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Christianity: A New Type of Myth - Part 2

By Michael Sherlock ~

Change Over Time Continued

We have, as a result of various socio-political factors, only four official sources for the myths surrounding the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Four pseudepigraphical (falsely named) works called; The Gospel According to Mark, which the majority of modern scholars agree, was the earliest of the four(9). The Gospel According to Matthew, The Gospel According to Luke, and The Gospel According to John. These are our primary sources for the myths surrounding the alleged life of Jesus Christ. Being this is the case, we need to examine the origins and development of these manuscripts, to ascertain whether or not the Christian myths have changed over time. How were the stories in these Gospels originally transmitted? Who told them? And where can we find evidence of change over time? These are the issues we need to address.

According to Professor of New Testament Studies, Bart D. Ehrman, the Gospels were originally written well after the date of the alleged events they describe. For decades, the stories contained within these Gospels were transmitted via oral tradition, that is, by word of mouth. In his popular book, Jesus Interrupted, he says:

The first step is to get a better handle on how the Gospel writers got their stories. If they were living three to six decades after the events they narrate, what were their sources of information? The short answer is that the Gospel writers received most of their information from the oral tradition, stories that had been in circulation about Jesus by word of mouth from the time he died until the time the Gospel writers wrote them down. (10)

Further, theologians, Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, in their book, "Lord or Legend," add:

First-century Jewish culture was what scholars today would call an orally dominant culture. While a certain percentage of people could read and write (see below), information was for the most part passed on by word of mouth (and even written texts tended to use "oral-like" techniques of expression). This is why scholars agree that before (and even after) the Gospels were written, early Christians relied primarily, if not exclusively, on oral traditions for their information about Jesus. (11)

As mentioned in part one, those myths which were communicated orally, tended to be more prone to change and variation, generally speaking, than those fixed on paper, parchment, papyri, or stone. Evidence of this can be seen in the variations and contradictions, in the narratives, found in and between, the four official Gospels of the New Testament.

"Mark," as mentioned, was the earliest of the four Gospels and contains no details of Jesus' miraculous conception, virgin birth, flight to Egypt, nor any event, prior to Jesus' baptism at around 30 years of age. Before this time, Mark says nothing about Jesus' life (see Mark 1). The later Gospel of "Matthew," does contain a narrative of Jesusˇ miraculous conception (Matthew 1:18-2:11), his virgin-birth (Matthew 1:18-23), his flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15), and other miraculous and mundane events from Jesusˇ youth, up until the age of twelve, anyway. "Luke," the next in the series, chronologically speaking, also describes Jesus' miraculous conception, his virgin birth, but it also contains quite a few key contradictions in relation to Matthew's version of events. Here is a short list of some of them:

  1. Where did Joseph and Mary live before Jesus was born?
          a. Luke 2:4 - City of Nazareth in Galilee.
          b. Matthew 2:1 - Bethlehem.
  3. Where was Jesus born?
          a. Luke 2:7 - Manger (stable)
          b. Matthew 2:11 - House
  5. When was the divine announcement of Jesusˇ birth?
          a. Matthew 1:18-21 - After conception
          b. Luke 1:26-31 - Before conception
  7. Who was the divine announcement made to?
          a. Matthew 1:20 - Joseph
          b. Luke 1:28 - Mary
  9. What happened when Jesus was born?
          a. Luke 2:13-14 - Angels sang praises to God.
          b. Matthew 2:1-9 - A star appeared and stood in the heavens above him
  11. Who visited baby Jesus?
          a. Matthew 2:1-11 - Wise men (Astrologers) from the East.
          b. Luke 2:8-20 - Shepherds from a neighboring field.
  13. Was Jesus in danger of being killed by King Herod?
          a. Matthew - Yes.
          b. Luke - No.
  15. Did King Herod slaughter the children of Bethlehem?
          a. Matthew 2:16 - Yes.
          b. Luke - No.
  17. Did Jesus' parents take him in his infancy to Egypt?
          a. Matthew 2:13-15 - Yes.
          b. Luke 2:22-52 - No. (they stayed in Palestine)
  19. What was Godˇs mode of communication?
          a. Matthew 1:20, 2:12-13, 19, 22 - Dreams.
          b. Luke 1:11, 26, 2:9 - Angels
  21. Did Joseph and Mary know of their Son's divine nature?
          a. Matthew 1:18-21 and Luke 1:28-35 - Yes
          b. Luke 2:48-50 - No

These are only the variations between Luke and Matthew regarding Jesus' early life. If we were to look at the total number of contradictions and variations within the narratives of the four Gospels, we would find many more.

Another interesting discrepancy between the birth narratives we have today, versus a much older second century one, can be witnessed within the writings of the second century church father and apologist, Justin Martyr, who described Jesus' birth as having taken place in a cave.(12)

So, the myths of the Christians changed during the first century, possibly due to the fact that their transmission was largely oral in nature. But did it continue to change after it had been written down? The answer to this question is; yes it did! Some of the myths found within the official Gospels were later interpolations (additions), added to the pre-existing narratives, centuries after they had been written down.

One of the most famous Christian tales found within the Gospel of John, that of the woman taken in adultery, is an example of this change over time.

According to the majority of Bible scholars, the story of the woman taken in adultery was added to the Gospel narrative centuries later(13). Within all of the earliest and most reliable manuscripts relating to John, this story makes no appearance(14). The earliest manuscript ("Latin Codex Bezae") to contain the story dates from around the late fourth, to the early fifth centuries, hundreds of years after the Gospel's original production. Prior to this, there was no mention of the story within any of the earliest and most reliable Eastern manuscripts, those being, the "Codex Sinaiticus", the "Codex Vaticanus" or the "Codex Alexandrinus", nor in the earliest papyri, that constitute the foundations of the Gospel of John, known as "P 66" and "P 75". As mentioned, the story first makes an appearance within the Western, or Latin Codices, which many biblical scholars agree, are later and less reliable than their Eastern counterparts(15).

The Biblical scholar, James M. Robinson, in his work, "The Gospel of Jesus: A Historical Search for the Original Good News" says:

But the basic problem with this story is that it was not part of the original New Testament. It is not in the oldest and best manuscripts, but was added, at various places, by later scribes. However, since it ended up in the medieval manuscripts used by the King James translators, we are familiar with it, in a way that we are not familiar with most late additions to and alterations of the original text (namely, those absent from the manuscripts used by King James's translators). Most modern translations either leave it out or indicate in some way that it is not part of the original text. (The New Revised Standard Version uses double square brackets and a footnote saying, "The most ancient authorities lack 7:53-8:11.")(16)

The Gospel of John, the latest of the four Gospels(17), is also of interest to us here, because the very nature of Jesus was updated and advanced from the time of the composition of the earlier gospels. In John's narrative, Jesus has the highest level of Christology (divinity), of the four other narratives. Within the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) Jesus is depicted as the Son of God, whereas the author of John's Gospel, implied that Jesus was God, thereby advancing his divine status.

John emphasized Jesus' Cosmic mission, illustrated by Jesus saying things like; my kingdom is not of this world (see John 18:36), and by identifying himself as "I am" (see John 8:58), which was Yahweh's (God's) title in the Old Testament (see Exodus 3:14). In other words, John, was implying that Jesus was not just a messenger, or a prophet, or a Jewish messiah, or even the mere son of God, but God himself! In John's Gospel, Jesus openly describes himself as having come down from heaven (see John 6:51). Such open declarations of divinity are in stark contrast to the earlier Gospels, like Mark, for instance, in which emphasis is placed on Jesus' human qualities.

A final example I shall give of Scriptural change over time, within the Christian myths, relates to the final twelve versus of Mark, which has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, to have been a later interpolation(18). The original ending of Mark's Gospel, finishes with the resurrected Jesus, telling some of his female followers to go and tell everyone he has been resurrected, at which point, they run off terrified and tell no one (Mark 16:8: This narrative was eventually expanded and changed over time to include Jesus meeting up with his disciples again and promising them that, those who believe in him will be able to work miracles in his name, like handling deadly snakes safely, drinking deadly poisons with no ill-effect and so on (Mark 16:17-18).

With regards to the interpolated ending of Mark's Gospel, the late great, Bruce Metzger, Bible scholar and Senior Editor of the NRSV Bible, remarked:

Four endings of the Gospel according to Mark are current in the manuscripts(1). The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts, from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis, the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written A.D. 897 and A.D. 913). Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text after 16:8. Not a few manuscripts which contain the passage have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack it, and in other witnesses the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs used by copyists to indicate a spurious addition to a document(19).

For the sake of brevity, I have forgone discussions on the various so called, Apocryphal (unofficial) texts, along with the various interpretations of Christ, which developed and changed over the span of Christian history, in and between the various denominations of Christendom. However, if one were to add these excluded versions of the Christ myth to the investigation at hand, much more weight would be added to the argument that, the Christian myth has changed over time.

Even though Christianity was and still is, a "religion of the book," so to speak, having written its myths down relatively quickly, this did not prevent those myths from being altered over time, thereby establishing this element of Professor Vandiver's definition of myth, as it pertains to the narratives which underscore the Christian religion.

To be continued...


1. John Barton & John Muddiman. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press (2007). p. 886.
2. Bart D. Ehrman. Jesus Interrupted. Harper Collins (2005). p. 144.
3. Gregory A. Boyd & Paul Rhodes. Lord or Legend? Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma. Baker Books. (2007). p. 65.
4. Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. 1: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus; Against Heresies, Book 3. Philip Schaff. Grand Rapids. MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (1885). Pg. 383.
5. Paul. J. Achtemeier. Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary Revised Edition. Harper Collins, (1989). Pg. 535.
6. Carl R. Holladay. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament. Abingdon Press. (2005). Pg. 281.
7. Bart D Ehrman. Misquoting Jesus. Harper-San Francisco. (2005). Pg. 72.
8. James M. Robinson. The Gospel of Jesus: A Historical Search for the Original Good News. Harper Collins, (2005) Pg., 65.
9. John Barton & John Muddiman. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press (2007) p. 973; Ismo Dunderberg. The Beloved Disciple in Conflict. Oxford University Press. (2006); p. 1, 117 &174; Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. The Tragic Gospel: How John Corrupted the Heart of Christianity. John Wiley and Sons. (2008). p. 34.
10. Joel F. Williams. Literary Approaches to the End of Markˇs Gospel. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 42.1 (1999).
11. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament . Stuttgart, (1971). Pg. 122-126.