comparison

There are two very different Nativity stories

The “Nativity Story” we are so familiar with is really two separate stories that have been woven together to make a “third.”

When you look at each tale individually you will note that both are rather different, containing mostly unique elements that are not shared by the other. In fact, many (but certainly not all) academic biblical scholars would argue that they are so different they are impossible to reconcile.

It is because of differences like these that Raymond Brown, a leading Catholic New Testament scholar admits that of the options we have, “one must be ruled out… [that is] that both accounts are completely historical.1

Why is this the case? E. P. Sanders, a widely respected New Testament scholar says this is because “on many points, especially about Jesus’ early life, the evangelists were ignorant… they simply did not know, and, guided by rumor, hope or supposition, did the best they could.2
nativity comparison

 

 

1. Brown, Raymond, ‘The Birth of The Messiah,’ p 25

2. W.D Davies and E. P. Sanders, ‘Jesus from the Jewish point of view’, in The Cambridge History of Judaism ed William Horbury, vol 3: the Early Roman Period, 1984.

 

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Did Jesus ask to be saved from the cross? Inconsistency in the Gospels?

There are many thematic differences between the Synoptic gospels (Mark, Mat, Luke) vs John’s Gospel. Seeing as Johns Gospel was the last one to be written, scholars say about 30-50 years after Marks, these differences serve as examples of the type doctrinal development during this gap.

One of these examples is the depiction of Jesus, the Synoptics show his humanity in that he prays for God to save him from the cross, while in John’s Gospel the divinity and might of Jesus is emphasized, thus this prayer-of-weakness is completely missing, and instead there is an earlier declaration that he wont ask to be saved from the suffering.

Jesus prayed to avoid crucifixion

There are other differences that illustrate this same theme:

  • In the Synoptics Jesus is depicted as saying “your will, not mine” which shows two conflicting wills. In John, this conflict of will is wholly absent, Jesus never says his own will is to avoid the suffering.
  • In the Synoptics Jesus is visibly grieved and in anguish, to the point of sweating blood, in John he is carefully composed.
  • In the Synoptics Jesus is quietly arrested, in John his voice knocks down everyone around him.
  • In the Synoptics the disciples repeatedly fall asleep, in John their sleepiness is absent.

Regarding the original point, there are two options

  • 1. Both events happened. (a) Jesus said he would not pray to avoid his death, and (b) he then did pray this way, if only for a bit before submitting. The Synoptics write about B but avoid A. John does the opposite, avoids B and writes A. In this case, the Synoptics vs John *still* purposefully depict two very different portraits of Jesus, and this “theological intent” is fascinating. In addition this raises the theological question about Jesus’ divinity, could Jesus make mistakes? Could he confidently assert that he would not fail X and then fail X?

    2. Both did not happen. In this case, Johns gospel by virtue of its lateness would be the embellishment that shows a less human version of Jesus.

Why didn’t God give the perfect law of love from the very beginning?

Why would God give the Old Testament Law with its harsh and nonsensical rules that allowed slavery, mysogeny, violence, bloody ritual and more? Why not give the perfect law of love from the very beginning? Why make such a drastic change later on?

If the main point was to speak to a culture in it’s own language, doesn’t that mean God accommodated his law based on human culture?

Instead of saying “slavery is wrong, no matter what” he caved in and allowed slavery because “humans were going to do it anyway.” That is like God allowing homosexuality, because that is the language of our culture.

If the main point was to show the terrible consequences for sin, how is it helpful to show the tragic effect of one behavior by encouraging many more brutal and violent behaviors? How is it helpful to give allowance for men to marry their kidnapped victim to show that sin is bad?

Psalm 104 is almost a duplicate of the Egyptian Hymn to Aten

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On the wall of a 14th century BCE tomb in Egypt archaeologists found a beautiful hymn to the god Aten. What is really strange is that the Pharaoh Akhenaten (1352-1336) who lived in an era when everyone believed in many gods, chose to believe in only one, Aten. In fact, many scholars have argued that Pharaoh Akhenaten is the earliest documented example of a monotheist in history, though others argue that he was a henotheist (thought many gods existed, but chose to worship only one.)

What’s really curious about the Great Hymn to the Aten is that it closely mirrors Psalm 104 in the Hebrew Bible as a song of praise to the creator, though written hundreds of years before. Biblical scholars and historians disagree as to whether these two hymns are actually related by way of influencing one another, or whether both were independently written. In any case, the similarities are fascinating.