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Feb 29 2012

Amazing Proofs of Jesus!

There seems to be an odd rise the last year or so in forgeries or other bogus claims of “archaeological” finds attesting to first century Christianity. In actual fact, we have no (that’s zero) archaeological evidence pertaining to Jesus or Christians from the first century (and very, very little even from the second). But last year there was a claim of some mysterious find of “lead codices” that was quickly exploded by experts as a fraud (see my summary: Lead Tablets of Jesus!).

And this year already two wild claims have started circulating. First, that a “first century” manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has been found (claimed by the quasi-fundamentalist Christian scholar Dan Wallace, during a debate with Bart Ehrman), by which is meant, a tiny fragment of a few incomplete words (shown at right, if this is the manuscript in question; you see, no one has come forward as its owner or stated even where it is, not even Wallace, who nevertheless wants to make a big splash with a book about it next year–there is always some money-making angle with these things).

Like the lead codices story, which became big international news before anyone was consulted who actually knows what they are talking about, this, too, has quickly become news, already garnering an article in Forbes (and, I’m told, even making TV news). But alas, it’s dubious for two reasons: first, no one will say where the manuscript is (it therefore is unlikely to be in any academic institution; as such it would already have an accession number and alphanumeric identifier, and of course they would insist on being identified); second, if the image circulating is the same fragment (the image’s authenticity has not been established; it appears to have been “leaked” by a “private collector,” supposedly its owner), it’s far more likely to be a fake than an authentic manuscript at all, much less from the first century (indeed as a forgery, it’s so crappy, the best argument against it being fake is that it was so badly faked: the papyrus shows no fray lines, the scribal lines are not evenly spaced, the lettering is inconsistent, and there are no other typical indicators of authenticity). Several heavy-hitting experts have weighed in on this, all in the “give me a break” column. You can find links to their reports on Thomas Verenna’s blog (here and here).

And now a new claim is going around that an early “first century” tomb has been found in Jerusalem that provides the earliest evidence of Christianity ever found. This was a discovery made by the same bozos who touted the “Jesus tomb” a while back (more on that shortly), and I’m really bothered by James Tabor’s continual involvement with them. He’s a great guy, but he’s really not coming off well here. The only evidence that this is any such thing as they claim (other than just another Jewish tomb) is a barely intelligible inscription and a barely decipherable carving. Each in turn:

(1) The inscription is in Greek and “might” say “God Yahweh Raises [Agb]” or some such, but doesn’t. The verb is not in fact there. Tabor just “conjectures” that hypsô is an abbreviated third person form of the verb hypsô [hypsôsen] and that it means “to raise up,” but the verb hypsô actually means to “lift up” as in “exalt,” and there are other things hypsô could be an abbreviation for (like hyps[ist]ô, “to the highest”), and it could even just be the verb hypsô, “I exalt [thee]” and so on (e.g., the agb could be hagiô, the omega ligatured to the iota, in which case it’s “to the holy and most high,” etc.). Point is, it’s unclear. Moreover, even if it were a verb of resurrection (though this would be the rarest verb used for that, even in Christian literature), the entire point of Jews reburying the bones of their dead in ossuaries was to facilitate their resurrection; so declaring that God would raise the inhabitant (possibly the person whose name begins with Agb) is exactly in line with Jewish thinking and thus not at all indicative of any peculiarly Christian sentiment.

(2) The carving is being claimed as a fat-headed stick-figure man in the mouth of a weird fish, and therefore the earliest known depiction of Jonah in the Whale, known in later centuries as a common Christian symbol of personal salvation and resurrection. But as experts have pointed out, it is far more likely an amateur carving of a nephesh, or Jewish tomb monument, with eaves and pinnacle, a common motif on Jewish ossuaries of the period, or even more likely an amphora or krater (depending on how much importance is placed on which end is up: for a good example of a reconstruction, and useful commentary on the whole fiasco, see Mark Goodacre on James Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B). That this is more obvious is that as a fish the drawing is bizarre (little tiny absurdly itty bitty fins; scales that look coincidentally more like architectural decoration), but as a nephesh or amphora much less so; even the so-called “man” would have to be a freak (as it is, depicting Jonah with a three foot dick; a head swollen to the size of a medicine ball; and ambiguous arms). This is very unlikely to be a depiction of Jonah in the Whale.

For, again, a gallery of heavy-hitting experts all weighing in on the “give me a break” column, see Thomas Verenna’s roundup post, which includes links (here). The most important are Robert Cargill and Eric Myers and the most educational for laymen (albeit much longer) is by Christ Rollston, which also gets you up to speed on the backstory. Needless to say, this bogus “find” is linked to a heavily-marketed book, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity, by James D. Tabor. But given that he has been so thoroughly disgraced by expert analysis on this (and yet gives the book an absurdly confident title like that), I can only assume he has tenure, as otherwise he would cease to be employed by now. This is really beyond the pale.

It’s even more discrediting that Tabor still stands by the “Jesus Tomb Wingnut Team” interpretation of an inscription in the other Talpiot tomb as “Mariamene” (as supposedly a variant of Mariamne, supposedly a distinctive spelling of Mary Magdalene), when it is unmistakably Mariamê kai Mara, “Miriam and Mara,” one very common Jewish name, the other unconnected to Jesus. An earlier epigrapher confused a single letter as nu (N) which is actually kappa [K], the one being an upside down version of the other (a common mistake even for an expert to make who might be getting tired trudging through hundreds of inscriptions). This is so glaringly obvious there can be no reasonable dispute in the matter. Yet he keeps on claiming it says Mariamene. Lately he has been willing to allow that it “might” say Mariame kai Mara…after I pointed this out. But why didn’t he notice it before? The many statistical analyses run for the names in the tomb are also horribly fallacious (the conjunction of names there given the actual population in the tomb is simply not improbable enough to ensure this tomb has any connection with Jesus), but he can’t be expected to understand that (he’s not a mathematician and hasn’t studied statistics or statistical logic). But surely he can read Greek properly. He seems more inclined to stick to the guns of a bizarre theory than actually admit it’s too bizarre to be credible. That was not the “lost tomb of Jesus” ; and neither is this “new” find connected to Christianity.

The lesson to learn here is never to trust the media, much less the rumor mill, when claims of an amazing new find like this crop up. Wait for the evidence to actually be presented, for many independent experts to actually analyze it. Then see what survives. Usually, nothing.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    chriskg

    You noted that “An earlier epigrapher confused a single letter as nu (N) which is actually kappa [K], the one being an upside down version of the other (a common mistake even for an expert to make who might be getting tired trudging through hundreds of inscriptions).” Except, in this case, if the point they are making hinges on this very translation, I doubt it would be overlooked or the result of a tired epigrapher. So, is this intentional or a simple mistake? And, more importantly, who looked at this and thought it was correct?

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      chriskg: You noted that “An earlier epigrapher confused a single letter as nu (N) which is actually kappa [K], the one being an upside down version of the other (a common mistake even for an expert to make who might be getting tired trudging through hundreds of inscriptions).” Except, in this case, if the point they are making hinges on this very translation, I doubt it would be overlooked or the result of a tired epigrapher. So, is this intentional or a simple mistake? And, more importantly, who looked at this and thought it was correct?

      The answer to the second question, Tabor. Hence my concern over his objectivity.

      The answer to the first question, mistake. Because the original epigrapher transcribed and published this years ago with hundreds of other ossuary inscriptions, not having thought anything of it (they were not trumpeting this as Jesus’ tomb or any such thing and did not think there was anything unusual about this ossuary, it was just one of hundreds they were cataloguing).

  2. 2
    Bob Jase

    I’ll say the same thing here that I said on HuffPo about the ‘fish’ – why is it wearing a clown nose?

    Oh, some mat say that’s a stick figure human with its head sticking out of the ‘fish’s mouth but that human has five to seven limbs then.

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      Bob Jase: …some mat say that’s a stick figure human with its head sticking out of the ‘fish’s mouth but that human has five to seven limbs then.

      Oh, they’ve got that covered. It’s seaweed, see. Because the book of Jonah mentions Jonah being tangled in seaweed or something (no, seriously; that’s their argument–they even say this proves their thesis!).

  3. 3
    EricJohansson

    This seems to be quite a popular story today. It’s shown up on both Yahoo!News and Huffington Post. The HuffPo “story” is pure marketing BS. Instead of just giving the reader whatever evidence they supposedly have, it just tells us to basically “go buy the book” to find out. The idiot reporter on Yahoo!News swallows it whole, except for like one sentence at the end of the story from a skeptic.

  4. 4
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    I remember when the big thing was the ossuary of Jesus (with ossa included) a few years back. I don’t know if this is separate from the James ossuary or not, but I’m sure there is more than one claim anyway.

    My personal favorite refutation of authenticity in the one case is: Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven, so it is impossible that those are his bones or ossuary.

  5. 5
    Elle

    May I add that, though I’m no expert, I have never seen a fish depicted upside-down. The picture was given to the press two days ago, but it was rotated. I’d say it is far more likely that it represents an amphora, don’t you think?

    http://jamestabor.com/2012/02/29/talpiot-tomb-ossuaries-in-new-york-what-are-the-chances/

    1. 5.1
      Richard Carrier

      Elle: I have never seen a fish depicted upside-down.

      There is no “rightside up” or “upside down.” It’s a carving across the top of an ossuary lid.

      I’d say it is far more likely that it represents an amphora, don’t you think?

      It doesn’t fit any known amphora types. Usually amphoras depicted on ossuaries can be typed. What it does look like is nephesh iconography (the scholars I link to provide examples). So, the basic rule applies: it is more probably what it looks most like.

      [Correction: new information makes the amphora explanation the more likely. See downthread.]

    2. 5.2
      Ralph

      If it is the same as in this picture http://www.antoniolombatti.it/B/Blog02-11/Voci/2012/3/1_Never_seen_a_fish_depicted_upside-down.html then it is not on the top of the ossuary lid, but on the side of the ossuary.

    3. Richard Carrier

      Ralph: That is a reproduction, not the actual ossuary. But that appears to be accurate, so you’re right, it’s not a lid, so amphora makes more sense than nephesh in that case. And your link provides good analogs showing that. Thank you.

      Indeed Tabor has responded to his critics by insisting a nephesh wouldn’t be upside down, but he concedes it might be an amphora (he rejects that only with more tea leaf reading of the scratches and marks).

      [I updated the original blog post to reflect this new information]

  6. 6
    Dubliner

    I was reading about this and the forthcoming ‘documentary’ on the Discovery Channel and surmised it was twaddle. Nice to have my initial impression confirmed.

  7. 7
    Benefits

    It’s unfortunate that “discoveries” like this get blown out of proportion in the media but when they are soundly refuted nobody seems to take note. This kind of thing tends to stick around no matter how unsubstantiated it is.

    I’m a physics student and the amount of flak I get from some of my religious friends because of the whole FTL Neutrinos potential discovery speaks to the damage that sensationalism like this can do; apparently science can’t get anything right just because there’s a small chance it got one major thing wrong. Despite the fact that it’s unconfirmed and quite frankly likely to stay that way I have no doubt I’ll be getting reminded of it for years.

  8. 8
    Moe

    We don’t have any original Roman Records from the first century.

    Even Caesar’s so called writings from a bit earlier are only available in copies made at least 700 years after the original.

    And yet we still claim we have his writings.

    Same with Plato and Aristotle.

    And, of course, we don’t have anything written by Socrates.

    1. 8.1
      Richard Carrier

      Moe: We don’t have any original Roman Records from the first century.

      That’s not exactly true. We have inscriptions, coins, and actual papyrus documents from the first century–in each case, by the thousands (literally).

      What we don’t have are first century documents pertaining to Christianity.

      That’s a different matter from whether we have information about Christianity that originated in the first century. An example of the latter are the authentic letters of Paul. But the difference is that this sort of information has gone through a thousand-year filter of copying and editing and selective destruction; thus we don’t have exactly what Paul wrote (besides deliberate interpolations, and letters he wrote that Christians curiously chose not to preserve, e.g. 1 Cor. 5:9, there are also clear signs of editing, e.g. verses have been clipped and rearranged in Romans 16 and Philippians, and so on; see my debate with J.P. Holding).

  9. 9
    Will

    Great post and thread! I find it interesting how these explosive discoveries always get alot of press at first.. But later when they are disconfirmed or proven fraudulent, they get next to no coverage in the mainstream press.. at least that’s how it seems to me.

  10. 10
    Ralph

    You said: “The many statistical analyses run for the names in the tomb are also horribly fallacious (the conjunction of names there given the actual population in the tomb is simply not improbable enough to ensure this tomb has any connection with Jesus)”.

    Could you please explain this in more detail (or perhaps refer to a link that does)?

    1. 10.1
      Richard Carrier

      Ralph: You said: “The many statistical analyses run for the names in the tomb are also horribly fallacious (the conjunction of names there given the actual population in the tomb is simply not improbable enough to ensure this tomb has any connection with Jesus)”. Could you please explain this in more detail (or perhaps refer to a link that does)?

      The math is vastly too complicated to summarize. But I can give you a short explanation of why all of the analyses done so far are useless and thus to be rejected: to make the math easy, suppose Jesus’ family consisted of four people each of whose name occurs 1 in 50 times in the general population. The probability of finding a family of four with the same names is then (1/50)^4 or 1/6,250,000. However, if it’s a family of twelve, then the probability of finding four members of that family with those names is the converse of the probability of not finding those four names among those twelve, which is a vastly higher probability. The math is pretty scary looking, but it comes to about 1/680. In other words, one out of every 680 families of twelve will have members with those four names. NOT one in 6 million. That’s a huge difference in odds.

      All the Talpiot math calcs ignore the other bodies in the tomb, and thus all work from the assumption that it is a family of only six (they count six significants, but one of them, Mary, occurs 1 in 4 times among women; etc.). But there were in fact ten ossuaries, and some with multiple occupants; I think they also saw additional skeletons on shelves in the tomb, not yet placed in an ossuary, some with names scrawled on the wall which they could not read. So the family buried at Talpiot (now called tomb A) consisted of at least twelve members, possibly more (some of whom we know are names not connected to any known family of Jesus; those are the known names that they don’t count in their math; never mind the many unknown names).

      So all the calculations so far run are completely bogus. They aren’t correct. Period.

  11. 11
    Sili

    Not strictly relevant here, but I wanted to thank you the the recommendation of The Case Against Q. Excellent book. Very convincing for a layman who was only superficially aware of Q. (I didn’t like Goodacre’s conflation of “hypothesis” and “theory”, but that’s nitpicking.)

    Of course, I’ve made no attempt to check the references …

    Is the case for Q strong enough that I should read something by the proponents, or would my time be better spent reading Goodacre’s Goulder and the Gospels, or Goulder’s own work?

    400-500 pages sounds a bit too much for a complete amateur. (And Luke‘s 1000 is far too much – even before looking at the price.)

    1. 11.1
      Richard Carrier

      Sili: Read Goodacre’s “Q” website. He lists and addresses all his critics there. You can get a good idea of how his theory holds up in that way. And if you want to verify that he is responding to his critics effectively, you can then go read the references he actually cites (but if you want to spare yourself the time, do just a sample thereof, skimming just to make sure he isn’t ignoring anything and accurately representing what he doesn’t ignore; once you’ve verified his responsiveness, you can trust the rest of his summaries of critical responses; or not, as the case may be).

  12. 12
    Richard Carrier

    There is now evidence that Tabor (or someone on his team) doctored the photos: see Cargill’s “If the Evidence Doesn’t Fit….” Now that he has figured out what they changed, he changed his assessment to the conclusion that the image is probably an amphora (or similar vessel, like an unguentarium). For a good demonstration of that latter conclusion (with comparable examples), see Verenna’s latest post, “Some Considerations about the Iconography….”

  13. 13
    Richard Carrier

    Verenna has published a new roundup summarizing developments on this issue (nothing very surprising). I’ll keep you all posted if anything further develops.

  14. 14
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    If anyone who doesn’t normally have access to JSTOR is interested:
    NEA issue (from 2006) that discusses Talpiot Tomb available for free for a limited time (ASOR Blog).

  15. 15
    Richard Carrier

    Update: The hammer has fallen. With new photos released, Bob Cargill has found the smoking guns of digital manipulation and confirmed that the carving is of a vase with handles. I’m also told that the original promoters of the find have removed the images from their site and are in damage control mode now. This is turning into a fiasco. See Sins of Commission and Omission.

  16. 16
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Well that is disappointing. Anything which remotely smells like fraud in research just sets me on edge. I’d rather interact with a true believer in ancient astronauts than with people who manipulate evidence. (Not that these two things are mutually exclusive by any stretch.)

  17. 17
    Elle

    Speaking of archaeology, what do think would be the historical implication of an eventual acknowledgment of the autenticity of the James Ossuary, given the fact that the presumed forgery of the inscription “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” is now seemingly regarded less likely than before?

    http://chronicle.com/article/Jerusalem-Court-Acquits/131164/?sid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en

    I know your research has brought you to the conclusion that Jesus probably didn’t exist as an historical person, but does that imply the same for James and the other brothers mentioned in the gospels? The eventual autenticity of the inscription could be used as evidence for the existence of an historical Jesus?

    Just very curious :-)

    1. 17.1
      Richard Carrier

      As I’ve said before, even if the inscription on the James Ossuary has not been faked (even the judge who acquitted Oden Golan recently of forgery agrees the inscription was cleaned with a caustic chemical thereby destroying all evidence of authenticity or forgery; a convenient thing for a forger to have done, IMO), it is very unlikely to refer to Jesus Christ.

      The logic is simple: either (a) “brother of Jesus” was added because there were two Jameses sons of Joseph buried together and designating brother was needed to distinguish which was which (which will have happened dozens of times, even if we only happen to have found one or two), or (b) “brother of Jesus” was added to celebrate the fact that this is the brother of the Christ. But if (b) the engraver would not write “brother of Jesus” but “brother of Jesus the Christ” or “brother of the Christ,” so as to distinguish which Jesus, and to celebrate what was special about it; otherwise, it just looks like (a). Since (b) is very improbable, and (a) is statistically inevitable, (a) is far more probably true.

      Therefore the James ossuary will never afford an argument for historicity even if it’s inscription is entirely authentic (and it is not likely to be).

  18. 18
    Steven Bollinger

    Richard, you wrote:

    “The lesson to learn here is never to trust the media, much less the rumor mill, when claims of an amazing new find like this crop up. Wait for the evidence to actually be presented, for many independent experts to actually analyze it. Then see what survives. Usually, nothing.”

    Ain’t that the truth. If the media outlets would just at least now and then follow up with an “Oops-that-turned-out-to-be-nothing” story.

    Not having to do with any fake 1st-century MSS: a couple of months ago there was a story about a possibly 5th- or 6th- century Syriac MS of the Gospel of Barnabas. (I know: the only Gospel of Barnabas known so far was forged centuries later than that in Europe.) It had been seized by Turkish police, spent over a decade in storage in a courthouse, now it had moved to a museum, the Vatican had requested to inspect it, Catholophobes saw “requested to inspect it” and read “requested permission to destroy it, what are they trying to cover up, those fiends, oh well I guess we’ll never know now, another victory for evil!” and so forth.

    Do you know anything about this MS? Do you know of any websites or publications which give intelligent overviews of recently discovered and/or forged MSS?

    1. 18.1
      Richard Carrier

      I suspect that’s a garbled version of a different story: the discovery of a 16th century forgery. The “year 1500″ became in the telephone game “1500 year-old.”

  19. 19
    Richard Carrier

    Note: I added in the article the excellent commentary and amphora reconstruction by Mark Goodacre.

  20. 20
    Mikael Smith

    What do you think of claim that Markan Gospel was written by Mark the Evangelist, the companion of the apostle Peter? I’ve heard that Papias is the first one to mention this. (Fragment of Papias VI)

    1. 20.1
      Richard Carrier

      Yes, Papias claims that (although we can’t confirm that he was referring to the same Gospel we have) half a century after the fact. But Papias shows he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He thinks Matthew was translated from Hebrew when in fact it’s a direct copy of the Greek of Mark and relies on Septuagint Greek elsewhere, and the Greek edition of Q (if you believe in Q), and thus can’t ever have been in Hebrew. And he evidently doesn’t know that Mark is a Gentile Gospel, whereas Peter was a Torah-observant Christian, and thus would never have been preaching the version of the Gospel we find in Mark (but rather the version we find in Matthew, if anything). There are other quotes from Papias that show he was very gullible and believed all kinds of absurd stories. Even Eusebius said he was a man of very little intelligence. He’s pretty much the worst source you could ever base anything on.

  21. 21
    Mikael Smith

    …and second claim: “We know that the Mark ends at 16:8. But maybe the verses 9-20 were in the original. Scrolls were used a lot. They could have got lost because they were at the end of the scroll and were most vulnerable to wear out”

    1. 21.1
      Richard Carrier

      Mk. 16:9-20 are not at all Markan in style, but in fact based on the Gospels written later. They were most definitely never in the original. See my detailed analysis here.

  22. 22
    Mikael Smith

    Thank you for your response, Dr. Carrier. I read your article “Legends2″, and one thing popped to my mind. When we say that we don’t know who wrote the Gospel of Mark, what is it what we actually are claiming?

    My first point would be that many times there would have been a name tag written on something, that told who wrote the particular Gospel. So eventhough the name of the writer were not in the text, they would still know who wrote it because of this name tag. I suppose R. T. France is the person who has made this kind of argument.

    I have also understood that Mark is the only name ever that has been proposed to that Gospel. So it would be early tradition to suggest the Mark as an author of the Gospel. There is two titles that is known to the Gospel: “to kata Markon” and “to kata Markon hagion euangelion”. If there were no name tag or title for the Gospel, there would be much more divercity.

    The Church Fathers agree that Mark is the author of the Gospel. Most important source for this is Papias (I guess we really can’t trust Papias because his gullibility), but there are others (Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Eusebius…). And it is possible that Muratorian fragment talks about the same thing.

    Another thing is that Mark is not an Apostle. Many times later writers used the names of the apostles, so it would not make sense to use Mark’s name. Mark is not even an eyewitness, and isn’t any kind of central person in New Testament. He has only a small role in Acts. So it would not make sense if his name was not connected to the Gospel by the beginning.

    I have also heard that the authority of Gospel of Luke has never been questioned. No ancient sources even try to deny that Luke were the writer. If the Gospel was nameless for years it would be reasonable to assume that there would be many names that would be offered to it. Like Mark, Luke has only small role in New testament. He is not an apostle and not even eyewitness. It would make no sense to put the name of this kind of man to the Gospel, if it was invented.

    What we can know about the author is that he knew Greek (eventhought didn’t write it very well); he knew hebrew and aramaic language; he knew Jewish social, political and religious groups; and he knew Roman legal praxis. Are we telling the truth when we are saying that we don’t know anything about the writer? Or what does it mean in this context?

    1. 22.1
      Richard Carrier

      When we say that we don’t know who wrote the Gospel of Mark, what is it what we actually are claiming?

      Two things: the author was not named Mark; and therefore the Mark of legend (Peter’s secretary, and Paul’s assistant, the cousin of Barnabas) was not its author.

      My first point would be that many times there would have been a name tag written on something, that told who wrote the particular Gospel. So eventhough the name of the writer were not in the text, they would still know who wrote it because of this name tag. I suppose R. T. France is the person who has made this kind of argument.

      I hope not. Because that would make no sense in the context of ancient literature. It would be a fallacy of special pleading, inventing a practice (and an observed consequence) never elsewhere evident in the whole gamut of ancient books. Because regardless of how codex or scroll tags worked, Kata Markon simply means “as told by Mark,” not “as written by Mark” (a different Greek phrase was used for the latter). It is a designation of source, not authorship. Which, as a title, generally was something invented ad hoc (otherwise you would have the author, “as written by,” saying he got his information from Mark and who Mark was and so on). In any case it never means “written by.”

      Christians (alone in antiquity, and solely in this case) quickly conflated these concepts because they needed the sources to be the authors themselves, and legends grew advocating that view (e.g. it’s obvious Irenaeus, and everyone else, got this idea from Papias, who says he learned it from dubious oral lore, even though Papias was a stupid and gullible man, as Eusebius reports, and what he wrote about the Gospels is either false or not even referring to our Gospels, since we can see it fails to match them).

      …but there are others (Justin Martyr…

      He never mentions who the authors of the Gospels are.

      The others say nothing more than what Papias does (beyond elaborating on it with even more ridiculous legends) and they either identify Papias as their source (e.g. Irenaeus) or don’t even mention how they know what they report.

      Another thing is that Mark is not an Apostle. Many times later writers used the names of the apostles, so it would not make sense to use Mark’s name.

      Actually, we don’t know that Mark was not an apostle. Paul names numerous apostles we have never heard of otherwise, and it’s clear there were many more unknown to us. In fact, Christian legend knew Mark as not only an apostle, but the apostle who brought the gospel to the Alexandrians.

      But what Christians in later centuries thought will not be the same thing earlier Christians were thinking (such as the Christians who attached names to the Gospels). So we can only speculate why they chose the names they did. Or when.

      In this case, the name Mark was likely chosen because Paul mentions a trusted assistant named Mark (albeit in forged letters, nevertheless canonical; and Acts repeats this legend), and Mark is a Pauline Gospel (Papias errs in thinking it’s a Petrine Gospel, when in fact it is anti-Petrine and promotes Paul’s view, not Peter’s). Thus, one can infer an attempt was being made to connect it as directly as possible to Paul, without trying to claim Paul wrote a book no one ever heard of before (a claim that would raise immediate suspicion, since Paul’s writings were known, and known not to have included or referred to any such book).

      Then someone in Peter’s sect got annoyed by this and “rewrote” Mark to sell Peter’s sect instead of Paul’s…that Gospel is known as Matthew. Since it copies verbatim from Mark, it clearly isn’t an honest book (they are pretending to tell the true story, but secretly stealing someone else’s story, word for word, and passing it off as their own, and changing it, rather than telling their own story). Matthew is an apostle’s name. So when this name became attached, someone was trying to bypass Paul and connect the Gospel directly to Jesus. And they chose the only apostle connected with a profession that would suggest knowing how to write (a crucial trick, since Acts claims the apostles were otherwise all illiterate, and therefore one would arouse suspicion if somehow an illiterate fisherman was writing a book in educated Greek).

      Like Mark, Luke is mentioned as a trusted educated fellow in Paul’s company (again according to forged letters, albeit canonical). The Gospel of Luke is an attempt to refute Matthew and bring the Gospel back to the intended teachings of Paul, by rewriting Matthew (some will challenge that take, but IMO it’s far more plausible and explains the evidence far better than traditional Q hypotheses). Someone then naturally wanted to pass this off as a more educated and researched Gospel, by linking it to the only man Paul’s letters refer to as being educated and trusted. That made sense, since the quality of Luke is superior to what one would expect even from a taxman, much less an illiterate fisherman, so a name had to be chosen that could connect the Gospel with the authority of Paul, without being Paul (whom by then everyone otherwise knew had not written a Gospel), and who would most plausibly have had the requisite high degree of education, and only one name can be made to fit that bill from the canon: Luke.

  23. 23
    Mikael Smith

    Interesting… Thanks!

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