How a gospel works: Judas reveals all

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by Neil Godfrey

So the truth is out. Professor Francis Moloney and Jeffrey Archer tell us how the gospels were written.

Note: No eyewitnesses! No oral traditions! No historiography!

Just a skilled scribe and a theologian working together. The purpose of the latter is clear: theology, theology and theology. To replace the faulty theology of the previous gospels with the “correct” theology of a new gospel. And to dress it up like a bio or history to make it persuasive. It has to be persuasive.

And I think that the evidence of the gospels really does point to Moloney and Archer revealing more than they intend. Well not that Archer would care, but the leading Judas scholar Moloney might not have intended to be so well used by the Devil. . . .

Here’s the extract from the transcript of the interview:

Stephen Crittenden: At one level, this is a very interesting literary exercise I suppose about the gospel as a literary form. And how and why various gospels were generated in the past. It seems to me that there’s something going on here about the way one evangelist will write a different account of the same situation that maybe shifts the emphasis slightly or blackens someone’s reputation or restores someone’s reputation. Mark is very critical of Peter; Matthew was clearly writing to restore Peter’s reputation. Thomas comes in in one of the gospels for some heavy flak

Frank Moloney: ..John, yes..

Stephen Crittenden: ..as a bit of an idiot. Is that in fact what you’re up to at an intellectual level, sort of showing us how the process of rearranging existing fragments occurs in the writing of new gospels each time?

Frank Moloney: Stephen, this is exactly what I’m trying to do and what Jeffrey in the end was very happy to collaborate with, and I’m delighted to hear you say this. What I’m trying to do and what Jeffrey has collaborated so well in doing here, is the expression I use is to try to show to a wider audience how a gospel works.

Yep, one can see the authors of Matthew and Luke and John doing to Mark and each other just what Moloney is doing to them. Theological dialogue in action and demonstrated. To postulate hypothetical eyewitnesses does sound a bit silly now, doesn’t it? Bauckham take note!

  • 2007-04-05 01:16:22 UTC - 01:16 | Permalink

    Bauckham doesn’t deny the possibility of the literary editing and redaction of the eye-witness accounts which the evangelists were dealing with. It is a commonplace that each Gospel has its own theological emphasis and that certain events are told differently. Remember that Bauckham says that with the possible exception of Mark, the other Gospels were written at a time when the first generation of eyewitnesses was dying out. The strict control that Bauckham envisages surrounding the transmission of the eyewitness traditions was limited to the time when these eye-witnesses were still alive and preaching.

    This guy who’s interviewing them seems to be a bit of an ignoramus when it comes to the Gospels. He says that in John Thomas comes in for a lot of flak. Where is that, exactly? In the story of Lazarus’ raising, Thomas clearly shows a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words when he blurts out, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16), but the other disciples also pretty much make fools of themselves when in response to Jesus saying that Lazarus has ‘fallen asleep’, they suggest “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right” (John 11:12). The same thing happens in the other situations where Thomas seems to misunderstand Jesus. During the final discourse, he asks Jesus where he is going, but Philip also asks Jesus to show them the Father. Throughout the Gospel of John there is a theme of people not understanding what Jesus really meant, and this extends to the disciples as well, and not just Thomas. There is no character assasination here.

    And I thought it was interesting that in an earlier post, Neil, you included a reference to a theory that Mark is actually writing to restore Peter’s reputation, not to ruin it! It just shows how people can read things into the Gospels which aren’t really there. Skeptics about Christian orthodoxy desperately need a picture of widespread ideological and personal conflict in early Christianity, so they conveniently read into the various Gospels a personal diatribe against certain people, or claim to be able to circularly derive conflict between various early Christian groups on the basis of the very texts which inform us about these groups in the first place!

    Please, Neil, instead of just cheerleading whenever somebody comes up with a theory of Christian origins that suits your own views about conflict and Gospel invention in early Christianity, would you please subject those theories as well to the same critical scrutiny you claim to give to the more conservative approaches?

  • 2007-04-05 11:23:56 UTC - 11:23 | Permalink

    Are you suggesting I once suggested Mark was writing to restore Peter’s reputation? Where was that? I’ve never thought that.

    As for not subjecting critical theories to scrutiny, well, my views are constantly being revised the more I learn. All my views are tentative pending new critiques and information. How about yours?

    But there is nothing wrong with my making public a critical view that simply has failed to register with the broader ‘believing public’ — I do agree with Maloney on that score (however much I disagree with his other views): that the findings of biblical scholarship have failed to filter down to the broader “church”, with the consequence that so many faithful are still biblical illiterates and feel threatened by any non-orthodox kite that comes flying by.

    If that is what you call “cheerleading” then I’m all for it. There has been far too little radical critique of orthodox Christian beliefs about their origins and texts. Most critique comes from scholars who betray at some point along the line a confessional interest. I find the defensiveness, the name-calling, the smears, that either radical critiques or critiques from non-religionists provokes. No, I’m not saying you have reacted with all that, but it is a very common reaction to criticism from outside the “approved” field.

    (Incidentally, it is for this reason I am happy to publicize arguments for Q — which is different from arguing for Q myself. I personally don’t accept the Q hypothesis, but I do accept that it is a significant and important theory that is worth engaging with. So I found it interesting that you appeared to find it necessary in another thread to explain your position on the Q position when I had only mentioned it as a theory held by some, and it was not in itself central to the argument.)

  • 2007-04-05 11:44:56 UTC - 11:44 | Permalink

    P.S. If anyone in a normal history class attempted to seriously suggest that there really might be some truth behind the myth that the ziggurats were the result of Marduk’s slaying of Tiamut, they would rightly be thought crazy. Yet we find comparable arguments underpinning biblical “history”. If anyone in a normal literature class tried to argue that any work of literature was “unique” the teacher would rightly point out to them that while everything is unique in one sense, nothing is unique in an absolute sense or it could not be comprehended or studied at all. Yet in biblical studies one finds approaches to the texts and their supposed historical backgrounds as if they are unique in some absolute sense. Normal standards from other disciplines seem so often to be found wanting in much that passes for biblical criticism.

    My interest is in making more widely available arguments, studies, information that ought to be more well known so that more of us can also begin to think twice about the pre-scientific beliefs of religions that have been too much a part of our culture. (I’m not interested in pushing my views — I know I change my views and will change some of them in future — but in doing my little bit towards opening up questions and thinking afresh about basic assumptions.)

  • 2007-04-05 12:06:20 UTC - 12:06 | Permalink


    You mentioned ‘radical critique’, and you posted a new link on your page with the writings of those associated with the Tubingen school of radical criticism, with arguments for the ahistoricity of Ignatius, an extremely late dating for Mark (c.135 C.E.) and other such tropes. Would I be correct that you are enamored of the views of this school and think that they have been unjustly forgotten in biblical scholarship?

    Boy, you really can’t please anyone, can you? It seems that even the most liberal NT scholars can come under criticism by believing anything so naive as that the canonical Gospels were composed by the end of the 1st century or that said Gospels actually preserve some authentic sayings of Jesus. And then from the other side you get ultra-conservative Christians who will not stand for one word of criticism about the New Testament as the inerrant Word of God. I hope you realize that I am not one of the latter. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll forgive my disagreeing with you about the presence of ‘confessional’ committments in NT scholarship. You seem to assume that only those who are radically critical of the New Testament and the historicity of Jesus lack a ‘confessional’ committment. Confessions are everywhere in abundance, whether to orthodox Christianity, liberal Christianity or ‘rationalism’ and ‘humanism’. And I find your black-and-white contrast between ‘pre-scientific’ and ‘scientific’ beliefs quite distressing. The Enlightenment myth of the philosophes that humanity was progressing in a steady path from superstition and ignorance to enlightenment and reason was debunked a long time ago. I prefer to deal with ideas and movements as they come, trying to understand why people thought the way they did and whether they perhaps were more intelligent and honest than we give them credit for.

  • 2007-04-05 12:15:10 UTC - 12:15 | Permalink

    I have no idea if Mark was early or late. I suspect very late, but I have found my views changing as I explore the question. That’s because I’m enamored of enquiry and questions that lead to understanding or expose long-held answers as, well, questionable. I find it interesting that someone rooted in a firm faith argues with my position as if I too am rooted in some firm faith, only the wrong one.

  • 2007-04-05 23:48:59 UTC - 23:48 | Permalink

    “I find it interesting that someone rooted in a firm faith argues with my position as if I too am rooted in some firm faith, only the wrong one.”

    You really shouldn’t find it that interesting or unusual. That just goes to show that you are a normal human being who thinks that everyone else who disagrees with you is driven by ideology and faith, but you yourself are looking the facts straight in the eye. Everyone’s guilty of it sometime, even me. And my point above was not that your firm faith is the wrong one, only that is IS in fact a faith. Naturally since I am of a different persuasion I think your faith is wrong, but that could change in the future. My faith is as firm as my inquiry and personal integrity allows.

  • 2007-04-07 09:11:33 UTC - 09:11 | Permalink

    Maybe it’s true what I hear about Americans loving and needing to “believe” in things?

    Sorry, but I simply don’t “think that everyone else who disagrees with me is driven by ideology and faith”. And I have no idea why you assume my arguments stem from some kind of faith. That’s simply nonsense and misreading completely where I am coming from.

    Can you really not imagine anyone examining and arguing a position without some kind of faith??? That’s simply not so. I sometimes hear someone saying evolution or science is a faith but those people are only demonstrating their ignorance of what science in fact is.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-23 22:19:17 UTC - 22:19 | Permalink

    You’re right that people do not argue without faith. Everyone has a faith. The question is just what that faith is in. And perhaps how we judge a faith is just to decide which faith most closely corresponds to and best explains reality. People are indeed demonstrating their ignorance when they have a go at science. However I’m sure this is because they haven’t fully understood that philosophical assumptions is what they should be attacking. Science like walking or breathing is pretty neutral. What you believe about the results is where your world-view comes in. One person can look at the big bang and conclude there must not be a god and another can look at the big bang and see obvious evidence of a god. One person can look at a bunch of finches and see the evolution of harder beaks, another can look at them and see seasonal variation due to food availability.

  • 2007-06-24 13:33:01 UTC - 13:33 | Permalink

    I was not clear in my initial statement. I am saying that people can argue a point without a faith position. No, everyone does not have a faith. Those with faith who say that “everyone has a faith” are merely accusing others of being like themselves without really understanding either themselves or all of those others. The big bang is not a fact but a theory. I don’t “believe” in the big bang any more than I “believe” in evolution or the Newtonian version of the Law of Gravity.

    I — along with most scientists I am sure — am quite prepared to jettison even a simple law of gravity, and evolution, when evidence is finally produced to offer a more complete and better explanation for the evidence. I am not interested in fighting to find proofs for evolution to defend the concept, and most scientists would reject it if a simpler explanation could be found for the evidence. People of religious faith cannot sincerely make the same sort of claim about their faith. If scientific evidence contradicts their faith then it is that evidence that must be discredited.

    Your illustration of finches is not clear. Are you suggesting that some birds’ beaks harden and soften according to the seasons? In winter a certain beak hardens but in summer it softens? I doubt it.

    But the results of science research and study are clear to all. They are not in question. It is the interpretation or explanation of those results that I think you mean to take issue with. The creationist has to bring to bear a multiple of other hypotheses and perspectives, mostly speculative, to offer an explanation that the naturalist does not have to bother with.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-26 01:37:10 UTC - 01:37 | Permalink

    As a side note: Yup, they’ve discovered that the beaks vary naturally due to conditions and food availability. I’ll try to find a credible link for you.

    “No, everyone does not have a faith.”

    Perhaps. It depends what you mean by ‘a faith’. Everyone does have a lens/word-view/system through which they interpret reality. I believe that (most) religions, or faiths, are in fact a system of thinking. Not everyone has a religion but everyone trusts certain things to be true.

    “The creationist has to bring to bear a multiple of other hypotheses and perspectives, mostly speculative, to offer an explanation that the naturalist does not have to bother with.”

    Both groups are concerned with reality and how it came to be. Both have the same results. But they differ on the interpretation of the results. In both camps you get some who twist things and assert things that the results cannot. Both are speculative groups and must offer the same level explanation.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-26 20:39:08 UTC - 20:39 | Permalink

    Of course both groups have their nut-cases and the percentage of outright muppets might be more in the theist camp than the naturalists camp.

  • 2007-06-27 12:29:34 UTC - 12:29 | Permalink

    No need to find the link. The point is that a beak like that is not itself “evolution” but a product of evolution. Hair can grow faster in colder seasons etc etc so there’s no issue with variations like that — I was not clear on your original point about it’s relation to evolution.

    But it is not true that both groups interpret the world from equal stances. There is no equivalent between the scientific method, which is a method to explore for answers, not knowing where the process will lead or what other answers it will cause one to revise or reject; and the view of faith, which imposes a predefined answer that it seeks to defend always.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-28 07:24:02 UTC - 07:24 | Permalink

    I would take issue with your definition of scientific method. The method of course is neutral but if it is used with a by philosophical naturalist it will be coloured by that as indeed it is if used by a theist. The naturalist will say that any answer is acceptable except one that suggests God. Therefore they have presupposed their answer. Even if one could scientifically prove the existence of God, the philosophical naturalist will reject it because they have already decided the outcome (or at least what the outcome cannot be). This is almost as blind a faith as some have accused Christians of.

    As Dawkins would say (this isn’t a accurate quote but I’m sure you’re familiar with it) ‘though things have the appearance of design since there is no designer’…

  • 2007-06-28 08:51:23 UTC - 08:51 | Permalink

    Dawkins quote here does not support your argument at all. Read it in context and you will see there is a far more logical and simple explanation for the appearance of design where it exists — adaptation and natural selection! (The error of the religionist is similar to the logic of arguing that water in a puddle “is perfectly designed” to fit the shape of the hole in the ground — a comical but not inaccurate illustration taken I think from Douglas Adams.)

    The naturalist, or true scientist following the scientific method, is not rejecting god from prejudice, but because the god answer is a cop-out that preempts the scientific method running its course. Science is an attempt to find a natural explanation for the world. One could look at the “miracles” of thunderstorms or earthquakes and try to understand them, do a bit of research, and finally decide “god” causes them — but how much richer is science for rejecting that cop-out and continuing to explore and discover the actions of electronic fields and charges and how they work in the atmosphere, and the movements of tectonic plates and geophysical pressures and stresses — and there is still more to understand. Do we just decide to stop now and say what we don’t understand is from god? Or do we continue to find and be marvelled by the more wonders and terrors there are to know about the universe?

    It is the search for a natural testable explanation that has given us our advances and blown us away with the awesomeness of how everything works. Dawkins himself in his God Delusion is the latest popular author to elaborate on this — and show how God is simply a bland cop-out by comparison.

    Same in history. Once we explain events by saying God caused them then we are ceasing to understand the world and humanity in favour of adding points to our theological construct.

    Science does not presuppose any answer. It keeps the options open — that’s why its answers change over time.

    One can still be a believer and practice true science, and in so doing they will attribute God to being behind everything science discovers. But they will not pre-empt science by at some point saying: there is no natural explanation for this particular phenomenon — so it must be the direct act of god’s finger at work here.

  • 2007-06-28 09:33:49 UTC - 09:33 | Permalink

    P.S. To be content with “God” as an answer to a scientific question — is not this much the same logic as being content with demon-possession as an explanation for mental illness? Thank God scientists ruled out the spiritual answer to that one at least!

  • tagertux
    2007-06-29 05:27:13 UTC - 05:27 | Permalink

    And yet we assume a designer in most things we see in the material world around us. Some of us (me included) praise specific designers like Jonathan Ive for the iPod. Upon seeing their first iPod (or any piece of technology) people can tell instantly that it is man-made (i.e. a design inference). In fact we use the method to put people in jail ‘was it random circumstances/evidence or do they point to a killer/thief/etc.’ I’m sure you’re familiar with the Intelligent Design movement and its different take on the same data.

  • 2007-06-29 06:56:02 UTC - 06:56 | Permalink

    We can easily distinguish between the “non-natural” and the natural world because the non-natural is marked by a “design-stamp” (a watch, a computer) in a way that the natural is not. It is the difference between the designed and the natural that allows us to single out intelligent creations (houses, nests, burrows) from the “natural” around us. The natural world carries the marks of adaptation that, like the water being just the right shape for the hole in the ground, can be figuratively but not literally interpreted as design. But there are many “unadapted” components as well, that are not ‘pretty’ or ‘good’. Our bodies carry organs left over from a previous mututation just right for another time but that no longer serve us so well; many species are adapted well to their environments but cannot survive a change. A watchmaker would not be so careless.

  • tagertux
    2007-06-29 23:51:09 UTC - 23:51 | Permalink

    What is the ‘design stamp’? And in what way is it not evident in Nature?

  • 2007-06-30 07:03:37 UTC - 07:03 | Permalink

    My following sentence was an attempt to clarify my term: It is the difference between the designed and the natural that allows us to single out intelligent creations (houses, nests, burrows) from the “natural” around us.

    We know a watch or car had to have a human designer and maker. But it is a fallacy to assume the same of the natural world. It is the same sort of fallacy that some explain by the “theory of mind”. People have attributed minds to not only other people but also to anything that seems to act on their lives — even to unexpected events — such as an unexpected breaking of a spear, a collapse by a house, an eclipse. It is of course a fallacy, an imposed illusion, to attribute such things to “minds”.

    But we are still susceptible to illusions. Many children think the moon is following them, for example, when travelling or walking at night. But most of humanity has come to understand that these primitive assumptions were not correct, and as we mature we are taught the difference between child perceived illusions and true understanding about the moon.

    But much of humanity still holds on to some relics of primitive ways of thinking. We have got rid of many lesser gods or minds to explain things, but we still hang on to the same concept to “explain” what we still cannot understand yet. To use an example from Dawkins, people have never been able to understand how complex appearance of design can emerge from something more simple: a spear has never made a hunter, we reason correctly of human artefacts, but incorrectly apply this logic to the natural world, including ourselves.

    At a more basic level of simple logic, the god answer to nature is not an answer at all because the whole question arises over attempting to grapple with the improbabality of the existence of complex working structures that have the appearance of design. “God” itself is equally, really far more by magnitudes, a complex and improbable an entity — the concept of god has more complexity and ‘design appearance’ than the original question we are trying to solve.

    An image Dawkins uses is the comparison of the skyhook and the crane. God is the skyhook answer — which is not an answer. The crane does the business of working up gradually from the simple to the more complex over time.

    Natural selection does explain the appearance of design and how complexity can increase over time. It shows us that the appearance of design is an illusion just like the appearance of the moon following us at night is an illusion.

    (And as I alluded to earlier, it also explains the “imperfections” and “design flaws” in our bodies as well as the successful adaptations at the one time.)

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