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Myths, Lies, or Truth: Can We Really Trust the Gospels?

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Gospels

January 11, 49 B.C. is one of the most famous dates in the history of ancient Rome, even of the ancient world. On that date Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, committing himself and his followers to civil war. Few, if any, historians doubt that the event happened. On the other hand, numerous skeptics claim that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are myth and have no basis in historical fact. Yet, as historian Paul Merkley pointed out two decades ago in his article, "The Gospels as Historical Testimony," far less historical evidence exists for the crossing of the Rubicon than does for the events depicted in the Gospels:
 

"There are no firsthand testimonies to Caesar’s having crossed the Rubicon (wherever it was). Caesar himself makes no mention in his memoirs of crossing any river. Four historians belonging to the next two or three generations do mention a Rubicon River, and claim that Caesar crossed it. They are: Velleius Paterculus (c.19 B.C.–c.A.D. 30); Plutarch (c.A.D. 46–120); Suetonius (75–160); and Appian (second century). All of these evidently depended on the one published eyewitness account, that of Asinius Pollio (76 B.C.–c. A.D. 4)—which account has disappeared without a trace. No manuscript copies for any of these secondary sources is to be found earlier than several hundred years after their composition." (The Evangelical Quarterly 58, 319-336)

 
Merkley observed that those skeptics who either scoff at the historical reliability of the Gospels or reject them outright as "myth" do so without much, if any, regard for the nature of history in general and the contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in particular.

The Distinctive Sign

 
So, are the four Gospels "myth"? Can they be trusted as historical records? If Christianity is about "having faith," do such questions really matter? The latter question is, I hope, easy to answer: Yes, it obviously matters very much if the narratives and discourses recorded by the four evangelists are about real people and historical events. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, offers this succinct explanation:
 

"For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnates est —when we say these words, we acknowledge God’s actual entry into real history." (Jesus of Nazareth, xv)

 
Christianity, more than any other religion, is rooted in history and makes strong—even shocking—claims about historical events, most notably that God became man and dwelt among us. Of course, some Christians of a less-than-orthodox persuasion are content to discard large chunks of the Gospels as unnecessary (or even "offensive") or to interpret as "mythological" or "metaphorical" nearly each and every event and belief described therein. But such is not the belief of the Catholic Church (or of the Eastern Orthodox churches and most conservative Protestants). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church flatly states: "Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith" (CCC 463).

It is, ultimately, this distinctive sign—the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was and is truly God and man—that is the focal point of attacks on the historical credibility of the Gospels and the New Testament. Over the past few centuries many historians and theologians have sought to uncover the "historical Jesus" and to peel away the many layers of what they believed were legend and theological accretion. Many abandoned hope that any historical (never mind theological) fact could be extracted from the Gospels.

A Work of Fiction

 
There were many complex reasons for this state of affairs, one of them being the Enlightenment-era doctrine that purely scientific, objective history could not only be found, but was necessary. Empirical data became for many scholars—men such as Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and René Descartes—the key to all scholarship, including the study of history. It became the accepted wisdom that supernatural or miraculous elements could not be considered scientific and truly historical and that they had to be rejected. Anything outside the realm of empirical data was liable to be labeled "myth" and "legend."

Fast-forward to our day. The results of this approach are all around us, both in the scholarly and popular realm. Not long ago, a young filmmaker named Brian Flemming produced a documentary titled "The God Who Wasn’t There". Its purpose, he explained in an interview, is to demonstrate that the "biblical Jesus" is a myth. Asked to summarize the evidence for this stance, Flemming explained:
 

"It’s more a matter of demonstrating a positive than a negative, and the positive is that early Christians appeared not to have believed in a historical Jesus. If the very first Christians appear to believe in a mythical Christ, and only later did "historical" details get added bit by bit, that is not consistent with the real man actually existing...I would say that he is a myth in the same way that many other characters people believed actually existed. Like William Tell is most likely a myth, according to many folklorists and many historians. Of course, [Jesus] is a very important myth. I think that he was invented a long time ago, and those stories have been passed on as if they are true." (David Ian Miller, "Finding My Religion," www.sfgate.com)

 
Here "myth" is synonymous with "fiction" or even "falsehood," reflecting the Enlightenment-era bias against anything bearing even trace amounts of the supernatural. "All I’m saying," remarked Flemming, "is that [Jesus] doesn’t exist, and it would be a healthy thing for Christians to look at the Bible as a work of fiction from which they can take inspiration rather than, you know, the authoritative word of God."

"Serious Unicorns"

 
Thus the Gospels, according to skeptics such as Flemming, are compilations of "nice stories" or "silly tales," just like stories about unicorns and the Easter Bunny. Some skeptics mock Christians for holding fearfully onto childish tales while the truly mature people go about the business of making the world a better place. "Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology," stated well-known atheist Richard Dawkins in column in The Independent (Dec. 23, 1998), "as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns." Fellow atheist Daniel Dennett, in his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, wrote:
 

"The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight—that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything [that] a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether." (18)

 

Smarter than Thou

 
Such rhetoric rests both on the assumption that the Gospels are fanciful myth and that the authors of the New Testament (and their readers) were clueless about the difference between historical events and fictional stories. There seems to be an overbearing sense of chronological snobbery at work: We are smarter than people who lived 2,000 years ago. Yet the Second Epistle of Peter demonstrates a clear understanding of the difference between myth and verified historical events: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet. 1:16). The opening verses of Luke’s Gospel indicate that the author undertook the task of writing about real people and events:
 

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed." (Luke 1:1-4)

 
And the fourth Gospel concludes with similar remarks:
 

"This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:24-25)

 
These quotations do not, of course, prove the historicity of the New Testament. Rather, they suggest that the authors, far from being knuckle-dragging simpletons, set about to write works depicting real people and events—especially since they believed the narratives they recounted had meaning only if they really did occur. As such, their historical content should be judged not against tales of unicorns and Easter bunnies, but against other first-century works of history and historical narrative.

What Is a Gospel?

 
The word gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning "good news" and refers to the message of Christian belief in the person of Jesus Christ. There has been much scholarly debate about the genre of "gospel" and how it might relate to other forms of writings found in first-century Palestine and the larger ancient world. Obviously, they do contain biographical details, and some scholars have argued in recent years that the gospels are as biographical in nature as anything in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

"The majority of recent specialized studies," writes Evangelical biblical scholar Craig L. Blomberg in Making Sense of the New Testament, "has recognized that the closest parallels are found among the comparatively trustworthy histories and biographies of writers like the Jewish historian Josephus, and the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides" (28). In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Catholic theologian and biblical scholar Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes:
 

"We must conclude, then, that the genre of the Gospel is not that of pure "history"; but neither is it that of myth, fairy tale, or legend. In fact, euangelion constitutes a genre all its own, a surprising novelty in the literature of the ancient world. Matthew does not seek to be "objective" in a scientific or legal sense. He is writing as one whose life has been drastically changed by the encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. Hence, he is proposing to his listeners an objective reality of history, but offered as kerygma, that is, as a proclamation that bears personal witness to the radical difference that reality has already made in his life." (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Vol. II: Meditations on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 44)

 
Many early Christian authors, such as Justin Martyr, referred to the Gospels as memoirs of the apostles. Blomberg has used the descriptive "theological biographies," which captures well the supernatural and human elements found within them.

The Historical Evidence

 
Those supernatural elements—especially the miracles of Jesus and his claims to divinity—are, as we’ve noted, why skeptics call the Gospels "myth" while remaining unruffled about anything written about Julius Caesar and the Rubicon by Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Appian. Yes, Suetonius did write in his account (Lives of the Twelve Caesars) about "an apparition of superhuman size and beauty...sitting on the river bank, playing a reed pipe" who persuaded Caesar to cross the river, but it has not seemed to undermine the belief that Caesar did indeed cross the Rubicon on January 11, 49 B.C. But, for the sake of argument, let’s set aside the theological claims found in the New Testament and take a brief look at the sort of data a historian might examine in gauging the reliability and accuracy of an ancient manuscript.

First, there is the sheer number of ancient copies of the New Testament. There are close to 5,700 full or partial Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence. Most of these date from between the second to 16th century, with the oldest, known as Papyrus 52 (which contains John 18), dating from around A.D. 100–150. By comparison, the average work by a classical author—such as Tacitus (c. A.D. 56–c. 120), Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61–113), Livy (59 B.C.–A.D. 17), and Thucydides (460–395 B.C.)—has about 20 extant manuscripts, the earliest copy usually several centuries later than the original. For example, the earliest copy of works by the prominent Roman historian Suetonius (A.D. 75–130) date to A.D. 950—over 800 years after the original manuscripts had been written.

In addition to the thousands of Greek manuscripts, there are an additional 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and thousands of additional manuscripts in Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic, for a total of about 24,000 full or partial manuscripts of the New Testament. And then there are the estimated one million quotes from the New Testament in the writings of the Church Fathers (A.D. 150–1300). Obviously, the more manuscripts that are available, the better scholars are able to assess accurately what the original manuscripts contained and to correct errors that may exist in various copies.

When Were They Written?

 
Closely related is the matter of dating. While debate continues as to the exact dating of the Gospels, few biblical scholars believe that any of the four works were written after the end of the first century. "Liberal New Testament scholars today," writes Blomberg, "tend to put Mark a few years one side or the other of A.D. 70, Matthew and Luke–Acts sometime in the 80s, and John in the 90s" (Making Sense of the New Testament, 25). Meanwhile, many conservative scholars date the synoptic Gospels (and Acts) in the 60s and John in the 90s. That means, simply, that there exist four accounts of key events in Jesus’ life written within 30 to 60 years after his Crucifixion—and this within a culture that placed a strong emphasis on the role and place of an accurate oral tradition. Anyone who denies that Jesus existed or who claims that the Gospels are filled with historical errors or fabrications will, in good conscience, have to explain why they don’t make the same assessment about the historical works of Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Julius Caesar, Livy, Josephus, Tacitus, and other classical authors.

Secondly, historical details are found in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. These include numerous mentions of secular rulers and leaders (Caesar Augustus, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Felix, Archelaus, Agrippa, Gallio), as well as Jewish leaders (Caiaphas, Ananias)—the sort of names unlikely to be used inaccurately or even to show up in a "myth." Anglican scholar Paul Barnett, in Is the New Testament Reliable?, provides several pages’ worth of intersections between biblical and non-biblical sources regarding historical events and persons. "Christian sources contribute, on an equal footing with non-Christian sources," he observes, "pieces of information that form part of the fabric of known history. In matters of historical detail, the Christian writers are as valuable to the historian as the non-Christian" (167).

Then there are the specifically Jewish details, including references to and descriptions of festivals, religious traditions, farming and fishing equipment, buildings, trades, social structures, and religious hierarchies. As numerous books and articles have shown in recent decades, the beliefs and ideas found in the Gospels accurately reflect a first-century Jewish context. All of this is important in responding to the claim that the Gospels were written by authors who used Greek and Egyptian myths to create a supernatural man-god out of the faint outline of a lowly Jewish carpenter.

Pay Dirt

 
Various modern archaeological discoveries have validated specific details found in the Gospels:

  • In 1961 a mosaic from the third century was found in Caesarea Maritima that had the name "Nazareth" in it. This is the first known ancient non-biblical reference to Nazareth.
  • Coins with the names of the Herod family have been discovered, including the names of Herod the king, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee (who killed John the Baptist), Herod Agrippa I (who killed James Zebedee), and Herod Agrippa II (before whom Paul testified).
  • In 1990 an ossuary was found inscribed with the Aramaic words, "Joseph son of Caiaphas," believed to be a reference to the high priest Caiaphas.
  • In June 1961 Italian archaeologists excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) uncovered a limestone block. On its face is an inscription (part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar) that reads: "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea."

Numerous other finds continue to demolish the notion that the Gospels are mythologies filled with fictional names and events.

The External Evidence

 
Third, there are extra-biblical, ancient references to Jesus and early Christianity. Although the number of non-Christian Roman writings from the first half of the first century is quite small (just a few volumes), there are a couple of significant references.

Writing to the Emperor Trajan around A.D. 112, Pliny the Younger reported on the trials of certain Christians arrested by the Romans. He noted that those who are "really Christians" would never curse Christ:
 

"They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so." (Letters, Book 10, Letter 96)

 
The historian Tacitus, in his Annals —considered by historians to be one the finest works of ancient Roman history—mentioned how the Emperor Nero, following the fire in Rome in A.D. 64, persecuted Christians in order to draw attention away from himself. The passage is noteworthy as an unfriendly source because although Tacitus thought Nero was appalling, he also despised the foreign and, to him, superstitious religion of Christianity:
 

"Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular." (Annals, 15:44)

 
Robert E. Van Voorst, author of Jesus Outside the New Testament, offers a detailed analysis of scholarly controversies about this passage, and then states, "Of all the Roman authors, Tacitus gives us the most precise information about Christ" (45). This includes Tacitus’s understanding that "Christus"—not Paul or someone else—was the founder of the Christian movement. He notes that Christ was executed under Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, and that Judea was the source of the Christian movement. All of which further confirms the historical reliability of the Gospels.

Conclusion

 
As Pope Benedict XVI noted in his book on Jesus, there is much that is good about historical-critical and other scientific methods of studying Scripture. But these approaches have limits. "Neither the individual books of Holy Scripture nor the Scripture as a whole are simply a piece of literature" (Jesus of Nazareth, xx).

The Gospels are not myths or lies, but truthful accounts of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
 
 
Originally posted at Catholic Answers. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Cross Examined)

Carl Olson

Written by

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report and IgnatiusInsight.com. He is the best-selling author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? (Ignatius, 2003), which was selected by the Associated Press as one of the best religious titles of 2003, and co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius, 2004). He's also the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? (Ignatius/Augustine Institute, 2016) and co-editor and contributor to Called To Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification (Ignatius, 2016). Raised in a Fundamentalist home, Carl attended an Evangelical Bible college, and entered the Catholic Church in 1997. He holds an MTS from the University of Dallas. A well-respected author, Carl writes a weekly Scripture column, "Opening the Word" for Our Sunday Visitor, and has also written for First Things, This Rock/Catholic Answers Magazine, Envoy, Crisis, National Review Online, and National Catholic Register. Find Carl on Twitter @carleolson and visit him online at CarlEOlson.net.

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  • David Nickol

    The Gospels are not myths or lies, but truthful accounts of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

    This piece presents us with a false dichotomy. No one, including Benedict XVI, believes that all four Gospels consist only of historical facts. For example, the Synoptics and John contradict each other as to the dating of the Last Supper. They cannot be reconciled. Benedict, in the volume of Jesus of Nazareth that deals with Holy Week, concludes (based on the work of John P. Meier) that John is right—the Last Supper was not a Passover meal—and the Synoptics are wrong. Benedict says:

    . . . Meier is right to point out that in the description of the meal itself, the Synoptics recount as little of the Passover ritual as John. Thus with certain reservations, one can agree with his conclusion: "The entire Johannine tradition, from early to late, agrees perfectly with the primitive Synoptic tradition on the non-Passover character of the meal."

    My understanding of this passage is that the tradition the Synoptics are based on did not depict the Last Supper as a Passover meal. That tradition survived in the Synoptics' account of the meal itself, even though the Synoptics say that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. This is the historical-critical method at work, looking deeper into the Synoptics' account and deciding that the account of the meal does not conform to an actual Passover meal, and then looking at John as a source and deciding that his dating of the Last Supper is correct and the Synoptics are incorrect—not that the Synoptics are lies or even myths.

    • "This piece presents us with a false dichotomy. No one, including Benedict XVI, believes that all four Gospels consist only of historical facts."

      I agree, but who has claimed this? Perhaps you're confusing "historical facts" with "truthful accounts." Something can be the latter without being the former.

      • jakael02

        Good point. The author did not claim the gospel's were historical genre, yet a genre of their own class.

      • David Nickol

        Perhaps you're confusing "historical facts" with "truthful accounts." Something can be the latter without being the former.

        If you are willing to make a distinction between "truthful accounts" and "accounts that are true," I have no quarrel with what you say. We know that where two Gospels contradict each other, as the Synoptics and John do regarding the Last Supper, or as Matthew and Luke do regarding the infancy of Jesus, one or the other account must be wrong (or, of course, two conflicting accounts can both be wrong).

        I certainly would not claim that any of the Gospel authors wrote anything that they believed to be a lie. Also, though, I think it is very difficult to get into the mind of a Gospel author and determine what he regarded as "true." When Matthew or Luke changed the details of something they used from Mark, were they doing so because they thought Mark was wrong? Or did they change stories from Mark to better communicate a point that they were trying to make, with their intended point being the truth rather than details of their account.

        And of course, once you acknowledge that not everything in the Gospels is historically accurate, what criteria do you use to decide what is and is not historically true?

      • Geena Safire

        Perhaps you're confusing "historical facts" with "truthful accounts." Something can be the latter without being the former.

        This is fascinating. Please say more about how something can be a "truthful account" without being a "historical fact" (with both being, as in this case, written and from a time with no one currently living).

        • hillclimber

          I'm not entirely sure of Brandon's meaning, and I'm not a philosopher of history, but I can point to at least two distinctions.

          I think something might merit the status of historical fact if it can be corroborated by two or more independent sources, or more generally if there is some historical method that can be used to investigate the truth of the statement and potentially revise it. An account that comes to us only via a community of believers may simply be inaccessible to the methodology of historical investigation.

          Additionally, there are metaphors, which may be true but are certainly not accessible to historical analysis. If I say, "my lover's kiss is as sweet as honey" (sorry, I'm not a great poet), that may well convey the essential truth of a real event, but there is no historical (or scientific) methodology to investigate the truth of my account.

      • noterroristsallowed

        What? This is considered high-level debate as you said on EWTN. I'm sorry I ever came here. Every time I listen to a Catholic evangelist or news station, I end up questioning my own faith. Maybe Catholics have to stop evangelization.

      • Max Driffill

        "I agree, but who has claimed this? Perhaps you're confusing "historical facts" with "truthful accounts." Something can be the latter without being the former."

        How can such a stance even be useful to someone who is concerned with accuracy and facts? A person can be giving what they think is a true account but not represent anything like reality. What does it mean to give a truthful account? Some one tells you they saw a UFO that they very clearly believe to be extra-terrestrial in nature. They have accurately reported to you what they saw, what would you say to their "truthful account?" How useful is this truthful account to an investigator? Wait, you find out that the truthful account in question wasn't that of a direct witness, but that of a friend of the person recounting the story to you, and the person talking with you really thinks the direct witness was giving a sincere, "truthful account."

        What is a "truth account?"

  • jakael02

    This comment really stood out to me in the article.

    "Anyone who denies that Jesus existed or who claims that the Gospels are filled with historical errors or fabrications will, in good conscience, have to explain why they don’t make the same assessment about the historical works of Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Julius Caesar, Livy, Josephus, Tacitus, and other classical authors."
    Do atheist agree with this? How do atheist see this comment? Is it fair?

    • David Nickol

      Do atheist agree with this? How do atheist see this comment? Is it fair?

      It doesn't take an atheist to call it unfair. Contemporary historians do not take as "gospel truth" everything written by ancient historians. See Wikipedia on one of the most well known speeches from Tacitus—"they make a desert and call it peace"—attributed by Tacitus to someone named Calgacus:

      Both Calgacus and the speech may be figments of Tacitus's invention.

      • jakael02

        Good point. I tend to agree & I see what your saying. Thanks for responding.

    • josh

      Atheists agree that works of history should be treated with appropriate skepticism. When Suetonius reports miraculous claims like a ghostly appartition appearing to prompt Caesar across the Rubicon, or Vespasian healing a people with a laying on of hands, (there are many others), we disregard them as fictional. In general, we try to be aware that a report of an event or of a person can be very subject to the biases and goals of the author reporting, and that the standards of ancient historians simply aren't equal to what we might like today. But it is also worth bearing in mind that the gospel authors weren't historians, they were evangelists, i.e. religious proselytizers.

      • bbrown

        This is interesting. It seems then, that we have a tendency to discard whatever does not fit into our epistemology. What remains we label as true history. I suppose this is how we all unconsciously evaluate historical claims. But I wonder if we could be missing significant segments of historical knowledge because of an 'impoverished' epistemology, or means of ascertaining truth?

        Just going back to basics for a minute here.

        • Andre Boillot

          "But I wonder if we could be missing significant segments of historical knowledge because of an 'impoverished' epistemology, or means of ascertaining truth?"

          Being skeptical doesn't mean discarding or dismissing in totality. You just take everything with the appropriate-sized grain of salt.

        • josh

          Rather, we are discarding things as unlikely because we are including epistemology, not because it conflicts with epistemology. I mean, epistemology per se doesn't exclude or include what we would call supernatural events. But following a rational epistemology means that given our observations of the available evidence, it is much more likely that historical 'magic' claims are fictional. As, for that matter, are perfectly mundane but extremely unlikely scenarios where historical documents show grossly exaggerated numbers or implausible actions or words. Of course, you can always imagine situations where something 'really' happened but we dismiss it because it seems unlikely. This falls into the general category of conspiracy theories.

        • Doug Shaver

          "But I wonder if we could be missing significant segments of historical knowledge because of an 'impoverished' epistemology, or means of ascertaining truth?"

          There is no epistemology that will give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about our history. No matter what method we use to ascertain truth, we will believe some falsehoods and disbelieve some truths.

          I have, in my lifetime, been guilty of both mistakes. I have been too credulous about some falsehoods and too skeptical of some truths. Rarely, if ever, has the latter mistake caused me as much grief as the former.

      • jakael02

        Yeah I agree, you make a good point. Today we would prefer all ancient writings to written by modern day historians so that we understand them better in todays historical-critical style of study. The gospel authors weren't historicans, but followers of the historical Jesus who told/wrote about Jesus. Religious proselytizer is seems technically correct, yet to state their goal was just to convert others to their view would seem to categorize them as another band of individuals who was just spreading a new religion or new apologetics. The event of Jesus is an event that, in my humble opinion, can not be categorized into just religious prosyltizers. I do see what you are saying.

    • Doug Shaver

      Do atheist agree with this? How do atheist see this comment? Is it fair?

      This atheist doesn't have a problem with it, as stated. For any two documents, if I believe one and not another, I agree that I should be able to explain why.

  • Loreen Lee

    I consulted 'Wikipedia' for an introductory account at least of the meaning of 'mythos', and found that the most succinct interpretation is that it would be a 'spiritual narrative. This account thus contributed to my ongoing quest for understanding that there is, perhaps, the tendency to conflate the historical with the theological.

    With respect to 'mythos', surely we could include within its definition such philosophical narratives, or ideologies as Plato's insistence on the immortality of the soul, and the later inclusion, even within the Judaic tradition, of the idea of 'resurect6ion of the body', an explanation of the after life that became a growing tendency at explanation of immortality, not only of the mind, but of the body, which before, and within Eastern ideologies was associated, within the idea of reincarnation, only with the 'conservation of matter', but had little to say about 'spirit'.

    If there is a conflation between the historical and what can be regarded as 'mythos', be it philosophical, or cultural stories which explain what is not 'fact', defined as empirical reality, I believe this can turn into a form of reductionism, which could even be on par with such reductions of mind to matter seen, for instance, in the work of Daniel Dennet, and so many other 'naturalists/scientists,atheists'[, call it what you will.

    But I would want to maintain a 'proper' distinction between faith and reason. I would not want my 'faith' to be reduced to 'reason', or especially 'fact' alone, and thus would like to keep in mind, that there is indeed a difference between history, and the 'continuity of mind', as the Buddhists would call it.

    I do not think that mythos, within this interpretation is a 'bad' thing, but is rather the descriptive term that can be assigned to 'articles of faith'. On thinking this over, I am grateful that I have read Kierkegaard on what is involved in being a 'knight of faith'; that is the ability to embrace paradox. Within this perspective therefore, is it not possible to embrace the paradox between history and religious narrative, which would include the accepted definition of 'mythos', to my understanding. I see no reason why the developing consciousness of individuals generally were, because of their awareness of the developing 'ideologies' of 'the resurrection of the body', would consequently be receptive to the historical account of Jesus, his truth and his works.

    It is very easy to become prejudiced to a definition of a term, but I do not believe that the development of any movement within the human narrative develops independently from the precedents that have been set within the continuity of a sociological or cultural context. Thinking back to the post on the 'dark images' in the bible, etc. I welcome analysis that explores the 'facts' in the development of such understandings which allowed, among other things, a gang rape of a woman because a debt was not repaid. (Judges). But on looking at our society, scientifically even, there is evidence that we no not always khow how to accommodate the particular to the legal, let alone the spiritual. It is always, possibly, the greatest 'error' of mankind to 'assume/presume' that he knows the 'Truth', the 'final answer', the 'word of God'.

    I would like to see less conflation between these spheres of interpretation, and I prefer the emphasis on the 'scientific', as a basis for the 'mythos' or 'theological speculation/reasoning'. It can be just to 'easy' to identify with 'God', to think one 'knows', which to my understanding seems to be the constant occurrence within the Old Testament. However, even in a reading of Romans, I have found evidence of beliefs which could be mistaken to those of the Pharisees. We too easily think we have the 'theological proof', when in fact we are reducing the distinction between mind/spirit and matter to the declaration that 'all we need' is 'historic fact' (Just a thought.)

  • robtish

    The author assumes that historians DON'T look at "Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Julius Caesar, Livy, Josephus, Tacitus, and other classical authors" with a critical eye. Is there any evidence for that?

    • jakael02

      Well your right, the author does seem to make that assumption. I "think" the author's point is that general society seems to easily accept classic authors without much critical study while spending a disproportional amount of energy with a critical eye on the gospel's. Thus their is an imbalance, especially when considering the gospel's have a deeper historical record than classic authors. What do you think?

      • robtish

        I don't think there's such an imbalance. I don't know that scholars are less analytical in their approach to classical authors than to the Bible, and I don't know that the general population is either, since the general population knows little of Tacitus and Livy.

        If there is more controversy over the Gospels, I can identify two clear reasons:

        1. While other classical authors sometimes make extraordinary and supernatural claims, these detours can be viewed skeptically without destroying the overall narrative, whereas the Gospel's extraordinary claims are the core of its narrative.

        2. The Gospels have a more fundamental impact on the daily lives of most believers and nonbelievers than the works of classical authors. I imagine there are more Bible-study groups than Tacitus-study groups. Also, even as an unbeliever, I'm confronted with the fact that a good chunk of the electorate oppose same-sex marriage (for instance) based on their idea that this is not how God wants it, while I've never heard anyone say they base this political stance on their reading of Tacitus.

        Thus, both non believers and believers have a much more immediate stake in asking whether the Bible is actually true.

        • jakael02

          You make a good point on both #1 & #2. I see what you are saying and can say I agree with you.
          Yet, I still get a sense that general population takes for granted the words of classic authors more readily than gospel authors because the gospel authors makes claims that would force an individual to change his/her life if believed. It's easier to just accept as true Tacitus writings as factual rather than the teachings of Jesus Christ.
          In a sense, I think we are both onto something. Maybe I'm wrong?

          • robtish

            "...the gospel authors makes claims that would force an individual to change his/her life if believed."

            I think you have a point there, but I want to clarify, because I've seen two versions of that.

            1. The Offensive Version: I've seen some believers claim that the only reason atheists deny all the perfectly reasonable arguments for God is so they can continue living a lifestyle they know to be wicked and perverse.

            2. The Epistemological Version: It's quite difficult for anyone to change their criteria for determining what is true. This goes for believers and nonbelievers. So if you ask a non-believer to rely on Divine Revelation, you're asking them to upend their entire conception of reality and truth. That's difficult for anyone. And no one should reasonable expect it without profound evidence.

            On the other hand, this works both ways. Many believers are far more accepting of the Gospels than of other sources of information. Why? Sometimes, I imagine because rejecting the Gospel would force that individual to change his/her life if they no longer believed.

          • jakael02

            First, how do you put a space between paragraphs? Mine run together for osme reason.
            Second, that is good information. I definately agree that belief change is difficult, very difficult. I've heard this is true for those who convert even within the faith (ex. Protestant to Catholic, or vice versa). If proof fell from the sky that Catholicism was not true, the next few months would be very difficult pscyhologically on me.
            I tend to see both versions you noted as true. I believe some believers have fell into persistent sin and thus their heart has grown dark for the love of God or love of others and thus have become non-believers. Others look for God, and simply don't find him, so why is their reason to believe? God can most definatley feel extremely distant or non-existent in life and this makes me understand for those who don't believe. I also find myself learning a lot here from atheists.
            Third, I hope I didn't say anything offensive. It's not my intent.

          • Randy Gritter

            First, how do you put a space between paragraphs? Mine run together for osme reason.

            You have to save the comment and then edit it. At least I do in Firefox. Disqus is just a horribly buggy piece of software.

          • robtish

            I don't do anything special to make those blank lines appear except to hit my enter key twice at the end of each paragraph. I'm using Chrome as my browswer; perhaps that makes a difference.

        • Randy Gritter

          This is precisely right. Scholars turn themselves into knots to avoid supernatural claims. It is part of their philosophy. If you don't share that philosophy then you should not wonder why they end up with strange conclusions.

          The other thing is that scholars are not immune from the call God makes on our lives. To take the claims of Jesus seriously is something many will avoid for personal reasons we all understand. It effects their analysis of the data big time.

          • robtish

            Likewise, of course, we can see that some scholars and theologian may the claims of Jesus seriously based personal reasons and needs we all understand and which affects their analysis of the data big time.

          • Randy Gritter

            This is good. To have scholars of both camps analyzing the data and seeing which assumption leads to the most reasonable story.

          • Doug Shaver

            "This is good. To have scholars of both camps analyzing the data and seeing which assumption leads to the most reasonable story."

            How do we judge the reasonableness of a story without also judging the assumptions on which it is based?

          • Of course you judge the plausibility of the assumptions. Natural assumptions are to be preferred to supernatural ones. Yet to what degree? If a man is healed right after Jesus touches him that could be co-incidence. What about 2 men? How many would it take before the natural explanation just becomes untenable?

          • Doug Shaver

            Natural assumptions are to be preferred to supernatural ones. Yet to what degree?

            To the degree that they suffice to explain what I can observe.

            If a man is healed right after Jesus touches him that could be co-incidence.

            I suppose it could, but coincidence isn't the only naturalistic explanation. I don't doubt that faith healing sometimes works. I just don't believe that the reason it works has anything to do with God.

            How many would it take before the natural explanation just becomes untenable?

            Just two, if the circumstances are right. Maybe I'd hold out for three.

          • David Nickol

            Scholars turn themselves into knots to avoid supernatural claims.

            Rather, I would say practicing historians do not accept the supernatural for precisely the same reason practicing scientists don't. It is the task of both historians and scientists to give accounts of events according to the known principles and laws of nature, even if those scientists and historians personally believe in the supernatural. This is why "creation science" isn't science, and it's why a historian cannot, as a historian, affirm the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection, or the miraculous intervention of God on behalf of Constantine in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Once you start attributing things to supernatural causes in either history or science, you have wandered out of the boundaries of the discipline into religion.

          • Randy Gritter

            So then anything produced by these historians can't be used as evidence against the supernatural. That is their assumption going in so they can never produce an argument for that conclusion because it would be a circular argument.

            On the other hand historians like this can produce evidence for the supernatural. When they get stuck. When they can't answer questions like where Christianity came from. When they are reduced to lame speculation about somebody editing something somehow sometime. That can be seen as a reductio ad absurdum type of argument. That is they have proven their assumption false.

          • Mikegalanx

            No. It can be, of course,the same way Christian apologists deny other religion's manifestations of the supernatural.

            If supernatural events were happening around us all the time, verifiably, then we would be inclined to accept the supernatural- but they don't.

            We apply the same standards to events then as to events now- apologists must come up with ad hoc explanations as to why supernatural events no longer occur.

            Of course, there are the Pat Robertson types, who say Katrina was a punishment for gay pride parades...

            http://www.eatliver.com/i.php?n=8735

          • jakael02

            I see what your saying. It does feel like supernatural is far from us. But I'd argue there are many supernatural events, but the media or mainstream culture ignores them because they are events that get you blackballed to discuss.
            Mary has appeared to numerous individuals with incredible conversions, healings & scientific studies to add strength to the claims. I've been to a few apparitions, and the graces that flowed from them were undeniable, imho. Eucharistic miracles have occured, one major one being in the old diocese of Pope Francis. A man with ALS was cured in Medjugorje, worlds first. Just my too cents. NDE - some are "wishy washy" but some seem worthy of belief. Fatima's miracle of the sun - that seems to garner much attention as a public miracle worthy of belief.

            As a Catholic, I can't be responsible for all the Christians (such as Pat Robertson) who feels worthy to break-off and create their own Church and then say that crap like Katrina. For that, I'm sorry. That's not right.

          • Doug Shaver

            But I'd argue there are many supernatural events, but the media or mainstream culture ignores them because they are events that get you blackballed to discuss.

            I guess that explains why TV reporters never put anyone on camera saying, "It was a miracle."

          • Doug Shaver

            On the other hand historians like this can produce evidence for the supernatural. When they get stuck. When they can't answer questions like where Christianity came from.

            Your rejection of their answers does not imply that they have no answers.

          • We can see the answers and judge whether they make sense. Certainly they don't admit that their best efforts have left them with absurd theories. They typically compare their theory to those of other historians which are also highly improbable.

            It is like if historians had some principle that didn't allow them to study earthquakes. They would argue with each other as to who has the best way to explain all these buildings collapsing and all these people dying all at once. The overall weakness of the explanations would be a good reason to believe an earthquake did occur.

          • Doug Shaver

            Randy, if you really think that the objects of your faith are as obviously existent as earthquakes, then I'm at the end of my dialectical rope.

  • robtish

    Hmm. About those historical details in the Bible: For quite a long time, Troy was considered to be legendary, and its ultimate discovery astonished many people.

    So does the fact that part of the Iliad turned out to be factual thus imply that its stories of Aphrodite and Athena are also factual?

    • Randy Gritter

      It would be evidence for that. It would not prove that by itself. It means the physical place exists. Does the historical place exist? For the stories of Aphrodite and Athena the answer is No. No particular year or even century is suggested by the story. For the gospels the answer is Yes. They are fairly easy to place in time and space.

      • robtish

        But how do you know that, for the stories of Aphrodite and Athena, the answer is no?

        • Randy Gritter

          You look for real people. People who lived and died at a particular time. Peter, Paul, Pilate, Cesar Augustus, etc. can date the New Testament. Stories that are told without any reference to when they happened are much less likely to be true. Again, it is not conclusive evidence but it weighs on that side.

  • Timothy Reid

    I agree with many of the points in this article. Why would the 4 Gospels, 4 intact and well-developed pieces of ancient writing, be some elaborate hoax?? If one's answer is "why wouldn't they be?" then that person is looking to deny them. If there is a bias against Christianity and the Bible, then it's easier for a person to believe theories that they agree with (even though they stretch credibility).

    • David Nickol

      Why would the 4 Gospels, 4 intact and well-developed pieces of ancient writing, be some elaborate hoax??

      I think few would claim that they are. However, they are by far not the only gospels. There is, for example, the Gospel of Thomas. There are the Gnostic Gospels, some of which we have parts of. There are also gospels that are known to have existed but have been lost. I would imagine that few if any of the noncanonical Gospels were out and out hoaxes. They were written by believers who believed something other than what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John believed. Christians trust that the Church made the right selection in choosing the four Gospels that we have as part of the canon. As I recall, some considered John rather "iffy," since it is quite different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but ultimately it was accepted as canonical.

      • Randy Gritter

        I think the church did believe many of the gospels were hoaxes. That is the Gospel of Thomas was not written by St Thomas and does not reflect his teachings. Same with the Gospel of Peter and many others. It was precisely this problem that caused them to define a cannon.

        • Linda

          I had read somewhere sometime ago (sorry for the uncredited info) that some of the gospels that didn't make the canon were rejected because they were redundant; one is just a list of quotes or sayings from Jesus with no narrative; and some were written much later and contained stories that really did create a more "superhero" or "mythical" Jesus, with all kinds of fantastical information (which I realize sounds strange to atheists who find the entire story fantastical, but apparently the stories gave Christ all kinds of crazy powers). But I suspect that some of these works are the sources for our belief in Joachim and Anne, Mary's parents, and other things that have come down through the ages without being mentioned in the Gospels.

          • Randy Gritter

            There were many things that were rejected for different reasons. Some were rejected because they were not written by people close enough to the apostles. The letter of Clement to the Corinthians would be an example. But there were also some that were seen as fraudulent. I think some of the gnostic ones were in that category.

      • Timothy Reid

        John was iffy and different from the synoptics. Revelation was downright scandalous and only made it in by the skin of its' teeth because of its' violent imagery and Old Testament flavor. I believe the Gnostic Gospels were written later than the canonical ones and the Gnostics were definitely distinct from the mainline Church in what they believed about Christ. The Docetism and the denial of Christ's death on the cross are glaring departures. John's Gospel at least says "and the Word became flesh" in ch. 1.
        Also, the 4 evangelists held somewhat different beliefs between the 4 of them. Though not contrary or opposing beliefs, they each focused on a different type of Jesus in their Gospels which were written for different types of audiences.
        I believe that our acceptance of 4 Gospels is better than just 1. There are many sides to who Christ is. Also the non-acceptance of others shows that care was taken when considering what books would become part of our canon of scripture. If 4 Gospels describe Jesus as a man and others say He was only some hologram or avatar that would not take on flesh because all flesh is evil........then the Church is right to include some and not others.

    • Doug Shaver

      If there is a bias against Christianity and the Bible, then it's easier for a person to believe theories that they agree with (even though they stretch credibility).

      Are we to believe that Christians have no bias, or that they are immune from its cognitive effects?

  • It is historical evidence that Caesar crossed the rubicon because I've known people to cross shallow rivers. I've even waded across a shallow river!

    It's not so clearly part of history to say that Jesus came back from the dead, or that Mohommet saw an angel or that Moses turned the nile to blood. These sorts of things lie outside what our best scientific knowledge indicates is possible.

    Historical accounts have historical facts. Claims involving events that are scientifically possible can be historical facts. Claims involving the scientifically impossible cannot.

    • Randy Gritter

      But then you can't evaluate any miracle claims. You just have to say that you don't have any logical framework for even trying to answer a question like that. Not that they can't happen. Just that your philosophy does not allow you to think about whether they happen or not.

      • Octavo

        It's more that empirical analysis is used to evaluate miracle claims. Reading about miracles in an old book is not going to impress most non-believers.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Randy Gritter

          How does empirical analysis work on a one time miracle claim? What evidence are you going to expect? If such a miracle happened is there anything that could convince you? I mean we are only going to have old books if the even happened in the first century.

          • Octavo

            "How does empirical analysis work on a one time miracle claim? "

            Collect data, keep looking for repetition, analyse in the light of existing evidence. Example: I thought my night terror was demonic, now that I understand more about how the brain works, I realize that the experience was likely neurological.

            I don't think any old books with miracles are going to be convincing. I know that doesn't seem fair, since events like Jesus' resurrection are not empirically available, but I just don't see any reason to believe that the miraculous events in the gospels are true.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Randy Gritter

            Then just be honest and say nothing would convince you Jesus did any miracle. That is true because of your philosophy. It is not because of anything that can be proved through empirical analysis.

          • Octavo

            "Then just be honest."
            I am being honest. If Jesus were here raising the decayed dead in front of me, I'm pretty sure I'd believe it (especially if he raised dead people I knew, like he was reputed to do for Mary and Martha).

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Rick DeLano

            If the Big Bang had emerged from quantum foam in front of me, I'm pretty sure I'd believe it.......oh wait.

            You do.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Then just be honest and say nothing would convince you Jesus did any miracle."

            It is highly improbable that anything you could show me would convince me, but please don't impugn my integrity. My philosophy does not deny the possibility of miracles. I will say that, for all I can know for certain, a man could have come back to life three days after dying by crucifixion. But if you tell me that a particular man, at a particular time in a particular place, did so return from the dead, I don't see what is wrong with me if I won't believe it just on somebody's say-so.

          • It is not about integrity. It is about realizing that how we answer first order questions will have huge impact over how we answer second order questions.

            What evidence would convince you Jesus rose from the dead. If the testimony of many people who were with him before and after his execution is not enough then what would it take? Maybe those witnesses doing their own miracles and showing great knowledge of God? Maybe that group bringing down the most powerful empire in the world at that time? Maybe those witnesses starting a church that continues to this day? What would do it?

          • Doug Shaver

            It is not about integrity.

            Then don't tell me "Be honest."

            What evidence would convince you Jesus rose from the dead.

            I don't know. What would it take to convince you that he didn't?

            If the testimony of many people who were with him before and after his execution is not enough then what would it take?

            That could do it, actually, depending on what else I knew about those people. But I see no good reason to think we have any testimony of that sort.

            Maybe those witnesses doing their own miracles and showing great knowledge of God?

            Yeah, maybe.

            Maybe that group bringing down the most powerful empire in the world at that time?

            I can't answer that without more specific information. I think you're the first Christian I've met who has tried to credit his religion for the fall of the Roman Empire.

            Maybe those witnesses starting a church that continues to this day? What would do it?

            I don't think that would do it. I've never thought there was much of a correlation between the persistence of a belief and the likelihood of its being true.

          • If the testimony of many people who were with him before and after his execution is not enough then what would it take?

            That could do it, actually, depending on what else I knew about those people. But I see no good reason to think we have any testimony of that sort.

            So you think Peter and John never claimed to have seen the risen Jesus? So when Peter talked to St Clement in Rome what did he say? Did the subject never come up? did he lie? did he tell the truth? Same with John and St Polycarp and St Ignatius?

          • Doug Shaver

            So you think Peter and John never claimed to have seen the risen Jesus?

            No. What I think is that we have no document written by either of them in which they stated such a claim.

            So when Peter talked to St Clement in Rome what did he say?

            I don't think Peter was ever in Rome.

            Same with John and St Polycarp and St Ignatius?

            We've already covered John. Neither Polycarp nor Ignatius, in their extant writings, claims to have seen the risen Jesus or to have known anyone who did.

          • It is not important what the specifically wrote in extant documents. It is important that they passed the faith on to others. A central part of that faith is the claim that they were eye witnesses of the resurrection. So any others they passed it to would ask the obvious questions. We know a few of these folks because they became leaders and martyrs themselves. The reality is all the apostles likely were asked these questions over and over. What did they say?

            "I don't think Peter was ever in Rome."
            Don't believe everything protestants say about the church.
            http://www.catholic.com/tracts/was-peter-in-rome

          • Doug Shaver

            It is not important what the specifically wrote in extant documents.

            Those extant documents are the only evidence I can use.

            It is important that they passed the faith on to others.

            Your dogma says they did. You have a commitment to that dogma. I don't.

            A central part of that faith is the claim that they were eye witnesses of the resurrection.

            It's your faith, not mine. I can't use it for anything.

            "I don't think Peter was ever in Rome."
            Don't believe everything protestants say about the church.

            Why do you think I would? You should get to know your interlocutors better before assuming anything about their ideological allegiances.

          • "Your dogma says they did. You have a commitment to that dogma. I don't."

            So you believe the apostles didn't pass the faith on? This isn't dogma. This is history. The next generation of Christians existed. We know it from the records they left. We also know it from the fact that Christianity did not disappear.

            "It's your faith, not mine. I can't use it for anything."

            You seem to think that if something involves faith that you can just sneer and stop thinking. It is you atheism that is anti-reason here. Catholicism faces facts and thinks clearly.

            "Why do you think I would? You should get to know your interlocutors better before assuming anything about their ideological allegiances."

            The "Peter was never in Rome" idea was put forward by an anti-Catholic fundamentalist. He also happens to be a terrible historian.

          • Doug Shaver

            So you believe the apostles didn't pass the faith on?

            I believe, from reading the Pauline corpus, that there were people in the first century who were called apostles. I believe they were passing on a faith. I don't believe it was anything we would recognize as the faith of any modern Christian sect.

            You seem to think that if something involves faith that you can just sneer and stop thinking.

            I'm just disagreeing with you about the epistemological sufficiency of faith. Do you perceive a sneer in every statement that disagrees with something you say?

            And from my perspective, I didn't stop thinking when I abandoned my own faith. The way I recall it, I had to abandon my faith because I could not stop thinking about it.

            The "Peter was never in Rome" idea was put forward by an anti-Catholic fundamentalist.

            I have two observations about that.

            1. To reject an argument on the basis of its advocate's motivations is a fallacy. It's called the genetic fallacy.

            2. I can examine the historical evidence for myself and make up my own mind about what it proves or doesn't prove. I don't need anyone -- Catholic or Protestant, atheist or believer, fundamentalist or liberal -- to tell me what I should infer from Christianity's extant paper trail.

          • Ben Posin

            http://xkcd.com/1235/

            Way back when, before there were libraries and historians, God used to do really huge flashy miracles, on a scale that could be observed by lots of people (or at least so the accounts of these miracles claim). For example, he killed all the first born egyptians of a generation, made the sun stand still in the sky, and so forth. Stuff that it would have been impossible for people in general to miss.

            2000 thousand years ago, when people were able to travel through settled nations, on ships and good roads, and when there were library and historians, God/Jesus still did some showy miracle, but on a much smaller scale: Jesus wandered around one city doing one on one healing, and came back from the dead and saw some people before...huh, actually, I guess I'm ignorant, where is he supposed to have gone? Anyway, the miracles are on a much more local, smaller scale, the kind of thing you maybe could plausibly say wouldn't be recorded by a lot of contemporary scholars/historians/whatever.

            In 1917, when we have global communications, astronomers, etc., we get the so-called Fatima miracle, where even the most stout believer is apt to admit that no, the sun didn't actually change position or move around in the sky, we instead at best have some sort of group vision. Odd, because we know from the old testament that in the old days God used to be able to actually monkey with the position of the sun. What changed?

            Today, as noted in the linked comic, we don't just have newspapers and historians, the internet and global communications: a huge number of people are walking around with a phone that doubles as a video camera in their pocket. And what credible miracles have we had lately?

            Yeah, it's possible that way back when there were one off miracles. But I can't help noticing that as the human race has gotten better at recording and communicating stuff that actually happens, the miracles seem to get squeezed out of history. It could be a coincidence. But the two seem connected to me.

          • Randy Gritter

            There is some truth to that. Many alleged miracles turn out to be explainable when there is more photographic evidence available. I would not say miracles do not happen today. They do. The level of scientific documentation the Vatican requires has increased. It is to the point where only medical miracles seem to get approved. That reduces the number but it is not zero. The ones that are approved are not the only ones that happen. They are the ones that have good objective evidence. For example a story like this: http://heavenisforreal.net/ could never be approved. That does not mean Catholics believe this kid is lying. It just mean the documentation is not good enough.

          • John Bell

            The recently approved "medical miracles" attributed to Mother Teresa and PJII are utter nonsense. Miracles simply do not happen but the church is willing to approve some BS if it suits their purpose.

          • Randy Gritter

            Utter nonsense? You know this how? Because atheists say so? Biases are huge in evaluating evidence. For example, atheists discount the testimony of nuns. They seem to assume that because they are nuns they will obviously lie their face off to back up the Catholic story. But those of us who know many nuns personally would never assume that. They tend to be the most honest people you meet anywhere. So I can see how people end up at different conclusions.

          • Joe Ser

            Check out the extensive investigation and techniques used to approve miracles. Perhaps you can even join the investigative team. I believe there are a few skeptics on the board.

          • Andrew G.

            None of those (text) links actually cite a source for their claims of "NASA scientists ..." and so on. (I don't waste time on video links)

            The claims of images magnified 2500 times are hilarious - that is well beyond the resolution limit of visible light, so all you'll see at that magnification is what you want to see.

          • Joe Ser

            Hmmm, then it is wise to discount every NASA image they feed us.

            A simple search will show you hundreds of images magnified 2500 times.

            You can see the tilma for yourself. Take a thermometer and see for yourself it is 98.6 deg. Then check the constellations on the tilma and see what date they are coincident with. These you can do yourself. Then tell me why the material is still intact. If they let you take a stethescope and listen to the 115 beats per minute heartbeat.

          • Andrew G.

            You're confusing telescopic and microscopic magnifications.

            Visible light has a wavelength of a few hundred nanometers. What that means in practice is this: if you magnify an optical image of a small object by 800 times, then the smallest features that can be resolved by visible light are now large enough to be clearly visible at close viewing distance. No further detail can be revealed using greater magnification. This is why we have electron microscopes, scanning tunneling microscopes, atomic force microscopes and so on rather than relying on optical microscopes.

            (From the images available online the point is moot anyway, since the fabric weave introduces so much noise into the image that the claimed reflections are clearly pure pareidolia.)

            With telescopes on the other hand, the limiting factor for magnification is how wide the aperture is, which determines the resolving power, which determines how much useful magnification can be applied before no further detail can be revealed.

          • Joe Ser

            In 1929, Alfonso Marcué González, the Basilica's official photographer, took black and white photographs of the Image and after careful examination of the photographic negative, found a clear image of a bearded man reflected in the right eye of the Virgin. He immediately informed the authorities of the Basilica who sworn him to complete silence about the discovery, which he complied.

            More than 20 years later, on May 29, 1951, Jose Carlos Salinas Chavez, while examining a good photograph of the face, rediscovers the same image of a bearded man reflected in the right eye of the Virgin, in the same place which it could be projected in an alive eye. Since then, many people had the opportunity to examine closely the eyes of the Virgin on the Tilma, including more than 20 physicians, ophthalmologists.

            The first one was on March 27, 1956, when Dr. Javier Torroella Bueno, MDS, a prestigious ophthalmologist, discovered the presence of the triple reflection (Samson-Purkinje effect) in the eyes of the Virgin - a characteristic of all live human eyes wherein the images are located exactly where they are supposed to be according to such effect, and also that the distortion of the images agree with the curvature of the cornea. In July of the same year, another noted ophthalmologist, Dr. Rafael Torrija Lavoignet, similarly examined the eyes of the Image with an ophthalmoscope in great detail and discovered that the eyes have the three refractive characteristics of a human eye. He also found human figure in the corneas of both eyes, with the location and distortion of a normal human eye and specially noted a unique appearance of the eyes: they look strangely "alive" when examined. By 1976, some twenty doctors had confirmed, orally and in writing, the "unexplainable presence" of a man with a beard in the cornea and lenses of the Virgin's eyes.

            In 1979, Dr. José Aste Tonsmann, PhD, a Peruvian ophthalmologist and an expert at IBM in the digital processing of images, and who for over 20 years studied the Tilma, digitally enlarged the Image of Our Lady's eyes by 2,500 times the actual size under extremely high resolution and had found not only a single figure, but images of all the witnesses present when the Tilma was first revealed before de Zumárraga in 1531, plus a small family group of mother, father, and a group of children, in the center of Our Lady's eyes, 13 persons in all. The size of that scene is about 1/100th of an inch. The Iris of the eye magnified, and through mathematical and optical procedures, Dr. Tonsmann was able to identify highly detailed images of at least 13 people imprinted in the eyes who are all present in both eyes: "the Indian", "bishop Zumárraga", the "translator", "Juan Diego showing the tilma" and below said images, "the family", but different in proportions, as would happen when human eyes reflect the objects before them. There are two scenes: the first contains the Bishop Zumárraga gawking at Juan Diego opening his Tilma and discover the image of Mary; the second scene, much smaller than the previous one, is located in the center of the eye and contains a typical family picture of Native Americans: a couple with several children around. The two scenes are repeated in both eyes with amazing accuracy, including the size difference caused by the greater proximity of an eye to the other, against the objects portrayed.

            Dr. Tonsmann used digital technology similar to that used in the images received from satellites and space probes in transmitting visual information. The image of Bishop Zumárraga in the eyes of Our Lady was also digitally enlarged 1,000 times than the actual size to be able to see what is reflected in his eyes. The eye of the Bishop contains the image of Juan Diego opening his Tilma before the bishop. The size of this image? A quarter of a micron, which is ¼ of a millionth of a millimeter!

            In summary, the Our Lady's eyes bear a kind of instant picture of what actually occurred at the moment the image was unveiled in front of the bishop and other witnesses on December 9, 1531. http://infallible-catholic.blogspot.com/2012/04/miraculous-image-of-our-lady-of.html

          • Andrew G.

            Repeating the claims doesn't make them any more believable. In fact, the exaggerations and blatant falsehoods simply confirm the spurious nature of the entire account.

            The real world is not like CSI; no amount of image processing can reveal details which are well below the resolution of the original method used to obtain the image in the first place. A quarter of a micron is 250nm, which is half the wavelength of blue-green light (visible light ranges from about 400 to 700nm). Imagine trying to map the details of a bas-relief carving an inch across by bouncing soccer balls off it.

            If you just keep expanding an image regardless, all you are left with is noise - and our ability to "see" nonexistent features in noisy patterns is extremely well documented (just look at all those Jesus-in-my-toasted-cheese stories).

          • Joe Ser

            As I said you can see for yourself despite your skepticism. That aside, there is so much more to the tilma.

          • Joe Ser

            Lourdes cures and their medical assessment. - Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1440112/

          • Andrew G.

            It's been over 25 years since the occurrence of any "recognized" unexplained cure at Lourdes (the ones recognized more recently than that actually occurred earlier).

          • Joe Ser

            Not all miracles are reported by people to avoid publicity.

            And yes, the Church moves very slowly on approving miracles. They are among the highest of skeptics.

          • Andrew G.

            Between 1950 and 1980 the usual gap between occurrence and recognition was 3 to 13 years with the average about 7. The current 25-year gap is not explained by mere caution.

          • Joe Ser

            How do you profess to know how often miracles should be reported and then investigated?

          • Joe Ser

            They do not happen? Can you prove this negative?

            Source for your claim? - the church is willing to approve......

      • I'd make a stronger claim than that. I'd say that my metaphysics, along with my present empirical knowledge about the world and my doubts about the existence and nature of God, lead me to conclude that all miracles are really physics that the witnesses didn't understand at the time. Some miracles may involve physics that we still don't understand, e.g. the Fatima Miracle.

    • "They involve such low probabilities that, for all intents and purposes, they cannot happen. Not without some sort of as-yet-unevidenced outside-the-universe intervention."

      I'd say two things in reply. First, probabilities are always calculated in respect to some background information. By positing that Jesus' Resurrection is highly improbably, you'd need to explain what it's improbable to. For a fuller treatment of this issue, I'd highly recommend Timothy and Lydia McGrew's contribution to the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Titled "The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth", it offers a defense of Jesus' rising from the dead using a Bayesian probabilistic framework.

      Second, suppose Jesus really did rise from the dead as Christians attest. How would you expect the historical evidence or history to look different than they do now? I'm genuinely curious what you would *expect* to find, but don't.

      "Claims involving scientifically possible can be historical facts. Claims involving the scientifically impossible cannot."

      This depends on what you mean by "scientifically possible" (perhaps you can explain?) If by that you mean "naturally possible", then I wouldn't agree. Again, suppose the Resurrection occurred precisely as Christians describe, that Jesus really did rise from the dead due to supernatural intervention. Even though it would not be a natural event, the event would still leave traces of historical evidence.

      • Octavo

        "Titled "The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth", it offers a defense of Jesus' rising from the dead using a Bayesian probabilistic framework."

        If there's any empirical fact the human race can be said to have determined, it is that no one ever comes back to life after decaying for three days. This is so well verified, I don't know how anyone can justify assigning a probability above zero to the resurrection of Jesus. In order to believe it, I would have to pretend I don't know or understand the things I do about human biology.

        As for supernatural intervention, I think you would have to believe in it before you could assign a probability (above zero) to it.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Randy Gritter

          So it is the ascension that is impossible? Why is that? It does mean we are require to have faith. Is that the problem? That God requiring faith makes Him impossible. Is that something you believe based on a scientific argument?

          • Octavo

            The question was: How would history look different if Jesus came back from the dead? My answer was that if someone came back from the dead, and was reported to be immortal, than this person would be around and have a personal impact on events from his resurrection all the way up to the present.

            The Ascension is what I would expect to see from an untrue story about an immortal person. The story makes bold claims and explains away the lack of hard evidence.

            ~Jesse Webster

      • Geena Safire

        From McGrew & McGrew: If Jesus of Nazareth died and then rose again bodily three days later, the probability of T [theism] is approximately equal to 1.

        Actually, no. There are several possible alternatives, all of which are more likely than the existence of the Judeo-Christian deity.

        First, maybe he didn't really die.

        Second, maybe one of the apostles took his place at the garden, and Judas was in on the plan and falsely identified that apostle as Jesus to the Romans. So that apostle died and Jesus 'appeared' to come back from the dead.

        Third, maybe he didn't really come back to life, but the apostles wanted it to be true so much that they convinced themselves that he had because of the value they placed on his teaching. Or maybe one apostle had visions/hallucinations, perhaps from a temporal lobe seizure or other brain misfiring, and the others wanted to be convinced by the story. Hallucinations happen relatively frequently, particularly under great stress, and wishful thinking is also a well-known phenomenon.

        Fourth, he could have been an alien life form. Since we know of life existing on a planet and of travel into space, and since we know of 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars each with an average of a few planets, the likelihood of intelligent life on other planets capable of space travel is much higher than the likelihood of anything supernatural, of which we have zero evidence. These alien life forms may have learned how to regenerate after what appeared like human death. A subset of the fourth option is that he could have been an android or artificial life form developed by aliens which could better survive the length of time in transit and apparent death..

        Fifth, he could have been a time-traveler from Earth's future. Positing a single time-traveler is a much less extravagant claim than a timeless, immaterial all-powerful supernatural entity which can create time and space, not to mention one which, in addition, has minute by minute individual interest in each being on one planet around one of the 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.

        "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'."

        • Technically only your cases 4 and 5 satisfy McGrew^2's hypothetical. They say that assuming that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, then the probability of theism is ~ 1. Your cases 4 and 5 may or may not be more likely than the existence of a god that performs miracles. It is difficult to give probabilities for any of those three. The fact that there are other viable possibilities means that McGrew^2 are wrong, and you are correct. The probability of theism is not at all established by the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

        • Octavo

          Another explanation is that someone impersonated Jesus after the crucifixion. After all, some of the gospels indicate that his apostles (and Mary) didn't recognize him at first.

          ~Jesse Webster

      • Brandon,

        I think the first part of your reply asks a very fair question. The reply is a bit detailed, so I made a blog post about it here: http://boltzmannbrain.org/2013/10/30/probability-of-the-resurrection/

        The upshot is that, mathematically:

        Virtually any explanation is more likely than that Jesus came back from the dead through the known laws of nature. This means that, among other possibilities, there are either unknown laws of nature that make it more likely for people to return from the dead, or some supernatural force or entity has the capability and desire to raise at least one person from the dead. Since there is no good evidence for either of these alternatives, it seems best to conclude that the resurrection of Jesus is at most a spiritual resurrection, and not a physical resurrection.

        The background information that I take for the resurrection is that God exists but is not interested in performing physical activities or miracles (since there is currently no day-to-day evidence of such events, or any record that would stand up to scientific scrutiny). Even with this background information, the physical resurrection is exceedingly unlikely, but physically possible. I would favor more the idea of a spiritual resurrection.

        An event is "scientifically impossible" if and only if, given known physical laws, that event is unlikely to happen even once during the present lifetime of the universe.

        Hope that helps!

        Paul

  • Geena Safire

    January 11, 49 B.C. is one of the most famous dates in the history of
    ancient Rome, even of the ancient world. On that date Julius Caesar
    crossed the Rubicon River, committing himself and his followers to civil
    war.

    It doesn't matter whether Gaius Julius crossed the Rubicon on that date. If he didn't cross on that date, or if all his army wasn't together at that point, it doesn't matter.

    He had been ordered to return to Rome and submit to the will of the Senate and instead he was involved in beginning a civil war that lasted four years until he won. The main elements of the story were true: He had to decide to rebel, which was likely a tough decision, and he didn't back out. He had to come from outside of Rome and cross a border to get to Rome, and crossing the border constituted treason. Some of his army had to be with him when he reached Rome or he would have been killed or imprisoned.

    In addition, the Rubicon River exists, and Roman borders existed, and laws against army generals crossing the border existed. Also, people cross rivers and people lead rebellions. None of these are extraordinary claims.

    If the bits were woven into a mythic story, it doesn't matter to the larger history of Julius Caesar. No one would doubt the significance of Julius Caesar if it were some day proven that he didn't cross the river on that date or that he had no troops with him when he crossed or if he even took another route to Rome or even if he had been secretly hiding in Rome for months.

    By the same token, it also doesn't matter whether George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, or if it had been a different kind of tree, or even if he had lied about chopping it down when he was a boy. He had a reputation for decades for being a truthful, direct person. But the veracity of the tree story doesn't matter to the larger history of George Washington. Also, cherry trees can be chopped down. This is not an extraordinary claim.

    On the other hand...

    ...if Jesus didn't perform miracles and didn't rise from the dead, that has a significant impact on the story of his life. Also, people don't perform miracles and people don't rise from the dead. These are extraordinary claims.

    This is a completely invalid analogy.

  • Geena Safire

    ...non-Christian Roman writings from the first half of the first century...

    The first century is from year 1 to 100. The second century is from year 101 to 200.

  • Geena Safire

    Numerous other finds continue to demolish the notion that the Gospels are mythologies filled with fictional names and events.

    The 'finds' include that the city of Nazareth did not exist at the time Jesus lived, and no census was taken in any year near Jesus' birth, and numerous other finds that contradict the Bible.

    In any case, except for a few serious scholars, who admit that their proposition of a mythical Jesus is less likely true than that he was a real person, and more than a few crackpots, no one is claiming that the the Gospels are filled with fictional names.

    But just as the existence of New York is not proof of Spiderman and his super powers, the existence of Judea and Pilate are not proof of miracles, including resurrection.

  • Mikegalanx

    "We must conclude, then, that the genre of the Gospel is not that of
    pure "history"; but neither is it that of myth, fairy tale, or legend.
    In fact, euangelion constitutes a genre all its own, a
    surprising novelty in the literature of the ancient world. Matthew does
    not seek to be "objective" in a scientific or legal sense."

    Exactly-it is a mixture of true events and legends- just like a biography of Joseph Smith by a devout Mormon.

    "He is writing
    as one whose life has been drastically changed by the encounter with
    Jesus of Nazareth. Hence, he is proposing to his listeners an objective
    reality of history, but offered as kerygma, that is, as a proclamation that bears personal witness to the radical difference that reality has already made in his life."

    Which, of course, should make us lee likely to trust it- do you believe the North Korean line about the fabulous powers of Kim Il-Sung? They are far better testified to than those of Jesus.

    He then blows a huge hole in his own argument, without seeming to notice it:

    "Those supernatural elements—especially the miracles of Jesus and his
    claims to divinity—are, as we’ve noted, why skeptics call the Gospels
    "myth" while remaining unruffled about anything written about Julius
    Caesar and the Rubicon by Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Suetonius, and
    Appian. Yes, Suetonius did write in his account (Lives of the Twelve Caesars)
    about "an apparition of superhuman size and beauty...sitting on the
    river bank, playing a reed pipe" who persuaded Caesar to cross the
    river, but it has not seemed to undermine the belief that Caesar did
    indeed cross the Rubicon on January 11, 49 B.C.
    "

    But of course,as the author surely knows, very few skeptics call the Gospels "myths"- the vast majority agree with the existence of Historical Jesus- like Historical Mohammed or Historical Joseph Smith. And of course skeptics would be ruffled about Suetonius' claim about the huge figure playing a reed pipe, if they took it seriously. Instead, we place it in the same category of Jesus going for a stroll on the lake.

    Though apparently Randy Grifter believes we should assume this story deserves serious consideration.

    The rest of the "evidence"he quotes- like coins showing the existence of Herod!- is totally meaningless- not even mythicists deny the existence of such historical figures.

    Michael Newsham

  • DannyGetchell

    What a great followup to the last article -

    https://strangenotions.com/pope-benedict-on-the-dark-passages-of-scripture/

    - in discussing which we learned that the Old Testament is not necessarily historically reliable, and that we are allowed to question its descriptions. (Especially of the "shocking" parts, I guess the benign parts are all assumed to be true).

    Now we learn that the New Testament by contrast is truthful and reliable, even the shocking parts.

    Let me see if I can ring up Dr. Marcion for a comment....

    • Randy Gritter

      Exactly. The resurrection accounts are key texts. They form the light by which we look at the dark passages. This is what apostolic tradition tells us to do. Marcion's ideas were simply not consistent with the teachings of the apostles as understood by the bishops of his day. They followed Jesus who said He did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it. He did that precisely by dying and rising from the dead. So we need to figure out how those dark passages are fulfilled by that central drama of Jesus' life.

  • The question is not whether it is all true or lies. Most historians accept Jesus lived and was crucified, but they will say there is insufficient support for any details of his birth or any of the other supernatural claims.

    The gospels cannot establish on historical standards that Jesus was God and resurrected. Nor I think could they ever. You need to suspend reason to get you there, the reason that says surviving death is impossible.

    • Randy Gritter

      Reason says surviving death is impossible under normal circumstances. When you are dealing with a claim that God became man then you would expect some things quite different from the norm to happen if that claim were true. So saying it is impossible under the circumstances claimed does not seem obvious at all.

      • I disagree. Reason tells us that it is impossible under any circumstances to survive death.

        This is about the standard of evidence. We can accept, historically, that a man existed, that crossed a river, that another was tortured to death. We can easily prove to much higher standards that these things are possible. So we can accept, based on limited historical documentation that it happened. But when we say something happened historically, we are making a weak claim, essentially that there is evidence for it, it is generally consistent with other evidence, and there is no significant reason to doubt it.

        I'd say the resurrection arguably meets the first two, but fails entirely on the last.

        • David Nickol

          Reason tells us that it is impossible under any circumstances to survive death.

          Certainly many people have been clinically dead and been revived, so I would be careful ruling out survival "under any circumstances." And I don't think that "reason" tells us it is impossible to survive definitive bodily death (including destruction of the body). While I put very little stock in stories of supernatural or paranormal occurrences, I think there are enough such stories to leave the question open. Not wide open, perhaps, but still open.

          • Yes but this draws out what they mean by "miracle". If the gospels said that Jesus was resuscitated, healed I would tend to believe it, but this would not be miraculous and he would not be a God.

            They require it to be some suspension of the laws of nature. Something must happen that is impossible without God.

            I agree it is all possible, but so is last thursdayism. In any event, my point is that to demonstrate that a being exists that can manipulate the laws of nature, you need current examples. You need more than ancient writings from a superstitious and credulous time.

      • Doug Shaver

        "It is more that absent a prior commitment to disbelieve supernatural events the New Testament is not historically implausible."

        I have no such prior commitment, but I still regard the New Testament as historically implausible.

        • Precisely what do you think is implausible?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm a philosophical naturalist. Does that answer your question?

          • No. A philosophical naturalist without a bias against the supernatural?

            I was looking for something in the Christian narrative that does not fit. If you think it all fits under its own assumptions then we agree.

          • Doug Shaver

            A philosophical naturalist without a bias against the supernatural?

            I like the way one of my statistics professors defined bias: any source of error.

            I do not believe that the supernatural exists. If the supernatural does exist, then my unbelief is a bias, at least potentially.

            I was looking for something in the Christian narrative that does not fit. If you think it all fits under its own assumptions then we agree.

            My comment was on the New Testament narrative. I don't think "Christian narrative" is the same thing, however much the sola scriptura crowd wishes us to think otherwise.

            I think the New Testament narrative fits under the assumptions held by those church authorities who decided which books would comprise the New Testament.

  • Andrew G.

    To quote Van Voorst's own conclusions from chapter 2 of Jesus Outside the New Testament (italics in original, boldface mine):

    Fifth, what classical writers know about Jesus comes almost completely from Christians. They seem to have little or no knowledge about him independent of Christianity. Given factors described above, we should not expect such information, or be surprised at its absence. The only possible exception is Tacitus, but even here it is more likely that he derived his information from Christians, either directly or by way of his friend Pliny the Younger. As a consequence, we obtain no reliable information about Jesus from the classical writers that we do not have in the Christian writings of this time. [...]

  • Joe Ser

    The Clementine Tradition puts the order Matthew, Luke, Mark and John.

    Matthew before 44AD and Before Agrippa dies

    Before 54AD Luke writes Gospels foe Gentiles. Copy of Matthew taken to India.

    Before 64AD Luke completes Acts; John writes Apocalypse; Mark issues first transcript of Peter's talks; Peter approves Mark’s transcript for a small circulation.
    Luke’s Gospel published. Acts issued with the approval of Paul and Peter. John writes twenty chapters of his Gospel.

    Before 69AD Paul writes an epistle to the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem.

    Clement of Alexandria states (about 200) that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were the first to be written. Tertullian (about 212) uses Luke prior to Mark three times.

  • Elumeze Anthony

    i have read this post and some of the comments here, i am a practicing catholic and used to serve at mass, but sometimes i just get to a point whether to be in or out..i have not seen any of those who believe these stories come up with new information to confirm the old ones, sure God did not stop talking or showing us his glory when the last book of the bible was written. i am yet to see somebody who has seen vision or dreams where God showed him or her what happened in the past o what will happen in the future, to put an end to the little contradictions in the bible...i hope somebody here knows what i am talking about? it will actually do us good if God speaks to people of this age not recycling what he told people in the past...

  • Kelli Doughty

    Must correct something about the dating of Acts and Luke, Acts was about Paul, and Paul died in 64-67 AD. Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, wouldn't the fact that Jerusalem fell as Jesus said it would be something to add to the Gospel Accounts. And Paul began writting during his travels he became an apostle in 34AD. And the most recent archological find of Mark's Gospel was dated 40AD. a mere flash in the pan as historic writtings go

    • David Nickol

      and scholars place Acts being written in roughly 40 AD too.

      Which scholars are those?

      Joseph A. Fitzmyer, in The Acts of the Apostles, a volume in the Anchor Yale Bible, reviews the arguments for dating the composition of Acts and classifies them into three categories:

      Early dating: Early 60s

      Late dating: A.D. 100-130

      Intermediate dating: A.D. 80-85

      Fitzmyer finds the intermediate dating to be the most plausible.

      The so-called Council of Jerusalem is described in Acts 15. I have never seen an estimated date for it that isn't around A.D. 50. If Acts was written in A.D. 40, how do you account for the fact that it includes an account of something ten years in the future?

      And the most recent archaeological find of Mark's Gospel was dated 40AD.

      What archaeological find are you talking about?

  • Canis Dirus

    The veracity of any historical event must be relative to the actual claims.
    Caesar crossing the Rubicon is a geographical depiction of an event, which is cross verified independently. Perhaps it was not the Rubicon he crossed. But so what? Perhaps it not the primary reason why they fell into civil war. Again, so what?
    The gospels are making TREMENDOUS claims of supernatural divinity. We know that the authors are anonymous. We know none of them are originals, nor even close to being close copies of originals. We know none of them were written anywhere near the time lines of the events.
    That is why they fail the test of being historical documents.
    The greater the claim, the more demand for verification, and multiple sources from people who were actually there.