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250: Historical Jesus pt. 6 – Conclusion


We continue our series of six short episodes on the Historical Jesus.  These are just a prepper for Latter-day Saints as there is enough info in this field to talk for hundreds of hours on dissecting various perspectives on various data.  Today we end with the last and final episode.  In the Conclusion we tie together loose ends, and connect all this discussion and end talking about what is dependable and what is unlikely and at last encouragement to hold faith in the divine.  Below each episode will be a ton of resources to go off and learn more on your own……  Thanks and May you find the Christ of Faith in your own life.

Online Documents on the Historical Jesus:

Podcasts on the Historical Jesus:

Books on the Historical Jesus:


8 thoughts on “250: Historical Jesus pt. 6 – Conclusion”

  1. These are great Bill.

    You hinted at it, but this really makes me feel that in the LDS church we state that the Bible isn’t perfect. So many of the inconsistencies are just written off as “mistakes/lost in translation”. Other churches have not had that option, so they have done some of the hard work of figuring this all out.

    Thanks for your digging into this.

  2. Nicely Summarized, where’s the last song from?

    We are no where ready as a church for this narrative to start taking place… but it is more grounded in reality even if most people prefer fantasy.

    We certainly worship the glorified Christ and not the Historical Jesus, and maybe that’s alright. Hence we call him Jesus Christ.

  3. Hey Bill,

    Sorry, this will be in reply to some/all of the six parts of this series, which I just listened to while on a walk.

    First, I want say this is a very nice short overview of the topic and as you recommend, it would serve people well to look into it more deeply if they are interested as there is a wealth of knowledge out there on this and related topics. I do have a couple of small points, though, that I think should be addressed/discussed.

    During the entire presentation, you give the very conservative dates for when the gospels and other epistles were written. There is credible evidence that some of them were written even later, though this is still being debated. With the discoveries of the dead sea scrolls and then the nag hammadi library both in egypt, so much more is known than before. This is merely a small point that I thought should be mentioned as you only listed very conservative dates for when it is thought they were written.

    One of the assumptions that seems to be hiding beneath the surface in all of these episodes is that you’re assuming there was one single christian sect from which all of this sprung, even if you never explicitly state it (if I’ve mischaracterized this, please let me know). This is most certainly not the case. There were plenty of proto-christian sects/cults/factions that existed in the first couple of centuries after the supposed christ lived and during which the texts we have in the new testament were written. There were also lots of other gospels and texts, many of which we have at least some parts to if not most of the text thanks to some of these more recent discoveries. The gospel of the nazareans, of the ebionites, the gospel according to the egyptians, the gospel according to the hebrews, the coptic gospel of thomas, the gospel of peter, of mary, of philip, of truth, of the savior, the infancy gospel of thomas, the proto-gospel of james, the secret gospel of mark, the shepard of hermas, the acts of paul and thecla, the testament of the 12 patriarchs, and on and on. Many of these were not only seen as being legitimate, but also were widely used among various portions of the early or proto-christian groups. The gospel of peter was in wide use in antioch but because it promulgated a docetic view of christ, it was condemned as a heresy and excluded from the official canon (some over simplification), even though in mark we can see some of the same themes. The gnostics were another formidable group against which what would become the catholics had to fight against and not much was known about them until the discoveries of these two libraries in egypt, other than what was mentioned in letters by early catholic church leaders lambasting such beliefs. The gnostics are interesting because of their overlap with much of what mormonism teaches, as we now know. This in spite of James Talmage writing:

    “Among the early and most pernicious adulterations of Christian doctrine is the introduction of the teachings of the Gnostics. These self-styled philosophers put forth the boastful claim that they were able to lead the human mind to a full comprehension of the Supreme Being, and a knowledge of the true relationship between Deity and mortals.” The Great Apostasy p.98

    He seems to be completely ignorant of the fact that there is now evidence that the gospel of john was originally a gnostic text. True, the evidence wasn’t around then, but he was supposedly a man inspired by god and to have had personal communication with the deity above that which the rest of us mere mortals have. “He was only speaking as a man…” if only there were some way to tell, like them coming out and saying whether they are or not.

    He then goes on to talk about things like the demiurge and other of the gnostic beliefs, seemingly to not understand that much of this was taken by the early israelites from other mythologies and assimilated into their own pantheistic religion, which would later become monotheistic, el in the north and his sons baal and jehovah in the south, with jehovah eventually defeating the leviathon and becoming the one god to rule them all. Had Joesph Smith actual been inspired by god and been able to properly retranslate the bible, he would have separated out the J, D, P, and E sources from the pentateuch, resolving the conflicts there are between the two creation stories and others that exist. Instead, we ended up with fanciful narratives supposedly from moses (a sun god) who likely never existed. Not only that but the idea that the bible has mistranslations and things excised was not something new with JS and now that we have many of these much older versions of the texts than were had at the time the KJV bible was done and even since JSs time, we know that he, JS, was up in the night. He failed to correct anything, much less anything substantive. Not only that, but the disparate 10 or more commandments, no correction as to which it was. No corrections or clarifications about the discrepancies between the gospels. No calling out the epistles that weren’t really written by their purported authors (e.g., 1 & 2 peter; james; 1, 2, & 3 john; etc. again catholic creations to try and bring various sects together and also to condemn other thoughts/beliefs). He missed everything. One would think that a prophet of god would be able to help shed light on these issues that god surely knew were about to come, with discussion over the historicity of his supposed son and savior of mankind. He could have filled in the gaps and helped many people to better understand these issues. Instead, we ended up with polygamy, failed banks and forgery of money, and even sanctioned murder. The ways of god truly are mysterious.

    When you use the criterion of embarrassment you’re also making an assumption that the early proto-christians had the exact same view of christ that we do now, even though you admit that the christology of even the authors of the four gospels evolves from the docetic mark to the eternal john. What may be embarrassing to us was obviously not to them, otherwise they would not have written it. The baptism of jesus by john is one such example. The mandaeans hold john the baptist as the savior and jesus as nothing but an impostor, or anti-christ. The story of jesus being baptized by john can also be seen as a way to try and bring mandaeans into the fold, much like the catholics would do with other deities from so-called pagan religions, making them into saints, and can utterly fail the criterion of embarrassment if this were the case. What about in the infancy gospel of thomas where jesus curses a boy who then dies or curses another boy who falls over dead and then his parents become blind? Certainly these fall into the category of being embarrassing to anyone preaching a loving christ who said “turn the other cheek” or try and claim he never sinned, without committing themselves to substantial mental gymnastics and attempting to read into the story details which aren’t there. Does this then mean they most likely happened? The criterion of embarrassment doesn’t seem to hold up very well when applied more broadly. Also, see below for saying “Well, that one’s not included in official canon.”

    As for Q, there was never any evidence of a sayings gospel until the discovery of the gospel of thomas which was a sayings gospel, but later turned out to be a forgery. You mentioned the apocalypse of adam and also that thomas supposedly went to india to preach the gospel. The former is a gnostic text and even mentions the demiurge, against which Talmage rails in his above cited book. The story of thomas going to india also comes from non-canonical sources. My point in this is that you can’t pick and choose simply because it fits your narrative or how you would like things to be or what neatly fits into the box we have created. What of the ethiopic christians and their canon? They include the books of enoch and various others which no one else has as part of theirs (enoch was another sun god from the pantheistic israelites which is why he lived 365 years). What of the borrowed aspects of zoroastrianism, predating christianity and judaism (some debate), which show up in the christian and israelite scriptures? What of the jesus mentioned by josephus who lived around the time of the destruction of the temple in jerusalem, where there are many parallels between this jesus and the one we find in the gospels, which were written around this time and later? Don’t forget, josephus also thought hercules was likely a real person that myth was built up around, much like some people who believe jesus was a real person but deny his deity today. This latter jesus was likely historical and if this is what they built the story around, sure, he was historical, but it’s not the historical jesus you’re talking about. There are also contradictory statements about when he lived (some suggestions that it was as early as 100 bce, others ~10 bce) and to what age (about 50 years according to Irenaeus–the apologetics on this are interesting as well). Or that nazareth didn’t exist at the time jesus was supposed to have lived and was simply put into the later texts to appease the wife of the then ruler.

    I don’t deny that the thought of jesus and what he may have said/done has had an affect on your life, much like zoroaster, mithras, and buddha all likely had many great affects on the lives of those that practiced their respective religions. This doesn’t mean they were real people. It simply shows the power that we can have over our own paths through this life. If someone wants to have some sort of deity to help them be a better person, particularly if it would otherwise not have been so–as it seems this may have been the case with you as a teenager before being introduced to mormonism–then all the more power to them. It is when religion starts to negatively affect the lives and well being of others that I draw the line. I don’t care that you are a good person. If you in general, not you, Bill, specifically, are a part of such a group/relgion/sect/cult/etc. then you are in part guilty of the negativity they do. Particularly if you accept what spencer kimball said concerning sins of omission. You likely won’t agree with this, but this is one of the reasons I no longer consider myself a mormon. This was long and a bit rambling, so I apologize for that. Thanks for reading if you made it this far (if not, I won’t hold it against you). I won’t make a comparison with another group as this rarely goes over well, but I think you might get what I’m driving at.

    1. I agree with your points and actually have some awareness of most of them though my effort was to try and stay more surface and not get off into the weeds so as to leave room for faith while exploring the data.

      1. That’s what I kind of thought, but also felt they were worth mentioning. For me, if it were only one or two things, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But whether it’s mormonism or the foundations of christianity (neither of us even mentioned marcion and his followers), or even the origins of judaism, it just feels like it never ends. There’s always something else that either has to be explained away and/or accepted as being problematic, or one eventually just lets it all go, which can be earth shattering.

  4. Whoa, this series on the historical Jesus sent me on a journey for over a month to search out more on the historical Jesus, and his travels and how bible and other religions evolve and get carried away, reinforcing what is already mentioned on this in the bible and esp BoM – they all corrupt, govts too. Very captivating, so much so, I forgot to even check in on your site for over a month!
    Thanks for replanting that seed of searching and weighing history and its variation and why. It answered question and produced more questions, at least I can see some things much more clearly than before, even some things not touched on but unearthed nevertheless. The Gospel of Thomas to me seems like a less manipulated book which for that reason seems about 1/3 gibberish or seemingly nonsensical sayings, but probably due more to lack of manipulation to bring the idioms and customs up to date so we can understand what Jesus really menat (in 2000 years how will people understand us saying “I’m just kidding”?), thus leaving us to wonder what parts of the sayings by Jesus’ bro Thomas wrote that Jesus said. More raw than the other NT books but wonderful for comparison. there are records in India showing that both Thomas and Jesus went to India to finish out their lives after the Crucifixion… Google that, and Jesus’ tomb, shrine and teachings in Kashmir. Many parts of the gospel of Thomas do make sense, and after talking about the book with friend from India even more parts now make sense between us.

  5. The evolution of the books in the bible, from earliest written to latest, remind me of how the story of the real Paul Bunyon morphed into bigger than life legends, since I live 25 miles from one of the towns Paul Bunyon helped build (Paul Bunyon Days every summer). Same pattern for the LDS church and Christianity over time. Human nature…

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