§ 33 The Two Demoniacs of Gadara

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 33

The Two Demoniacs of Gadara.

Matt. 8, 28-34.

According to Matthew, two demoniacs encountered Jesus when he landed on the other side of the sea, but Mark and Luke only mention one; so where did Matthew get the other one from? The way he came to him and how he generally comes to such companions is so strange, so incredibly adventurous that, as far as we know, it has no equal in either profane or sacred historiography.

Augustine insisted that there were two demoniacs who approached the Lord; Mark and Luke only spoke of one because he was more furious than the other, and Calvin agrees with this view of the holy bishop. *) The apologetic reformer must now claim that the reports are not contradictory, but it should be noted immediately that we must rely solely on Matthew’s account if we want to know whether only one of the two caused the Lord especially much trouble due to the violence of his rage. Only Matthew knows about two, so he should tell us that one was not as bad as the other; but he not only says nothing about it but explicitly presents both as equally raging and furious *) and thus spares us the trouble of examining the views of the great African more extensively. It also does Calvin no good to point out to us that Mark and Luke describe in detail the “rage of the devil” that had more control over one than the other – because can the number of words in the holy scripture decide and is it not enough that Matthew says that both were “very angry”?

*) Probabilis est Augustini conjectura, qui duos fuisse sentiens de uno tantum hic verba fieri excusat (!), quod magis famosus esset : atque ita propter mali atrocitatem magis illustre fuerit in eo miraculum. Et certe videmus Lucam et Marcum in saevitia diaboli amplificanda multis verbis insistere. Quod ergo unum insigne exemplum divinae Christi potentiae celebrant, a Matthaei narratione non dissidet, quae alterum hominem hic et minus cognitum adjungit.

*) C. 8, 28: χαλεποι λίαν.


Since modern criticism has taken the correct path and attempted to get to the bottom of the matter by examining the reports to see if one originated from the other, it was initially believed that the clear signs of its later origin could be found in the report of Mark. While Matthew only notes that the two demoniacs who encountered the Lord upon landing had come from the tombs and were very fierce, so that no one could pass that way, Mark describes in great detail the ferocity of his demoniac. He also says that the demoniac had come from the tombs, but adds a series of remarks, each of which is intended to explain the other: “the possessed man had his dwelling among the tombs and no one could bind him, not even with chains, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he tore the chains apart and broke the shackles in pieces. And so he was day and night among the tombs and in the mountains, crying out and cutting himself with stones.” Finally (v. 15) when his fellow countrymen, seeing him healed and sane, also see that he is “clothed,” the evangelist implies retrospectively that the unfortunate man did not wear clothes before. Saunier *) says that this “breadth and detail” of the description, this “rhetorical and descriptive” attitude, proves that Mark is only reproducing in “broader expression” the simple account of another – Luke’s. Let us first stop at this more limited investigation (so that we do not yet consider Matthew), then we can still notice that Mark’s account not only is very broad, but also because of its verbosity it unnecessarily slows down the narration: how long do we have to wait before we hear what the possessed man did when he saw Jesus (v. 6)? Isn’t it more appropriate if Luke only briefly says (Luke 8:27) that a man who “had been possessed for a long time” met the Lord upon landing, didn’t wear any clothes, didn’t stay in any house, but stayed among the tombs, if he now immediately reports what he did when he saw Jesus (v. 28), and only then notes how (v. 29) the unfortunate man had been tormented by the unclean spirit? Isn’t it clear that Mark “has compressed and expanded the description given by Luke (v. 27, 29)”? **) Nothing less than that! Mark has only slowed down the narration, while Luke has interrupted it where it simply should not have been interrupted, and brought it into the wildest confusion, for once the whole thing is set in motion so that the possessed man actually calls on Jesus, what Jesus did must immediately follow – as it does with Mark. And as for the suspicious “compression and expansion” of the description, has Luke done nothing to that effect when he immediately notes at the beginning (v. 27) that the possessed man did not tolerate clothes and motivates it beforehand, that those people wondered when they later found the man clothed (v. 35)? Instead of being evidence against the originality of Mark’ account *), it actually supports it that the note about the nudity of the possessed man is not inserted into the description of his condition. Mark could be sure that everyone would have the perception of the previous state of the possessed man when he later describes the amazement of his compatriots – (Luke added this supplement) – but he still felt that he should not extend that description too much, so as not to interrupt the flow of the narrative even more than it already is. The evidence against Luke is finally completed when we read that the possessed man who met Jesus when he landed “came out of the city**),” as if he did not himself say that the unfortunate man lived outside in the tombs!

*) On the sources of the Gospel of Mark, p. 79-80.

**) de Wette, I, 2, 145.

*) As Fritzche also thinks, regarding Mark 5:15: You can understand that Mark has both used and abused the gospel of Luke (!).

**) εκ της πόλεως (23. 27.).


Now that it is certain that Luke copied the account of Mark and confused it with his attempts to improve it, the question arises as to how the simple account of Matthew compares to the more detailed account given by Mark. Strauss, although sympathetic to Matthew, wants to leave undecided whether Mark’s description is a “willful embellishment” of the “simple” statement of the wildness of the possessed ***). Okay! We don’t want to note yet how probable it is and is often confirmed that simplicity is the later completion, the rhetorical and, with all its breadth, still hard and awkward being the first attempt at historiography. We also don’t want to use the fact that Matthew speaks of two possessed persons, while Mark speaks of only one, to decide which account is original. On the contrary: before that, we want to point out the advantages that distinguish Matthew’s account from the others.

***) L. J. II. 33


All three accounts have in common that the possessed, as soon as they see Jesus, recognize him as the Son of God and know that he has come to destroy them. Indeed, Mark even says that when the possessed first saw Jesus from afar *), he ran over to him and shouted with a loud voice, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of God Most High?” So Jesus has not yet had time to make his intentions known to the demon. Nevertheless, Mark immediately explains the demon’s address to us quite differently: not because he had recognized Jesus on his own, as is usually the case with his devilish companions, did he have the certainty that the Lord had come to destroy him, but because Jesus had commanded him to come out of the man (Mark 5:8, Luke 8:29). This is not only a contradiction in the account, but also in the matter itself, for now it seems that the Lord’s first command was ineffective, since after a longer negotiation with the demon, a second command had to follow in order to free the possessed from the devilish power. The contradiction arose purely out of thoughtlessness and the abundance of pragmatism. Matthew does not know it, for according to his account, the demons ask Jesus to send them into the herd of swine that was grazing nearby on the hillside by the lake.

*) Mark 5:6: μακροθεν..

Moreover, according to Luke’s account, after the demon recognized Jesus, he even begs him not to torment him *), but what right do the devil’s henchmen have to swear by God and to ask for mercy from the man they know has come to overthrow their rule? When will the devil soften, become sentimental, and even pious, so that he swears by the Son of the Most High before his heavenly Father? Matthew presented the matter quite differently, he does not let the demons beg, speak sentimentally, and swear, but only express the resentment they feel at the sight of their archenemy: “What have we to do with you, Jesus, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” **)

*) Mark 3:7: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of God Most High? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” So Luke (8:28: “…I beg you, do not torment me…”) has already taken offense at and softened Mark’s account.

**) Luke 8:29: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”

*) Μarκ 3, 7: τι έμοί και σοι, Ιησού, υιέ του θεού του υψίστου; ορκίζω σε τον θεόν, μή με βασανίσης. Luke (8, 28 : …. δέομαί σου, μη ….) has therefore already taken offense at the presentation of Marcus and mitigated it.

**) Luke 8, 29: τι ημίν και σοι, Ιησού υιέ του θεού; ήλθες ωδε προ καιρού βασανίσαι ημάς ;


Very well! And yet the account of Matthew is the later one, which, though it improves certain points excellently, must reveal that it did not create the original type, but rather changed it against its true nature at other essential points. The reason for these unfortunate changes lies in the plurality of the possessed. Strauss also does not want to decide here and only presents it as one of the possibilities ***), that “gradually the plural of the demons was replaced with the singular of the possessed.” Therefore, it must have happened, due to the increase of the contrast, that instead of two possessed, only one was assumed – but in the face of the multitude of demonic spirits that must be presupposed here, if a whole herd of swine is to be possessed by them, the difference of whether they previously dwelt in one or two possessed dwindles to almost nothing. The contrast remains equally great in any case.

***) L. J. II, 33. – De Wette states 1, 1, 88. 89. quite plainly that the account of Matthew is the original one, and that of Luke is the later expansion.


However, two possessed persons cannot come out. Although Matthew has them both express the request that if Jesus were to cast them out, he would send them into the herd of swine; he could not leave out this request if he wanted to motivate the following events, but it is and remains inappropriate, as the evangelist himself testifies when he suppresses the other requests and speeches attributed to the possessed person of Mark and Luke. How is it possible, or could it have been considered possible by the first author of the narrative, that two possessed persons could conceive the same thought in the same moment and speak it as if with one mouth? It is so impossible that even Matthew omits the dialogue between Jesus and the possessed person, the question of Jesus: “What is your name?” the possessed person’s answer: “Legion, for we are many,” and the request that Jesus not send them out of the country (Mark 5:9-10) or (Luke 8:30-31) into the abyss. However, the fact that there were so many of them had to be reported beforehand if the reader was to understand how the demonic spirits could take possession of a herd of swine; that they did not want to be sent out of the country or thrown into the abyss *), had to be mentioned if it was to be understandable how they came up with the idea of asking Jesus to let them enter the herd – so Matthew does not make it understandable how the demons could enter a whole herd of swine, and at least he does not motivate their request clearly enough when he lets them grumble in their first address: “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Before the time! namely, before we receive the final judgment, which is already predetermined for us by you? Another detail is missing in Matthew’s account. When the herd of swine was seized by the demonic spirits and rushed down the cliff where they were grazing, as if in a storm, and drowned *), the shepherds fled to the city and reported what had happened. The people then came out to Jesus and asked him, after they had convinced themselves of the facts, to leave their region. Jesus did what they wanted, boarded the ship, and at that moment the healed person asked him to take him with him. Jesus did not agree, but rather gave him the task of going home and proclaiming to his own what God had done for him. The man went and proclaimed in the Decapolis (Mark 5:20, according to Luke 8:39, throughout the city) what good deed Jesus had done for him. However, Matthew immediately has Jesus board the ship after the request of those people, and he reports nothing about a request from the two possessed persons, nor does he mention them again after he had once freed them from the evil spirits. Why? Schleiermacher tells us that the account comes from someone “who did not come into the vicinity of Jesus, but was instructed to stay by the ship” *). As if the man, having learned so much about the healing from others, could not have learned the rest as well! As if he did not have to have heard the request of the demoniacs, that Jesus take them with him, very clearly, as it was uttered in the moment when Jesus boarded the ship **)! Matthew omitted the necessary conclusion of the whole story, the conclusion he read in the writings of his predecessors but could not adopt. Not to mention that we must still hear how the demoniac was after the unclean spirits were cast out—(Mark and Luke tell us, by reporting that his countrymen saw him sitting at the feet of the Lord, Luke says)—so for the sake of contrast, the healed man had to appear again, set in motion, and conclude the whole action that we see in the account. His countrymen did not want to tolerate his benefactor in their area, and Jesus was actually expelled—should this dissonance, which deafens us in the whirl of its contradictions and robs us of our senses, now conclude the whole story? The refusal of those people to receive Jesus into their midst was formed only so that we would not know at the end why Jesus immediately returned after landing, and over there in the land where thousands of unclean spirits are to be found, where people dwell who are terrified of the Lord, should no witness of faith be left behind? No! Both aspects belong together and are formed for the sake of each other, each only for the sake of the other. Those people expel Jesus out of horror at the banner of the devil and because they themselves belong to the unclean, so that the healed man, with the confession of his faith, may stand forth more gloriously as a witness of the heavenly world and grace in that dark land. But Matthew could not give this resolution of the dissonance because he allows two demoniacs to be healed and because it was too unlikely that two people should have the same wish at the same time and express it to Jesus.

*) Mark assumed the idea, which is still present in modern belief in ghosts and evil spirits, that beings of this kind are sometimes bound to specific regions as local spirits, while Luke did not immediately share this belief and now thought of hell as the home of evil spirits, and Matthew finally thought of the final judgment which the Messiah will hold over the power of evil.

*) Only Mark (Ch. 5, 13) says that there were about two thousand of them, while the other two are content to write him down before (V. 11.) that the herd was large. Such specialties must be the basis for those who make Mark a compiler in the sense of the Griesbach hypothesis. For example, Fritzsche in the commentary on the Gospel of Mark, prologue, p. XLII Weisse (l, 65) has already responded to this, if Mark knew nothing better and no other “corrections” to add to the writings of his predecessors, he could have spared himself the trouble of researching and writing down, and Wilke has successfully shown that all these magnificent notes concerning the salvation of the world do not even come from Mark, but rather are later interpolations. Wilke has shown of most of them that they are highly suspicious, such as the statement of how many pigs were in the herd. We have often noticed how later historiography, since it has more abstract perspectives, blurs such meaningless details; this could also have happened this time, but it is very unlikely, since in this case – to present the miracle in all its greatness – it must have been of interest to Mark’s followers to indicate the exact number of unclean animals. However, the note also interrupts the context, since it separates too much the information that the herd rushed into the sea and that they drowned, just where the narrative, like its subject, should move quickly, and delays the movement of the whole. In any case, the entire passage is not constant in the manuscripts, and in a very respected one, that note is even missing.

*) a. a. O. p. 130.

**) Mark 5, 18: και εμβαίνοντος αυτού εις το πλοίον, παρεκάλει αυτόν ο δαιμονισθείς, ίνα ή μετ’ αυτού.


The duality of the possessed is thus a contradiction to the original tendency and structure of the report, and a later, sole addition by Matthew. It is also no longer a secret where the evangelist got it from. Previously, he had read in the Gospel of Mark (Chapter 1, 21-27) that when Jesus first came to Capernaum, he taught in the synagogue and healed a possessed man. However, since he had already used the note on Jesus’ teaching and its powerful impact on the people for the Sermon on the Mount and had to omit the scene that took place in the synagogue, he could not report anything about the possessed man. But he did not want to completely let go of this tidbit. What does he do now? At the first suitable opportunity, he takes it up and – casually, but oddly enough! – makes two possessed out of the one that Jesus heals on the other side, on the opposite shore *). He even has the Gospel of Mark before him at this moment, for he borrows from it the exclamation with which the possessed man in the Capernaum synagogue acknowledges that he knows well that Jesus is the Holy One of God and has come to destroy him and his associates **). This enabled him to so successfully give his possessed man the appropriate snarling address, while Mark did not dare repeat these words and also had already the request of the unclean spirit for relief from its fate in his head, which was the foundation of the whole story, and was woven into the first words of the unclean spirit too early.

*) Weisse, 1, 497 regards this explanation as “more probable” than any other; Wilke (p. 683), based on his insight into the relationship between the synoptic accounts, could describe it as the only correct one.

**) Mark 1:24: τι ημϊν και σοι Ιησού ; ήλθες απολέσαι ημάς οίδα σε τις ει, ο άγιος του θεού.


We haven’t seen the apologist for a long time; we have indeed seen him, he has also thrown us the crumbs of his wisdom while we were dealing with the possessed, but we have not seen him in his true element, in the holy zeal that suits him so well. But now we only need to say that the conclusion of the account, the request of the healed man and the request of his fellow countrymen, is pure, so is the whole account a work of ideal contemplation, since its individual features cannot deny their literary origin, and since there are no unclean spirits that could intrude alongside or even take the place of human self-consciousness, the apologist stands in full glory. For the scripture indeed says that those unfortunate people were possessed by evil spirits, the companions of Beelzebub, that is, by spirits from the kingdom of Satan, and not only do the sufferers testify to the reason for their sufferings, for it is not they who speak, but their tongues have become the organ of those spirits: Jesus himself also bears witness, since he always addresses the unclean spirits and commands them to depart. And as it is written, the apologist answers, so it is true, so it is correct, and it remains so. For if it were otherwise, that is, if those sick people were not really possessed by devilish spirits, would Jesus, “who saw so far beyond his contemporaries in more delicate and dangerous matters and whose deeper insight into the human soul cannot be denied, have really embraced such a clumsy mistake?” *) Clumsy? How he gets worked up so quickly! Clumsy! But Jesus was not a physiologist and speculative psychologist, and a mistake cannot be called clumsy that was connected with the religious worldview of the people. We will not even call that religious view clumsy, even if the new investigations, for which Strauss has provided the most important contributions, have taught us that the so-called state of being possessed is nothing more than the illness of the self-consciousness that has gone out of itself, which sees its inner differences as external, foreign, and forcibly imposed powers.

*) Hoffmann, L. J. p. 355.


But, Hoffmann continues, “all these psychologically ill people assure that something foreign seems to have entered their being (!), which they cannot account as part of themselves” *). They are simply sick and have lost the rational contemplation that was not even given to them as scientific insight. “This foreign thing arouses ideas in the sufferer, therefore it must be a spirit.” As if the sick person were not a spirit and their suffering, if it consists in the delirium of self-consciousness, must manifest itself in the form of representation. “This foreign thing acts irresistibly.” Because the sick person has lost their freedom. “It disturbs the sick person when they want to think and pray religiously.” If this disturbance actually occurs, it is because the pathological condition consists in the liberation and external celebration of the internal contradictions of the spirit and the general power that holds together and dissolves these contradictions in a healthy and rational state has been taken away from the mentally suffering individual.

Finally, the apologist becomes mystical – no, not really! He flees to mystical phrases **): “why should it not be possible for the human soul to temporarily sink into the dark, elementary ground of its existence?” But is the realm of Satan and his companions the foundation of the soul? Of course, the apologist means it differently; he wants to leave it undecided whether this foundation is already “personified” or whether it only takes on a specific form in the sick individual. But it is certain that in the sick person, this foundation becomes “a conscious person”, namely a person different from the sick person – even a legion of people? – and only then can one leave undecided whether it is still a person afterwards, abandoned by human individuality.” But this brew of fear – the religious explanation of possession must be maintained – of unbelief – which does not allow that according to scripture, the unclean spirits are companions of the devil – of natural philosophical clichés – and the “dark ground of existence” is not even a philosophical category, but a mythological image – this brew of the most intolerable ingredients is supposed to stupefy our concept and make the credibility of a report that can no longer be maintained plausible to us?

*) Ibid. p. 556.

**) Ibid. p. 358.


The report can no longer be considered credible in the theological sense. The point that forms its center, namely that the demons caused their own downfall by asking the Lord to let them enter the swine so that they could at least stay in the local area, will only be considered historical as long as the belief in possession really sees the suppression of self-consciousness by demonic spirits. However, once the true nature of that illness is recognized, it becomes impossible to regard even an atom of this report as historical. Yet, Weisse considers it possible that even for the more recent scientific consciousness, that point of the report could still be saved, since those who know about the powers and states of animal magnetism have considered the possibility of a transition of demonic states “from others and even onto animals.” However, Strauss has rightly noted that “the participation of horses and other (we can even say: more removed from bestiality) animals in the so-called second sight of the Scottish and Danish island inhabitants is the only thing securely attested *) to as the communication of organic-psychic states to animals.” The pig, however, is still much too much of a beast and closed to participating in human states, which horses and dogs, for example, are capable of, so it cannot be open to the communication of organic-psychic states.

*) L. J. II. 4l.


The point that the demons seek and do not find a new home in the pigs also agrees with the modern view that the devil, if he wants to be clever and make a pact in his favor, is foolish and harms himself. “But,” asks Weisse **), “how can one explain the fact that the inhabitants of the region where the miracle was performed, instead of admiring and praising Jesus for it, were rather seized with terror and fear, and wanted to send him away as soon as possible (according to Tert: immediately), especially if one thinks that the story was invented to glorify Jesus?” Nothing could be easier if one does not expect, as earlier criticism did, that the glorification should emerge abstractly: does not the sublime also glorify itself in the horror that it inspires in the lowly, in the horror and in the agitation that its revelation evokes in the dull and closed minds? “Also, the admonition with which Jesus rejects the healed man who wants to follow him is anything but in the tone in which one could recognize a type for such incidents.” But if a type is to be understood as the inner necessity that forms the features of a particular view and holds them together through the tension it creates, then that admonition is also necessarily included in the internal purpose of this report: in the land of the dull and closed, Jesus must leave a witness of his power.

**) I, 198

It was only a contrast – and a very comprehensive and far-reaching one at that – that created the view that unclean spirits in the possessed recognized Jesus from the beginning as the Son of God and called upon Him as such. When Jesus appeared for the first time in the synagogue in Capernaum, the demonic who was present there or rather the demon in the unfortunate person called out to Him: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). This was generally the case: the devilish spirits knew Him (1:34) and cried out when they saw Him: “You are the Son of God!” But He threatened them not to reveal Him (3:11-12). However, how could it be possible that the insane were betrayed the secret from the very first moment, which would only be revealed and explained to the disciples and the community through a long history, through a series of difficult mediations and in faith in the risen one? Yes, if it was really the spirits of hell, the servants of Satan, who possessed the people at that time, then it was indeed natural that they recognized the Son of God, who had come to destroy their power; they had to know their archenemy, because Satan knew Him, and his companions had to know Him as well, as they belong to a spirit world which is not bound to finite mediations of experience. But since the demonic are nothing but mentally ill, they lose their omniscience, which was in fact only a gift of the ideal view of the later community, and it would not even help their lost cause if one were to rely on the premonition ability of somnambulists. Because it never aims at the generality and the innermost of the self-awareness of another person, let alone a person with whom the somnambulist had so far had no relation, but only worthless particularities and mental determinations that are connected with the physical organism – determinations that have nothing to do with the self-awareness of the Redeemer and God-man – are accessible to it.


So the question is no longer how the demonic beings could recognize Jesus as the Son of God – because that was impossible – but why it had to be so and why the evangelical perspective demanded the impossible from them. The Gospel of Mark gives us the answer. Only once does Luke follow his predecessor’s remark that the demons called Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Luke 4:41), namely in the context where Jesus heals the sick in front of Peter’s house, and where this note could not be missing if the report was not to be too sparse and the author had nothing else to put in its place. Afterwards, when Luke comes to the second place where Mark gives that note (Luke 6:17–19), he leaves it out completely, believing he has given enough material already, besides presenting more extensively than Mark that everyone sought to touch Jesus, “because power was coming from him and healing them all,” and finally because he hastens to the Sermon on the Mount. Luke no longer recognizes the value of that note. Matthew, however, no longer needs it at all; he even leaves it out in the first place where Jesus drives out the demons in front of Peter’s house and instead puts in its place (Matt. 8:17) the remark that Jesus healed so that the prophecy of Isaiah, “He took our infirmities,” would be fulfilled. What Luke left out once unintentionally and because he no longer knew the original purpose, Matthew deliberately eradicated twice, if he was at all aware of his own distinctive pragmatism. According to his account, Jesus proclaims himself from the beginning as the judge of the world and the Messiah – so why should he command the demons to be silent when they call him the Son of God? According to his scripture, Jesus was recognized from the beginning (chap. 8, 6) as the miracle-working Messiah – so how could it still seem remarkable and significant that even the demons recognize him as the Holy One of God? The note of the sharp-sightedness of the hellish spirits had thus become not only worthless and superfluous but also disturbing, and it had to be eliminated. Mark, on the other hand, had constructed his presentation on the fact that Jesus was recognized as the Messiah by the disciples and the people only at the end of his work. But it was impossible for a Gospel writer, especially the one who wrote first and built the structure of his writing freely, to bear that no one really recognized the Lord as the Messiah and confessed him as such. He had to even establish confessors at the very moment when Jesus appeared, who would testify how powerful and compelling the impression of the Lord’s personality was, and since people could not understand this impression immediately, spirits had to explain it, who by their nature possess a sharper vision.


Therefore, only as a testimony that he had come to destroy the kingdom of darkness and as proof of the power that he still gives to his followers in their struggle with Satan, must Jesus fight with the demons.


§ 32. The calming of the storm

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 32.

The calming of the storm.

Matth. 8, 23 — 27.

After Jesus had given his answer to the requests of those two, he now boards the ship with “his disciples”. He falls asleep and meanwhile a storm arises that threatens the ship. The disciples wake him up, ask him for help, but he rebukes their unbelief, threatens the wind and the sea, and it became completely calm. Then the people were amazed and said: “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”


That Mark reports (C. 4, 38) that Jesus slept on a cushion in the stern of the ship during the storm would hardly be worth mentioning if one had not drawn from this detail the conclusion of the later age of his writing, since such descriptive details are considered the idle addition of a later reviser. Occasionally, however, the reviser adds descriptive details to the account he uses and copies in order to contribute something of his own, but it is not necessary; it happens rarely and, at least possibly, only rarely can it occur – Luke and Matthew, for example, are very sparing in this regard – and such details usually betray themselves as later additions by disrupting the context. However, the usual course of historiography and the fate that the original manuscript experiences at the hands of later pragmatists is more likely to be such that the picturesque features of the original presentation are omitted by subsequent revisers or condensed with more or less success into simple formulas. In place of living vividness, general formulas take its place, which then usually become fixed – just think of the fixed, uniform transitions that Luke and Matthew have put in place of the specific motives that Mark gives. But the evangelical historiography had to lean more and more towards this abstract attitude. The man who first tried to present the life of the Savior in context could not do otherwise; he had to try to satisfy the demand of form as much as possible, i.e., to form specific, motivated transitions and to bring situations, contrasts, and motives of the appearance to life even in the small details within individual narratives – Mark did it. But once it had happened and the story had been introduced to the particular detail of the external appearance, it led to the material interest of the religious consciousness, which turned primarily to the content, so that such descriptive details lost their significance, the importance of form, which the first reviser alone must have felt so vividly, ceased, and only the simple framework of the narrative was retained by later revisers – sometimes (as in the present case) without harm to the context, sometimes, however, to the great detriment of the composition.


The following difference in the portrayal of the three evangelists is important. According to Matthew’s account, it is the people in the boat (οι ανθρωποι) who marvel and exclaim: “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” But where do these people suddenly come from? Schleiermacher tells us *): “We already have strangers on the boat, if we believe that it went out for fishing.” It seems that Schleiermacher wants to compel us to complete our above remark about the progress of evangelical historiography: we obey. The later religious interest not only simplifies the representation and blurs out descriptive details, but in the case where the earlier representation contradicts its later assumptions, it is inventive in strained interpretations that alter, twist and eventually distort the original material to such an extent that unbiased and pure truth must intervene and free itself as well as the matter from these ghosts. Schleiermacher thinks that the disciples could not have asked, in any case, “What kind of man is this?” Well, is it purely impossible—since they already know what kind of man they are dealing with, if they wake Jesus up in the highest danger and cry out to him, “Lord, save us, we are perishing?” Do they not already know that he can command the storm and the sea when they beseech him for help? Of course! So they cannot marvel afterwards, when the Lord grants their request, in such a way as if they had not even suspected that this man possessed such great power. The contradiction remains and that fishing expedition sails off into the blue. The contradiction remains, initially in a different form, in Matthew’s account. When he says that Jesus got into the boat, he not only knows nothing about an intended fishing trip, but he also knows and says nothing about the interesting circumstance that besides the disciples, “strangers” also followed the Lord into the boat.

*) loc. cit. p. 127.


Only the disciples follow (v. 23), they are the ones who fear when the storm threatens, and they are the ones whom the Lord rebukes for being fearful and of little faith. So where do these strangers come from? Just as Schleiermacher, also in the apologetic interest, took offense at the disciples speaking of the Lord as if he were an unknown person or a stranger, with the words “What sort of man is this *)?”, from whom they did not expect such an exercise of power, and to remove this offense, Matthew has created those people at once, those people whom he strictly wants to distinguish from the disciples. According to Matthew’s later view, it stands that the Lord testified and proclaimed himself as the Messiah from the very beginning and that the disciples knew him as such from the beginning—so how could they speak of their master with this unfamiliarity: what kind of man is this?

*) V. 27: ποταπός εστιν ούτος, ότι. Mark 4, 41: τίς άρα ούτός έστιν, ότι, likewise Luke 8, 25.

Matthew, however, has, if we consider the original structure of the story, forcibly inserted those strangers, and Schleiermacher has been very cruel to his protégé this time, when he sacrificed him to the first Synoptist. According to both Luke and Mark, it is the disciples who become afraid and cry out in amazement, “What kind of man is this?” or rather, “Who is this?” According to their account, Jesus first calms the storm and then scolds the disciples, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” *) And if it immediately says after this, “And they were very afraid,” Luke adds (which Matthew, in turn, has kept alone because he inserted the strangers): “And they were amazed” and said to each other, “Who is this?” If the connection is so tight, are these strangers supposed to suddenly appear and say these words? Matthew, of course, has partly recognized the danger that his assumption poses in this context and has placed the accusation of lack of faith **) after the disciples’ request and only then, after reporting the calming of the storm, followed by the amazement of the people. But it does not help, since he has left the original account so unscathed that the strangers cannot find a place on the boat.

*) So according to Mark 4:40. According to Luke, who forms the middle ground here, namely the transition to Matthew’s view and assumes that the disciples had long since recognized Jesus as the Messiah (Chapter 8, verses): “Where is your faith?”

**) Τί δειλοί ἐστε, ὀλιγόπιστοι; He had to change and soften the accusation here: “Do you still have no faith?”


Now the contradiction that runs through the original account and resolves it as it formed! “Who is this?” the disciples say to each other, that even the winds and the sea obey him! So they still do not know Jesus as the Messiah, the miracle is unexpected to them, and they don’t know how to react in their surprise. Rightly so! If Jesus had not directly announced himself as the Messiah and was only recognized as such by the disciples later, then performing a miracle that would prove that the laws of the universe shrink and submit to his command would have made the disciples tremendously scared and ask “who is this?” This is in order, and even Mark has not been able to hide it in his fundamental view. But it seems as if the disciples already knew their master as the Messiah and as the almighty lord of the universe when they woke him up in danger and sought help from him. Although Mark did not shape their request as precisely as Matthew, who lets them explicitly plead for salvation from the danger – “Lord, save us, we are perishing!” – according to his account, they only draw their master’s attention to the danger they are in – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – this is also very beautiful and suitable for the assumption that they did not know Jesus as the Messiah yet. But when the Lord rebukes them for being fearful and having no faith after the stilling of the storm, the other assumption is expressed: he has already proven and announced himself as the Messiah so often and so clearly that they should have trusted him without fear, believing that he would grant them the necessary help at the right time. It would be going too far to say that one of the assumptions cancels out the other, and both must destroy each other mutually; rather, the one that agrees with the history, the assumption that the disciples did not immediately know their master as the Messiah, remains valid, and the other, according to which Jesus had clearly revealed himself as the Messiah, that they should have expected the greatest miracles from him, falls before it. With it falls the miracle that would have only existed in its place if the Lord had wanted to awaken a faith that was denied and rejected by his other assurances or the spiritual power of his personality through external force.


And if all the power of heaven and earth were united in one person and could overthrow all laws, they still could not do so if it were demanded of them, unless they wanted to justify an immoral relationship with nature and create the small-minded or rather unbelieving who dare to create a deadly collision with the law and reason of the universe from every individual natural event.


Let us not misunderstand! When we call the desire for an immediate suspension of the laws of nature immoral and unworthy, the evangelical view as such is not accused — but the charge of blasphemy against reason then hits the apologist all the more surely and dangerously. He is only concerned with the curious fact that the Lord commanded calm to the storm and sea among other things, while the evangelical view sees in the miracle the symbol and pledge of the helpful power with which the Lord protects his own in the storms of this world and, if destruction already seems inevitable, rescues them.

This is not the place to elaborate more extensively on the manifold forms in which the view of nature is intertwined with religious consciousness and how this interweaving changes from the lowest stage – from natural religion – up to the Christian religion, but in the change it essentially retains itself. Enough, religious consciousness must hold on to nature – the immediate existence of the spirit – at every stage because the dialectic of its spiritual determinations cannot be mediated through as purely spiritual, and therefore cannot be carried out as mediated recognition and overcoming of nature, but rather, since it should be viewed as finished here, in this massive immediacy, the calm expression of the spiritual is most clearly viewed or the superiority of the Absolute can be most clearly demonstrated. In the Christian community, religious consciousness has come the farthest in developing its content in a rational, i.e., in a general form, but it has not yet come so far that it could completely dispense with that immediate view of its principle in nature. It has not yet developed its content in true spiritual universality, and if it wants to assure itself of its principle in full vitality — to consider only the focal point — it must either view nature as its image and emblem — (I am the bread of life, etc.) — or finally go so far as to take nature as the symbol of its presence in itself for enjoyment, as in the sacrament. Moreover, it is absolutely essential to consider nature when the Christian wants to see in the life of his Lord the image and pledge for the victories that he should gain in the struggles of this world against the resistance of evil. Within the limits of his historical life, Jesus could not have fought all the hostile powers that threaten the believer; as the absolutely and abstractly “sinless” Savior, he certainly did not experience all the inner struggles that the believer has to face. Even when he really enters into conflict with the parties of his time, this seems to be the least satisfying, since this kind of proof is precisely the most personal, incidental affair of Jesus and seems to be accomplished if the scribes and Pharisees are “shut up” and the “woe” is called upon them. Finally, isn’t it always a contradiction to see the settlement of all, even the most general spiritual struggles, unrest and rifts in the historical experiences of a particular personality? In order to fill all these deficiencies and to eliminate these contradictions, the religious consciousness creates the world of miracles – a world in which the eternally identical, universally known and present nature is tamed and restrained, the same nature from which the religious spirit can most easily and understandably form its conflicts and take the symbols of its spiritual deficiencies and struggles. This world of miracles is immediately close to the religious spirit, for it is precisely against the natural barriers and sufferings that he is most sensitive. At the same time, it is distant from him as the world of the Absolute and is considered by him as the divine history, because the universality of the spirit appears in it immediately and proves itself as the unlimited power of the universe. Only here does faith believe to see the Lord in personal tension with evil when he fights death, disease, and the storms of nature with a single word. And only in these struggles does he see the pledge for the world-historical victories of the community, for the Lord who remains calm and unshaken in all these struggles, who sleeps during the storm and walks away from the battlefield without looking back or making a fuss about his actions, is the absolute Lord who stands by his own until the end of world history, until the creation of a new nature.


After all this, it will be understandable to everyone that we do not engage in the paltry question of whether the present account has any historical basis and whether Jesus perhaps once reproached the disciples for their cowardice during a storm. The whole, as it stands, is purely and solely a product of the ideal world of the religious consciousness, “a child of faith.” The idea is Christian—the material, in part, Old Testament. Jehovah also commanded the sea *), Moses did it at God’s command: the Messiah does it in his own divine power. But the idea remains Christian—for Jewish consciousness, the struggle with nature as such has exclusive interest, it is a historical, once and for all settled struggle, which is preserved as a purely past event in memory, while for Christian consciousness it is the symbol for the world-historical struggles of the community and for the victories of their Lord.

*) Psalm 106:9: “He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry; he led them through the depths as through a desert.”

Now the contradictions of the original report become clear. Jesus reproaches the disciples for not having firmly trusted that in his community the waves would not come crashing down on their heads: that was said for the believers who are seized by the storms of the world. To the disciples’ words “Do you not care that we are perishing?” is the faithful expectation of help according to Mark’s account, but it had to pass because the believers had to be taught where to seek help. Finally, at the end, the disciples had to speak as if Jesus, as this miracle worker, had been unknown to them until then, since Mark could not completely suppress and conceal the historical circumstance that the disciples had not recognized the Lord as the Messiah so soon. Matthew, on the other hand, only knows the ideal world, so the conclusion in his predecessor’s account must have been disturbing and annoying to him, and since he could not suppress it as the conclusion—the impression of the miracle on the surroundings is reported, after all—he suddenly brings strangers onto the ship so that in their mouths that amazed exclamation would be less objectionable.



A Common Origin – One Wonders

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by Neil Godfrey

An interesting observation in an ancient history publication:

In Babylonia demons hostile to the cult became subject to exorcism, a rite which from the earliest times was regarded as something communal. Some exorcisms were directed against storm demons, and one wonders whether behind the ‘Odyssey’ incident of the bag of winds given by Aiolos and Jesus’ command on the sea of Galilee ordering the winds to cease, there is not a common origin, the belief that winds were demons, capable of obeying human commands or being bound by magic. (The sea also as associated with evil is a characteristic Old Testament and even New Testament theme.) The Mycenaean Linear B tablets give evidence that the Mycenaeans worshipped the winds. A cult to Boreas existed in classical times at Athens. But winds would be gods in much the sense that streams, mountains, woods, etc. had gods, with less of a link between demons and winds than existed in the Orient. Another remnant among the Greeks might be the Siren passage of the ‘Odyssey’, where a daimon quells the winds just as Odysseus and his men are to pass the Sirens (12.169).

That’s from

  • Brenk, Frederick C. “In the Light of the Moon: Demonology in the Early Imperial Period.” Aufstieg Und Niedergang Der Römischen Welt 16, no. 3 (1986): 2068–2145.
Aeolus Giving the Winds to Odysseus by Isaac Moillon


From Hermes to Yahweh

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by Neil Godfrey

  We know the story of Elisha retrieving the iron axe head by having it float to the surface of a river. It is in 2 Kings 6:1-7:

The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.”

And he said, “Go.”

Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?”

“I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them.

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water.

“Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”

The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?”

When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float.

“Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

Back in 1997 Yaaqov Kupitz drew attention to the similarity of the biblical story with one of Aesop’s fables:

In the Second Book of Kings (Kings II. 6: 4-7), a man is cutting down a tree on the banks of the Jordan to build a shelter when the iron blade (Hebrew barzel) of his axe falls into the water. He asks for help and Elisha, “the man of God”, throws a piece of wood into the river and the blade, literally the “iron”, begins to float. This miracle is in fact a fable by Aesop, Hermes and the woodcutter. A man is cutting down a tree on the bank of a river when his axe (Pélékoun in Greek) falls into the water. The man sits down and weeps. Hermes, the god of discovery, hears his cries, dives in three times and successively brings up a golden axe, a silver one and the original iron one. The woodcutter then retrieves his, ignoring the other two. Note that there is a moral to this story, whereas Kings only lists Elisha’s miracles. In the Book of Kings, the axe is metonymized by the material of its blade, iron, and the Greek sidéro, ‘iron’, can also mean ‘axe’…

Kupitz, Yaaqov S. “La Bible Est-Elle Un Plagiat?” Sciences et Avenir 86, no. Hors-Série (December 1997): 84.

Kupitz’s ideas were a special inspiration for Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert, a work discussed on this blog at various times. (Thanks to Russell Gmirkin for mentioning Kupitz in a recent comment and reminding me and bringing K’s 1997 article to my attention.)

The fable from Handford’s translation.

A man who was cutting wood on a riverside lost his axe in the water. There was no help for it; so he sat down on the bank and began to cry. Hermes appeared and inquired what was the matter. Feeling sorry for the man, he dived into the river, brought up a gold axe, and asked him if that was the one he had lost. When the woodcutter said that it was not, Hermes dived again and fetched up a silver one. The man said that was not his either. So he went down a third time and came up with the woodcutter’s own axe. ‘That’s the right one,’ he said; and Hermes was so delighted with his honesty that he made him a present of the other two axes as well. When the wood-man rejoined his mates and told them his experience, one of them thought he would bring off a similar coup. He went to the river, deliberately threw his axe into it, and then sat down and wept. Hermes appeared again; and on hearing the cause of his tears, he dived in, produced a gold axe as before, and asked if it was the one that had been lost. ‘Yes, it is indeed,’ the man joyfully exclaimed. The god was so shocked at his unblushing impudence, that, far from giving him the gold axe, he did not even restore his own to him.

The biblical account involves a God who, unlike Hermes, is not a trickster out to tempt and deceive mortals (at least not in the Elisha tale). Nor is the figure who loses the axe head threatened by the loss of his means of livelihood. Rather, the biblical tale is about a righteous disciple of the prophet. His work is a work of righteousness, a work for the benefit of the community of Elisha’s followers. The loss of the axe head means the workman is unable to fulfil a righteous act in returning a valued and necessary borrowed item.

The biblical account is about a god who would be embarrassed by the shenanigans of Hermes in the fable. Plato condemned the immoral and inconstant character of Greek gods. Yes, Hermes is in a sense righteous in the fable: but he is clearly going about the testing of the human’s character in a deceptive way. For the fable to “translate” to a tale involving a biblical deity and his righteous disciples, it must be shed of its deception. A simple, no-nonsense restoration of the “daily needs” of the servants of God is all that is required. The change has been so effective that many devout readers through the ages have interpreted the straightforward and staid tone of biblical miracles as evidence of their historical reality.

. . .

Here’s an older illustration. Interesting to contrast modern perspectives of how gods are portrayed for children:




Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #5

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by Neil Godfrey

I have taken time out to track down and catch up with several of the French works that Charbonnel cites and that has a bit to do with the long time between the last post in this series and this one.

It’s been too long since I visited our French scholars of the Bible so here I continue with part 5 of Nanine Charbonnel’s table setting out the “Old Testament” sources of the Gospel narratives. In Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier Charbonnel is presenting a case for the gospel figure of Jesus Christ being created entirely from a form of “midrashic” type composition in which diverse scriptural texts are woven together into a new story to meet new community needs.

The table below is my own adaptation of Charbonnel’s French-language multi-page table, with a few slight editorial changes and my own translations and summaries.

The work of checking every scriptural reference (they are all hyperlinked for you to check them easily too) has impressed upon me just how totally the gospels are very likely pastiches of Jewish scriptures and some non-canonical writings. There appears to be nothing left over requiring explanation as if from any other source. Jesus walking on water was not an exaggerated retelling of a biographical event where Jesus happened to be walking on a sandbank (as some have said); nor were the healing miracles exaggerations of some real-life psychological power Jesus had over those with ailments. . . . they, everything, was written as a renewal of a sacred saying or scripture. Nor is there anything new about the teaching of Jesus: everything he is narrated as having taught is a re-writing of Scriptural or proverbial teachings of the time of the evangelists.

Jesus is created as a new voice and representative of a new Israel. The kingdom of God has come, the promises have been fulfilled in Jesus. Nations, gentiles and Jews, are now one in Him. The gospels are written, surely, as a new set of scriptures through which the old are to be interpreted anew.

There is no historical person of Jesus behind the narrative. If there had been then there would be some indication of a real person that the narrative had to adapt somehow to scriptures. What we find instead, however, is a figure entirely, entirely, made up of scriptures. Scriptural rewriting is the warp and woof of what he does, what happens to him, and what he says and teaches.

Here we look at the Jewish Scripture sources for:

a. the calling of disciples and sending them out to preach

b. teachings of Jesus – to both Jews and gentiles

c. miracles of Jesus – to both Jews and gentiles

d. the fate of John the Baptist and the beginnings of the rejection of Jesus

Continue reading “Gospels Cut from Jewish Scriptures, #5”


Review, part 10b. Why Jesus’ Miracles Appear Historically Natural (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)

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by Neil Godfrey

I am continuing my discussion of M. David Litwa’s book, How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths, in the light of my two recent posts* that theorize why Greco-Roman myths were so believable and why it was widely accepted that divine heroes and gods had even acted on earth in historical, even contemporary, times**.

Litwa makes an interesting claim:

It was a historical judgment that in the so-called heroic age, men were bigger, faster, and stronger than people are today. They were also more pious, which earned them the right of dining with deities and even (as in the case of Heracles) being changed into them. Today one can label the heroic age a “mythic” one, but for the Greeks it was a real time in the past that gradually melted into our own time with its known dates and calendars.10

(Litwa, p. 137)

Endnote 10 is to Pausanias, 8.2.4, which I quote:

I for my part believe this story; it has been a legend among the Arcadians from of old, and it has the additional merit of probability. For the men of those days, because of their righteousness and piety, were guests of the gods, eating at the same board; the good were openly honored by the gods, and sinners were openly visited with their wrath. Nay, in those days men were changed to gods, who down to the present day have honors paid to them – Aristaeus, Britomartis of Crete, Heracles the son of Alcmena, Amphiaraus the son of Oicles, and besides these Polydeuces and Castor.

Pausanias. 2014. Complete Works of Pausanias. Delphi Classics. 8.2.4
What story is it that Pausanias claimed to believe?

For Cecrops was the first to name Zeus the Supreme god, and refused to sacrifice anything that had life in it, but burnt instead on the altar the national cakes which the Athenians still call pelanoi. But Lycaon brought a human baby to the altar of Lycaean Zeus, and sacrificed it, pouring out its blood upon the altar, and according to the legend immediately after the sacrifice he was changed from a man to a wolf (Lycos).

Pausanias, 8.2.3

Despite Litwa’s wording (“it was a real time in the past that gradually melted into our time”) it is evident that he is relegating the age of mythical heroes and gods on earth to the remote past. But we have seen that though some things changed (the monsters were cleansed from the earth, for instance) those figures were widely believed by the “common people” (as distinct from the highly educated and literate elite) to have had recent, and even contemporary, appearances on earth among mortals.

What is interesting is Litwa’s next two paragraphs because they fit so neatly into Sarah Iles Johnston’s explanation for why Greek myths were so “real” and easy to believe: Continue reading “Review, part 10b. Why Jesus’ Miracles Appear Historically Natural (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)”


Review, parts 9 and 10a. Jesus as Lawgiver and Miracle Worker (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)

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by Neil Godfrey

In chapter 9 M. David Litwa sets the Jesus narrative, specifically as told in the Gospel of Matthew, in the context of literary tropes surrounding ancient lawgivers.

Solon of Athens: See his life by Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius

Lycurgus of Sparta: See his life by Plutarch and Herodotus

Numa of Rome: See Plutarch

Zoroaster of Persia: See Internet Archive

Minos of Crete: See Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

Charondas of Sicily: See Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Zaleucus of southern Italy: See Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

Mneves (Menas) of Egypt: See Diodorus Siculus (scroll down to para 94)

Zalmoxis (Salmoxis) of Thrace: See Herodotus and Strabo (scroll down to paras 39-40)

And, of course, not forgetting . . .

Moses: See Philo, parts 1 and 2; Josephus; Hecataeus; Artapanus

It seems more likely that Jesus was thought to have a coherent “message’ only after his death and so we have several different creations of it. . . .

[E]ither Q, Thomas, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and, for that matter, John did not know clearly what Jesus’ teachings were; or they didn’t care; or that they did know but disagreed with him so that they revised what he taught into something else; or that they did know what were said to be his teachings, did not trust those reports, and revised accordingly. Something odd is going on here. . . . .

When Sanders, standing in here for nearly all Jesus research scholars, says, “I do not doubt that he was a great and challenging teacher,” I am baffled. Mark doubts it (4:10-12, 8:17-21), neither Paul nor John pay any significant attention to those teachings, Luke cares little about the matter (taking Acts as representative of Luke’s bottom-line assessment). Scholarship, theological and historical both, is in a state of near conceptual chaos regarding the message of Jesus the Teacher: countercultural wisdom sage, peasant Jewish Cynic, Pharisaic rabbi, antipatriarchal communalist, eschatological preacher? If he had a coherent message and neither we nor his known near contemporaries know for sure what it was, he ought not to be thought, first and foremost, to have been a great and challenging teacher.

(Davies, Jesus the Healer, 12 f)

A few scholars (I’m thinking of Stevan Davies) even question the extent to which Jesus should be thought of as a teacher, or at least they draw attention to the doubts they have that we can even know what he taught.

Rewriting a biblical miracle for a gentile audience

Chapter 10 on the narratives of Jesus as a miracle worker I found of more interest, perhaps because this aspect of Jesus is covered in all four gospels.

Here Litwa’s philosophical introduction on the nature of miracles is too embedded in apologetics for my taste. He prefers to think of “inexplicable” events and repeats the apologetic argument that plausibility is culturally determined, that everything follows a law of nature as determined by God but that some of these divinely created laws or events we simply don’t yet understand. He writes

In the ancient world, plausible miracles could parade as historical; implausible ones were often labeled “mythical” (mythodes).

(Litwa, 136)

The first example of a “plausible miracle” raises problematic questions when it comes to how we are meant to understand Jesus’ miracles, however. According to Litwa’s reading Josephus used the “miracle” of Alexander’s crossing of the Pamphyialn Sea as a precedent that gave credibility to the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.

The story that the Pamphylian Sea receded before Alexander’s army, however, was apparently credited. According to historical report, Alexander’s entire army in all their heavy equipment passed through a sea channel that would have normally drowned them. This account was first told by Callisthenes of Olynthus, official historian of Alexander’s campaign and an apparent eyewitness of the event. Callisthenes assimilated Alexander to Poseidon by writing that the Pamphylian Sea “did not fail to recognize its lord, so that arching itself and bowing, it seemed to do obeisance [to Alexander].”5

Josephus mentioned the Pamphylian Sea miracle to make plausible his historiographical account of Moses parting the Red Sea.6 He knew that qualified and respected historians presented Alexander’s sea miracle as historiography.7 He even remarked that “all” historians agreed that the sea made a path for Alexander’s army.8 Thus Josephus felt justified in presenting his own (Jewish) sea miracle as an actual event in the past.

(Litwa, 136)

But there’s a but. Josephus changed the story as found in the Book of Exodus so it read more like a rare and coincidental natural event like the account of Alexander’s crossing. Here is Exodus 14:21-25 Continue reading “Review, parts 9 and 10a. Jesus as Lawgiver and Miracle Worker (Litwa: How the Gospels Became History)”


Miracles with Multiple Jewish and Roman Eyewitnesses

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by Neil Godfrey

Gillis, Marcel; The Angels of Mons; Atkinson Art Gallery Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-angels-of-mons-65958

If we accept the common dating of Josephus’s account of the Jewish War, around 75 CE, then consider what this means for the historicity of the following events. Apply the reasoning of those who argue for the historicity of New Testament miracles. Josephus declares he is recording events no more than ten years earlier and he speaks of eyewitnesses.

First a star stood over the City, very like a broadsword, and a comet that remained a whole year.

Then before the revolt and the movement to war, while the people were assembling for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the 8th of Xanthicos at three in the morning so bright a light shone round the Altar and the Sanctuary that it might have been midday. This lasted half an hour. The inexperienced took it for a good omen, but the sacred scribes at once gave an interpretation which the event proved right.

During the same feast a cow brought by someone to be sacrificed gave birth to a lamb in the middle of the Temple courts,

while at midnight it was observed that the East Gate of the Inner Sanctuary had opened of its own accord – a gate made of bronze and so solid that every evening twenty strong men were required to shut it, fastened with iron-bound bars and secured by bolts which were lowered a long way into a threshold fashioned from a single slab of stone. The temple-guards ran with the news to the Captain, who came up and by a great effort managed to shut it. This like the other seemed to the laity to be the best of omens . . . .

A few days after the Feast, on the 21st of Artemisios, a supernatural apparition was seen, too amazing to be believed. What I have to relate would, I suppose, have been dismissed as an invention had it not been vouched for by eyewitnesses and followed by disasters that bore out the signs. Before sunset there were seen in the sky over the whole country, chariots and regiments in arms speeding through the clouds and encircling the towns.

Again, at the Feast of Pentecost, when the priests had gone into the Inner Temple at night to perform the usual ceremonies, they declared that they were aware, first of a violent movement and a loud crash, then of a concerted cry: ‘Let us go hence.’

(Josephus, Jewish War, 6)

A star “over a city” is as nonsensical to us as a star positioned over the house where Jesus was found. And comets do not stay around for a full year. But how could Josephus get away with writing such things within ten years of them supposedly happening unless they were true and could not be contradicted by eyewitnesses, both Roman and Jewish?

Josephus further tells us that priests saw and interpreted the signs and priests would hardly lie. They were, after all, attempting to tell the masses that what they had seen should be interpreted as a sign from God carrying a different message.

If the cow giving birth to a lamb had been said to have happened in a cowshed or behind an outhouse then we could dismiss it easily enough. But how could Josephus expect to get away with saying it happened right in the middle of the Temple courts? Surely there were scores of eyewitnesses.

As for the appearance of angelic armies in the sky being confirmed by eyewitnesses, we can well believe it. We know the same type of event was recorded but a mere month after the battle at Mons in 1914: see the Angels of Mons.



Stories of Walking on Water — Looking for Sources

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by Neil Godfrey

In The History of the Synoptic Tradition by Rudolf Bultmann there is the following passage beginning page 236. But there’s a catch. I have not had the opportunity to track down any of the references I have cast in bold type — removing the bold as we locate them as per the comments. If you happen to be a person with an opportunity to identify any of those bolded references and point to where I can locate/read/translate them you are more than welcome to share that information in the comments section below.

Dio Chrysostom: “Socrates,” said he, “you know perfectly well that of all men under the sun that man is most powerful and in might no whit inferior to the gods themselves who is able to accomplish the seemingly impossible — if it should be his will, to have men walk dryshod over the sea, to sail over the mountains, to drain rivers dry by drinking — or have you not heard that Xerxes, the king of the Persians, made of the dry land a sea by cutting through the loftiest of the mountains and separating Athos from the mainland, and that he led his infantry through the sea, riding upon a chariot just like Poseidon in Homer’s description? And perhaps in the same way the dolphins and the monsters of the deep swam under his raft as the king drove along.”

There must also have been stories of walking on water in Hellenism. Admittedly it is hyperbole when Dio Chrysost. speaks of the power of Xerxes, that when he so wishes he is able πεζεύεσθαι μέν την θάλατταν, πλεϊσθαι δέ τά δρη. But the capacity to do so is often attributed to demons. P. Berol., I, 120 thus describes the power of the δαίμων πάρεδρος: πήξει δέ ποταμούς καί θάλασσα[ν συντ]όμως(?) καί οπως ένδιατρέχης (Reitzenstein, Hellenist. Wundererzaehlungen, p. 125). Also A. Dieterich, Abraxas, p. 190, 13: εγώ είμι ό έν ούρανω σχολήν έχων φοιτώμενός τε έν ύδατι, and on another tablet (Rhein. Mus., 55, 261, cp. 264): qui solus per mare transis. But according to Lucian, Philops., 13 the same things are reported of human wonder workers: είδες . . . τόν Ύπερβόρεον άνδρα πετάμενον ή έπ’ι τοϋ ϋδατος βεβηκότα. Further material may be found in A. Gercke, Jahrb. f . Philol. Suppl. X X II, 1895, pp. 205ff.; A. Abt, ‘Die Apologie des Apuleius von Madaura und die antike Zauberei’, Religionsgesch. Vers, u. Vorarb., IV, 2, 1908, pp. 129, 2. We may add from the Christian tradition: Hist. Aegypti monachorum XI, 18, p. 58; cp. XX, 16, p. 75, Preuschen; Ps. Cypr., Confess., 12.1 Indian parallels also come up for consideration in this regard, and there are stories of walking or flying over the water, which could even have influenced Hellenistic literature: cp. R. Garbe, Indien und das Christentum, 1914, pp. 57f. Most notable is a Buddhist parallel to Matt. 14 28-31 (the text is in J. Aufhauser, Jesus und Buddha, Kl. Texte, no. 157, p. 12). It tells of a disciple ‘who wanted to visit Buddha one evening and on his way found that the ferry boat was missing from the bank of the river Aciravati. In faithful trust in Buddha he stepped on to the water and went as if on dry land to the very middle of the stream. Then he came out of his contented meditation on Buddha in which he had lost himself, and saw the waves and was frightened, and his feet began to sink. But he forced himself to become wrapt in his meditation again and by its power he reached the far bank safely and reached his master.’ (Garbe, pp. 56f. and Buddhist. Maerchen, pp. 46f.) Garbe thinks that the gospel story was borrowed from the Buddhist tradition.2

Jesus Walking on Water
Jesus Walking on Water (Ivan Aivazovsky)

1 In the language of Christian edification this miracle motif may have attained a symbolic significance and the walking on the water become the treading of the mythical waters of death, which Christ and his mystic followers achieve. Cp. Dibelius (Formgeschichte, p. 86) who adduces Od. Sol. 39: ‘He walked and went over them on foot, and his footprints stayed on the water and were not obliterated. . . . And a path was prepared for those who followed him.’ What the relation of Mand. Ginza R., II, 1, pp. 4ggf. Lidzb. is to this (Christ the seducer says, ‘I walk over the water, Come with me; you shall not drown’) can well be left undecided here.

2 Cp. W. Brown, The Indian and Christian Miracles of Walking on the Water, 1928. Saintyves, who again traces these stories to cultic origins (initiation rites) amasses a wealth of material, [P. Saintyves,  Essais de Folklore Biblique, 1923], pp. 307-63. Cp. also Indianermaerchen aus Nordamerika, p. 31; Turkestan. Maerchen, p. 69; Muellenhoff, Sagen, etc., p. 351.

I did locate the reference to Brown, Indian and Christian Miracles… — it is available on archive.org –  http://archive.org/details/MN40274ucmf_2

Bultmann, Rudolf Karl. 1963. The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Dio Chrysostom. n.d. “Discourse 3.” LacusCurtius. Accessed March 13, 2019. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dio_Chrysostom/Discourses/3*.html#ref11.


“In Most Worlds, You Don’t Even Exist” — Miracles and Probability

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by Tim Widowfield

Jesus Walking on Water
Jesus Walking on Water (Ivan Aivazovsky)

Recently, while watching our favorite apoplectic antimythicist discuss “The Case of the Historical Jesus,” something the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature said caught my ear. Here’s what he said:

Historians tend to discount miracle claims and those kinds of things right off the bat, because even if they were to investigate them, the things that people call miracles tend to be things that are inherently improbable . . . But talking about things like walking on water, turning water into wine — most historians won’t even bother discussing those things, because the most a historian ever does is say something is probable. And a historian is never going to tell you that something inherently improbable is probable. And so those kinds of things can be set aside from the outset. (James McGrath, 2016)

Actually, two things drew my attention here. The first is the term inherently improbable, and the second is the claim that historians set aside miracle claims.

Inherently improbable

If you search among books, articles, and academic papers, you’ll find the term inherently improbable used quite frequently in the sciences, liberal arts, religious studies, and the law. But in philosophy (especially logic), you’ll also find people writing about it with some ambivalence.

What exactly do we mean by inherent probability? In his book, Acceptable Premises: An Epistemic Approach to an Informal Logic Problem, James Freeman cites John Nolt’s definition. Continue reading ““In Most Worlds, You Don’t Even Exist” — Miracles and Probability”


Why were Jesus’ miracles told “plainly” in the Bible but “fancifully” in the Apocryphal Gospels?

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by Neil Godfrey

One common argument of Christian apologists — both lay and scholarly — in favour of the Gospel accounts being based on “authentic” historical traditions and written by authors motivated by, or limited to, telling “the truth” as they understood it, is that the miracles of Jesus are told “plainly”, “matter-of-factly”, without any garish flourish. Miracles of Jesus in the much later “apocryphal gospels”, on the other hand, are rightly said to be told quite differently and with much embellishment that serves to impress readers with the wonder and awesomeness of Jesus’ power.

The difference, we are often told, is testimony to the historical basis of the Gospel record.

I used to respond to this challenge with a dot-point list of miracle types. What? Are you really suggesting that walking on water or stilling a storm or rising from the dead are not “fanciful” acts?

But I was trying to kid myself to some extent. Of course they are fanciful, but being fanciful in that sense is the very definition of a miracle, however it is told.

The point the apologist makes is not that miracles are indeed miraculous, but that the Bible relates them most simply and matter-of-factly quite unlike the presentations of miracles we read in the apocryphal gospels.

Read the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and one quickly comes face to face with an infant from a horror movie. A child strikes mockers dead on the spot for mocking. His art-work steps out into reality and disbelievers are struck dead or blinded with no thought of asking questions later.

And the Gospel of Peter knows how to narrate a resurrection. None of this “Joseph sealed the tomb and they all went off to keep the sabbath and by the time Sunday-morning came around . . . .”. Nope. Let’s have Jesus emerge from the tomb with guards being awakened and rushing to call their commander to witness the spectacle, and great angels descending and re-ascending with their charge fastened between them and his head exalted through the clouds, all accompanied by a great voice from heaven and responses from below . . . . Now that’s a resurrection scene!

There is a difference in tone between the miracles of Jesus in the canonical gospels and those found in their apocryphal counterparts.

The apologist — even the scholarly one as I mentioned above — jumps on this difference as evidence that the “plain and simple” narration of the gospels is evidence of intent to convey downright facts.

Unfortunately, this conclusion is evidence of nothing more profound than the propensity of the faithful to fall into the fallacy of “the false dichotomy“. Continue reading “Why were Jesus’ miracles told “plainly” in the Bible but “fancifully” in the Apocryphal Gospels?”


Miracles and Historical Method

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by Tim Widowfield

Is the sun a ball of dung?

Unknown species of Aphodius (Dung-beetle).
Image via Wikipedia

The ancient Egyptians believed that Kephri, a god with the head of a sacred scarab, pushed the sun along its path, just as the dung beetle pushes a ball of dung across the ground. They were convinced that the beetle existed in male form only, and reproduced by fertilizing its dung ball with beetle semen. This life-giving attribute relates to Kephri’s ability to resurrect the sun each morning.

The irrational anti-supernaturalist would dismiss these beliefs out of hand, while the credulous, unlearned person might simply accept them without question. But the reasonable, wise, modern scholar takes the middle road and declares, “How do I know? Neither the scientific method nor the historical-critical method can account for miracles.”

Methodological Naturalism

We call this perspective “methodological naturalism.” It skirts the issue of whether the world in reality is affected by supernatural forces. Rather, it asserts that having only naturalistic tools in our bag, the only things we can measure and be sure of from a scientific standpoint are natural phenomena. We don’t assert radical materialism; we just operate that way.

But let’s be honest. We’re not talking about just any supernatural forces. Egyptologists don’t have to calm down their students by telling them “we’re just not sure” about how the sun moves and whether dung beetles have no wives. No, we invoke methodological naturalism only when existing religions with existing beliefs in the supernatural intersect with historical studies.

We don’t do it for other ancient gods and defunct ancient religions. We don’t do it in modern forensic science. We don’t do it in scientific research. We only do it when we look at ancient texts that are revered by modern people.

If we don’t drill a hole in your head, then how will the demon get out?

Close-Up: Trepanning in Neolithic times
Close-Up: Trepanning in Neolithic times (Photo credit: NeuroWhoa)

Many conservative scholars (e.g., Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd) argue strongly for a new “Open Historical-Critical Method,” wherein we give our ancient “witnesses” the benefit of the doubt when it comes to little things like the resurrection of the dead, but surely they do not also argue for an “Open Theory of Disease.”

Maybe you have a chemical imbalance, or maybe you have a demon. Perhaps you have cataracts, but let’s leave open the possibility of some supernatural creature that’s living inside your eyes.

They wouldn’t argue that, would they? I mean, this is the 21st century, right?

Right? Guys? Continue reading “Miracles and Historical Method”


Why Jesus healed the leper in anger — another explanation?

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by Neil Godfrey

The second healing miracle in the Gospel of Mark was that of the leper.

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with anger (orgistheis), put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. (Mark 1:40-41)

Most Bible translations follow manuscripts that read splanchistheis, meaning compassion, in place of orgistheis (anger) for obvious reasons. But the authors of Matthew and Luke who copied Mark here omit this word, strongly suggesting that what they found in the original also sounded offensive to them.

And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.  And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2-3)

I don’t think the Gospel of Mark was written in some sort of relationship with Marcionism.  But a comment about the motives for Jesus healing people that I came across in Sebastian Moll’s The Arch-Heretic Marcion cannot avoid opening up the question of what might have been behind Mark’s original text.

Moll writes that Jesus healed not so much to help mankind but in order to thumb his nose at the Creator God. (Marcion taught that Jesus came from an Alien God who was all good, a higher God than the Creator God.) He came to defy the creator God who owned mankind and to purchase humans from that god in order to belong to the Good God.

Many parts of Tertullian’s discussion of Marcion’s Gospel demonstrate this. When we consider Christ’s attitude towards the Sabbath for example (Lk. 6:1-11), Marcion believed that Christ attacked the Sabbath “out of hatred” (odio). We can detect a similar notion in the story of the healing of the leper (Lk. 5:12-14). Not with one word does Tertullian mention Christ’s healing of the leper as an act of love or goodness in Marcion’s view. The reason [Marcion] treated this matter “with special attention” (attentius) was rather his wish to emphasise that Christ performed this healing as someone who is “hostile to the Law” (aemulus legis). The term aemulus is particularly interesting in this context, for it is exactly the emotion of aeumulatio (jealousy/resentment) which the Marcionites attribute . . . to the Creator. (pp. 67-8)

As I said, I cannot find any reason to attribute Mark’s gospel to any sort of dialogue with Marcion, but the coincidence of Mark here attributing the attitude of Jesus toward healing as was taught by Marcion is interesting.





Why Matthew changed the way Mark wrote about Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman

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by Neil Godfrey

(Edited with additional headings and discussion of the different kinds of Jesus portrayed - an hour after original posting.)
(Again edited 8 Dec 2011)
Ressurection of Jairus' daughter
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As someone rightfully said in relation to my earlier post on this theme, Matthew’s “Misunderstanding” of Mark’s Miracle Stories,

It’s interesting what you can discover when you closely compare the two. Nothing beats a close reading of the texts.

In the discussion following a recent post the question was raised why Matthew lacks Mark’s reference to Jairus being a synagogue ruler. (He also omits the name Jairus).

I don’t know if I have a definitive answer to that particular question, but in searching for possible explanations I did notice a number of other interesting differences between the two miracle narratives that indicate quite different agendas of the two authors. One detects not an interest in recording historical detail but in creating a Jesus who fulfils certain quite different expectations and narrative functions. (This is a tendency well known to historical Jesus scholars. But the implication for historicism or mythicism is a separate question from what I am addressing here. I am interested in understanding the nature of the Gospels more fully, in this instance by comparing the way two of them treat a particular narrative.) Continue reading “Why Matthew changed the way Mark wrote about Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman”