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Did Jesus exist? (knowing this might blow up the whole dang blog)

August 31, 2009

All right, I know it’s in fashion lately in atheist circles to question whether Jesus ever existed. It seems like a clever move on their part, questioning the very existence of the person in which Christians found their entire movement.

But, as clever as it seems, there is really no basis for it at all from a historical research standpoint. I can reasonably see why atheists don’t accept Jesus as God, did miracles and was raised from the dead. Those are all certainly reasonable positions to assume and many educated atheists have taken those positions. I think they are wrong, but I understand their reasons for doing so.

What I don’t understand, is the people who attempt to deny Jesus existed at all. History is not like science, it just can’t be. So when people talk about empirical history, it makes my history major hives go into overdrive. It goes into overdrive because of the insistence that science must rule all academic disciplines. Once again, attributing things to science that just shouldn’t be the case.

But, putting all that aside, I realize that Christian apologetics are not credible to atheists. I think it’s the same mistake Christians make about Richard Dawkins, Hitchens etc, but I understand the point. And I also get that people don’t accept the Gospels as proof of Jesus existence either even though some of the best nonChristian scholars of the Gospels do.

So, we are left with metions from historians or other people who are not Christians. Allow me to list:

Tacitus

Suetonious

The Midrash and the Talmud-Although these are written down later, most historians accept these were oral traditions that go back before the time of CHrist.

Pliny

Josephus- Yes, I know what you will argue, that these passages are not added in. But, actually, recent scholarship, Jewish especially, accept that passage as partially authentic. Plus, it makes little sense to metion James and John the Baptist while not mentioning Jesus. The main passage in Jospehus qualifies for a mention if you take out those which claim Jesus as God. In fact, we have every reason to believe those passages where altered later on in history. Why? Origien, a church father, mentions Josephus, but says he doesn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ. Jeff Lowder, over at Infidels.org, accepts this position.

I know that some atheists would argue that’s not enough, but by historical standards, its a hell of a lot more than we have for other historical figures. I’m mystified how there is a dog pile on the need for the historical Jesus. I have even seen this statement, “The Romans have no record of him, so he must not have existed”. First, this is purely an argument from silence. Everyone used to think that Troy never existed either until they dug up the whole city. It’s the “god of the gaps” of historical arugmentation and therefore, worthless for that reason alone.

There are much stronger arguments that can be made to show Christianity is not true. This is not one of them and atheists do no credit to their position in putting this forward as a major argument. I’m NOT suggesting it shouldn’t be considered. Far from it. But, once it is considered in a rational, reasonable way, you can see that to deny Jesus is just woo history.  

I know it sounds sexy and daring to suggest that Jesus might not ever existed. But from a historians point of view, it’s the same thing as denying evolution happend from a scientific point of view. It just makes no sense and adds zero crediblity.

Let the cage match begin!!!

75 Comments leave one →
  1. AdamK permalink
    August 31, 2009 1:25 pm

    Good move. Switch to a new thread 5 minutes after I posted links on Michael’s “Justified Belief” post.

    I’m only claiming it’s an open question.

    It’s interesting how you can tolerate questioning the existence of gods, souls and spiritual beings, but even questioning the historicity of Jesus drives you up a wall.

    As I said before, Sorry! Don’t mean to be pushing buttons.

    Perhaps you can see why “most historians” choose not to address it as an empirical question. It gets quite a reaction.

    I will now shut up about it.

  2. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 1:30 pm

    Ha! You don’t have to shut up about it. This is why we exist. I just thought I would open an actual thread for this, as it was sort of hijacking Mike’s post.

    Anyway, the reason it makes me so blind is because, I can understand how rational people don’t accept God exists. And, how people question as to whether Jesus was God. These are rational, reasonable beliefs and can be made in rational, reasonable ways.

    But the question of the historical Jesus is as close to a historical fact as you can get. Sure, you can, in some degree, consider it an open quesiton, but only if you do the same for other historical accepted people of the time. If you do that, then I can’t fault you. As I said in the post, I consider it “woo” history to question whether he existed or not.

  3. ericworringer permalink
    August 31, 2009 1:37 pm

    Jonathan-
    How do I post as myself and not thomas, in other words, how do I add this blog in my blogs in wordpress. I want to start blogging through Resurrection of the Son of God and Wright’s defense of both historicity of Jesus and the Resurrection.

    -Eric

  4. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 1:43 pm

    I actually have no idea. Can anyone help?

  5. August 31, 2009 1:44 pm

    its easy if you already have a wordpress acount. log on to jon’s name, go to users on the left-hand side, and add the email associated with your wordpress account (as an author). that should do it.

  6. erp permalink
    August 31, 2009 1:52 pm

    First I happen to think it is likely that there was an itinerant Jewish preacher called Jesus and likely from Nazareth who was executed. Mostly because I think Christianity had to have someone at its origin and what I describe is totally within the realm of possibility.

    Second, the sources you mention do have problems

    1. Tacitus was writing some 70 years after the time period in question and what his sources were can be debated. It might be no more than evidence that Christians at that time (circa 100) believed Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate.

    2. Suetonious’s statement seems to imply that “Chrestus” was living at the time of Claudius (who didn’t start ruling until 41CE).

    3. Pliny again some decades after and again may indicate no more than that is what Christians believed at that time.

    4. Josephus is the strongest evidence for, though like you I think at least one of the passages was tampered with later.

    5. The Talmud is several centuries later and it is hard to know whether it is replying to what Christians assume is true with some myths of its own or has independent sources.

    Also whether he actually existed or not isn’t quite the same thing as denying evolution (something similar in history to denying evolution would be denying the Roman Empire existed).

  7. AdamK permalink
    August 31, 2009 2:16 pm

    First, this is purely an argument from silence.

    Which is not to say it’s a logical fallacy, or even a useless support for a “positive” historical argument. Even historians arguing on Jonathan’s side don’t make a claim that strong. Rather they claim that an historical argument from silence is a tricky, subtle argument that can only be used in conjunction with other arguments:

    http://www.textexcavation.com/argumentfromsilence.html

    Here’s how Jonathan puts the argument, as if it were the whole case:

    I have even seen this statement, “The Romans have no record of him, so he must not have existed”.

    Jonathan’s is a strawman argument. Textbook example.

    To put the cherry of exaggeration on the sundae of overstatement:

    It’s the “god of the gaps” of historical arugmentation and therefore, worthless for that reason alone.

    No “reputable, responsible historian” would claim that the argument from silence is “worthless” or parallel to the god-of-the-gaps fallacy.

  8. August 31, 2009 2:47 pm

    If it were shown that Jesus did not exist, would that change anyone beliefs? I suspect it would not.

  9. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 2:48 pm

    It’s only a strawman If I made it up. This is an actual quote from an atheist blogger.

    Fine, maybe I overstated the case a little, but only just. The point I’m saying is that the “Jesus is a myth” people build HUGE cases out of silence, which is not good history. The link you posted says exactly that. It’s useless by itself, which is the point I was trying to make in the original post.

    And, I think it parallels perfectly with the god of the gaps discussion. Both rely on silence and in doing so, have many perils to the position because of it. That is, “We can’t explain it or prove it, so it must be God/Jesus didn’t exist”.

  10. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 2:51 pm

    It would mine. I would stop being a Christian and forget the whole dang enterprise. Maybe I’ll take up fishing.

  11. erp permalink
    August 31, 2009 2:58 pm

    Or to be more exact an argument from silence works if you’ve looked closely for evidence that should be there and there isn’t.

    “The Romans have no records of him so he must not have existed” is a bad argument because we don’t have access to the records to check whether he was there or not. A more subtle argument would be that the early Christians didn’t produce the records is torpedoed by the records if they existed probably not existing by the time Christians had the power to look (some few hundred years after his death).

  12. August 31, 2009 3:05 pm

    I think it’s unfortunate that the Jesus Myther position is aligned at all with atheism. I would prefer that this idea be credited to conspiracy theorists. I suspect that very many Jesus Mythers also believe many things that the majority of atheists would find nearly as preposterous as any religious belief.

    Funny that this debate started under the posting on the difference between ordinary and extraordinary claims. Of course, making the claim that Jesus is a completely fictional character is not absolutely extraordinary, but the claim that he was a real person is also a very ordinary and plausible claim! (unlike the claim that he rose from the dead)

    Even if one gave maximum consideration to all the Jesus Myth arguments, at BEST this could only bring the probability of Jesus being a myth to 50/50.

  13. Matt Jordan permalink
    August 31, 2009 3:05 pm

    A further thought on the argument from silence:

    Given the political insignificance of the earliest Jesus movement, it’s not terribly surprising that we don’t have extant extrabiblical but contemporary material that attests to the life of Jesus. Why would we?

    I think Jonathan is right to compare this to arguments against evolution, specifically those that rest on the absence of transitional forms. Look, given the way evolution and fossilization work, should we really expect to have oodles more fossil evidence of transitional species? And similarly, given the time and place where Jesus lived, the nature of his work, the goals and projects of his followers, and the record-keeping and news-transmitting technology of the day, should we really expect to have oodles more extrabiblical textual evidence than we do? Surely not.

    I suspect Adam would want to say that this supports his agnosticism w/r/t the existence of Jesus, but it seems to me that the scholarly consensus alone leaves us with a presumption in favor of the belief that Jesus existed. There needs to be some kind of impressive argument–not merely an appeal to an unsurprising absence of a certain kind of evidence–in order to make withholding belief a rational stance here.

  14. AdamK permalink
    August 31, 2009 3:12 pm

    The point I’m saying is that the “Jesus is a myth” people build HUGE cases out of silence, which is not good history.

    -But that’s not the whole case. The argument from silence supports arguments from positive evidence.

    -And the case is HUGE because the silence is deafening. Arguments from silence are weak, but they ARE NOT FALLACIES, and they are cumulative.

    The link you posted says exactly that. It’s useless by itself, which is the point I was trying to make in the original post.

    -No, the link I posted demonstrated that they require refutation, and can’t be discounted wholesale. You’re exaggerating just at the point of subtlety.

    And, I think it parallels perfectly with the god of the gaps discussion. Both rely on silence and in doing so, have many perils to the position because of it. That is, “We can’t explain it or prove it, so it must be God/Jesus didn’t exist”.

    But that’s not my position at all, nor that of most scholars I read. The position is, “We lack evidence, especially where we should expect to find it, therefore we can’t prove that Jesus existed.” Can you see that that’s not the same thing at all?

  15. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 3:13 pm

    Erp,
    An excellant point about the incompleteness of the Roman recoreds. Thanks.

    But, I would disagree about the Christian recored. The Pauline epistles are written anywhere from 45-65 AD. The Gospels anywere from 55 (yes, there is very good reason think it was this early) to 90 AD.

    But, Matt’s point is right on, so I won’t elaborate on it.

  16. erp permalink
    August 31, 2009 4:08 pm

    I was referring to official Roman records such as what Pilate would have had written down. The scenario is that Christians would have pulled them out as evidence (see here is Pilate’s record of executing Jesus of Nazareth) and that because they didn’t Pilate didn’t execute Jesus (argument from silence). The problem is such records were likely not kept (why keep records of poor non-Roman citizens executed for decades) or if kept likely destroyed in the upheavals such as the Jewish Revolt. By Constantine’s time when Christians could have access to official records (either for evidence or for relics) the chances of that particular record still existing is minuscule.

    Note I’m not discounting the New Testament books. They are evidence though the various writers have biases and sometimes contradict each other. BTW which one do you consider as dating from 55CE and how accurate do you consider it?

  17. August 31, 2009 4:55 pm

    Thomas 2026,

    With all due respect, this thread feels to me like a non-starter in the gaps between the post on justified belief and the content here. The problem must be mine. It’s just that there’s usually an association between justification and probabilistic levels of trustworthiness for evidence. Me-thinks

    For example, this: “But from a historians point of view, it’s the same thing as denying evolution happend [sic] from a scientific point of view. It just makes no sense and adds zero crediblity.”

    Think about this for a moment.

    Evolution as a change in allelic frequencies across a population over time can be measured in our generation. The strength of certainty in testing this hypothesis means that to reject it is perverse. Scientifically perverse. Perverse by standards of hypothesis rejection. Whether one considers it morally perverse to reject the most testable hypotheses in biology or in any other science is another matter. I’m not talking about moral perversity. You would get effective consensus from biologists that it’s perverse to reject the hypothesis that allelic frequencies change, before our eyes.

    Is the above claim saying that rejecting the historical existence of Jesus would be perverse based on the criteria of professional historians?

    If so, that’s still a stretch. I agree with your conclusion about Jesus having existed in history. But not for reasons using these kinds of analogies.

    I’m not into polling. I do know that when I went to grad school across state lines from the Buckeye state, where Bobby Knight was god for awhile, and later did post-grad work at the University of Chicago, most historians in both haunts would hold a mildly probable agreement that Jesus existed. Mildly probable, maybe more.

    But nowhere near as probable that the milk shakes I bought at that Jersey Dairy in southwestern Ohio (near the rock-climbing area in Springfield Gorge) were real jersey dairy shakes.

    And nowhere near as probable as evolution. If you mean to hold the historicity of Jesus on the same probabilistic par with some far distant historical mechanism of evolution (say Dyson’s idea of metabolic origins of life spawning membranes for reproduction vs. panspermia), then maybe.

    But doing so looks too much like a selective heave and a pep rally to ratchet credibility for Jesus by using the weakest possible form of analogy to science. I think it borders on self-defeating. And it would look like special pleasing to many university students. It doesn’t work for me.

    I don’t think it strengthens faith to make an equation of probability between the historicity of Jesus and the measurability of evolution.

    Nor does it help to lump Jesus into a category of ‘historical science’ itself. For example, is the historicity of Jesus really on the same probable par (probable: justified belief) with the historical existence of Franklin Roosevelt?

    Let’‘s combine history with evolutionary science. I know my mom. I don’t doubt her historical existence. But if I wanted to do something stupid like add to the probabilistic justification that she is my mom, I could do DNA testing to up that measure of probable belief. The net increase in probable belief to me would not justify the costs of the test. But a contrary DNA test result would affect my justified belief.

    In other words, I do have a way to move my justified belief from certainty to “zero credibility” regarding a certain historical female being my mother.

    “Zero credibility” as being one test in your words.

    We have nothing like this kind falsifiability and probability-testing for the historical Jesus.

    And most students at a university should know it. And appreciate the consequences for belief.

    So I don’t think this kind of equation works effectively inside the subjective evaluations of most believers, that is, in deciding whether to believe. Or how much. There is more like a cacophony of subjective torque and objective evidences that create a composite sense of ‘justification’ for belief. And if the probabilities that believers assign to objective evidences fluctuate like a sinusoidal wave because of new controversies (like over the historicity of Jesus), then there is no reason why believers cannot differentiate accordingly, is there?

    Jim

  18. AdamK permalink
    August 31, 2009 5:11 pm

    A certain person recently reminded me that I like the novels of Charles Williams. Was he planning to distract me, for purposes unknown? We shall never know.

    But now I’ve got my heathen hands on, and atheistical nose into, a novel of Williams that I’ve never read, “Many Dimensions” by title, and I’m useless for anything practical.

  19. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 5:12 pm

    Jim,
    I think you have completey missed my point about the whole god of the gaps in regards to historical evidence. I merely was making the point that the argument from silence is problomatic in both cases. It was not actually an equation with evolution at all, but rather, an equating it with the god of the gaps position taken by ID’rs, who are NOT atheists. So, All of that to say, you would be right, if that was my original point in the first place.

  20. August 31, 2009 5:33 pm

    I wonder if it really matters if there was really some rabbi named Yeshua wandering around Galilee about that time? He probably didn’t resemble the modern conception of Jesus particularly well, especially in things like virgin birth, assorted miracles and resurrection, so in most of the particulars that makes the Jesus of the Bible such an important figure he would have effectively been a different person. So whether based on a real person or not, you’ve still got to deal with this idealized, largely mythical character that shares his name and maybe some bits of biography.

  21. Ms. Crazy Pants permalink
    August 31, 2009 5:37 pm

    I was told while growing up that there was a record of his birth in Roman records. Then I find out later there wasn’t. I was a bit irked at having been flat out lied to about it. But, people do get lost to government, even today.

    I think there probably was some guy claiming to be the messiah, and maybe his name was Jesus, but now looking through the list of people who claimed to be a messiah, it looks like nothing really all that special. If David Koresh would have been alive at the same time, couldn’t he have been just as likely to have successfully convinced people he was the messiah?

    Couldn’t I say there was a woman named Ann at one time, who had cancer, and then she prayed until it went into remission and just watch how the story changes through the years? Each telling will become a little different and all it takes is one person to add in the element that she was part angel, or maybe she took a back with some old guy with a beard that she called Father Time, thus inventing some new religious thought, etc, and so one. Look at the urban legends we have today? I mean, we have some women seriously believing that there are men hiding under their cars at gas stations waiting to slash at their ankles with knives (I’ve spoken to a few who really believed the spam emails on it). It’s not that far fetched of a jump to think that a story started, it got altered, and the only preventing us from having a story where Jesus is hiding under our cars with a knife is that when the stories started there weren’t cars yet, and no one got the idea to have him hiding under camels for some reason….or else the guy who told the story about Jesus hiding under a camel was drunk all the time, so no one listened.

  22. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 6:06 pm

    MCP,
    Like the game of telephone? The problem with that analogy is that it’s entirely a 21 st centuary mindset, not a first centuary one. If, for the sake of argument, the early Christians were Jews, they would be well versed in how to transmit oral tradition. Which, from a First Cent. Jewish mindset, was very exact.

  23. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 6:08 pm

    It matters a great deal to Christians, Kelseigh. If Jesus wasn’t who he said he was, then there is no point to defending CHristianity at all. It’s not even a very good moral system.

  24. August 31, 2009 6:23 pm

    If Jesus wasn’t who he said he was, then there is no point to defending CHristianity at all. It’s not even a very good moral system.

    It is very interesting to hear a Christian admit that Christianity isn’t a good moral system. I agree, it is just pretty unexpected.

    For me, one of the very interesting questions is to ask what are the moral implications and imperatives for human beings if there really is a god that conforms to the moral dictates laid out in the Old and New Testaments? I have always been contemptuous of the particular flavor of Christianity that takes the line that “because God is the creator, he can demand anything of us he wants.” I would think that the path of moral responsibility would run in the other direction, actually.

    Anyway, I would be interested in following up on this point, with you but I don’t want to derail the thread. Shoot me an email if you would like to discuss.

    (BTW, Jonathan – your books are in the post.)

  25. August 31, 2009 6:26 pm

    Jonathan:

    I suppose you’re right. It’s very much the same as the people who say that the Genesis account has to be literally true, otherwise you haven’t got original sin and without that, where’s the point of Jesus? But I recall there being some agreement on the topic of it not being a literal, accurate account of the creation of the world, rather being tied into the concept of genre. So why not apply the same standard to the Gospels?

    Seems to me, what with the similarities between the Jesus story and any number of others, that you’ve got the same genre business cropping up again, and those older stories being co-opted in order to sell the new ideas, at the forefront of which may or may not have been Rabbi Yeshua. But if that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter if there was a Rabbi Yeshua or a Rabbi Tuckman at the head, because a lot of what we attribute to him in terms of wonders would have come from the genre source instead. The actual guy gets left behind at some point.

    Now all this is wild speculation on my part, of course, but it is an interesting line of thought.

  26. August 31, 2009 6:26 pm

    .
    Yes. I agree that I’ve missed the point. And your reply is a faithful one.

    I think, however, that it’s not just a matter of me missing the point (I have no problem understanding gaps-arguments theoretically) as it is a problem that the focus on really boilerplate atheism and copy-and-paste agnosticism that you’re bombarded with here on this thread almost buries any positive exploration of levels of probable faith (as justified belief) from the point of view of how believers in real life actually do all kinds of subjective tests on their own beliefs.

    On the other hand, it’s worthwhile because you will get atheists and agnostics who will occasionally show proof for how they rotate their internal perspectives and criteria in oscillations between agnosticism and vetted belief.

    That’s the really fun part about it, when these non-polarized meditations can happen. There are lingering conversations, non-polariized, and in the easy of unforced grace …

    Jim

  27. erp permalink
    August 31, 2009 6:41 pm

    Actually oral transmission without written backup is notoriously prone to modification (and there have been studies done on this cross cultures). Jews had written records which for sacred scripture like the Torah they became ever more careful about copying (and even so there are differences between the Masoretic texts and the Dead Sea Scroll versions, mostly minor).

  28. ericworringer permalink
    August 31, 2009 8:04 pm

    Kelseigh-
    The genre argument is interesting, but what we have in the New Testament is in fact a great deal of genuinely unique material that differs it from the rest of near eastern literature. Including the naming of eyewitnesses, all new strains in jewish theology that were not seen before, and writings that give us an idea of when what was occuring occurred, including it being before the destruction of jerusalem, etc…I will be talking about this more as I blog through N.T. Wright’s opus on the historicity of Jesus and the resurrection, but it actually doesn’t fit into any genre category of the time, including as someone suggested, failed messiahs.

  29. August 31, 2009 8:11 pm

    .
    Erp,

    This just for fun. Not criticism.

    On orality and literacy. From Ong to Pelikan.

    And forget them both for now.

    Let’s take the text. And play along with your point – “Actually oral transmission without written backup is notoriously prone to modification (and there have been studies done on this cross cultures). Jews had written records which for sacred scripture like the Torah they became ever more careful about copying (and even so there are differences between the Masoretic texts and the Dead Sea Scroll versions, mostly minor).”

    Okay. Stipulate to that for playing along.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting (maybe not) to hold tout court internally inside the mind of any reader (agnostic, atheist, believer) who is, 1) reading the story for face value in a relaxed mode, that is, the story about the rich young ruler, whom Christ told to sell all, and to follow Christ (Luke 18:18ff) and, 2) the reader begins to feel this text is speaking personally to him/her (for atheists, the atheists-for-Jesus people) and, 3) the reader acts on this internal motivation to do so and, 4) the reader does so?

    At what point (at any point?) did this “written backup” become the first-person voice of internal orality for this person?

    Jim

  30. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 31, 2009 8:26 pm

    Erp,
    There has been a number of studies on the reliability of First centuary Jewish tradition. Let me see if I can find them.

  31. ericworringer permalink
    August 31, 2009 8:37 pm

    erp, most of Paul’s epistles that have been reliably attributed to him are from that time period, probably the most important would be Corinthians, which not only attests to phrases from the mythical “Q or Quelle” book of Jesus’ sayings, but also attests to the Resurrection and other important Christian theology, including •possibly• trinitarian thought. Most scholars put it in this range, before the gospels, but pretty reliably between 45-55.

  32. August 31, 2009 9:58 pm

    The genre argument is interesting, but what we have in the New Testament is in fact a great deal of genuinely unique material that differs it from the rest of near eastern literature. Including the naming of eyewitnesses, all new strains in jewish theology that were not seen before…

    So why can’t all that have been put on top of familiar legendary feats (miracles) and traits, such as those of the highly similar Mithras, after the fact? I’m hardly a scholar of much of anything, but I can see the logic of playing up the divinity of whoever the whole thing is based on by using a bunch of things the audience already recognizes as in the realm of gods.

  33. erp permalink
    August 31, 2009 10:23 pm

    Looks like I’m getting replies from all directions.

    Ericworringer, I took the mention of 55CE to be of one of the current known gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) not of possible earlier gospels which might have been sources for the ones we have now. I should point out that we don’t have all that much material from that place and time so we don’t know how unusual the early Christian stuff is.

    Jim, I’m not sure I get what you are getting at. I’ll have to reread your comment.

    Kelseigh, Mithras is not very similar to Jesus as far as we know. There is a lot of wild speculation about Mithras (and some of it is flat out unsupported).

  34. Ray S. permalink
    September 1, 2009 12:12 am

    It was less tham twelve hours ago when I first read this post and considered making a comment, but did not have the time. Now that I do, I’m late to the party.

    I get tired of saying this, but before you get any useful communication, you’ve got to agree on terms. This has already at least partially come out, but saying that ‘Jesus is a myth’ is for most of us atheists (me at least) not a claim that no one lived in first century Galilee with the name Jesus. That would be like claiming no one by the name of William lived in Kansas for the first three decades of last century. The problem is that such a Jesus is of no benefit to Christians.

    Christians need a resurrection, and not of just anyone, but of their own dead god. This is where the claim turns from an ordinary claim into an extraordinary claim. But do we have extraordinary evidence? Not by my count.

    The number of extant documents we have which describe the historical story of Jesus is small, probably less than 5. To me the synoptic gospels count as one. GJohn is a second. There are a couple of Gnostic gospels which are not part of the New Testament. Paul tells us nothing of a historical Jesus. When this is pointed out, often we hear that it is still more than we have for Socrates. That may or may not be true, but no one has ever told me that I can have everlasting life if I just believe in Socrates.

    The manuscripts we have are late (the earliest we have complete copies of the four gospel stories as we know them to day is after 300CE) and there are many differences between manuscripts, some theologically significant (see Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’). We haven’t a single scrap of a gospel manuscript we can date before the second century. Still the common dating says that all the gospel accounts were written in the first century. If you think you can be certain of what they said when originally written, then you should also be able to tell me what was actually in the first draft of this comment. That the control of the copying and maintenance of the accounts we have is completely under the control of those pressing a theological agenda is also troubling, though I know of no way to assess any actual change.

    Some Christians boast of the great fame and following of Jesus. These are the ones who are quite taken aback to learn that there is nothing whatsoever surviving from 0-40CE that describes any doings of such a famous personage or the incredible events said to have occurred at the time of his brief death (earthquakes, zombies parading around Jerusalem, etc). We do have surviving writings from historians of that time period, though I will agree that there could have been accounts by others that were lost or destroyed.

    So the documents we have are late copies of unknown originals by uncertain authors maintained by people with a motive to alter the texts for theological purposes, which contain allegations of acts known to be contrary to the ordinary workings of the universe. This is your ironclad evidence that the tomb was empty?

  35. erp permalink
    September 1, 2009 12:26 am

    Strictly speaking the synoptic Gospels are at least two sources. Even if we assume Matthew and Luke derive much from Mark (which they do seem to do), they also seem to share a second common sources often called ‘Q’.

    Also Paul does refer to James as the Lord’s brother. Now some have claimed this was a title and does not imply kinship but in such a case why did no one else have that title either at the same time as James or after his death?

  36. Patrick Truitt permalink
    September 1, 2009 7:29 am

    Ray, I think you’re right that people who say “Jesus is a myth” are not claiming there was no one with that name at that time. But it’s also not just a denial of the resurrection. It’s a denial that a person who’s life followed the overall arc presented in the Gospels ever existed. From Wikipedia, the Historical Jesus “…was a Jewish teacher who attracted a small following of Galileans and, after a period of preaching, was crucified by the Romans in Iudaea Province during the governorship of Pontius Pilate.” No mention of miracles here, but there are definitely people who deny that such a person ever existed. I believe that’s what Jonathan is referring to in his post.

    Now yes, that doesn’t give us the resurrection or the Christian God. But that’s a different question.

  37. ericworringer permalink
    September 1, 2009 7:44 am

    Sorry, I think Ehrman’s argument is full of holes, if I had more time I would explain, have to go to class, but essentially he is dismissed by biblical scholars from across the spectrum from E.P. Sanders (non-Christian), to Marcus Borg (very liberal) to N.T. Wright (moderate to conservative). As they point out, his expertise is in english literature, and he applies these standards to 1st century judeo-christian literature.

    Kelseigh, I suppose that is likely, but it raises some questions for you and others in which the burden of proof doesn’t lie on Christians necessarily (I will agree on some level it does for the resurrection, miracles, virgin birth, etc.).

    First, why did the movement arise in such violent conditions if it was created on a known myth?

    Second, why would any 1st century Jew commit a heresy by joining the Christian cult when if it is obvious the story reflects the nature of nearby neighbors myths and stories?

    Third, this especially applies to Paul, the idea of resurrection was not something adopted, in fact it remains unique in its understanding to Judaism, especially to the Pharisees, of which Paul was a member. So, why would a Jew who was a Pharisee, who followed all kosher laws, passover, etc, and believed in a general resurrection, cease being a pharisee along with many others, including and not limited to Timothy, Jude, and others, convert to Christianity, and proclaim non-kosher laws and the Messiah having come, resurrected, and not defeated the Romans (which would be a heresy)

    Fourth, why would Christians invent the idea of a resurrection, when to gain a following, the idea of exaltation was already present and invented in Judaism to use and would have been safer for all parties.

    Fifth, why if the resurrection was invented, would 1st century Christians have placed women as the ones to first witness the resurrection, when women werent allowed to be used as eyewitness testimony? If it was a myth, and an elaborate one at that, would you have not just put men at the scene to gain credibility?

    Finally, all of the ideas of the resurrection, when, where, why, how, etc… are mutations of already present Jewish theology, now if we want to argue if the idea of resurrection was stolen from other NE cultures by Judaism that is one thing, but if we apply occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is that it came directly from Judaism, not another culture.

  38. Ray S. permalink
    September 1, 2009 9:03 am

    erp;

    I know about Q, but only in the same way you do. We obviously have no copies and can only reconstruct what think was in it from Gmatthew and Gluke. With nothing more than that, I don’t think you can say much about whether the author actually saw or heard Jesus. It is clear that the author of GLuke never saw or heard Jesus himself, though it is claimed that he was writing down the memories of someone who had (Peter?)

  39. Ray S. permalink
    September 1, 2009 9:08 am

    Patrick:

    Even the itinerant preacher executed by Romans bit is not a remarkable claim. There were dozens of apocalyptic wannabe messiahs wandering the middle east.

    For me, it turns into an extraordinary claim once miracles are alleged.

  40. Ray S. permalink
    September 1, 2009 9:39 am

    Apparently you are not familiar with Ehrman:

    From
    Wikipedia
    :

    Ehrman began studying the Bible and its original languages at the Moody Bible Institute and is a 1978 graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois. He received his Ph.D and M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studied under Bruce Metzger.

    No hint of a focus on English literature there. Ehrman received lots of criticism from those who believe in an inerrant bible. Real scholars tended to want more and deeper discussion (but that was not his target audience) or noted that everything he said was already known (to scholars, but the lay public in general has no idea of the origins of the bible).

    To respond to your numbered points:

    1) Maybe because movements tend to arise in times of tumult.

    2) Why would anyone join Heavens Gate, Scientology, The Raelians, Jonestown?

    3) Who knows what made him do it. How do you really know what Paul really thought and did? Got anything about Paul written during his lifetime that he did not write himself? No of course you don’t and you don’t think you need any.

    4) Christians did not invent the idea of a resurrection. It existed in other religious beliefs of the time.

    5)I see you’re a big fan of the Criterion of Embarrassment. BTW, depending on which gospel you read, ‘witnessing’ the resurrection is a misleading statement. What they really do is find an empty tomb in the story. As long as we are there, how many women were there? What did they do after finding the tomb? And who was left to go back to the tomb anyway? The disciples had scattered, fearing their own punishments. If you think you can write the myth better using men, go for it.

    6) Occam’s Razor – you’re doing it wrong. The simplest explanation is in fact reusing other ideas from established religions.

    For those trying to follow along, I do recommend EarlyChristianWritings.com

  41. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 1, 2009 9:55 am

    4) Christians did not invent the idea of a resurrection. It existed in other religious beliefs of the time.

    Ray, this is true, to some extent. But as Wright explains in his book Ressurection of the Son of God, what that meant was different to Jews and Gentiles. I recommend the book to you.

  42. Andrew permalink
    September 1, 2009 10:18 am

    You’re making the mistake of treating “1st century Jews” as some sort of monolithic group. Christianity didn’t have to persuade them all or even a majority (and it clearly did no such thing); all it had to do, like essentially every new religion (other than state religions imposed from above), was to appeal to some small subset of people who were for whatever reason alienated from the mainstream either of religion or culture. (And we know that there were already substantial minority sects present.)

    Note that Paul was apparently successful in starting churches despite not being an eyewitness to Jesus’s preaching or resurrection, and despite apparently basing his own faith on a single mystical conversion experience.

    As for women not being allowed as eyewitnesses, that’s simply not true. Notice that Josephus, who at one point says that women’s testimony is not allowed, himself cites women eyewitnesses as sources for events he records. (And Josephus’s claim that women could not testify is not supported by other Jewish sources; the Mishnah and Talmud both contain comments on whether women’s testimony was accepted in certain cases, which would be nonsense if there were a general bar on women witnesses.)

  43. September 1, 2009 11:41 am

    For the record, I actually do believe there was a charismatic rabbi named Yeshua (or something close to that) who had a decent following, and probably was persecuted for by the Romans for getting in their business. However, it is my belief that what appears in the modern bible is largely a fictional character based roughly on that individual and some of what he taught. It would surprise me very little if Paul and the writers of the Gospels didn’t add their own moral elements (Paul definitely did), plus all the miraculous bits like Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Walking on Water and so forth in order to make him more impressive, and as sort of a divine ID. “You must be this supernatural to ride the roller coaster” and so forth.

    Personally, I’ve never found the amazing things surrounding Jesus to be any more convincing than the amazing things surrounding Thor or Heracles, and in fact it all seems very similar to me. But then, I’m not a scholar, just one person with their own perspective.

  44. Andrew permalink
    September 1, 2009 12:02 pm

    It’s also notable that from Paul’s writing, the position of women in the early church was quite important. (The one statement in the authentic Pauline writings that denies this, 1 Cor 14:34-35, is a suspected interpolation.)

  45. Richard Eis permalink
    September 1, 2009 2:26 pm

    I heard that a number of figures from history gained magical powers after a few years of chinese whispers. Pythagoras had a few magic powers and one of the Roman emperors I think. Damned if I can remember which one. Anyone else more knowledgeable than me on the subject?

    -Maybe I’ll take up fishing.-
    Most amusing. And why would that be a change of job?

  46. thomas2026 permalink*
    September 1, 2009 2:48 pm

    Richard,
    ha, indeed. You actually caught the joke! Cookies for you!

  47. erp permalink
    September 1, 2009 7:24 pm

    Well the Roman emperors (many of them) did end up deified. A fair number of omens are reported to have happened before many became emperor and also before many died. Josephus himself said he predicted that Vespasian would become emperor. Vespasian also healed. From Suetonius.

    “2 Vespasian as yet lacked prestige and a certain divinity, so to speak, since he was an unexpected and still new-made emperor; but these also were given him. A man of the people who was blind, and another who was lame, came to him together as he sat on the tribunal, begging for the help for their disorders which Serapis had promised in a dream; for the god declared that Vespasian would restore the eyes, if he would spit upon them, and give strength to the leg, if he would deign to touch it with his heel. 3 Though he had hardly any faith that this could possibly succeed, and therefore shrank even from making the attempt, he was at last prevailed upon by his friends and tried both things in public before a large crowd; and with success.”

    Tacitus also describes this in his Histories.

  48. September 1, 2009 8:31 pm

    Ray -
    the use of ideas from other religions doesn’t adequately explain the way the resurrection is framed and discussed in the new testament. And like Jonathan says, what Christians talk about resurrection it is wholly different from the pagans of the time (I use pagans as a catch all for other peoples of the area and time, not in the dergoatory sense)

  49. September 1, 2009 9:08 pm

    To respond to your numbered points:
    1) Maybe because movements tend to arise in times of tumult.
    2) Why would anyone join Heavens Gate, Scientology, The Raelians, Jonestown?

    I think the comparison of any of the cults mentioned fail to understand the rise of Christianity as a movement that was an anomaly and arose in a whole new way, totally different, as you compare to the rise of other religions, from Islam or Buddhism.

    Second, I am not sure what you mean that movements tend to arise in time of tumult. Why Christianity? why not any other quasi-messianic group from Judaism? What made Christianity different, when other proto-messiahs were on the scene at the same time who were more culturally acceptable or for that matter racially and geographically acceptable (not a carpenter from a poor town in the middle of nowhere who was doing nothing militarily).

    A resurrection explains these, the borrowing the idea from other religions does not.

  50. Ray S. permalink
    September 1, 2009 11:00 pm

    I disagree. In less than 200 years, a pathetically transparent made up religion has grown into one of the wealthiest religions around. It’s widely considered the fastest growing. Does that make the stories about the angel Moroni and the golden plates true?

    In about 50 years, an even more transparent creation of a religion, Scientology, has grown to be extremely powerful. Does that make the stories of Xenu and the volcano true?

    Christianity had one major supporter, Constantine, that altered the trajectory of the religion more than probably anyone else before or since could have for any religion.
    Follow that with control of most of the governments of Europe for the next dozen or so centuries.

    Your argument is basically that the resurrection must be true because lots of people have believed it. It’s hard to believe that you, as a college student, would advance such an argument. It reminds me of a video I have of Lee Strobel discussing the resurrection where he says, “It’s too unbelieveable not to be true.” I suggest you leave apologetics aside and step into scholarship.

    The point I was addressing earlier is that millions of lay Christians think that the resurrection is the only event of its kind recorded. That’s patently false. Do they not remember Lazarus? Other religions have also had reports of resurrected gods or prophets. It’s not original with Christianity, regardless of whether or not early Christians thought of it in some new novel way.

    It just seems to me that you need to establish the existence of your protagonist, before you explore whether he overcame his death. A good place to start for me would be to demonstrate that the New Testament is not fiction.

  51. Richard Eis permalink
    September 2, 2009 4:14 am

    Looking back on history and believing that christianity arose because it was special is about on par with blindly firing an arrow into the side of a barn and then drawing the target around it.
    The arrow landed there, so obviously thats where I was aiming.

    The arrow has clearly entered the wood, look it left a hole. It’s not a fake arrow and I was very careful to draw the target properly and the arrow is industry standard. So i don’t see the problem.

  52. September 2, 2009 7:33 am

    Richard and Ray-
    I don’t think your seeing my point. I am not speaking of it being special in the “divine election” sense, whether or not I believe that. I am trying to say that it is special in 1st century Judaism, and I am trying to get an explanation from you as to why this cult of Jesus arose after many other to-be-messiahs were executed and their followers dispersed and died out, and at the same time, there were to-be-messiahs that lived at the same time as Jesus that were in a better position economically, racially, and culturally to create a movement. Why did, as Kelseigh says, an intinerant preacher from Galilee named Yeshua become any big deal after he died? Instead of tossing around conspiracy theories, that Paul invented the religion, Jesus didn’t exist, etc… I suggest that the burden of proof is not on Christians on this one, but on others to show that something other than the resurrection happened in the genesis of Christianity.

    Your argument is basically that the resurrection must be true because lots of people have believed it. It’s hard to believe that you, as a college student, would advance such an argument. It reminds me of a video I have of Lee Strobel discussing the resurrection where he says, “It’s too unbelieveable not to be true.” I suggest you leave apologetics aside and step into scholarship.

    Ray-
    That is far from my position, I believe that historically there are a number of things that indicate that a resurrection did happen. I think Lee Strobel’s argument for the most part is unconvincing. And finally, as per your attack on my scholarship skills as a college students, i do feel a little offended. I am now a grad student, and I think The Ohio State University would feel offended if they really didn’t teach me better than to us Lee Strobel’s argument.

    I must agree with N.T. Wright, that the post-enlightenment view that many espouse, including yourself, is that history is like the hard sciences, empirically provable, etc… That is a hijacking of history, and is not how history has worked or ever has worked. History has always been seen through the lense of worldview and is fairly subjective, but through worldviews and subjectiveness, History hopes to draw out facts about the past. I agree that Paul and the apostles has goals, opinions, and theological bents the were on when they wrote, but does that make them fiction? No. Neither does it make Richard Dawkins autobiography fiction.

    And on the note of the historical Jesus, do you really believe that Jesus did not exist? Or are you just using that as an argument point. There are very few reputable scholars that would say he wouldn’t exist, including Ehrman, Sanders, etc… Very few, Geza Vermes as the most prominent, espouse a strong Jesus myth.

  53. September 2, 2009 7:40 am

    and on the point of Lazarus, he wasn’t resurrected, he was resuscitated. He dies again… :)

  54. Andrew permalink
    September 2, 2009 9:46 am

    Mark 6:14-16:

    14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said,”John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

    So here the author of Mark is suggesting that the idea of an individual resurrection of an executed religious leader (or prophet from the distant past) was popular enough that people were naturally drawn to consider it as a possible explanation.

    If you believe that Mark is early and is actually talking about real events, then how does this not refute the entire suggestion that the idea of resurrection was foreign to the 1st century Jews?

    (Of course you can argue that Mark isn’t trying to be factual here and is just setting up expectations for the later parts of his story; but in that case, why believe him about the resurrection itself? or more precisely the empty tomb, since Jesus’ appearances post-resurrection in Mark are generally regarded as a later addition)

  55. Richard Eis permalink
    September 2, 2009 9:50 am

    My comment was in response to “-A resurrection explains these, the borrowing the idea from other religions does not.-”

    You say the resurrection is important. I simply pointed out that if the resurrection hadn’t been mentioned then it’s likely that either:
    a) The next christian miracle along would probably be the “big” draw you mention.
    b) Another religion would have taken the place of christianity and we would be debating the miracles of that religion instead.

    In other words, your resurrection position looks to be a post-hoc type rationalisation from my point of view.

    I believe a Jesus existed. A “prophet” of some kind. I see nothing special about ‘most’ of his abilities (that other “magicians” have reproduced) though.

  56. Andrew permalink
    September 2, 2009 10:23 am

    I am trying to say that it is special in 1st century Judaism, and I am trying to get an explanation from you as to why this cult of Jesus arose after many other to-be-messiahs were executed and their followers dispersed and died out, and at the same time, there were to-be-messiahs that lived at the same time as Jesus that were in a better position economically, racially, and culturally to create a movement.

    Saying that other messiahs were in a better position “economically, racially and culturally” is to make vast (and based on the history and sociology of religion in general, totally unfounded) assumptions about the causes of religious success.

  57. AdamK permalink
    September 2, 2009 11:07 am

    I suggest that the burden of proof is not on Christians on this one, but on others to show that something other than the resurrection happened in the genesis of Christianity.

    Resurrections don’t happen, because they’re physiologically impossible.

    The burden of proof is on whom? That’s the most ridiculous bit of specious reasoning yet.

    Something other than resurrection happened. Because resurrection is impossible outside of myths, fantasies and fairy tales. That’s just a biological fact.

  58. Ray S. permalink
    September 2, 2009 11:08 am

     I am trying to say that it is special in 1st century Judaism, and I am trying to get an explanation from you as to why this cult of Jesus arose after many other to-be-messiahs were executed and their followers dispersed and died out, 

    Did you consider that the reason the other religions disappeared is that their ‘followers dispersed and died out’? Really, Eric, can you put aside your presuppositions for a moment and read what you wrote? Do you actually think there was one cohesive Christianity in the first century or even the second? Surely you know about the disputes between the various sects, even though the only reason we know much of anything about them is polemics directed at them were saved while their writings were destroyed. Surely you understand what the Council of Nicaea was intended to do. You have great difficulty showing that Christianity was growing rapidly until Emperor Constantine made it a state religion.

    I’ve given you two examples of religions, which we presumably agree are false, that have also grown rapidly and achieved some degree of respectability. Why do you think Christianity is special in this regard? You disregard counterexamples and claim, for the moment, your primary argument to be that widespread growth shows the resurrection to be a historical event. Argumentum ad populum. I wouldn’t accept such an argument as evidence of a physical manifestation of Jesus, much less his resurrection.

    I must agree with N.T. Wright, that the post-enlightenment view that many espouse, including yourself, is that history is like the hard sciences, empirically provable, etc… That is a hijacking of history, and is not how history has worked or ever has worked. History has always been seen through the lense of worldview and is fairly subjective, but through worldviews and subjectiveness, History hopes to draw out facts about the past.

    Your history is ‘fairly subjective’, and not like the hard sciences, but somehow you feel this can show that something hard science suggests does not happen, actually did happen. Mohammed really did ride to heaven on a winged horse. The angel Moroni really did help Joseph Smith transcribe the golden plate before taking them back to heaven.

    I agree that Paul and the apostles has goals, opinions, and theological bents the were on when they wrote, but does that make them fiction? No. Neither does it make Richard Dawkins autobiography fiction.

    If Richard Dawkins had claimed in his autobiography that he had resurrected his dead cat when he was a teenager, we’d both probably call it fiction. And we know from more recent examples that lots of what got written as history included fictional stories (Washington and the cherry tree for example). But I’m glad that you also admit that Paul and the other writers of the NT had a theological purpose in mind when they wrote. They were not neutral journalists recording events as they witnessed them; They were pushing a theological agenda, writing decades after the alleged events took place. If you look carefully you can even see the different theological agendas there and in the non-biblical gospels. So how are we to detect whether a given text is fictional or fact? I submit that a text that asserts things which we know to be generally impossible must be fictional in those assertions (though of course it could be set in a factual context). Do you believe someone turning water into wine is fact or fictional? I know how to do it, but it involves planting grapes and a lot of other steps not mentioned in the NT.

    I’ve already gone on record as to the historical Jesus (loaded) question. A person name Jesus living in Judea around 1-30 CE is as plausible as someone named Eric living in Ohio at the present time. Born of a virgin? Nope. Performing miracles? Nope. Resurrected? Not so far…

  59. September 2, 2009 11:45 am

    Ray-
    I just apparently put together a coherent statement today, I guess I am not trying to make clear what I was saying, and when I read it, I don’t see it either. Let’s shelve this from my side.

    Andrew-
    Your knowledge of scripture is incorrect. That passage from mark is not in fact suggestive of resurrection, but resuscitation, and in fact the greek words used are different, the words anastasis is used in Jesus case, where in this case it is a word that is like raised from the dead to die again, the same as in Lazarus. It also is not suggesting John has been raised from the dead, just that Herod thinks that Jesus is a lot like John.

    Second, when I speak of would-be-messiahs, I speak in a very small time period and context, that is 1st cenutry Judaism, not the rest of history.

  60. September 2, 2009 12:48 pm

    I mean i cannot put a coherent statement together today. Obviously. :)

  61. Andrew permalink
    September 2, 2009 2:23 pm

    Yes, Mark there uses “egegertai” (awakened), rather than anastasis.

    Paul in 1 Cor 15:4 uses “egegertai” when referring specifically to the resurrection of Jesus (“raised on the third day” – literal translation would appear to be “awakened on the third day” instead). Note that Paul here is pretty much universally taken to be quoting an oral recitation or hymn which must have been already in use, in order to establish his authority, so it’s likely that this use of “egegertai” to refer to the Resurrection is as old as Christianity itself.

    (I’m aware of the debates over one-body vs. two-body resurrection, but those are irrelevant to this point since both sides agree on which word was used in specific passages.)

    The author of Hebrews uses both terms, in Heb 11:19 and 11:35:

    17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
    18 even though God had said to him, It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.
    19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise (egeirein) the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

    32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,
    33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions,
    34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
    35 Women received back their dead, raised (anastaseos) to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection (anastaseos).

    John 11, the Lazarus story, does not apply (as far as I can see) either word to the act of reviving Lazarus; Jesus calls to Lazarus who comes out of his tomb.

    Note that both words have common mundane meanings; anastasis can mean something as simple as getting up from a chair.

  62. Andrew permalink
    September 2, 2009 2:33 pm

    Second, when I speak of would-be-messiahs, I speak in a very small time period and context, that is 1st cenutry Judaism, not the rest of history.

    What do you think is special about the 1st century near east that would negate all of our normal assumptions about the formation of new religions in general?

  63. September 2, 2009 2:34 pm

    I am aware of the craziness of the greek language, which I am sure is partly because its trying to describe something that doesn’t really have a good word for it in greek. I didn’t know that about Hebrews though, such an interesting, and troublesome book for us Christians.

  64. September 2, 2009 2:36 pm

    I don’t think it is special, I mean I do from a faithful standpoint, as I believe YHWH acted in a whole new way in this period of time, but from a sociology of religions standpoint I don’t. What I am trying to point out is that there were many of the same would-be-messiah movements and I am trying to distinguish what made Christianity arise as opposed to those.

  65. Richard Eis permalink
    September 2, 2009 2:46 pm

    -and I am trying to distinguish what made Christianity arise as opposed to those-

    Unfortunately pot-luck and pushy salesmen probably. A resurrecting prophet is great, but you gotta get the word out and make connections.

  66. erp permalink
    September 2, 2009 2:51 pm

    I’m having difficulty in seeing the difference between Jesus’s coming back to life after 3 days and Lazarus’s coming back to life after three days. I note also that the words used are the same (barring tense) in

    Matthew 28:7
    “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”

    ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν

    John 12:1
    Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

    ἤγειρεν ἐκ νεκρῶν

    Or better still 1 Corinthians 15:12
    Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

    νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται ( the dead has been raised from)
    ἀνάστασις νεκρῶν (resurrection of the dead)

    which seems to strongly equate “raised from the dead” with “resurrection of the dead” or the two phrases that are suppose to have different meanings.

    Admittedly the last half of the chapter is probably worth several dozen bible study sessions on its own.

  67. Andrew permalink
    September 2, 2009 3:06 pm

    I am aware of the craziness of the greek language, which I am sure is partly because its trying to describe something that doesn’t really have a good word for it in greek. I didn’t know that about Hebrews though, such an interesting, and troublesome book for us Christians.

    Right, so given that Mark uses the same term when referring to Herod’s and the public’s belief in a “resuscitated” John the Baptist, as Paul uses when referring to the “resurrected” Jesus? So what, then, is your basis for claiming that these are “wholly different” concepts, of which one is completely foreign to the Jews of the time?

    (And I would argue that Heb 11:35 is using the same word for both concepts (if indeed they are separate concepts) within a single verse, since that reads to me like “Women received back their dead, raised (implying “resuscitated”) to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection (implying “resurrected” in the sense of an ultimate fate).”)

  68. September 2, 2009 4:17 pm

    Andrew-
    The concepts are both different, but my brain hurts, and I have to finish something for Jonathan, so I will pick this up later tonight, and see if I can coherently say what I am trying to. I am having problem getting across what I want to, I am going to blame technology :)

    Richard-
    I follow you, and while I disagree, obviously early Christians did a good job spreading their message. What I am trying to get across is what happened that made Christianity arise as opposed to any other messianic group of the 2nd temple Judaism

  69. Andrew permalink
    September 2, 2009 6:23 pm

    What I am trying to get across is what happened that made Christianity arise as opposed to any other messianic group of the 2nd temple Judaism

    That’s a hard question to answer given that we don’t know a whole lot about other messianic groups.

    We could guess that:

    – groups that concentrated on the Jews and didn’t recruit others would be both smaller and less likely to survive the war

    – groups that kept more to the Jewish ideal of a messiah as being a literal king that would lead the Jewish nation wouldn’t be likely to survive the war without major theological changes, on account of the fact that the Jews lost

    Then again, there might have been other groups that survived only to merge with Christianity (which we know had a lot of disagreement over doctrine in the early centuries). After all, the name “Jesus Christ” just means “Anointed Saviour” so it might apply equally well to the central figures of other cults. (Hebrew “messiah” -> Greek “christos”)

    Pure chance may have been a factor, e.g. in just happening to attract the right followers to exercise leadership once the founder is dead/imprisoned/otherwise unavailable – this is an important moment in the history of many cults. One could speculate that Christianity wouldn’t have done nearly so well without Paul – if so, how many other sects failed because they didn’t attract a Paul at the right time?

    What we can’t say is that “Event X (the success of Christianity) is improbable, therefore something extraordinary must have happened”. Christianity may just have won the lottery (cf. the Lottery Paradox) of 1st century apocalypse cults.

  70. erp permalink
    September 2, 2009 8:14 pm

    I suspect three reasons for success

    1) it apparently withdrew from any idea of violent revolt which the Romans would have squashed ruthlessly and early.
    2) It extended to other cities though not in large numbers in any one city.
    3) It included non-Jews and people on the margin though the former took a bit of time.

  71. September 6, 2009 4:13 pm

    I believe I said this elsewhere, but I remain agnostic about whether the biblical Jesus is based on a historical person, not even because I think agnosticism is the most accurate position, but rather, because I haven’t thoroughly investigated it. Unless the atheists can get a clear win here (and I don’t think that’s the case), then we’ll prove nothing and that would be pointless.

    As Jon pointed out, the real issue is whether or not he is God or a god. There is so much more material in science, logic, and the Bible itself that we can use that I think that this isn’t an area worth our pursuing.
    By the same token, even if the Christians prove that there was a historical Jesus, that is NOT the same as proving the extraordinary claims concerning him. Confusing that is one of the most frustrating things I have to deal with.

    ‘The evidence for Julius Caesar is about the same as the evidence for Christ!’ or somesuch can be easily defeated by pointing out that the claims about Julius Caesar aren’t extraordinary as the claims about Christ.

    Hope I didn’t repeat too many people there. I just wanted officially weigh in. :)

  72. Andrew permalink
    September 6, 2009 4:38 pm

    ‘The evidence for Julius Caesar is about the same as the evidence for Christ!’ or somesuch can be easily defeated by pointing out that the claims about Julius Caesar aren’t extraordinary as the claims about Christ.

    You don’t even need to go as far as demanding higher standards of proof. The common apologist claim “the (existence or resurrection) of Jesus is as well-supported as anything in history” can be rebutted simply by listing the usual categories of accepted historical evidence and comparing what we have (and more importantly, don’t have) against comparable historical events.

  73. AdamK permalink
    September 7, 2009 3:27 pm

    Unless the atheists can get a clear win here (and I don’t think that’s the case), then we’ll prove nothing and that would be pointless.

    The claims aren’t symmetrical. The christians claim the historicity of Jesus is unquestionable. The myth theorists claim it is questionable. Only a few claim that the question is decided in the negative; most claim that the history of Jesus is inadequately evidenced to be decideable; hence they are “agnostic” not because they haven’t studied the question but because of the absence of evidence.

    Christians have to be absolutists on this question, of course, just as all theists have to be on the question of god.

    The question of whether Jesus was supernatural depends on first establishing that he existed at all. Most atheists are willing, like you, to grant his existence, since it’s a pointless argument due to the lack of evidence.

    Some, like the members of the Jesus Project, feel that the evidence can be weighed more thoroughly than it has been, even if a conclusion isn’t possible. None of this is acceptible to christians, who have a huge, life-changing investment in producing a positive answer, so objectivity is almost impossible to achieve in the tradition of bilblical scholarship in a judeochristian cultural context.

  74. Eric R permalink
    October 30, 2009 4:44 pm

    A lot of very well written responses by some apparantly well educated well read persons on both sides of the debate. If there is one thing about this blog is that it doesn’t descend into endless bloviate digladiation at the drop of a hat

    Of course, making the claim that Jesus is a completely fictional character is not absolutely extraordinary, but the claim that he was a real person is also a very ordinary and plausible claim! (unlike the claim that he rose from the dead)

    this really sums up my position on the existance of Jesus. It’s not unreasonable to believe that such a person lived onor about the time attributed to him.

    Leaving aside all the baggage heaped upon him after the fact. I of course don’t buy into the divinity aspect, the miracles and all that. But I am more than willing to accept the existance of an itinerant preacher or two whose actions are lumped into the single entity Jesus.

  75. August 1, 2010 2:59 pm

    Quite revealing are the more secular mentions of Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth. First, we have the infamous ‘Testimonium Flavianum’ of Josephus made at the end of ‘Jewish Antiquities,’ which was not published until the middle of the 90s, then we have the quotes by St. Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome also made at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century. At that time, we also have the famous apologetics quotes by Suetonius and Tacitus about Jesus and the Christiani.

    Conversely, we have the Pauline Epistles which were written and preached during the 50s making no reference to Jesus of Nazareth. The author knows about a cosmic Christ the Savior, but nothing about a real live crucified Jesus Christ. Then we have ‘The Shepherd of Hermes’ which most scholars have attributed to the early second century, but others believe may have been written by ‘Paul.’ Paul was actually Apollonius of Tyana, who was of Greek ancestry, which makes him an obvous candidate to be the author. This scripture was a part of the early Church canon and makes no mention of Jesus of Nazareth. Then we have ‘The Epistle of Barnabas’ believed to have been written during the 80s. This early Church scripture only mentions Jesus Christ, but knows nothing about a real live flesh and blood Jesus of Nazareth.

    The gospel accounts of the life and passion of Jesus Christ are believed to have been first written during the late 60s and early 70s. Strangely, prior to this time no one ever heard of Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth. It was only after the gospels were written that we hear quotes about Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ were a real person who was crucified c 30 CE we would not need gospels to tell us that he existed and that these events actually happened.

    Dead Sea Scroll archivist Joseph Atwill in ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ clearly shows in the empty tomb narrative, which appears in all 4 gospels, that the gospels had a common source and were not eye witness accounts of some quasi-literate Jewish Apostles. Starting with John, then Matthew, then Mark and finally Luke, what we find is that in Matthew, Mary sees the tomb scene precisely as she left it in John and so on. This shows common knowledge among the authors of all 4 gospels. To learn more about how the Romans subverted the teachings of Yeshu and the Nazoreans and proclaimed them the revelations of their godman Jesus Christ visit: http://www. nazoreans.com

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