An Atheistic Bible Study Of The Gospel Account Of Jesus In The Wilderness

Photo taken by me - a grave in Preston Cemetery
Preston, England
November 21, 2017 11:35am CST
MATTHEW The most detailed account of the Wilderness episode - Jesus goes into the Wilderness right after his public baptism has been conducted by John The Baptist, instead of capitalizing right away on the audience gained by people claiming to see divine doves appearing in the air around Jesus. It was a tradition for zealous religionists to spend some time in meditation and fasting in the middle of nowhere, communing as much as possible only with God. The great monasteries of medieval Europe were essentially purpose designed Wilderness retreats. John The Baptist seemed to live predominantly in the Wilderness, emerging only to preach and baptize. Jesus goes for a period of 40 Days & 40 nights the same time period it took the Flood to consume the Earth in Genesis. As Jesus supposedly is God, why would he need to go on a retreat to talk to himself at all? Jesus has an agenda – to confront Satan directly. It isn’t just that the Devil turns up there. Jesus has travelled to the Wilderness with the express intention of a confrontation with the Great Tempter, I his first full on appearance in the Bible since the Book of Job. No one accompanies Jesus and unless he boasted afterwards of events that unfolded, there were no means by which the story of what happened in The Wilderness could reach the Gospel authors. Jesus would certainly require some food and water during such a prolonged retreat. It’s most likely he would camp by a stream, creek or river to have access to drinking water, and possibly to be able to catch edible game that came by to use the water supply too. It is no surprise therefore that he would be spotted at the close of his forty-day withdrawal in the proximity of wild beasts. It does not make him some kind of proto Dr Dolittle. Food would be scarce, and though occasional game might be available, adherence to fasting rules and living on berries, locusts, etc., would have left Jesus feeling quite heady and, susceptible to hallucinations – this was why Wilderness visits were fashionable. People came back with vivid dreams and visions, which later pilgrims wanted to experience too. It was very much like going on the hippy trail of the 1960’s, a chance to drop out and get stoned. It’s very possible Jesus would have met others in the Wilderness from time to time. At times the Wilderness could be as crowded as a popular holiday resort. As Jesus hopes, Satan turns up at some point (whether early or late in the 40 days is un-stated). Satan taunts Jesus for being undoubtedly hungry. He suggests Jesus uses his divine powers to turn the stones at his feet into bread. Jesus dismisses this as a simple riddle, answering that ‘Man does not live by bread alone’. Satan, unable to suggest making a nice meat pie to go with the bread, accepts the answer as defeat of his plans. Satan’s aim seems to be simple. Jesus is alone so why doesn’t he cheat? No one would be any wiser back home. Jesus retains his integrity and Satan resorts to plan B. He comes back, (if he ever went away and didn’t present the second temptation immediately after the first). He takes Jesus to the Holy city of Jerusalem. Here is a problem right away. Jesus is willing to play along enough to even make the trip to Jerusalem. This may of course be a hallucination, or of course, Jesus has actually left the Wilderness to a major city. Either way, Jesus plays along with Satan’s game. Why doesn’t he just tell Satan to go away? They go to the top of the highest temple tower in Jerusalem, from which Satan advises Jesus to jump off, and see if a host of heavenly angels catch him and lower him safely to the ground. Jesus simply refuses to play the game further and be tested in this way. Again, there is not much of a contest here. On a final visit, or as his final initiative on the one visit, Satan takes Jesus to a Mount Olympus style high peak from which Jesus can see the whole World (no such mountain exists of course. If you climb Everest, your eyesight will show you other mountaintops, and clouds – not the cities and peoples of the World). Satan invites Jesus to take charge and rule over this World, on condition that he bows before Satan. Jesus again refuses to play along. Satan, defeated, leaves Jesus alone, though exactly where in the Wilderness is unclear. When seen by witnesses on his last day of the 40, angels tending to him after his ordeal surround Jesus. (The very kind of angels Satan promised in the second temptation). The wild animals are also present. MARK This Gospel dismisses the wilderness episode in just one paragraph. Jesus was tempted in the Wilderness by Satan and found in the company of angels & wild beasts. Mark doesn’t know or at least share just what form the temptations took. LUKE His account runs very similar to Matthew’s but with the 2cd & 3rd temptations given in Matthew being swapped over in Luke’s version (not that the running order matters much). Luke adds Satan threatening to tempt Jesus further in future. Luke does not mention anyone seeing angels as Jesus returns to civilization. JOHN The fourth Gospel doesn’t include the Wilderness events at all. Arthur Chappell
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1 response
23 Nov
I guess we can see who places more value on the story based on the detail presented by the writer. John doesn't seem to care about this story at all.
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• Preston, England
23 Nov
@acrogodess exactly, and Matthew gives the story in the most detail
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