The Gospel According to Evil Matt


Old Testament
New Testament


P.C. disclaimer:  the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” are late creations, and obviously highly pejorative against Jews, but I use them here for convenience.

The Old Testament


How the Old Testament was compiled:  this is a hefty topic, which I delve into by proxy during an exegesis of Jeremiah 8:8.  That explains much of it, so if you’re curious check it out.

The Plot: (roughly book by book)...


“In the Beginning,” quite possibly the most famous opening line of any work of literature, God created the Universe.  Why He did this is unclear.  It took six days, and here the Hebrew is specific: “yom,” the word continuously used in  the first chapter of Genesis, is the one denoting a 24-hour period.  Dostoevsky, in his masterpiece The Brothers Karamozov, asks the interesting question, ‘how could light and darkness have been created on the first day if the sun, moon, and stars weren’t created until the fourth day?’  Putting this aside, on the fifth and sixth day, various forms of life were created, concluding with humans.

After that, God needed a rest, which He did for one day.  This day has subsequently become known as the “Sabbath.”  Contrary to what Christians or Moslems want you to think, it is quite clearly on what we now call Saturday.

In 1650, Irish Archbishop James Usher, using the various genealogies in the Bible, worked backwards from a fixed date (the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians on July 23, 587BC) and concluded that the world was created at 9 a.m. on September 17, 4004BC.

Although Genesis 1:26-28 has “man and woman” being created in God’s image through the power of word, chapter 2 tosses that all on its head.  With drastically different vocabulary (suggesting a different source/school of thought had been edited in) we again get the creation story, in a slightly different order that chapter 1 has it, culminating with the creation of just man (no woman yet) out of clay.  

This, of course, is Adam, which ironically is the Hebrew word for “man.”

Adam complains to God that he is lonely,  so God puts him to sleep, steals a rib from him, and creates Eve, which — you guessed it! — is the Hebrew word for “female.”

Adam and Eve are set loose in a paradise known as Eden.  God tells them they can do whatever they want, as long as they avoid one place: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God tells them that if they eat from it, they will die.  What this Tree is doing in Eden is never explained, nor is God’s motive for having them avoid it (other than the “death” concern.)  However, there was a wily, cunning, and mischievous serpent in the Garden (why God would create such a thing is yet another mystery) who (depending on your point of view) either “convinced” or “tricked” Eve into eating the fruit of this Tree.  Since Eve took the plunge, Adam decided to follow suit.

This pissed God off to no end, and He promptly expelled them from Eden upon discovering what they had done.  And for humanity, things went downhill from there.

After being expelled, Adam and Eve recalled what God had told them back in Chapter 1: “be fruitful and multiply.”  Initially, we are told of two sons: Cain and Abel, though we later learn that they had wives, so obviously Adam and Eve had at least two daughters as well.  Putting aside issues of incest — hey, who else was there to shack up with? — the two began to raise families of their own.  Cain became a farmer, Abel raised livestock.  Cain and Abel both made offerings to God, but for unclear reasons God only liked Abel’s and ignored Cain’s.  This pissed Cain off, so in a jealous rage the first homicide takes place.  Cain and his kin are banished even further, and henceforth bear a “mark” by which everyone else will know them and avoid them.  To make up the slack, Eve pops out one final son (Seth) plus presumably at least one daughter for him to marry.

Theoretically, all of humanity traces its origins to Seth.  

Seth and his family spread out, becoming greater in numbers, and rapidly lose touch with the ways of God.  After ten generations, it finally gets so bad that only one person on the planet has any clue as to how to revere God, and that person is Noah.  God gets fed up with this, and decides to wipe the slate clean with a Great Flood, sparing only Noah and his family (plus two of each animal.)

Interesting side-note: the events immediately before the Flood (Genesis 6:1-4) make a most curious reference to “the Sons of God” finding the women of humanity appealing, and going down to frolic with them.  The Book of Enoch, which is not included in the Bible but is occasionally quoted in it, gives this as the real reason behind the Flood — God wanted to wipe out the hybrid children created in 6:1-4. 

Whatever the case, Noah and his brood build a big boat and ride out the storm.  This boat, of course, is the legendary Ark.  After the sea dries out, God feels kind of bad at having just wiped out 99% of all life on the planet, so makes the first rainbow as a sign that He is sorry.  It is understood thereafter that every time a rainbow appears after a rainstorm, this is God assuring the people of Earth not to worry.

Noah and his family are forced to start the human race over.  It should be recalled that we have had 10 generations of inbreeding up to this point, and now the inbreeding begins again.  No wonder humanity is so messed up...

Anyway, things quickly fall back into their old pattern, with people again losing touch with God, until basically only one person has any clue.  Even then, this person doesn’t have a clue, but at least he’s trying.  His name was Abram.

God makes a deal with Abram: worship Me, and I will make your family great and give them their own land to dwell in: Canaan.  Abram agrees.  God promptly renames him “Abraham,” and a great dynasty is founded.  Sort of.  To make sure, God tests Abraham, telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac to him.  Abraham reluctantly agrees, though God stops him at the last possible second, saying He was just testing him, making sure Abraham was willing to follow any order of God no matter how bizarre or bloodthirsty.

One of the things God requests of Abraham as a sign of loyalty is that he circumcise himself and all of his sons.  This tradition continues to this day.

After Abraham dies, the mantle passes on to Isaac.  Isaac had two sons: Esau and Jacob.  Esau was the older, and as such should have gotten preferential treatment and his father’s inheritance, but he wasn’t the brightest candle in the menorah, so he sold his birthright to Jacob for the price of a good meal.  Jacob then went on to solidify his position.  Isaac was getting on in years and his eyesight was really bad.  With his dad on his deathbed, Jacob pretended to be Esau and made sure that he (not Esau) got his father’s blessing and all the accoutrements that went with it.

Historical footnote: this is a defining moment in religion.  Jews trace their ancestry through Jacob; Moslems trace theirs through Esau.  This little death-bed deceivery is one of the many reasons the two groups hate each other.

As Jacob got his father’s blessing, he (ostensibly) became the torch-bearer for the pact that his grand-dad Abraham made with God.  Jacob eventually gets into a wrestling match with  God Himself and after acknowledging defeat and fealty to God, he is renamed “Israel.”  The name Israel means, by the way, “he contended with God.” Jacob has 12 children, whose subsequent children became known as the “Twelve Tribes of Israel.”

Of these 12, the youngest and most picked-on was Joseph.  The 11 brothers eventually trick him and sell him into slavery in Egypt.  They then tell Jacob that Joseph is dead, and as proof show him Joseph’s cloak.  According to tradition, by the way, this cloak had magical powers, usually being called a “cloak of many colors,” though in a well-known rock opera Andrew Lloyd Weber calls it “the amazing technicolor dreamcoat.”

Anyway, Joseph rises to a position of power in Egypt because he can interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams.  The major dream had to do with a seven-year famine, and because of Joseph’s interpretation and foresight, only Egypt is able to prepare in advance.

With the rest of the world starving, emissaries from all nations come to Egypt to buy food.  Some of these emissaries are from Canaan, which you will remember is the land promised to Abraham.  As you can probably guess, it is Joseph’s brothers who show up begging to buy food.  At first, they don’t recognize their brother, and Joseph has fun playing with their minds.  Finally he reveals who he is, and a reconciliation of sorts takes place.  Since Egypt is much more prosperous than Canaan, Joseph invites his brothers to move there and set up camp; they readily agree.  

This is how the “Jews” came to Egypt, and the Book of Genesis closes on a sort of happy note, with the children of Abraham making peace with each other and prospering.

Unfortunately, things were about to get a lot worse. 


Eventually Joseph dies, as does the Pharaoh he had worked for.  The new Pharaoh is extremely distrustful of the Jews, and through unclear manipulation of events is able to enslave them all.

As you can imagine, slavery sucks, and the children of Abraham begin to wonder what the hell’s going on.  After all, they’re supposed to be the blessed race of God with their own homeland, yet here they are enslaved in a foreign country.

Finally, God decides to act.  He will send a person among them who will lead them out of slavery and back to the land that was promised to Abraham.

The Pharaoh’s court astrologers figure this out and tell him.  Understandably, Pharaoh is concerned that a major chunk of his population and labor force is about to get up and go, so he decides to kill all the first-born Jews under the age of 2 in hopes to eliminate the forthcoming leader and solve the problem.  

Unfortunately for Pharaoh, God warns the mother of the select child, who hides the child: she puts him in a reed basket and sails him down the Nile, where, conveniently, the daughter of the Pharaoh finds him.  She is childless, so adopts the mystery baby, and names him “Moses”, which means “drawn out (of the water.)”  By an amazing coincidence, she gets Moses’ real mother to be the child’s nurse-maid.  Moses’ real mom recognizes her son, so as he is growing up he learns his true heritage.

During his youth, Moses is out wandering in the wilderness (actually, he had to skip town because he killed an Egyptian he saw beating up on a Jew) when all of a sudden a bush near-by catches fire yet is not consumed by the flames.  The Burning Bush starts talking to Moses; tells him that He (the bush) is God, and He has plans for Moses that include getting his fellow Jews out of bondage.  Unperturbed by all of this, Moses agrees, and at the end asks, “by what name shall I call you?”

The Burning Bush answers, “Yahweh” which literally means “I am who I am.”  No answer at all, but ever since, the name Yahweh has been revered by Jews as the actual name of God, and they would stone you to death if you said it. The word “Yahweh” appears a lot throughout the Bible, and interestingly, out of reverence most English translations will print it as “The Lord” (note use of small caps, not to be confused with “The Lord” which is the correct translation of the Hebrew “Adonai.”)  When people began translating the Bible into English, an attempt was made to transliterate “Yahweh”.  Unfortunately, an early attempt came up with the wholly-incorrect “Jehovah.”  This is demonstratably wrong, but unfortunately it became popular.

But I digress.

Moses sets off to confront Pharaoh, demanding “let my people go!”

Not surprisingly, Pharaoh basically tells Moses to go fuck himself.

Curiously, the Bible is specific about Pharaoh’s resistance: God Himself is “hardening Pharaoh’s heart,” making him not release the Jews

God sends a series of signs to convince Pharaoh to release the Jews, all the while hardening Pharaoh’s heart to ensure he doesn’t.  There were ten signs in all, and they were nasty stuff: the Nile turned to blood, a plague of locusts descended upon Egypt, etc.  The last one was unquestionably the most severe: every first-born son in Egypt died, including Pharaoh’s own son.  The Jews avoided this by putting a special sign upon their doors so that the Hand of God passed over their house, sparing their children.  By the way, this is the origin of the Jewish Passover holiday.

Moses again approaches Pharaoh and asks if he’s had enough.  Finally Pharaoh agrees, and Moses plus his people promptly pull up stake and get out of town.  Unfortunately, Pharaoh changed his mind a few hours later, and sent an army out to kill the Jews.

By this time, Moses and his masses had reached the shores of the Reed Sea.  [By the way, one of the greatest disservices of the King James translation was to make a typo at this crucial point in the narrative by identifying the water as the “Red Sea.”  The word in Hebrew is “Reed”, the same as used a few chapters earlier to describe the reed basket baby Moses was set adrift down the Nile in.  The Reed Sea is at the northern tip of the Red Sea; it’s a small marsh.]

Anyway, with his back to the water and facing the approaching Egyptian army, Moses parts the sea, allowing the Jews across.  Once safely on the other side, he closes up the waters, drowning the chasing army.

The Jews have now entered the Sinai Peninsula, and begin a trek towards their ancestral home, Canaan.  As you can guess, this was a huge logistical movement: in the Book of Numbers, the total comes to around 700,000 people!  Fortunately, God provided.  Each morning, “manna” would appear miraculously around them, and this was nutritious enough to eat.  There were also a lot of quail available to supplement this.

Despite all the miracles, a large group of the Jews began grumbling, complaining they were lost and that they had it better back in Egypt.  Moses quickly realized he faced a potential mutiny among the Chosen Ones.  By this time, they had reached the base of a large mountain, alternately identified as Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb (the former is the more common.)  Moses heads up the mountain to have a long chat with God about what to do.  He is gone a long time — 40 days — and in the interim a large party of Jews down at the base abandon God and make a huge idol of a golden calf to worship.

When Moses returns, he has a present for the people.  His talk with God had been fruitful, and a deal had been made.  God had given Moses a series of laws, and if the Jews would obey them, then God would look out after them.

These laws became known as the Commandments.  There were actually 716 of them; the Ten famous ones, plus 706 others regulating everything from diet (kosher laws) to community standards.

Moses destroys the Golden Calf, orders the idolaters killed, and imposes the Commandments upon the people.  He puts his younger brother Aaron in charge of that aspect, and thus Aaron effectively became the first High Priest of the Jews.

The Jews proceed to wander around the Sinai for forty years.  The Book of Numbers (called “In the Wilderness” in Hebrew) tells of this time, as well as giving gruelingly exhaustive census counts of all the tribes involved.  This is some of the most dry and dull reading there is, but tucked in between the genealogies and population records are some odd nugs of political intrigue within the Jewish camp.  Not to mention a number of battles with carious tribes living on the Sinai unfortunate enough to get in Moses’s way.

At last they reach the TransJordan, the no-man’s land between the Sinai peninsula and Canaan.  They are set to enter, but unfortunately, at this point, Moses dies.  We get two versions of why, each coming from a different written source that was later edited together.  Alternately, we are told that God told Moses he would not live to enter the Promised Land because {take your pick} (a) he had not offered up enough respect and homage to God, or (b) his people grumbled too much about their plight.  Moses climbs a small mountain so he can at least see the Holy Land, gives a short farewell speech, and dies.


With Moses buried, the Jews reach the Jordan River, which is the southern natural boundary to the land promised Abraham (and by proxy, them): Canaan.  Before moving in, they wisely decide to send a few scouting parties ahead, to see what they may encounter.

When the scouts return, they have good news and bad. 

The good news: Canaan is indeed a paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The bad news: someone already lives there.

Specifically, the land is overrun by a race of giants, who are hostile, warlike, and worship some bizarre oddball deity called Ba’al.

The twelve tribal leaders call a meeting to decide what to do about this.  Most of them are in favor of packing up and heading back to Egypt.  However, one man says that they’ve come this far, and God is clearly on their side, so they should give it a try to conquer the land.  That man’s name was Joshua.

Joshua gets enough supporters that he is able to assemble a small fighting force, and leads them into Canaan to take on the inhabitants and claim the land for themselves.  Joshua turned out to be right: God was on their side.  Some of the victories are literally miracles, such as the battle for Jericho where the Jews are able to destroy the city’s defensive wall with a trumpet blast and loud yell.

As such, the Jews are able to conquer most, though not all, of Canaan for themselves.


The Jews set up small tribal communities throughout Canaan, and a pattern rapidly emerges.  The people quickly forget the Commandments of Moses, and bad things start to happen to them.  Usually this is a disastrous battle with the remaining Canaanites, or their northern neighbors, a crude and cruel lot known as the Philistines (indeed, the word “Philistine” remains to this day to describe someone crude and cruel.)  So the people call upon God to do something, and the response is a tribal leader of sorts arising to lead the people back to the Ways of God and take care of the Canaanite and Philistine armies.  These tribal leaders are known as Judges.  There were twelve in all, the most famous of which was Samson.


[In English translations, the Book of Samuel is divided in two parts, called 1st and 2nd Samuel.  This does not occur in the Hebrew.]

The system of Judges is not very effective and is at best a short-term solution, and the Jews realize this.  So they begin to plead with God that they get a King to lead them and cohesively bind them.

God hears their prayers, and answers them.  He sends a prophet to the people, named Samuel, who will help sort the matter out.

Unfortunately, the Jews ignore this, and appoint their own king.  His name was Saul, and unfortunately, he wasn’t very good.  Samuel comments on this as saying the problem was the people chose Saul, not God.  Samuel (and presumably God) have a much better candidate for the monarchy in mind: a young boy named David.

David’s rise to power in the court of Saul has two versions.  First, we are told that Saul was occasionally beset with demonic possession and fits of insanity, which could be soothed by young David’s musical prowess.  Later, we get a different version: David gained acclaim by defeating a really big, bad-ass Philistine named Goliath in one-on-one combat.

Whatever the case, David begins to gain supporters, not the least of which is Samuel.  All the while, Saul’s grip on power slips as he continues to make poor leadership decisions.  It finally comes to the point of insurrection, with David leading a band of rebels against Saul.  

Since God is on David’s side, you can guess who won.

God is exceedingly pleased with David, and makes a deal with him: the Jews will always have a homeland, and they would always have a king of Davidian lineage.  Later on, this deal becomes conditional: the people would have to be faithful to God for the conditions of homeland and leadership to be met, but the earliest version omits this stipulation.

Anyway, David sets out to solidify his position in his new kingdom.  You will recall that the Jews had conquered most, but not all, of Canaan.  One of the remaining centers they had not been able to take was a small city in the south known as Jerusalem.  David personally leads an army out to conquer it, and after doing so, makes it his capital.

To an extent, this was the Golden Age of Israel, with the land prosperous.  David spent most of his time writing musical psalms, though he did have a curiously out-of-character fling with a married woman and even killed her husband to be with her.

David eventually gets old and dies, so the throne passes to his son, Solomon.  Renowned for his wisdom, (there is an entire book of it tucked into the middle of the Bible,) Solomon starts off as a good and popular leader.  One of his greatest feats was to build a great Temple in Jerusalem dedicated to God.  This Temple would become the focus of Jewish worship for about a thousand years, and even today its ruins are still the source of pilgrimage: the “wailing wall” in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, in his old age, Solomon turned away from God, and began worshiping some of the other deities in the area.  As you can imagine, this pissed God off to no end, and because of this, he took his frustration out on the people of Israel by splitting the nation in half.

When Solomon died, there was an immediate power struggle among his heirs.  Solomon was legendary for the vast quantities of brides and concubines he had, with the ensuing children to boot, so a large number of claimants to the throne arose, but ultimately it came down to two sons, each with apparently equally valid claims.  The result was that the Kingdom split in half, each following their own king.  The Northern Kingdom was called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom was called Judea.

As you can imagine, the two Kingdoms hated each other, viewing the other as illegitimate, and they would frequently wage war on each other.

Kings, Chronicles, and various Prophets

[As with Samuel, in English, the Books of Kings and the Books of Chronicles are divided in half; this does not occur in Hebrew editions.  The Book of Chronicles tells the same story as the Book of Kings, but it was written several generations later.  As such, it has a different perspective, and sometimes this is drastic if one does parallel readings.]

Whatever the case, we now get a succession of Kings in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  Some are good, most are not.  The authors of both Kings and Chronicles take it upon themselves to rate each leader.  The major criteria is not how successful they were in war or peace, but how closely they followed the Laws of God and did away with “false” god worship among them.  The books were unquestionably written by people in the Southern Kingdom of Judea, for they are exceedingly harsh on the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

During this period, a succession of prophets begin to wander the land, predicting doom and gloom for the Northern Kingdom if it doesn’t get its act together.  Most of these prophets are Southern, but a few are from the North.

The bad juju they predict comes true, too.  Its name is the Assyrian Empire.

Up to that point, Assyria was the largest land Empire ever seen, and it was a rolling juggernaut intent on making its territorial holdings even larger.  It does this by conquering the Northern Kingdom.  Southern writers took this as a sign from God at how wicked the North was.  They also took it as a sign from God that Assyria did not conquer the South because the South was closer to God’s ways than those wicked Northerners.  In truth, based on outside historical sources, we know that Assyria had been planning to, but a most fortuitous even happened: the King of Assyria died, and the General in charge of the Judean invasion had to return home because he was one of the claimants to the throne.

Bible commentators view this as Divine action and a warning to Judea that it needs to get its shit together.

Unfortunately, it didn’t.  

A short while later, the Assyrian Empire was itself conquered by the new players in the World Domination game, and this new army on the block would eventually become the second-worst thing to ever happen to Israel.

I am referring, of course, to the Babylonians.

Early on, a number of prophets saw the Babylonian pattern, and predicted that if Judea didn’t clean up its act, it would be conquered the way the Assyrians smacked down Israel.  Even as Babylonian armies rolled into Judea, these dire warnings sounded from prophets in the land.  There were many such prophets, but the two most famous were Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Unfortunately, their warnings were ignored.  On July 23, 587BC, Jerusalem fell to the invading hoard.  The Temple was destroyed, and then the ruling palace.  The last King of Davidian decent was forced to watch his family slaughtered, and then he was blinded, so that the last thing he ever saw was his sons and daughters lying dead.  He was then sent off to Babylon as a prisoner, where he died a short time later.

The importance of this event cannot be overstated.  The Jews no longer have a homeland of their own — it was now a small territory in the Babylonian Empire — and they no longer had a King.  A new breed of prophets arose to comment on this, saying that some time shortly, a new King of Davidian decent would arise and restore the Jewish homeland and rebuild the Temple.  This person would be a true king who would be anointed in the prescribed manner.  “Annointed” in Hebrew is the word “Messiah.”  This is why Jews await a messiah. 

As a side-note, the Greek word for anointed is “christos.”  The word “Christ” is a direct relative of this.  It is not a name, it is a title.

The Babylonians proceeded to deport a hefty chunk of the Jewish population off to Babylon to be slaves.  This is alternately known as the “diaspora” or the “Babylonian Captivity” and it lasted forty years.  The reason it ended was the Babylonian Empire was itself conquered, this time by the Persians.

As another side-note, the King of the Persians was Cyrus II.  The Hebrew word for Cyrus is “Koresh,” and we even get a comment in Isaiah 45:1 that Cyrus might just be the long-awaited Messiah.  This is why Vernon Wayne Howell adopted the name Koresh when he assumed the mantle of the Branch Davidians some 2,500 years later.

Anyway, Cyrus conquered the Babylonians.  By most accounts, he was what would be deemed an “enlightened despot.”  He had a policy of returning slaves to their homeland, and rebuilding centers of worship.  Although this was undoubtedly shrewd politics among conquered peoples, it did have the benefit that the Jews in Babylon were sent home, and work was started to rebuild the Temple.

Cyrus sent a provisional administrator over to Israel to help undertake the rebuilding and get their affairs back in order.  His name was Ezra.  Ezra took with him “the Law,” which is generally accepted to be the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament.)  Many, myself included, pin the current form of the Old Testament on Ezra.  Ezra read the Law to the Jews of Jerusalem, and at one point (discussing the Feast of Purim, or Booths) the people were stunned, as it was something they had never heard before.  This, to me, is the smoking gun that shows Ezra compiled the various sources floating around and added new material.

Historical Interlude

Work on the Temple never got finished, and the Messiah they had anticipated never arrived.  A few hundred years later, the Seleucids conquered Israel, and they were as cruel as any previous people to overrun Israel.  Finally, a small revolt broke out, led by Judas Macabees, and against all odds they overthrew the Seleucids and briefly restored the nation of Israel into one cohesive whole.  A new Jewish holiday, Chanukah, helps commemorate this event.  Unfortunately, the Davidic King they were expecting never showed up.

What did was much worse, and ultimately was the biggest disaster to ever hit Israel.



The New Testament

How the New Testament came to be written

Plot: (in historical/chronological order)

The World had never seen anything like the Roman Empire, nor would it again until 1,000 years later when Genghis Khan rode out of Mongolia all the way to the East European steppes.

As an Empire, Rome was actually well run.  They upgraded most cities they took over, brought in education and plumbing, and as long as you paid your taxes and obeyed the law they didn’t care what you did.

Of course, having any non-Jewish leader over Israel was intolerable to the Jews, so the situation was a powder keg awaiting a match.

One of the things the Romans did was install a puppet king over Israel, named Herod.  Herod even had a very tenuous claim to the Davidian bloodline, but almost all Jews considered him an imposter/pretender King, especially since he was unabashedly pro-Roman.  Herod actually finished rebuilding the Temple, but this was overlooked by most Jews, who wanted him and his Roman overlords out.  A groundswell movement began, anticipating the Messiah with new fervor, who would kick the Romans to the curb and restore Israel to its rightful place in the World.

According to the Gospel of Matthew (but not any other source, including the rest of the New Testament), Herod’s astrologers predicted that the Messiah was about to be born, and that the whole situation was about to get turned on its head.  Herod’s response was to order the death of every infant two years old and under.

Up in Bethlehem, a small farm town whose only claim to fame was that King David was either from there or lived there briefly, an angel appeared to a young couple, Mary and Joseph.  Joseph was actually a descendant of King David.  Next to nothing is known of his wife Mary, except that she was very young and was apparently a virgin.

She was also with child, and being a virgin, this caused considerable confusion.  Although it is not mentioned in the Bible, later tradition has it that Mary’s mother was herself a virgin, and this was in order to ensure that Mary was immaculate in order to carry the future Messiah.  This is the “immaculate conception” — Mary’s virgin birth, not her son’s.  But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.


Mary gave birth to her child, and named him “Yeshua.”  The word means “savior.”  The English translation would be the name “Joshua,” the Greek translation would be “Jesus.”

Just after the birth, an angel appeared to Joseph and Mary, and warned them that mean ol’ King Herod was planning to kill every infant around in a gambit to eliminate the Messiah, so Joseph, Mary, and Jesus pack their bags and move to Egypt.  They return out of Egypt about two years later.

If all this strikes the reader as a brazen plagarization of the Moses story, then you’re right.  Few people buy into the yarn, because there is absolutely no record anywhere else of Herod ordering the deaths of every first-born, and (if it were true) Rome would unquestioningly have removed him from power because he was obviously a stark raving lunatic.

Whatever the case, Herod the Great dies shortly thereafter, to be succeeded by his cousin.

We know very little about the youth of Jesus.  The Gospel of Luke gives one anecdote where as a child, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem, but somehow lose track of him.  They finally find him in the Temple, discussing/arguing theology with the learned Temple elders, who are astounded that such a young child has the knowledge and insight that he does.

Jesus then disappears from the scene for about 25 years, and the narrative picks up, not with him, but his cousin, a man named John.

John was a prophet of the “old school” tradition: he lived in the wilderness and predicted doom and gloom upon pretty much everyone and everything.  One distinction John had was that he claimed that he had the power to forgive sins.  He would do so by immersing people in the Jordan river, where the water would wash the sin away.  This was known as “baptism,” and John became known as “John the Baptist.”

A lot of people thought John was the Messiah, but he was specific in telling them that he was not.  However, he says that he is the predecessor making away for the Messiah’s imminent return.

Re-enter Jesus.

Jesus, now about 30 years old, goes out to hear John speak, and asks John to Baptize him.  John recognizes Jesus for who he is, and says that he (John) cannot baptize Jesus because he is not worthy to do so.  They end up baptizing each other.  When the water hits Jesus, the Holy Spirit descends upon him “like a dove” and his life is forever changed.

Jesus needs time time to come to grips with what has just happened, so he heads out into “the wilderness” for 40 days to sort out his new mission.  While out there Satan appears and does his dandiest to play with Jesus’s mind, offering up a series of Temptations which Jesus is able to skirt around.

Jesus finally goes back to civilization, only to learn that in his absence, the new King Herod had ordered John killed.  God smites Herod for this, and yet another Herod rises to power.  With little argument, this one was the worst of the lot.

Jesus heads back home, to the Galilee region of Northern Israel.  While at a wedding, he performs his first miracle: he is able to turn water into wine.

Jesus begins wandering around, preaching a variant of John’s message.  He tells people that God is a really cool Dude and everyone should love Him.  Believe it or not, this was a revolutionary message: all previous interpretations had God as vengeful and something to be feared.  A number of people begin to follow Jesus; they become known as disciples.  From these, Jesus carves out a core following of twelve people, known as the Apostles, who become his inner circle.

All the while, Jesus goes around, performing miracles such as healing blind people and lepers.  His following grows.  At a sort of climax to his middle career, he delivers a sermon that sums up his views.  According to the Gospel of Luke, this sermon is delivered on a Plain; according to Matthew, it is delivered from a small Mount (again with the Moses parallel: bringing the “new law” from a mountain.)  His sermon can be distilled to “love God, love everyone,” with the most famous line being “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

At this point, Jesus attracts the notice of the religious authority in Jerusalem, and apparently they are scared.  They had a problem with John the Baptist, and this Jesus situation has the potential of being even bigger.  Especially since Jesus makes a number of speeches directly against the chief priests and theologians of the Temple, essentially saying they have no clue what they are doing.

A view starts to emerge among these priests and theologians that Jesus needs to be “dealt with,” preferably in a similar — and permanent — manner that John was.

Jesus finally decides its time to go to the hub of Jewish life: Jerusalem.  His entry into the city is triumphant, and only adds to the worry and concern of the religious elite.

Jesus makes his pilgrimage to the Temple, and is horrified by what he sees.  It should be pointed out for context that the Temple was big business, and employed around 10,000 people.  A lot of these were money-changers.  To pray at the Temple, a small donation was required, and the Temple only took one currency; hence moneychangers would exchange foreign money for temple-friendly script (for a small fee.)  Jesus was sickened by what he saw, and lost his cool: he overturned the tables amid a fire-and-brimstone sermon denouncing the place as a “den of thieves.”

In all likelihood, a riot ensued, and Jesus quickly makes his way out.

The chief priests of the Temple now realize that Jesus is, in their opinion, out of control.  Most likely the ruling Romans thought so, too.  It became clear that Jesus needed to be dealt with, and immediately.

Fortunately, the Priests had a man on the inside.  His name was Judas Iscariot.

The “Judas” factor of the story is a very murky and contradictory matter.  We are alternately told he was just a greedy little bastard, or possessed by Satan.  Whatever the case, Judas goes to the Priests and tells them where they can find Jesus.  He is paid 30 silver pieces for his treachery.

Meanwhile, Jesus has one Last Supper with his disciples, and then heads to a small garden (called Gethsemane).  He knows The End is near, and in the garden repeatedly prays to God that events will work out differently.

In answer to his prayer, Judas arrives with a contingent of guards, kisses Jesus, and then hands him over.

All of Jesus’s followers promptly disappear into the darkness, not wanting to meet the same fate.

Under arrest, Jesus is taken before the Jewish High Court, called the Sanhedrin.  There he is promptly convicted of blaspheme, and sentenced to death.  There is just one small problem: death sentences must be approved and carried out by the ruling Romans.

Thus, Jesus is dragged before the Roman governor, named Pontius Pilate.  If the Gospels are to be believed, Pilate was essentially a “patsy” manipulated by the Jews.  He has a nice chat with Jesus and finds him innocent of any charges, but supposedly bows to crowd peer pressure and orders Jesus crucified.  Of course, this is completely at odds with any historical portrait of Pilate, which universally paint him as a cruel, sadistic tyrant who doesn’t hesitate to kill people potentially in his way.

Whatever the case, Jesus is dragged out to a hill called Golgotha where he is crucified.  He dies a short time later.

A Jew named Joseph of Arimathea learns of this.  Supposedly he was a closet follower of Jesus.  Joseph goes to Pilate and asks for Jesus’s body.  Surprisingly, Pilate agrees.  This is surprising as traditionally crucified victims were left up to serve as a message: this is what happens when you mess with Rome.  Anyway, Joseph recovers the body and places it in a small cave tomb he has handy.  He then seals it up with a large rock so no one can get in.  Pilate even puts a few guards around, to make sure no one steals the body.

That was Friday night, forever known thereafter as “Good Friday.”

A whole day passes, and then Sunday morning, a follower of Jesus named Mary Magdalene goes out to the tomb to lay flowers there.  To her surprise, the tomb is wide open, and empty.  A man approaches her, and after a minute, she realizes it is Jesus.  Alive and well, to her astonishment.  He commands her to tell the other disciples that he has risen.

She does this, and then Jesus shows up in their midst a short time later.  They understandably view his resurrection as a divine miracle.  Jesus hangs out with them for fifty days, then commands them to spread the word far and wide.  Then, Jesus ascends into Heaven.

The disciples are bewildered by this, but not overly so.  They expect he will be back in a short time.  After all, Jesus himself said so.

Unfortunately, they’re still waiting for his return.


The apostles start to spread the word among the Jews, meeting with as much skepticism as conversion.  They call their little community “The Way,” and it was very much a Jewish community, with the drastic difference that they thought the Messiah had come and gone — and would presumably be back any moment now to restore the Kingdom of Israel.

The Way grew in popularity, and slowly spread out of Israel.  One of the big centers was Damascus, in modern Syria.  It was here that the term “Christian” first arose, and interestingly, it was used derisively as an insult by outsiders.

The Jews in Jerusalem realized that despite killing the leader, the “Christian” cult continued to flourish, so they again tried to nip it in the bud.  They sent a priest named Saul to Damascus to put an end to The Way.  On the trip over, Jesus appeared to Saul, and asked him why he insisted on persecuting him and his followers.

Saul was stunned by this, and the event changed not only his life, but the history of the world.

At this point in the narrative, Saul begins to refer to himself as “Paul.”  Depending on which version you wish to believe, he (by his own account) headed off to “Arabia” for 12 years to ponder this, or (according to his friend Luke) headed “immediately” to Damascus.

Whatever the case, Paul was initially met with skepticism by the people he used to persecute, but his faith and zeal were apparently sincere, so he slowly won them over.  Paul began missionary work around the Mediterranean, spreading the Good News about Jesus.

The importance of this cannot be over-emphasized.  Until then, Christianity had been a “Jewish thing” with members made up of Jews.  Paul began preaching to non-Jews, and with great success.  He also made a point to keep in touch with the church communities he founded, writing letters (“epistles” in Greek) to them discussing various problems they had, as well as what it meant to be a believer in Jesus.

The obvious question was, “if Jesus was the Messiah, how come his arrival did not bring about a Kingdom of Israel, and, more importantly, why was he killed?”  Paul’s solution was revolutionary: that was the plan all along.  The death and resurrection of Jesus were of great import, because Jesus had died for our sins.  And by “our,” this was all-inclusive: Jew and non-Jew alike.

This unique analysis caused much head-scratching among the original apostles, who had no idea what he was talking about.  However, Paul was sending in large sums of money from new converts, so for the time being they put up with this.

However, things came to a head about a decade later, when the full import of Paul’s message reached them.  Paul was telling the new converts that with Jesus’s death, the Laws of Moses were fulfilled, and no longer needed to be followed.  As pious Jews, this understandably offended most of the original apostles.  They sent a message to Paul to come to Jerusalem and explain himself.

The Jerusalem Council, as it came to be known, was one of those watershed moments in Christianity.  If we believe the Book of Acts, Paul managed to convince a number of the Apostles that he was right.  Among those convinced was the Apostle Peter, who was one of the most influential chief leaders of The Way.

Still, an argument broke out, ultimately resulting in a riot, and Paul was arrested.  Paul was a Roman citizen, and as such he petitioned to have his case heard by the Emperor himself, doubtless seeing this as a means to preach the Word to the head of the Empire.

Paul was sent off to Rome, and there the story ends.  We never learn the outcome, though tradition has it that Caesar thought he was nuts and had him fed to the lions.

Whatever the case, there were now two competing variations of Christianity: the Jerusalem version, which still held that only Jews could become Christians, and the Pauline version, which said that anyone could join.

The matter was settled by accident.  In 66AD, Israel revolted against Rome.  A small nation of farmers and fishermen took on the largest empire the planet had ever seen, so the outcome was inevitable.  In 70, the Romans sacked Jerusalem, leveled the Temple, and pretty much killed everyone in the country.  This included the Jewish Christians still there.  The only version of The Way left were the Pauline Christians outside of Israel at the time, so by default only this variation of Christianity remained.


How the New Testament came to be written

The New Testament is composed of four sub-types of works: Gospels (telling the story of Jesus), Acts (telling the story of some of the Apostles —mostly Paul— after the Resurrection), various Epistles (letters to communities telling them what it is to be Christian,) and a Revelation (a prophecy of the end of the world.)

Surprisingly, the Gospels were not written first.  Instead, various Epistles first started circulating about 20 years after Jesus died.  These were mostly written by Paul, and comprise half of the New Testament.  When Paul would send a letter to one of his churches, he would frequently instruct them to share its contents with other near-by Christian communities.  Thus the Epistles began to circulate.  

Unfortunately, Paul himself makes a comment at one point that there were a lot of bogus letters floating around purporting to be written by him but which were not authentic.  The problem, obviously, is knowing which are real and which aren’t.  This is a debate which continues to this day.

Jesus’s followers anticipated that he would return shortly, and obviously as more time dragged on they increasingly wondered what the delay was.  When the revolt against Rome started, this was seen by most to be the triggering event that would undoubtedly cause the Return of Jesus once and for all and usher in the final Messianic Age.  Most Christians took the Jews losing that revolt as sign of divine displeasure that the Jews had rejected Jesus as their Messiah and had had at least some part in his death.  Still, with the End of the World increasingly delayed, someone finally thought that maybe it would be a good idea to write down Jesus’s story for posterity.  The idea that the Messiah had come for everyone and died for their sins was considered to be “good news,” and the word “gospel” is a variant that means just that.

Who wrote the gospels, and when, is still a matter of debate.  Compositional dates between 60 and 80A.D. are usual, though that range is telling: were these written before or after the disastrous revolt?  The safer bet is immediately after.  As for the authorship, the matter is much more murky.  A number of gospels purporting to tell the story of Jesus circulated from early on; the Gospel of Luke specifically states this and derides them as false.  Ultimately, four were chosen as being authentic and approved by the Church.  Although these four were circulated anonymously, tradition quickly arose coupling them with various apostles or disciples of Jesus.  Matthew and John were two of the twelve apostles; Mark was a disciple who was friends with the apostle Peter, and Luke was a traveling companion of Paul.  Sometimes the thought process that determined who wrote what is a bit dubious, but for convenience, I will refer to each Gospel by the name attributed to it.

Scholars studying the situation are generally of the opinion that the Gospel of Mark was written first.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in content.  Doing in-depth parallel analysis of the three, an opinion was formed that Matthew and Luke both had a copy of Mark in front of them when they wrote.  Matthew and Luke may not always agree with each other on chronology or wording, but one or the other almost always agrees with Mark, usually word for word.  Curiously, Matthew and Luke both contain a great number of saying attributed to Jesus that do not appear in Mark or John, so the opinion is that Matthew and Luke also had a “sayings Gospel” handy when they wrote their works.  John, however, presents a different problem, in that much of the material is unknown in the other three Gospels, and the theology in it is much more developed.  The consensus is John was written last, with no real knowledge of the other three works.

The same person who wrote Luke also wrote the Acts.  Parts of Acts suddenly break into the plural when discussing Paul (‘we went here, we went there, etc.’) and since Acts focuses almost exclusively on Paul and is full of unabashed hero-worship of him, chances are very good that Luke was actually there during portions of Paul’s missionary work.

Some of the other Epistles in the New Testament are a bit harder to pin down for authorship or date.  Although tradition puts the Epistle to the Hebrews as being Paul’s, Paul made it a point to open his letters with a personal greeting from himself, and he even signed a number of them; these are conspicuously missing from Hebrews.  Also conspicuously missing is any reference to the Temple being destroyed, which the author would undoubtedly have seen as confirming his thesis that Jesus was the Messiah and the Jews missed the boat, so in any event it was written before 70.

Three letters allege to be by John, and they admittedly have a similar theology — though not grammar or style — as the Gospel of the same name.  Two epistles purport to be by the Apostle Peter, though a problem arises in that they are drastically different in content; it is difficult to believe that the same man wrote (or at least dictated) the same letters.

Tucked in the back, as if in hopes that no one would read it, is an epistle by James, who was Jesus’s younger brother.  The Epistle of James sticks out like a sore thumb in the otherwise Pauline-influenced New Testament, as it pretty much contradicts everything Paul preached.  You will recall Paul frequently had problems with the Jerusalem church over doctrine, admission of non-Jews, whether the Laws of Moses still applied, etc.  James was the head of the Jerusalem church, and this letter eloquently reflects that dissenting opinion.  Whether or not James wrote it is hotly debated: most have problems that a Jewish peasant would write with some of the best Greek in the whole New Testament.  Even if the letter was dictated to a very competent scribe or was merely a recollection of some of James’s earlier sermons, the authorship date is most likely extremely early, quite likely back when the James/Paul debate was still in full swing.

There is also a short letter by Jude, who only identifies himself as James’s brother.  Since a “Judas” is listed on the lists of Jesus’s brothers, this is possible.  The letter is a short railing against various deviations in the Way that are arising, and curiously makes much use of materials not otherwise found in the Bible, such as the Book of Enoch and the Testament of Moses.

As for Revelation, it claims to have been written by “John” on the Island of Patmos.  Tradition equates this with the Apostle, though it is curious that John of Patmos makes no mention of this as occurs in his Gospel.  Since one part acknowledges that there is no Temple in Jerusalem, it most likely was written after the Revolt.

So these 27 books —among others— circulated around the Mediterranean for some time.  Since there was a wide variety of material to choose from, and much of it contradicted each other, various Church authorities had to make decisions about what was authentic and what was not.  They would comprise lists of what could be read to the masses and used for determining doctrine, and what couldn’t be read or used.  Frequently these lists did not match.  The Gospel of John was often put on the “bad” list, as was Revelation, the Second and Third letters from John, and the Second Epistle of Peter.  Alternately included as “acceptable” were works known as the Apostolic Creed, the teaching of the apostles, the Gospel of Peter, and The Shepherd of Hermas.  Ultimately, evidence became overwhelming that these last (and others) were spurious forgeries, so they ultimately found themselves on the “banned” lists.

Churches began to take the obvious step of actually assembling together the various books on the “approved” lists, and thus the New Testament was born as a cohesive whole.

The lists took centuries to become uniform, and curiously, some lists as late as the 10th century continue to include Revelation in the “unacceptable” portion.

But long before the issue was “settled,” a teacher named Marcion came along  in the 2nd Century  with a revolutionary thought: the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament.  Since the OT God is a very vengeful, bloodthirsty one yet the NT God is pure love, it’s pretty easy to see where he got this.  Marcion’s response was to completely throw out the entire Old Testament, as well as half of the New; he was exclusively interested in the theological musings of Paul.  Most of the various Church leaders responded that the New testament doesn’t really make sense unless you have the Old Testament as context, so they “approved” the Old testament and began the tradition of including it as a sort of preface to the New testament.  Marcion’s teachings pretty much died when he did, but his impact while alive was monumental: by trying to revise what has become known as The Bible, he inadvertently helped solidify its form.


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