Deciphering The Gospels
Proves Jesus Never Existed

Deciphering the Gospels vs. the Mainstream Consensus
Deciphering the Gospels is in agreement with the mainstream consensus on many specific points, such as when various texts were written, who wrote them, the authenticity of various passages, etc. However, Deciphering the Gospels also challenges the mainstream consensus along many points as well. Provided below are major examples of where Deciphering the Gospels challenges the mainstream consensus.

The Cleansing of the Temple

One of the major findings presented in Deciphering the Gospels is the literary basis of the temple cleansing scene. The temple cleansing scene, present in all four canonical Gospels, is one of the scenes from the Gospels most widely believed to be historically true by mainstream biblical scholars. Here we can compare Price’s assessment of the temple cleansing scene in Deciphering the Gospels to assessments from other mainstream biblical scholars.

R. G. Price

"We now arrive at one of the most important scenes for establishing our understanding of the Gospel called Mark and the other canonical Gospels. The reason that this scene is so important is because it is so widely believed to be historically true and it is seen as the justification for the Crucifixion. This scene is widely believed to be historically true because it exists in all four canonical Gospels, and it is not supernatural, so it is seemingly plausible. As we shall see throughout this book, however, the case against the historical validity of the temple-cleansing scene based on the literary evidence alone is overwhelming. So let’s start by looking at the literary allusion used to craft this scene.

Mark 11:
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:
“‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, they went out of the city.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

This scene is clearly based on a passage from the book of Hosea, shown below:

Hosea 9:
1 Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; ...
7 The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this. Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac.
8 The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim, yet snares await him on all his paths, and hostility in the house of his God.
9 They have sunk deep into corruption, as in the days of Gibeah. God will remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.
10 ‘When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved.
11 Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy, no conception.
12 Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of every one. Woe to them when I turn away from them!
13 I have seen Ephraim, like Tyre, planted in a pleasant place. But Ephraim will bring out their children to the slayer.”
14 Give them, O LORD—what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry.
15 “Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there. Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house. I will no longer love them; all their leaders are rebellious.
16 Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring.’
17 My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him;

We can see in the Gospel text that the cursing of the fig tree, the driving out of people from the temple (house of God), and the hostility toward Jesus are all related elements that are drawn from Hosea 9. All of these elements and the order in which they are presented in the Gospel called Mark are necessary to make the association between Hosea 9 and the narrative.

Most important, however, is that if we accept the fact that the Markan narrative is actually a literary allusion, then it means this scene is not based on any real event that ever took place. It means that “Jesus” never cursed a fig tree, and “Jesus” never threw anyone out of the temple. None of this actually ever happened; this isn’t a historical event. The scene is merely a literary allusion, yet every other Gospel contains the temple-cleansing scene. If the cleansing of the temple comes from Hosea 9, not from a real-world event, then the fact that it exists in all of the other Gospels means that all of the other Gospels, including John, had to have ultimately gotten the scene from Mark, as we will explore in chapter 3.

This is extremely significant because this is one of the actions attributed to Jesus that is most widely believed to be true, even by secular New Testament scholars. The fact that this scene is based on a literary allusion has not been recognized even by top theologians and Bible scholars."
- R. G. Price; Deciphering the Gospels; pp 21-23

As this shows, the temple cleaning scene is clearly a literary allusion to Hosea 9. The elements of the scene are derived from literary references, they are not an accounting of real-world events. In chapter 3 Price compares the scene in Mark to the same scene in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John to show that the scene in each of these others works is clearly derived from the scene that was originally invented by the author of the Gospel of Mark. This shows that none of the other Gospel writers had any outside knowledge of this event or any other information to go on, because they are all clearly copying elements that were invented based on literary references. So the fact that the scene exists in all of the Gospels does not make the scene more credible, in fact it shows that the other Gospels are all derived from Mark.

Let’s now see what mainstream scholars have said about this same scene.

Bart Ehrman:

Most scholars recognize that some aspects of our accounts appear exaggerated, including Mark’s claim that Jesus completely shut down the operation of the Temple (if no one could carry any vessels, it would have been impossible to sacrifice and butcher the animals—which was after all what the Temple was for). As we have seen, the Temple complex was immense, and there would have been armed guards present to prevent any major disturbances. Moreover, if Jesus had actually created an enormous stir in the Temple, it’s nearly impossible to explain why he wasn’t arrested on the spot and taken out of the way before he could stir up the crowds. For these reasons, it looks as if Mark’s account represents an exaggeration of Jesus’ actions. But exaggerations aside, it is almost certain that Jesus did something that caused a disturbance in the Temple — for example, overturned some tables and made at least a bit of a ruckus. As I’ve noted, the event is multiply attested in independent sources.

Moreover, it coincides with Jesus’ predictions about the Temple, that it would soon be destroyed. For this reason, a good number of scholars have begun to recognize that Jesus’ actions in the Temple represented a symbolic expression of his proclamation. We should recall that Jesus sometimes engaged in symbolic acts that illustrated his apocalyptic message
- Bart Ehrman; Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium; pp 212-213 (emphasis mine)

Here Bart Ehrman is concluding, based on no evidence at all, that he is “almost certain that Jesus did something”. Why? Simply because this scene is present in all of the Gospels. But as we can see, the scene is clearly a literary fabrication. The literary basis of the scene is solid actual evidence that the scene is a fictional invention of the author.

Regarding the “symbolism” of “Jesus’ actions”, Price explains in Deciphering the Gospels that all of this symbolism is an invention of the author of the story; it is not an account of a real person undertaking a constant series of symbolic actions that corelate with scriptures and foretell future events. Jesus wasn’t engaging in symbolic acts to illustrate his apocalyptic message - the writer of the Gospel of Mark was creating a symbolic story about the outcome of the First Jewish-Roman War, that had just resulted in the destruction of the temple and the decimation of Judea. 

J. P. Meier:

In the spring of 30 A.D. (or possibly 33), Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem for his final Passover. As he entered the ancient capital of King David, he apparently chose to make a symbolic claim to messianic status by riding in on a donkey amid the acclamation of his followers (multiple attestation of Mark 11:1-10 and John 12:12-19), thus evoking the memory of a prophecy by Zechariah (9:9) about a righteous, victorious, yet peaceful king entering Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus followed up this symbolic entry with a symbolic action in the temple, disrupting the selling and buying of sacrificial animals (multiple attestation of Mark 11:15-17 and John 2:13-17). While this so-called cleansing of the temple has often been interpreted as a call for reform of the temple and a purer worship, in the context of Jesus' eschatological message it more likely symbolized the end of the old order, including the temple. These two symbolic actions of Jesus may have been the reason why the priestly aristocracy chose to arrest Jesus during this particular visit to Jerusalem, as opposed to his earlier stays. Jesus himself chose to press the issue, forcing the authorities to make a decision for or against him.

Various sayings in the Gospels that probably go back to Jesus show that he reckoned with the possibility of a violent death (Matt. 23:37-39; Luke 13:31-33; Mark 10:35-40; 8:32-33; 12:1-12).
- J. P. Meier; Jesus Christ in the New Testament: Part One: The Historical Jesus behind the Gospels; pp 15-16 (emphasis mine)

Here again highly esteemed biblical scholar J. P. Meier states that Jesus engaged in a series of deliberate symbolic actions based on references to passages from the Jewish scriptures. Meier has no problem stating that various sayings in the Gospels “probably” go back to things the real Jesus said. Like Ehrman, Meier assumes that multiple attestations to an event give credibility to the historical reality of said event. But as is shown in Deciphering the Gospels, these multiple attestations are merely the product of copying. The fact that a single story was copied many times doesn’t lend credibility to the story, in fact it does the opposite.

The Jesus Seminar:

"That Jesus engaged in some anti-temple act and made some statement against the temple, or against customary practices within its precincts, is attested in all four canonical gospels. The Fellows of the Seminar took a poll on two related general questions:
  1. Did Jesus perform some anti-temple act?
  2. Did Jesus speak against the temple?
More than two-thirds of the Fellows responded affirmatively to both questions."
- Funk, Hoover and The Jesus Seminar; The Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say?; pp 97-98

The Jesus Seminar is seen by many biblical scholars as representing the most rigorous academic approach to assessing the Gospels and identifying the historical truths behind them. Yet the approach used by the Jesus Seminar has many of the same shortcomings as other mainstream academics, which fail to identify the literary sources underpinning the Gospel narratives.

This drives directly at the crux of what Deciphering the Gospels is all about. Both Bart Ehrman and John Paul Meier are highly esteemed mainstream biblical scholars. Bart Ehrman is a secular scholar. J. P. Meier is Roman Catholic. The Jesus Seminar is seen as a liberal and relatively unbiased investigative body. Their assessments of the temple cleansing scene provided here are textbook examples of mainstream biblical scholarship. Mainstream biblical scholarship holds that Jesus was a real person, and that the Gospels are at least loosely based on real actions and sayings of Jesus. Deciphering the Gospels presents evidence to the contrary. But when we talk about the “mainstream consensus”, let us be very clear about what the mainstream consensus is really built on.

Sayings of Paul and Jesus

One of the major findings presented in Deciphering the Gospels is that the teachings and character of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are based on the letters of Paul. Deciphering the Gospels is not the first book to present this finding, but it is a relatively new finding of intertextual biblical analysis. This is a finding that dramatically overturns the mainstream consensus, the importance of which has not yet been widely acknowledged.

The mainstream approach to the issue of similarities between the writings of Paul and the Gospel dialog of Jesus is illustrated by the following statement from the Jesus Seminar regarding Jesus’ comment about moving mountains in Mark 11:

"There is a reference to moving mountains in 1 Cor 13:2, although it is not attributed to Jesus. Paul’s knowledge of the saying indicates that the connection between faith and moving mountains was widespread in the early tradition."
- Funk, Hoover and The Jesus Seminar; The Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say?; pp 99

While this passage is not directly addressed in Deciphering the Gospels, this illustrates the differing approaches used. The Jesus Seminar, and most mainstream biblical scholars, work from the assumption that the writer of the Gospel of Mark had no knowledge of the letters of Paul. Under this assumption, when they see similarities between the letters of Paul and the dialog of Jesus they conclude that such sayings must have been part of a widespread oral tradition that both Paul and the writer of Mark drew from. But what more rigorous textual analysis shows is that the writer of Mark was actually using the letters of Paul. The similarities are not evidence of a common oral tradition, they are evidence for direct literary borrowing. This shows that Paul is actually the source of many of the teachings attributed to Jesus.

The teaching about paying taxes to the emperor is a perfect example of this.

"Everything about this anecdote commends its authenticity. Jesus’ retort to the question of taxes is a masterful bit of enigmatic repartee. He avoids the trap laid for him by the question without really resolving the issue: he doesn’t advise them to pay the tax and he doesn’t advise them not to pay it; he advises them to know the difference between the claims of the emperor and the claims of God. Nevertheless, the early Christian interpretation of this story affirmed the Christian obligation to pay the tax. Paul struggled with this issue (Rom 13:1-7) and came out on the side of expedience: pay everyone their proper dues, including the civil authorities, who have received their appointment from God."
- Funk, Hoover and The Jesus Seminar; The Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say?; pp 102

Compare this to analysis of the same passage in Deciphering the Gospels:

In the next scene, Jesus is famously presented with three questions. The answers to each of the three questions have strong parallels with texts in the letters of Paul.

Mark 12:
13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ 17 Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.

With this passage, the author of Mark was most likely addressing one of the grievances that played a role in the Jewish rebellion against Rome that led to the war. In addition, this passage also follows Pauline teachings, as outlined in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The implication is that if the Jews had followed Paul’s advice instead of the Pharisees then perhaps the war could have been avoided.

Romans 13:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Once again, we find parallel teachings between the letters of Paul and the Gospel called Mark that are not attributed to Jesus in Paul’s letters. In the Gospel called Mark, we have a narrative with Jesus saying something, and in the letter from Paul, we have Paul saying essentially the same thing, but he isn’t presenting this advice as a teaching from Jesus. This is a pattern that we see over and over again in the parallels between Mark and Paul. But clearly Paul was trying to convince people of the truth of his teachings and to worship Jesus, so if these were teachings that came from Jesus, then it would only make sense for Paul to tell people that these are things that Jesus taught. Instead, what we see are teachings coming from Paul, which are then put into the mouth of Jesus by the author of the Gospel called Mark some twenty or so years later.
- R. G. Price; Deciphering the Gospels; pp 51-53

As referenced above, this is just one of over twenty examples of parallels between the Gospel of Mark and the letters of Paul. Taken together these parallels show us not that these teachings are likely to be genuine teachings of Jesus because they are attested to both by Paul and the Gospel writers, but rather that the teachings come from Paul himself, not Jesus.

Evaluate the evidence for yourself. Which case do you think is more strongly supported by the evidence?

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