Review of Epistles (ca. 110 CE)

Parts only

This page describes the individual parts of Epistles. The work as a whole is reviewed elsewhere.

Romans (ca. 57 CEText)

Paul (writer).

Read in 2019.

Theology, mainly the concept that Jesus’s death bought salvation from Yahweh’s “wrath”, by a means novel to Yahwism: Service to Yahweh in spirit, not to the antiquated written code (7:6). This salvation is brought “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (1:16), with the details worked out between the gods and their individual followers (14:3–6).

The author states that Yahweh’s “invisible qualities [...] have been clearly seen” (1:20) and he argues from this oxymoron that people who do not believe in Yahweh “are without excuse” (ibid.). Those same people who do not worship Yahweh exhibit a catalogue of inferior qualities (per NIV, 1:29–32):

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul then deals with genital mutilation, an impopular practice among converts to Christianity. He argues that because Abraham was circumsized after coming to the faith, “he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised” (4:11), and therefore circumcision is supposed to be optional. This all goes without mention of female genital mutilation or the lack thereof.

A letter whose authorship is not disputed by scholars. As such, this is the first text presented in The Bible that has a clear author and is reasonably authentic.

Paul claims that “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (14:23), which is pretty broad. His rant in verses 1:29–32, quoted above, purports to describe people in general, since it is only quite recently that even half of the world’s population has come to subscribe to the Abrahamic religions, including Islam. It is a poor description of humanity at any time in history. It aligns well with Yahweh’s hatred of people in general, as seen in Genesis 6.

Once again, faith is implied to be a matter of affiliation, of being on the right team. Obvious lies about the wrong team are to be taken at face value. Thus Paul retains the bad ideas of his predecessors. It is not unusual to encounter modern Christians prejudiced against non-Christians for the same reasons, including Paul’s foolish conflation of non-belief with wilful spite and hatred of Paul’s specific gods.

In the discussion of spirit over law, Paul comes fairly close to formulating the psychological principle of reactance, especially when he says that hearing the law against coveting produced in him every kind of coveting (7:8), despite being new to the concept. Alas, Paul fails to resolve the blurry ontology of the Old Testament. He claims that sin seized the opportunity. He fails to propose what relationship Yahweh and he bear to his sin: He attributes thoughts and actions to sin as an agent distinct from his own identity (1:20) and not named Satan, but how this is possible, he does not say. In Bibel 2000, but not in the NIV, he places sin in the body (7:23). Either way, it certainly sounds convenient to dissociate oneself from imaginary supernatural crimes and for Jesus to solve the problem regardless of its nature.

Paul is adamant that nothing can take away this route to universal salvation through Jesus’ human sacrifice (8:38f). Mulling this over, he anticipates a reasonable objection: “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’” (9:19). Unfortunately, Paul’s answer to this objection is the answer of Job: Don’t ask (9:20). You are not important enough to know, so do not bother thinking. He later claims that Yahweh “has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them” (11:32). Again, it’s the terrible ideas of the Old Testament repeated in the new: You must obey and you must love being forced to disobey, without reasons.

Paul preaches love and forgiveness (e.g. 13:10), which is nice, but he clings to spiteful tradition, quoting Proverbs 25:21f, where the reason to help your enemy is not his benefit but to “heap burning coals on his head”. More centrally, he says “do what is right in the eyes of everyone” (12:17), i.e. follow custom over love, dumbly matching the joy and sorrow of those around you (12:15). Rather than a useful maxim, this is simply pragmatic for a new cult: Try to blend in so they don’t stone you. Paul is oblivious of the contradiction between love and his own renewed condemnation of homosexuality (1:27).

While encouraging conventional morality to avoid negative attention, Paul also gives the government carte blanche because the new cult does not have the power to oppose Rome. He clearly states that rulers as a category are Yahweh’s servants and he explains police violence as Yahweh’s wrath (13:1–4). This is The Bible’s strongest statement on the theme introduced by Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel and continued in verses like Proverbs 16:10. I was surprised to learn that the apocalyptic cult continued to reinforce this idea, but on second thought, it’s probably adaptive.

Acts clearly illustrates how the Pax Romana’s mediating authorities helped the cult while it was harming rebellious Judea, so it would make sense for Paul to discourage rebellion as counterproductive. The decision to paint rulers as legitimate kept paying dividends later on, helping Christianity to gain sanction among the feudal lords of Europe. The most important of these lords was probably Clovis I who converted to Catholicism in 508, as the greatest Frankish and Germanic ruler of his time. He converted with the promise that this would legitimize his royal power and that he would be allowed to keep that power after death. Christianity flatters the mighty regardless of their other qualities: A useful thing for any amoral organization to do.

In 2018, US AG Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 to legitimize separating children from their parents, and the regime’s press secretary Sarah Sanders agreed that it was “very biblical to enforce the law”, even a law the regime had just made up. This was opportunistic, but accurate. You can indeed cite Paul in support of any government action, no matter how horrifying. After all, even when the literal Romans killed Jesus in Christian mythology, they were carrying out Yahweh’s will.

Paul’s claim that any ruler serves Yahweh thus lends itself to fascism. This is a step beyond the Old Testament. Recall that in The Bible, the gods created people to resemble themselves (anthropomorphism; Genesis 1:26). Powerful people most resemble the gods and are aligned with the gods, though not always the right gods. You see this throughout the superheroics of Judges and in the many kings of the Hebrew countries, including those who are evil because they are tolerant.

This idea put a supernatural sheen on the intuitive fear and admiration that we—as hierarchically social animals—feel for dominant members of our pack. Indeed, the Old Testament merely put emotions into words with too little critical thinking. That was harmful enough. The New Testament version is rather more scary. Given the opportunity to change course and embrace other moral values, Paul applies his mind to the problem and concludes that even violence in the name of power is right and good, virtually by definition. By seeking short-term advantage for his cult, he inadvertently propped up future tyrannies of every sort.

References here: Reasons to invent Jesus, Sortering av bibelböcker, Som en ateist läser bibeln, Kretslopp (1993).

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1 Corinthians (ca. 56 CEText)

Paul (writer), Sosthenes (writer).

Read in 2019.

The main subject is unity within the cult. Having preached a liberal view of personal salvation, Paul is disturbed to learn that this has led to diversity and conflict within the congregation in Corinth, where a case of incest has been reported. He hopes he doesn’t have to come beat them up with a stick (4:21).

In this letter, the authors polemicize against the idea of food being polluted by idols, which is a rule in Acts. They tell women to cover their heads (11:5), to use long hair as a veil (11:15), to be subservient and to be quiet at church meetings (14:37).

Paul is thankfully careful to distinguish between himself and what he considers to be higher authorities (7:12). At one point he quotes Jesus (11:23–25), but not from the gospels, as they had not been written, and not from experience either. Claiming to be the last person who saw Jesus, Paul also says that 500 other men saw the resurrected god before he did (15:6).

Authorship is not disputed. The letter paints a more typical picture of a cult than the slightly younger Romans. Paul bashes gays again, he humble-brags (chapter 9), he encourages speaking in tongues and “interpreting” such speech as if it were meaningful (something he believes is a supernatural gift in itself; 12:9f, 14:27f), and he gives several reminders of the imminent apocalypse, mentioning Satan twice. He orders the congregation to shun those who join it but fail to follow its rules to the letter (5:11), a double standard and an apparent sanction for vicious purity tests. He attributes disease and death among Christians to improper cannibalism (11:29f). Also, no sex if you can help it (7:1). Corinth sounds like a pretty stressful place.

In a few glimmering moments, Bibel 2000 makes Paul sound intelligent, though the English translations I’ve looked at give a different impression of his rhetoric (e.g. 6:12–14). It is certainly rhetoric. Between the flourishes, the authors continue to blunder into Old Testament pitfalls. For instance, echoing Leviticus 25:55, they say Yahweh has bought everyone (6:19f) like slaves, and that literal slaves should not be bothered by literal slavery (7:21). Fortunately, the authors contradict their own idiotic position in the very next verse.

References here: Reasons to invent Jesus, Sortering av bibelböcker, Som en ateist läser bibeln, Ghost in the Shell (1995).

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2 Corinthians (ca. 56–57 CEText)

Paul (writer), Timothy (writer).

Read in 2019.

Reaction to preceding letters and a visit between letters. Mainly, Paul defends his own reproachful actions and backtracks on them, asking the congregation to love the person who was accused. Paul also defends his own status. This indicates that, in the process of resolving the incest problem in Corinth, Paul was identified as a false prophet by “people who think that we live by the standards of this world” (10:2), i.e. that cult leaders want the power they have.

There is speculation regarding the possibility that two or more genuine letters were combined into this one text.

The letter is selfish and unpleasant. Though self-deprecating at times, Paul offers mixed messages (hate the offender, now reaffirm your love) and continues to encourage gruelling purity tests where the real objective is obedience (2:9, 8:8, 10:4–6). He prefigures the bullshit prosperity gospel (9:6f) when ordering a collection. He alludes to a further developed Satan who “masquerades as an angel of light” (11:14). Saying he “must go on boasting” (12:1) he claims supernatural inspiration. When he jockeys for position against other apostles, he does not reject their gospels (11:4). In doing so, he contradicts his (likely earlier) statement in “Galatians” 1:6f, where he does reject them.

Paul’s got an interesting theory on why Moses covered his glowing face: He says it’s because the glow was visibly fading, and Moses didn’t want people to see it end (3:13). Here, Paul takes one of the weirdest fantasy scenes of the Old Testament, affirms that it really happened, and adds an extra layer of fantasy to it, transparently for his own purposes. Evidence is not involved at any point in this process. Neither is credibility.

Similarly, Paul abuses an Old Testament quote to support his own authority (13:1). The quote is from Deuteronomy 19:15 and concerns the primitive heuristic that a court needs (only) more than one witness for a conviction. Paul uses it about the number of his own visits to Corinth, which is a metaphor. Notice that in the metaphor, he substitutes his own visits for testimony to a crime, and Christianity for the crime itself. This is so stupid that I have to think he was trying to make a joke.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, Epistles (ca. 110 CE), Way Station (1963), To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), “Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood” (1976).

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“Galatians” (ca. 55 CEText)

Paul (writer).

Read in 2017.

Whether converts to Christianity are required to adopt full Jewish customs. They’re not.

Authorship is not disputed.

There’s some paranoid thinking in here, about false cult members whose real objective is to enslave the cult (2:4).

There is yet more abuse of the Old Testament, as when Paul alludes to Deuteronomy 21:23, the part that tells you how to hang people on poles. Paul argues that Jesus was cursed because the Romans who killed him did not do it in the ancient Hebrew fashion. This is weird, partly because Paul tries to do it without acknowledging that the ancient law existed because Yahweh’s cult killed a bunch of people in the same cruel way that Jesus was killed. He expresses no empathy for these earlier victims and makes no comparison to Jesus, just a dumb theological point.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, Som en ateist läser bibeln, 2 Corinthians (ca. 56–57 CE), Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

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“Ephesians” (ca. 80–90 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Church unity. The author argues that no one can boast because everything is predetermined (2:8–10, cf. 1 Chronicles 29:15).

Likely a forgery falsely attributed to Paul. Like the genuine Pauline epistles, this one condemns all non-believers (as shameless, vile and selfish; 3:19), orders women to obey their men as gods (5:22), and tells you how to treat your slaves (don’t insult them, but do not emancipate; 6:9). Its overall message is a symptom of unrest in the cult, perhaps because cult members threw away their careers and families, only to realize the imminent apocalypse was not coming.

Though a late work, it’s markedly confused. It’s got multiple “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (3:10, 6:12) as well as a specific god called “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” who causes disobedience (2:2). This doesn’t seem to be Satan. The author openly toys with the Old Testament, claiming it hides great secrets and can be repurposed as the author sees fit (5:32).

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, Som en ateist läser bibeln.

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“Philippians” (ca. 54–55 CEText)

Paul (writer), Timothy (writer).

Read in 2019.

Paul’s in prison. He says some people preach the gospel because they are jealous and want to cause trouble (1:15), but he’s happy about that (1:18). Though he is not certain whether it is best to die soon (10:20ff), he yearns for a death that will make him like Jesus (3:10). He thanks the Phillipian congregation for its material gifts (4:14–18) and repeats that you do not need to cut stuff off your penis for Jesus to think you’re OK.

Authorship is not disputed.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“Colossians” (ca. 62–70 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Jesus is a depiction of Yahweh and the universe was created through and for Jesus (1:15f). Jesus was killed for cosmic peace, not just people (1:20), a secret means to complete Yahweh’s plan (10:26). Killing Jesus was a triumph for Yahweh in the sense that it exposed various unnamed rulers and powers to ridicule (2:15). Paul’s suffering completes Jesus’s suffering, which is identical to the cult’s suffering (1:24). Baptism is burial and circumcision (2:11f).

Likely a forgery falsely attributed to Paul to legitimize a later theological direction.

Boring, but the movement toward abstraction and further glorification of Jesus as a god seems natural. Something similar would later happen to Mary, though not in The Bible, where she is a marginal figure.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“1 Thessalonians” (ca. 51 CEText)

Paul (writer), Silas (writer), Timothy (writer).

Read in 2019.

There’s no strong theme. Paul and his buddies speculate about what happens after death and assert that dead Christians are stuck in a FIFO queue and will jet off into space in the apocalypse, before the living (4:14–17). This is supposed to be comforting (4:18).

The authorship of this letter is disputed, but mainly the section that refers to Jews as the enemies of humankind (2:13–16). The rest is more likely genuine.

Verse 2:5 uses the phrase “god is our witness”, a useless boast. The writers bring it up to defend their own behaviour and later modify it to include the recipients of the letter as Yahweh’s fellow character witnesses.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“2 Thessalonians” (ca. 80–115 CEText)

Read in 2019.

More details on the apocalypse. These include a nameless “man of lawlessness” who impersonates Yahweh (2:4). This person is not Satan but some other god, brought by Satan (2:9) and endorsed by Yahweh, who blithely lets people believe its lies (2:11).

The nominal authorship is disputed. The theology expressed here seems to play a major role in Jehova’s Witnesses. It’s vague, poorly argued and clearly contradicted by the more popular idea of Yahweh as powerful and nice, but there is a raw fantastical appeal to it. If the Old Testament described a world that had failed but where Yahweh was still in control, this letter implies a world that is worse yet, being in the hands of a more evil god: Not the same nice guy who made Jesus to redeem the old mistakes. It’s a way for Christians to have their theodicy and eat it too.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, Som en ateist läser bibeln.

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“1 Timothy” (ca. 100 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Advice on running a chapter of the cult. Paul has handed some people “over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” for acting with evil intentions against their flocks (1:20). The love of money is the root of all evil (6:10). Make do with the necessities: food and clothes (6:8). However, good elders of the congregation should be paid double (5:17) and you should enjoy some wine too (5:23). Any complaints against the elders should be dismissed unless there are two or three witnesses (5:19; the Old Testament rule), but even so, try not to get too handsy (5:22) with the women.

Disputed as one of the pastoral epistles (letters to pastors, not poems about shepherds). Likely a forgery built around a core of genuine material.

The misogyny is more elaborate than in the undisputed letters, but it seems plausible that Paul would, for example, recommend that young widows remarry to control their evil nature (5:14). The recommendation that slaves should remain obedient is perfectly in line with the undisputed letters and the cult’s preference for cowardice over positive social change. It is also plausible, under Richard Carrier’s version of the ahistoricity hypothesis, that Paul would claim Jesus has never been seen (6:16). That part is otherwise difficult to explain. However, the whole thing is dull.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, Ministry of Evil: The Twisted Cult of Tony Alamo (2019).

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“2 Timothy” (ca. 100 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Disputed as one of the pastoral epistles. Likely a forgery falsely attributed to Paul: It’s not particularly ideological but describes a more developed church.

The first half of chapter 3 is somewhat interesting as a list of bad behaviours people will display as the apocalypse draws near. The list has aged well in the sense that a 1st-century Christian, an 11th-century Christian and a 21st-century Christian would all be able to read it and imagine that it’s finally happening. Similarly, the author warns about another generic future hazard (4:3f):

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

This is a cult leader warning a fellow cult leader that people are going to look for the answers they want in myths, apparently without realizing that eternal love from Jesus is precisely such an answer and such a myth. The author also makes an interesting comment on scripture, without knowing that he’s writing it (3:16f):

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The book calling itself divinely inspired is useful for fundamentalist purposes.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, Som en ateist läser bibeln.

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“Titus” (ca. 100 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Yet again, the author affirms that slaves should be obedient, never protesting; they should be an ornament to Christianity (2:9f). Also, when a person has disagreed with others and you have told them off twice, shun them (3:10).

Disputed as one of the pastoral epistles. Very similar to “1 Timothy”: Likely a forgery falsely attributed to Paul.

The Pauline and pseudoepigraphical consistency on slavery is disturbing. It suggests that slaves in the Christian congregations were continually arguing that the cult’s message of universal redemption—where the “last shall be first”—should have consequences in the real world. Cult leaders were continually pushing back because they neither wanted to buy freedom for these slaves nor be seen encouraging disobedience or harbouring escaped slaves, which would have landed the leaders in legal jeopardy.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“Philemon” (ca. 54–55 CEText)

Paul (writer).

Read in 2019.

Authorship is not disputed. The last and shortest of Paul’s genuine letters, this one is not concerned with theology. It’s not clear to me what it’s doing in the canon and it didn’t teach me anything, but I like it. Despite his obvious flaws, Paul has the most sympathetic voice in The Bible. It is touching how he talks about Onesimos, a slave sent to him in prison, whom Paul has indoctrinated and is sending back carrying the letter to his master, Philemon. Paul is not compassionate enough to order Philemon to release Onesimos from slavery, but at least he tells Philemon to receive the man as a dear brother. It’s hypocritical, but it isn’t cynical.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“Hebrews” (ca. 80–90 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Sophistry intended to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah of the Old Testament despite clear contradictions. The primary conceit of this effort is to pretend that Jesus is a high priest like Melchizedek.

Though sometimes attributed to Paul, this was never more than speculation and cannot be supported. The author is unknown.

In this screed, it is the devil who “holds the power of death” (2:14). Yahweh’s word is likened to a sword that cuts up your body (4:12). The author insults his audience’s intelligence and curiosity (5:11). He implies the existence of a simplified Christian message for the uninitiated, who are likened to children (6:1); it is not clear whether there already exists a gospel specifically for children, but this may well be true. Later Christians have made countless such efforts and don’t put the dark stuff up front even for adult marks. Speaking of dark stuff: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (9:22).

Though messy, the theology of this letter reverberated in medieval Christianity. It clarifies the idea that although Jesus hit the reset button, if you “sin” you will be sent to the sketchy prototype version of Hell (10:26f). This looks like an important step away from the utopian Pauline idea that Jesus helps you, toward the later dogma that Jesus’s sacrifice is of no practical importance, shifting responsibility away from the human sacrifice, back toward the individual. The church merely tells you to pray to its gods, with no clear consequences in life. Likewise, chapter 11 tries to formulate the enormously influential idea that faith or gullibility is a virtue, arguing from magic.

References here: Reasons to invent Jesus, Sortering av bibelböcker, “James” (ca. 65–85 CE), John (ca. 90–110 CE).

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“James” (ca. 65–85 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Miscellaneous pseudonymous wisdom literature. Jesus plays only a tiny role.

One highlight here is a direct condemnation of critical thinking (1:5–8):

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

This is a quick way to short-circuit your intellectual ability. Let’s break it down:

The vilification of doubt is a versatile tool of mind control. “James”’s version paints outsiders as self-destructive while hiding the burden of proof and keeping the cult’s internal bonds strong. If your god prevents non-believers from understanding the evidence for your belief, and they brought this upon themselves, then why even bother talking to them? Two religions that forbid both doubt and other religions will naturally escalate a conflict to a holy war.

Dismissal of doubters is certainly dangerous, but the main highlight here is verses 1:13–17. Like “Hebrews” it seeded medieval dogma, clearly attributing all good things to a constant, bright Yahweh, and all bad things to people, not the rival god Satan. Just to take one example, this message was clarified in the later “Rule of St. Benedict”, points 42 to 43: “Attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good you see in yourself. Recognize always that evil is your own doing, and to impute it to yourself.” This is another poisonous idea. It is compatible with similar statements throughout The Bible but it’s even worse than the Pentateuch’s more primitive notion of Yahweh as a person who hates other people.

It is depressing to see just how much of the bedrock of modern Christianity looks to have been laid down in an effort to suppress a crisis of faith from the observation that the world kept existing. The author’s long metaphor of the tongue (3:3ff) is more amusing, being an incompetent meditation on free will that puts the Jansenists to shame. It includes the observation that people have conquered all species of animals (3:7), a rather parochial idea. Also amusing is the author’s attack on envy (3:16), unintentionally hitting Yahweh, which describes itself as a jealous god.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“1 Peter” (ca. 75–90 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Authoritarian admonishments with orders to obey wordly leaders, including bad people who own you (2:18). Failure to comply will result in being eaten by the devil in the form of a lion on the prowl (5:8). Peace be upon you losers.

Pseudoepigraphical.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“2 Peter” (ca. 110 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Though framed as prediction, the main purpose of this fake letter is to offer advice on how to deal with disappointment at the fact that the world did not end in the first century, and the laughter of non-Christians who knew it would not (3:3f):

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

Not written by Peter. Here, in the youngest text of the New Testament, the pseudoepigraphical author states unequivocally that Jesus is a god (1:1), yet continues to refer to Yahweh, a god. Here, if anywhere, you should expect to find an attempt to reconcile the mild trend toward monotheism with this obvious polytheism, but that only happens in “1 John”. Here it’s polytheism plain and simple.

The text is symptomatic. Verse 1:16 is particularly revealing. With no sign of provocation, the author blurts out: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” This is the sort of thing you would not think to say if you actually believed it was completely true. Apparently the author would have been too young to meet Jesus even if Jesus was a real person, but it’s still tempting to read the sentence as tacit admission of having “cleverly” made him up.

Bibel 2000 differs greatly from the NIV in verse 1:19. The Swedish version states that you cannot interpret prophecy on your own, i.e. you should not think without a fellow cultist by your side to keep you under control.

Verse 2:7 praises Lot, another surprising choice where the Christians had a chance to disavow the old horrors. The author brings up Balaam and his talking donkey too. In closing, the author undermines the authority of Paul, saying his letters are “hard to understand”, meaning that their obvious meanings should be misconstrued according to some new dogma. This is all dumb, but verse 3:3 takes the cake.

Verse 3:3 is the clearest sign in The Bible of the natural crisis that hits any cult formed around an imminent apocalypse, and yet, the author refuses to back down. His answer to the imagined question is uninteresting sophistry. It’s the framing device that really gets me. Before the author launches into his answer, he sets the debate itself “in the last days”. For 2000 years, ever since this disingenuous move, there have always been Christians who’ve believed the end would come in their lifetimes. They have not always been this conceited.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, Som en ateist läser bibeln, “Jude” (ca. 100 CE), The Bible (ca. 110 CE).

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“1 John” (ca. 90–110 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Imaginary love.

Pseudoepigraphical, but an important letter. It coined both the term “antichrist” and the phrase “the Word of Life”, which several Christian sects have adopted as their name. These sects include Livets Ord, a Swedish megachurch founded in the year I was born. Amusingly, in 2014, its founder converted to Catholicism.

The theology of this late entry to the canon holds some promise. Most importantly, the author dismisses one of the most central points of the Old Testament when he writes that there is no fear in love (4:18). This can only be interpreted as a polemic against Deuteronomy 10 and its requirement of fear with love. To drive home this point, the letter-writer openly states that “fear has to do with punishment”, alluding to the dark figure of Yahweh in its older form: The abusive parent in the sky.

This development is not pursued to any explicit disavowal or conclusion, presumably because conservative Christians would not stomach a frontal assault on the Pentateuch, but it’s a useful crack in the mortar for those modern Christians who recognize the truth of the statement. However, if Yahweh is a good guy who no longer demands fear, that strengthens the need for theodicy to explain all the stuff in the world that isn’t love. The author tries to deliver. His antichrists are many, but they’re not terribly sinister, and like vampires in folklore, they have a tell (4:1–3):

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

Hardly satisfying. Also not satisfying is the author’s attempt to make sense of all the gods in The Bible (5:6–8):

[Jesus] did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

This is not the “holy trinity” of modern Christianity, invented only after The Bible was written. Later Christians tried to fix things by altering verse 5:8 with a forgery about “the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit” testifying in heaven, but this is one of those cases where having lots of older bibles lying around provides a measure of protection. With no resolution to the problem of polytheism versus monotheism in The Bible itself, Christians continue to make up their own. As of April 2019, there are 11,000 words in the Wikipedia article on the “Trinity”, and an amazing 17,000 words in the article on the “Johannine Comma”, a single character of punctuation in the verse. Sometimes I feel that human history could have been better spent.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker, “2 Peter” (ca. 110 CE).

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“2 John” (ca. 90–110 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Pseudoepigraphical trifle.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“3 John” (ca. 90–110 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Pseudoepigraphical trifle.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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“Jude” (ca. 100 CEText)

Read in 2019.

Apostates and anecdotes lifted from texts that were purposely excluded from the canon. As in “2 Peter” 2:4, there are angels among the apostates. They abandon their own duties and are imprisoned under ground (1:6), as in Jubilees (ca. 160–150 BCE).

A weird editing mistake, faintly evocative of other possible Christianities snuffed out by infighting.

References here: Sortering av bibelböcker.

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