Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New book on Jesus' suffering an exercise in futility

Mark A. Marinella, M.D. practices internal medicine in Ohio. He graduated from the Wright State University School of Medicine in 1993 and has written at least two books and a number of articles. Marinella appears to be well-regarded in his community and in the medical establishment.

Marinella is also a christianist, believing that "The crux of Christianity is salvation from the penalty of sin through faith that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh." Well, that's not quite christianist theology, but close. It's the crucifixion and Jesus' sacrificial death that actually makes salvation possible, for it is only a blood sacrifice that will appease God.

The good doctor has decided to become a biblical scholar, too, and has written a new book called "Died He for Me." Christiannewswire describes the book as "a glimpse of Jesus' torture and crucifixion rarely seen outside the medical classroom, all the while connecting each step to scriptures predicting the Messiah's death. ...

"The book is ordered chronologically according to the Gospels' portrayal of Jesus' final 24 hours. Chapters include an in-depth look at Jesus' scourging, the walk to Golgotha, the crucifixion process itself and his actual death, with each chapter offering a study of the physiological processes he was likely experiencing."

Well, now. That's quite a task. Scholars have known for some time that the death of Jesus, the events leading up to it, and the events following it, are creative fiction devised by the Gospel writers.

To go into this in detail would require a great deal of time and space, but you can get a feel for the fictional aspect simply by reading the passion story as it is put forth in Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.

The first thing you will notice is that none of them agree. While each cover some of the main elements of the story, it quickly becomes obvious that each writer has exercised his imagination to modify, excise and add other, key events and characters.

Here are a few examples: In the so-called synoptic Gospels, Jesus and his disciples gather for a Passover meal on Passover evening, and he is crucified the next afternoon. Furthermore, during the meal, Jesus recites the "words of institution" and shares wine and bread with his friends. In the Gospel of John, a regular meal is held before the commencement of Passover and Jesus does not recite any words over bread and wine. Furthermore, John has Jesus giving long, impassioned theological discourses to his disciples before his trial, none of which appear in the Synoptics.

The details change frequently in each of the Gospels. Matthew gets quite creative with his description of the crucifixion itself. When Jesus died on the cross, says Matthew, there was a great earthquake, rocks split and graves opened from which the "saints" came back to life. There is no earthquake in the other Gospels and no graves gaping wide and no "saints" walking around shedding grave clothes and showing off to their friends.

Mark, however, the earliest of the Gospels, writes that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. That very important fact is not mentioned by the other Gospel writers.

Jewish scholars have long insisted that the Gospel stories of the passion of Jesus are a transparent attempt to take the guilt for Jesus' death away from the Romans and place it on the "Jews." Too many things don't make sense in the context of Jewish life and practice in the first century. A trial would never be held on Passover! The Sanhedrin would not countenance such a thing. Furthermore, it was not considered blasphemy to call yourself a "son of God," or even the Messiah. Additionally, the Sanhedrin was very careful to follow the rules; they required evidence and confirmation, and would not hit or spit on a person as described in one of the Gospels. Finally, if the Sanhedrin should decide on the death penalty, it would be carried out by stoning, not crucifixion.

Another anomaly is the fact that Pontius Pilate was known for his brutality and lack of compassion. He did not get along with the Jewish leaders. He would never have considered their desires or wishes. He certainly would not have "washed his hands" of Jesus. Pilate would have considered Jesus just another rabble rouser and the sooner dead the better.

In other words, one cannot come up with one coherent story of the passion of Jesus because the various Gospel stories are filled with fundamental contradictions that cannot be merged into a coherent whole. And there are absolutely no contemporaneous records of any of these events, even though Rome kept detailed records of the actions of their officials throughout their far-flung empire.

To put it bluntly, even if you assume the basic passion story has some validity, what actually happened cannot be determined from the Gospel writings. To write an entire book detailing the horrible torture and suffering Jesus supposedly suffered based upon such mystical, mythical writing is finally mere speculation and an exercise in futility.

Methinks Dr. Marinella should stick to writing medical treatises dealing with his field of expertise.

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