literary allusion is clear. All of the other Gospel writers apparently didn't recognize the literary allusion, and ended up altering the scene in ways that lost the correlations between the scene and Hosea 9.

So now lets look at how the other Gospel writers handled the temple scene. In Matthew the order of events is altered. Jesus goes directly from his triumphal entry to the temple, with no cursing of the fig tree. The cursing of the fig tree then takes place after he has left the temple. The author also throws in extra elements, like healing the lame, which aren't in the Markan narrative and have no relationship to Hosea 9. The author of Matthew also left out the statement that the priests feared him and wanted to kill him, which relates back to Hosea 9. Instead he has them being amazed.

Matthew 21:
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, "It is written,

'My house shall be called a house of prayer';
but you are making it a den of robbers."

14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became angry 16 and said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read,

'Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself'?"

17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" 21 Jesus answered them, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."

Finally, the author of Matthew has Jesus simply find a fig tree with no fruit on it, which he then curses and immediately makes whither. The narrative as the author of Matthew has written it really makes no sense at all. It has clearly lost the referential qualities that relate the narrative back to Hosea 9. All of the precise language that the author of Mark used to relate the narrative back to Hosea 9 is gone, and we are instead left with a crude story about someone just killing a fig tree because it didn't have any fruit for him. It is very clear that whoever wrote the Gospel called Matthew had no idea that the scene was based on a literary allusion, and yet they obviously copied the narrative from Mark while adding their own flourishes to it.

Now let's look at the temple scene in Luke. In the Gospel called Luke the writer has inserted a passage between the Triumphal Entry scene and the Temple scene, but has completely left out all references to the fig tree. We are left with a much shorter passage, which more closely resembles the original text from Mark, minus the bracketing fig tree elements. Again it is clear that the author of Luke copied the passage from the Gospel called Mark. However, by having left out the fig tree elements, there is nothing that makes the relationship between Hosea 9 and the text clear. The result is the isolation of the temple scene as if it were its own historical event.

Luke 19:

45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, "It is written,

'My house shall be a house of prayer';
but you have made it a den of robbers."

47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

Ironically, the temple scene described in the Gospel called John has long been the most famous of the temple scenes, because it is in many ways the most descriptive. The author of John has added many flourishes to the scene and completely removed it from its original context.

John 2:

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The original narrative in Mark says nothing about a whip and nothing about pouring out coins, these are obviously added fabrications. How did this version of the narrative come about? Had the author of John read some version of the Markan narrative and made the changes to the story himself? Is the author of John simply passing on an oral version of the story that he heard, which had simply evolved over time through the passage of oral tradition, based on the Markan narrative? Like many other similar examples throughout the Gospel called John, there may be no way ever know, but what is clear is that one way or another, directly or indirectly, the temple scene in John comes from the temple scene in Mark. While the scene has been significantly changed, there are enough commonalities to indicate that the scene in John is a descendent of the scene in Mark.

This is simply one example of how we can understand the relationships between the Gospel texts and how we can use the understanding of literary allusion in Mark to ascertain the historical validity of Gospel accounts. But let's really consider what all of this means, and then we'll look at how the cleansing of the temple has been understood by Christian scholars over the years.

If we acknowledge that the Gospel called Mark is the first of the Gospels that was written, and that the scene in Mark is a literary allusion, then what this tells us is that the temple narrative, at the very least, is fictional. We can ascertain with certainty that the temple scene as it was recorded in Mark is not an actual historical account, because the scene is clearly crafted from literary references to the Hebrew scriptures. We know that the purpose of the fig tree scene is to frame the passage in such as way as to make the literary reference to Hosea 9 clear (though obviously it wasn't clear enough because the other Gospel writers and essentially every Christian scholar over the past 2,000 years has missed it). We know that the text of the temple scene itself, the "driving out", is also part of the literary reference.

So now we've established that, at the very least, the Markan account of the temple scene is not historical. Even if one were to argue that there was actually a real Jesus, and he really did drive merchants out of the temple, there are significant problems here. If there was some real temple cleansing event, then what's clear is that none of the other Gospel writers had any knowledge of it. If they had had knowledge of a real event where a real Jesus threw merchants out of the temple, then they wouldn't have simply copied their versions of the story from what is clearly a fictional account. So we can now conclude with confidence that the account in Mark is fictional, and the accounts in all of the other Gospels descend from the Markan account, which means that none of the other Gospel writers had any knowledge of a real event either, since they are using a fictional account as the basis for their narratives.

This makes the idea that there was any real event highly doubtful, because if there was any real temple cleansing event performed by a real Jesus, and the Gospel writers had any knowledge of a real Jesus, then they wouldn't have all copied from a fictional account of the event - they would have written their own accounts of it. In fact, this is exactly what Christians have believed to be the case from the  very beginning - that the accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all separate independent accounts. What this shows, however, is that they aren't separate independent accounts. All of the accounts are copied from Mark, and the account in Mark is clearly fictional. This leaves us with nothing. In fact, it leaves us with more than nothing.

At this point the fact that we have three Gospel accounts that can be proven to be copied from a single fictional story doesn't merely leave us with lack of evidence so that we can only say that we "don't know" if this event really happened or not, it actually leaves us with a strong case against this ever having been real. The fact that three separate writers all copied from a single fictional account means that none of those writers had any knowledge of a real event. So now we basically have positive evidence that four people had no knowledge of Jesus actually cleansing the temple. But this is really the tip of the iceberg, because in fact virtually every scene in the Gospels follows this same pattern. The result is that we end up with positive evidence that none of the Gospel writers had any knowledge of a real Jesus. They could not have, because in case after case they can all be shown to be copying passages from Mark which originated as literary allusions.

If someone has real firsthand or even secondhand knowledge of a person, and they go to record a biography of their life and deeds, they aren't going to include in that biography things that were completely made up by other people. So the fact that all of the other Gospel writers included in their accounts many passages which can be proven to be fabricated by the author of Mark, essentially proves that none of the other Gospel writers had any knowledge of Jesus at all. All of the Gospels descend from the Markan narrative, which is a fictional story.

But, before we go on to assess other scenes from the Gospels, let's look at how the fig tree and temple cleansing scenes have been interpreted by Christian scholars.

Let's simply look at what the New Revised Standard Version Harper Collins Study Bible (which is a very highly regarded work that is deemed to contain the latest, and among the most authoritative, scholarship on Biblical analysis) says about these passages. The notes on this scene in the NRSV Study Bible say:

Mark 11.12-25 The cursing of the fig tree and cleansing of the temple are interwoven. ...[t]he image of a fruitless fig tree is used to indict the leaders of the people. In the immediate context here the reason is that they failed to welcome Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. It was not the season, or "time appointed by God," for figs. This enigmatic saying may explain the anticlimactic character of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. It was not yet time appointed by God for Jesus' installation as king. ... The selling and buying of doves and other items for offerings and the changing of money were essential for carrying out the divine commandments regarding sacrifices. Jesus' deeds imply that these activities should not be conducted on the Temple Mount, but elsewhere, in order to maintain the sacred character of the whole temple complex, including the outer court. This interpretation is supported by the prohibition against carrying things through the temple. 

It goes on, but the main point here is that there is no acknowledgement of the literary allusion to Hosea 9. The passage is being interpreted as a real world historical event. There is acknowledgement of the obvious scriptural references, like the "den of robber" quote from Jeremiah, but the allusion to Hosea 9 is unrecognized. The cursing of the fig tree is interpreted symbolically, but without understanding the allusion to Hosea 9 it is clearly grasping at straws. This is the standard scholarly Christian interpretation - that the cursing of the fig tree is meant to symbolize the cursing of the leaders, that the fig tree represents the Jewish leaders. Clearly, once you recognize the literary allusion, that isn't the case. The explanation for being out of season  is again clearly grasping at straws and trying to explain the passage purely in the context of the Gospel narrative itself. Once you realize that this is a literary allusion it's obvious that this explanation is completely wrong. The reason that the narrative says that Jesus looked for fruit on the fig tree before it was in season is because the author is making a literary allusion to the line, "when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree," from Hosea 9. Being not yet in season is merely a literary device. In Hosea 9 early fruit was found on the fig tree. In Mark the early fruit is not found, because the people are no longer in the "good graces" of God according to the narrative.

And again "Jesus' deeds" at the temple aren't implying anything, because they never happened. Jesus' deeds at the temple,  "driving out those who were buying and selling there," are a literary device, used to construct a reference to the line, "Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house," in Hosea 9.

Let's see what the NRSV Study Bible says about the temple cleansing scene in John:

John 2.13-22 The cleansing of the temple is found at the end of Jesus' mission in the other Gospels; this is more likely to be correct historically, since it may have been one reason for his crucifixion.

Well, yes, Jesus' actions at the temple in the Markan story are used to move the plot along and provide a motive for his execution, that's true, but this was merely the work of a good story teller providing good plot elements, not a historical reality. We know this, again, because the scene is a literary allusion.

The reality is that today the cleansing of the temple by Jesus is one of the most widely accepted historical truths of the Gospels. Virtually everyone, from Bart Ehrman to History Channel "documentaries" to, of course, faithful Christians, "knows" that this is something that really happened. It's easy to see why. The event is one of the few meaningful actions of Jesus that is found in all four Gospels which has no supernatural element to it. It is at least somewhat plausible that this could have really happened (never mind the fact that the temple was a huge well guarded structure where people weren't allowed to just stroll around and cause a ruckus). This is why demonstrating that this scene originated in Mark as a literary allusion is such a critical blow to the idea that Jesus really existed. This is, aside from the crucifixion itself, one of the events in the Gospels that is most widely and strongly accepted as "historically true".

So having dealt with the temple cleansing, let us now turn to the crucifixion itself, the most important scene in the Gospels. Unlike the temple scene, however, the crucifixion scene is well known to be a literary allusion to Psalm 22, among other passages from the Hebrew scriptures. Not only do modern scholars recognize that the crucifixion scene in Mark is based on Psalm 22, but even other Gospel writers recognized this.

Here is the crucifixion scene as it is written in the Gospel called Mark:

Mark 15:
23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, 'The King of the Jews.' 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by mocked him, shaking their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!' 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.' Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, 'Listen, he is calling for Elijah.' 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, 'Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.' 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, 'Truly this man was the son of God!'

This, as we can see, pulls heavily from Psalm 22, referencing lines from Psalm 22 in reverse order.

Psalm 22:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 'Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!'

9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother's breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

So again we have a scene in which the details are clearly drawn from scriptural references, which means that they aren't historical observations. Christians have long claimed that it's possible that Jesus really said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," because he himself could have been quoting from Psalm 22. A long accepted scholarly explanation for this obvious literary allusion has been that Jesus quoted from Psalm 22, which then caused the Gospel writers to refer back to Psalm 22 and use it as motif for their narrative. The even more faithful explanation is of course that Psalm 22 was a prophecy, and that the events of Jesus' crucifixion fulfilled Biblical prophecy. We'll explore that more later. However, the problem with all of this is the fact that Psalm 22 isn't an isolated case of literary allusion. This is literally how the entirety of the Gospel called Mark is written. Virtually every scene is a literary allusion using similar patterns to what we see here.

But these aren't the only literary references in the crucifixion scene in Mark.

Mark 15:
23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, 'The King of the Jews.' 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by mocked him, shaking their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!' 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.' Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole earth until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, 'Listen, he is calling for Elijah.' 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, 'Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.' 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, 'Truly this man was the son of God!'

From the book of Amos we have the following additional references as well.

Amos 2:
12 But you gave the consecrated ones wine to drink, and you commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.

Amos 8:
1 This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2 He said, 'Amos, what do you see?' And I said, 'A basket of summer fruit.' Then the Lord said to me,
'The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings on that day,' says the Lord God;
'the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!'

...

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

9 On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.

I believe that the context of the passage referenced in Amos 8 leaves little doubt that the author of Mark intended for the literary allusions to give greater meaning to this scene. We see once again the use of literary allusions to passages from the Hebrew scriptures that talk about God punishing the people of Israel through destruction, which of course all relates to the First Jewish-Roman War and the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

This ties the cursing of the fig tree, the temple scene, and the crucifixion together. When you look at the literary allusions to Hosea 9 in both the fig tree/temple scene and the allusions to Amos in the crucifixion scene, you see the common theme of condemnation between them. We see the temple being re-introduced in the crucifixion scene by saying, "Those who passed by mocked him, shaking their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross,'" and the tearing of the temple curtain. This is all very symbolic and meaningful, and would have been very relevant to an audience who was aware of the recent destruction of the temple by the Romans. But all of the symbolism, foreshadowing, and meaning that we find throughout the Gospel called Mark indicates that what Mark really is, is a very well crafted and well thought-out fictional allegorical story, not a chronicle of real historical events. When you understand the literary allusions, and you put the story in the context of the First Jewish-Roman War, it is clear that the symbolism and meaning of the story is really about the Jews and the war, using Jesus as a literary device.

More on all this later, but now let's now take a look at the versions of this scene from the other Gospel writers.

Matthew 27:
34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."

38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son.'" 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.

Clearly the author of the Gospel called Matthew has copied his version of the crucifixion scene from Mark. However, as is typical throughout Matthew, there are some additional elements to the narrative as well. Unlike the temple scene, though, in this scene it appears that the author of Matthew did recognize the literary allusions and went back to them as a source for additional narrative elements. The reason for this is that elements of the narrative in Matthew clearly refer back to the same literary allusions that we see in Mark, in particular Matthew 27:51.

Amos 8:
7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again
,
like the Nile of Egypt?

9 On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

The statement that the earth shook and the rocks split coincides with the line in Amos 8 directly preceding the line about the darkening of the land at noon. It is clear in multiple passage from the Gospel called Matthew that the author of Matthew did recognize some of the literary allusions, and when he did he tried to go back to the referenced passages to extend his narrative as well. We see this in Matthew's botched Triumphal Entry scene for example.

Now let's take a look at the crucifixion scene as recorded in Luke.

Luke 23:
33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last.

Again we can see that the narrative in Luke is copied in some fashion from Mark. The format of the scene is essentially the same and many key textual elements are identical. But, there are significant differences as well. In fact, many of the changes significantly alter the meaning of the narrative. In Mark clearly the entire population of the Jews is being condemned. All of the people mocked Jesus, and of course that mocking was, itself, part of a literary allusion of Psalm 22. Whoever wrote Luke, however, was clearly sympathetic to the Jewish people and sought to absolve them of "blame" for the crucifixion, so they wrote that the people merely "stood by", while the leaders mocked Jesus. In addition, Luke has the soldiers mocking Jesus, while in Mark it is a Roman soldier who says, "Truly this man was the son of God!" This has completely changed the meaning of the story, and it would be impossible to understand the narrative as an allegorical story about the Jews bringing the destruction of the Jewish War upon themselves from this alteration of the narrative.

Throughout the Markan version of the story the Jews fail to recognize Jesus as the son of God while Gentiles do. In the Lukan version this entire theme is lost, and in the Lukan version of the crucifixion we see the Jewish people being absolved of blame while Gentiles take on blame.

The changes to the narrative in Luke are clearly ideologically driven. Instead of the scene ending with a Gentile soldier recognizing Jesus as the son of God, it ends with Jesus speaking to God. In Luke the entire scene is turned into a theological message of hope, with the promise to the thieves that they will be with Jesus in Paradise, etc.

But what's clear is that the author of Luke had no knowledge of a real crucifixion event either. If the author had, then they wouldn't have copied the core narrative from Mark. The casting of lots, the mocking, the tearing of the temple curtain, and the darkness at noon all clearly come directly from the text of Mark. It's obvious that whoever wrote Luke merely took the passage from Mark and changed key elements in order to make it more sympathetic to the Jews and less sympathetic to the Gentiles.

From a complete analysis of the Gospel called Luke my conclusion is that the author of Luke most likely thought that the Markan text he was copying from was a basically historically true account of a real-life Jesus. It appears that whoever wrote Luke was using multiple sources, including perhaps Josephus and Philo, among others, to piece together what they believed to be a "real historical document." As such, the author of Luke appears to have had no understanding of the literary allusions in Mark whatsoever. The alterations to the Markan narrative by the author of Luke appear completely indiscriminate in relation to the literary allusions. The literary allusions are kept, excluded, altered, and reworded in ways that make it clear that there was no attempt to give them any special treatment.

Let's now turn our attention to perhaps the most important other telling of the crucifixion in the Gospels, the account in the Gospel called John.

John 19:
18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

"They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots."

25 And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." 37 And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

The crucifixion scene in John is very important for many reasons. Most importantly it is because the Gospel called John is the only Gospel now believed to even potentially be an account independent from Mark. This is because the word-for-word copying from Mark that we see in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke isn't present in John and John contains many additional scenes that don't appear in any of the Synoptic Gospels. However, the problem for the idea that John is independent from Mark comes from the fact that while there are a lot of differences, there are also a lot of similarities.

Not only are there key similarities between John and Mark, but just as in the temple scene, many of those similarities include story elements that originated as literary allusions in Mark.

Not only does John contain elements of the literary allusions found in Mark, but the author of John does some very interesting things with them as well. Firstly we can see that the author is embellishing the Markan narrative. We know that the casting of lots for Jesus' clothing didn't really happen, because that narrative element is based on a literary allusion. So the fact that John contains this story element, which originated in Mark as a literary allusion, means that the author of John had to have copied his crucifixion narrative from the Markan narrative in some fashion. But the author is also now taking this clearly fictional element and adding to it, with embellished descriptions of how the clothes were divided, etc., just as they did in the temple scene.

Even more important, however, is the fact that the author then calls out the scriptural reference to Psalm 22 by saying, "This was to fulfill what the scripture says," and then directly quoting from Psalm 22 itself. At this point, we know that the author of John was using the Markan narrative and recognized the literary allusion to Psalm 22. Then again in line 28 the author shows awareness of the reference to Amos 2 by calling out that scriptural reference as well.

But finally we have the most important aspect of the use of the literary allusions in John, which is line 34. Line 34 famously tells us that Jesus' side was pierced and that water flowed out of him. Where might this claim come from? Well, it comes from Psalm 22! The author of John, who was clearly aware of the relationship between Psalm 22 and the crucifixion narrative, used additional material from Psalm 22 to add to his narrative.

Psalm 22:
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 'Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!'

9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother's breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;

15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

The piercing of Jesus' side and pouring out of water from the wound clearly comes from line 14 of Psalm 22. Then, even more interestingly, the author assures us that this is true and it really happened, which, ironically, only draws attention to the dubiousness of the claim.

Again, lets see what the NRSV study Bible has to say about the piercing of Jesus' side:

John 19.34 Why the soldier would pierce Jesus' side is not clear. Various suggestions have been made regarding the biological significance of the blood and water, but John's interest is theological, not medical. The flow of blood and water may be meant to demonstrate Jesus' true physical humanity.

No. The purpose of the piercing of Jesus' side and the flow of water is explained directly in the text. It is meant to further support the idea that these events are "fulfilling prophecy", which was understood by the author of the work to mean correlating with events described in the Hebrew scriptures; in this case, to further tie the events of the crucifixion to Psalm 22. And this is what I'm really driving at here. What I am presenting is a completely new framework within which to understand the Gospels. The traditional approaches to understanding the Gospels, used by both religious and secular scholars, are all based on a framework which assumes some real world events are the inspiration for the Gospel narratives, or that the narratives derive from some existing oral tradition or something. In other words, that somehow these events tie back to the real world, even if only to real world gossip.

My understanding of the Gospels is completely different. The framework I use is an understanding that the Gospel called Mark was written as a fictional allegorical story invented in the mind of the original author, in which essentially every scene is a literary allusion. Thus, when it comes to understanding passages in the other Gospels, the very first approach is simply to look for passages in the Hebrew scriptures, a.k.a. "Old Testament", to try and find correlations there, understanding that really, that is the source for most of these narratives. The approach I use is to first identify if a passage in Matthew, Luke, or John comes from Mark. If it does, then go to the passage in Mark and identify the literary allusion that was used by the author of Mark. If there are additional details in the other Gospels that don't exist in Mark, then refer back to the text of the Hebrew scriptures used by the author of Mark and look to see how the additional details in the other Gospels may relate to those same passages. In many cases, like the example here, you can quickly see that the additional details likely come from the same passage used by the author of Mark in the original scene.

I believe that this is occurs because the authors of Matthew and John both identified many of the scriptural references; so what we find is that the authors identified the literary allusions themselves and then went back to the source texts to embellish their narratives with additional details from the original literary allusions, as we see in this example. Sometimes they caught the literary allusions, sometimes they didn't. It must have been difficult at a time when the only thing you had to go on were memory and assorted scrolls. The reason I am able to find so many more literary allusions today is because of computers and the ability to do sophisticated searches across all the biblical texts using a variety or translations. So even though I'm analyzing these works centuries after the original authors, its actually easier for me and others today than it was for people who lived around the time the works were actually written.

Without trying to over-analyze the situation or try to see too deeply into the minds of the authors, I can only speculate that the authors of Matthew and John may have believed that the correlations between the Markan narrative and the Hebrew scriptures were evidence of prophecy fulfillment, and that out of a zeal to provide further support for the prophetic nature of the narrative, added their own scriptural references as well. This is seen several times throughout both Gospels.

Did the author of John or the authors of the Gospels called Matthew and Luke believe that Jesus had been a real person on earth? It's hard to say. I feel most confident in saying that I think the author of Luke believed Jesus had been a real person on earth, and I think it's likely that the authors of both Matthew and John also thought Jesus had been a real person and that the events described in their Gospels had really happened, even though they themselves clearly embellished the stories with their own additions and alterations.  It is possible that some of the changes they made to the Markan narrative were based on oral retellings of the story which had changed over time, and that they were bringing the core Markan narrative in line with different versions of it they had heard. What's clear, however, is that all versions of the Jesus narrative originate with the one written story that we call the Gospel of Mark and that a real life Jesus did not precede the Markan narrative. The Markan narrative preceded the concept of a real life Jesus. Virtually all of the deeds, actions and events that everyone from the very earliest time attributed to "Jesus" can be shown to be have originated as literary allusions. That means that the Markan story is the original source for everything that anyone has ever "known" about Jesus the person, and the Markan story is proven to be fictional. Any oral traditions, retellings, and additional details added to the Markan narrative all flowed from the original Markan story.

We can say with extreme confidence that none of the writers of the canonical Gospels had any real knowledge of a real crucifixion of Jesus, much less any real Jesus at all, because they all include the same details in their versions of the event that were clearly made up. Clearly the casting of lots for clothing is something that comes from Psalm 22. This never happened in real life. Yet the casting of lots for Jesus' clothing is repeated in every single Gospel narrative about the execution. This tells us that the only knowledge that any of the authors had about the crucifixion comes from the Gospel called Mark. Anyone who had real knowledge of the crucifixion wouldn't have included this obviously fictional detail. Given that the crucifixion is clearly the most important part of the Gospel narrative, and the event most likely to have been witnessed and recalled by real people, if none of the authors had any real knowledge of the crucifixion we can safely say that none of the authors had any real knowledge of a real Jesus at all. Never mind the fact that virtually all of the other events in the Gospels show the same pattern of originating as literary allusions and then being copied by the other authors.

The Author of Mark had Read the Letters of Paul

While many of the scenes in the Gospel called Mark can be shown be literary allusions to the Hebrew scriptures, many teachings and other themes in the Gospel called Mark show strong signs of being inspired by the letters of Paul. If this is indeed true, then this challenges another fundamental assumption of thousands of years of Christian scholarship about the Gospels, which is that they are all independent of Paul. The view held from the very earliest days of Christian scholarship in the 2nd century through to today is that the Gospels are an independent witness to the life of Jesus separate from Paul.

What I am proposing, however, shows that everything really ties back to Paul, and that the author of Mark himself got the idea of Jesus from Paul, not from any knowledge of a real Jesus. And remember that Paul himself says that his knowledge of Jesus and his teachings came "not from human origin", but rather from "revelation". Thus, if Mark's Jesus is based on the ideas of Paul, then Mark's Jesus has no relationship to any real person whatsoever.

Galatians 1:
11 For I want you to know, brothers that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

So lets look at the evidence that the author of the Gospel called Mark had read the letters of Paul.

The first clue that the author of Mark had read the letters of Paul comes from the supporting cast in the story.

Mark 1:
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon [Peter] and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.' 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

In the Gospel called Mark we find that the three main "disciples" are Peter, James and John (In Mark 3 we are told that Simon is Peter). It "just so happens" that according to Paul, the leaders of the Jesus cult in Israel were Peter, James and John.

Galatians 2:
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

...

11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'

In Paul's letters Peter, James, and John, along with any other people associated with the Jesus movement, are all called "apostles", not "disciples". Paul himself was an apostle, which is simply something like a missionary, and Paul said that James, John and Peter, as well as the others, were all apostles like him, but Paul never indicated that these people, or anyone else, ever actually met Jesus or were personal students of his. Furthermore, in the letters of Paul, as we see above, Paul basically claims that James, John and Peter are hypocrites and that they don't understand the "gospel". At the time that Paul was writing his letters, however, some time around 50 CE, "The Gospels" had not yet been written. The "gospel" that Paul talks about here is simply the teachings of the Jesus cult.

What we find in the Gospel called Mark is that the relationship between Jesus and Peter, James and John mirrors the relationship between Paul and those individuals in Paul's letters.

In Mark 2 we find an example of an apparent Pauline teaching regarding the sabbath.

Mark 2:
23 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?' 25 And he said to them, 'Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.' 27 Then he said to them, 'The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.'

There is of course nothing in the Hebrew scriptures which says anything like the words being attributed to Jesus here, that "the sabbath was made for mankind," in fact the scriptures say the opposite. But, this teaching is in line with Paul and we find a very similar passage in Colossians 2.

Colossians 2:
16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Something that is important to note in the comparisons between the letters of Paul and the Gospels is that while it would of course be possible that the teachings of Paul descend from Jesus, i.e. that Jesus said these things and that's why Paul later repeated these same teachings, what we typically find in the letters of Paul are not claims that Jesus ever said these things, or that these things are teachings from Jesus, rather what we see in the comparisons are words being attributed to Jesus in Mark, which come from things Paul said or wrote about, often in contexts that have nothing to do with "teachings of Jesus".

Mark 4:
10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, 'To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that
"they may indeed look, but not perceive,and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven."'

13 And he said to them, 'Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word.

This again contains parallels with the Pauline works, and in an interesting way. Not only does this passage reflect the same ideas that are found in the Pauline works, but it also quotes the same passage that is quoted in Romans. Paul also referred to the kingdom of God, and Jesus, as a mystery.

Colossians 1:
25 I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

There are many passages such as this one in the Pauline epistles that talk about secret revealed mysteries to a select group of people.

Mark 4:12 refers to Isaiah 6:9-10, which is also referenced by Paul in Romans 11.

Romans 11:
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 'Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.' 4 But what is the divine reply to him? 'I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,
'God gave them a sluggish spirit,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,

down to this very day.'
9 And David says,
'Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling-block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and keep their backs for ever bent.'

Here both the Gospel called Mark and the works of Paul are in agreement, that Israel is condemned, but that a few select Jews, "the elect", were on the right track. Both Paul and Gospel called Mark here refer to Isaiah 6, which talks about destruction coming to those who do not understand.

Isaiah 6:
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I; send me!' 9 And he said, 'Go and say to this people:
"Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand."

10 Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.'
11 Then I said, 'How long, O Lord?' And he said:
'Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;

The discussion of parables in the Gospel called Mark is similar to the discussion of mysteries in the Pauline teachings, and serves the same basic function. In addition, this passage in Mark refers to the same passage in Isaiah that Paul refers to in Romans, where Paul calls Israel a failure. In Mark 4:13 the author goes on to insinuate that the apostles themselves don't understand his parables either, which would again be in line with the Pauline sect, which held that all of the other apostles, especially Peter, James, and John, failed to understand the "true" nature and meaning of Christ. So again, the author of Mark looks very much like a Pauline follower who is weaving Pauline themes into his narrative.

Mark 6:
6 Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, 'Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.' 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

This passage again draws interesting parallels with the Pauline letters and how Paul described his ministry. Paul described his ministry as being performed in a pair with Barnabas (Galatians 2), and in other places he discussed the living conditions of apostles, for example in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 4:
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. 10 We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, 12 and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.

Clearly if the author of the Gospel called Mark were a Pauline follower or had read the Pauline letters he would have been aware of the conditions by which Christian apostles lived, at least according to Paul.

Mark 7:
20 And he said, 'It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.'

This looks very much like a passage from Paul's letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Keep in mind that the Gospel called Mark was written decades after the works of Paul had been written, that Paul's teachings are never presented as Jesus' teachings by Paul, that Paul claims not to have learned anything about Jesus from anyone else (though the truth of this is could be called in question), and Paul never claims to have any knowledge of Jesus other than from revelation. Also keep in mind that the letters of Paul were copied and circulated many times in the first century before being canonized and that there are multiple versions of some letters with different wording. It could well be that the passage in Mark copies its list of vices directly from a letter of Paul word for word, but his version was slightly different from the now canonical version. Even still, the resemblance between the two passages is striking.

Mark 8:
11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, 'Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.' 13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

Here we have another example of what appears to be a Pauline influence. The passage in Mark is strange for several reasons. First of all, the miracles that Jesus has been performing in the story could certainly be considered signs, but this scene is introduced to still make the statement that the Jews are demanding signs, but that they will not have any. This is also odd because throughout the Hebrew scriptures it is common for people to demand signs and for God to grant them; it is also common for prophets of God to present signs as proof that they are indeed prophets of God. So here we have a passage that seems to intentionally contradict Jewish story telling tradition, and it is similar to a statement made in the letters of Paul.

1 Corinthians 1:
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

If indeed the author of Mark was a follower of a Pauline sect and familiar with the writings of Paul, then the inclusion of this passage would make perfect sense. This is all the more significant as well because of the next passage.

Mark 8:
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, 'Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of the Herodians.' 16 They said to one another, 'It is because we have no bread.' 17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, 'Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?

This admonition to "beware the yeast" is very a similar phrase that appears in 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 5:
6 Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

This particular dialog in 1 Corinthians seems to have been written in relation to an actual observance of Passover, which is what colored Paul's language. This passage is also significant in that it is the only pre-Gospel association between Jesus and Passover. Though only in vague ways, Paul talks about the crucifixion of Jesus many times in his letters, and despite the obvious symbolic significance, Paul never says that Jesus was crucified on Passover. In this instance in 1 Corinthians 5 he actually only associated Jesus with the paschal lamb because he happens to be talking about Passover. Likewise, The Book of Hebrews, also probably written before the Gospels, goes into a heavy discussion of the symbolic significance of the sacrifice of Christ, yet never mentions that he was crucified during Passover, indeed describing him as more of a Yom Kippur sacrifice. This would all be very peculiar if Jesus were a real person who had actually been killed during Passover, however if the author of the Gospel called Mark were familiar with this passage it may have been what inspired him to place the crucifixion of Jesus during the Passover festival in his story.

Mark 8:
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that I am?' 28 And they answered him, 'John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.' 29 He asked them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, 'You are the Christ.' 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.'

This calls to mind Paul's account of his rebuking of Peter in Galatians.

Galatians 2:
11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

It seems very much that the author of the Gospel of Mark presents Jesus' relationship with his disciples in the story as a parallel of Paul's relationships with the other apostles as reflected in his letters. Peter is both the most often mentioned member of the group of Jewish leaders of the Jesus sect in Paul's letters and the main disciple in the Gospel called Mark. However, according to Paul's letters Peter was not the leader of the Jesus sect in Jerusalem, James was. In the passage above from Galatians we see that Paul indicates that Peter was once "on the right path", but then after associating with James he was "led astray" according to Paul. We see this same theme reflected in Mark 8, where Peter recognizes Jesus as the Christ/Messiah, but then rebukes Jesus and is rebuked by him moments later. This is the same as what we see in Galatians, with Paul saying that "Peter got it, but then Peter rejected the gospel." (According to Paul)

Mark 8:
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'

Again we find many parallels with the letters of Paul. Paul frequently remarked in his letters that he was risking his life, giving up everything, and putting himself in danger in order to spread the gospel. He also gave a speech similar to this one in Philippians.

Philippians 1:
20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Philippians 2:
14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

The parallels here between the wording in Mark and the writings of Paul is quite striking. In addition, the proximity of these phrases in the letter to the Philippians is telling. It's not as if these are random correlations with the writings of Paul. Here we have two separate phrases being used together in Mark that are also used together in the writings of Paul: the comment that dying for Christ is gain and the condemnation of a sinful "generation".

Mark 9:
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.

Again we see the focus on Peter, James and John, which "just happens to be" the three figures that Paul identifies as the leaders of the Jesus sect in Jerusalem with whom he interacted.

Mark 9:
38 John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.' 39 But Jesus said, 'Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

This passage is also in line with Pauline teaching and resembles another passage from Philippians.

Philippians 1:
15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

The scene in Mark again indicates that John failed to have a right understanding of gospel, and again we see the author of Mark basically casting Jesus as Paul. The author of Mark is putting Paul's words in Jesus' mouth.

Mark 10:
10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.'

This rule on divorce is unknown in the Hebrew scriptures but was a part of Pauline teaching. In all of the Hebrew scriptures divorce is allowed under certain guidelines, but Paul forbade divorce and remarriage of any kind.

1 Corinthians 7:
10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

One could obviously argue that the reason Paul says this is that it was a teaching of Jesus, which Paul is repeating. But remember, the letters of Paul were written 20-30 years before the Gospel called Mark.

Mark 10:
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, 'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.' 36 And he said to them, 'What is it you want me to do for you?' 37 And they said to him, 'Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.' 38 But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?' 39 They replied, 'We are able.' Then Jesus said to them, 'The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.'

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, 'You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.'

Here James and John are portrayed poorly and again depicted as though they do not really understand Jesus. Like others, this passage likely alludes to Paul and the conflicts between Paul and the other key apostles. The author of Mark here says that the apostle who makes himself "slave of all" will be first among them. In 1 Corinthians Paul says that he has made himself "slave to all".

1 Corinthians 9:
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.

This appears to be a case of the author of Mark indicating that none of the "disciples" mentioned in the story are true leaders, but rather that Paul, whom the author never directly mentions, is. The only place in all of texts of the Bible that the phrase "slave of all" or "slave to all" is found is in both 1 Corinthians and the Gospel called Mark. This phrase is not found in any of dozens of other non-canonical early Christian texts either. So this phrase, "slave to all" is a very unique phrase, and appears very much to be an allusion to Paul within the text of Mark.

In the next scene Jesus is presented with three questions. The answers to each of the three questions have strong parallels with texts in the letters of Paul.

Mark 12:
13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, 'Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?' But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, 'Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.' 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, 'Whose head is this, and whose title?' They answered, 'The emperor's.' 17 Jesus said to them, 'Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.' And they were utterly amazed at him.

With this passage the author of Mark was most likely addressing one of the grievances that played a role in the Jewish rebellion against Rome that led to the war. In addition, this passage also follows Pauline teachings, as outlined in Paul's letter to the Romans.

Romans 13:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God's servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Once again we find parallel teachings between the letters of Paul and the Gospel called Mark which are not attributed to Jesus in Paul's letters. In the Gospel called Mark we have a narrative with Jesus saying something, and in the letter from Paul we have Paul saying essentially the same thing, but he isn't presenting this advice as a teaching from Jesus. This is a pattern that we see over and over again in the parallels between Mark and Paul, but clearly Paul was trying to convince people of the truth of his teachings and to worship Jesus. So if these were teachings that came from Jesus, then it would only make sense that Paul would tell people, "Jesus said, X".

Instead what we see are teachings coming from Paul, than are then put into the mouth of Jesus by the author of the Gospel called Mark some 20 or so years later.

Mark 12:
18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19 'Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, his brother shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21 and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection when they rise whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.'

24 Jesus said to them, 'Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.'

As with the prior scene, this one also reflects Pauline teachings. Although there are some contradictory passages about resurrection in the Pauline epistles, Paul generally regarded the resurrection as spiritual, not physical.

1 Corinthians 15:
35 But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, 'The first man, Adam, became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

50 What I am saying, brothers, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

While this same scene was copied in the Gospels called Matthew and Luke, those Gospels also went on to affirm the idea of bodily resurrection, which Mark never does.

While both the Pauline letters and the Gospel called Mark are in doctrinal agreement as to the nature of resurrection, the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, as well as other later writings, do lay out specific doctrinal claims that there is bodily resurrection of the physical flesh, which became a major doctrinal belief of the Catholics and is considered a major tenant of most forms of Christianity, primarily based on the idea that Jesus was raised "in the flesh", which neither the Pauline letters nor the Gospel called Mark state.

We also see in the passage from 1 Corinthians an example of how Paul referred to Jesus as a heavenly being, not an earthly one. Paul is saying that Adam was earthly, made from dust, and thus corrupted by the physical world. Jesus, the "second man", is heavenly, uncorrupted because he has never been flesh, never been a part of the physical world. This is just another example of how the Jesus worshiped by Paul was clearly a heavenly being, not a real person.

Mark 12:
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, 'Which commandment is the first of all?' 29 Jesus answered, 'The first is, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." 31 The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.'

The answer to the question of the greatest commandment again appears to draw from the letters of Paul.

Galatians:
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Romans 13:
9 The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet'; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Interestingly, "love your neighbor as yourself" is a phrase that also appears in the Hebrew scriptures, however the context of Mark much more closely resembles the writings of Paul.

Leviticus 19:
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

In the Markan narrative "love your neighbor as yourself" is presented as an answer to a question about the greatest commandment. That is also how it is presented in the letters of Paul. In Leviticus "love your neighbor as yourself" is merely one statement in a long list of rules, and is not called a ""commandment". Paul explicitly says that "love your neighbor as yourself" is the greatest commandment. Leviticus does not.

The traditional Christian explanation for this is that Jesus was a real person, who really said that "love your neighbor" is the greatest commandment, which was observed by Jesus' real followers and subsequently recorded by these eyewitnesses or from second hand accounts in the Gospels. Paul then, years later, was still passing on this same teaching, which originated from Jesus.

But if this were something that a real Jesus said, then why wouldn't Paul have told his followers that this teaching came from Jesus? And if Paul had not witnessed any of the events of Jesus' life, as Paul himself stated, and the written accounts of the life of Jesus weren't written until after Paul had written his letters, then how is it that the context of Paul's writing so closely matches that of the account in Mark? The most reasonable explanation of course is that the author of Mark copied from the letters of Paul.

Mark 13:
9 'As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

By the time that the author of Mark was writing his work, the persecution of "Christian" (this word may not yet have existed) apostles would have been well known. Paul himself described his own persecutions in several of his letters.

2 Corinthians 11:
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

Interestingly, within the Markan narrative Jesus faces danger from his own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea and, famously, danger from a "false brother", Judas. Coincidence?

Mark 13:
28 'From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 'But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.'

This passage again reflects Pauline teaching, as Paul himself believed that he would be among the generation of those who would experience the end of the world and the coming of Christ (Paul never said that he expected a "return" of Christ).

1 Thessalonians 4:
5 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 5:
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, 'There is peace and security', then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.

The theme of keeping awake, as well as the expectation of an eminent end, are all particularly close in nature to the writings of Paul, and thus appear to be dependent on or inspired by the Pauline letter. Again, the phrase "Keep awake" is not found in any Biblical texts other than the Gospels and Thessalonians, nor have I found it in any non-canonical texts of the period.

Mark 14:
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, 'This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.'

This passage is perhaps one of the most important passages of all the New Testament writings and one of the most complex to address. This is because it is the only passage that appears in both the Gospels and the Pauline letters and purports to represent words that Jesus spoke. The questions raised by this passage are many. Is the instance of this passage in the Pauline letters a later interpolation that was added after the writing of the Gospels? If Paul did originally write the version in his letters, then where did he get his information from? What exactly is the meaning of the Pauline version? If Paul wrote his version first did the author of the Gospel called Mark derive his version from the Pauline letters? Below is the Pauline version of the Eucharist description, from 1 Corinthians, as it appears in the NRSV:

1 Corinthians 11:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

A precise understanding of the wording here is critical. The first issue is the phrase "For I received from the Lord," which is an indicator of "revelation". That doesn't mean that Paul couldn't have received this information from some other oral tradition or from James or Peter, etc., and then here be passing it off as something that was known originally only to him, but the claim that he makes here is basically that this is information that is unique to him, which he received from "divine revelation", which would mean his imagination. That this would in fact be the case is uncertain, because this type of ritual is exactly what one would expect to be the basis of an emerging cult, and thus it would not be unusual for a ritual such as this to be one of the first emerging parts of a tradition, around which other religious elements and imagery would coalesce, meaning that it would not be surprising, even if Jesus never really existed, if something like this ritual were not one of the first and oldest elements of the cult, existing even before Paul.

Nevertheless, Paul does not claim here to be passing on a tradition or something that was told to him by others, but rather he claims to be passing on something that was "revealed" to him by "the Lord", which appears to mean God in the first instance.

The second issue here is the word "betrayed". The word "betrayed" ties in to the narrative that we find in the Gospels, but more importantly it would seem to indicate some type of interaction that makes little sense outside of the Gospel narrative. However, "betrayed" is not actually an accurate translation here. Most English translations use the word "betrayed" in line 23 because of the fact that this word ties the passage back to the Gospel narrative, but a more accurate translation would be "delivered up", and this point is important, because Paul used the phrase "delivered up" in another instance to describe the act of God sacrificing his own son in Romans 8.

Romans 8:
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect?

In order to get a better understanding of this we can look at the Young's Literal Translation version of the passages in question.

YLT

Romans 8:
32 He who indeed His own Son did not spare, but for us all did deliver him up, how shall He not also with him the all things grant to us?

1 Corinthians 11:
23 For I -- I received from the Lord that which also I did deliver to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was delivered up, took bread,

As we can see, a more accurate reading of the passage from 1 Corinthians 11 does not actually imply a betrayal, but is rather talking about a more theological and abstract sacrificial concept. Also, if Paul were discussing a real event that took place during Passover it seems that he would have mentioned Passover here instead of simply saying "on the night".

There are other important clues to consider in the version of the Eucharist that is in the Gospel called Mark as well. Line 25, which reads, "Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.'," appears to be either part of a literary allusion to Amos 2, or a foreshadowing of events that will be depicted during the crucifixion, or, most likely, a combination of both. Line 12 from Amos 2, which is part of a larger literary allusion involving all of Mark 14, reads:

NETS

Amos 2:
12 But you gave the consecrated ones wine to drink, and you commanded the prophets, saying, Prophesy not.

Jesus obviously drinks wine of his own volition in lines 23-24, however if indeed the author is using Amos 2 as the subtext for Mark 14 then there is some need to show Jesus as having been given wine in an inappropriate manner. This actually happens during the crucifixion scene, but what line 25 in Mark 14 does is draw that event into the proper context for a literary allusion to Amos 2, as Jesus declares in the proper location in the Gospel text that "he will no longer drink wine," because he is now "consecrated." Yet, shortly after this, in Mark 15, he is given wine to drink.

All of this leads me to believe that the Eucharist passage in 1 Corinthians 11 was originally written by Paul (as opposed to being a later interpolation as some believe), and that the author of Mark included it in his story because he copied it from the Pauline work, especially given the other references to Corinthians within this section of the Markan narrative. If the Eucharist passage did not exist in 1 Corinthians then I think it would be very unlikely that the author of Mark would have invented it, especially in this context, where he is trying to make an allusion to Amos 2, in which case it would make more sense for Jesus not to have drunk wine at all than for him to have drunk it. However, that the author of Mark was trying to both fit in the Pauline passage and make a reference to Amos 2 at the same time explains line 25 of Mark 14. The Pauline passage "forced his hand" into having Jesus drink wine here, which required the addition of line 25, which you notice is not present in the Pauline Eucharist passage, in order to redeem the literary allusion to Amos 2.

Also note that Paul says, "you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes," not until he "returns". If Paul were talking about a real event and a real Jesus who had lived some 10-20 years prior to the writing of this letters, wouldn't he be talking about the "return" of Christ, not the "coming" of Christ?

To reiterate, the continuity between the Gospels and the Pauline description of the Eucharist ritual exists because the author of Mark derived his "Last Supper" ritual from Paul's Eucharist ritual and each of the other Gospel writers derived their Last Supper scenes from the Markan narrative.

Mark 14:
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.' 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, 'I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.' 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, 'Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.' 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'

This passage again depicts the apostles as failures and may also be based on Romans 8, which reads:

Romans 8:
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' 16 it is that very spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

The scene in Mark 14 depicts Peter and the other apostles as giving in to the weaknesses of "the flesh", and failing to set their minds on "the things of the spirit".  Again, the author of the Gospel called Mark held a negative view of the apostles and sought to portray them as failures, as he does here. Interestingly, the author of Mark also has Jesus say, "Abba, Father, " which is also found in Romans 8, but this is quite odd unless this is in fact an allusion to Romans 8, because "Abba" is simply the Aramaic word for father. When Paul uses the phrase "Abba! Father!" he does so as a clarification. It's not that people would have actually said "Abba, Father", what Paul is doing is translating an exclamation that Jews used. Jews would simply say "Abba!", which Paul then goes on to clarify for his Greek speaking audience as "Father!". As people often do, Paul simply uses the Aramaic first for emphasis because its an emotional statement that he states first in his native tongue, the way that he would really say it. He then repeats it in translation for his audience.

However, in Mark 14 the author has Jesus simply say "Abba, Father," in a prayer which would be like saying "Father, Father", but supposedly Jesus wouldn't have been speaking Greek anyway, so this whole business makes no sense. The entire use of "Abba, Father," makes no sense in the manner that it is used by the author of Mark. The only reasonable explanations are either that this was a commonly used double phrase among Greek speaking Jews, thus the author, himself a Greek speaking Jew, used it out of familiarity, perhaps something like a Spanish speaking American saying "Ay! Oh!", (Ay being the Spanish for the English word Oh, as in "Oh my goodness"), or the author of Mark used the phrase here because this scene is based on Romans 8.

Likewise, the idea that Paul would have gotten this phrase from Jesus is absurd. The common explanation for many of the parallels between the Pauline epistles and the Gospels is that the Gospel writers recorded things that Jesus did or said, and these same teachings or traditions were passed on to Paul, who also recorded these same things. But this is exceedingly unlikely in this case. Here we are dealing with translations of words, and in fact the usage by Paul makes more sense than what we see in the Gospel.

Mark 14:
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, 'You also were with Jesus, the Nazarene.' 68 But he denied it, saying, 'I do not know or understand what you are talking about.' And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, 'This man is one of them.' 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, 'Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.' 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, 'I do not know this man you are talking about.' 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, 'Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.' And he broke down and wept.

The point of this passage is quite simple, which is to portray Peter as a failure or as someone who is not an appropriate apostle of Christ. Again, this likely had to do with an on-going conflict within the early Christian community over the apostleship of the faith. What we see in the Gospel called Mark is a reflection of the conflict that is discussed in the letters of Paul.

Galatians 2:
11 But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'

Again, clearly the author of Mark used the relationship between Paul and Peter as his template for the relationship between Jesus and Peter.

These are the correlations that I have found between the epistles of Paul and the Gospel called Mark. What is very important to note about these correlations is that they all come from what have independently been deemed by Biblical scholars to be the earliest letters attributed to Paul. When I was doing my analysis, I searched across all of the works of the Bible, not just the letters of Paul or within a subset of the letters of Paul. But all of the similarities between the the text of Mark and letters of Paul lay within the early letters, deemed to be the "authentic letters of Paul" by Biblical scholars. This provides further support for the idea that the author of Mark had indeed read and used these letters in the writing of his story, and that these are not simply similarities of happenstance. If these were similarities of happenstance we would expect similarities across a wide range of other New Testament writings, but we don't find that.

Another interesting piece of evidence is the fact that the phrase "kingdom of God" only appears in two places within the entire Bible: The authentic letters of Paul and the Gospels (as well as Acts which was written by the same author as the Gospel called Luke).

Obviously there could be many explanations for this, but it is certainly consistent with the idea that the phrase "kingdom of God" originated with Paul, was then copied by the author of Mark, which was then copied into the other Gospels by the authors who copied Mark. The fact that this phrase never appears in the "Old Testament", and appears only in the letters of Paul and the Gospels I think is very revealing. A possible explanation for this fact that would be consistent with the idea that this phrase made it into both the Gospels and the writings of Paul independently would be that Jesus really existed and Jesus used this phrase, and as a result the phrase became commonly used within the early Christian community, and was thus picked up by both Paul and the writers of the Gospels, or at least the writer of Mark. But if this were true, then why don't we find this phrase more commonly used in the other New Testament writings or in other non-canonical works? This is a very specific phrase that appears only in these two sources, the works deemed to be authentic letters of Paul and the Gospels. This phrase is not found in what are believed to be later "Pauline epistles" written by different authors, it's not found in Hebrews, it's not found in Revelation, it's not found in the epistles of James or John. Only Paul and the Gospels (and Acts).

"Q" or a lost version of Mark?

An interesting aspect of the Gospels is the fact that it is clear that the Gospels called Matthew and Luke contain word-for-word copies of text found in Mark, but they also contain word-for-word copies of text found in each other but not found in Mark. The most pervasive scholarly explanation for this is something called "Q". The "Q hypothesis" was put forward in the 1800s and has gained broad acceptance. The basic idea is that "Q" represents some separate common source that was used by the authors of both Matthew and Luke. This theory is in-line with the view that there had been some real Jesus and there were multiple sources of information about him. Theoretical versions of "Q" have been reconstructed by several scholars by looking at the text that is common between Matthew and Luke but not found Mark. The version of Q used for my analysis is this one: Q

Based on my analysis of both the Gospel called Mark and Q, I don't believe that the Q material could possibly be independent from the Markan narrative. The Q material is clearly dependent upon the narrative from Mark, and was either part of an original longer version of Mark or was added later by another author to an expanded version of Mark, from which both the authors of the Gospels called Matthew and Luke copied.

I believe that the most likely explanation, which fits with my analysis of the Q material, is that what scholars call "Q" is really an expanded version of Mark, that had additional material added to it by another author. Furthermore, there is evidence which suggests that indeed there was some longer version of Mark which has been lost. This longer version of Mark is known as "Secret Mark" and was mentioned in a letter by Clement of Alexandria, who lived during the 2nd century.

It is important to note that the "Q" material contains neither the birth stories of Jesus nor the post-resurrection scenes found in Luke and Matthew. It still begins with the same scene as the opening of canonical Mark. The birth stories in Matthew and Luke were both independently added to the Markan narrative.

I will provide an example from the Q material which demonstrates why I believe what is called "Q" was not independently written from Mark.

Let's look at the Temptation of Jesus scene in Mark:

Mark 1:
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

That's it. That's all there is to the temptation scene in Mark.

Now let's look at Matthew:

Matthew 4:
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written,

'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Now let's look at this same scene in Luke:

Luke 4:
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

5 Then the he led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." 8 Jesus answered him, "It is written,

'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
9 Then the he took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,'

11 and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
12 Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

To think that the common material shared by both Luke and Matthew comes from a source that is independent from the Gospel called Mark is quite absurd, especially if one is taking a critical historical view. The integration of the text from Mark with the additional text is far too coherent and seamless.

The scene in Matthew begins with the first portion of Mark 1:12 and ends with the final portion of Mark 1:13. The scene in Luke also begins with Mark 1:12. This is then followed by exactly the same text in both Matthew and Luke. To think that both the authors of Matthew and Luke had a completely separate independently written text, which they both independently integrated with the text from Mark in exactly the same way is pretty absurd, and this is only one example. There are dozens of other similar cases across the Synoptic Gospels.

The far more likely explanation is that there was some intermediate text, from which both the authors of Matthew and Luke copied. When looking at the Q material, what we see is very close parallels in the placement of the text between both Matthew and Luke across virtually all of the material, just as we see in the example above. That this would have happened over and and over again with two people independently integrating an independent text is highly unlikely. Another reason is that the ordering of events in both Matthew and Luke are more similar to each other than they are to Mark. That they would have both independently re-ordered the events in the same way is highly unlikely.

Thus, it makes far more sense that there was some longer version of Mark which has since been lost, from which both authors copied. The question is, was the longer version of Mark the original version of Mark, written by the same author as the work we now call the Gospel of Mark, or was this longer version produced by another editor, similar to what was done by the authors of Matthew, Luke, and John?

All I can say is that based on my analysis I don't find the types of literary allusions to either the Hebrew scriptures or the works of Paul in the Q material that I find in the Gospel called Mark. Based on that, I believe that the Q material was written by a different author than the original author of Mark. However, I also believe that whoever wrote the Q material was working hand-in-hand with a copy of Mark. This is because the Q material is just too tightly integrated with the Markan narrative, including integration with scenes that are clearly derived from literally allusions. In addition, the writing style is similar to the Markan writing style, using language that is unique to the Gospels, like "Son of Man". Thus, whoever produced the longer version of Mark, introducing the material that is now called "Q", did so by using Mark and adding to it. This wasn't independently recorded material, this was someone sitting down with a copy of Mark and fleshing it out with more dialog.

It is still possible that the Q material is part of an original longer version of Mark, and that what we call the Gospel of Mark is a shortened version of the original. Whether the Q material is part of an original longer Mark or was added later by a different author doesn't change overall conclusion, which is that the authors of both the Gospels called Matthew and Luke had both copied from some longer version of Mark which contained the Q material.

So what we are really dealing with in the canonical Gospels is not four different accounts, what we are dealing with is a single story and three different copies of it. The Gospels called Matthew, Luke, and John are really just three different retellings of Mark. If what we are dealing with is three different versions of Mark, then it is not at all unlikely that there were in fact even more versions of Mark. There could have been 4 or 5 or 10 different versions of it. All I am proposing is that there was at least one additional major version of Mark, from which both the authors of Matthew, Luke, and possibly John, copied. Indeed that this longer version of Mark existed is also supported by the letter from Clement of Alexandria regarding "Secret Mark".

Non-canonical Gospels

So far we have dealt only with canonical writings about Jesus, but what about other non-canonical narratives? Relatively recently, several non-canonical writings about Jesus have been found and analyzed. Some of these are believed to be from the first century. The most important of these writings in terms of establishing the existence of a historical Jesus are writings that describe Jesus and things that Jesus did, i.e. narrative stories. There are also so-called "teachings" or "sayings" gospels, but these generally do less to establish the existence of a real person.

The most important non-canonical gospels that could potentially help to establish the existence of a historical Jesus are, I believe, the Gospel of Thomas, the Egerton Gospel and the Gospel of Peter.

What I believe is that the concept of a human Jesus began with the story that we call the Gospel of Mark, and that every narrative about a human Jesus is thus dependent on this story. What I will show is that these other early writings about Jesus also show signs of dependence on the Markan narrative, just as the canonical Gospels do.

First lets deal with the Egerton Gospel. Unlike most other writings about Jesus that have come down to us through much older copies, the Egerton Gospel comes to us from a papyrus which has been dated to the end of the 2nd century, making it one of the oldest actual manuscripts of any Gospel text.

All that we have are fragments of the work, so there isn't a whole lot to go on, but of what can be deciphered most of the text shows strong parallels to both the Gospels called Mark and John. Some Biblical scholars have tried to claim that the Egerton Gospel is itself independent of these works, or that it may even be older than any of the canonical Gospels and may have been a source for them or reflect a common source used by the other authors. Nevertheless, there is also widespread scholarly support for the idea that the Egerton Gospel is completely dependent on the canonical Gospels. I think the case for dependence is strong.

The most obvious parallel between the Gospel called Mark and the Egerton Gospel is the following passage:

Fragment 1:
And behold, a leper coming to him, says: "Teacher Jesus, while traveling with lepers and eating together with them in the inn, I myself also became a leper. If therefore you will, I am clean."

And the Lord said to him: "I will, be clean."

And immediately the leprosy left him. And Jesus said to him: "Go show yourself to the priests and offer concerning the cleansing as Moses commanded and sin no more [...]"

This is an obvious parallel of Mark 1:40, which reads:

Mark 1:
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean."

41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"

42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Clearly there is a relationship between these two texts.

There is also another passage in the Egerton text that shows a similar type of relationship to Mark. In addition to that, there are three passages in the Egerton Gospel that show relationships to the Gospel called John, like the example below.

Fragment 1:
And turning to the rulers of the people he said this word: "Search the scriptures, in which you think you have life. These are they, which testify about me. Do not suppose that I have come to accuse you to my father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, in whom you have hoped."

And they said: "We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for you, we do not know, where you are from."

Jesus answered and said to them: "Now is accused your disbelief in those who have been commended by him. For had you believed Moses, you would have believed me. For about me he wrote to your fathers [...]"

Which corresponds to the following passage in John:

John 5:
39 "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 I do not accept glory from human beings. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?"

Again we see a clear relationship between the two texts. While some scholars have made attempts to claim that the Egerton Gospel could reflect a common source used by the authors of both Mark and John, clearly the most obvious explanation, which is accepted by most scholars, is that this text was written after the other Gospels had been written and is dependent upon both Mark and John.

There is only one passage from the Egerton text that does not have a parallel in the canonical Gospels, but it also may be dependent on a scene from Mark. Unfortunately this passage is poorly preserved can cannot be fully reconstructed, but what exists of it appears to be dependent on the Cursing of the Fig Tree scene in Mark, which I have shown originated as a literary allusion created by the author of Mark.

Fragment 2:
And when they where perplexed at the strange question, Jesus, as he walked, stood on the lip of the Jordan river, stretching out his right hand, filled it with (...) and sowed upon the (...). And the (...) water (...) the (...). And (...) before them, he brought forth fruit (...) much (...) for joy (...)

One possible reconstruction of this provided by L. Cerfaux in 1936 is the following:

And when they where perplexed at the strange question, Jesus, as he walked, stood on the banks of the River Jordan, and stretching out his right hand, he took a fig-tree and planted it in the river. And on the water, the roots spread out and fruit appeared...

If this reconstruction is correct, then I would argue that this scene in the Egerton Gospel was written as an extension of the Cursing of the Fig Tree scene in Mark. If so it would indicate that this scene is dependent upon a scene that was clearly originated by the author of Mark through the use of literary allusion, and thus would not have been part of any source other than Mark itself.

Let's now move on to the Gospel of Peter. The Gospel of Peter basically fleshes out the crucifixion narrative with many more details. It also exonerates Pilate, having Pilate acknowledge that Jesus was the "Son of God" after his burial. Again, there have been scholars who have claimed that this work is an independent witness to either the events of the crucifixion or to oral traditions, i.e. that this work is not dependent on the canonical Gospels. But as we shall see, this position is pretty well untenable. It is quite clear that the Gospel of Peter is based on the canonical narratives. The entire Gospel is interesting to read, but the most significant parts that show it's dependence on the canonical narratives are the following:

Peter:
4 And they brought two malefactors, and they crucified the Lord between them. But he held his peace, as though having no pain. And when they had raised the cross, they wrote the title: This is the king of Israel. And having set his garments before him they parted them among them, and cast lots for them. And one of those malefactors reproached them, saying, We for the evils that we have done have suffered thus, but this man, who hath become the Saviour of men, what wrong hath he done to you? And they, being angered at him, commanded that his legs should not be broken, that he might die in torment.

5 And it was noon, and darkness came over all Judaea: and they were troubled and distressed, lest the sun had set, whilst he was yet alive: [for] it is written for them, that the sun set not on him that hath been put to death. And one of them said, Give him to drink gall with vinegar. And they mixed and gave him to drink, and fulfilled all things, and accomplished their sins against their own head. And many went about with lamps, supposing that it was night, and fell down. And the Lord cried out, saying, My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me. And when he had said it he was taken up. And in that hour the vail of the temple of Jerusalem was rent in twain.

6 And then they drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord, and laid him upon the earth, and the whole earth quaked, and great fear arose. Then the sun shone, and it was found the ninth hour: and the Jews rejoiced, and gave his body to Joseph that he might bury it, since he had seen what good things he had done. And he took the Lord, and washed him, and rolled him in a linen cloth, and brought him into his own tomb, which was called the Garden of Joseph.

The sections in bold above are parallels to canonical texts that have been shown to be based on literary allusions. Those that are underlined are parallels to the canonical texts that aren't based on literary allusions. Again, the key issue is the literary allusions, that's the key to decoding all of these things. The casting of lots for Jesus' clothing, for example, is clearly a story element that was originated by the author of the Gospel called Mark. It is really impossible that the author of Mark could have been working from existing oral traditions, much less real events. When we look at the crucifixion scene in Mark it is patently clear that the scene has to have been invented from scratch by the author of Mark. It is impossible that there happened to have been some unconnected oral tradition talking about people casting lots for Jesus clothing, as well as saying that Jesus said, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me," that wasn't dependent on Psalm 22.

Mark 15:
23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, 'The King of the Jews.' 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by mocked him, shaking their heads and saying, 'Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!' 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.' Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'

Psalm 22:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
...

6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 'Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!'

...
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

The way that the scene is laid out in Mark makes it obvious that Mark represents the original and truest form of this narrative, because it is only in the Gospel called Mark that the literary allusion is clean, direct, and clear. In all of the other versions of the narrative the structure of the literary allusion gets jumbled up and diminished. So we know for certain that the details about Jesus having his cloths divided and lots cast for them, as well as saying, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me," are inventions of the author of Mark, and have no precedent. In addition the darkness at noon is also a clear literary allusion as well, indicating that it is also an invention of the author of Mark. So any time we see these details we know that the narrative is derived, either directly or indirectly, from the Markan narrative. And that's exactly what we see here in the Gospel of Peter. And since the Gospel of Peter contains elements found in both Matthew and John it appears that whoever wrote the Gospel of Peter had either read or heard oral versions of the passion narrative from both the Gospels called Matthew and John (with the elements from Mark having come down through them).

Both the Egerton Gospel and the Gospel of Peter are early narrative gospels about Jesus, but there are other non-narrative gospels as well, such as the Gospel of Thomas, The Oxyrhynchus Gospel, and many more. Each of these have interesting aspects to them, but generally speaking, these other gospels all either show signs of being dependent on one or more of the canonical Gospels, or they don't actually do anything to establish that the writers viewed Jesus as a real human being, or both.

Let's take The Oxyrhynchus Gospel for example. This is really just a fragment of a papyrus, only about 20 lines long, so it is impossible to draw too many conclusions from it. However, the first line of the papyrus reads:

It weighed me down. Then Jesus approached in a vision and said, "Why are you discouraged? For not . . . you, but the . . . "

Obviously, this does not argue for the historical existence of a real human Jesus. Nevertheless, there are parts of the text that do have similarities with the canonical Gospels, most notably:

When the scribes and Pharisees and priests saw him, they were angry that he was reclining in the midst of sinners. But when Jesus heard, he said, "Those who are healthy have no need of a physician . . . "

The phrase "scribes and Pharisees" is very commonly used within the Synoptic Gospels, originating in the Gospel called Mark but used more often in Matthew, however this particular passage bears close resemblance to Mark 2:16-17:

Mark 2:
16 When the scribes and Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

Here it is really impossible to prove independently which of these came first, but within the context of what has been established about the Gospel called Mark the most reasonable assumption is that Mark came first. With Mark we have a complete story into which this scene fits and plays a part of advancing the narrative. Clearly, however, there is a relationship between the texts. Either Mark is dependent on the Oxyrhynchus text or on some common source, or the Oxyrhynchus text is dependent on Mark. It would require extraordinary evidence to make a case for the former, so what we have here appears to be another case of dependence on the Markan narrative.

And now we come to perhaps the most difficult non-canonical gospel to address, the Gospel of Thomas. Dealing with the Gospel of Thomas is difficult because the work has been pieced together from multiple different fragments, and evidence for frequent redaction and alteration of the text is abundant. This is because we have multiple overlapping fragments of the text, which have differences among them. Some of the fragments are dated earlier and some later, ranging from around 200 CE to late 300CE. While there are many different estimates for the age of original authorship, even this is problematic to deal with because while certain parts of the text may have been authored at one point in time, other parts may have been added or altered later, so simply saying that the Gospel of Thomas was likely written in 60CE, for example, doesn't necessarily mean that a specific phrase existed in the work at that time.

The oldest definite reference to the Gospel of Thomas comes from Hippolytus around 230 CE, so it can be said with certainty that the work existed by this time in some form, but it is impossible to put any definite date on it prior to that.

Nevertheless, let's address the text as best we can.

Firstly, what is the Gospel of Thomas? It is a "sayings gospel", which means that it is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus, but there is no explicit narrative. The first line of the work claims that it is a record of, "sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas". It is not a story like the Gospel called Mark. There are no events in the Gospel of Thomas, and it doesn't really tell us anything about Jesus, just things that he supposedly said. However, even though this is not a narrative gospel, it does contain dialogue, which has a narrative quality.  For example:

Thomas:
6 His disciples asked him and said to him, "Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?"

Jesus said, "Don't lie, and don't do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed."

There are several important things to consider with the Gospel of Thomas. The first is that the Gospel of Thomas contains parallels to all four canonical Gospels, and to the Letters of Paul. This fact is central to how the work is understood. What some Biblical scholars claim is that the fact that the work contains parallels to all these other works, but also has unique passages in it and "appears primitive" in nature, means that it was written prior to any of these other works and that all of the other sources either quote from the Gospel of Thomas or are independent witnesses to the same statements. That is indeed one possibility, and a possibility that would imply a real living Jesus as the source for these sayings.

However the other possibility is that the Gospel of Thomas was written after all of these other works and has been influenced by them in some way, most likely via oral accounts. Scholarly consensus is divided on the date of earliest composition of the work, and in truth there is very little definitive evidence either way. The case for early or late dating depends almost entirely on assumptions one makes about Jesus, the early "Christian" community, and the nature of how the various Christian texts were authored.

My view, of course, is that it was written after the canonical Gospels. I believe that the case made by other scholars for the Gospel of Thomas being dependent on the canonical Gospels is quite strong, and I am not going to go into too much detail here to make the case, as doing so would require quite a bit of work in and of itself.

Parallels between the Gospel of Thomas and other Biblical works are key to understanding it. An exhaustive listing of the parallels between Thomas, the canonical Gospels, and letters of Paul can be found here: Five Gospels Parallel

Here are some key parallels which I think strengthen the case for the Gospel of Thomas having been authored after the other canonical works:

The first is a parallel with a passage from Paul in First Corinthians.

Thomas:
17 Jesus said, "I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart."

This parallels 1 Corinthians 2:8:

1 Corinthians 2:
7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him"

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

Here Paul appears to be paraphrasing from Isaiah 64, but look at how interesting this is - Paul is clearly not attributing these words to Jesus. He is loosely paraphrasing from scripture (the Hebrew scripture) and talking about revelation. In no way is Paul attributing these words to Jesus. In Thomas we have these same words now being attributed to Jesus. This is very interesting because in most of the other parallels with the canonical Gospels of course the sayings are attributed to Jesus in both sources, but here we have a case where it appears that words written by Paul are now being attributed to Jesus in Thomas.

This make sense if Thomas was written in the late first century or early second century by someone in a remote community who was cobbling together various sayings that had been passed around by word of mouth throughout the Christian community, and this one just happened to have been misattributed to Jesus as a result of "the phone game".

If Jesus had actually said this statement, how bizarre would it be that Paul came up with the same statement independently? And it would make even less sense that Thomas were written prior to Paul and that Paul had read Thomas and was actually quoting here from Thomas, because Paul doesn't attribute the words to Jesus, nor does Paul ever attribute any words to Jesus (except the Eucharist  ritual). Clearly Paul had no knowledge of sayings of Jesus, because in all of his letters he doesn't attribute sayings or teachings to Jesus. So this to me is a very revealing passage in the Gospel of Thomas.

Another interesting parallel is one that is part of the Cursing of the Fig Tree scene in Mark:

Thomas:
106) Jesus said, "When you make the two one, you will become the sons of man, and when you say, 'Mountain, move away,' it will move away."

This phrase comes from Mark 11:

Mark 11:
20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered." 22 Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

In the Gospel called Mark the saying about moving mountains is a reply to Peter's amazement that the fig tree that Jesus cursed has indeed died. What we have already established about this scene, however, is that it is a literary allusion to Hosea 9. So what we have in Mark is a dialog that is part of a known fabricated scene. That dialog is then repeated in the Gospel of Thomas.

There is another similar case with the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Thomas 65 and 66 basically quote the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, which originates in Mark and is also found in both Matthew and Luke. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Mark is a literary allusion to Isaiah 5, which is a passage about the destruction of Jerusalem as punishment from God. (I address the literary allusion in The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory.)

What is important about this particular scene and literary allusion is the fact that it clearly  makes the most sense in the context of the First Jewish-Roman War and the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In concluding the parable Jesus says, "What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others."

The "vineyard" is Israel, the "owner" of the vineyard is God, the Jews are the "tenants", and the "others" are the Romans. This is all very clear and a common interpretation, but of course this interpretation only makes sense in the light of the First Jewish-Roman War. This parable is written by the author of Mark as a way of spelling out the meaning of his entire story - it basically explains the meaning of the Gospel of Mark. So not only does the whole parable only make sense in the light of events that happened well after Jesus supposedly lived, but indeed the parable itself is a clear and direct literary allusion, created by the author of Mark. Since the scene originates as a literary allusion, it can't possibly have originated from Jesus and been recorded by the author of Thomas prior to having been created by the author of Mark.

So for these types of reasons and many more, I am quite confident that the Gospel of Thomas was written after the other canonical Gospels and, like every other writing about a human Jesus, is dependent upon them, making it ultimately dependent upon the Gospel called Mark.

The larger point here is that even among the many early non-canonical writings about Jesus, we don't find a single writing that describes a Jesus person which is independent of the Markan narrative. Every single early writing about Jesus which portrays Jesus as a person, either having him involved in dialog or describing him doing things on earth, includes text that is shared with the Gospel called Mark - every single one. What we don't find is any description of Jesus the person that is completely distinct from the Markan text. At best one can try to argue that these non-canonical texts were written before the Gospel called Mark, but there is no clear proof of this, and given what has been shown about the Markan text regarding its use of literary allusions, the case against Mark coming first is very difficult to make.

Summary of the Gospel Analysis

Let's do a quick review up to this point. In the letters of Paul we basically find no description of a human Jesus - no tales of his deeds, no citation of his teachings, no claims by Paul that any of Paul's teaching come from anywhere other than "revelation". In the letters of Paul we find no compelling evidence that Paul believed Jesus was a person who had recently lived on earth, though there are passages (some of which may be later interpolations) that, within the context of the Gospel stories, could be interpreted as referring to a human Jesus. But Paul's letters alone provide no basis for stating definitively that Jesus was a real person or even that Paul himself believed Jesus was a real person.

We then come to the Gospels. For a long time, essentially since the beginning of Christian scholarship starting in the early second century, it was believed that the writings we call the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were four separate independently written accounts, which testified to the life and deeds of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion. It was believed that these accounts were written either by direct eye witnesses to the events that they describe, or that they were second hand accounts based on eye witness testimony.

While some dependence among the Gospels was recognized by the 5th century, the extent of the dependence was thought to be minimal, and it was believed that the Gospel called Matthew was the first Gospel that was written. It was not until the 18th century that the theory of Markan priority developed, recognizing that the Gospel of Mark appeared to be the originally written Gospel, from which Matthew and Luke were copied. However at this time it was still widely believed that the Gospel called John was fully independent of the other three.

Nevertheless the belief has remained that, regardless of any dependencies, the Gospels still reflect at least some pseudo-factual account of the events in the life of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion, and that these actions are what inspired both the writing of the Gospels and the spread of what would come to be called the Christian religion.

Despite the acknowledged dependencies on the text of Mark, there is still a widespread view among Biblical scholars that, somehow, multiple instances of a given scene lend support to the claim that the event really happened. A prime example of this is the so-called Cleansing of the Temple, in which Jesus is claimed to have thrown merchants out of the temple in Jerusalem. This scene is not supernatural and it is recorded in all four canonical Gospels. Therefore, this leads Biblical scholars to believe that somehow this event was passed on by oral tradition to the writers of the Gospels or that it was a popular account prior to the writing of any of the Gospels, and that this is the reason why it is recorded in all of the Gospels.

What I have shown is that the Cleansing of the Temple scene in the Gospel called Mark is actually a literary allusion. The fact that it is a literary allusion, which actually does contain the supernatural cursing of the fig tree as a part of it, indicates that this was not in-fact a historical event, and it did not originate as part of any oral tradition. The fact that this scene is a literary allusion indicates that it was originated by the author of the Gospel called Mark, and that it is within the story called Mark that this scene first appeared. This would indicate that all subsequent mentions of this scene are ultimately based on the Gospel called Mark, not on any other source.

What I demonstrate is that the writer of Mark made heavy use of literary allusions to craft his story, and that those literary allusions have meaning. In fact, those literary allusions are very heavily related to the First Jewish-Roman War and the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE. By analyzing the literary allusions, it becomes clear that the author of the story we call the Gospel of Mark was writing about the war and the destruction of the temple. In the context of the war and the ensuing punishments and hardships that befell the Jews of Israel, the Gospel of Mark appears to be an allegorical story which basically justifies the Roman treatment of the Jews. The story basically blames the Jews for the war, and portrays the war as a punishment from God. The story uses a fictional Jesus character as the protagonist to lead the reader through a series of events meant to demonstrate the culpability of the Jews.

In addition to showing that, there is significant evidence that the writer of the Gospel called Mark had read the letters of Paul and also used those letters to craft his story. In many ways the writer of Mark basically modeled Jesus on Paul, mirroring Paul's troubled relationship with the leaders of the apocalyptic Jesus cult in Jerusalem in the relationship between his Jesus character and those same individuals (in a sense placing the harshest blame for the war on them). The writer of Mark also presented teachings of Paul as teachings of Jesus in his story.

This means that the inspiration for the story written by the author of Mark was not either a real Jesus person or even any oral traditions about a Jesus person. The inspiration for the story written by the writer of Mark was Paul, and Paul himself claimed that his only knowledge of Jesus came from revelation - visions... The events in the story called the Gospel of Mark are a running series of literary allusions to scriptures about prophets and God's punishment of "his people" for losing their way.

By showing that the scenes in Mark are really literary allusions, we can then conclude that other accounts of those same scenes, which include those same details, must ultimately be based on the Markan story itself, not on any other external accounts. Doing this we are able to show that all of the major scenes shared among the Gospels are ultimately based on Mark. The diagram below basically depicts how I believe the Gospel accounts developed.

Ultimately, I believe that the idea of a real life human Jesus originated with the story we call the Gospel of Mark. I think that prior to the writing of Mark, there was no concept of a real life human Jesus. It was the story called Mark that introduced this idea, and it is from this one single story that every account of a real life human Jesus flows. All belief in a human Jesus originates with the fictional story called the Gospel of Mark. I also believe that the First Jewish-Roman War, and resulting Jewish Diaspora, played a strong role in generating early interest in the story and religion during the late first century.

What is most significant about the other Gospels, however, is that the way they were written in fact further undermines the likelihood that any real human Jesus ever existed. Far from helping to establish the historical truth of the events described in them (as Christian scholars and faithful have long believed), the three other accounts actually do the opposite. And it is not because of their differences that they undermine the credibility of the events they describe, but in fact because of their similarities. The similarities among the accounts are the core fact that undermines their credibility, because the similarities show that in fact all of the accounts are ultimately copied from Mark. They aren't independent accounts at all. What we really have is a single story (the Gospel called Mark) and many different versions of it. We have the three other canonical versions of the story, and we have several additional non-canonical writings, all of which show dependence on this one single story or versions of it.

The fact that every account of the human Jesus is based on this one story, and the events in this one story can be proven to be fictional because they are based on literary allusions, means that no one at the time even had any knowledge of a real human Jesus. If any of the writers had any real knowledge of a real Jesus, then they wouldn't have used a clearly fictional story as the basis for their writings. Anyone who had any real knowledge of the crucifixion wouldn't have copied clearly fabricated details of the Markan account such as the casting of lots of clothing, yet what we see is that every single account of the crucifixion ever written includes these clearly fabricated details, that originate not from a real event, but from Psalm 22.

Given that the crucifixion is the central theological construct of the entire religion and story, how could this possibly be the case if it ever really happened? How could it possibly be that every account of the most important event in the "life" of Jesus, is based on what is clearly a literary allusion? Not only that, but every single account of the event also places the crucifixion during the Passover festival, which is beyond all believable possibility. The Jews did not hold public executions during Passover, period. This never happened. The crucifixion of Jesus during Passover is clearly symbolic, not historical. Yet every single account, copying from "Mark", places the crucifixion during Passover. This means that every account of the crucifixion ever written was written by people who had no idea at all of what they were talking about. They had no real knowledge of this supposed event whatsoever.

At this point the Gospels are not merely discredited as evidence for Jesus, they are actually the primary evidence against the existence of Jesus. Understanding of how the four Gospels must have been written is, in fact, the single strongest piece of evidence against the historical existence of a real Jesus person. This is because what we can now show is that everything written about Jesus in every Gospel, canonical and non-canonical, is based on a single fictional story and things that clearly never happened. In addition it is shown that many of the teachings attributed to Jesus also originate from the Gospel called Mark, in which it can be shown that many of these teachings actually come not from Jesus but from the letters of Paul.

Of the few remaining events and teachings that cannot be shown to be either literary allusions or based on the letters of Paul, these are generally so tightly integrated into the Gospel narratives that the only reasonable conclusion is that these elements are simply further extensions of the narrative crafted by the authors, or subsequent oral additions to the core Gospel narrative. In other words, these additions are themselves crafted upon the Gospel narrative, they were never independent from it.

The Reception and Impact of the Gospels

We don't know a lot about how the Gospel stories were received and interpreted by the earliest audiences. At best the other Gospel versions give us some idea of how the Markan story was received. As previously stated, it is fairly clear that whoever wrote the Gospel attributed to Luke almost certainly believed that the Markan story was literally true and that Jesus was a real person. It is quite likely that the authors of the Gospels called Matthew and John had similar views. This is something that is very important to understand about what I am proposing here. I don't think that belief in a human Jesus happened because of any intentional deception or misrepresentation, I think it simply arose out of confusion and widespread assumptions by people that the story called Mark was literally true. I think that once the Markan story spread in the later part of the 1st century there was widespread belief that all of the people and events described in it were real, among both followers of the religion and non-followers. But all of the evidence shows, as we shall see, that all belief in a real human Jesus stems from the Gospels themselves. The stories are what spread the belief in a real human Jesus, nothing else.

Exactly what was in the minds of the writers of the Gospels called Matthew and John, or some of the other non-canonical stories, is very difficult to say. Clearly the authors of Matthew and John fabricated story elements themselves. It is possible that some of their additions were based on oral retellings of the Markan narrative, but some of their additions also make use of literary allusion, though typically much more crudely than the original author of Mark did. When I see authors making use of literary allusion, that indicates to me that the authors themselves must have created the story element. Literary allusions with exact textual copying don't arise from oral traditions, and certainly aren't recorded that way without the author going to the other text and copying from it word for word.

What this shows is that the authors of Matthew and John recognized some of the literary allusions in Mark, and in some cases they expanded scenes by going back to the same passages referenced by Mark and drawing additional details from the passages that the author of Mark had alluded to. In other cases, presumably following the example set by the Markan story, they craft their own unique literary allusions. We see this, for example, in the birth story of the Gospel called Matthew.

What exactly were those writers thinking when they crafted scenes via literary allusion? It is difficult to understand. Clearly the original author of Mark was intentionally creating a fictional story, so use of literary allusion in that narrative makes perfect sense. However, if you are writing what you think is a "true account", how does use of literary allusion make sense? So to me this draws into question whether or not the authors of Matthew and John really thought they were writing "factual" accounts or not. Generally speaking, it is difficult to understand the mindset of chroniclers in Hellenistic culture during that time, not just in relation to the Jesus story, but even more broadly. These types of pseudo-historical mythologized accounts of people's lives and deeds were not at all uncommon during that period, so the modern sense of recording "fact based" history is simply something that wasn't pervasive in that culture. These types of fabricated embellishments of biographies were widespread, so even if the authors of Matthew and John thought they were writing biographies of a "real person" embellishing them would have been a common practice.

But when we move past the initial authors of the Gospels, what we find in the earliest understanding of the Gospels and Jesus by 2nd and 3rd century "Christian scholars", known as apologists, is quite telling an instructive. In fact the early Christian apologists made some quite logical arguments in defense of their position that the Gospel accounts were true and that the Gospels were evidence that Jesus was actually the real "son of God". The problem, however, was that their arguments were based on two core faulty assumptions, which are at the heart of understanding the Gospels.

The two key assumptions that the early Christian apologists made were #1 that each of the four Gospels were independently written, and #2 that the correlations between the Gospel accounts and the Hebrew scriptures were evidence of prophecy fulfillment.

What happened was that the literary allusions in the Gospel stories were interpreted not as literary allusions, but as accounts of real world events that actually corresponded perfectly to things written about in the Hebrew scriptures. The fact that these things were attested to in four separate, "independently written", accounts was the "evidence" that convinced them, and many others, that the Gospels demonstrated, with "solid substantiated proof", that this individual, Jesus, had fulfilled ancient prophecies. If that were true, the logic went, then this was solid evidence of divinity, in fact the most solid evidence ever established.

But as we can see, this entire line of reasoning falls apart when we recognize that the so-called "prophecies" are really just literary allusions, and that they are attested to in the four accounts because the other authors just copied from the first story. It is rather like seeing how a magic trick is done. What appeared completely miraculous and amazing under a set of faulty assumptions is revealed to have a quite simple and mundane explanation. No, the four Gospels don't corroborate evidence for miracles and prophecy fulfillment, they are simply different copies of one fictional story. Whoops... Talk about a simple misunderstanding that changed the course of history...

So let's look at how the earliest Christian apologists interpreted and understood the Gospels.

The earliest account for the origin of some of the Gospels comes to us from the early church leader Papias, from about 130 CE:

Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy, but not, however, in the order in which it was spoken or done by our Lord, for he neither heard nor followed our Lord, but, as before said, was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses. Wherefore Mark has not erred in any thing, by writing some things as lie has recorded them; for lie was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by any thing that he heard, or to state any thing falsely in these accounts. ... Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and every one translated it as he was able.
- Papias, 130 CE

Here Papias states that the Gospel called Mark was written by someone named Mark, and that Mark recorded his Gospel from the apostle Peter. He then goes on to state that the Gospel called Matthew was written by someone named Matthew who wrote his Gospel in "the Hebrew dialect", which would have been Aramaic. We absolutely know now that none of what Papias said here could be true. Why did Papias think these things? It is impossible to know, but presumably it was based on something he had heard from others. How could someone so close to the time of the writing of these stories be so wrong? It simply demonstrates how difficult it was to ascertain facts at this point in history.

Around 175 CE the early church leader Irenaeus expounded upon the information of Papias when he gave an account of the origin of each of the four Gospels that later became canon.

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.
- Irenaeus; Against Heresies, 175 CE

Here Irenaeus basically repeats the statement of Papias, most likely getting his information from Papias, and then adds a statement about the Gospel called Luke and the Gospel called John. Not only is everything that Irenaeus said here wrong, but it is wrong in very interesting ways which indicate a lack of critical analysis of the Gospels. For reasons that we will address later, it is doubtful that "Peter" was ever in Rome or had anything to do with "laying the foundation of the Church". That the Gospel called Mark would have been written by a confidant of Peter seems quite absurd, since the Gospel called Mark portrays Peter very poorly. Peter is depicted as a fool and basically traitor of Jesus. If "Mark" got his account of events from Peter, why on earth would Peter have basically told Mark an account that made himself look like an idiot? Clearly this makes no sense, so it is quite interesting that this early Christian scholar would have adopted this explanation for the origin of the story. The belief that "Matthew" had first written his account in "the dialect of the Hebrews" comes from the belief that the Gospel called Matthew was the first account that was written. We now know that this is not the case and that Matthew had to have been written in Greek because it was copied from Mark which was written in Greek. The idea that the author of Luke would have been a companion of Paul is amusing, because the Gospel called Luke changes many of the very Pauline passages in Mark and makes the passages less in line with Pauline teaching. Of all the Gospels, the one most in line with the writings of Paul is Mark, not Luke. And of course it was believed that the Gospel called John was written by "John Zebedee", but we now know that the Gospel called John was probably written in the very late first century, if not early second century, making it highly unlikely that it could have been written by anyone potentially alive during the supposed lifetime of Jesus, not to mention many other important reasons (which we'll go into) why it makes no sense that this Gospel would have been written by "John".

So not only is Irenaeus wrong about who wrote the Gospels and what their sources were, he was spectacularly wrong. He wasn't just wrong - a thorough understanding of the Gospels makes his statements appear completely foolish. Yet this account was accepted as the authoritative account of the origin of the Gospels by the Christian church and is still widely believed to this day.

This is not to say that Irenaeus was necessarily a fool; it again merely demonstrates how difficult it was to analyze texts and to piece together facts at this time in history. It is quite easy to analyze texts today using computers, it must have been quite difficult 2,000 years ago with scattered pieces of hand written papyri that had been passed around and copied through unknown chains of scribes.

So clearly early Christians had no idea who actually wrote these accounts, why they wrote them, when they wrote them, or how they wrote them - but they believed they did know all of these things.

So now lets look at how early Christians interpreted and understood the phenomenon of literary allusion in the Gospels. One of the best examples of this comes from Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote on this subject in the early 4th century in The Proof of the Gospel:

Grant then, dear friend, my request, and labor with rue henceforward in your prayers in my effort to present the Proof of the Gospel from the prophecies extant among the Hebrews from the earliest times. ... I propose to show, by quotations from them, how they forestalled events that came to the light long ages after their time, the actual circumstances of the Saviour's own presentment of the Gospel.... It shall be my task to prove that they saw that which was not present as present, and that which as yet was not in existence as actually existing; and not only this, but that they foretold in writing the events of the future for posterity, so that by their help others can even now know what is coming....

It seems now time to say what I consider to be desirable at present to draw from the prophetic writings for the proof of the Gospel. They said that Christ, [Whom they named] the Word of God, and Himself both God and Lord, and Angel of Great Counsel, would one day dwell among men, and would become for all the nations of the world, both Greek and Barbarian, a teacher of true knowledge of God, and of such duty to God the Maker of the Universe, as the preaching of the Gospel includes. They said that He would become a little child, and would be called the Son of Man, as born of the race of Mankind. They foretold the wondrous fashion of His birth from a Virgin, and—strangest of all—they did not omit to name Bethlehem the place of His birth, which is to-day so famous that men still hasten from the ends of the earth to see it, but shouted it out with the greatest clearness. As if they stole a march on history these same writers proclaimed the very time of His appearance, the precise period of His sojourn on earth.

It is possible for you, if you care to take the trouble, to see with your eyes, comprehended in the prophetic writings, all the wonderful miracles of our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself, that are witnessed to by the heavenly Gospels, and to hear His divine and perfect teaching about true holiness. How it must move our wonder, when they unmistakably proclaim the new ideal of religion preached by Him to all men, the call of His disciples, and the teaching of the new Covenant. Yes, and in addition to all this they foretell the Jews' disbelief in Him, and disputing, the plots of the rulers, the envy of the Scribes, the treachery of one of His disciples, the schemes of enemies, the accusations of false witnesses, the condemnations of His judges, the shameful violence, unspeakable scourging, ill-omened abuse, and, crowning all, the death of shame. They portray Christ's wonderful silence, His gentleness and fortitude, and the unimaginable depths of His forbearance and forgiveness.

The most ancient Hebrew oracles present all these things definitely about One Who would come in the last times, and Who would undergo such sufferings among men, and they clearly tell the source of their foreknowledge. They bear witness to the Resurrection from the dead of the Being Whom they revealed, His appearance to His disciples, His gift of the Holy Spirit to them, His return to heaven, His establishment as King on His Father's throne and His glorious second Advent yet to be at the consummation of the age. In addition to all this you can hear the wailings and lamentations of each of the prophets, wailing and lamenting characteristically over the calamities which will overtake the Jewish people because of their impiety to Him Who had been foretold. How their kingdom, that had continued from the days of a remote ancestry to their own, would be utterly destroyed after their sin against Christ; how their fathers' Laws would be abrogated, they themselves deprived of their ancient worship, robbed of the independence of their forefathers, and made slaves of their enemies, instead of free men; how their royal metropolis would be burned with fire, their venerable and holy altar undergo the flames and extreme desolation, their city be inhabited no longer by its old possessors but by races of other stock, while they would be dispersed among the Gentiles through the whole world, with never a hope of any cessation of evil, or breathing-space from troubles. And it is plain even to the blind, that what they saw and foretold is fulfilled in actual facts from the very day the Jews laid godless hands on Christ, and drew down on themselves the beginning of the train of sorrows.
- The Proof of the Gospel; Eusebius, 4th century

Amazingly, Eusebius didn't seem to consider the possibility that the reason there are so many parallels between the Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures is that the Gospel writers based their stories on the scriptures.

Prior to Eusebius, Justin Martyr also attributed the "truth" of the Gospels and the "truth" of Jesus Christ to the parallels between the Gospels and the earlier Hebrew scriptures, and he even went so far as to state that the Hebrews themselves were not the authors of their own scriptures, God was, and the Hebrews themselves couldn't understand their own scriptures, since they weren't the true authors, and that the prophecies for Jesus are not all straightforward or self-evident because God presented them in a variety of ways and embedded them in stories. Justin Martyr gave his fullest description of this in his work First Apology, written in the 2nd century. Sections read:

CHAPTER XXXVI -- DIFFERENT MODES OF PROPHECY.

But when you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them. For sometimes He declares things that are to come to pass, in the manner of one who foretells the future; sometimes He speaks as from the person of God the Lord and Father of all; sometimes as from the person of Christ; sometimes as from the person of the people answering the Lord or His Father, just as you can see even in your own writers, one man being the writer of the whole, but introducing the persons who converse. And this the Jews who possessed the books of the prophets did not understand, and therefore did not recognize Christ even when He came, but even hate us who say that He has come, and who prove that, as was predicted, He was crucified by them.

Here Justin Martyr is basically justifying the fact that many of the parallels between the Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures are parts of other stories, songs, and things that by all accounts don't appear to be prophesies. Justin Martyr simply says that everything in the old scriptures is prophecy, thus there are "different modes" of prophecy in the scriptures.

CHAPTER XLII -- PROPHECY USING THE PAST TENSE.

But when the Spirit of prophecy speaks of things that are about to come to pass as if they had already taken place,--as may be observed even in the passages already cited by me,--that this circumstance may afford no excuse to readers [for misinterpreting them], we will make even this also quite plain. The things which He absolutely knows will take place, He predicts as if already they had taken place. And that the utterances must be thus received, you will perceive, if you give your attention to them. The words cited above, David uttered 1500 years before Christ became a man and was crucified; and no one of those who lived before Him, nor yet of His contemporaries, afforded joy to the Gentiles by being crucified. But our Jesus Christ, being crucified and dead, rose again, and having ascended to heaven, reigned; and by those things which were published in His name among all nations by the apostles, there is joy afforded to those who expect the immortality promised by Him.

Here Justin Martyr is specifically justifying parallels between the Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures where the parallels reference phrases that are written in the past tense, which are usually parts of other stories. In particular Martyr refers to the parallels between Psalm 22, believed to have been written by David, and the crucifixion.

So what we can see is that from the very beginning scholars and theologians have been aware of many of the parallels between the story of Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures, and that early Christians believed it was these parallels that proved that the religion was "true". Far from proving the "truth" of the religion, however, these parallels actually show us how the story of Jesus was crafted and demonstrate that the basis of the Jesus story is not reality, but scriptures. It is the ultimate irony that the single most significant piece of evidence against the historical reality of the scriptures was interpreted (and continues to be interpreted by Christians today) as the primary evidence for the divinity of Jesus and the "truth" of the religion.

It has to be understood, however, just how large a role this literary phenomenon played in the rise and adoption of Christianity. In fact it played a huge, and arguably decisive, role in the adoption of Christianity, especially by elites within the Roman empire. The argument put forward by early Christian apologists in the 2nd through 4th centuries was that Christianity was unique among religions, because they had solid "material" evidence for actual prophecy fulfillment. The reason that the evidence was "solid" was because it was established by four separate independent witnesses. Not only did this provide evidence that the religion "was true", but the Gospels were also evidence that the ancient Hebrew scriptures contained prophecies.

Of course, the Greeks and Romans were obsessed with oracles and prophecies, and nothing was more appealing to the Roman elite than the prospect of being able to predict the future. This was seen as the ultimate power. If leaders could predict the future they would be able to rule as never before. So this set about an entire industry of trying to "decode the Bible", or Hebrew scriptures. This is a large part of why the Bible is the way it is. The reason that "The Bible" is compiled into an "Old Testament" and a "New Testament" is because of the belief that the "Old Testament" was a collection of encoded prophecies, which could only be decoded by using the New Testament. The "Old Testament" writings were preserved and meticulously transcribed because it was believed that these texts had the power to predict the future. This wasn't merely some fringe crackpot idea, this was the core idea that drove adoption of the religion among Roman elites. This is why so much funding and resources got poured into the preservation and study of these texts.

And all of this stems from a simple misunderstanding of the fact that the correlations between the Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures are really just literary allusions. This one simple misunderstanding absolutely changed the course of history.

All knowledge of Jesus came from the Gospels

What is very important to understand about Jesus and the Gospels is that all knowledge of Jesus the person comes from the Gospels. This was true even from the very beginning. Writings from the earliest Christian apologists, from the late 1st through 4th century, show that everything they "knew" about Jesus was completely dependent on the Gospel accounts. This means that people living in the region, within 100 years of the supposed lifetime of this person, had no information about this person whatsoever outside of the Gospel accounts. Not only that, but in fact significant efforts were made by early Christian scholars to try and find out more about Jesus. This is because at that time there were many widespread beliefs that Jesus was not a real person and that he never exited "in the flesh".

This meant that those who believed that the Gospel accounts were historically true had to come up with evidence to support their case against large numbers of people who called themselves Christians and worshiped a "Jesus Christ" who was "immaterial" (presumably holdovers from earlier pre-Gospel traditions). What we find in the many arguments made by those who believed that Jesus had existed "in the flesh" is that they were unable to provide any external evidence, and ended up relying entirely on "evidence" from the Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures to make their case that Jesus had in fact existed on earth "in the flesh". This is very important because these people had a very strong interest in being able to prove that Jesus was a real human being, and they lived within 100 to 300 years of when he supposedly lived. Let's look at some of the beliefs about Jesus that the early proto-Catholics (the ones who believed he had existed "in the flesh") had to argue against.

1 John 4:
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

2 John 1:
7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
- Letters attributed to "John"; written approximately 100CE

Thus it is true to call Him man and to call Him not man; man, because He was capable of death; not man, on account of His being diviner than man. Marcion, I suppose, took sound words in a wrong sense, when he rejected His birth from Mary, and declared that as to His divine nature He was not born of Mary, and hence made bold to delete from the Gospel the passages which have this effect. And a like fate seems to have overtaken those who make away with His humanity and receive His deity alone; and also those opposites of these who cancel His deity and confess Him as a man to be a holy man, and the most righteous of all men.
- Commentary on the Gospel of John (Book X); Origen, 3rd century

Now a person might say that these men, and those who hold a different opinion, are yet near neighbors, being involved in like error. For those men, indeed, either profess that Christ came into our life a mere man, and deny the talent of His divinity, or else, acknowledging Him to be God, they deny, on the other hand, His humanity, and teach that His appearances to those who saw Him as man were illusory, inasmuch as He did not bear with Him true manhood, but was rather a kind of phantom manifestation. Of this class are, for example, Marcion and Valentinus, and the Gnostics, who sunder the Word from the flesh, and thus set aside the one talent, viz., the incarnation.
- Domatical Treastise; Hippolytus, 3rd century

There are, to be sure, other things also quite as foolish (as the birth of Christ), which have reference to the humiliations and sufferings of God. Or else, let them call a crucified God "wisdom." But Marcion will apply the knife to this doctrine also, and even with greater reason. For which is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? that He should bear the flesh, or the cross? be circumcised, or be crucified? be cradled, or be coffined? be laid in a manger, or in a tomb? Talk of "wisdom!" You will show more of that if you refuse to believe this also. But, after all, you will not be "wise" unless you become a "fool" to the world, by believing "the foolish things of God." Have you, then, cut away all sufferings from Christ, on the ground that, as a mere phantom, He was incapable of experiencing them? We have said above that He might possibly have undergone the unreal mockeries of an imaginary birth and infancy. But answer me at once, you that murder truth: Was not God really crucified? And, having been really crucified, did He not really die? And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again? Falsely did Paul "determine to know nothing amongst us but Jesus and Him crucified;" falsely has he impressed upon us that He was buried; falsely inculcated that He rose again. False, therefore, is our faith also. And all that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom.
- On the Flesh of Christ; Tertullian, 3rd century

Our heretic must now cease to borrow poison from the Jew—"the asp," as the adage runs, "from the viper"—and henceforth vomit forth the virulence of his own disposition, as when he alleges Christ to be a phantom. Except, indeed, that this opinion of his will be sure to have others to maintain it in his precocious and somewhat abortive Marcionites, whom the Apostle John designated as antichrists, when they denied that Christ was come in the flesh; not that they did this with the view of establishing the right of the other god (for on this point also they had been branded by the same apostle), but because they had started with assuming the incredibility of an incarnate God.
- Against Marcion (Book III); Tertullian, 3rd century

Afterwards, again, followed Saturninus: he, too, affirming that the innascible Virtue, that is God, abides in the highest regions, and that those regions are infinite, and in the regions immediately above us; but that angels far removed from Him made the lower world; and that, because light from above had flashed refulgently in the lower regions, the angels had carefully tried to form man after the similitude of that light; that man lay crawling on the surface of the earth; that this light and this higher virtue was, thanks to mercy, the salvable spark in man, while all the rest of him perishes; that Christ had not existed in a bodily substance, and had endured a quasi-passion in a phantasmal shape merely; that a resurrection of the flesh there will by no means be.
- Against All Heresies; Tertullian, 3rd century

To this is added one Cerdo. He introduces two first causes, that is, two Gods—one good, the other cruel: the good being the superior; the latter, the cruel one, being the creator of the world. He repudiates the prophecies and the Law; renounces God the Creator; maintains that Christ who came was the Son of the superior God; affirms that He was not in the substance of flesh; states Him to have been only in a phantasmal shape, to have not really suffered, but undergone a quasipassion, and not to have been born of a virgin, nay, really not to have been born at all. A resurrection of the soul merely does he approve, denying that of the body.
- Against All Heresies; Tertullian, 3rd century

Close on their heels follows Apelles, a disciple of Marcion, ... The Law and the prophets he repudiates. Christ he neither, like Marcion, affirms to have been in a phantasmal shape, nor yet in substance of a true body, as the Gospel teaches; but says, because He descended from the upper regions, that in the course of His descent He wove together for Himself a starry and airy flesh; and, in His resurrection, restored, in the course of His ascent, to the several individual elements whatever had been borrowed in His descent: and thus—the several parts of His body dispersed—He reinstated in heaven His spirit only. This man denies the resurrection of the flesh.
- Against All Heresies; Tertullian, 3rd century

But, according to these men, neither was the Word made flesh, nor Christ, nor the Savior, who was produced from [the joint contributions of] all [the Ćons]. For they will have it, that the Word and Christ never came into this world; that the Savior, too, never became incarnate, nor suffered, but that He descended like a dove upon the dispensational Jesus; and that, as soon as He had declared the unknown Father, He did again ascend into the Pleroma. Some, however, make the assertion, that this dispensational Jesus did become incarnate, and suffered, whom they represent as having passed through Mary just as water through a tube; but others allege him to be the Son of the Demiurge, upon whom the dispensational Jesus descended; while others, again, say that Jesus was born from Joseph and Mary, and that the Christ from above descended upon him, being without flesh, and impassible. But according to the opinion of no one of the heretics was the Word of God made flesh. For if anyone carefully examines the systems of them all, he will find that the Word of God is brought in by all of them as not having become incarnate (sine carne) and impassible, as is also the Christ from above. Others consider Him to have been manifested as a transfigured man; but they maintain Him to have been neither born nor to have become incarnate; while others [hold] that He did not assume a human form at all, but that, as a dove, He did descend upon that Jesus who was born from Mary. Therefore the Lord's disciple, pointing them all out as false witnesses, says, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."
- Adversus Haereses (Book III); Irenaeus, 175

So we can see that there was a wide range of views about "Jesus" and "Christ" and the "Holy Spirit", etc., and in fact many of the views, recorded here in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, had been influenced in some way by the Gospel stories. The views about who "Jesus" was ranged from the view that Jesus was simply a person with no divinity at all, to the view that Jesus never exited on earth but endured a crucifixion in the heavens. These are views that were held by people in the 1st and 2nd centuries.

But regardless of where these various ideas came from, and to what degree they were themselves influenced by the Gospels or not, the real point here is that the view of Jesus that became widely accepted was a view that had to be fought for. The fact that Christianity as we know it holds that Jesus was a real person and also the son of God didn't just arise because that's simply what all early Christians believed. That view had to be fought over and defended against a huge array of other beliefs. That defense required the marshaling of evidence and arguments and "proofs" (not to mention real physical armies). This was a very serous issue in the 2nd-4th centuries and all possible efforts were made by the proto-Catholics to put forth convincing arguments and evidence to prove that their view, the view that Jesus was both a real person and divine, was true.

That this was a very serious issue to be addressed is made clear in writings like that of Tertullian in the 3rd century, in his defense of the "Flesh of Christ", in which he asks: "Did it [his flesh] ever exist?"

They who are so anxious to shake that belief in the resurrection which was firmly settled before the appearance of our modern Sadducees, as even to deny that the expectation thereof has any relation whatever to the flesh, have great cause for besetting the flesh of Christ also with doubtful questions, as if it either had no existence at all, or possessed a nature altogether different from human flesh. For they cannot but be apprehensive that, if it be once determined that Christ's flesh was human, a presumption would immediately arise in opposition to them, that that flesh must by all means rise again, which has already risen in Christ. Therefore we shall have to guard our belief in the resurrection from the same armory, whence they get their weapons of destruction. Let us examine our Lord's bodily substance, for about His spiritual nature all are agreed. It is His flesh that is in question. Its verity and quality are the points in dispute. Did it ever exist? whence was it derived? and of what kind was it? If we succeed in demonstrating it, we shall lay down a law for our own resurrection. Marcion, in order that he might deny the flesh of Christ, denied also His nativity, or else he denied His flesh in order that he might deny His nativity; because, of course, he was afraid that His nativity and His flesh bore mutual testimony to each other's reality, since there is no nativity without flesh, and no flesh without nativity.
- On the Flesh of Christ; Tertullian, 3rd century

In making his argument, Tertullian accuses those who do not believe in bodily resurrection of having a motive to deny the existence of Christ in the flesh, but of course this only highlights his own motives for proclaiming the flesh of Christ. In reality it is true that both sides in this debate made their arguments along theological grounds. Neither group, the ones who believed in the humanity of Christ nor the ones who didn't, supported their arguments with anything other than scriptures and theological a priori arguments.

It is also apparent that the real existence of Jesus was being questioned early on because the issue is addressed by the author of the Gospel called Luke and Acts of the Apostles. In both works the writer makes the claim that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. This is no doubt a reaction to questions about where the body of Jesus was.

Luke 24:
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Acts 1:
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

If Jesus had come back to life, then where was he? Surely he was buried somewhere right, so where was his body? Where is the physical evidence for this man's existence? These questions were being raised in the first century, and the answer that was provided was basically that his entire body had disappeared from the face of the earth. All evidence for his existence had vanished, so don't even bother looking for it. In later stories the same claim is made about his mother Mary for essentially the same reasons. Where was Mary? Well according to later stories, she ascended bodily to heaven as well, removing all traces of her existence from the face of the earth too.

So as we can see there was a compelling need to defend the idea that Jesus Christ had been a real person who existed on earth "in the flesh". So what evidence and arguments did 2nd-4th century defenders of this claim use to prove that Jesus had really existed? Essentially they just used the Gospels and theological "reasoning".

And the first power after God the Father and Lord of all is the Word, who is also the Son; and of Him we will, in what follows, relate how He took flesh and became man. For as man did not make the blood of the vine, but God, so it was hereby intimated that the blood should not be of human seed, but of divine power, as we have said above. And Isaiah, another prophet, foretelling the same things in other words, spoke thus: "A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a flower shall spring from the root of Jesse; and His arm shall the nations trust." And a star of light has arisen, and a flower has sprung from the root of Jesse—this Christ. For by the power of God He was conceived by a virgin of the seed of Jacob, who was the father of Judah, who, as we have shown, was the father of the Jews; and Jesse was His forefather according to the oracle, and He was the son of Jacob and Judah according to lineal descent.
- First Apology; Justin Martyr, 2nd century

If He had no need of the flesh, why did He heal it? And what is most forcible of all, He raised the dead. Why? Was it not to show what the resurrection should be? How then did He raise the dead? Their souls or their bodies? Manifestly both. If the resurrection were only spiritual, it was requisite that He, in raising the dead, should show the body lying apart by itself, and the soul living apart by itself. But now He did not do so, but raised the body, confirming in it the promise of life. Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh? And wishing to confirm this, when His disciples did not know whether to believe He had truly risen in the body, and were looking upon Him and doubting, He said to them, "You have not yet faith, see that it is I;" Luke 24:32, etc. and He let them handle Him, and showed them the prints of the nails in His hands. And when they were by every kind of proof persuaded that it was Himself, and in the body, they asked Him to eat with them, that they might thus still more accurately ascertain that He had in verity risen bodily; and He did eat honey-comb and fish. And when He had thus shown them that there is truly a resurrection of the flesh, wishing to show them this also, that it is not impossible for flesh to ascend into heaven (as He had said that our dwelling-place is in heaven), "He was taken up into heaven while they beheld," as He was in the flesh. If, therefore, after all that has been said, any one demand demonstration of the resurrection, he is in no respect different from the Sadducees, since the resurrection of the flesh is the power of God, and, being above all reasoning, is established by faith, and seen in works.
- On the Resurrection; Justin Martyr, 2nd century

And inasmuch as the apostle [John] has not pronounced against the very substance of flesh and blood, that it cannot inherit the kingdom of God, the same apostle has everywhere adopted the term "flesh and blood" with regard to the Lord Jesus Christ, partly indeed to establish His human nature (for He did Himself speak of Himself as the Son of man), and partly that He might confirm the salvation of our flesh. For if the flesh were not in a position to be saved, the Word of God would in no wise have become flesh. And if the blood of the righteous were not to be inquired after, the Lord would certainly not have had blood [in His composition]. But inasmuch as blood cries out from the beginning [of the world], God said to Cain, when he had slain his brother, "The voice of your brother's blood cries to Me." And as their blood will be inquired after, He said to those with Noah, "For your blood of your souls will I require, [even] from the hand of all beasts;" and again, "Whosoever will shed man's blood, it shall be shed for his blood." In like manner, too, did the Lord say to those who should afterwards shed His blood, "All righteous blood shall be required which is shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation." He thus points out the recapitulation that should take place in his own person of the effusion of blood from the beginning, of all the righteous men and of the prophets, and that by means of Himself there should be a requisition of their blood. Now this [blood] could not be required unless it also had the capability of being saved; nor would the Lord have summed up these things in Himself, unless He had Himself been made flesh and blood after the way of the original formation [of man], saving in his own person at the end that which had in the beginning perished in Adam.
- Against Heresies; Irenaeus, 2nd century

So here we can see that as early as the second century, the only "evidence" being used to prove that Jesus really existed was the Gospels. However doubt about the actual existence of Jesus persisted for centuries, causing the bodily incarnation of Jesus to become one of the primary articles of faith among the early proto-Catholics and later Catholics. The reason that the human existence of Jesus became one of the most important and reinforced teachings of Catholicism was precisely because it was the claim that was most in doubt during the early days of Christianity.

In the 3rd century Gregory Thaumaturgus set out twelve articles of faith, which he viewed as essential for believers. He believed that those who did not hold these views should be considered "anathema", which means cutoff, cursed, condemned, or exterminated.

If any one says that the body of Christ is uncreated, and refuses to acknowledge that He, being the uncreated Word of God, took the flesh of created humanity and appeared incarnate, even as it is written, let him be anathema.

Explication:

How could the body be said to be uncreated? For the uncreated is the passionless, invulnerable, intangible. But Christ, on rising from the dead, showed His disciples the print of the nails and the wound made by the spear, and a body that could be handled, although He also had entered among them when the doors were shut, with the view of showing them at once the energy of the divinity and the reality of the body.

Yet, while being God, He was recognized as man in a natural manner; and while subsisting truly as man, He was also manifested as God by His works.

...

If any one affirms that Christ, just like one of the prophets, assumed the perfect man, and refuses to acknowledge that, being begotten in the flesh of the Virgin, He became man and was born in Bethlehem, and was brought up in Nazareth, and advanced in age, and on completing the set number of years (appeared in public and) was baptized in the Jordan, and received this testimony from the Father, "This is my beloved Son," even as it is written, let him be anathema.

Explication:

How could it be said that Christ (the Lord) assumed the perfect man just like one of the prophets, when He, being the Lord Himself, became man by the incarnation effected through the Virgin? Wherefore it is written, that "the first man was of the earth, earthy." But whereas he that was formed of the earth returned to the earth, He that became the second man returned to heaven. And so we read of the "first Adam and the last Adam." And as it is admitted that the second came by the first according to the flesh, for which reason also Christ is called man and the Son of man; so is the witness given that the second is the Savior of the first, for whose sake He came down from heaven. And as the Word came down from heaven, and was made man, and ascended again to heaven, He is on that account said to be the second Adam from heaven.

...

If any one affirms that Christ assumed the man only in part, and refuses to acknowledge that He was made in all things like us, apart from sin, let him be anathema.

Explication:

How could one say that Christ assumed the man only in part, when the Lord Himself says, "I lay down my life, that I might take it again, for the sheep; " and, "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed; " and, "He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life? "
- Twelve Topics on the Faith; Gregory Thaumaturgus, 3rd century

Here we see several things. The very first article addresses the issue of Christ's existence, stating that those people who do not accept that Christ came to earth in human form are to be considered anathema. Clearly this was a major issue to be addressed. Each of the various defenses of the humanity of Christ that are provided by Thaumaturgus fall back on the Gospels and theology.

Basil of Caesarea, in the 4th century, wrote a letter to address doubts about the existence of Jesus among a congregation of Christians in Sozopolis, in what is now Turkey.

If, then, the sojourn of the Lord in flesh has never taken place, the Redeemer paid not the fine to death on our behalf, nor through Himself destroyed death's reign. For if what was reigned over by death was not that which was assumed by the Lord, death would not have ceased working his own ends, nor would the sufferings of the God-bearing flesh have been made our gain; He would not have killed sin in the flesh: we who had died in Adam should not have been made alive in Christ; the fallen to pieces would not have been framed again; the shattered would not have been set up again; that which by the serpent's trick had been estranged from God would never have been made once more His own. All these boons are undone by those that assert that it was with a heavenly body that the Lord came among us. And if the God-bearing flesh was not ordained to be assumed of the lump of Adam, what need was there of the Holy Virgin?
...
Just as the death which is in the flesh, transmitted to us through Adam, was swallowed up by the Godhead, so was the sin taken away by the righteousness which is in Christ Jesus, so that in the resurrection we receive back the flesh neither liable to death nor subject to sin.
- To the Sozopolitans; Basil of Caesarea, 4th century

As with other theologians who defended the humanity of Jesus, Basil provided only theological reasoning to support the existence of Jesus in the flesh. If Jesus didn't really exist in the flesh, suffer, and die, reasons Basil, then we have no reason to believe in resurrection and eternal life, therefore we have to believe that Jesus existed "in flesh".

The Apostle's Creed, written in the 4th century, has remained a major cornerstone of Catholic teaching and faith to this day.

1. I believe in God the Father Almighty
2. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord
3. Who was born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary
4. Crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried
5. The third day He rose again from the dead
6. He ascended into Heaven

7. Sitteth at the right hand of the Father
8. Whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead
9. And in the Holy Ghost
10. The Holy Church
11. The forgiveness of sins
12. The resurrection of the body.

The Creed emphasizes the humanity of Jesus and it is quite clear that the tenets of the Creed are based directly on the Gospels. What is important about the Creed is that the purpose of it was to affirm the main points of belief that were doubted by other "Christian" sects. Each of these points (except perhaps the first) can basically be understood as arguments against widely held beliefs by other groups of Christians at the time.

We know, almost entirely because of the letters of Paul, that some Jesus cult or cults existed prior to the writing of the Gospels. These groups can be lumped together and called Gnostic for simplicity's sake. We have very little evidence for exactly what early worshipers of Jesus actually believed, but what appears to be the case is that those who worshiped "Jesus" prior to the Gospels were worshiping a heavenly, "immaterial", messiah who would destroy the evil material world and create a new immaterial world in heaven, to which he would take his believers and righteous people, etc.

When the Gospels came out they were somewhat of a sensation - very popular works that were relatively widely read. As a result, the pre-existing Gnostic cults attempted to harmonize their beliefs with the Gospels, which was somewhat difficult to do, but since these people had been worshiping "Jesus" for decades by that point they had solid defined beliefs about who Jesus was. As such, the older Gnostic cults incorporated their beliefs with the Gospels, interpreting the Gospels through the prism of the pre-existing Gnostic beliefs.

On the other hand the Gospels were the first introduction to Jesus for many other people. For these people, the reading of the Gospels was plain and straightforward. Clearly the most obvious reading of the Gospels would imply that Jesus was a real human being. It makes no sense that Gnostic type beliefs would arise after the Gospels had been written, as many Christian scholars argue today. Such beliefs had to have existed before the Gospels.

It was the later Jesus worshipers, whose introduction to Jesus was through the Gospels, who believed in a human Jesus, incarnate "in the flesh". For these later Christians the Gospels formed the basis of their knowledge of Jesus, and all of their beliefs about Jesus were directly culled from the Gospels themselves. It was the early Gnostics who held beliefs about Jesus that did not originate from the Gospels. The later Christians basically held that the Gospels were authoritative and any beliefs that were not compatible with the Gospels must be false. Thus the later Christians, who became the Catholics, relied on the Gospels as their evidence against the various existing beliefs in a non-human, immaterial Jesus.

Confusion of the Early Christian Scholars

One of the most fascinating things about Christianity is that it appears to be one of the first religions to arise out of the "information age".  When we look at early Christianity what we find is that the early "church fathers" and apologists were quite geographically dispersed, ranging from Northern Africa to Syria to what is now Turkey to Greece to Rome and even France. These people were spread out all over the place and they were in communication with each other. They were reading each other's letters and sending letters across the Roman empire. And of course our earliest knowledge of Jesus comes from Paul, who was himself sending letters out across the empire to various groups of people in Greece and Rome.

We have this phenomenon of the Gospels, which were essentially copied and passed around like bootleg concert tapes from the 1970s and 1980s, through networks of "hobbyist" scribes. It is really quite fascinating, but what is so remarkable is that this was a religion that became popularized through writing. This was the exact opposite of how most early religions are believed to have formed: slowly, over long periods of time through close knit communities as various traditions and stories build upon each other.

Christianity was a product of the ancient equivalent of the internet - the Roman system of roads that enabled the relatively rapid transfer of information around the empire. But as a result of this, the beliefs of the religion were essentially based entirely on writings. It was a religion of pen pals and of "chat forums". It was a religion shared among people who had never met one another, never talked to each other face to face, who didn't really know each other, much less the people in the stories they were worshiping and writing about.

As a result, there was massive confusion about who was who among the early Christian apologists. This was not helped by the fact that the names used in many of the early Christian writings were very common names, and on top of that many people are called by different names. We are told in various early Christian texts that Paul is also called Saul, that Peter is also called Simon and Cephas, that Mark is also called John, not to mention the fact that Jesus is sometimes called Lord and sometimes the word Lord is referring to "God in heaven". Add to this the fact that the term brothers was used interchangeably to mean both literal relatives and companions or followers of the Jesus movement.

Christianity arose out of a loose collection of documents, written by different people, over a period of time, who were not all writing with the purpose of creating authoritative religious documents or artifacts that were intended to be preserved for posterity. On top of that, of course, we have the fact that the central story that popularized the religion was in fact a fictional story. In addition, as a result of the First Jewish-Roman War and on-going conflicts with the Jews, the supposed "birthplace" of the religion and setting for all of the events central to it, Israel, was in total disarray.

Virtually all of the writings of the so-called New Testament were of unknown authorship. Of the writings that did name their supposed author, a simple first name is all that was provided, again causing confusion, and in many cases it has been determined that the letters were actually pseudonymous, meaning that they were written by unknown people who falsely attributed the writing to someone else. About half of the "Letters of Paul" in the Bible are now widely accepted by scholars not to have actually been written by Paul, the letters of Peter weren't actually written by Peter, the letters of John weren't actually written by John, etc.

Perhaps the most confusion centers around the three most prominent apostles: Peter, James, and John. We see the names James and John in multiple early Christian writings but it is not at all clear that these "Jameses" and Johns are the same people or that all of them were even real people. Let's first take a look at confusion over "John".

Where do we find "John" mentioned in the early Christian writings?

  1. The letters of Paul describe a John who is one of the three leaders of the Jesus cult in Jerusalem, presumably living some time around 50 CE.
  2. The Gospel of Mark names a John Zebedee along with his brother James. This John is also in the Gospels Matthew and Luke.
  3. There is John the Baptist, named in the Gospels.
  4. The book of Revelation says it was written by someone named simply John.
  5. A John supposed father of Peter is mentioned in the Gospel called John (but this is a later interpolation).
  6. A high priest John is mentioned in Acts of the Apostles.
  7. In Acts of the Apostles it says that Mark's other name was John.

In addition to these mentions of "John", we have the unsigned Gospel attributed to John and three unsigned letters attributed to John.

Out of all of this we really only have three Johns we can put much confidence in as being distinct and real people: John the Baptist, John the leader mentioned by Paul, and John the author of Revelation. We can say with some confidence that those are three different real people named John.

The only information we have about "John Zebedee" comes from the Gospels, and the first mention of this name comes from the Gospel called Mark. What I believe is that "John Zebedee" is a fictional character based on the John mentioned in Paul's letters. It is important to note that Paul never says that the John he mentions is a brother of James, however in the Gospel called Mark we are told that John and James Zebedee are brothers.

In the letters of Paul we are told that James, John and Peter are the "pillars" of the Jesus worshiping community. But in Galatians Paul uses the phrase "James-the Lord's brother", which has long been interpreted by Christians as meaning that the James Paul was talking about was a literal brother of Jesus. This would mean that James and John Zebedee couldn't be the same James and John mentioned by Paul, according to Christian tradition.

Now, one of the interesting aspects of the Gospels is that in the three Synoptic Gospels there are twelve named "disciples", including James and John. However, in the Gospel called John there are only 10 named disciples, and the names of James and John are not included, with the exception of a short passage at the end of the Gospel which is certainly a later addition to the work by a different author.

Ironically, the fact that this Gospel did not include the name John is one of the things that led early Christian scholars to attribute it to John Zebedee. This is highly ironic because it appears that the reason James and John aren't mentioned in this writing is that whoever wrote it purposefully excluded them with the intent of writing them out of the history. The logic used by early Christians to attribute the work to "John" was the claim that John was so modest that he didn't mention himself in his Gospel because he didn't want to write about himself (or his brother apparently). So ironically, while the desire of whoever wrote this Gospel was to blot James and John out of the story, the later Christian readers of the story had such a poor understanding of the context and origins of the story that they actually attributed the writing to the very person that the author was trying to blot out!

What really drove the attribution of early Christian writings to names like John and other supposed disciples was the desire to give these writings authority. What they had were anonymous writings of unknown origin, copied and passed along through a chain of unknown scribes and devotees. If these writings were to be authoritative they couldn't have dubious and unknown origins, so they were attributed to disciples. But who were these disciples? Well, the names of the disciples come only from the Gospels themselves. The list of disciples of course originates in the Gospel called Mark, which is a fictional story.

My suspicion is that there was a real James and a real John, who were real leaders of some small apocalyptic Jesus cult in Jerusalem some time around 40CE-60CE. As Paul tells us in his letters, these leaders were very pro-Jewish. Paul himself viewed Jesus as a messiah for all people, and viewed his message of salvation as applying to all people, both Jews and Gentiles. According to Paul, James and John did not believe this and their movement was inclusive only of Jews.

When we read the Gospel called John, it is very clear that the Gospel called John is the most anti-Jewish of the Gospels. In fact the purpose of the entire "miraculous signs" narrative within the Gospel appears to be to strengthen the case against the Jews. In the Synoptics were are told that the "Jews demand miraculous signs", but none will be given to them. In John we are told that, actually the Jews were given lots of "miraculous signs", meeting their demands, and yet they still didn't believe in Jesus. So I think that the reason James and John are excluded from the Gospel now attributed to John is that whoever wrote the Gospel called John also thought that "James and John Zebedee" were the same "James and John" who were pillars according to Paul, and that these leaders were the leaders of the anti-Gentile sect of the cult. Thus, as this person was writing a highly anti-Jewish work and was himself probably an anti-Jewish Gentile, he excluded the Jewish leaders James and John. And as for Peter, the Gospel called John is even more anti-Peter than the Synoptics, but in an even greater irony, additional passages were added to the text in what is now John 21, where Jesus appears to the disciples, patches things up with Peter, and appoints Peter leader of his followers!

So basically we have a story that utterly condemns the Jews, that blots the Jewish leaders James and John out of the story, and that further condemns the other Jewish leader Peter, which later Christian scholars then attribute to the very John that the author was trying to eliminate, and insert a passage ascribing leadership to the figure the writer was trying to undermine. It is quite an amazing bit of confusion. The reason for ascribing leadership to Peter was that by this time, in the 2nd century when the John 21 was likely added, "Peter" had already become a foundational figure of lore due to his role in the Synoptic Gospel narrative. "Peter", through stories, had taken on the mantel of the leader of the movement, so they couldn't have this Gospel undermining that idea, thus the scene was inserted at the end by someone which rectified everything and still ended up portraying Peter in a more positive light.

So that deals with the Gospel of John, but then we also have three letters attributed to John in the New Testament. Those letters are of anonymous authorship as well, but were believed to have been written by the same person who wrote the Gospel called John, thus they were attributed to "John". The Christian belief was that the writings they called the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the Revelation of John were all written by the same person. Modern scholars no longer think this is the case and are actually quite certain that the Revelation of John was written by a completely different person than any of the other works and was written simply by some unknown person named John that doesn't have anything to do with any of the other Johns mentioned in the Biblical texts.

We can now address James, the other major figure in early Christian writings about which there is much confusion. I addressed the issue of confusion around James in some detail in my prior follow-up article on Jesus mythicism in the section titled Pauline Passages that Establish the Historical Existence of Jesus. I won't go into the evidence in quite as much detail here.

Like John, we find several different James mentioned in early Christian writings:

  1. The letters of Paul describe a James who is one of the three leaders of the Jesus cult in Jerusalem; also calls him "the Lord's brother".
  2. The Gospel of Mark names a James Zebedee along with his brother John. This James is also in the Gospels Matthew and Luke.
  3. A James is listed among siblings of Jesus in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.
  4. A James son of Alphaeus is mentioned in Acts of the Apostles.
  5. A "James the Just" is mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas.
  6. The Epistle of James, written by someone named James who does not say that he is Jesus' brother, is attributed to "Jesus' brother James"

Christian traditions, and most Biblical scholars today, hold that the James mentioned by Paul was a literal brother of Jesus, and this James is also "James the Just". However this James is believed to be different from James Zebedee.

It was probably the early Christian chronicler Hegesippus, in the late 2nd century, who recorded the first concrete association of "James the Just" as the literal brother of Jesus, helping to cement this view into Church tradition.

James, the Lord's brother, succeeds to the government of the Church, in conjunction with the apostles. He has been universally called the Just, from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the name of James; but this one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh; no razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, nor make use of the bath. He alone was permitted to enter the holy place: for he did not wear any woolen garment, but fine linen only. ... Therefore, in consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek Defense of the People, and Justice, in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.
- Commentaries on the Acts of the Church; Hegesippus, 165-175

When Hegesippus says "the Lord's brother" here he is taking this from tradition, but here it is clearly meant as the "literal brother of Jesus", and by this time he himself probably really believed that was who this James was. From the 3rd century on it was assumed that the James who was an early church leader was a literal "brother of the Lord", despite the fact that earlier apologists also understood the term "brother of the Lord" or "Lord's brother" to mean that he was an esteemed leader, as Origen states below.

Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine.
- Against Celsus; Origen, 2nd century

In my view, "James the Lord's brother" and "James the Just" are both just comparable titles ascribed to this leader, who was viewed as very pious. It is also possible that "James the Just" was actually just an invention of Hegesippus, and that there never was anyone actually called "James the Just" or that "James the Just" was a title invented by Hegesippus, as suggested by Markus Vinzent in Christ’s resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament. This would also indicate that the mention of "James the Just" in the Gospel of Thomas came some time in the late 2nd century or later.

Christian tradition holds that the Epistle of James was authored by Jesus' real brother, however the letter itself does not say that it was written by Jesus' brother.

James 1:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

Here is what the Harper's NRSV Study Bible has to say about the letter:

The "James" of the opening address has traditionally been identified as James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1.19), who became the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15.13; 21.18) and who was martyred before the outbreak of the Jewish war of 66-70. The author's proficiency with Greek, however, and use of the Septuagint have suggested to some that the brother of Jesus probably did not write this text.

In addition to the linguistic analysis, why would this greeting not say "James, a brother of the Lord Jesus Christ," if this person was indeed his brother? Nothing in the letter indicates that this James is a brother of Jesus. It's hardly believable that a literal brother of Jesus would not indicate such in a letter authored by him, or that if this letter is pseudonomous the person writing in the name of James, presumably to lend authority to the writing, would not have indicated that James was the brother of Jesus if James being the brother of Jesus was indeed a part of the tradition at that time. In addition, the Epistle of James only mentions Jesus two times, both times simply calling him "the Lord". This is quite peculiar because the Epistle of James lays out many teachings on a wide range of subjects, yet none of the teachings are ascribed to Jesus. Wouldn't the literal bother of Jesus, who was clearly trying to convince people with this letter to accept the ideas in it and follow the teachings, say something like, "as my brother Jesus said," instead of simply exhorting people to follow his own advice? If Jesus were a real person, and this person were Jesus' brother, and this person were trying to pass on Jesus' teachings, then wouldn't they say that the teachings they were presenting in the letter actually came from Jesus? The writer of this letter never ascribes a single one of his teachings to Jesus. This is very odd if they were passing on teachings that came from Jesus, and even more odd if they were Jesus' brother, which is a point they could have made in order to give more credibility to their admonitions.

Again let's address the interesting fact that the letters of Paul tell us that the leaders of the Jesus community in Jerusalem were James, John and Peter, and the Gospel of Mark casts the prominent disciples as James, John and Peter. But, we are to believe that the prominent James and John in the Gospels are not the same James and John in the letters of Paul, because the James and John in the Gospels are identified as "sons of Zebedee", which means that they of course cannot be literal brothers of Jesus.

Here is what Paul tells us about James and John:

Galatians 1:
15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, 'The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.' 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 2:
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.
...
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

Paul does not say that James and John are brothers, and he never identifies their father. So in two separate writings we have two seemingly separate sets of people named James, John and Peter, however everyone agrees that the Peter mentioned by Paul is the same Peter mentioned in the Gospels. There is also an assumption that the James mentioned in Galatians 1:19 is the same James mentioned in Galatians 2:9.

The Gospel of Mark briefly lists a James as being a sibling of Jesus as well.

Mark 6:
1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

The Gospel of Mark only mentions literal brothers of Jesus one time, and then they disappear from the narrative. This is the only mention of Jesus' family in Mark and they are never mentioned again in the Gospel after that, not even his mother Mary. Indeed Jesus totally rejects his family in the Gospel of Mark.

So, according to Christian tradition, the James who was a pillar of the community mentioned by Paul is the James mentioned here in Mark, despite the fact that the Gospel of Mark (and all the other Gospels which of course copy from it) says that Jesus rejected his family and this James plays no meaningful role in any of the Gospel stories, while James Zebedee is portrayed as one of the three main disciples.

This gets even more interesting when we look at the writings of the author of the Gospel called Luke and Acts of the Apostles. Those two works, "Luke" and Acts of the Apostles, were defiantly written by the same person. We don't know who that person actually was, and it is now acknowledged that there is no basis for attributing those works to anyone called "Luke", but whoever it was, the same person wrote both accounts. Interestingly, the author of the Gospel called Luke leaves out the name of all supposed siblings of Jesus, and in Luke Jesus' rejection of his family is absolute. He completely rejects them altogether.

Luke 8:
19 Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."

21 He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

The point is made clear that his mother and brothers do not hear or practice God's word.

Not only that, but the author of Luke also makes it clear that James and John Zebedee are Peter's partners.

Luke 5:
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's [Peter's] partners.

What is also important to understand is that whoever wrote Luke and Acts had definitely read the letters of Paul, which are heavily referenced in Acts of the Apostles. In fact, according to Christian tradition the author "Luke" was a traveling companion of Paul. But what is obvious from "Luke's" writings is that they definitely made the association that James and John Zebedee were the same people mentioned in Galatians. Now let's look at Acts of the Apostles.

Acts of the Apostles is a very interesting work and appears to have two distinct sections, a first section which goes from Acts 1 to 12 and a second section which goes from Acts 13 to 28. Acts 13 to 28 is much more heavily focused on the travels and deeds of the apostle Paul, and contains passages with the term "we" to imply that the author had actually accompanied Paul on the adventures described. There are several different "Jameses" mentioned in Acts and it gets a bit confusing. The term "the brothers" is used several times to talk about some group of people, which seems to include James. However, in Acts 12 the text says that James son of Zebedee was killed, and this is where much confusion starts.

Acts 1:
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."

Acts 10:
23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."

Acts 12:
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

Acts 12:
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place.

Acts 15:
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

Acts 21:
15 After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.

17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.

17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God.

We can see here several instances of the use of "the brothers," as well as the references to James and a discussion of Paul meeting James in Jerusalem in Acts 21. Nowhere in Acts does the author state that any James is a brother of Jesus, and in the passage that describes Paul's meeting with James, the author says that Paul met with the brothers, though clearly not literal brothers of Jesus. But this is where things get interesting, because Christian tradition holds that the James mentioned in Acts 12:17 is "the literal brother of Jesus", who is also called "James the Just".

So according to the standard Christian interpretation of this, the author of Luke and Acts mentions that Jesus has brothers two times, and neither time does he say that any of them are named James. This author also tells us in the Gospel called Luke that according to Jesus, no one in his family "hears God's word" or puts it into practice. We are then to believe that, out of the blue, the James mentioned in Acts 12:17 is Jesus' brother. This clearly makes no sense.

First of all, whoever wrote Luke and Acts was trying to write a self-contained and complete history. In other words, they weren't writing something that would require lots of other context to understand, they were trying to write something that could explain everything all by itself. Within these two writings, the Gospel called Luke and Acts of the Apostles, a brother of Jesus named James is never mentioned. If the James who is mentioned in Acts 12:17 were supposed to be Jesus' brother, then surely the author would have mentioned that Jesus had a brother named James at some point prior to this, or at the very least said that the James mentioned in Acts 12:17 was Jesus' brother.

Who is the James mentioned in Acts 12:17? I don't know, but it surely isn't supposed to be Jesus' literal brother. I think the best thing to say about this is that it simply isn't clear who this James is supposed to be, or where the author was getting their information. Obviously the author is working with second hand information at best. I suspect that most of what is recorded in Acts never happened, though I do think that several of the people are real people and parts of the narrative, especially the later half, are loosely based on real events. But what is important is what the author thought, and it is clear that this author did not think that any important James was a literal brother of Jesus. If they had thought so, they would surely have introduced a brother of Jesus named James.

Likewise, it is really clear that James and John Zebedee in the Gospel of Mark are based on the James and John of Paul's letters. James and John Zebedee are essentially fictional characters, but what's clear is that they are characters who represent the James and John who were the pillars in the early Christ worshiping community. If the author of Mark believed that Jesus were real, and that Jesus had a literal brother named James who became a major figure in the Christian community, then he would have cast Jesus' brother James in a more prominent role in his story. So it's clear that the author of Mark was not implying that there was any literal brother of Jesus named James who was a major figure in the community, nor did the author of Luke think that this was the case, and whoever wrote the Gospel called John must have believed that the James and John Zebedee of the Markan narrative were the same people who were the supposed "pillars" of the community mentioned by Paul, which is exactly why he, in his anti-Jewish fervor, left them completely out of his narrative.

So it's clear that all the Gospel writers thought that James and John Zebedee were the James and John who were the pillars of the community, meaning that "James Zebedee" and "James the Lord's brother"  had to be the same "people". Now, the extent to which anything other than Paul's writings about this person were based on reality is highly doubtful. Most likely, all we know about this person is what was written by Paul, and everything else about "James the Just", "Jesus' brother James", "James Zebedee", etc. is all just fiction or based on urban legends that developed out of the Markan fiction.

Most importantly, however, what is clear is that whoever "James the Just" or "James the Lord's brother" or "James son of Zebedee" was, none of the Christian apologists of the 2nd century or beyond had any real idea of who he was. The James of import was someone who was believed by them to have been a real life brother of Jesus, who had supposedly lived to some time around 60 or 70 CE, about which the only information we have is utter confusion! The fact is that the real James was probably the single most important figure in the origins of the Jesus cult, and we know almost nothing real about him. The few sentences we have about him from Paul are the only reliable information we have. I do believe it's possible that the Epistle of James comes from the same James that Paul said was a pillar of the early Jesus worshiping community. In my opinion the Epistle of James could be the single most authentic writing describing the beliefs of the early Jesus cult. The Epistle of James talks very little about Jesus and gives no indication that Jesus was a real person. Virtually all of the theology in the Epistle of James is presented as teachings coming from James, not as teachings of Jesus that are being passed on. Jesus is merely a deity in the Epistle of James, not a teacher or performer of miracles - Jesus is simply "the Lord".

Now we have to deal with "Peter", or was it Simon, or Cephas?

The oldest mention of Peter comes from the letters Paul. Interestingly, Paul only mentioned "Peter" one time, but Paul mentioned someone named Cephas many times. According to Christian tradition, Peter and Cephas are the same person, but this may not be the case. What may be the case is that there were two different people: Peter and Cephas. The writer of Mark confused this issue by never using the name Cephas, and instead saying that Peter's original name was Simon, "So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)." The writer of Mark, using Paul's letters, certainly portrays Peter as if he were Cephas. Even still, none of the Synoptic Gospels completely clarify the view that Peter is Cephas. It is not until the Gospel called John that this is done. In John 1:42 the writer states: "He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, 'You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas' (which is translated Peter)."

This statement in the Gospel called John essentially settled the matter, because it was believed that the writer of this Gospel personally knew both Jesus and Peter, so of course he would know. However it is now clear that that this work wasn't actually written by anyone who knew Jesus or Peter.  For more on this matter see The Harvard Theology Review. Bart Ehrman also raised the issue and put forward the 2nd century evidence showing that many people in the 2nd century believed that Peter and Cephas were two different people. See Cephas and Peter.

To get to the heart of the matter we have to look at how Paul used the names Peter and Cephas. Here is everything that Paul write about Peter and Cephas:

Galatians 1:
18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 2:
6 And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

1 Corinthians 3:
21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

1 Corinthians 9:
3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to our food and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?

1 Corinthians 15:
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Note: See my analysis of 1 Corinthians 15 in Jesus Myth Part II under the section Pauline passages that establish the historical existence of Jesus?.

The fact that Paul mentions a Peter and a Cephas in the same sentence in Galatians 2 raised doubts that Paul considered Peter and Cephas the same person. Paul never says that Peter and Cephas are the same person. Clearly, the most straight forward reading of Galatians 2 indicates that Peter and Cephas are two different people. Anyone reading only that passage would conclude that Paul is talking about different people when he mentions Peter and Cephas. The only reason that Peter and Cephas are considered to be the same people is because the Gospels treat them as such.

What appears to be the case is that the author of Mark somehow misread Cephas as Simon. What I think happened is that whoever wrote Mark either misunderstood the name Cephas or they were using letters in which the name Cephas had been changed to Simon or something along those lines. The author of Mark never uses the name Cephas and Paul never used the name Simon.

Most important, however, is the fact that there was doubt and confusion over whether or not Peter and Cephas were the same person in the 2nd century, but it became settled that they were based on the Gospels, and all subsequent writings treated Peter and Cephas as the same person. What the uncertainly and debate over Peter and Cephas shows is that no one actually knew Peter/Cephas. The matter of whether Peter or Cephas were the same person was resolved through reading of the Gospels, not because anyone came forward and said, "Hey, I know Peter, yes he's the same person as Cephas." No, the issue was resolved via theological argument and reliance on writings.

So even if it is the case that Peter and Cephas are the same person (probably), the 2nd century dispute over this matter shows that none of the 2nd century church fathers had and real direct knowledge of Peter.

So we have a few real people, James, John, Peter/Cephas and Paul, who were evidently critical in the development of the early religion, and while much is written about them, there is no line of direct knowledge about them. None of the people who actually codified the religion or founded the churches had any direct knowledge of James or Paul, or even John or Peter for that matter. And these people, James, John, Peter/Cephas, and Paul, are the people whom we know with relative certainty were real. Yet none of the early Christian fathers even had any real knowledge of these people. All that we know about these people comes from the letters of Paul. So not only is there no first hand knowledge of Jesus the person, there is not any first hand knowledge of any of the people who were the early worshipers of Jesus, and these people presumably lived into the mid 1st century, some 20 to 40 years beyond when Jesus supposedly died. The point here is just to show how far removed the early founders of the Christian religion were from the actual origins of the Jesus cult and the degree to which all of their knowledge was based on writings of dubious origin and veracity.

The New Pantheon of Christian Heroes

One of the major objections to the idea that Jesus never existed is the belief that Jesus is tied into history by the actions and lives of his so-called disciples and relatives. Stories about the deeds of his associates after his death are often used to claim that these people would only have taken such actions if they personally knew Jesus and had witnessed his resurrection. But the reality is that the tales of Jesus' associates are just as fictional as the story of Jesus himself.

As we just touched on above, the origins of the Jesus story and Christianity go well beyond simply trying to identify Jesus. There are actually dozens, indeed hundreds, of figures in early Christian literature about whom stories were written that flesh out the overall mythology of Christianity. Not only did Jesus not exist, but in fact many of the other key figures in early Christian "history" never existed either, and of the ones that actually did, virtually everything that was written about them was fabricated. Early Christian mythology goes well beyond the Gospels and the writings contained in the Bible. There were many stories written during the 2nd through 6th centuries, and beyond, about each and every character named in the Gospels, about the supposed authors of the Gospels, about various early church leaders, and about many so-called martyrs. Almost all of this material, which is foundational to early church history and the traditionally accepted origin story of Christianity, is completely made up. If you are not familiar with this material that may sound like an extraordinary claim, but in fact much of this has actually long been acknowledged even by Catholic scholars themselves, and the Protestant Reformation involved many challenges by Protestant scholars to much of early Christian history as well.

The reality is that Christianity the religion developed within a very religiously complex and diverse culture that had thousands of existing gods and heroes, with rich mythological traditions going back hundreds of years. The Greek and Roman cultures that Christianity developed in were saturated with gods and heroes, from the countless temples that were in every community to countless statues and charms and figurines of gods and demigods, to cultural narratives that revolved around stories of gods and heroes, to entertainment that revolved around stories of the many different gods and heroes of traditional religions.

In Christianity we had a new religion that grew rapidly, about which very little was known. The idea that all of this culture would simply be swept away by nothing more than a story about a man who was killed on a cross and came back to life would be absurd. First of all, such stories were not uncommon at this place and time. There were all kinds of stories about gods, demigods and heroes who did all kinds of miraculous things. Second of all, the Gospels were a very small collection of stories compared to the rich mythology of the Greeks and Romans, which contained thousands of stories about thousands of gods. It was never a possibility that all of Greek and Roman religious culture would be replaced with one story about one "hero", and all of the gods would be replaced by one god.

The idea that much of Christian tradition developed out of pagan culture is not new, in fact it has been around for hundreds of years, exemplified by the following passage from Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason:

It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called the Christian church sprung out of the tail of the heathen mythology. A direct incorporation took place in the first instance, by making the reputed founder to be celestially begotten. The trinity of gods that then followed was no other than a reduction of the former plurality, which was about twenty or thirty thousand: the statue of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus; the deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints; the Mythologists had gods for everything; the Christian Mythologists had saints for everything; the church became as crowded with one, as the Pantheon had been with the other, and Rome was the place of both. The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient Mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue; and it yet remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious fraud.
- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason - 1794

What is important to differentiate, however, is the origin of the Jesus story and the development of the Christian religion. The origins of the Jesus cult and Gospel story were very much a product of Jewish culture. Yet, as the Christian religion developed within Greek and Roman culture in the 2nd through 6th centuries and beyond, this development was very much a product of pagan culture. Pagan religious culture was very rich in mythology and iconography, and a big part of the adoption of Christian religion in Greek and Roman society involved the development of similarly rich Christian mythology and iconography.

Let's start with a general outline of what's at stake here.

Jesus' mother Mary - who was she? What happened to her after Jesus was killed? Well, many stories were written about her (over 50 known), including one in the 4th century which explained that like Jesus, she too ascended bodily to heaven, removing all traces of her existence on earth. This belief, in the assumption of Mary, is a part of official Catholic doctrine, which complaint Catholics are required to believe is true. There are multiple "historical sites" to this day purporting to be places where she lived or was initially buried. The fact is, Mary never existed.

Who was Peter? According to church history the mantel of leadership passed from Jesus directly to Peter after Jesus died and Peter moved to Rome where he established the first Christian church in Rome. He is considered by the Catholic church to be the first pope, and he was later crucified upside down by the Roman authorities. None of this ever happened. While there must have been some real person named Peter (or Simon or Cephas) that the apostle Paul really met and really knew, all that we actually know about this person is that he was an associate of James, and actually a lesser figure in the early Jesus cult based in Jerusalem. It appears from Paul's letters that Paul interacted more with Peter than James not because Peter was the leader of the movement but in fact because Peter was of lesser importance, and was likely a sort of liaison between James and other people. Indeed Protestant scholars have long claimed that Peter never set foot in Rome and had nothing to do with the founding of the church there.

What about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? These are of course the supposed evangelists who recorded the accounts of Jesus' life known as the Gospels. What happened to them? Where are they buried? Stories have been written about all of them, and there are indeed grave sites for them, sometimes multiple sites at different places, but of course none of it is real. Clearly no one actually knew these people, as if anyone had actually known them they would have been able to credibly establish their authorship of the Gospels, which has never been done. While someone obviously had to have written the Gospels, no one knows who wrote any of them, and the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are essentially plucked from thin air (or rather plucked from other writings).

What about early saints, like Saint Nicholas, the supposed inspiration for Santa Claus? Many of the early saints were pure fabrications. Others, like Nicholas, are very loosely based on real people. For example there was apparently some real bishop named Nicholas in the 4th century, but we know almost nothing about him. He is merely a name on a list. Stories about Saint Nicholas developed much later, after the 6th century, and appear mostly to be based on pagan mythology. This is in fact the case with many so-called saints. As Christianity replaced thousand of gods with just one, the rich mythological traditions of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, etc. was often transferred onto saints, and saints became patron semi-deities of various places and phenomena, just as the pagan gods were. This is exactly what we see with Saint Nicholas, who became a patron saint of seafaring onto which the legends of Poseidon/Neptune and many other pagan gods were transferred, including legends of his supposed gift giving, which are really just a recasting of pagan mythology.

What about all the martyrs? Most of the martyrs never existed. There are a small handful of confirmed real Christian martyrs from the 1st through 4th centuries, but Christian tradition records thousands and thousands of martyrs during this time in various stories and lists. Virtually all of these are total fabrications, many of which were made up between the 6th and 9th centuries.

So as you can see, quite a lot is at stake here, essentially the entire "history" of early Christianity. Now let's look key evidence to support these claims.

The Virgin Mary

Let's begin with the "Virgin Mary". Who was Mary? What happened to her after Jesus died? When did she die? Where was she buried? As the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, everything we "know" about Mary comes from a combination of "prophecies" found in the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and some stories written from the 3rd or 4th century on.

Paul of course says nothing about Mary and discusses no earthly life of Jesus. Interestingly, however, one of the few (perhaps only) female names mentioned in the letters of Paul is a mention of someone named Mary in Romans 16, though she is introduced as someone from Rome who had been working among the early Christian community. I suspect that this is why the author of Mark used the name Mary for so many of the female characters in his story.

None of the other letters in the Bible from early Jesus worshipers say anything about Mary either. The first mention of Jesus' mother Mary comes in the Gospel called Mark, where she is mentioned one time as the mother of Jesus. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke some back-story about Mary is provided in the initial sections that discus the birth of Jesus, but then, when we get to the sections of those Gospels that copy heavily from Mark, Jesus' mother Mary is again barely mentioned. In the Gospel called John, Jesus' mother is never identified as having the name Mary, she is simply called "Jesus' mother".

In Acts of the Apostles Jesus' mother Mary is mentioned one time in Acts 1, where it says that she was at a house in Jerusalem among the other disciples devoting herself to prayer shortly after Jesus' death.

So essentially, the only "information" that we have about Mary from early sources comes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is here that she is identified as a "virgin". However in the Gospel of Matthew, Mary is identified as a virgin due to a mistranslation of the Hebrew scriptures that the author of Matthew was basing his story on. Matthew quotes a passage from Isaiah 7 as if it were a prophecy for the birth of Jesus, but the passage being quoted was from a Greek translation and the Greek translation mistranslated the phrase "young woman" as "virgin".

A proper translation of Isaiah 7:10-17 from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version), which is taken directly from the Hebrew, reads as follows:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’

Two errors were made when this passage was translated into Greek for the Septuagint. First "young woman" was translated to "virgin" and secondly the tense of the sentence was translated from present tense to future tense.

In the NIV (New International Version) this passage is translated as it was in the Greek Septuagint (and has traditionally been translated by Christians), and reads as follows:

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights."

12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test."

13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria."

The author of the Gospel called Matthew used this mistranslation as the basis for his story about Jesus' birth, stating:

Matthew 1:
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."

But the Gospel of Luke also states that Mary was a virgin as well, and in Luke the passage from Isaiah is not used. This could mean that the independent stories of Matthew and Luke were based on some pre-existing oral account of Jesus' mother Mary being a virgin. However, what I suspect is that there was no preexisting tradition, and that the idea of Mary being a virgin originated with the Gospel called Matthew. It is clear that whoever wrote the Gospel called Luke wasn't directly using the Gospel called Matthew as a resource, because the account of the birth of Jesus in Luke is significantly different from the account in Matthew, however it is also clear that Luke was written later than Matthew and that whoever wrote Luke was familiar with many different sources and had made an effort to try and harmonize ideas and material from many different accounts.

Thus, what I think happened is that the "virgin birth" story originated in the Gospel called Matthew and the author of Luke was aware of oral accounts of the story from Matthew, which is why the birth story in Luke is vaguely similar to the story in Matthew, but clearly not copied from it.

This being the case, it means that the idea that Jesus' mother Mary was a "virgin" when she gave birth to him arose from an author's use of a mistranslation, yet every subsequent story we have about Mary makes heavy use of the "fact" that she was a virgin. What this tells us is that all of these later stories are themselves just made up based on ideas that originated in the Gospel accounts.

Mary, the supposed mother of Jesus, is never mentioned by Paul, nor in any canonical work outside of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. If Jesus had an earthly mother who was still alive, then why didn't Paul visit her? Why wasn't the early Christian community caring for Mary? Paul never says anything about taking care of the mother of the Lord or anything like this. What happened to Mary when she died, why wasn't her grave venerated? For that matter where is her grave? According to later legend, Mary's body ascended into heaven as well.

There are in fact many different traditions regarding the death and tomb of Mary. The two primary traditions are that she was buried in either Jerusalem or Ephesus, in what is now Turkey, where various traditions claim that she lived after Jesus died. In both cases it is claimed that after her burial her body was taken up to heaven. In some stories her dead body ascends to heaven, in others she is resurrected and enters heaven alive. In later stories she dropped garments down to the apostles as she rose. (These supposed garments were of course "preserved" as "relics" by various churches and used to draw in followers to see and touch them).

The tomb of the Virgin Mary that now resides in Jerusalem was initially built around the 6th century and has had various additions added to it over the centuries. The oldest known citation of Mary having died and been buried there comes from a 5th century source.

St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon [451 CE], made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.
- Euthymiaca Historia, 5th century

A more elaborate story tells of Mary's death, where she was buried and then "taken up to heaven".

And when the Lord's day came, at the third hour, just as the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in a cloud, so Christ descended with a multitude of angels, and received the soul of His beloved mother. For there was such splendor and perfume of sweetness, and angels singing the songs of songs, where the Lord says, As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters, that all who were there present fell on their faces, as the apostles fell when Christ transfigured Himself before them on Mount Thabor, and for a whole hour and a half no one was able to rise. But when the light went away, and at the same time with the light itself, the soul of the blessed virgin Mary was taken up into heaven with psalms, and hymns, and songs of songs. And as the cloud went up the whole earth shook, and in one moment all the inhabitants of Jerusalem openly saw the departure of St. Mary.

And that same hour Satan entered into them, and they began to consider what they were to do with her body. And they took up weapons, that they might burn her body and kill the apostles, because from her had gone forth the dispersions of Israel, on account of their sins and the gathering together of the Gentiles. But they were struck with blindness, striking their heads against the walls, and striking each other. Then the apostles, alarmed by so much brightness, arose, and with psalms carried the holy body down from Mount Zion to the valley of Jehoshaphat. But as they were going in the middle of the road, behold, a certain Jew, Reuben by name, wishing to throw to the ground the holy bier with the body of the blessed Mary. But his hands dried up, even to the elbow; whether he would or not, he went down even to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, weeping and lamenting because his hands were raised to the bier, and he was not able to draw back his hands to himself. And he began to ask the apostles that by their prayer he might be saved and made a Christian. Then the apostles, bending their knees, asked the Lord to let him loose. And he, being healed that same hour, giving thanks to God and kissing the feet of the queen of all the saints and apostles, was baptized in that same place, and began to preach the name of our God Jesus Christ.

Then the apostles with great honor laid the body in the tomb, weeping and singing through exceeding love and sweetness. And suddenly there shone round them a light from heaven, and they fell to the ground, and the holy body was taken up by angels into heaven.

Then the most blessed Thomas was suddenly brought to the Mount of Olivet, and saw the most blessed body going up to heaven, and began to cry out and say: O holy mother, blessed mother, spotless mother, if I have now found grace because I see you, make your servant joyful through your compassion, because you are going to heaven.
- The Assumption of Mary; (falsely attributed to John) 5th century

This story, or at least the belief in the assumption of Mary, is an article of faith for Catholics, something that they are "required" to accept as true. Like the account in Luke of Jesus' body physically leaving the earth and going to heaven, this story explains why there are no remains of Mary on earth.

Like all stories about the supporting cast from the Gospels, the story is full of miracles and supernatural claims. Indeed the account of Mary begins with the supposed author being taken up into the heavens by the Holy Spirit.

And while she was praying, I John came, the Holy Spirit having snatched me up by a cloud from Ephesus, and set me in the place where the mother of my Lord was lying. And having gone in beside her, and glorified Him who had been born of her, I said: Hail, mother of my Lord, who brought forth Christ our God, rejoice that in great glory you are going out of this life. And the holy mother of God glorified God, because I John had come to her, remembering the voice of the Lord, saying: Behold your mother, and, Behold your son. And the three virgins came and worshipped.
- The Assumption of Mary; (falsely attributed to John) 5th century

The interesting thing about Ephesus is that Ephesus had a patron goddess - Diana / Artemis. Ephesus was also known as a city with a thriving industry in religious pilgrimage and idol production. Indeed Acts of the Apostles describes a scene in which Paul had an altercation with people in Ephesus who are afraid that Paul's teachings will drive away business from their temples and idol trade.

Acts 19:
23 About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. 24 A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. 25 These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, "Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. 26 You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her."

28 When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"

What we find is that depictions of Mary all evolved from depictions of Greek and Roman goddesses, Diana of Ephesus being one of the primary goddesses that images of Mary have been patterned on. In Ephesus the trade in Diana was replaced with trade in the Virgin Mary.


Isis and Horus mosaic from The House of Dionysus


Earliest image of Mary, from Roman Catacombs ~150 CE


Diana of Ephesus shrine with blessing hands


Virgin Mary shrine with blessing hands


Diana of Ephesus with moon goddess symbol on head


Virgin Mary standing on moon goddess symbol


Eirene the goddess of peace holding her son Ploutos


Messalina with Britannicus - 45 CE, based on Eirene and Ploutos


Madonna and child

The reality is that there is no evidence that anyone ever knew anything about Mary, and in fact all of the stories about her and sites where she supposedly lived or was buried are later fabrications built on the Gospel narratives. Like Jesus, Mary never existed.

Peter / Cephas

Peter, also known as Cephas and Simon, is perhaps the single most important character from the Gospel stories in terms of establishing the historical existence of Jesus. According to the Gospels and Christian tradition, Peter was Jesus' most prominent disciple, and Peter supposedly moved to Rome after Jesus was killed and established the first Christian church in Rome. According to Catholic tradition Peter was the first Pope. Clearly, Peter is the ideal witness to the life of Jesus, and if Peter lived in Rome and gave people first hand accounts of his time with Jesus that would surely settle the question of whether or not Jesus had indeed lived on earth "in the flesh".

Granting that Peter and Cephas are interchangeable, all that Paul really tells us about "Peter" is that he was one of the "pillars" of the Jesus worshiping community in Jerusalem (some time around 40 or 50 CE) and that Paul confronted him for being a hypocrite. All of the other information that we have about "Peter" comes from the Gospels and other later writings that are based on the Gospels. If we accept the premise that the Gospel of Mark is a fictional story, and all of the other Gospels are based on it, then of course the Gospels are not a reliable source of information about "Peter". The "Peter" of the Gospels is merely a fictional character based on the descriptions of Cephas in the letters of Paul.

So what other "information" do we have about "Peter"? Firstly we have two letters ascribed to Peter in the New Testament: First Peter and Second Peter. At this point, both First and Second Peter are accepted by Biblical scholars to be pseudonymous, i.e. not actually written by Peter, but instead written by someone who falsely claimed to be Peter. The NRSV Harper Collins Study Bible states that 1 Peter is likely written between 80 CE and 120 CE, and that both this date and the high quality Greek indicate that it is pseudonymous. This was actually a common practice and indeed most of the letters in the New Testament are now acknowledged to be pseudonymous. Second Peter was likely written anywhere between around 90 CE and 150 CE. Both letters are believed to have been authored in Rome and sent from Rome to various recipients in Asia Minor (what is generally now Turkey). Let's look at both of their introductions and a few excerpts from them:

1 Peter 1:
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

2 Peter 1:
1 Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

2 May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

The introduction of 1 Peter clearly indicates that the letter is written after the First Jewish-Roman War, as do other passages throughout the letter. Both introductions clearly show that whoever wrote the letters was trying to make them appear to be from "The Peter" of repute. Interestingly, the intended audience of the letter appears to be Jews, and the letter basically tells these Jews that their exile and dispersion as a result of the war is a result of the errors of their ancestors, but the way to redemption is through Jesus Christ. This is a message that aligns closely with the symbolism of the Gospel called Mark.

Second Peter makes references to material that is found in the Gospels and thus the author is almost certainly building on the Gospel narratives. For example:

2 Peter 1:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

This is referring to the Transfiguration scene from the Gospels, which is, of course, a fictional event. So here we have a letter written by someone claiming to be Peter some time in the late 1st or early 2nd century, in which the material they are using is built upon the Gospel stories. This author is basically sending a letter to believers and claiming that "he was there", hand-in-hand with Jesus on the mountain during the Transfiguration, so be sure to believe every word that he says.

The primary subject of 2 Peter is the issue of the second coming. Basically, by the time this letter was written Christians were starting to question why Jesus had not yet returned to destroy the world and take everyone to heaven. These questions were leading to claims that the entire religion was a hoax, because the promised end of the world had not yet occurred. The message of the letters is essentially, "No, trust me, it's all good," as we see in the following passage of reassurance:

2 Peter 3:
3 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you 2 that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles. 3 First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!"

2 Peter 3:
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

So, these falsely attributed letters are one source of fabricated information about Peter, and one of the pieces of "evidence" for the claim that Peter had moved to Rome and established the first church there. But, of course, these letters are proved not to have actually been written by Peter and so provide no such evidence. In fact it is not even clear that these letters were issued from Rome, as was initially believed.

Ironically, one of the criticisms against the authenticity of the letters of Peter is itself without merit because it is based on a belief about Peter that is surely dubious, which is the claim that Peter was a fisherman. One of the common lines of evidence used by Biblical scholars against the authenticity of the letters of Peter is the claim that the Greek prose is of too high a quality for Peter to have written, because Peter was a fisherman, who is someone who would not have received an education as a youth. Indeed the idea that Peter is a fisherman plays a significant role in his mythology. Yet the only "evidence" we have that Peter is a fisherman comes from the Gospels, all of which originates in the Gospel called Mark with a literary allusion.

Mark 1:
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon [Peter] and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.' 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

This passage likely refers to Jeremiah 16, which is again a passage about the destruction of Israel.

Jeremiah 16:
5 For this is what the LORD says: "Do not enter a house where there is a funeral meal; do not go to mourn or show sympathy, because I have withdrawn my blessing, my love and my pity from this people," declares the LORD. 6 "Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut himself or shave his head for them. 7 No one will offer food to comfort those who mourn for the dead—not even for a father or a mother—nor will anyone give them a drink to console them.

8 "And do not enter a house where there is feasting and sit down to eat and drink. 9 For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Before your eyes and in your days I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in this place.

10 "When you tell these people all this and they ask you, 'Why has the LORD decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the LORD our God?' 11 then say to them, 'It is because your fathers forsook me,' declares the LORD, 'and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. 12 But you have behaved more wickedly than your fathers. See how each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me. 13 So I will throw you out of this land into a land neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.'

14 "However, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when men will no longer say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' 15 but they will say, 'As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers.

16 "But now I will send for many fishermen," declares the LORD, "and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. 17 My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. 18 I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols."

This is the only passage in the Old Testament that talks about fishermen catching people. This is a passage that would have been seen as very relevant immediately after the war. The identification of Peter as a fisherman is simply a part of the framing of this literary allusion, and actually foreshadows Peter's denial of Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark the author actually puts the majority of the blame on Peter, making Peter (and his denial of Jesus) the instrument of God's wrath.

So while the case against the letters of Peter being authentic is still very strong, the idea that they couldn't have been written by him because he was an uneducated fisherman is itself bogus. We actually have no idea whether Peter was a fisherman or not, because the idea that he was a fisherman comes entirely from this symbolic literary allusion in Mark.

But what about other accounts of Peter?

The most famous story about Peter is Acts of Peter, which contains the account of Peter's arrest and crucifixion in Rome. The Acts of Peter was likely written some time in the 2nd century. It is quite a long story and is clearly heavily based on the Gospels in both content and style. The story is full of wild and spectacular supernatural events. Sections of the work read:

And whereas men through ignorance fell into death by many and divers infirmities, Almighty God, moved with compassion, sent his Son into the world. With whom I was; and he walked upon the water, whereof I myself remain a witness, and do testify that he then worked in the world by signs and wonders, all of which he did.

I do confess, dearly-beloved brethren, that I was with him: yet I denied him, even our Lord Jesus Christ, and that not once only, but thrice; for there were evil dogs that were come about me as they did unto the Lord's prophets.
...

And Peter seeing a great dog bound with a strong chain, went to him and loosed him, and when he was loosed the dog received a man's voice and said unto Peter: What dost thou bid me to do, thou servant of the unspeakable and living God? Peter said unto him: Go in and say unto Simon in the midst of his company: Peter saith unto thee, Come forth abroad, for thy sake am I come to Rome, thou wicked one and deceiver of simple souls. And immediately the dog ran and entered in, and rushed into the midst of them that were with Simon, and lifted up his forefeet and in a loud voice said: Thou Simon, Peter the servant of Christ who standeth at the door saith unto thee: Come forth abroad, for thy sake am I come to Rome, thou most wicked one and deceiver of simple souls. And when Simon heard it, and beheld the incredible sight, he lost the words wherewith he was deceiving them that stood by, and all of them were amazed.
...

And the dog came unto Peter as he sat with the multitude that was come to see Peter's face, and the dog related what he had done unto Simon. And thus spake the dog unto the angel and apostle of the true God: Peter, thou wilt have a great contest with the enemy of Christ and his servants, and many that have been deceived by him shalt thou turn unto the faith; wherefore thou shalt receive from God the reward of thy work. And when the dog had said this he fell down at the apostle Peter's feet and gave up the ghost. And when the great multitude saw with amazement the dog speaking, they began then, some to throw themselves down at Peter's feet, and some said: Show us another sign, that we may believe in thee as the minister of the living God, for Simon also did many signs in our presence and therefore did we follow him.
...

But the prefect desired to show patience unto both, that he might not appear to do aught unjustly. And the prefect put forward one of his servants and said thus unto Simon: Take this man and deliver him to death. And to Peter he said: And do thou revive him. And unto the people the prefect said: It is now for you to judge whether of these two is acceptable unto God, he that killeth or he that maketh alive. And straightway Simon spake in the ear of the lad and made him speechless, and he died.

And as there began to be a murmuring among the people, one of the widows who were nourished (refreshed) in Marcellus' house, standing behind the multitude, cried out: O Peter, servant of God, my son is dead, the only one that I had. And the people made place for her and led her unto Peter: and she cast herself down at his feet, saying: I had one only son, which with his hands (shoulders) furnished me with nourishment: he raised me up, he carried me: now that he is dead, who shall reach me a hand? Unto whom Peter said: Go, with these for witness, and bring hither thy son, that they may see and be able to believe that by the power of God he is raised, and that this man (Simon) may behold it and fail (or, and she when she saw him, fell down). And Peter said to the young men: We have need of some young men, and, moreover, of such as will believe. And forthwith thirty young men arose, which were prepared to carry her or to bring thither her son that was dead. And whereas the widow was hardly returned to herself, the young men took her up; and she was crying out and saying: Lo, my son, the servant of Christ hath sent unto thee: tearing her hair and her face. Now the young men which were come examined (Gk. apparently, held) the lad's nostrils to see whether he were indeed dead; and seeing that he was dead of a truth, they had compassion on the old woman and said: If thou so will, mother, and hast confidence in the God of Peter, we will take him up and carry him thither that he may raise him up and restore him unto thee.

And as they said these things, the prefect (in the forum, Lat.), looking earnestly upon Peter (said: What sayest thou Peter?) Behold my lad is dead, who also is dear unto the emperor, and I spared him not, though I had with me other young men; but I desired rather to make trial (tempt) of thee and of the God whom thou (preachest), whether ye be true, and therefore I would have this lad die. And Peter said: God is not tempted nor proved, O Agrippa, but if he be loved and entreated he heareth them that are worthy. But since now my God and Lord Jesus Christ is tempted among you, who hath done so great signs and wonders by my hands to turn you from your sins -now also in the sight of all do thou, Lord, at my word, by thy power raise up him whom Simon hath slain by touching him. And Peter said unto the master of the lad: Go, take hold on his right hand, and thou shalt have him alive and walking with thee. And Agrippa the prefect ran and went to the lad and took his hand and raised him up. And all the multitude seeing it cried: One is the God, one is the God of Peter.
...

And as he went forth of the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw him, he said: Lord, whither goest thou thus (or here)? And the Lord said unto him: I go into Rome to be crucified. And Peter said unto him: Lord, art thou (being) crucified again? He said unto him: Yea, Peter, I am (being) crucified again. And Peter came to himself: and having beheld the Lord ascending up into heaven, he returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, for that he said: I am being crucified: the which was about to befall Peter.
...

Blind these eyes of yours, close these ears of yours, put away your doings that are seen; and ye shall perceive that which concerneth Christ, and the whole mystery of your salvation: and let thus much be said unto you that hear, as if it had not been spoken. But now it is time for thee, Peter, to deliver up thy body unto them that take it. Receive it then, ye unto whom it belongeth. I beseech you the executioners, crucify me thus, with the head downward and not otherwise: and the reason wherefore, I will tell unto them that hear.

And when they had hanged him up after the manner he desired, he began again to say: Ye men unto whom it belongeth to hear, hearken to that which I shall declare unto you at this especial time as I hang here. Learn ye the mystery of all nature, and the beginning of all things, what it was. For the first man, whose race I bear in mine appearance (or, of the race of whom I bear the likeness), fell (was borne) head downwards, and showed forth a manner of birth such as was not heretofore: for it was dead, having no motion. He, then, being pulled down -who also cast his first state down upon the earth- established this whole disposition of all things, being hanged up an image of the creation (Gk. vocation) wherein he made the things of the right hand into left hand and the left hand into right hand, and changed about all the marks of their nature, so that he thought those things that were not fair to be fair, and those that were in truth evil, to be good.

This thought, therefore, have I declared unto you; and the figure wherein ye now see me hanging is the representation of that man that first came unto birth. Ye therefore, my beloved, and ye that hear me and that shall hear, ought to cease from your former error and return back again. For it is right to mount upon the cross of Christ, who is the word stretched out, the one and only, of whom the spirit saith: For what else is Christ, but the word, the sound of God? So that the word is the upright beam whereon I am crucified. And the sound is that which crosseth it, the nature of man. And the nail which holdeth the cross-tree unto the upright in the midst thereof is the conversion and repentance of man.

So basically in this story Peter has a magical battle of powers with the magician Simon Magus, Peter then has a vision of Christ in Rome, and Peter then goes to Rome where he continues to battle Simon Magus, where he is ultimately arrested and crucified. Peter asks his executioners to crucify him upside-down, for stated theological reasons.

Apart from the events of the Gospels, the crucifixion of Peter is one of the most iconic and famous scenes of early Christian "history".

Clearly Acts of Peter is not a believable or reliable account, but the Acts of Peter is the basis for many of the accepted historical "facts" about the life and fate of Peter. Indeed in works such as Eusebius' 4th century work, Church History, what we see is that the descriptions of Peter in the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and Acts of Peter are all uncritically accepted at face value, with statements from these works used as the basis for the facts that are known of Peter. It is from these stories, and other like them, that everything which is "known" about Peter and other early figures is drawn. It is clear that there is no additional knowledge of these figures outside of these types of stories.

In Church History, Eusebius also tells us that the fact that Peter was killed in Rome is substantiated by Peter's grave in Rome:

It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.

However the archeological evidence shows that the grave of Peter that Eusebius was talking about the in 4th century was not actually created until the late 2nd century, long after any real Peter would have died. This grave was created after the idea that Peter was killed in Rome had been introduced through stories.

In the 2nd century Tertullian and Irenaeus of Lyons (France) were among the first to make direct claims that both Peter and Paul had founded the church in Rome.

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.
- Irenaeus,
Against Heresies

The purpose of the claim that the church in Rome was founded by both Peter and Paul is made quite clear by both writers. The purpose was to establish the authority of the church, to claim that all Christians should follow its teachings and dictates, because it was founded by the two most pre-eminent apostles, so it thus must be the authority of truth.

Overall, however, the case against Peter ever having been in Rome, or against us actually knowing much of anything about Peter, is quite lengthy and complicated in and of itself. I've just barely scratched the surface here. A recent book by a German named Otto Zwierlein makes a strong case that Peter was never in Rome and essentially that we know almost nothing about Peter at all. While I consider his research and presentation to be quite plain and straightforward, as is typical with these things, there is much "scholarly" disagreement. I strongly recommend a full reading of this interview with Zwierlein in English.

After discussing much of the documentary evidence against Peter ever having been in Rome, Zwierlein concludes with the archeological evidence:

Nowadays even Catholic reference books acknowledge the fact that there is no evidence for a grave of St. Peter either in the necropolis beneath the church bearing his name or anywhere else in Rome. Excavations have brought to light an aedicula of pillars dated between 160 and 180, which has been interpreted as a memorial to St. Peter. When the basilica of Constantine was built, people actually believed that beneath the aedicula St. Peter’s grave was to be found. But a real grave never existed there. The archaeologist probably best acquainted with the necropolis below St. Peter, our colleague Harald Mielsch from Bonn, has recently stated his opinion to the same effect. Having conducted field work on the spot for many years, he was able to show that when the cemetery (in use since the 2nd c. AD) containing the memorial was built on the Vatican hill, the existence of a putative grave of St. Peter was not taken into account. What is more, the Red Wall that was designed to protect the ascent leading up to "area Q" from earth being washed down was built partially across the site where the presumed grave of the apostle would have had to be found – which, as is well-known, it never was. He concludes: "The archaeological evidence for St. Peter’s grave and its veneration begins at the earliest around 160–180 AD, starting with the erection of the memorial." This agrees perfectly with the dating of the rise of the Roman myth of St. Peter that can be deduced from the literary sources: the apology of Justinus and the letter of Dionysius of Corinth addressed to the congregation in Rome set a time-frame roughly between 155 and 174 AD.

Basically, not only was Peter never in Rome, but there is no basis for believing that anything ever written about Peter other than by Paul has any basis in fact, and Paul tells us very little about him.

Other Apostles and Evangelists

Many stories were written about the so-called apostles and evangelists, with many common themes running through them. In these stories the apostles are said to have performed many miracles, to have gone out to various corners of the world brining the message of Jesus Christ and healing people and performing heroic deeds along the way. The "good people" were martyred in many of the stories, and the bad people had bad things happen to them and also died horrible deaths.

It must first be said that the Gospels and other canonical New Testament writings say almost nothing about most of the so-called disciples. Apart from a few main disciples, most of the others are simply names on a list.

Here are ways in which the apostles and other major figures supposedly died according to various sources from the first century through the 6 or 7th century:

  • Matthew: Killed by the sword in either Ethiopia or Persia, or died of old age.
  • Mark: Dragged through the streets in Alexandria until he was dead.
  • Luke: Hanged from a olive tree in Greece, or simply from old age.
  • John: Boiled in oil in Rome, but was brought back to life, and eventually died peacefully of old age.
  • Peter: Crucified upside down in Rome.
  • James Zebedee: Beheaded by Herod in Jerusalem.
  • Bartholomew / Nathanael: Whipped to death, or skinned alive and beheaded.
  • Philip: Crucified for converting a man's wife.
  • Andrew: Crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece, after having been severely whipped.
  • Matthias: Stoned and beheaded, or burned to death.
  • Judas: Multiple accounts, including that he hanged himself, he burst into flames and exploded, died from rot and disease.
  • Thomas: Speared to death by four soldiers.
  • "James the Just": Supposedly thrown from the Temple after refusing to deny Christ, but survived and was then beaten to death.

Most of the apostles are claimed to have traveled to all manner of places according to different stories written about them. We have examples of stories claming that some apostle traveled to one place to perform miracles, while another story written at a similar time claims that the same person was hundreds of miles away performing miracles there. As is often the case, shrines and graves are erected in multiple places for the figures, each claiming to be their birth place or grave site or some place where they performed a miracle. In total, none of these stories are any more credible than stories of Hercules or Achilles.

One figure about whom the legendary claims are particularly interesting in light of what we now know about the writing of the Gospel in his name is "Mark". First of all, who is "Mark" and where does the name Mark come from? "Mark" is not one of the disciples listed in any of the Gospels, nor is Luke for that matter. In fact both the names Mark and Luke come from the same place, a letter from Paul, specifically a letter to someone named Philemon.

Philemon 1:
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

Mark is also mentioned in 2 Timothy and Colossians, which are a letters attributed to Paul in the Bible, but which modern scholars today agree were not actually written by Paul and may have been written as late as the second century. Certainly 2 Timothy was written after the writing of the Gospels, and the inclusion of "Mark" in 2 Timothy was almost certainly because "Mark" had already become known as the author of a Gospel and a name of repute. Colossians states that Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. In Acts of the Apostles is says that "John whose other name was Mark", was a traveling companion of Paul and Barnabas.

So, why was "Mark" believed to be the author of the Gospel we call Mark? Well, it was agreed that whoever wrote the Gospel called Mark wasn't an eyewitness to the events, so it was assumed that whoever wrote it wasn't a disciple. Exactly how the name "Mark" became associated with the Gospel is unknown but it appears that the name was one among several possible options known based on the letters of Paul.

Interestingly, ancient sources claim that "Mark" was a "bishop" in Alexandria and that he was killed in "the eight year of Nero", which would be 68 CE. Of course it is now widely accepted that the so-called Gospel of Mark must have been written in or after 70 CE, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. In the fourth century work Lives of Illustrious Men, church chronicler Jerome recorded:

Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record. Peter also mentions this Mark in his first epistle, figuratively indicating Rome under the name of Babylon "She who is in Babylon elect together with you saluteth you and so doth Mark my son." So, taking the gospel which he himself composed, he went to Egypt and first preaching Christ at Alexandria he formed a church so admirable in doctrine and continence of living that he constrained all followers of Christ to his example. Philo most learned of the Jews seeing the first church at Alexandria still Jewish in a degree, wrote a book on their manner of life as something creditable to his nation telling how, as Luke says, the believers had all things in common at Jerusalem, so he recorded that he saw was done at Alexandria, under the learned Mark. He died in the eighth year of Nero and was buried at Alexandria, Annianus succeeding him.

We now know that none of this could be true. Certainly the Gospel of Mark is not a chronicle of things heard from "Peter". Peter's "first epistle" we now know was not actually written by "Peter". "Mark" couldn't have taken his Gospel with him to Alexandria, as that would imply that it was written long before he supposedly died in 68 CE, placing the date of the writing some time around 50 CE, and there is no actual evidence that this so-called "Mark" ever existed in Alexandria, or that any form of Christianity existed in Alexandria at that early a date. There is no evidence whatsoever for any worship of Jesus in Egypt in the early to mid first century.

Nevertheless, we are told by ancient sources that Mark suffered a martyr's death in 68 CE, after having been dragged through the streets by a rope around his neck as described below:

At last, however, the pagan leaders, bitterly resenting his authority, found opportunity to kill him.

The approaching celebration of Pascha coin-cided that year with the festival of the pagan god Serapis, drawing scores of idol-worshippers to the city.

As St. Mark was celebrating the divine service, a mob of pagans broke into the church and seized their prey. The holy Apostle was bound with a rope and dragged through the streets of the city, as his captors shouted mockingly, "We're taking the ox to the stall!" He was thrown into prison, his body lacerated by the sharp stones over which he had been mercilessly dragged. That night an angel strengthened him for his final trial. "Slave of God, Mark, thy name is written in heaven in the Book of Life. Thou hast been numbered among the holy apostles, and thou wilt be remembered unto ages of ages. Thou wilt rejoice with the powers on high, and on earth thy precious relics will be preserved." Then the Lord Himself appeared and said to the Saint: "Peace to thee, Mark, My evangelist."

In the morning the Saint, a rope tied around his neck, was again led through the streets like some dumb beast, accompanied by a great crowd of jeering pagans. Utterly spent, the meek sufferer eventually collapsed and his soul, released from its earthly tabernacle, ascended to heaven. The pagans, not content with having killed the Saint, wanted to destroy also his lifeless body, but they had scarcely lit the bonfire that was to have consumed the body before there was a mammoth thunderclap; the earth shook and the sky loosed a storm of hailstones. The fire was quenched and the pagans dispersed, allowing the Christians to come and collect the sacred remains of their martyred bishop and father in the Faith. These they placed in a stone coffin in the place where they gathered for common prayer.
- Miracle surrounding the death of Mark

Of course, however, the entire story is fourth century concoction.

We are told in the second century that John was boiled alive in oil, but remained unharmed and was later exiled.

How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile! See what she has learned, what taught, what fellowship has had with even (our) churches in Africa! One Lord God does she acknowledge, the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus (born) of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God the Creator; and the Resurrection of the flesh; the law and the prophets she unites in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith.
- Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics

John was also said to have been made to drink poison which didn't kill him, and to have raised people from the dead. He was supposedly exiled to the island of Patmos, but escaped; he survived a shipwreck, and lived in Ephesus.

In the Acts of John we are told of all manner of miracles performed by John, and that finally, at the end of his days, he had his followers dig a grave for him, into which he entered himself and died. The story actually has 4 or 5 different endings, each more miraculous than the next. One of the miracles in Acts of John is when John raises a wife and her husband from the dead. A woman named Cleopatra has died and her husband Lycomedes then dies of grief:

20 Now when Lycomedes came with John into the house wherein his wife lay, he caught hold again of his feet and said: See, lord, the withering of the beauty, see the youth, see the renowned flower of my poor wife, whereat all Ephesus was wont to marvel: wretched me, I have suffered envy, I have been humbled, the eye of mine enemies hath smitten me: I have never wronged any, though I might have injured many, for I looked before to this very thing, and took care, lest I should see any evil or any such ill fortune as this. What profit, then, hath Cleopatra from my anxiety? what have I gained by being known for a pious man until this day? nay, I suffer more than the impious, in that I see thee, Cleopatra, lying in such plight. The sun in his course shall no more see me conversing with thee: I will go before thee, Cleopatra, and rid myself of life: I will not spare mine own safety though it be yet young. I will defend myself before Justice, that I have rightly deserted, for I may indict her as judging unrighteously. I will be avenged on her when I come before her as a ghost of life. I will say to her: Thou didst force me to leave the light when thou didst rob me of Cleopatra: thou didst cause me to become a corpse when thou sentest me this ill fortune: thou didst compel me to insult Providence, by cutting off my joy in life (my con- fidence).

21 And with yet more words Lycomedes addressing Cleopatra came near to the bed and cried aloud and lamented: but John pulled him away, and said: Cease from these lamentations and from thine unfitting words: thou must not disobey him that (?) appeared unto thee: for know that thou shalt receive thy consort again. Stand, therefore, with us that have come hither on her account and pray to the God whom thou sawest manifesting himself unto thee in dreams. What, then, is it, Lycomedes? Awake, thou also, and open thy soul. Cast off the heavy sleep from thee: beseech the Lord, entreat him for thy wife, and he will raise her up. But he fell upon the floor and lamented, fainting. [It is evident from what follows that Lycomedes died: but the text does not say so; some words may have fallen out.]

John therefore said with tears: Alas for the fresh (new) betraying of my vision! for the new temptation that is prepared for me! for the new device of him that contriveth against me! the voice from heaven that was borne unto me in the way, hath it devised this for me? was it this that it foreshowed me should come to pass here, betraying me to this great multitude of the citizens because of Lycomedes? the man lieth without breath, and I know well that they will not suffer me to go out of the house alive. Why tarriest thou, Lord (or, what wilt thou do)? why hast thou shut off from us thy good promise? Do not, I beseech thee, Lord, do not give him cause to exult who rejoiceth in the suffering of others; give him not cause to dance who always derideth us; but let thy holy name and thy mercy make haste. Raise up these two dead whose death is against me.

22 And even as John thus cried out, the city of the Ephesians ran together to the house of Lycomedes, hearing that he was dead. And John, beholding the great multitude that was come, said unto the Lord: Now is the time of refreshment and of confidence toward thee, O Christ; now is the time for us who are sick to have the help that is of thee, O physician who healest freely; keep thou mine entering in hither safe from derision. I beseech thee, Jesus, succor this great multitude that it may come to thee who art Lord of all things: behold the affliction, behold them that lie here. Do thou prepare, even from them that are assembled for that end, holy vessels for thy service, when they behold thy gift. For thyself hast said, O Christ, 'Ask, and it shall be given you'. We ask therefore of thee, O king, not gold, not silver, not substance, not possessions, nor aught of what is on earth and perisheth, but two souls, by whom thou shalt convert them that are here unto thy way, unto thy teaching, unto thy liberty (confidence), unto thy most excellent (or unfailing) promise: for when they perceive thy power in that those that have died are raised, they will be saved, some of them. Do thou thyself, therefore, give them hope in thee: and so go I unto Cleopatra and say: Arise in the name of Jesus Christ.

23 And he came to her and touched her face and said: Cleopatra, He saith, whom every ruler feareth, and every creature and every power, the abyss and all darkness, and unsmiling death, and the height of heaven, and the circles of hell [and the resurrection of the dead, and the sight of the blind], and the whole power of the prince of this world, and the pride of the ruler: Arise, and be not an occasion unto many that desire not to believe, or an affliction unto souls that are able to hope and to be saved. And Cleopatra straightway cried with a loud voice: I arise, master: save thou thine handmaid.

Now when she had arisen seven days, the city of the Ephesians was moved at the unlooked -for sight. And Cleopatra asked concerning her husband Lycomedes, but John said to her: Cleopatra, if thou keep thy soul unmoved and steadfast, thou shalt forthwith have Lycomedes thine husband standing here beside thee, if at least thou be not disturbed nor moved at that which hath befallen, having believed on my God, who by my means shall grant him unto thee alive. Come therefore with me into thine other bedchamber, and thou shalt behold him, a dead corpse indeed, but raised again by the power of my God.

24 And Cleopatra going with John into her bedchamber, and seeing Lycomedes dead for her sake, had no power to speak (suffered in her voice), and ground her teeth and bit her tongue, and closed her eyes, raining down tears: and with calmness gave heed to the apostle. But John had compassion on Cleopatra when he saw that she neither raged nor was beside herself, and called upon the perfect and condescending mercy, saying: Lord Jesus Christ, thou seest the pressure of sorrow, thou seest the need; thou seest Cleopatra shrieking her soul out in silence, for she constraineth within her the frenzy that cannot be borne; and I know that for Lycomedes' sake she also will die upon his body. And she said quietly to John: That have I in mind, master, and nought else.

And the apostle went to the couch whereon Lycomedes lay, and taking Cleopatra's hand he said: Cleopatra, because of the multitude that is present, and thy kinsfolk that have come in, with strong crying, say thou to thine husband: Arise and glorify the name of God, for he giveth back the dead to the dead. And she went to her husband and said to him according as she was taught, and forthwith raised him up. And he, when he arose, fell on the floor and kissed John's feet, but he raised him, saying: O man, kiss not my feet but the feet of God by whose power ye are both arisen.

So these are just some examples of the types of stories that developed around the supposed disciples and evangelists. The reality is that none of these stories are believable, nor do any of them show any sign of having any basis in fact. Yet it is quite clear that early Christian "scholars" believed them all. These tales are recounted and chronicled by Christian apologists and historians from the second century on with almost full acceptance of their authenticity, despite the fact that, like the Gospels, most of these types of stories were of unknown authorship as well.

In the origins of Christianity what we basically have are dozens of stories being produced by unknown sources throughout the Roman empire, which are then unquestioningly believed by dozens of educated, relatively affluent, Christian "scholars", who codify them as "history". In later centuries,  i.e. the 4th century an on, these stories are then often expanded upon, made more dramatic, or new stories are invented by monks and other church scribes. But the fact of the matter is that virtually everything written about early Christians, i.e. about Jesus and his supposed direct acquaintances, is completely fabricated.

The Saints and Martyrs

As noted by Thomas Paine over 200 years ago, to a large extent the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods, demigods and heroes was replaced by Christian saints. In the pagan religions of the Greeks and Romans, the gods were highly specialized. Not only were there specific gods for each phenomenon, but there were also patron gods of each community. There were gods for seafaring, gods of luck, gods for healing, gods of marriage, gods of wealth, gods of fire, gods of war, gods of protection, gods of farming, gods of childbirth, etc., etc. This system of gods was essentially replaced by the patron saints, and what we find is that there is a very high correlation between the patron gods of various cities and the patron saints of those same places. For example, if some community's patron god was a god of farming, low and behold, by the 5th or 6th century that community had a patron saint of farming, whose deeds and back-story was often similar to the mythology of the prior patron god.

One big difference between the mythology of the saints and the mythology of the gods, however, was that saint mythology often incorporated tales of martyrdom. The gods were super-human and removed. The saints, however, were ultra-human and of this world, yet often with godly powers. Yet unlike the gods, the saints were said merely to be conduits of the one God's power (or of one of the three manifestations of the trinity: God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost). So while the powers of the gods proved their greatness, the powers of the saints were meant to prove the greatness of the one God, evidence of his reality and interaction with the world. Unlike the pagan gods, whose greatness was proven by their superiority, the greatness of the saints was proven by the depths of their suffering. Their willingness and ability to suffer, patterned on the crucifixion story of their god, was seen as evidence of their devotion to God and the strength that their faith in God gave them.

The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, a recent book by Candida Moss, professor of Early Christian studies at Norte Dame, concludes that essentially all of the martyrdom stories of early Christian history are fabricated. This isn't to say that there weren't a few cases of persecution and "martyrdom" here and there, but both the stories of widespread persecution of Christians and the specific martyrdom tales of various saints are largely fabricated from whole cloth. The one's that have some legitimacy are so exaggerated and dramatized that they provide no credible description of what really happened.

The fact that the lives and deaths of the early saints are virtually all fabricated is something of an "open secret" within the Catholic Church. The reality is that over the past 400 years Catholic scholars have themselves debunked the vast majority of saint biographies and martyrdom accounts in their own efforts to consolidate the "genuine" accounts. This work has been quite controversial within the Catholic Church and has undergone various periods of endorsement and opposition. What has to be understood is the scope of this issue. Literally thousands of accounts of the lives and deaths of saints have been discredited over the past few hundreds years, stories that were in many ways foundational to the origin mythology of Catholicism and Christianity itself. Interestingly, while these facts are acknowledged by Catholic scholars, discredited legends and relics are often still presented to faithful congregants as true, and secularized versions of their mythology are still presented by secular historians as real history.

In The Myth of Persecution, Moss addresses the six martyrdom accounts that are deemed most likely to be authentic and of an early period. In addressing each of these accounts she shows that even these six "most reliable" accounts cannot possibly be believed, leaving us then with no believable early martyrdom accounts at all.

The martyrdom of Polycarp is one of the accounts most widely believed to have some historical legitimacy, and is considered the earliest account of Christian martyrdom . Yet as Moss shows, not only are the many supernatural claims in the story unbelievable, the entire account is not credible. The account of Polycarp's martyrdom is written as a letter in the first person, describing events that would have taken place around 155 CE. The letter claims that it was written the year after his death, putting the traditional dating of the letter around that same time. Moss, however, concludes, after putting forward many pieces of evidence, that the letter was almost certainly written at least 100 years after that, some time in the 3rd century.

There are many other problems with the account as well. The events leading up to Polycarp's arrest and death follow the pattern of Jesus' arrest and death in the Gospels along multiple points. The trial of Polycarp is said to have taken place in a stadium full of on-lookers, however such a practice is extremely doubtful - this isn't something that Romans did. The crowd requests that Polycarp be fed to the lions, but the officials decline, so the crowd then demands he be burned alive, but there are no provisions to burn anyone, so the crown rushes out of the stadium to collect firewood for the pyre. One can imagine how doubtful this scenario is. First of all the stadium was in a city, so the wood would have to basically be stolen from people, and the chaos of masses of people leaving, collecting wood, depositing it for use, etc. would be a logistical nightmare to say the least. Then we have the account of the actual execution itself:

When he had pronounced this amen, and so finished his prayer, those who were appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed forth in great fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and have been preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour [coming from the pile], as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there.

At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him through with a dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished.
- The Martyrdom of Polycarp

And remember, this is one of the most believable early martyrdom accounts that exists. By the way, Polycarp is the patron saint of earaches.

Another popular early saint was Saint Lawrence, patron saint of cooks and the poor, who was supposedly cooked alive (hence the reason he is the patron saint of cooks - talk about morbid.) Like Polycarp, Lawrence was likely a real person, however the account of his life and martyrdom is wholly unreliable, which is even acknowledged by Catholic scholars, as the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia states:

The meeting between St. Lawrence and Pope Sixtus II, when the latter was being led to execution, related by St. Ambrose, is not compatible with the contemporaneous reports about the persecution of Valerian. The manner of his execution--burning on a red-hot gridiron--also gives rise to grave doubts. The narrations of Ambrose and Prudentius are founded rather on oral tradition than on written accounts. It is quite possible that between the year 258 and the end of the fourth century popular legends may have grown up about this highly venerated Roman deacon, and some of these legends have been preserved by these two authors. We have, in any case, no means of verifying from earlier sources the details derived from St. Ambrose and Prudentius, or of ascertaining to what extent such details are supported by earlier historical tradition. Fuller accounts of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence were composed, probably, early in the sixth century, and in these narratives a number of the martyrs of the Via Tiburtina and of the two Catacombs of St. Cyriaca in agro Verano and St. Hippolytius were connected in a romantic and wholly legendary fashion. The details given in these Acts concerning the martyrdom of St. Lawrence and his activity before his death cannot claim any credibility.

For an example of patron saints whose mythology is heavily based on pagan mythology we can look to Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. "Santa Claus". We are often told that "Santa Claus" is based on a real person, who really gave gifts to the poor, but the reality is that while someone named Nicholas was a real person, essentially all accounts of the life and deeds of Saint Nicholas are just legendary folk tales borrowed heavily from pagan sources. And again, even though you may find many secular sources passing on secularized versions of Saint Nicholas' biography, even the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that essentially nothing real is known about this figure.

Bishop of Myra in Lycia; died 6 December, 345 or 352. Though he is one of the most popular saints in the Greek as well as the Latin Church, there is scarcely anything historically certain about him except that he was Bishop of Myra in the fourth century.

What the Catholic Encyclopedia states is exactly right. Nicholas is essentially a name on a list of bishops. Being a name on a list is the only real fact that we have about Nicholas. Everything else about Nicholas' biography is fabricated, and Nicholas provides an interesting example of clear pagan borrowing. Nicholas is the patron saint of mariners and children, as well as the Greek Navy. Many of the legends about Nicholas are based on the mythology of Poseidon. Legends about Nicholas include tales that he saved three young boys from being cannibalized by resurrecting them after they had been killed by a butcher, that he saved three young girls from a life of prostitutions by paying their dowry which their father couldn't afford, and that he rescued people from shipwrecks.

St. Nicholas, Nikolaos, is the patron saint of Greece, where his primary role is as the protector of sailors and seamen. At Christmas small fishing boats honor St. Nicholas, especially in the islands, with decorations of blue and white lights. Tradition has it that his clothes are soaked with brine, his beard always dripping with seawater, and his face covered with perspiration because he has been fighting storms to reach sinking ships and save men from drowning.

Greek ships carry an icon of St. Nicholas, as he is regarded as master of wind and tempest. Sailors light a candle before the icon, praying for safe passage. When a ship is in danger the captain prays making a solemn promise to bring a tamata, a Greek ex-voto, of a small ship of silver, gold, or carved of wood, if they make port safely.
- Saint Nicholas Center

Moss also tells us of the embarrassing case of Saint Josaphat, who never existed at all and whose story it turns out is based on the mythology of Buddha.

Josaphat was an Indian price who was converted to Christianity by the hermit Barlaam. Astrologers had predicted at his birth that he would rule over a great kingdom, the kingdom of glory, a prediction that led his father to shut the boy away in seclusion. Despite his father's best efforts to protect him from the world, Josaphat realized the horror of the human predicament through encounters  with a leper, a blind man, and a dying man. His view of the world thrown into jeopardy, he then met Barlaam the hermit, converted, and spent the rest of his life in quite contemplation of the divine.

If this story sounds familiar, it should. It's nothing but a Christianized version of the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Indian prince who became Buddha. This is no secret, but its not common knowledge either. Since the nineteenth century scholars have recognized the similarities and acknowledged that this story is simply the legend of Siddhartha thinly covered in a Christian glaze.
...
[T]he inclusion of this narrative in the Catholic calendar is a gross error. No medieval Christian hagiographer worth his salt would have knowingly turned the figurehead of a different-and thus false-religion into a saint.
- The Myth of Persecution; Moss, page 88

So while it is the case that many saints are named after people who really existed, in many cases, especially in regard to saints from the 1st through 5th centuries, the biographies of these saints are total fabrications. In other cases these saints are purely legendary and never really existed at all.

The larger point here is that it's not just that Jesus didn't exist, the fact is that virtually all of early Christian history is fabricated - certainly the history of first century Christianity. First century Christian history is based almost entirely on the Gospels and derivatives of the Gospel accounts. This includes Acts of the Apostles, which is clearly derivative of the Gospels. That all of this fabrication happened should not be completely surprising, since it occurred within a culture that had a long history of such types of fabrications. The fabrication of early Christian history is little different than the fabrication of early Greek and Roman history, and the development of Greek and Roman mythology. Christian mythology was in fact developed by the exact same cultures that produced Greek and Roman pagan mythology. What does make the mythological development of early Christian "history" different, however, is the speed at which the mythology was officially "historicized", which was likely a product of the relatively rapid communication of the times. The "historization" of Christian mythology was a two part process, wherein, to a large extent, the mythology was independently developed by unknown sources, which was then quickly received by "scholars" who, for the most part, did not invent the stories of Christian mythology, but rather received them and gave them a seal of legitimacy.

Stories were being invented at a rapid speed, and various "scholars" received these stories, chronicled them, and decided which ones were "true" and which ones weren't. "Christian history" was created not so much by the creation of the stories, but by the chronicling and endorsement of the stories. Yet the fact is that the people deciding what was true and what wasn't were credulous and had no direct knowledge of any of the people or events in question. All of early Christian history is based on second hand stories at best. Not one bit of early Christian history comes from eye witness accounts, yet it occurred at a time when eyewitness accounts could easily have been made. The result of this is that what we find in all of early Christian history is that it's completely incoherent and full of impossibilities, not just in regard to Jesus, but in regard to every aspect of it. And it's not just that we have no credible eyewitness accounts of Jesus, we have no credible eyewitness accounts of any of the supposed relatives or associates of Jesus either.

Summary and Conclusion

What we have seen is that all of early Christian "history" is a house of cards built on the Gospels. The narrative of Christian history essentially flows from the Gospels. However it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Gospels are utterly fictitious, and as a result, that virtually all of early Christian history is fictitious. This goes well beyond proving that Jesus didn't exist, it essentially proves that dozens of supposed people never existed and that of the few people in early Christian history who likely did exist, we know virtually nothing about them.

How can it be proven that the Gospels are fictitious? This is proven by demonstrating that virtually every scene in the Gospel called Mark is based on either literary allusions to the Hebrew scriptures or on the letters of Paul, and that all of the other Gospels are dependent on the Markan narrative. That the Gospel called Mark is a fictional story is further proven by the narrative qualities of the story, which demonstrate that the story is clearly a complete and well developed narrative, not a loose collection of anecdotes, and that the story has to be understood in the context of the First Jewish-Roman War, which means that the narrative is based around events that happened in 70 CE, not accounts of some person's actions decades prior, or on oral traditions that developed over time.

I cannot overstress enough the importance of understanding the relationship between the Gospel called Mark and the First Jewish-Roman War. Putting the Gospel called Mark in the context of that conflict and the destruction of the temple that occurred in 70 CE absolutely informs our understanding of this story. Once you understand the relationship between the war and the narrative, the Gospel of Mark is no longer a story about Jesus at all, it is a story about the Jews. Jesus is merely a vehicle for leading the reader through a series of scenes which are intended to demonstrate why the Jews deserved the destruction that was brought upon them by the Romans. That's what the story is about.

But the analysis of Mark merely proves that the Gospel of Mark is not historically true, it doesn't prove that Jesus never existed. What proves that Jesus never existed is the fact that every other account of a real life Jesus is shown to be dependent on the Markan story. It is from that one story that every single other account of a real life Jesus flows. The fact that all of the other narratives about Jesus are all dependent on this one story, means that it must have been the only source of "information" about Jesus' life. The only reason that a fictional story would be the only source of information about someone's life is if there was no other information about that person because they never actually existed.

At this point, trying to argue that Jesus may still really have lived is meaningless, because at this point it is proven that every aspect of the Gospel narratives is fictional, so at best, even if some "real Jesus" did exist that person would have so little relationship to the Jesus of the Gospels that they couldn't be said to be the Jesus of the Gospels anyway. What the case I have built shows is that the "teachings" of Jesus are really the teachings of Paul, and that the actions of Jesus are really literary allusions. There are no words or deeds of Jesus that remain - its all Paul, literary allusion, and invention.

The only act of Jesus that could perhaps be argued was real is the crucifixion itself, but the fact that every single account of the crucifixion is ultimately based on the scene in the Gospel called Mark and the scene in Mark is a clear literary allusion, proves beyond all doubt that not one single account of the crucifixion has any historical legitimacy. Not one single account of the crucifixion is based on any eyewitness testimony or even any oral tradition about the event. The accounts of the crucifixion are proven not to even be second-hand accounts. Every account of the crucifixion is proven to be based on the fictional narrative in the Gospel called Mark.

Clearly the theology of Jesus worship was heavily based on the crucifixion. This is made very clear by Paul. For Paul the crucifixion and resurrection is the central theological edifice upon which the religion was based. It was the crucifixion, and its promise to end all suffering through the resurrection of the souls of the righteous into the new immaterial heavenly world, that made belief in Jesus compelling. This means that from the very beginning the crucifixion was the centerpiece of the cult. That being the case, how then could it possibly be that we would end up with not one single actual account of the real crucifixion? If the crucifixion were always so important, as it clearly is to the theology of Christianity even to this day, then how could it be that we don't have a single description of the real event?

Not only do we not have a single description of the real event, but what the dependency on Mark shows is that there weren't even multiple descriptions of any imagined event. Every single description of the single most important moment in Christian history all flows from one single fictional story that was written in 70 CE. Every single one. That means that prior to the writing of that story in 70 CE, there were no descriptions of this event at all. That being the case, it means that it almost certainly never happened, and that itself - the fact that every single description of the crucifixion is clearly based on Mark, is the single greatest piece of evidence against the historical existence of any Jesus whatsoever.

This understanding of the Gospels and how they must have actually been written drives directly at the heart of the original lines of evidence that were established by the earliest church founders in the first place. It was the early church fathers who stated that the truth of the Christian religion rested on the proof of miracles and prophecy fulfillment that is found in the Gospels, and that the proof the Gospels were true rested on the fact that there were four independent accounts that corroborated  each other. However, what careful analysis shows is that the Gospels are not four independent accounts as the early church fathers believed. The commonality between them doesn't demonstrate corroboration, it shows that they are all copied from a single common narrative. Furthermore, what has become clear is that the parallels between the Gospel stories and the Hebrew scriptures are not evidence of prophecy fulfillment, they are literary allusions, which demonstrate that the original story was not based on real events, but was rather crafted from a series of textual references.

The interpretation of the Gospels by the original church fathers was simply a misunderstanding. It was, quite arguably, the single biggest and most important literary misunderstanding in the history of the world. It's a misunderstanding that completely changed the course of history and reshaped Western Civilization. Recognizing and understanding the literary allusions in the Gospel of Mark, however, leaves little doubt that the story was originally written as fiction and that its protagonist, Jesus, was a fictional character, who never actually existed.

 

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