Saturday, July 15, 2006

The BBC and the miracles of Jesus

On 30th July 2006, the BBC is broadcasting a series of three pogrammes about the miracle stories of Jesus.

The miracle stories of Jesus are literary creations, plagiarised from the miracle stories in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

This can be detected as easily as we can detect that some A-level students have copied their coursework from the Internet. Whole sentences are copied out. For example, when the author of Luke rewrites the story in 1 Kings 17 of Elijah raising the son of a widow he met at the gate of a city , to become a story of Jesus raising the son of a widow he met at the gate of a city, Luke copies out 'kai edoken auton te metri autou' from the old story. Luke also copies other phrases from the Elijah story when writing his story about Jesus.

In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha has a great many people to feed with only a few loaves of barley bread and a little other food. He delegates the task of feeding. There is a complaint that the quantity is too small. The feeding continues and everyone is fed. There is surplus bread left over. This older story from Kings has exactly the same plot as the feeding of the 5,000 - only the numbers are different.

More plagiarism of the Old Testament miracle stories can also be found in other stories about Jesus.

The stories are not historical. They are not even original to Jesus.

There are more details at Miracles


Blogger Maysun said...

In that case, perhaps Plagiarism should be outlawed - before it hurts anyone's religious sentiments. ;-)

12:16 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Steven,

Thanks for the heads up on this series. I hope I get a chance to see it, but I typically do not get much opportunity to watch a lot of television.

Do you know if the series will discuss the plagiarism that you mentioned? I'd be very interested in the series if it did. As you point out, it's clear that many of the NT miracle stories are simply recycled stories from the OT put through the midrash mill. Christians mistake them as fulfillment of OT "prophecies." It would not be difficult to replicate this procedure in crafting a new story by modifying material from an older story. In fact, we see this all the time in story-making. A good example of this in modern times is Westside Story, which takes the basic idea of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as a model. Immitation in artistic creations is nothing new. Having little artistic sense and lacking development of the faculty which allows an individual to distinguish between fact and fantasy, believers insist that the creation is true, when in fact its own creators most likely intended it to be taken as metaphor anyway.


8:00 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

The programme might also be on the Discovery channel sometime, perhaps with a different name.

I have not seen the programmes, but I cannot imagine they took a sceptical approach.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Steven Carr said...

J.D.Walters posted the following about the web page I have written at Miracles and the Book of Mormon Enjoy the rage and anger in the post, as he attackes people as 'pathetic', 'uneducated' ,'embarrassing'.


To whoever published this page,

First off I do appreciate the difficulty you point out in arbitrarily
dismissing other miracle accounts while keeping those of one's own tradition
innocuous. The author of the book you quote from ("Another Gospel") presents
a very superficial comparison of miracle stories between the Book of Mormon
and the Bible, to attempt to prove that they had borrowed from the same
source. Unfortunately, so do you. Your attempt to prove that NT miracles
stories are reworking of OT miracle stories is naïve, superficial and
lacking in appropriate attention to context, cultural setting and
linguistics. I would like to recommend that you withdraw this scholarly
embarassment from your website, as, if you are intending it to advance the
cause of unbelief, you are not helping but hindering.

First off, on your notes about the Qu'ran. It is no surprise that this
passage you quote seems to borrow from the Bible. Muslims regard the Bible
with very high esteem and in a very real sense they consider themselves
successionists to both Judaism and Christianity. They do not deny the
revelation given to the Jews and Christians, but they consider it
incomplete, and which had to await the coming of Muhammed to fill in the
gaps. You will find in the Qu'ran stories of Moses, Abraham, the Prophets
and Jesus which strikingly resemble the biblical accounts-because they are
supposed to be those accounts, albeit "corrected" by the new revelation of
Muhammed. In this context the passage from the Qu'ran is clearly an
historical one, intended to present an event which happened at about the
same time in the past as the account in the Bible. This is not the case with
the NT miracle stories which you site. The Gospel accounts are of Jesus
performing miracles many centuries after the Biblical figures lived. Of
course this says nothing as to whether the Gospels really did borrow from
the Bible stories and attempted to construct a midrashic life of Jesus, but
your Qu'ran example is not a good pre-amble to what you are trying to prove
about the NT accounts.

On to those. Your first example is of the feeding of the 5000. You cite the
similarity between the story of Elisha feeding a hundred hungry men with 20
barley loaves and some ears of grain and Jesus feeding 5000 with 5 loaves
and 2 small fishes. Some preliminary observations: the context is strikingly
different. In the story of Elisha there is a famine in the land of Gilgal (2
Kings 4:38), whereas the setting for Jesus' miracle is simply a hungry crowd
who came to hear him preach. Unlike other revisions of miracle stories, this
one is astonishingly uniform in all four Gospels, down to the number of
loaves and fishes, what Jesus said and even the amount of money the
disciples wondered about paying to buy food for all the people (cf Mark 6:37
and John 6:7, in an interesting case where Mark and John seem to use the
same source material). Furthermore there is an alternate tradition (probably
referring to the same event) of the feeding of 4000 people with 7 loaves and
a few small fish (Matthew 15:32-38). If the story is made up from the story
in Kings why would there be two separate accounts, one of which is virtually
the same in all four Gospels? That the loaves are barley loaves is only
recounted in John's Gospel (John 6:9). And for each superficial similarity
you bring up without context or cultural setting, I can find just as many
discrepancies. In the book of Kings the one who brings the food is skeptical
of its adequacy, whereas in the Gospels the source is a young boy (John 6:9)
or unknown (Mark 6:38), who in any case is silent. You yourself mentioned
the different number of people and loaves. There are fish in the Gospel
account as opposed to ears of grain.

And you're forgetting that the Gospels report that, when people saw these
miracles, they did recognize them as echoing the deeds of Elisha (Mark
8:28). Barring the question-begging presupposition that miracles cannot
happen, is it in any way implausible that the Messiah would build on the
work of the prophets and other men of God and perform similar deeds to them?
The prophets healed people, Jesus healed people. The prophets provided
miraculous food, Jesus provided miraculous food. There is the distinct
possibility that the Gospel writers were remembering things which really
happened but retold them in language adopted from the Bible. Similarites in
the accounts do not prove that the Gospel writers were just re-adopting the
same OT stories.

Your next example is of the raising of the Shunammite woman's son and
Jairus' daughter. It is first off interesting to note that a mother and son
are involved in the first story while a father and daughter are involved in
the second. Previously in Kings you see Elisha (through the Lord's favor)
granting the Shunammite woman a son in exchange for treating the prophet
with kindness (2 Kings 4:8-17). This child subsequently becomes ill. Nothing
of this sort occurs in the Gospel accounts. In the OT story Gehazi the
servant does try to push the Shunammite woman away but nobody pushes Jairus
away in the Gospel story, before he has time to make his request to Jesus.
There is no confusion in the Kings story as to whether the child is dead.
Gehazi the servant reports to Elijah that the child has not awakened,
because the woman had not yet told Elisha that the child was dead, but only
that something had happened to make her doubt the prophet's faithfulness.
The story states very explicitly that the child was dead (2 Kings 4:20;
4:32), and Elisha does not dispute this, whereas Jesus does say that the
child was only sleeping, whereupon all the others laughed at him because
they all believed that she was dead. Who is the person in the Gospel story
who was confused as to whether the child was dead? Your other similarities
are so superficial as to apply to all events involving a medical emergency.
Would you say that a modern newspaper story of a doctor who made an
emergency house-call plagiarizes the Hebrew Bible because 1) a distraught
parent came to the hospital looking for a doctor, 2) the child is in a house
some distance away, 3) there is confusion as to what is actually wrong with
the child, 4) the doctor continues anyway to the house, 5) the parent enters
the house first so as to point out to the doctor where the child is and 6)
the doctor seeks a high degree of privacy in order to carry out his
treatment undisturbed?

I don't know if you've ever studied ancient Greek (I have) but your
comparison between two statements in the Septuagint and the Gospels is
laughably, hilariously wrong and out of context. First of all, 2 Kings 4:13
is not a part of the story of raising the Shunammite woman. Here Elisha is
asking if, since the Shunammite woman and her husband have already gone to
such lengths to accommodate the prophet, if there is anything he can do for
them. Here 'exetisas pasan thn exstasin tavtin' is translated "you have gone
to such trouble (on our behalf)". It is not translated 'amazed with great
amazement', as it is in the Gospel account. Secondly, the Septuagint was a
very important document indeed for Jews in the Diaspora and Hellenized
communities. It was their only link to their Jewish Scriptures, since they
could not read them in the original Hebrew. Just like the language of the
KJV Bible has permeated our popular culture, so the Septuagint permeated
that of the Hellenic communities. This does not mean that every use of such
stock phrases as 'amazed with great amazement' was accompanied by a
plagiarism of the Bible. You show here a seriously lack of appreciation for
the cultural context of the Jewish communities of Gospel times, which taints
this whole 'comparison list' that you try to make. Note also that in the
Gospel story the Aramaic words 'Talitha cumi' are quoted verbatim. This
indicates that this command did not come from the Septuagint and thus makes
it likely that the oral or written tradition behind this miracle story was
originally in Aramaic.

You note that 'somebody at sometime thought that Jesus must have been able
to do whatever Elisha, Elijah from the Old Testament could have done'. One
very obvious account for this fact is that, as I mentioned the Gospels
reporting earlier, Jesus indeed did things that were similar to the deeds
performed by OT prophets. It is begging the question to assume that the
disciples never saw Jesus doing such things, and only later 'decided' that
Jesus had capabilities much like the prophets. And if he really wasn't
anything special, why would they attribute such abilities to him in the
first place?

I have already commented upon your laughable attempt to use similarities in
language to show strong literary dependence or even copying. Septuagint
language was widespread in Hellenic Jewish communities and permeated all
aspects of their life as observant Jews. Just how many ways are there to say
that sailors 'were very afraid' or to refer to them as 'the men'? There were
no thesaurii in those days so that the Gospel writers could check for an
equivalent but different wording in order to conceal their obvious
plagiarism! Note also important differences in the story of Jonah. In Jonah
the sailors all cry out to their gods and ask Jonah to call upon his. In the
Gospels the disciples call explicitly upon Jesus, who they refer to as Lord.
In Jonah the storm is quelled because a sinner admits his iniquity and is
thrown overboard. In the Gospels a very powerful Messiah commands the waves
to be still and they obey. Whatever the historical accuracy of any of the
accounts, NT or OT, it is clear that the theological context of the two
stories is very different. Note also that this is another event recorded in
virtually the same way in all four Gospels. This was obviously a very early
and very important tradition concerning Jesus' power over nature.

Same goes for Elijah and Luke. In Luke Jesus approaches a town called Nain,
and meets a funeral procession near the gate of the city.

In the story of Kings Elijah meets a widow at the gate of the town of Zarephath, but this is
NOT the time when he heals her son, rather it is when he meets her for the first time. The actual miracle story says nothing about Elijah approaching the gate of the city.

Again with your pathetic language comparisons. To
enter a walled town and perform a miracle Jesus would HAVE to pass through
the gate of a city. And how many ways are there to say that, after Jesus
raised the young man from the dead, he delivered him again to his mother?
What would he have done, kidnap the boy and take off?

Your comparison of Jesus' retort to his mother and the (same) story of the
widow's son raised from the dead is also laughably out of context. In the
Kings story the widow bitterly complains to the prophet 'What have you
against me', which is how 'ti emoi kai soi' is translated in this context.
In the Gospel of John Jesus complains to his mother, 'Woman, what does this have to do with me'.

The sense is clearly different. Overall your treatment
of Greek shows that you have had little or no formal education in either classical, ancient Greek or the koine the NT uses, whereas I have studied both and am fluent in those dialects, as a result of having actually grown
up in Greece. Maybe you should do the same before spouting uninformed

A more general comment is on the one, striking difference between all OT prophetic miracles and those of Jesus.

The prophets constantly call upon
God, praying that the Lord will intercede and perform a miracle.

In the Gospels Jesus is shown as having the power to do this directly himself.

Unlike the complicated strategies which Elijah and Elisha employ to perform
their miracles (like stretching over the body seven times, placing a staff
on the boy's face, etc.) Jesus has only to command and say, 'Arise', and it
happens. It is very clear from an in-depth study of the Gospels that Jesus
was in a very different league from the OT prophets. Perhaps the comparisons
and similarities would be more convincing if the early Christians only held
that Jesus was another prophet. But they obviously believed he was much more
than that.

As the writer of Hebrews says, time would fail me to point out all the other
blatant misunderstandings, misreadings, mistranslations, superficial
similarities and supposed 'oddities' which you try to bring up to discredit
the Gospels. My advice to you is to go back to school, learn Greek (not just
from an 'Ancient Greek for Dummies' book), take some Bible courses,
including exegesis, patristics, literary criticism, etc. and then see if you
can pull off these knock-down refutations of the Gospel which you claim to
have. I think you'll see that things are a bit more complex.

Now I have not actually studied the Book of Mormon so I am not qualified to
judge as to the extent to which Joseph Smith might have borrowed from the
KJV, but I would be more suspicious of a document composed by one man than
of the library of writings of a whole community, with a system of checks and
balances to ensure that orthodoxy was maintained. Joseph Smith answered to
no one, not a council of apostles, not his fellow Mormon believers (didn't
have any yet). But in any case, since I haven't read the book or studied
Mormonism I will reserve judgment. If that is how Ruth Tucker 'disproves'
Mormonism, then I agree with you that it is not a very sound strategy. My
purpose here was to show how off-the-mark your criticisms of the Gospel are,
without any consideration for the cultural context of early Christianity.

Do you know for a fact that the Gospel writers would have had no qualms about plagiarizing the Scriptures they themselves held dear in order to ascribe to
Jesus, their beloved teacher, actions and words which he never did or said?

Do you know for a fact that they had complete disregard for biblical and rabbinical injunctions not to tamper with scripture? Such ad hominem attacks
may convince your fellow skeptics, similarly uneducated in Greek, history, or literary studies, but they do not touch the real issues students of the NT deal with.

1:40 PM  

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