Good question...did the gospel authors simply rip-off stories from the OT and ascribe them to Jesus?

Created May 3,1999     Last modified May 23,1999


I received this question recently...


First, congratulations on what must be one of the best apologetics sites on the net. I understand what "backlogs" are all about, but if you can find a way to notch this one up any on your list, well, I'd just be flabbergasted.

The basic argument presented by Steven Carr (one of the more formidable atheist debaters on the net, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), is that most or many of the miracles of Christ did not in fact occur, but are simply retellings of OT stories.

My reason for contacting you on this is that I have yet to see a rebuttal argument either on the net or in the apologetics literature. Whenever a skeptic notices such a thing, he obviously feels obligated to shout it from the rooftops, you know "what the Xtians don't want you to know...".

If you can find the time to do it justice, I'd be most appreciative.

Thanks much,

The questioner referred me to a page [which no longer exists], which contained the article below. I will do the usual line-by-line analysis of the argument, with my comments without boldness, and make a summary statement at the end. [The original page in the UK also contained some material about supposed interrelationships between Mark and Matthew, but they are not germane to this discussion, and I am addressing those issues in my debate with James Still elsewhere.]


Miracles and the Book of Mormon



This article examines many of the most famous miracles of Jesus. If, as I maintain, knowledge of the real Jesus died out rapidly, then where did the miracle stories come from?

We need to note here that the objector's starting point is that the miracle stories cannot be (or are not) true accounts from the life of Jesus, passed on through tradition or literature. Once one makes this assumption, then one is quite obviously forced to come up with a source of the stories, and one is obviously forced to conclude that they must be fabrications (assuming that one disallows later prophetic revelation of historical facts about the past, but I suspect that the objector would hold to this assumption).

[I personally disagree with the assumption of non-historicity, and have written reams on it, but in this piece I want to simply show that the argument for radical literary dependence (to the point of 'origination') of the NT miracle stories on the OT miracle stories--as the sole source for the miracle stories--is (1) unsupported by the specific examples the objector gives, (2) is actually contradicted by the textual data; (3) is too vague and limited of a theory as to have any superior explanatory power; (4) contradicts what we know about the general literary praxis and historical setting of the period; (4) cannot provide adequate warrants for moving from 'similarity' to 'rewrites'; and (5) is inferior to other theories, especially other skeptical ones]

Now, at a very basic level, the objector is simply forced into this position--there are simply very few options. If the stories are not based on Jesus' history, then the only possible sources are (1) imagination, (2) transference [of one developed miracle story to a different agent], or (3) development of a miracle story from some non-miraculous historical event.

Currently, few scholars would opt for number 1 (pure imagination or hallucination), and often for the obvious reason that both require 'seeds' from which to "grow the dream." Most scholars today who would not accept the nature miracles as either possible or actual, opt for number 3 (addition of miraculous elements to a historically-based non-miraculous source), and most of the sources cited by the objector take this position, as opposed to number 2 (the objector's position). Option number 2 (that entire settings and characters are made up, without any historical anchor, to fit some OT miracle story held to be prophetic about Jesus), which position is held by the objector, is mostly an ancient view, held before the resurgence of research into the Jewish background of Jesus' day. The reason option number 2 is not widely held today will become apparent from our interaction with the data below.

The question will not be "are there similarities between OT and NT miracle stories?", but rather are these similarities adequate warrant to believe that literary plagiarism/transference was the source of those similarities.

Let's dive in...

Ruth Tucker is an evangelical Christian. In her excellent book, 'Another Gospel', (Zondervan,1989), she examines the beliefs of Mormons, Moonies, Jehovah's Witnesses etc. Here is what she says about the Book of Mormon.

"Many of the stories in the Book of Mormon were, as Fawn Brodie and many others have shown, borrowed from the Bible. The daughter of Jared, like Salome, danced before a king and decapitation followed. Aminadi, like Daniel, deciphered handwriting on a wall, and Alma was converted after the exact fashion of St. Paul. The daughters of the Lamanites were abducted like the dancing daughters of Shiloh; and Ammon, the American counterpart of David, for want of a Goliath slew six sheep-rustlers with his sling". What could be more obvious and clear-cut?

A quick methodological point--what seems "obvious and clear-cut" still needs to be demonstrated with evidence and argument. And each case must be cross-examined to see what data counts against the position. So, even Tucker refers to scholarly works in making her observation, instead of appealing to "appearance"...

Or take Chapter 2 Verse 249 of the Qu'ran (sic), which is about the first king of Israel, called Talut in the Qu'ran (sic).

So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it. So when he had crossed it, he and those who believed with him, they said: We have today no power against Jalut and his forces. Those who were sure that they would meet their Lord said: How often has a small party vanquished a numerous host by Allahs permission, and Allah is with the patient. Christians will at once recognise this strange story about how God tested the army of the Israelites by making them drink from a river. It comes from Judges 7:5-7.

Actually, I consider myself a Christian and I don't "recognise" this to be the case at all...the details aren't close enough to the story, nor clear enough in their referents. Let's cite the story first:

Then the Lord said to Gideon, "The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go." 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, "You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink." 6 Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. 7 And the Lord said to Gideon, "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home." 8 So the 300 men took the people's provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men
Now, let's cite the Qur'an in two other translations, to make sure we get the sense: "When Talut set out with his forces, he announced: Surely, Allah will put you to the test in respect of a river; he who drinks his fill therefrom will not remain with me; and he who tastes it not will of a surety continue with me. There will, however, be no blame upon him who sips only a handful from it. But, except for a few of them, they all drank of it..." (trans. By Al-Baqarah, WR:TQK)

"So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it." (trans. Shakir, WR:TQS)

What is clear from the three translations above is that the issue of the "hand" is that of volume, not of the manner of drinking.

 If we look at the points of discontinuity, they are rather pervasive:

1. The first king of Israel was Saul (Talut) NOT Gideon. [The previous verses in the Quran identify Talut with the first 'requested king' of Israel, large in physique.]

2. In Judges, God is trying to reduce the number of soldiers; in the Quran it is a test of actual faith.

3. In Judges, the nature of the screening is kept hidden from the soldiers; in the Quran it is announced to all as a test of loyalty.

4. In Judges, the issue is drinking by hands versus drinking by tongue; in the Quran it is drinking versus not drinking

As a matter of fact, the ONLY points of continuity are (1) the mention of a 'hand' (even there it is used quite differently in each story!); and (2) the general motif that God can take on large armies with smaller armies (a general pan-cultural theme in no way implying borrowing!). At most we have a very vague similarity with the biblical passage.

[I hasten to add that the issue of Islamic borrowing from Jewish scripture and culture is a fascinating and complex one, and there appear to be significant borrowing from the rabbinic tradition (but less so from the actual text of the OT). For example, this passage above contains at least a confusion of Saul (the first king), Gideon (the water test), and Saul again (forbidding food). See Abraham Geiger, "What did Muhammad Borrow from Judaism?" in WR:OK:216f]

So, close attention to the details shows that the passages are not even remotely close enough to suggest 'literary borrowing' of the type suggested by our objector. [Also, a literary relationship would likely to have been much closer in detail and structure to the OT narrative. The radical departures make the connection remote at best.]

[Tank Note, May 23, 1999: I have been copied on a number of rather strange emails and Usenet posts, suggesting that I am in disagreement with a corresponding
piece on this issue at Answering Islam. Let me try to be a bit clearer on this issue (without changing my wording above):

1. My intent above is simply to argue on the basis of detail that the Talut passage is NOT a straight one-for-one borrowing from the Gideon passage, as the thesis
I am discussing in the paper asserts. [It is not even an example of 'changing' the character--it still purports to be the story of what really occurred.]

2. I am absolutely in agreement with Answering Islam (cf. #7) that there are reminisces of the Gideon passage, but modified by other borrowings (e.g., the
abstinence motif of I Sam 14.24ff).

3. In my 'skeptical' perspective, the 'hand' element by itself is NOT adequate indication of borrowing--only the confluence of the elements of the hand, the
testing, the other (semi-biblical) events surrounding it, and (possibly) the number 300 (which shows up in a hadith about the Battle of Badr, and which fits well with
Jochen's argumentation about the event being created to inspire troops of approximately 300 to begin fighting!). At most, Jochen and I would disagree over the
intensity of the similarity.

4. The reference I made above about Abraham Geiger's work SHOULD have made this clear. I commented specifically that the passage was a
'confusion' of the stories (implying some borrowing and definite modification or faulty memory). [Geiger's work, of course, is an older work (some of his arguments
would be outdated), and at times overstates the connection with the Rabbinic materials (in my opinion), but in this passage he is NOT talking about "possibly
later" Rabbinic materials, but the "unquestionably earlier" biblical materials. His arguments with Rabbinic parallels would have to be examined case by
case (to verify the dating of the Rabbinic traditions), but in this case that limitation would not apply.]

I hope this clears my position up adequately on this...the intent of my analysis here was simply to address the issue of did the Qur'an pick up a story, chop off its
head, and graft another one on--at the level suggested by the Objector. End Note.]

It is very easy to spot when old religious stories have been recycled to produce new religious stories about other people.

If the previous passage was supposed to be a good example, then I absolutely disagree...I know from forays into comparative mythology (in the Tank) that it is very easy to make facile identifications based on superficial similarities. (One biblical scholar created the term 'parallelomania' to describe this!) A good deal of critical rigor needs to be applied to each case. It may be easy to spot "candidates" for further analysis, but merely pointing out common words, themes, and even settings will not be enough for the critical thinker.

And the relevance to the Bible is?

Take the feeding of the 5,000.

In 2 Kings 4:42-44, Elisha has a great many people to feed with only a few loaves of bread and a little other food. He delegates the task of feeding. There is a complaint that the quantity is too small. The feeding continues and everyone is fed. There is surplus bread left over. This older story from Kings has exactly the same plot as the feeding of the 5,000 - only the numbers are different.

Okay, let's pay attention to the detail first:

Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat." 43 And his attendant said, "What, shall I set this before a hundred men?" But he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, 'They shall eat and have some left over.'" 44 So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord (2 Kings)

Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat, to a lonely place by Himself; and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. 14 And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick. 15 And when it was evening, the disciples came to Him, saying, "The place is desolate, and the time is already past; so send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16 But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" 17 And they *said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." 18 And He said, "Bring them here to Me." 19 And ordering the multitudes to recline on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave to the multitudes, 20 and they all ate, and were satisfied. And they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. 21 And there were about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children. (Matt 14.16-21)

And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him, *said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?" 6 And this He was saying to test him; for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. 7 Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, *said to Him, 9 "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?" 10 Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. 12 And when they were filled, He *said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost." 13 And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world." (John 6.1ff)

This situation looks a good bit closer than the Qur'an passage, although the differences are again plentiful. Apart from the numbers, we might identify the following: Overall, the nature of the miracle looks the same (expansion of food supply), but the actual plot differs. Although Jesus takes care of the needs of the people (but of his "audience", instead of his disciples, differing from 2 Kings), the 'plot' seems more to be the teaching of the disciples, than the simple feeding of hungry folk. Verse 6 in John's account makes this 'testing' motif clear. Jesus even uses this feeding (along with the feeding of the 4,000) in a teaching lesson with them later (Matt 16.8ff).

We need also to remember that 'feeding miracles' were not altogether uncommon at the time:

"Miracles of multiplying food appear in the Old Testament (cf., e.g., 1 Kings 17:16; 19:8) and occasionally in Jewish tradition (cf. the oil in late traditions about the Maccabees) and Greco-Roman texts; the background here is 2 Kings 4 and especially the manna of Exodus 16..." (BBC: in loc. John 6.11) One such 'food appearing' miracle shows up in the Jewish lit: "His (Hanina ben Dosa's) wife used to heat the oven every sabbath eve and used to throw fuel in to make smoke because of the shame (that is, because she was ashamed before her neighbors of having no food). She had this spiteful neighbor. She (the neighbor) said, 'This is odd, when I know they have nothing, nothing at all. What does all this mean?' She (the neighbor) went and knocked on the door (of Hanina's house). She (Hanina's wife) was ashamed and went into the room. Then a miracle took place for her (Hanina's wife): she saw the oven full of bread and the trough full of dough. Then she (the neighbor) said to her, 'Bring a shovel. Your loaves are beginning to burn.' And she (Hanina's wife) said to her, 'That's why I went in'" (b. Taanit. 24bf] We might also point out that others have noted similar connections with the OT passage: "The 'barley' loaves are reminiscent of 2 Kings 4:42-44, where Elisha multiplies such loaves. Philip's and Andrew's skepticism also mirrors that of Elisha's prophet disciples (2 Kings 4:43)" [BBC: in loc. John 6.8-9]
The feeding of the 5,000 is such an obvious rewrite of the story from Kings that if I remind you that Jesus used barley bread, you can guess what type of bread Elisha used.

Now this is a speculative leap that would make Kierkegaard proud...

To jump all the way from 'reminiscences' and 'backgrounds' to 'obvious rewrite' would require much more evidence than simply observing surface similarities!

Some of the data and arguments against are easily seen:

First of all, all the data we have about Jesus of Nazareth suggests that he thought himself to be the Messiah. And as such, he was to be the Second Moses and prophet of prophets. There is absolutely no reason to believe that he could not have deliberately structured this miracle after the miracle of one of his predecessors. He was consistently putting himself in the line of succession of the OT prophets (e.g., Luke 13.33; Luke 11.50; Matt 13.57; Matt 21.11). He was certainly familiar with the stories of Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4.25ff), and was deliberate in his efforts to fulfill his destiny as he saw it written in the OT/Tanaakh. The entire Jewish culture expected the messianic age to be filled with "echoes" of the OT history. There is all the reason in the world for Him to deliberately emulate OT stories, when the appropriate occasion arose, and this would certainly be no exception.

Secondly, although there are elements in continuity with the Elisha story, the stronger link is that with Moses and the manna (as noted above). Jesus as the "new Moses" (cf. Deut 18.15) is a theme in John, and in this passage the people respond in this way, as opposed to anything relative to Elisha. Cf. EBC:

"The miracle excited the wonder of the people and compelled them to recognize that Jesus was an unusual person. The allusion to "the Prophet" is probably a reflection of Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses' prediction of a prophet like himself who would command their hearing. It gives an indication of the undercurrent of popular expectation that earlier appeared in the question of the Pharisees to John the Baptist (John 1:21) and also later in the discussion at the Feast of Tabernacles (7:40, 52 mg.). Since Moses had provided food and water in the desert (Exod 16:11-36; 17:1-6; Num 11:1-33; 20:2-11), the people expected that the Prophet like Moses would do likewise. It is therefore unlikely that the gospel author would have been so inconsistent in weaving such a mixed-hero-image passage.

Thirdly, there are enough strong discontinuities (noted above) between the two passages to discount literary borrowing at such a radical level.

Fourthly, the comment about 'guessing the bread' is cute, but misleading--the same approach to any of the discontinuous areas (or even to the Matthean account itself!) would fail 'obviously.'

Fifthly, we run into all the difficulties with ethics of fabrication, the difficulty of escaping detection in a closed literary circle (the apostolic church), and the logistics challenge of making it up and trying to 'edit it into' an existing gospel! The sheer difficulties of doing this successfully count against the plausibility of such a theory...but more on this later...

And strangely enough, the "barley" comment actually points out a problem for the view...

The "barley" element of the story, and the "little boy" element of the story only show up in John's version of the story--it is NOT in the earlier three Synoptic accounts. What this means is that these alleged "deliberate similarities" are NOT present in the story when it is first "created", but only show up much later, when the Gospel of John is composed! This historical progression of not-there-when-created to there-at-the-end looks MUCH MORE like either (1) it is the fruit of reflection and later notice by the evangelists (an evangelical view) or (2) it is the fruit of legendary embellishment of an existing story (non-evangelical view), but either case argues against the story having originated with those "rip-off similarities" present. So, in the one case in which we can have this historical progression (the one miracle recording all four gospels), the data is the reverse of what we would expect if the objector's view were correct.

But let's go on...

On page 176 of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, written by a raft of Catholic scholars, it says that 2 Kings 4:42-44 is 'obviously the inspiration for the NT multiplication miracles'. I like the word 'obviously'.

 So what? I can find a raft of scholars to support positions all along the spectrum of dependence, from "none" to "background/reminiscent" to "linguistic shaping" to "theological explication" to "outright plagiarism"...and remember, I am arguing (on the basis of Jewish expectation, Jesus' self-concept, book production logistics, and early NT tradition) that the Elisha story WAS part of the "inspiration of the miracles" but of the miracles themselves--not of only the stories of the miracles. [Your citation leaves it ambiguous whether it was the 'miracle' or the 'story' that it was the 'inspiration' for, BTW.] The particular passage in the NJBC you cite was not written by a 'raft' but by one professor of the OT (Begg). I can just as easily cite another professor (Hobbs, WBC) with "The actions of Elisha also find echo in the ministry of Jesus"--a much milder statement.

Besides, most of the scholars on that particular raft would believe in a historical kernel to the NT story (option 3) instead of simple appropriation of the OT story wholesale (option 2). And one doesn't arrive at truth by counting noses...

But one story is just a coincidence

Here are some more examples of Old Testament stories which have been rewritten to become stories about Jesus.

Below, LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This translation was done at least before 200 BC.

 (In his list of similarities below, I will intersperse points of discontinuity or other comments in [ ])

In 2 Kings 4:27-37 a distraught parent [mom] of an only child [a son] comes to Elisha [a journey on a donkey, of around 25 miles] just as in Mark 5:22-24 (which continues in verses 35-43) a distraught parent [a father] of an only child [daughter] comes to Jesus [a short cross-town journey, walking distance], pleading for help.

In both stories someone tries to discourage the parent from bothering Elisha and Jesus.

[in the OT it is the servant of Elisha, trying to protect his master; in the NT, it is friends of Jairus, trying to break the bad news to Jairus; in the OT the 'discouraging' occurs BEFORE the request for help is made; in the NT it is AFTER the request is made, and WHILE they are already going to the house.]

In both stories it is unclear to some people in the story whether the child is dead ,dying or asleep.

[I cannot find this stated in the text at all, and it would be irrelevant anyway. Most diseases in the ANE resulted in death, so very often the progression was sick-dying-asleep-dead...The fact that "some people" wouldn't know would be a trivial one altogether. The mother in the OT knew the son was dead, and Jairus learned of the death during the walk. In any event, this is not central to either of the stories' plots.]

In both stories the child is in a house some distance away.

[In the OT, the distance is substantial (25 miles), and the child is male; in the NT, the distance is close, and the child is female. "some distance away" would ALWAYS be the case--it lacks enough specificity to be a distinguishing trait of a narrative or plotline.]

In both stories a second source comes from the house and confirms that the child is dead.

[In the OT, the source is the servant of the healer; in the NT, the source is unspecified, but from the house of the "heal-ee". In the OT, the source informs Elisha of the problem--he previously has no detailed knowledge of the problem; in the NT, the source provides an 'update' to Jesus and Jairus.]

In both stories Jesus and Elisha continue anyway to the house.

[Would you expect something otherwise, in a general healing miracle?! This is something we would be surprised to find missing from such stories! (Although we do have 'healing at a distance' done by Jesus in the NT.)]

In both stories the parent precedes Elisha or Jesus so that the miracle worker finds both parents present when he arrives at the house.

[This is factually wrong. In the OT, there is no mention of the father at the house (the earlier mention of him was as he was reaping in the field, requiring servants as communicators between him and his wife, cf. 4.18-22). In the NT, Jesus and Jairus arrive at the same time (they were walking together, remember), as were Elisha and the Shunammite woman. ]

In both stories Elisha and Jesus seek a high degree of privacy by turning people out of the house before their miracle

[There is a vast difference here. In the OT, Elisha admits no one into the room, neither parents nor servant; in the NT, Jesus invites both the parents and the Inner Three disciples. In the OT, there is no crowd to even deal with; in the NT, there is the professional mourning crowd. "High degree of privacy" is too ambiguous to be useful, and any further precision brings out the differences between the accounts.]

To the above group of differences let me add some others:

1. the OT lady did not tell Elisha the problem; Jairus was explicit.

2. the OT lady had a long-standing relationship with Elisha; Jairus would likely have been a stranger to Jesus.

3. Elisha sent his servant to ask about her before she even arrived; Jesus has no prior contact with Jairus.

4. Elisha sent his servant to try the healing; Jesus did not involve the disciples except as final observers.

5. Elisha performs an elaborate physical contact routine to raise the kid (probably learned from his mentor Elijah, cf. 1 Kings 17); Jesus simply speaks.

What this closer look at the texts indicates, is that the similarities only exist at a very high level of abstraction/generality. And the more abstract the point of contact becomes, the lower confidence we can have in it being "borrowed" from a literary source. (For example, the simultaneous occurrence of the phrase "some money" would not be as useful in determining literary dependence, as would be the simultaneous occurrence of the phrase "between $1,256.48 and $1,746.03") In our case here, as we get closer to the actual stories, the similarities ('only child') become differences (son, daughter), making the case for borrowing rather weak.

The story in Mark is such an obvious rewrite of the story in Kings that if I remind you that Jairus in Mark 5 falls at Jesus's feet, you can guess what the parent in 2 Kings 4 did.

This is much, much flimsier than the case of the multiplication of the loaves, actually, and simply cannot be maintained in light of the mass of differences noted above.

These differences are much more substantial--virtually everything is different except a couple of things that must be there for a 'healing' event or 'revivification' event to occur at all: a dead person, a concerned person, a healer, going to the scene of the body, healing/raising them up, and witnesses! These elements are present of course (it IS a healing/revivification story after all!), but almost every crucial aspect of these elements are different:

It is difficult for me to see even why this parallel would be suggested as being close enough to establish literary dependence, given the almost bi-polar divergences in even the basic structural elements...

The name Jairus has 2 meanings. 1 is 'he enlightens'. The other is 'he awakens'. Is not 'he awakens' a remarkably apt name for someone in a resurrection story, where Jesus says that the child is not dead but sleeping?

I got a chuckle out of made me think of some fundamentalist's noting (with delighted paranoia) that "Satan" and "Santa" were anagrams...

Your author's imagination is most active here, since 'he awakens' is by far the rarer meaning (BAG give the translations as "'he-God-will enlighten' or rarely, 'he will arouse'"). "He enlightens" is the Greek rendition of a Hebrew root; "he awakens" is from an Aramaic root. Commentators either don't find it important enough to mention, since the evangelists don't make any point of it (many commentators), or point out that it is more likely a historical reminiscence (Nolland, WBC, Luke) or comment that "such a symbolic use is subtle at best" (Guelich, WBC, in.loc.).


Just to summarize in the words of another commentator:

"For the Jairus account, once we move beyond the question of the independent transmission of the account, the problem is simply that of the genuine historical possibility of the restoration of a dead person to life. The account is certainly not adequately explained by suggesting a development from something like Matt 8:5-13, nor from Acts 9:36-43, nor from OT accounts of the raising of the dead ( Kgs 17:17-24; 2 Kgs 4:18-37). " [Nolland:WBC, Luke, p.417]
All in all, the data is overwhelmingly against this being a rip-off of the Elisha passage (and the details would argue even against any deliberate patterning by Jesus).

Jesus greater than Jonah?

[Same here: I will point out some of the differences as I go along]

In Jonah the sailors (professional sailors) and Jonah are in a boat [Jonah is running away from obeying God!] during a dreadful storm [sent as a judgment/discipline by God on him] just as in Mark 4 the disciples (professional fishermen) and Jesus are on a boat (in between ministries, and in complete obedience to God). The sailors [actually only the captain] look for Jonah [below deck] and find him asleep. The disciples look for Jesus [they didn't "look" for him--he was there on the deck with them] and find him asleep.

This could be a coincidence except that this story is the one and only time Jesus is ever shown sleeping in the entire New Testament. Sleeping in a tiny boat on the point of sinking, during a storm of such severity that experienced sailors were unable to cope, is quite a feat.

I am not sure that (1) it is such a feat, nor that (2) this constitutes adequate grounds for deciding this was not a 'coincidence' [I think we need to bring in Robby Berry as a statistical consultant on this one, :>)]...

Let' me point out some background material at this point, from BBC:

"Rousing a sleeping prophet to secure his prayers may have reminded the disciples or first hearers of Jonah 1:5-6, but Jesus appears quite different from Jonah here. Some ancient pagan stories told of powerful individuals able to subdue even the forces of nature, but these were nearly always gods or, rarely, heroes of the distant past. Many Jewish people believed that angels controlled the forces of nature, such as winds and sea; yet such angels did have one to whom they must answer. In Jewish tradition, the one who ruled the winds and sea was God himself (Ps 107:29; cf. Jon 1:15). The disciples' surprise at Jesus' power is thus easy to understand.

"Storms often rose suddenly on the lake called the Sea of Galilee; these fishermen had usually stayed closer to Capernaum and are unprepared for a squall this far from shore. The only place one could sleep in a small fishing boat with water pouring in from a storm would be on the elevated stern, where one could use the wooden or leather-covered helmsman's seat, or a pillow kept under that seat, as a cushion for one's head. Jesus' sleep during the storm may indicate the tranquility of faith (Ps 4:8; cf. 2 Kings 6:16-17, 32; Prov 19:23); in some Greek stories, the genuineness of philosophers' faith in their own teachings on tranquility was tested in storms.

The best selling commentary on Matthew in the UK is by J.C.Fenton, who was Principal of Lichfield Theological College. He says about Matthew 8:24 'but he was asleep recalls Jonah 1:5, Jonah ...was fast asleep.'

Why do I get the impression that somehow the "recalls" is going to be grossly extrapolated into an "obvious rewrite" in a few minutes? (smile)

He says about Matthew 8:25:- 'they went and woke him, saying, Save (soson), Lord (kyrie), we are perishing. (apollymetha) Cf Jonah 1:6, So the captain came and said to him, What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call upon your God (Kyrie)! Perhaps your God will give a thought to us. (Greek 'save us' diasose), that we do not perish (apollometha). He says about Matthew 8:27 'And the men (hoi de anthropoi)... Are they an echo of Jonah 1:16 -Then the men (hoi andres) feared the Lord exceedingly.?'

Will "echo" be fed steroids until an "obvious rewrite" has developed? (same smile as before)

When else does Matthew call the disciples 'the men'?

This bothers me a little. I know enough from the material at the bottom of this piece (not included here), that the objector believes in Marcan priority, and that Matthew drew from Mark in this passage. But the "the men" phrase only occurs in the Matthew passage, not in the Mark or Luke one. If the story originated from the OT passage, the parallels should have shown up in the earliest versions (i.e., Mark). That the objector only draws attention to the data that allegedly supports his position (i.e., that it shows up in Matthew), without offering some explanation for the contrary data (i.e., that it does NOT show up in Mark), is a bit disturbing. [He will also later argue from the "fear" clause, but Matthew doesn't even use the word "fear" at all...]

As for the argument from a single-mention here, this is methodologically flawed. Single instances of unique words (unless emphatic) are more likely to be due to linguistic factors (e.g., repetition, style, etc.) and/or to semantic or content issues, than they are to be due to factors of 'source borrowing'. In other words, the data is simply too flimsy to support such an infrastructure. [John puts "the men" on the lips of Jesus in John 17.6, where it obviously refers to the disciples, in the only such reference in his there some deeper meaning to it there? Is it also alluding to the Jonah passage?! To prove so would require much more data than is available.]

And, in fact, leading commentators on the passage understand the switch to "the men" in a completely different manner. Some understand it to emphasize their fear, but Gundry makes the best exegetical case:

In both Mark 4 and Jonah the witnesses after the sea-calming miracle are portrayed as afraid and awe-struck. In Mark 4 'feared with great fear (ephobethesan phobon megan)'. In Jonah (LXX) 'feared the men with great fear' (ephobethesan hoi andres phobon megan)

Notice how he flips back to Mark, since only Mark has the phrase he is advancing as data ('feared with great fear'). Matthew and Luke don't have it, but Matthew is the one with the "the men"--why?

To really build a better case for his position, the objector would need to make some defensible arguments as to why the redactional arrangements sometimes support and sometimes argue against his position.

[In the section below, I have removed the images and simply transliterated the words.]

In this picture of Marks' Gospel, I have underlined the relevant words. [I bolded the underlined words]

[Mark 4:41: kai ephobethesan phobon megan kai elegon pros allalous...]

  In this picture of the Septuagint translation of Jonah, I have underlined the words which Mark used. [bolded]

[Jonah 1.10 (LXX): kai ephobethesan hoi andres phobon megan kai eipon pros auton..."

  Now, to be complete, let me give the transliterations for Matthew and Luke: hoi de anthropoi ethaumasan legontes...(Matt 8.27) ["but the men were amazed, saying..."]
phobathentes de ethaumasan legontes...(Luke 8.25) ["but being afraid, they were amazed, and said..."]
Notice that the Matthean passage that he used for the "the men" phrase doesn't even have the word "fear" (much less 'great fear')...If the point of the "the men" was to point to Jonah, then Matthew fouled it up by dropping Mark's "fear with great fear". And Luke has neither "the men" (of Matthew) nor the "feared with great fear" (of Mark).

The objector is simply trying to make too much out of too little (and being more than a little selective in his use of the textual data). There is nothing magic about "and they feared with great fear"--it shows up in this exact Greek form in 1 Maccabees 10.8 ("Then Jonathan came to Jerusalem and read the letter in the hearing of all the people and of those in the citadel. 8 They were greatly alarmed when they heard that the king had given him authority to recruit troops.") and in Luke 2.9 ("And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.") This is common enough to not require 'inspiration' from the OT LXX...

Now, it should be "obvious" to anyone that is familiar with the story of Jonah that any similarities conjectured above (e.g., sleeping prophet, stormy seas, great fear, calming of water) are dwarfed by (1) the major discontinuities between the stories, and (2) even the discontinuities in the elements in common.

The major discontinuities between the stories include: the purpose of the trip, the obedience/disobedience of the central figure, how the sea is calmed, the fate of the central figure, the agent of the calming, the teaching component in the story, and others.

The major discontinuities in the common elements are:

Now, there IS a background motif to this passage, but it is likely not Jonah. As the source I cited in the beginning of this section pointed out, the image is that of the God who rules nature. God in the OT/Tanaach is the one who calms the seas (Ps 107.23ff) : Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters;
They have seen the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind,
Which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths;
Their soul melted away in their misery.
They reeled and staggered like a drunken man,
And were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brought them out of their distresses.
He caused the storm to be still,
So that the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they were quiet;
So He guided them to their desired haven.
This is more likely the 'echo' in the NT miracle parallels, but does this require that the NT passages be 'rewrites' of Psalm 107?

Not at all--there are several possible ways of accounting for similarities:

1. The first I have already mentioned which is that Jesus could have deliberately set out to enact these, in his understanding of His relationship to the promises of the Old Testament.

2. Another is that God could have orchestrated these providentially to manifest Jesus' continuity with the OT predictive streams to his people. Under this scenario, similarities would seem 'accidental' to the situation, but 'revelatory' to His people.

3. Another is that the event was experienced by the gospel authors, and as they wrote the event down, similarities to OT stories became obvious, and so they drew attention to data, which was already there in the event (they would not have needed to fabricate this, if this was already implicit in the event itself). This would be in keeping with experiences like Emmaus in Luke 24.

4. Another is that many OT images were already overlapping in semantic fields. Messianic prophecies often would mix the individual images of king, priest, prophet, sage, victim, rejected messiah, suffering servant, triumphant warrior together, creating 'echoes' to large numbers of passages (without deliberate intent).

5. The whole issue of typological reality (present in the Old and New Testaments, as well as extra-biblical literature) provides a firm foundation for 'accidental' similarities or 'thematic continuity and development'.

6. Many basic aspects of religious and/or messianic mission would bear similarities to one another without ANY level of dependence on one another. All healings will have some basics in common, as will all rescue miracles. These similarities would flow from the nature of the activity--NOT from any kind of literary dependence. [For a list of all the various motifs that comprise the 'family resemblances' of NT miracle stories, consult Thiessen, MSECT.]

7. Fabrication of stories (Option 2, as advanced by the objector) or legendary/mythic embellishment of existing historical accounts (Option 3, a more common position than the one advanced by the objector).

To immediately conclude that Item Seven is the 'winner', would require more than illustrating similarities--it would require arguments and evidence against the other alternative theories. [The objector may well have these arguments posted somewhere else, but his piece here is working on the assumption that 1-6 are not true. I simply wanted to point out some of the alternative ways of accounting for similarities.]

It should also be pointed out that Jesus' explicit references to Jonah had nothing to do with the calming of the sea, but rather (1) the response of Nineveh and (2) the three-day fish-stomach experience...The 'greater than Jonah' remark would probably act as a deterrent to casting Jesus as a Jonah-look-alike, which might result from drawing such a close parallel. This would militate against making up a story that identified Jesus with Jonah in (at least) the first chapter of Jonah!

Jesus, Elijah and Luke

Jesus in Luke 7 raises the son of a widow from the dead. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah raises the son of a widow from the dead. Both stories employ exactly the same words - and he gave him to his mother. The Greek is 'kai edoken auton te metri autou', copied word for word from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

An illustration page [no longer exists] was available for readers to double check my claims

[Here the objector provides a helpful page of images of pages from the relevant texts. I will have to illustrate, and I hope not to diminish his intended force of the illustration]

Luke 7.11-15: the verse begins with "Kai egeneto" (followed by 19 "non-copied" words), "ta pula tas poleos kai idou" (followed by 9 "non-copied" words), "chora" (followed by 42 "non-copied" words), "kai edoken auton ta matri autou".

I Kings 17:10: (6 "non-copied" words), "ton pulona tas poleos kai idou" (2 "non-copied" words), "chora" (skip 300+ "non-copied" words), "kai egeneto" (14 "non-copied" words), "kai edoken auton ta matri autou"

Let me make a quick observation or two about this textual data. 2. The phrase "and he gave him back to his mother" looks very close, and is generally understood by commentators of all persuasions to be a backward-glance at the LXX of the passage. (Again, this is noting a similarity, not a 'rewrite' at this point...) Now, I do not want to minimize the possibility that the evangelists are indeed drawing out similarities of Jesus' life to the ministries of OT figures. Most evangelicals believe that the gospel writers indeed saw the parallels between the salvation-history in their sacred scriptures and the salvation-history "in front of their eyes". This is not the issue here. What is under dispute is whether these parallels are pervasive, consistent, and systematic enough to be considered adequate grounds to believe in total fabrication and plagiarism to this extreme.

Jesus himself had made an implicit comparison:

"When Jesus' fellow townspeople expect him to work miracles in Nazareth such as those he had performed in Capernaum, he replies that "no prophet is accepted in his home country" (Luke 4:23-24), and by citing the examples of Elijah and Elisha and their miracles among non-Jews he implicitly compares himself to them (4:25-27)." [Remus, ABD, s.v. "miracles (NT)"]
Consider this commentator's summary of some of the accepted parallels between Jesus and Elijah and Elisha found in the passages under discussion (Nolland, WBC, at 7.11, page 322, emphasis mine): "Jesus has already been compared to Elijah (and Elisha) at 4:25-27 and motifs from 1 Kgs 17:8-24 are also probable in 8:42, 55; 9:38, 42. The procedure is reminiscent of the anthological style of much of the infancy narratives...The comparison between Jesus and Elijah in Luke 7:11-17 has a counterpart in the comparison between Peter and Elisha in Acts 9:36-42 (Acts 9:39 echoes the LXX of 2 Kgs 4:30; v 40 echoes the LXX of 2 Kgs 4:33, 35; common themes may be noted by comparing Acts 9:38, 40, 41 with 2 Kgs 4:22-30, 33,36; Acts 9:40 with 2 Kgs 4:36...) In Luke 9:61-62 (cf. 1 Kgs 19:19-21) and possibly also in the giving of the Spirit after the ascension (Acts 1 and 2; cf. 2 Kgs 2:9-10, 15) the link between Elijah and Elisha is paralleled in the link between Jesus and the disciples. It would , however, be quite wrong to suggest that Luke is seeking to present Jesus as the new eschatological Elijah. This line of interpretation quite mistakes the anthological style--which is concerned not with the fulfillment of prophecy but with the interpretation of God's present acts in line with those of the past--and overlooks the fact that John also is likened to Elijah in 1:17 (via Elisha here) and 7:27 (John is the eschatological Elijah here) and even the disciples are (negatively) liked to Elijah in 9:54-55 (though perhaps there we are to understand that the disciples wish to act on Jesus' behalf.)" Notice that this interpreter is aware of the many 'echoes' and 'links' between Jesus and the OT stories, but understands the reasons quite differently from the objector. The Jewish milieu was such that the future was supposed to look like the past, and the allusions and echoes are scattered, varied, and non-systematic (although real). Literary dependence, at the level of actual source of plot, structure, etc., would require much greater concentration of echoes, and much more consistency (within a passage) than we see in the passages used as examples here. The pattern of echoes is not "obvious" enough to support an 'obvious rewrite' theory.

Did Luke use 1 Kings 17 as a basis for his story?

[As before, I will annotate the argument with observations of discontinuities and comments in non-bold.]

Jesus met the widow at the gate of a city. Elijah met his widow in 1 Kings 17:10. It should come as no surprise that it was at the gate of a city.

[By now it should come as no surprise... that the discontinuities are huge, and much greater than the similarities....

In fact, the only common aspects of the actual revivification event are a widow, a dead son, the fact (not manner) of revival, and the phrase "gave him back to his mother", which phrase is agreed by all to function as a comparison to Elijah as representative of God.

Again, the differences are massive, the similarities are what would be expected in ANY revivification miracle, and the one tight link is more suggestive of the evangelist's perspective than of creating the entire story from the OT paradigm.

Luke 7 also copies other phrases from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

Luke copies 'kai egeneto' (and it came to pass). Luke writes 'tay pulay tays poleos kai idoo' (to the gate of a city and behold), which is almost identical to the Old Testament Greek of 'tou pulona tays poleos kai idoo'.

(I have already covered this material above.)

Curiously, John 4 uses the elements of 1 Kings 17 that Luke does not. In John 4, Jesus, while in a foreign land, meets a woman who no longer has a husband, just as Elijah does [one is a widow, one is not...what happened to the 'chora' (widow) argument? Elijah was sent to the woman (doesn't just 'meet' her!), Jesus simply encounters her at the well. ]

Both Elijah and Jesus are thirsty and have to ask the woman for a drink . In both stories, though, it is the woman and not the prophet who is in true need. [This is factually wrong. It WAS Elijah who was in need--he had been specifically sent to the woman to be taken care of (I Kings 17.9-10)]

Both Elijah and Jesus promise her a never ending source. [Factually wrong again. Elijah promises flour and oil only "until it rains" (vs.14), and Jesus' promise is, of course, related to the Holy Spirit.]

Both 1 Kings 17:24 and John 4:19 make the women certify the miracle worker as a true prophet. [This is scarcely surprising--this motif shows up in most miracle scenes (MSECT:71ff, "acclamation"), hardly evidence of ripping off the OT!]

Overall, the argument from this last passage (John 4) is speculative (and selective in its use of data) to the extreme. Besides the obvious question as to why Luke didn't use more (assuming he ripped it off, using only 14 words out of a passage of close to 400 words in the OT LXX!), the same question needs to be posed of John. The dissimilarities between the two events are too numerous to detail, and I cannot find a commentator of any persuasion that even mentions this alleged "use" of the Elijah passage. There are many, many background elements in John 4, mostly from Jewish theology of his day, but nothing that could be linked to the Elijah passage with any plausibility.


Just as Joseph Smith did in the Book of Mormon, the early Christians drew upon the one source that they held to be infallible - the Old Testament. They felt quite justified in taking stories from the Old Testament and applying them to Jesus.

This point was not discussed, advanced, or demonstrated in the above piece, so I will assume that he has argued this elsewhere. As an unproven assertion in this document, it needs to be recognized as such and not taken as 'proven' in ANY sense of the word! And, for the record, I doubt seriously if such a proposition ("felt justified") could be demonstrated from the historical and literary data we have available about the gospel authors.

After all, they knew that the Old Testament was full of coded 'prophecies' and that they could, if they examined them cleverly enough, work out what Jesus must have done.

Historically, this is doubtful relative to Jesus' day. Jewish exegesis of the time was a good bit more subdued than would appear in the later rabbinic literature. Pesher exegesis was reasonably conservative at this time, and the wilder forms of midrash would only become pervasive a little later. And the Christian sub-culture even tended to be more conservative, as I have discussed elsewhere.

And there certainly would not have been any practical way to do this...A simple comparison of the lists of miracles in the OT with the miracles of Jesus will show the practical problem. The more spectacular/important miracles of the OT (e.g., parting of the Sea, parting of Jordan, collapse of Jericho, fire from heaven on Sodom, fire from heaven upon the Baalites, Elijah's fiery chariot, feeding Elijah with ravens, the exodus plagues, handwriting on the wall of Daniel, Moses' bringing water from the rock, healing of a poisonous stew) are not used, and many of Jesus' miracles have no "obvious" OT precedent (e.g., healing blindness and deafness, coin in the fish's mouth, the withered fig tree, large catches of fish, reattaching a severed ear, water into wine). Most of Jesus' miracles are healing miracles, which are the vast minority of miracles in the OT. These factors would make the decision process of 'which OT' miracle to make into a story about Jesus a very complicated affair. And, judging by the pattern of miracles either (1) not applied to Jesus or (2) not found in the OT, this alleged process was quite unsuccessful or at least not utilized much...

They certainly never needed to ask eyewitnesses what happened. Why should they, when they had a written record, in the Old Testament, of Jesus's life? All they had to do was tidy up a few of the miracle stories, exaggerate the numbers and they had ready-made miracles for Jesus to have done.

This is no doubt overstatement for rhetorical effect, and so I will simply note for the reader that the examples given above involved much more than 'tidy up' and 'exaggerate the numbers' (!)...The fact that the vast majority of the details were actually radically different means that this 'creative' process must have been quite demanding. Starting with the story of Elijah multiplying the food of the widow, think of how many details have to be changed to get John 4 and the "theological dialogue with the woman at the well" story...

Rewriting old books to create new books is a well-known Biblical technique. The books of Chronicles were pieced together from the books of Kings. It is no surprise that this process continued into New Testament times.

There is a huge fallacy of equivocation here, in case you didn't notice it. The example of Chronicles uses sources--and preserves ALL historical facts. The names are the same, as are the places and the events. It omits some data, and adds some new items, and gives a theological understanding of those facts, but the items in continuity are presented without modification. The author doesn't take a feat of David and assign it to Josiah (as the theory above suggests that the NT writers did). The two are not even remotely the same.

The use of historical sources and incorporating them into later works is standard writing--it is nothing like the process the objector is talking about. "Rewriting" in the case of Chronicles is re-telling the same events, from another theological perspective; "Rewriting" in the objector's theory is creating a new event, from the historical particulars of a different event. Big difference!

There IS a special category of the "Rewritten Bible" in scholarly research today [e.g., HI:JWSTP, HI:IIW:99--121]. This refers to "a narrative that follows Scripture but includes a substantial amount of supplements and interpretive developments." The examples often advanced for this (and discussed in HI:IIW) would include Jubilees, the Genesis Apocryphon, Pseudo-Philo (Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum), and Josephus' Jewish Antiquities. They are basically interpretive readings, rendered as an alternative narrative version of the biblical story. As such, they basically keep the textual facts 'steady' as a baseline, and add elements to them. These works keep the original stories (and the historical details) but generally embellish them with fictional, unknown, or legendary elements. The objector's view of 'rewrites' would thus not fit this genre.

What this means is that there are no major genre examples that the objector can point to for validation, within the period and culture under discussion.


The objector advances five NT passages (only four of which are miracles) as evidence of "rewriting":

1. The feeding of the 5,000 (based on the multiplication miracle of Elisha)

2. The revivification of Jairus' daughter (based on the revivification of the Shunammite woman's son by Elisha)

3. The stilling of the storm (based on Jonah and the calming of the sea)

4. The revivification of the son of the Widow of Nain (based on the revivification of the widow's son by Elijah)

5. The woman at the well encounter of John 4 (based on the same revivification of the widow's son by Elijah)

He attempts to prove his thesis (that the NT authors started with OT stories and then changed details and characters to look like they happened with/to Jesus) by demonstrating significant similarities between the two passages.

His argument can be structured syllogistically as:

(Premise 1) There are significant similarities between certain OT miracle stories and certain NT miracle stories.

(Premise 2). There is no way to account for these similarities except by postulating a rip-off plagiarism process (in which the NT authors started with the OT stories, 'tidied up' some of the details, cut out the hero's name and pasted in the name of "Jesus" and then injected them successfully into the tradition stream from which the later gospels arose)

(Conclusion) Therefore, the rip-off plagiarism process must be true.

Now, most readers will recognize that all that was discussed in this article by the objector was Premise 1. (Premise 2 was an assumption made at the very beginning of the piece). However, the author concludes this piece with the Conclusion, so I want to raise some of the issues that would be problematic for asserting Premise 2 and the resultant Conclusion, after I have made a remark or two about Premise 1..

Premise One...

The analysis of this article indicates that the similarities between the OT and NT passages advanced as evidence are quite insignificant for his thesis. The points of alleged correspondence were either only in agreement at a very high level of abstraction (and literally turned into contrary data at the next level of specificity!), or if real at a literary level, only occurred in a tiny fraction of the passages, enough to generate "echoes" only. The 'real' correspondences were neither systematic enough to indicate structural dependence, nor extensive enough to indicate some kind of 'paraphrasing' plagiarism.

The contrary data (inconsistencies and discontinuities) were much greater in number, detail, concreteness, "density", and pervasiveness.

This is enough, of course, to render the syllogism false (and we COULD stop the article right here).

Premise Two...

Although this original piece did not argue this, I would like to sketch out some of the situations that would render this premise false (or inconclusive) as well. [These would be the areas that the objector would need to "beef up" in order to have a sustainable Premise Two.]

First, you would need to invalidate all the competing theories of how to account for the "real, but minor" detail similarities.

This would involve showing that:

1. there was not/could not have been a historical Jesus that did miracles with such deliberation and design ;

2. there was not/could not have been miraculous situations in the life of Jesus that were similar enough to display such correspondence;

3. there was not/could not have been miraculous events in the life of Jesus that were (incorrectly) embellished with OT overlays by the gospel authors;

4. there could not have been non-miraculous events in the life of Jesus that were (incorrectly) embellished with legendary accretions and with OT overlays by the gospel authors;

5. there were not/could not have been 'transmitters' of the stories who took previous material and added (correctly or incorrectly) legendary elements and/or OT overlay elements.

Any of the above five rival theories could account for similarities, as could any combination of them. ALL of them would need to be eliminated (by argument, not by assumption) before you could even proceed to the NEXT step.

Then, when you had boiled the theories down to 'pure origination' theories, as opposed to "historically true theories" (#1-2) or "transmutation during transmission theories" (#3-5), you would need to eliminate other 'pure origination' theories.

In other words, if you assume they "made it up" from some source, you would then have to defend the OT as source as opposed to Hellenistic or Jewish lore as source, and this would be much more difficult that might first appear.

To illustrate this difficulty, consider the four miracle stories advanced by our objector. If you are forced to find a parallel for each of these in the ancient world, from which to base a fabrication about Jesus, you have to consider the possibility that the sources might be from "Hellenistic" lore or from Jewish lore, rather than from the OT text. Consider the four examples given above:

1. The Feeding of the 5,000: I cited above the rabbinic passage about the miraculous bread appearance, and 2 Baruch 29:1-8 speaks of miraculous agricultural produce (ten-thousandfold yields) when the Anointed One comes at the end of the age.

2. The Stilling of the Storm: In j. Berakoth 9.1, there is a story of a Jewish boy traveling with Gentiles in a ship. They get in a storm and he prays for deliverance and God calms the storm. In b. Baba Mezia 59b, R. Gamaliel also calms a raging sea in a ship with a prayer. And in Plutarch's Moralia ("Obsolescence of Oracles", 30), there are the descriptions of Castor and Pollux, the twin-sons of Zeus, who protect sailors and "sooth the raging sea, and tame the blasts of the winds" (also appears in Lucian).

3. The Widow of Nain: This has the notoriously famous parallels in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius 4.45 and Apuleius of Madura (Florida 19.2-6), which are vastly closer to the NT account than the OT 'background'. A Jewish parallel can be found in Paraleipomena Jeremiou 7:12-16, with funeral procession and revivified corpse.

4. The raising of Jairus daughter falls into the category of general revivifications, like the Widow of Nain account above.

Some of these parallels are much, much closer to the NT narrative details, and the objector would have to show why these are not "better" sources for the NT accounts, in order to sustain his OT-as-source theory. [Admittedly, some of these parallels are later than the NT, and some are much earlier, but my point is that one must also examine the non-OT sources as well--and most of them are much closer structurally to the NT accounts than are some of the OT "parallels".]

In fact, the scholars today who do NOT accept the miraculous stories as authentic (who are faced with the same or similar problem the objector is) opt for other sources instead of the one suggested by our objector [ BLOM:81]:

"Skeptics who believe Jesus worked few or no miracles must explain how he soon came to be portrayed as a spectacular miracle worker. Their explanations usually assume that the early church clothed Jesus in the garb of other religious figures and movements of the day in order to exalt him and commend him to others. Four main types of parallels are identified. (1) Some point to the apocryphal gospels and acts, which contain many incredible stories about Jesus and his followers not found in the New Testament. They assume that the processes which led to the creation of these later legends already began during the formation of the New Testament. (2) Others find closer parallels in Greek religion and mythology, in which ancient heroes over time became transformed into 'divine men', complete with a repertoire of miraculous deeds to authenticate them. (3) Still others identify the first-century world of magic and sorcery, not too different from what today might be called the occult, as the place to find an explanation for the traditions about Jesus. (4) Finally, in what seems to be the latest fashion, some see parallels among the legends of the rabbis and other Jewish leaders of Jesus' day, a few of which involve some remarkable miracles."
Notice that the four sources used by scholars do not include the one advanced by our objector--the OT. The objector would need to rule out (by argument and evidence) all four of these "preferred sources" before he could proceed to Step Three.

I might also point out a historical problem the objector might be faced with (depending on his dating of the gospels), in opting for OT-source versus Pagan-sources: the later the production of the gospels, the less relevant the OT 'correspondences' are to the milieu of the Church, and the more likely that pagan parallels would be used. As the church became increasingly more Gentile-than-Jewish, the forces in favor of pagan-embellishment would grow. The objector's view of OT-source makes more sense the earlier the production of the gospel materials is, due to the more Jewish character of the church, and its earliest mission focus. But this creates another problem for the objector: the earlier the production of the gospel materials, the closer the sources are to "real" knowledge about the person of Jesus, and the less likely the need for "generating a life" for Him! In other words, the initial assumption made, of lack of first-hand knowledge of Jesus' life, which CREATED THE PROBLEM under discussion to begin with, is weakened the 'farther back' we go to find the origination points for the allegedly OT-based invented fables about Jesus.

Thirdly, when you have isolated the OT-as-source theory as the only candidate, you must then show that it actually "solves" the problem.

What this means is that it (1) "predicts" the pattern of similarities observed in Premise One; and (2) can plausibly be said to fit in the culture and praxis of the relevant period.

What (1) would entail is showing that the theory explains how the similarities "got there", how the dissimilarities "got there", why certain texts were chosen to be 'Jesus-ized' (and some not), and how we have Jesus miracle stories WITHOUT identifiable OT originating bases.

Perhaps you can imagine how difficult this would be to show, given just the few examples we have seen above (presumably the strongest examples the objector could advance at the time). How would this theory explain the hundreds of missing words in the alleged Widow of Nain incident? How would it explain the changing of a mother to a father, and a son to a daughter, in the alleged Jairus parallel? Why was Jonah chapter 1 Jesus-ized and not the lion's den of Daniel? Why is there not more of Moses' miracles, given the NT theme about the "second Moses"? Where in the OT could we find a plausible and non-circumstantial origin for the changing of water into wine, or the reattaching of an ear?

Actually, the objector would be faced with a rather daunting research program (or "programme") here. You see, there is a ton of existing research and theory by semi-skeptics on (1) how "natural" stories get embellished during transmission into "supernatural stories" [e.g., folklore studies] and (2) how conquering nations appropriate local myths wholesale for their gods, but without changing the details of the myth [e.g., comparative mythology], but I do not know of a single line of research in the area of complete appropriation of miraculous stories for use by another hero (with massive modification of the details at the same time!). [But let me quickly add that my ignorance of someone working in this area in no way 'authoritative'. Our objector friend here might easily be more resourceful than I am in finding such pockets of research. I just do know that such research is certainly not published in the mainstream works of the English-speaking world dealing with biblical-studies.]

I would submit that this would be a considerable problem for this position (the Synoptic problem is probably simpler than this one!).

Item (2) deals with how the theory could be implemented in the times of the day, and it has two parts as well: (A) what motive and precedent could have existed to prompt someone to apply this method to an OT text; and (B) what processes were in place that would allow such an invented story to become part of authoritative tradition, ending up in the NT.

The motive part of Part A would seem to be "obvious" at first glance: the commendation of the teacher to others, but this is certainly not as obvious as it might first appear. Think about this from the standpoint of the evangelist or tradition-starter. This person is presumably already "impressed with" Jesus, since he is (in most theories) already a follower of Jesus. There is accordingly, no need to make up such a story for the original author. Also, the circle of believers in which the person lives would also be believers and not need additional reasons to follow/worship Jesus, from whatever convinced them to begin with. [Remember, we are talking early Christianity here--persecution, non-respectability, one's life on the line for this Messiah. Without "being impressed" with Jesus, one doesn't "take up his/her cross and follow Him"...] Again, there would be no need to make up such a story for the believing community in which the author lived. The wider Christian community (i.e., the church at large) would also not need additional "impressive data" for the same reasons. And the gospels were written mainly for either (a) Christian local communities (the current majority view, although it is being strongly challenged by the next view), or (b) the church at large [NT:GAC]. This, if this is the major motive for the production of the gospel writings, substantially eliminates the need for such a process!

But, one might object, but this only applies to the writing of the gospels and not the origination of the material which was later written down in the gospels. It might be that the fable-weavers of the oral stories used this method to create the stories, and the church who transmitted these stories accepted them, and then that the gospel publication was only for 'memoir' purposes and 'edification' purposes and not for 'impression' purposes.

But this possible scenario creates a historical problem for the objector. For, as we push the fable-weaving earlier and earlier, to be able to allow a process of acceptance to take place BEFORE the material is written down in the pre-gospel sources (often assumed to predate the canonical gospels), then we get closer and closer to 'real historical knowledge' about Jesus. And the closer we get to 'real historical knowledge' about Jesus, the less plausible the objector's initial assumption becomes.

Now, we know that the gospels were also used for evangelism purposes ("commending to outsiders") and there the motive might more reasonably be assumed to have existed. But oddly enough, we have substantially the same problem as above--that of "what more data is needed". Think about this for a second. Any person "witnessing" to another person would already be a believer, and accordingly already have some "impressive" (and personally convincing) data to begin with. This data, which was adequate to convince the believer to 'convert' from unbelief to belief earlier, might be quite adequate to present to the person being witnessed to. In fact, this was indeed the pattern of the preaching of the apostles in the earliest years (if you accept the basic historicity of the speeches, or their content, in the Book of Acts). They appealed to "impressive data" done in public, that had convinced them:

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. (Act 2.22, Peter preaching to fellow Jews)

 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. (Act 10.36ff, Peter preaching to Cornelius the Gentile)

Accordingly, the personal experiences of the initial believers would have been more than adequate for 'commendation' (e.g., experience of a risen Jesus?!), and the motive of elaboration for "commendation" is less attractive, at least at first (and 'first' is where this has to occur for the objector, for the OT-source to be a reasonable candidate for the source, as opposed to pagan sources, remember).

And, if we wait a bit later, as the Gentile mission swells in volume, any "commendation" motive swings away from the OT and over toward the pagan and hellenistic sources...

But there might be a third possible motive--curiosity over the life of Jesus. We know that later NT apocryphal works 'filled in' the NT gaps, so why couldn't the same curiosity that provoked that literature have been responsible for people inventing the miracle stories of Jesus, from the OT?

Several problems come immediately to mind.

The historical situation simply won't work for this has either to be very, very early (running into the problems just mentioned, among others) or very, very late (after the 'controls' are dead, but also after the tradition has been 'locked down').

So, even the issue of "motive" is more problematic than it might seem at the outset... [I do not deal with the "conspiracy" motive here, since the objector painted a picture of the disciples legitimately believing somehow that the OT contained the life of Jesus.]

The precedents part of Part A is even more problematic. The objector would need to (1) show here that other Jews of the day used this method, or (2) come up with an explanation of how the Christians departed from precedents otherwise, and thought up this idea and method from scratch.

As for (1), I have shown elsewhere from the historical sources that Christians basically used the same exegetical procedures for messianic passages as did the non-Christian Jews, actually tending toward the conservative side. And, it can be seen from the Jewish legendary material that the Jewish writers did NOT use this "rip-off the OT" stories for their heroes either.

Just to illustrate this last point, three of the more famous 'charismatic' heroes of the period, that we have data on, are Bar Kochba (accepted as Messiah by a prominent rabbi in the literature), Honi the Rain-maker and Rabbi Hanina ben-Dosa (who was the husband in the bread-making miracle cited earlier).

Bar Kochba was the leader of the Jewish revolt of around 135 AD, and there are definite legends surrounding this figure. Half of his city-army of 400,000 men had voluntarily amputated a finger (as a sign of loyalty), and the other half could uproot a cedar from Lebanon while riding on horseback. The Jewish literature has this estimate of bar Kochba's strength:
  "How great was the strength of Ben Koziva? He would intercept the stones shot by Roman catapults with one of his knees, heave them back, and thus slay ever so many Roman soldiers" He could destroy Roman armies several times the size of his own army, and upon his death, a snake curled around his neck to prevent the Romans from beheading him.

There is nothing in this story that would indicate 'origination' in some OT story. Any similarities would be at such a high level of generality ("winning impossible battles") as to be useless in supporting or disproving such a view.

Honi the Rain-maker (or Honi the Circle-Maker) is more promising (B.Ta 19a and 23a]. Honi is famous for two things: he prayed for rain during a drought, and God answered him, and he fell asleep for 70 years and woke up (although there is a contradictory account of him being stoned to death for not performing a requested curse.). [It should also be mentioned that various members of his descendants were also able to pray for rain and be answered.]

The latter incident has nothing remotely precedent in the OT, so the theory would not predict it, of course, but the drought-ending sounds suspiciously like Elijah. However, the rabbinical sources connect him explicitly with Habakkuk instead, and make so mention or allusions to the Elijah cycle. In fact, praying for rain is the ONLY miracle Honi performed, and if that is somehow supposed to 'connect him' to Elijah, then it is significant that Jesus never performed this type of miracle!

Plus, the discontinuities between Elijah and Honi are considerable (e.g., Elijah actually created the drought!, there is nothing about him standing in a circle like Honi did, etc.), and the power of prayer example that Elijah affords is even applied to all Christians in James 5.17f ("Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.")

Rabbi Hanina ben-Dosa performs more miracles than Honi, but none of them (with the possible exception of the miraculous bread appearance) seems to 'echo' any OT scenes:

"The latter (Hanina deb-Dosa) has a whole series of miracles attributed to him: surviving a poisonous snake-bite unharmed, healing the sick from a distance simply by the fluency of his prayer to God, having bread appear in his wife's oven when they had run out, enabling a lamp to burn on vinegar rather than oil when his daughter accidentally poured in the wrong liquid, and miraculously extending the beams on a neighbour's house when they turned out to be too short to support it adequately!" [BLOM:90-91]
So, at least in the time frame we are discussing here, non-Christian Jews do not evidence any usage of the objector's theory either. There is accordingly no precedent for this use in the period. This would necessitate the objector demonstrating "that & how" the Jewish-Christians innovated in this way.

I am struggling to think up a way for the objector to show this. Given that the examples cited above only involved extremely minute 'similarities' (after careful examination), he would have to come up with a method that perhaps paralleled the growth of midrash, but went in a different direction. Later Jewish midrash often started with minute segments of passages (even individual letters), and built an infrastructure from there, so you might could try to find how THAT process started and come up with a theory analogous with that. But that would be a huge undertaking in itself...Since it is highly controversial whether the NT documents as they exist today manifest any midrash at all [JSOTGP3], the objector would have to find evidence of an hitherto-undiscovered exegetical method, developing quickly and without precedent (or even rebuttal by the rabbinic methodological sources). This would be a formidable task in itself.

Finally, in "what processes were in place that would allow such an invented story to become part of authoritative tradition, ending up in the NT", the objector would have to show that expansion of the body of authoritative traditions was easily done prior to the actual writing down of the gospels. I have argued in several places that the logistics of book production, early church leadership, social communication models, and literary evidence count against this position, so I will not repeat the material here.

So, as you can see, establishing Premise Two would be a monumental undertaking for our objector, and with a large mass of historical data and scholarship of all persuasions already against it...

So, where does this leave us...

Premise One (significant and major similarities) is unproven, and actually contradicted by the evidence of the texts;

Premise Two (these similarities are best explained by the 'rip-off theory' of the NT miracle stories) is unproven (but not attempted in the piece by the objector), surrounded by a host of better-supported explanations (both evangelical and not), faced with some very difficult historical data to account for, and too vague a theory to predict the actual patterns of texts that we find.

Accordingly, I find no reasons to accept his conclusion, and plenty of reasons to reject it.


[Now, let me be quick to point out that the objector's document was a mere 1,800 words. It would be grossly unreasonable of me to expect a piece of that size to present a detailed and thorough case for its position. One might have hoped for more attention to detail, eliminating the factual errors, and for at least a sketch of how he would deal with the contrary data, and perhaps an indication of knowledge of rival 'skeptical' theories. But in 4-5 pages it is difficult to do much more than draw the basic outlines of such a complex position, and therefore my analysis above can only address what I understand him to mean, on the basis of the limited data advanced...He may well have other arguments to advance, and adequate explanations for the errors/omissions/generalizations in so short a piece, and I will be happy to correct any misunderstandings I have portrayed of his position, as they are brought to my attention. His noting that there are some similarities between Jesus and His predecessors, shows sensitivity on his part to the texts (at some level), but the similarities noted are hardly remarkable, are noted by most observers of the texts, and are not considered as adequate warrants to support such a theory of the origination of the NT miracle stories.]

I hope this helps,

Glenn Miller
May 5, 1999


From: The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)