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10 Reasons to Just Say Nay to the Naysayer Hypothesis

Jesus Appearance

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today we share our first atheist guest post. It's from Bob Seidensticker who writes for the Patheos Atheist Channel at Cross Examined. Be sure to read Fr. Dwight Longenecker's reply: No Naysayers at NASA: Responding to Bob Seidensticker.


 
Apologists tell us that the gospels were written at a time when many disciples—the eyewitnesses—were still alive. If they heard an inaccurate story, they’d say, “I was there, and that’s not the way it happened!” They’d shut it down. An incorrect version of the story would not have survived.

Let’s consider this alternative world, where those in the inner circle tried to snuff out any false statements about Jesus. It quickly falls apart under examination. Here are ten reasons why I say nay to this Naysayer Hypothesis.

1. There would have been few potential naysayers. True, the gospel story reports thousands witnessing the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but these wouldn’t be naysayers. A naysayer must have been a close companion of Jesus to witness him not doing every miracle recorded in the Gospels. He would need to know that Jesus didn’t walk on water and didn’t raise Lazarus. A proper naysayer must have been one of Jesus’s close companions during his entire ministry, and there would likely have been just a few dozen.

2. We imagine a handful of naysayers who know that the Jesus story is only a legend, but that was in the year 30. Now the first gospel is written and it’s roughly forty years later—how many are still alive? Conditions were harsh at that time, and people died young. Many from our little band of naysayers have died or been imprisoned by this point.

3. A naysayer must be in the right location to complain. Suppose he lived in Jerusalem, and say that the book of Mark was written in Alexandria, Egypt, which historians say is one possibility. How will our naysayer correct its errors? Sure, Mark will be copied and spread, but there’s little time before our 60- or 70-year-old witnesses die. Even if we imagine our tiny band dedicating their lives to stamping out this false story—and why would they?—believers are starting brush fires of Christian belief all over the Eastern Mediterranean, from Alexandria to Damascus to Corinth to Rome. How can we expect our naysayers to snuff them all out?

4. They wouldn’t know about it. Two thousand years ago you couldn’t walk down to the corner bookstore to find the latest Jesus gospel. How were our naysayers to learn of the story? Written documents at that time were scarce and precious things. The naysayers would be Jews who didn’t convert to Christianity. They wouldn’t have associated much with the new Christians and so would have been unlikely to come across the Jesus story.

5. There was another gulf between the naysayers and the early Christians: the Gospels were written in Greek, not the local language of Aramaic spoken by Jesus and the naysayers. To even learn of the Jesus story in this community, our naysayers must speak Greek, which is hard to imagine among the typical peasant followers of Jesus. How many could have done this? And to influence the Greek-speaking readers of the Gospels, a rebuttal would have to have been written in Greek—not a common skill in Palestine.

6. Imagine a naysayer knew the actual Jesus and knew that he was merely a charismatic rabbi. Nothing supernatural. Now he hears the story of Jesus the Son of Man, the man of miracles, the healer of lepers and raiser of the dead. Why connect the two? “Jesus” was a common name (or Joshua or Yeshua or whatever his name really was), and supernatural claims were common at the time. His friend Jesus didn’t do anything like this, so the story he heard must be of a different person. So even when confronted with the false teaching, he wouldn’t know to raise an alarm.

7. Consider how hard is it today for a politician, celebrity, or business leader to stop a false rumor, even with the many ways to get the word out. Think about how hard it would have been in first-century Palestine. How many thousands of Christians were out there spreading the word for every naysayer with his finger in the dike? Given the sensational story (“Jesus was a miracle worker who can save you from your sins!”) and the mundane one (“Nah—he’s just a guy that I hung around with when I was growing up”), which has more traction?

8. Jesus himself couldn’t rein in rumors. He repeatedly tells those around him to not tell anyone about his miracles, and yet we read about both the miracles and Jesus’s fruitless plea. If he can’t stop rumors, why imagine that mortals can?

Or consider Joseph Smith. Here was a man convicted of the very occult practices that he then tells about in the Book of Mormon. Should’ve been easy to pull aside the curtain on this “religion,” right? Nope.

Look at Scientologists, cults, or any of the divisions of Christianity, both major (Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses) and minor (thousands of nondenominational churches and sects). Apparently, new religions start quite easily. The incredulous, “But what else could explain the New Testament but that the writers were telling the truth?!” doesn’t hold up when we see how easy it is.

9. One way to stop the gospel story would be naysayers, but a far better way would be to show the story as false. And the gospels themselves document that it was.

Jesus said that the end would come within the lifetime of many within his hearing. It didn’t (indeed, that this was going to be a longer process than initially thought was a reason that the oral history was finally written down, decades after the events). With the central prediction crumbling, what more proof do you need that this religion was false? And yet the religion kept on going. Obviously, religion can grow in the face of evidence to the contrary.

10. Christian apologists say that there were no naysayers, but how do we know that there weren’t? For us to know about them, naysayers would need to have written their story and have some mechanism to recopy the true account over and over until the present day. Just like Christian documents, their originals would have crumbled with time. What would motivate anyone to preserve copies of documents that argued against a religion? Perhaps only another religion! And it’s not surprising that the Jesus-isn’t-divine religion didn’t catch on.

This argument is popular but empty. Don’t use it.
 

"If a million people say a foolish thing,
it’s still a foolish thing."

 
 
Originally published at Cross Examined. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Awesome Stories)

Bob Seidensticker

Written by

Bob Seidensticker is a Seattle blogger who explores intellectual arguments in favor of Christianity (Christian apologetics) from an atheist perspective, and critiques Christianity’s actions in society. His first book, published in 2011, is a novel titled Cross Examined: An Unconventional Spiritual Journey. Follow Bob's Cross Examined blog through the Patheos Atheist Channel or connect with him through Twitter at @CrossExamined.

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  • I hope this argument isn't popular. You are absolutely right, and do a great job showing it for what it is, a terrible argument.

    I'm glad SN got you to be the first atheist poster. Your blog is one of my favorite on Patheos Atheist.

    • James Zahler

      I agree that arguments from silence are generally weaker. I think the absence of nay-sayers is more of a supportive argument than one that can stand on its own.

    • EM: Many thanks for the compliment!

    • Mark Hunter

      Sort of a scriptural version of Sherlock Holmes "Dog that didn't bark".

      • Mark, more like the winners, who wrote the history, edited out the dog.

        • Mark Hunter

          Yes. Who knows what we have lost.

  • Bob, thanks for writing in. I'd like to address some overall problems I see with these counter-arguments.

    First, there is no need for a naysayer to be with Jesus the entire time, or to witness the nonoccurrence of every famous miracle (some of which were performed before thousands). Any counter-claim will do to get the ball rolling. Can you produce one?

    Second, all points that rely on late dates for the gospels being written, or their being widely known / readable assumes that Christianity and its attendant miracle claims did not exist until the books were published. Even if one were to accept these late (and a-historical) dates, the movement rooted in the miraculous Jesus story is well established as having begun within a couple years of Jesus' death. All this worry over the documents produced later seems to be moot.

    Third, the rumor mill theory would be more convincing if each of the original disciples (and countless others) had not been willing to die horribly for their first-hand stories. All they had to do was recant or doubt the rumor. None did. (Funny version of the point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5p9CY976_kw&list=PL5600D968E6CC2A88&index=2 ).

    Fourth, #9 is simply false. Despite the claims of many in Pop-Christianity, what Jesus predicted in the Olivet discourse occured exactly when he said it would (if one takes Jesus' words the way a first century Jewish person - not the Left Behind crowd - would have: http://souldevice.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/a-first-century-fulfillment-of-the-olivet-discourse/).

    Fifth, #10 is an argument from silence which reduces to, "Besides all the evidence and lack of counter-evidence, where is your evidence?"

    • Meta-N

      More material on this topic can be found here.

      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/christianity/historicity.html

      Noted historian/author Richard Carrier is doing some of the best research on this topic.I'm looking forward to his up coming book "On the Historicity of Jesus Christ". For an introduction to the material in this book see the following videos:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=mwUZOZN-9dc
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=XORm2QtR-os
      http://tfs.site-ym.com/blogpost/889184/162061/Richard-Carrier-Ph-D

      • Octavo

        In my opinion, Richard Carrier's arguments are a poor example of biblical scholarship. His mythicism in regards to the historicity of Jesus does not reflect the scholarly consensus.

        For a good exploration of this topic, see James McGrath's blog http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2013/05/richard-carrier-jesus-and-heracles.html

        or

        Bart Ehrman's book Did Jesus Exist: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0062206443.

        • Andrew G.

          Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist is incredibly sloppy work, far below the standards of his other books; it contains significant factual errors and often grossly misrepresents the positions of the cited opponents.

          That the scholarly consensus favours the existence of Jesus is not denied - Carrier sets out at some length in Proving History the consequences of this for his argument. In short, there is an excellent case in this instance for arguing that the consensus is based on flawed methods - in fact methods that even those mainstream scholars who examine the methods used in NT scholarship regard as flawed.

          • Octavo

            I've heard all of that from the Carrier camp. From the point of view of mainstream scholarship, Jesus Mythicism is about as credible as young earth creationism. I don't think non-scholars should promote it unless it becomes less of a disreputable fringe position.

          • Octavo:

            Jesus Mythicism is about as credible as young earth creationism

            Carrier writes about a lot more than just that.

          • Octavo

            True.

          • Jim Deferio

            Oh!!! So that is why you dump on William Lane Craig! It's because of the intellectual thrashing he gave Richard Carrier in their debate. Wow, he made Carrier sure look stupid.

            Now I get it !

    • Andre Boillot

      Douglas,

      "Third, the rumor mill theory would be more convincing if each of the original disciples (and countless others) had not been willing to die horribly for their first-hand stories."

      The above observation would itself be more convincing were Christianity the only religion to boast martyrs.

      • Andre - of course lots of people die for what they believe. the difference with the original apostles was that they did not die simply for some ideal - they died for preaching an event they witnessed.

        • Andre Boillot

          Douglas,

          "the difference with the original apostles was that they did not die simply for some ideal"

          1) I didn't say the apostles died for a mere ideal.

          2) There seems to be some debate on this site as to whether all the apostles suffered martyrs' deaths. I'm no expert but there's a lot of fancy sounding names and dates from both sides.

          3) You're implying that no other religion has martyrs who died for "preaching an event they witnessed" - good luck with that.

          4) It would be much easier to accept the fantastic events the apostles supposedly died martyrs' deaths for if we had similarly fantastic events occurring today. Sadly, the magic seems to have faded from this world.

          • Jon Hawkins

            "Sadly, the magic seems to have faded from this world."

            According to whom?

          • Andre Boillot

            George R.R. Martin, for one.

          • Jon Hawkins

            Mr. Martin speaks with what authority?

            It is nigh impossible to prove that miracles do not occur. However, given evidence, it can be proven that they do occur.

            You may have heard of Lourdes, France and of the miracles that have occurred there. (67 to date!) They have been tried and tested by both religious and secular institutions and they have been recent.

            So no, I don't think the "magic" is gone at all!

          • Andre Boillot

            Mr. Martin speaks with the authority of R'hllor, the Red God, obviously.

            "They have been tried and tested by both religious and secular institutions and they have been recent."

            Of course they have, so it should be quite easy to cite where this is documented.

          • stanz2reason

            Mr. Martin speaks with the authority of R'hllor, the Red God, obviously.

            Andre... you win. You win the internet today!!

          • Andrew G.

            Have you ever tried plotting the rate of recognized miracles at Lourdes against time? The result is pretty instructive.

          • Interesting. Using the dates of recognition, I come up with:

            7 from the 1800s
            33 from 1900-1919
            0 from 1920-1939
            16 from 1940-1959
            3 from 1960-1979
            2 from 1980-1999
            2 from 2000-present

          • Andrew G.

            I tend to use the date of occurrence rather than the recognition date; not so bursty.

          • You're probably right. Have a link to that data?

          • Andrew G.

            I think it's only on the french-language version of the site.

          • Michael Murray

            Wow. So she predicted the two World Ward! That is pretty amazing. She doesn't seem unduly worried by the recent rise in secularism though.

        • Douglas:

          they died for preaching an event they witnessed

          It's just a story. When you've shown that the gospels are history, you can make this argument.

          • David Cromie

            It would be even more persuasive if christers could provide irrefutable evidence for the real existence of their supposed 'god'.

            So-called 'miracles', it seems, are mostly coincidences, due to the placebo effect, or scams by snake-oil sales persons, of which there are plenty (usually male, for some reason!).

          • Lazarus

            "Mostly". An interesting sentence.

          • David Cromie

            Note the 'or' clause!

    • Douglas:

      First, there is no need for a naysayer to be with Jesus the entire time, or to witness the nonoccurrence of every famous miracle

      Suppose a potential naysayer was at the feeding of the 5000 and reported that it was just a misunderstanding. When the basket came around, everyone assumed that it was an encouragement to share with those less fortunate.

      Fair enough—that’s evidence against that one miracle, but what about all the others? This imagined incident does nothing to shut them down, so this person isn’t much of a naysayer.

      Any counter-claim will do to get the ball rolling. Can you produce one?

      I have no contemporary naysayer testimony. Why do you ask? Would you expect there to be any?

      Let’s take another supernatural claim: the claim that Merlin the magician could change his shape. Do you have naysayer evidence here? If not, are you obliged to believe it?

      late dates for the gospels being written

      I usually go with 70 for Mark, 90 for John, and Matt. and Luke in between. Conservative scholars reject that (so does that mean I’m using “late dates”?).

      The dating isn’t a hill to die on for me. I’d have a hard time with a miracle claim that came out of a period of oral history of just a year. (Probably you as well, if it’s from another religion.)

      assumes that Christianity and its attendant miracle claims did not exist until the books were published.

      IMO, it was the other way around. You’ve got a strong and widespread oral tradition that is documented in at least 4 places to give us the gospels.

      well established as having begun within a couple years of Jesus' death.

      I disagree. I’ve heard the argument, and it’s not crazy, but that doesn’t make it “well established.”

      had not been willing to die horribly for their first-hand stories. All they had to do was recant or doubt the rumor. None did.

      The “who would die for a lie?” story is also quite flimsy. I discuss that here

      Thanks for the video. Who says Christianity was made up? No one except Christian apologists, as far as I’ve seen.

      Small point: the author doesn’t understand Marx’ “opiate of the masses” quote either. I discuss that here (hint: it was a compliment).

      what Jesus predicted in the Olivet discourse occured exactly when he said it would

      Oh? The stars fell from the sky (Mark 13:25)?

      #10 is an argument from silence

      No, #10 makes clear that if there had been naysayers, we wouldn’t know about it.

      • To avoid turning this into a book I'll just respond to the challenging points above.

        Merlin: If Merlin's claims had the same historical evidence and widespread effects I'd take it more seriously, naysayers or not. :)

        Dating: I am not referring to the gospels but to the recording of the historical events which are dated earlier and record events that took place within a few years of Jesus' death. You may dispute that as well, of course.

        Stars Falling: Yes, they did. Besides the cosmic phenomena described by Josephus, there was (more importantly) also the symbolic fulfillment of this passage. Christ is using descriptive Old Testament language concerning the Day of the Lord (e.g., Isaiah 13:10; 24:23; Ezk. 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31 & 3:15; Amos 5:20, 8:9) - meaning God's judgment against a nation via a foreign invasion.

        • Douglas:

          If Merlin's claims had the same historical evidence and widespread effects I'd take it more seriously, naysayers or not. :)

          You’re changing your story. You’d said before, “Any counter-claim will do to get the ball rolling. Can you produce one?” I infer from your silence about Merlin that you can’t produce one. So what does that tell us? That you’re obliged to believe the Merlin stories? I’d say you’re not, and I bet you’d agree. Given that, why then demand counter claims to the Jesus story? If you can’t reject Merlin without counter claims, why can’t I reject Jesus without them?

          As for widespread effect, is this just an appeal to the masses? That one million Chevy owners can’t be wrong?

          Stars Falling: Yes, they did. Besides the cosmic phenomena described by Josephus …

          This is news to me. Tell me more.

    • primenumbers

      "Any counter-claim will do to get the ball rolling. Can you produce one?" - how's that meant to work? Take a modern-day example - the chain email letter, routinely passed on without second thought, and often (especially if you're biassed towards the topic in question) believed without a second thought. Yet there exists a very well known website, snopes, that most likely has an accurate and thorough debunking of the chain email.

      Basically, counter-claims are not believed, not least because people don't want to un-believe something they're already believed, and if they do hear a robust counter-claim, more often than not confirmation bias kicks in and the counter-claim will not even register, or be quickly rationalized away.

      And we're unlikely to hear of any early anti-Christian counter claims because most of our history of the period comes through the filter of Christianity. Just look how we only have Celsus's words against Christianity in the preserved quotes in Origen, rather than the full works of Celsus himself.

  • Dcn Harbey Santiago

    Two points.

    1) I have never heard this argument before from any of the apologists I follow (Akin, Staples, Fessio, and others) Granted they are all Catholic, so perhaps some other Christian Apologists has used it? An example of who are these people would provide needed context.

    2) I have a problem with this statement on #9:

    "Jesus said that the end would come within the lifetime
    of many within his hearing. It didn’t (indeed, that this was going to
    be a longer process than initially thought was a reason that the oral
    history was finally written down, decades after the events)."

    But before I explain myself; a comment about your methodology: You need to make up your mind, either the Gospels are accurate or they are not. Either Jesus died an resurrected AND he said the end was coming within the life time of some in his audience (as you understand it) or he did not. You can not say one is not true and the other one is, arbitrarily, to fit your agenda. You loose credibility when engaging in this type of exegesis.

    My problem:

    Jesus never said the end would come within the lifetime of many within His hearing. The times He says stuff like "Be ready, when you see signs in the heavens and the earth......" He is engaging in eschatological discourse. The "you" is meant to be understood as "you, the whole of the human race".

    In fact, the Gospel record only two times in which Jesus talks about someone's future in a particular way.

    1) When He implies to Peter the way he was going to die.

    2) When He talks about the destiny of the one who was going to betray Him.

    It is obvious these people would NOT see Him in his Second Coming. The Gospels and the Epistles do show that the first disciples expected Him to return, but to say that Jesus actually SAID this is not accurate.

    "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
    Deacon Harbey Santiago

    • Deacon Santiago,

      Did you follow the link provided in Point 9?
      http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/end.html

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        Hi David,

        I did. I purposely avoided it for the reasons you would see bellow, I felt it would distract from my main points. But since you brought this up :-)

        The list provided by the link is divided in three parts. Part 2 & 3 just confirm my comment about the disciples thinking Jesus was returning in their life time. Part 1 are actual quotes from Jesus. Whoever collected these made a pretty bad hermeneutical mistake; they equated the beginning of "The Kingdom of God" with the Eschaton. Some of the eschatological discourses of Jesus are around Mark 13, Luke 23-24-25 and parts of 26, Matthew 21. Note some of the overlap between the list and these, and note that when ever there is no overlap Jesus talks about "The Kindom of God" (Mat 16:28, Lk 9:27,Mk 9:1).

        Perhaps you don't know this but Jesus also say "The kingdom of God Is here!" Lk 17:21. Did Jesus think the end of the world was happening in His life time? Of course not, He talks about it as a future event in the chapters I have provided. It is clear then that in Jesus mind these two events were NOT the same.

        There are some other minor things I could say about this list but I do not want to get into these here. Perhaps, if time permits I might do a verse by verse analysis in my blog latter in the week, but I'm in the middle of revamping it so I might not.

        Here is a link with examples of Eschatological Discourses so you see this is not my invention:

        http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Eschatology.htm

        I hope this adds clarity to my post.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • Deacon Santiago,

          I hope you will agree that the concept of the Kingdom of God in the Gospels is not a simple one. It sometimes appears to be in the future, sometimes dawning, and sometimes already present. Let me quote briefly from the Anchor Bible volume Mark by Joel Marcus:

          Is Maark 9:1, the, a false prophecy? In a sense, yes, since Mark, like Jesus before him, apparently expected the end to come within a few years. But as we have just seen, Mark also, like Jesus before him, saw the eschatological epoch as already dawning, a point driven home by the transfiguration narrative that immediately follows (9:2-8). "The dominion of God . . . come in power," then, is not only a future to be hoped for but also a presence to be experienced now, and this combination of present advent and hope for the future is more important than the question of the exact timing of the end.

          So when Jesus says "Amen, I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who surely will not taste death before they see the dominion of God fully come in power" (Mark 9:1, Marcus's translation), we have a saying that defies easy explanation. If Jesus is talking about the transfiguration, it is in the immediate future. If he is talking about his death and resurrection, it is easily within the lifetime of almost everyone he is addressing.

          It seems to me that only in "apologetics" are there pat answers to many of these questions. Real Biblical scholarship acknowledges the difficulty of these kinds of sayings and puts forth qualified and tentative answers.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            And this is why I did not want to go into the link on the OP, because invariably these type of interactions end up in a game of "Scholar Poker". I really have no desire for this, I will make a couple of small points.

            1) Anchor Bible Commentary? Really? All I'm going to say is they are not the most Orthodox or main stream of commentaries. Marcus tone in this quote (to me at least) sounds speculative to say the least. Specially when it is taken in the context of the whole section, starting on Page 622. The quote comes from the second to last paragraph of that section (Page 630), usually where scholars like to present their speculations.

            2) I personally subscribe to Father Raymond Brown's opinion. In his acclaimed work Death of the Messiah, a work very well respected by both Orthodox and Liberal scholars, (Catholic and non-Catholic, sadly we can not say the same about the ABC), he gives this keen insight about interpreting Mark.

            "When, in Mark’s conception, does Jesus as the Son of Man sit at the right of the Power? When does he come with the clouds of heaven? Presumably the answer to the first question is the period after the resurrection, and to the second, the parousia. (It is better to speak of the period after the resurrection, for kathēmenon, “sitting,” implies continuance, not simple beginning.) These two “moments” are part of Jesus’ continued state and activity."

            Brown, R. E. (1994). The death of the Messiah, Volume 1 and 2: From Gethsemane to the grave, a commentary on the Passion narratives in the four Gospels (498). New York; London: Yale University Press.

            Now take a look at Mk 9:1 again:

            "And he said to them, Truly I say to you, That there
            be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power."

            When Mark says that Jesus is to come "with power" (another way of saying "at the right of power"), he is referring to the resurrection and not the end of times.

            I think I've said enough. Thanks for taking the time to write.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Deacon Santiago,

            I hold Raymond E. Brown in very high regard, and I refer you to his discussion of foreknowledge of the Parousia in An Introduction to New Testament Christology, pp. 52-58. He says, for example,

            The divergence in these statements as to the time of the coming presents a very complicated situation that we cannot possibly hope to solve . . .

            He divides the statements into categories as follows: (a) Anticipation of a Parousia Immediately after Jesus' Death, (b) Anticipation of a Parousia in the Lifetime of Jesus' Hearers, and (c) Anticipation So Phrased as to Imply an Indefinitely Delayed Parousia. He places Mark 9:1 in category b. After listing several possibilities for reconciling various sayings, he concludes:

            If we recognize the desperate character of such solutions, is it inconceivable that, since Jesus did not know when God would bring about the final victory of the kingdom, he tended to think that it would occur soon and spoke accordingly?Many theologians would propose that such knowledge was not an essential of Jesus' mission. Can they also admit that Jesus was not protected from the confusing views of time inherent in an apocalyptic outlook? Exegetes can only point out the undeniable confusion in the statements attributed to him.

            I boldfaced the last sentence, because I am finding a troubling tendency of some responding to skeptics here of offering pat solutions to difficult problems. That seems to me one of the major pitfalls for apologists. Raymond Brown has no difficulty admitting that there is "undeniable confusion" in the statements attributed to Jesus regarding the timing of the Parousia. Why can't it simply be admitted that not every obscure saying or seeming contradiction in the Gospels can be explained away or fit into some neat framework?

    • Harbey:

      I have never heard this argument before from any of the apologists I follow

      And I’ve heard it many times among the (fundamentalist) apologists that I mostly follow.

      If you find the argument as flimsy as I do, that’s great.

      You need to make up your mind, either the Gospels are accurate or they are not.

      They’re not especially good history. Nevertheless, some of my arguments will dismiss arguments against the gospels’ reliability because I’m focusing on a different point. Sometimes the apologist’s argument fails even if I grant the gospels are true.

      No, there’s no schizophrenia here.

      Jesus never said the end would come within the lifetime of many within His hearing.

      I’ve heard this interpretation, but don’t imagine that the Bible unambiguously says this. Mark 13 makes clear to some of us (though I guess not you) that the end (stars falling from the sky, etc.) will come within the lifetime of some of those in his presence.

      It is obvious these people would NOT see Him in His Second Coming.

      Sure, you can bring in factoids from other books in the Bible, but now you’re simply arguing that the Bible is ambiguous. I’ll agree, but I don’t think that’s where you want to go. And that doesn’t change the fact that Mark, read in context, is talking about the end coming very soon.

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        Hi Bob,

        Thanks for been so gracious with your time. I hope this would be the first of many OPs.

        >>And I’ve heard it many times among the (fundamentalist) apologists that I mostly follow.

        I suspected that much, it sounds like the type of half cook idea you get from many on that camp.

        >>I’ve heard this interpretation, but don’t imagine that the Bible
        unambiguously says this. Mark 13 makes clear to some of us (though I guess not you) that the end (stars falling from the sky, etc.) will comewithin the lifetime of some of those in his presence.

        I would recommend caution when making beliefs decisions based on "what I read in the Bible". Unless you know how to place this work in its proper historical/social/political/cultural context, you could make some really bad interpretation mistakes.I see a lot of this in the atheist camp. (A clear example was the link in your OP, in which the Kingdom of God is treated as the same thing as the end of the word (Eschaton)). I addressed (reluctantly) the link you provided at the request of David on another thread so you can read what I said there.

        I do not know how much time you spent in Mk 13, but like I said to another to David, the difference between the Kingdom of God and the end of the world is important.

        >>Sure, you can bring in factoids from other books in the Bible, but now you’re simply arguing that the Bible is ambiguous. I’ll agree, but I don’t think that’s where you want to go. And that doesn’t change the fact that Mark, read in context, is talking about the end coming very soon.

        "Factoids", as you call them, are important if you want to respect the text you are reading. The Bible is unlike any other book, in fact is not even a book, it is a collection of documents, created in ancient times, by ancient peoples, within an ancient society and culture, writen on an ancient language. Just because you have a translation on your desk, it doesn't mean you can "Read it and make your own conclusions" and expect to be correct in your interpretation. If you think "Factoids" are not important think of the US constitution, a mere 250 years old and we need a supreme court to interpret what it means. And most of the time they are dependent on the "Factoids" others have generated before.

        Thanks again for taking the time to write.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • I would recommend caution when making beliefs decisions based on "what I read in the Bible".

          A surprising caution from a deacon! But we’re on the same page. I don’t think I have made a single belief decision based on the Bible, but thanks for the warning.

          The Bible is unlike any other book

          OK, but unless it’s ambiguous, a statement in context can be interpreted within that context without error, right?

          If you think "Factoids" are not important think of the US constitution, a mere 250 years old and we need a supreme court to interpret what it means.

          A poor example. The Constitution was written by men; the Bible was inspired by God. Surely God is a good enough teacher that he state his message clearly and unambiguously.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Hi Bob,

            >I would recommend caution when making beliefs decisions based on "what I read in the Bible".
            >>A surprising caution from a deacon! But we’re on the same page.

            I'm surprised that you are surprised. Perhaps you don't know this but Catholics have view the Bible which is different than most Protestant's view. What I mean is, unlike Protestants we do not claim every "T" and every "." was actually dictated by God, there is a lot of the human author in this document which needs to be recognized and taken into consideration when reading and interpreting God's intended message. We recognize that the Bible was a product of the Church (Not the other way around, like most Protestants do). We prescribe to the notion that Jesus never say "I will write my book" but "I will build my Church". Hence, Catholics are invited to read and interpret scripture "through the eyes of the Church", meaning using the wisdom collected for 2000 years.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Harbey:

            I hang out mostly at Protestant blogs. This is helpful, thanks.

            That does nicely dodge the problems that come with Bible literalism, but then it does invite criticism when you point to tradition and other fallible sources for your truth.

        • One other point: you urged caution when facing Kingdom of God vs. eschaton. OK, good advice. "Kingdom of God" seems be ambiguously defined. But we can forget that with Mark, since he talks about the specific things we'll see--including the stars falling from the sky. Can we agree that that didn't happen?

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      either the Gospels are accurate or they are not.

      This makes as much sense as saying "either the Iliad is true or it is not".

      Archaeologists have found plausible evidence that there was a city roughly corresponding to ancient Troy, which was attacked and destroyed some time in the 12th-14th century BC.

      If I choose to accept that evidence as fact, it by no means binds me to believe in the personalities and deeds of Zeus, Athena, and Apollo.

  • gwen saul

    What an insightful article! Thank you, I've been waiting and waiting for an atheist post on this blog.

    My own (atheist) thoughts on this matter are that the gospels are a collection of oral histories, passed on by a small group of people (with an agenda). These oral narratives then gained distribution (albeit small at first) and strength by being written down (perhaps with a few embellishments here and there). I think it is quite probable that there were naysayers well before any oral histories were written down as gospel. The problem is that the gospels became a dominant narrative of sorts and any naysaying was probably done verbally and never printed (but just because a story isn't printed doesn't mean it doesn't exist!).

    I particularly agree with your points # 4,5,6, 9, 10 Thank you again for your post!

    • Gwen, it seems to me that your conjecture is merely speculatory. You say that, "[A]ny naysaying was probably done verbally and never printed (but just because a story isn't printed doesn't mean it doesn't exist!)."

      Do you have any evidence of this verbal naysaying?

      • gwen saul

        Yes, I agree with you-I am speculating on the idea of naysaying; that said, I have over 12 years of experience working with oral narratives so I feel confident in my post above. One of my favorite scholarly works discusses the emergence, maintenance and power of "dominant narratives" and the existence of counter-narratives: Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

        • gwen saul

          I should add-it matters less to me whether or not these gospel stories are true or not; clearly oral narratives have great power to influence our thinking and belief systems. What interests me is the creation of a dominant narrative that became so widespread.

          • You say, "[I]t matters less to me whether or not these gospel stories are true or not."

            I may be mistaken but I thought this was the fundamental question under discussion.

          • gwen saul

            Is it permissible to extrapolate a related topic from the post and make a sensible comment? I think so.

      • Do you have any evidence of this verbal naysaying?

        That's not quite as misguided a question as it looks. Obviously spoken words left no direct evidence before recording devices were invented. But there is indirect, weak evidence available: the presence of similar naysaying in similar situations nowadays. Such indirect observations are all we have to go on to say how likely or unlikely naysaying would have been in unobservable times and places.

    • gwen: Thanks! I'm glad it was helpful.

      My thinking of how the Jesus story came to us is similar to yours. I write about that in more detail here.

  • Mark Hunter

    Being a nay-sayer has its consequences even today. This is an Indian skeptic who was arrested for revealing that a weeping statue was just bad drain in a nearby washroom.

    http://philosophers-stone.co.uk/wordpress/2012/04/indian-skeptic-charged-with-blasphemy-for-revealing-secret-behind-miracle-of-weeping-cross/

    There may have been plenty back then but we have no written record.

  • James Zahler

    I don't think #5 stands to reason. It seems plausible, but in fact Greek was a common language throughout the Roman Empire. Greek was a common language in Palestine since it was conquered by Alexander the Great and because it was a center of trade as people walked around the Mediterranean sea. Not knowing Greek would put people at a significant disadvantage.

    Written accounts also pre-existed the Gospels which were by no means the first to report the life of Jesus. Luke records that he did research by consulting. Scholars generally agree that Luke and Matthew borrowed from a Q-source which predates both Gospels.

    Moreover, Luke testifies that he gathered information from eye-witness and ministers of the word (Luke 1:2). Luke went to primary sources to write his Gospel. He also went to secondary sources called "ministers of the word." Based on what we know of oral cultures, these people would have memorized monologues which would be preached in areas where there was no eye-witness. These people would have put great effort into meticulously memorizing the oral tradition just like actors meticulously memorize their lines. In all, there's plenty of reason to believe that the Gospel's are historically accurate.

    • Andrew G.

      We know that Luke wasn't honest about his sources, though, because it's absolutely clear that he is basing his account on Mark's, even to the extent of directly copying nearly 80% of Mark's text (accounting for over 40% of Luke), and nobody has ever suggested that Mark was a primary source.

      Likewise, nearly another quarter of Luke comes either from Matthew or from Q if it existed (which is by no means clear).

      So Luke makes no mention whatever of the sources of about two-thirds of his text, he just edits them together with his own material (for which we have no idea of the actual sources if any).

      • Andrew, I agree with you that the existence of the Q source isn't clear.

        I disagree with suggesting Luke was dishonest, however. I don't think we can judge him by modern citation standards, for one. Additionally, while he says he investigated, he also says that others have already written. He doesn't claim to have written every word brand new - and why would he, necessarily, if he found that something Mark had written was accurate? Any copying of Mark, assuming Luke's own investigation, could be seen as a tacit approval of Mark's text rather than badly-covered plagiarism.

    • James:

      in fact Greek was a common language throughout the Roman Empire.

      Granted. Nevertheless, this wasn’t universal. Being comfortable in Greek circles, reading Greek, and writing Greek (and not just in a passing way, but enough to compose a long biography) was yet another obstacle for our imaginary naysayers. Yes, I realize that Mark is a poorer Greek than the others. That literacy would still not be universal.

      Luke testifies that he gathered information from eye-witness and ministers of the word

      So therefore it’s true? I put “I got this information from eyewitnesses” as a preface to nonsense and it automatically becomes accurate history?

      Based on what we know of oral cultures, these people would have memorized monologues which would be preached in areas where there was no eye-witness.

      And why is the gossip fence not a better analogy?

      You hear a story about Jesus the miracle worker, the man who gives a path to heaven, and you’re just going to sit on that? You’re going to wait until the professionals spread the word? You’re not going to tell everyone you know?

      • James Zahler

        Any ancient historical record is based on Eye-witness testimony. In a culture without cameras or sound recording devices, eye-witness testimony is the best there is. The question becomes: do you trust the eye-witness? Clearly you don't because your world-view has already excluded the possibility of the miraculous.

        However, look at the lives of the Apostles. They could have abandoned their mission, moved to a place where no one recognized their face, and gave up the beatings they endured, their poverty, the insults, the imprisonments, and all the other hardships they endured up until their martyrdom. What drove them? They didn't get wealth, pleasure, honor, or power for being apostles. There's no reason to suppose that they were insane. I think the best explanation for their actions is that they really saw the risen Jesus. I think that they're trust worthy witnesses.

        What would I do if I heard the Gospel preached to me? Probably what I'm doing now by studying theology; I would make sure that I got the story straight before I went around telling people about it.

        The Apostles were forces in the Church working to conserve the Gospel message. Paul's letters are largely polemical works against those who were distorting the Gospel. You can see the same in 1 John when John writes against the docetists and early gnostics by relying on what he saw, touched, and heard from Jesus. Paul himself reports that he went up to Jerusalem to confer with Peter the Apostle and to make sure that he was preaching the correct Gospel. People were making up stories about Jesus, but the Apostles worked tirelessly so that truth would be preserved. They weren't interested in concocting myths, so the gossip fence is not a better analogy.

        • James:

          In a culture without cameras or sound recording devices, eye-witness testimony is the best there is.

          Granted.

          Don’t tell me “Yeah, but it was so long ago. We don’t have especially good evidence. You’ll just have to accept what little we have.” No, I won’t. The gospels don’t even claim to be eyewitness testimony. Even if they were, so what?

          do you trust the eye-witness?

          Do you trust eyewitnesses to Sathya Sai Baba? This Indian mystic died just a few years ago, leaving millions of followers. He could raise the dead and be in 2 places at once.

          … unless you reject eyewitness testimony. In that case, he’s just a charlatan. Has your worldview excluded the possibility of the miraculous?

          look at the lives of the Apostles.

          Stories, not history.

          Paul's letters are largely polemical works against those who were distorting the Gospel.

          You mean like Peter and James? Yes, there was indeed a lot of infighting within the early church.

          • John Graney

            How do you distinguish a story from history? If I may be clearer, does the fact that some account talks about martyrdoms or miracles or such things make it automatically a story?

          • John G: When it's supernatural, it defaults to being just a story. That doesn't prove that it's false, but that's the starting point. The burden of proof is on the person who argues that this is actually history.

          • Sure.

            The burden of proof is quite adequately met by the eyewitness reports, which resulted in the formation of the Church.

            There exists no logical basis for the factual existence and spread of the Church apart from the fact that these eyewitness reports were not refuted by the authorities, who could have produced the body and nipped the entire shebang in the bud.

            But didn't.

            Because the body wasn't there.

            As the eyewitnesses already had proclaimed to the entirety of Jerusalem within 50 days, and to the close disciples within 3.

          • You seem to speak of the crucifixion and the alleged resurrection as events that commanded the attention of everyone in Jerusalem. What is your reason for claiming that to be true?

            In 1 Corinthians 15:6-8 we have the following:

            After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.

            So here, we don't have the testimony of 500 witnesses. We have Paul claiming there were 500 witnesses, and he is writing from Ephesus (which today is in Turkey) to Corinth. So there are allegedly 500 witnesses, unnamed, with the time and place of their vision of the risen Jesus unnamed, who of course are not available to the people of Corinth for questioning.

            Another interesting point, to me, is that it is not at all clear that Paul saw Jesus. In Acts of the Apostles it is claimed that he saw a bright light and then was blinded. But Paul himself never says exactly what he saw. So what did the 500 witnesses allegedly see? Did they see Jesus in the flesh? Did they walk, and talk, and eat with Jesus? Or was their encounter like Paul's—a bright light and a voice? What exactly does Paul mean when he claims Jesus appeared to him? What does Paul think an appearance of the risen Jesus is like? And where did Paul get the information that Jesus appeared to 500 people? What little Paul says, and what little Acts of the Apostles says (and they don't seem to say much at all) don't give us a description of Paul's encounter with Jesus that is anything like, say, Mary Magdalene's or that of Peter and the Apostles.

          • David:

            So here, we don't have the testimony of 500 witnesses. We have Paul claiming there were 500 witnesses

            (Emphasis added.)

            Good point. I respond in detail to Paul’s claim of 500 witnesses here. I don’t think much of the argument.

          • Rick:

            The burden of proof is quite adequately met by the eyewitness reports

            What eyewitness reports? I don’t think the gospels (for example) are eyewitness accounts. And even if they claimed to be, so what? You put “I saw this myself” in front of a story and it becomes history?

            these eyewitness reports were not refuted by the authorities, who could have produced the body and nipped the entire shebang in the bud.

            Uh … read the post and refute my argument. Don’t simply ignore my rebuttal to the naysayer argument and then refer to it as if it’s intact.

            The authorities and the body would be in roughly 30CE. The gospels would be in roughly 70CE. See the problem?

          • What eyewitness reports?

            >> The eyewitness reports of the disciples who reported seeing the risen Christ, obviously ;-)

            I don’t think the gospels (for example) are eyewitness accounts.

            >> You have no evidence at all for this- in fact to deny them as eyewitness accounts requires you to explain why the claims of the Resurrection have been universally associated with the preaching of the Gospel in every place, time, language, and circumstance.

            My position is perfectly consistent- the eyewitnesses reported what they did in fact see.

            The religion began to spread as this message was transmitted further and further.

            The religion could have been falsified very easily.

            Produce the body.

            This was not done.

            Why not?

            Your position has no adequate answer to this question, and requires us to adopt, on your unsupported say so, assumptions about the eyewitnesses that are in direct contradiction to their own testimony.

            Unsurprisingly, your position is not compelling.

            "And even if they claimed to be, so what? You put “I saw this myself” in front of a story and it becomes history?"

            >> It most certainly does become *testimony*. The testimony is of course susceptible of falsification.

            For example, the authorities in Jerusalem could have falsified the testimony quite easily- by producing the body.

            Instead, they failed to produce the body.

            The eyewitnesses went on to create modern European civilization, and the atheists have no historical evidence of any kind that would explain this outcome on their own proposed premises:

            (a) Jesus Christ never existed, or
            (b) Jesus Christ never rose from the dead.

            The alternate premises:

            (a) Jesus Christ existed, and
            (b) Jesus Christ rose from the dead

            are perfectly consistent with subsequent historical reality.

          • Rick:

            >> The eyewitness reports of the disciples who reported seeing the risen Christ, obviously ;-)

            I know of no such reports. Claim whatever document you want is an eyewitness account, but that’s not enough to convince me.

            >> You have no evidence at all for this

            You’ve got the burden of proof. Miracle claims must be evidenced.

            (Just for starters, though, ask yourself why Matt. and Luke copied Mark. Would eyewitnesses do that?)

            in fact to deny them as eyewitness accounts requires you to explain why the claims of the Resurrection have been universally associated with the preaching of the Gospel in every place, time, language, and circumstance.

            What does this mean? Yes, I understand that the Jesus story has a resurrection account. So does that of Dionysus.

            My position is perfectly consistent- the eyewitnesses reported what they did in fact see.

            I’m asking for you to show that this incredible story is actually history.

            Produce the body.
            This was not done.
            Why not?

            Respond to my rebuttal of the naysayer argument. This was not done. Why not? Because you can’t.

            >> It most certainly does become *testimony*. The testimony is of course susceptible of falsification.

            The burden of proof rests on your broad shoulders. (Or is defending the good news, y’know, a burden?)

            The alternate premises:
            (a) Jesus Christ existed, and
            (b) Jesus Christ rose from the dead
            are perfectly consistent with subsequent historical reality.

            And so plausible! Heck, gods raise from the dead all the time. Osirus, Dionysus, Baal. I guess I was just being closed minded.

          • "I know of no such reports."

            >> Yes, you do.

            "Claim whatever document you want is an eyewitness account, but that’s not enough to convince me."

            >> Convincing you is not on the agenda. Refuting your claim is. The simple fact is, we possess documents claiming a resurrection, reported by eyewitnesses.

            Since subsequent events are perfectly consistent with the hypothesis that the eyewitnesses truthfully report what they say, and massively inconsistent with the contrary proposals, that

            (a) Jesus Christ never existed, or

            (b) Jesus Christ never rose from the dead

            We are left with the reasonable conclusion:

            the eyewitness reports are true, and your contrary peoposal is false.

            "You’ve got the burden of proof. Miracle claims must be evidenced."

            >> And so they are. The Gospels are the best-attested source documents of historical antiquity, and the Catholic Church is the oldest continuously-operating institution of the human race.

            Again, the evidence is perfectly consistent with truthful eyewitnesses, and perfectly inconsistent with the contrary propositions that

            (a) Jesus Christ never existed, or

            (b) Jesus Christ never rose from the dead

            "(Just for starters, though, ask yourself why Matt. and Luke copied Mark. Would eyewitnesses do that?)"

            >> Just for starters, though, prove that Matthew and Luke copied Mark.

            The Church's tradition reports that Matthew wrote first.

            "What does this mean? Yes, I understand that the Jesus story has a resurrection account. So does that of Dionysus."

            >> A universal Church of Dionysius, spread throughout the world, with historical documentation superior to any other document in antiquity, does not present itself to us, however.

            Which is a serious problem for your hypothesis.

          • Rick:

            Yes, you do.

            Oh. I stand corrected, then.

            The simple fact is, we possess documents claiming a resurrection, reported by eyewitnesses.

            The simple fact is that you’ve not troubled yourself to give any evidence (let alone a convincing amount) to argue your case that you have eyewitness testimony. Are you just throwing in the towel or are you going to give some?

            The Gospels are the best-attested source documents of historical antiquity, and the Catholic Church is the oldest continuously-operating institution of the human race.

            That’s it? That’s your evidence? Even if it were the best evidence for a miracle, that doesn’t mean that the miracle happened.

            Again, the evidence is perfectly consistent with truthful eyewitnesses

            I think you’re overestimating the value of consistency. The world we see around us is consistent with the Flying Spaghetti Monster creating it. Doesn’t mean that He did.

            Just for starters, though, prove that Matthew and Luke copied Mark.

            Just for starters, get a clue as to who has the burden of proof.

            The Church's tradition reports that Matthew wrote first.

            Oh, tradition you say? Well, why didn’t you say so? Now I’m convinced!

            Not.

            A universal Church of Dionysius, spread throughout the world

            So the biggest church is automatically true? I didn’t realize that.

            with historical documentation superior to any other document in antiquity

            Show me a document from history with supernatural claims, and I’ll show you a document that historians reject.

            Yes, the Bible has lots of copies. Unpersuasive.

            Which is a serious problem for your hypothesis.

            You tragically misunderstand me. I make no hypothesis. You have the burden of proof. Carry it.

          • John Graney

            How do you distinguish a 2,000-year-old eyewitness account from a 2,000-year-old secondhand account?

          • John: The null hypothesis (our starting point) is that a supernatural account is not actual history. If proponents of some other interpretation (it was an eyewitness account, for example), we give that view a hearing. So far, that claim hasn't even begun to be a foundation capable of supporting the supernatural Jesus story.

          • Jon Hawkins

            Could you explain how Peter and James distorted the Gospel?

          • In Galatians, Paul documents his friction with the Peter/James camp.

        • James:

          In a culture without cameras or sound recording devices, eye-witness testimony is the best there is.

          Granted.

          Don’t tell me “Yeah, but it was so long ago. We don’t have especially good evidence. You’ll just have to accept what little we have.” No, I won’t. The gospels don’t even claim to be eyewitness testimony. Even if they were, so what?

          do you trust the eye-witness?

          Do you trust eyewitnesses to Sathya Sai Baba? This Indian mystic died just a few years ago, leaving millions of followers. He could raise the dead and be in 2 places at once.

          … unless you reject eyewitness testimony. In that case, he’s just a charlatan. Has your worldview excluded the possibility of the miraculous?

          look at the lives of the Apostles.

          Stories, not history.

          Paul's letters are largely polemical works against those who were distorting the Gospel.

          You mean like Peter and James? Yes, there was indeed a lot of infighting within the early church.

  • An enormous amount of scholarly work has been done on the origins of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and there is widespread (though not unanimous) consensus that the Gospel of Mark was written first, and Matthew and Luke used Mark's Gospel as basis for their own and in addition used a collection of sayings known as Q. Also a matter of consensus is that the Gospels were written based on oral tradition, not on direct eyewitness testimony. The letters of Paul predate the Gospels contain (for whatever reason) almost nothing about the life of Jesus. Also a matter of consensus is that each of the Gospels was written for a specific audience and is "slanted" to the concerns of that audience.

    In essence, then, we have two accounts of Jesus—the Synoptics (all from the same sources) and John.

    The Gospels were a product of a "Jesus movement," and they were written for people already in that movement. It is erroneous to think of them as biographies of Jesus that were broadly published, read by nonbelievers, and "reviewed" by witnesses of the events they described.

    I don't think any of the above is at all controversial among "mainstream" Biblical scholars, including "mainstream" Catholic Biblical scholars.

    • Mark Hunter

      And the dating of when they were written is at least 25 to 30 years after the fact, plus who knows when they were widely distributed and used. Who would have had access to them, only the believers or the community at large?

      • Mark: Keep in mind as well that the period from autograph until our best copies was, for some of Paul's epistles, centuries. That's a lot of time for hanky panky.

    • David:

      The letters of Paul predate the Gospels contain (for whatever reason) almost nothing about the life of Jesus.

      Good point. I tried to create a “Gospel of Paul,” but there’s not much.

    • Randy Gritter

      When you say "mainstream" biblical scholars you really mean liberal biblical scholars. That is those who approach the texts with an anti-supernatural bias. They do perform a service. They do show that when very good scholars try to put together an account of the origins of Christianity that excludes the supernatural they fail. The big question you duck is when and who. Who wrote the gospels and when did they write them? Any answer fails. If they were written early as tradition has it, that is Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts before the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, then you have all sorts of questions about how such specific and amazing assertions can be made so close to the time they allegedly happened and there being no truth to them at all. These anti-supernatural scholars would assert that all the miracle stories are false and much of the teaching of Jesus is false as well. That these amazing gospel writers created a divine story from an unremarkable Rabbi who never did a miracle and never made any claims of divinity and certainly did not rise from the dead. The other option is no better. The gospels were written much later and people just manufactured a tradition around them. The trouble is it leaves the growth of the early church completely unexplained. It also leaves a huge problem of how these new writings go accepted so widely by bishops that tended to be highly conservative.

      • Mark Hunter

        The same could be said for those who seek to approach the writings of Joseph Smith and Mohammed with an anti-supernatural explanation. Any explanation without the supernatural fails. That these two respective books could come from such two unremarkable individuals and the subsequent growth of their faith communities is completely unexplained.

      • Randy Gritter,

        When I say "mainstream," I do of course exclude those who believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, that the Gospels are historical accounts, and that they are inerrant. But when I say "mainstream," I certainly include Catholic Biblical scholars such as Raymond Brown, John P. Meier, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and a host of others who do not approach the text with "an anti-supernatural bias." The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, which I refer to often, has an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat. I am reading at the moment Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was," and he tells us in his introduction that of the four books he kept on his desk while writing his own book, two were volumes of Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI.

        I think if you attend any major Catholic university in the United States and take an introductory course on the New Testament, you will be introduced to views that I describe as "mainstream." Of course, I know people who consider the New American Bible (particularly the notes), which is available on the web site of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to be full of heresy! But I would certainly call it "mainstream." If Catholics cannot trust the Bible approved and presented to them by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, then what can they trust?

      • Randy:

        These anti-supernatural scholars would assert that all the miracle stories are false and much of the teaching of Jesus is false as well.

        I assume you reject the supernatural as well … at least for those religions you don’t believe in? Or are you saying that all supernatural claims are true?

        The gospels were written much later and people just manufactured a tradition around them. The trouble is it leaves the growth of the early church completely unexplained.

        This sounds fine to me. You have the first gospel written 40 years or so after the event, documenting oral history that grew up in a pre-scientific world. Where’s the problem?

      • Andrew G.

        The trouble is it leaves the growth of the early church completely unexplained.

        Growth? How big do you think the early church was?

  • shieldsheafson

    "It is incredible that Jesus Christ should have risen in the flesh and ascended with flesh into heaven; it is incredible that the world should have believed so incredible a thing; it is incredible that a very few men, of mean birth and the lowest rank, and no education, should have been able so effectually to persuade the world, and even its learned men, of so incredible a thing.

    Of these three incredibles, the parties with whom we are debating refuse to believe the first; ...... they cannot refuse to see the second, ...... which they are unable to account for if they do not believe the third."

    St. Augustine , City of God XXII, 5

    • David Egan

      "It is incredible that Jesus Christ should have risen in the flesh and ascended with flesh into heaven"

      So, assuming this actually happened, where did he go? What happened to his body? Did he rise fast enough to reach escape velocity? And, if he did, then what?

      • Randy Gritter

        It would have had to be a miracle as some laws of physics appear to have been violated. The point is your materialist analysis does not work. So something beyond the material world needs to be contemplated.

        • David Egan

          What needs to be contemplated is that the event never happened. Once you have to assume a miracle happened, you've lost. If this guy existed (and I doubt that very much), something happened to his body. It didn't just disappear.

          • Randy Gritter

            You said "assuming this actually happened." So I assumed it. My question is, what have you lost? Is your goal is to avoid losing a game rather than arriving at the truth? If Christianity is true, or even if it is just logically plausible, don't you want to know?

          • Ben

            Let's assume that Hercules was raised into Elysium and made a god by Zeus. Assume it now. What have you lost?

            Is your goal to avoid losing a game rather than arriving at the truth? If Religio romana is true, or even if it is just logically plausible, don't you want to know?

          • Mark Hunter

            Mohamed disappeared. He was carried to heaven on a flying horse. Mary disappeared into heaven at the Assumption. Romulus, the founder of Rome, disappeared when a fog envelopped his throne. Hercules it was believed, following the completion of his twelve labors, was raised into Elysium and made a god by Zeus. This list goes on and on.

          • Mark, you do know that Mohamed [sic] is buried in Saudi Arabia and that you could visit his grave today, right?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Dome#Tomb_of_Muhammad

            And I'm assuming you're aware followers of Romulus, Hercules, or Zeus never claimed they were real historical figures, right?

          • Brandon:

            I'm assuming you're aware followers of
            Romulus, Hercules, or Zeus never claimed they were real historical figures, right?

            Tacitus and Josephus both accepted the historical Hercules. (Maybe they’re not so reliable when they’re used to support a claim of a historical Jesus.)

    • Longshanks

      Incredibles:
      1) Jesus ascended
      2) The world believed it
      3) Poorly educated men contrived 2

      Incredibles:
      1) Zeus made love to a woman, in the form of a bull
      2) The world believed it
      3) Poorly educated men contrived 2

      • John Graney

        "The world" in the first example is significantly larger than "the world" in the second example. Also, Plato at least of the Greeks didn't believe in the second story. (I think it was Plato.) He said that all the stories of the gods doing immoral things must be slanderous fabrications against them.

        • Longshanks

          Pointing out the relative breadth of the spread of any given religion at any given time does little to sway me to belief, it seems a very poor argument indeed in your favor. (that might leave you open to conversion by the statistics regarding the spread of Islam, or maybe deconversion to atheism considering how quickly people are self-identifying as such)

          Additionally, I'm merely reworking St. Augustine's original point. If you take exception to my characterization of the spread of Greek polytheism as having made it throughout "the world," then perhaps we should be highlighting Augustine's incredibly ignorance and parochialism in making the first assertion.

          I may be wrong, I read somewhere else on this site that Saints had been visiting the Americas long before the arrival of Columbus, but I don't believe that Catholicism or the belief in Jesus' bodily Ascension into Heaven was widespread in, say, Mongolia or Vietnam at the time.

          Finally, while I'm duly impressed with your understanding of Plato, I think that you missed the point by a mark accurately described as "wide." If Plato was defending the gods as having been slandered, that goes a pretty long way to proving that Plato believed in those selfsame gods. Whether he believed in that particular story makes no difference, and specifically I'm not sure that Zeus having relations with a human would be considered one of the more immoral stories in Greek mythology.

  • Randy Gritter

    Hi Bob,

    I think I critiqued this article on your blog. Can't remember what I wrote but I shall have another go.

    #1. You need to understand the claim. Jesus did miracles and was widely known in Galilee for doing so. His fame was lesser in further away places but still quite significant. So anyone from Galilee should have hear about him. The entire population are potential naysayers. From neighboring locations like Jerusalem anyone who was plugged in and well informed should know of Him. After the resurrection everyone in Jerusalem should know. The miracles should be such that nobody had ever seen before. The type that bring out skeptics to investigate.

    #2. We would know about these naysayers. Remember the enemies of Christianity were the unbelieving Jews and the Romans. They had more resources than the Christians. Especially the Jews would be totally familiar with any naysayers and make sure Jews in Israel and those in other Roman cities were aware of their story. They were very focused on stamping out Christianity. Even their lame stories like the guards fell asleep and the disciples stole the body were repeated often enough to warrant a response in scripture. Yet do we see rebuttals? Hardly. We see Nicodemus saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” So even the pharisess didn't deny the miracles.

    • Ben

      But your source for what Nicodemus said is the Gospels! Maybe Nicodemus said quite the opposite, but it got altered for propaganda purposes.

      Also, "Even their lame stories like the guards fell asleep and the disciples stole the body were repeated often enough to warrant a response in scripture" - so, *there were in fact* naysayers putting about alternative versions of events which needed to be rebutted?

      • Randy Gritter

        But your source for what Nicodemus said is the Gospels! Maybe Nicodemus
        said quite the opposite, but it got altered for propaganda purposes.

        It is really easy to be a skeptic isn't it. Just assert that all writings are made up because you want them to be. The Gospel of John was not written in a vacuum. Asserting that even Jesus' religious opponents found the miracles hard to dispute is interesting. Their attacks on his claims and on his teachings were recorded. Yet denials of his miracles are not. Why not? If the stories were all false then attacking them should have been a very fruitful line of argument. Yet they chose to claim he was doing miracles by an evil spirit instead.

        • Ben

          I find it easy to be sceptical of claims made about somebody by their loyal followers, people who were literally willing to be gruesomely martyred for him.

          What you're saying is that the Gospel (written to promote Jesus) asserts that even Jesus's critics couldn't deny his miracles were real. That *does* make Jesus look really good, but perhaps that was the intent of the author. It's hardly a reliable source of historical evidence either way.

          I mean, presumably *you're* sceptical when the Qu'ran says that it's divinely inspired. But it says that *right there in the Qu'ran*, many times, and nowhere in the Qu'ran does it mention anyone saying that it's not divinely inspired. I suppose you assert that it's made up, because you want it to be.

          I watched a Church of Scientology recruiting film last year, and in that, the evil psychiatrists found the miracles of Dianetics hard to dispute. They just vowed to suppress it , because it was more effective. Do you take that as evidence that L. Ron Hubbard was really a great healer?

          • Ben, who you gunna believe, L. Ron Hubbard, or your lying eyes? ;-)

        • Randy:

          Just assert that all writings are made up because you want them to be.

          Is that what you think of atheists? They’re someone faced with overwhelming evidence of the existence of God but who find God inconvenient and so just assert nonsense?

          Think about how you view the sacred writings of other religions. Do you assert that they’re false just because you want them to be? Or do you have more solid reasons? Perhaps it’s the case that humans throughout history have believed in nonexistent gods, which points to these writings being more of the same.

          Asserting that even Jesus' religious opponents found the miracles hard to dispute is interesting.

          And the Munchkins thought that Dorothy was a witch. So what?

          Yet denials of his miracles are not. Why not?

          Because it’s a story? Or is this a trick question?

    • Andrew G.

      There is no evidence, none, that Jesus was widely known in Galilee. (Nor is there evidence that he was known at all, there or in Jerusalem or anywhere else.) No-one, outside the (small) proto-Christian community, makes even the slightest reference to him or to any stories about him.

      Furthermore, we have good reason to believe that this silence extends even to those works that didn't survive; either because ancient authors comment on the absence, or because of the failure to preserve works that would have been of great importance to Christians had they not been silent. In some cases, some Christians are so disturbed by the silence that they forge works to fill it - such as the fabricated correspondence between Paul and Seneca.

      • Randy Gritter

        There is no evidence, none, that Jesus was widely known in Galilee. (Nor is there evidence that he was known at all, there or in Jerusalem or anywhere else.) No-one, outside the (small) proto-Christian community, makes even the slightest reference to him or to any stories about him.

        This is a contradiction. Either there is no evidence or there is evidence but you have personally chosen to rule it out. The game of the skeptic is to always push the problem down the line a bit. If Jesus was not known in Galilee then you have the trouble of why people in Galilee were OK with the claim that he was. But hide behind the bold assertion that there is no evidence and maybe people won't notice that your dismissal of the evidence creates other problems.

        • Randy:

          If Jesus was not known in Galilee then you have the trouble of why people in Galilee were OK with the claim that he was.

          You don’t take the Goldilocks story up to the part where she’s woken by the bears and then say, “Well, what would you do in that situation? Of course she ran away!”

          Similarly, you don’t use part of a gospel to prove another part before you’ve shown the entire thing is reliable history and not a snapshot of the Jesus story at a particular place and time, decades after the supposed events.

        • Andrew G.

          If Jesus was not known in Galilee then you have the trouble of why people in Galilee were OK with the claim that he was.

          Who in Galilee would have been aware of the claim, and when?

    • Randy:

      Jesus did miracles and was widely known in Galilee for doing so.

      Or so the gospels tell us.

      The entire population are potential naysayers.

      I hoped it would be clear from the post, this isn’t the case. Someone who saw that the feeding of the 5000 was no miracle could say nothing about all the other purported miracles. He couldn’t even say that there wasn’t another feeding that was miraculous that he simply didn’t attend. This person would be no naysayer.

      From neighboring locations like Jerusalem anyone who was plugged in and well informed should know of Him.

      You realize that I’m demanding that a naysayer had to be an eyewitness, not just someone who heard claims (or the rejection of those claims) through the grapevine, right?

      The type that bring out skeptics to investigate.

      In Palestine 2000 years ago?? I doubt it. Not a lot of science going on there at that time. And, as I noted, so what if they did? Who’s going to record their myth busting and then copy that anti-gospel over and over so that we would know about it today?

      Even their lame stories like the guards fell asleep and the disciples stole the body were repeated often enough to warrant a response in scripture.

      The gospels are a story. Show me that it’s history; otherwise, the Jews’ naysaying is just part of the story.

      • Randy Gritter

        I would say a naysayer is someone who had investigated a miracle that got a lot of talk and found it wanting. If it was the feeding of the 5000 then he would need to make an effort to find some of these 5000 people. Talking to the disciples would be a start but witnesses should not be hard to find in the villages of Galilee. What did you see? Some would only be able to affirm that a large amount of food appeared from a group that appeared to have few resources. Other would be able to confirm that they watched Jesus pretty close the whole time.

        If nothing happened what would that do. You seem to say in Palestine 2000 years ago that would not matter. I guess I don't see it. People are always skeptical of supernatural claims and rightly so. You seem to think there was a time and place where they were not.

        The Jews of the first century were hyper skeptical. They would stone a man for blasphemy. They would execute a man for claiming he was God. It was not an easy place to make false claims about supernatural events.

        • People are always skeptical of supernatural claims and rightly so. You seem to think there was a time and place where they were not.

          I have a weeping Mary statue and a burned-toast Jesus that disagree with you. And a whole Mormon church. And every Christian who shares a story about a faith healing without checking the medical facts. And millions of UFO enthusiasts. And on and on. Humans love to believe a delicious story, and often hate to let it go even when they know it's wrong. Waiting for evidence before believing an extraordinary claim -- that's an acquired skill.

  • Randy Gritter

    #3. The point is not location. The point is not even writing. Mark would not have been accepted at 60 AD if those stories were not well known before that. The empire-wide Jewish community was aware of the stories very quickly. The church in Jerusalem was growing fast in the early days. People came to Jerusalem for feasts.

    #4. Same problem. People didn't have the printing press back then so they did other things to keep informed. There were always people who heard and didn't convert just as there are today. Some, like Paul or Saul, were active in opposing Christianity.

    #5. Same problem. You focus on the written. Lots of people kept well informed without reading and writing. Greek was a non-issue. It was a commonly spoken language all over the Roman empire. Like saying nobody in Mexico speaks English. Not really true.

    • Randy:

      3 + 4. I don’t understand your point. Was this some sort of rebuttal?

      5. I’m not focused on the written; I’m focused on the Greek. Every naysayer must be comfortable within the Greek community (at least speaking, if not reading as well) to confront any falsehoods. The gospels give no indication that everyone within the inner circle was a Greek speaker.

      • Randy Gritter

        I guess you are assuming the slightest barrier to communication would kill off any skeptical investigation. I don't see that. Becoming Christian was huge back then yet people were doing it. I can't imagine them letting the fact that they had to go to Jerusalem dissuade them. Jews went there regularly. Find someone who is going that you trust and send them with a list of questions. Would they know the story? If they were contemplating conversion they would know it well. My guess is almost all Jews knew it. You look at the Council of Jamnia where the focus was how are we going to stop the flood of Jews converting to Christianity. It was not a secret and therefore it is reasonable to assume it got lots of scrutiny.

        • Randy: I'm not sure where you're going with this. If your point is that I haven't proven my case (that the idea that naysayers would've destroyed the early faith is ridiculous), I agree. But I don't have to.

          I don't have the burden of proof. If you're going to argue that the naysayer hypothesis is strong evidence for the gospel story, go ahead. I need only show a plausible natural alternative.

  • Randy Gritter

    #6. Seems beyond strange. Actually it shows how weak your arguments are. You are asserting the historical Jesus is very, very different from what the Jesus the apostles presented. So different that knowing one and hearing about the other you would never suspect they were the same person. I agree. That is what you are asserting and that is why it should be rejected as completely implausible. Why would the charismatic Rabbit story be lost without a trace? Why would Pete and John and the Blessed Virgin and so many others not be bothered by the switch? I mean changing Jesus from man to God is a pretty big switch in a very small time frame.

    #7. But what about when the sensational can get you killed? In a society with freedom of speech you get all sorts of stories. You still get a real skeptical voice. It doe snot disappear. But when you don't have free speech. When the powers that be don't want the miraculous story to be told. If it is not true then why take the risk.

    I am not sure what false rumors you are talking about. Most have some truth in them and most are anything but supernatural. The ones that did prove false are typically only credited by a fringe of the population. Leading citizens don't take major life risks based on these things being true.

    • Andrew G.

      There is no evidence that any early Christian was killed for their beliefs in the 1st century. The "would people die for a lie?" claim becomes meaningless in the absence of any indication that anyone in fact died as a result.

      On this point I recommend Candida Moss' The Myth of Persecution.

      • Andrew, thanks for the comment! Three things in reply:

        First, why arbitrarily restrict this discussion to the first century? Why should we discount second- and third-century martyrs? I'm not sure if you've read Candida's book but she doesn't exclusively focus on the first century.

        Second, even if only looking at the first century, your claim is patently false. The Bible explicitly records at least two first-century martyrs (Stephen and James, son of Zebedee) and implicitly suggests more. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, notes that James the Just was martyred in the first century. And there's substantial evidence, though perhaps not as rigorous by today's standards, that 11 of Jesus' 12 original disciples were martyred during the first century. If we move to the second and third centuries we encounter a myriad of other examples. To say that "there is no evidence" is demonstrably false.

        Third, again I'm not sure if you've read Candida's book, but I would not recommend it. That's not because I disagree with her conclusions but because they're mostly based on speculatory history. Ephraim Radner at First Things wrote an excellent critical review highlighting the book's many unfounded premises:

        http://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/04/unmythical-martyrs

        • Ben

          I think the bigger point is that lots of people have been killed for their beliefs (when they could have avoided it) at various points in history. If somebody being willing to die for an idea is proof that it's true, then we have to accept that Emperor Hirohito is divine, and David Koresh was God, and Catharism is correct. I mean, why would the Cathars die for a lie?

          • Ben, you're missing a crucial point. Plenty of people die for things they *think* to be true (consider, for instance, suicidal Muslims who believe that if they blow themselves up they will receive 72 virgins in heaven.) But nobody dies for something they *know* is not true.

            If Jesus' Resurrection was simply fabricated by the disciples, none of them would have faced torture and death to support the lie--what would they have gained? Why would they die for a known lie?

          • Ben

            As Bob Seidensticker points out, the claim that the disciples were actually martyred is from the 16th century and extremely dubious.

            Let's take the more credible, merely 150 years after the fact, claim by Hippolytus that five of the apostles died natural deaths. Five people is plenty to steal his body. Maybe the other seven were patsies.

            Also, it's possible that Jesus's force of personality and conjuring prowess was sufficient to convince his followers that he WAS the Messiah, so they were willing to die to support him even if they knew the ressurection was a fabrication.

            And finally, perhaps the 'disciples' didn't believe in the Resurrection, maybe weren't followers of Jesus at all, but were tortured to death by the authorities anyway. There's good evidence that innocent men have been tortured and killed in Guantanomo Bay just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Do you think the Romans were better than the US Military at determining identity or sorting the guilty from the innocent? Maybe they just captured the wrong James because they were confused by how the Jews called everyone 'brother' in those days.

          • Ben, I'll ask you the same thing I asked Bob: if you trust (and quote) Hippolytus as the most reliable source on how the apostles died then I'm assuming you agree with his claim that at least seven of the apostles (Andrew, Bartholomew, Peter, James, Philip, James the Lesser, and Thomas) were martyred for their faith in the first century. Would you agree with that?

          • Ben

            No. He may be the *most* reliable extant source, but if he's writing a hundred years after the event, and our version of what he wrote was passed down by the unreliable copying of a load of Christian monks, I don't accept his claim as true either. It's more credible than one written 1500 years later, but I'm not committed to the claim of seven martyred apostles.

            And like I said, seven people apparently dying for a belief could have many explanations. Octavo makes an excellent point - maybe the death of their cult leader caused them to grasp at straws. I mean, Luke said that Jesus wasn't "immediately recognizable", which is certainly consistent with Octavo's Gardener Hypothesis.

            As we know from modern research, when people who are strongly committed to an extreme belief find their expectations disappointed, they don't change their mind - they merely find some way to handle the disconformation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails

          • Ben:

            As we know from modern research, when people who are strongly committed to an extreme belief find their expectations disappointed, they don't change their mind - they merely find some way to handle the disconformation

            Very timely. Today is the 2-year anniversary of Harold Camping’s rapture prediction. (And did you know that another prediction had the world ending last Sunday?) More.

          • Octavo

            It's more likely that one person mistook a gardener for the risen Jesus, and spread the rumor to the gullible disciples who were quite downcast at the death of their teacher.

          • But nobody dies for something they *know* is not true.

            Joseph Smith sends greetings and asks when you're joining his religion, which he totally made up and stuck with for life, even getting himself murdered by enemies of his Church.

            http://historyofmormonism.com/joseph_smith/joseph_smith_life/martyrdom_joseph_smith/

          • Ben

            I didn't realise Joseph Smith was martyred trying to shoot his way out of a jail besieged by a mob in blackface using a six-gun. That's a way more bad-ass martyrdom than Jesus had. Tarantino should make a biopic.

            The only cinematic reconstruction I can find is this Mormon version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=LU9lfZu-q-c#t=358s but it doesn't even show him firing his gun or getting shot. Lame.

          • articulett

            We don't really know if this actually happened to any real followers of Jesus because we are not sure who wrote the gospels-- and we are not sure what, if anything, is true about this Jesus guy since there is not the sort of evidence one would expect if it was a real guy doing really super amazing things. Some think the evidence for a real Jesus is on par with the evidence for real golden plates with the book of Mormon on them (since recalled to heaven for some mysterious reason).

            You'd think even if some people were just fooled into believing there was a resurrection, there'd be pilgramages to the place where it purportedly happened... but nobody really seems to know where this amazing thing took place... or when exactly... the accounts conflict-- and what about the crazy zombies rising from their grave story in Matthew... you'd think someone would have mentioned that-- that it would be a big part of history-- but, instead, it's sort of swept under the rug.

            Which of Jesus disciples do you think died who "witnessed" his resurrection? People often die for things that they really believe-- that doesn't mean these things aren't true or that the people "know" they are a lie-- religions make a virtue out of such "faith". In fact, what better way to prove you have faith than to do something you normally wouldn't do without faith-- like drive an airplane into a building,or be willing to kill your kid (like Abraham was) or die in a holy war? I'm not sure Jesus nor his disciples existed... much less that they died for their faith-- but even if they did... why would I think they thought they were dying for a lie? I think the 9-11 hijackers died for a lie... but I doubt they "knew" it was a lie-- in fact, it looks to me like they had strong faith that it was a "higher truth".

            But none of that makes Mohummed a Prophet nor Allah real. And the same for Joseph Smith and his god... nor Jesus' purported disciples and any stories about their deaths. Why would a real god be so cryptic and reveal itself to so few people. It's unbelievable.

          • articulett:

            what about the crazy zombies rising from their grave story in Matthew... you'd think someone would have mentioned that

            Ditto for the 500 eyewitnesses that Paul claims. Sounds like powerful evidence ... but none of the gospels repeat the story.

          • articulett:

            what about the crazy zombies rising from their grave story in Matthew... you'd think someone would have mentioned that

            Ditto for the 500 eyewitnesses that Paul claims. Sounds like powerful evidence ... but none of the gospels repeat the story.

          • Brandon:

            But nobody dies for something they *know* is not true.

            Bob Price says that Proteus Peregrinus died for a lie.

          • TheNuszAbides

            plenty of non-Cathars were offed too -- mercs hired with pope's blessing weren't the finicky sort of thug.

        • Ben

          James The Just? Don't you mean "James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ"? If you accept that Josephus is a reliable historical source, then aren't you endorsing heresy against the doctrine of perpetual virginity?

          • As is widely known, there was no early-century Hebrew word for extended male relationships. Therefore the Jews applied the Hebrew word for "brother" consistently to brothers, cousins, uncles, and more.

            Even if Josephus, a Jew, refers to James as the "brother" of Jesus, this alone fails to prove Jesus has biological brothers. (It should be noted that the Biblical character James, purported to be the "brother" of Jesus, is the son of Mary of Clopas, the sister of Jesus' mother, and therefore James is actually Jesus' cousin.)

            Beyond that, the fact remains: Josephus cites a particular Christian who was martyred in the first century (however he was related to Jesus.) This stands against Andrew's bold and unfounded assertion that, "There is no evidence that any early Christian was killed for their beliefs in the 1st century."

          • Ben

            Maybe Jesus had a cousin called James AND a brother called James. I mean, if he didn't have a brother called James, where are the contemporary naysayers to Josephus' account? Surely if Josephus had written "James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ" as early as the 1st century AD, there would have been naysayers who'd have pointed out that he meant "James, son of Mary sister of Mary mother of Jesus", not "James son of Mary mother of Jesus"?

            Also, I guess James would have technically been a half-brother, so that might have been even more difficult to express in early-century Hebrew.

            Josephus just records that James was *executed* for being a law-breaker in the first century. He doesn't say why. Maybe it was because he believed that his brother and/or cousin was the Son of God, but for all we know from the historical record it could have been for theft or child-molesting.

          • David Egan

            Well, given that James, the brother of Jesus, would have been part of the early Catholic Church, it wouldn't have been for child molesting.

          • Ben

            But he was stoned by the lawful state authorities. This was in the days before you could ask to be tried by "canon law" and sent to be a bishop in Jordan or whatever.

          • David: I've deleted your inappropriate comment. Consider this a warning.

          • JJM

            This comment is uncharitable, unhelpful and offensive. I would like to see it removed from this discussion.

          • David Egan

            This comment shines a spotlight on the evil and criminal behavior of the catholic church which is pretty much the most important thing that can be done.

          • JJM

            It is not the Catholic Church as such that has committed such acts. The evil done by the priests and bishops in regard to the child abuse scandals is just as abhorrent to me as a Catholic and member of the Church, to anyone who is not Catholic, perhaps even more so because they have done more to damage the communion of the Church more than any atheist could. I shudder to think of the questions God will ask them at the end of their lives. It's called a scandal because of the temptation it posed to me that I should hate and want to see such people suffer. Yet despite what they have done, it does nothing to refute or in anyway invalidate the truth claims of the real Christian gospel. It only makes us more aware of a tragic truth we already know--that we are a church of sinners, evildoers, that are supposed to be striving for the perfection we believe Christ modeled for us. How wretched and evil indeed that those who are supposed to be the hands of Christ would abuse their position and influence to become Anti-Christs themselves. The light has indeed been shone!

            That being said, I repeat that this snarky comment violates the rules of the comment boards because it is off topic, does not further the discussion about the (in)authenticity of the Gospels, implies that the Church down to its roots and traditions has child molestation as a principle which is obviously slanderous and is just plain hurtful. The true Church has not ever, does not now nor will it condone child molestation. If you want to argue whether the Church is a evil and criminal organization write a reasonable article and post it. Don't take cheap and low shots here. It does nothing to further your view.

          • Ben: I don't think much of the two Jesus references in Josephus, including the bit about "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James." More here.

          • Ben

            That's interesting. Even if we take the most literal interpretation of Josephus, though, I wouldn't say there's any reason to think James was martyred, necessarily. He could have just been breaking the law some other way.

            Also, is this thing about Hebrew not having different words for brother and cousin legitimate?

          • Ben: And don't forget that, even if we think we're all talking about the same "James the brother of Jesus," there are conflicting accounts of his death.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just#Death

        • Brandon:

          there's substantial evidence, though perhaps not as rigorous by today's standards, that 11 of Jesus' 12 original disciples were martyred during the first century.

          No, not even close to being rigorous by today’s standards. That 11 of 12 claim comes from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563). As I note here, he was a mouthpiece for anti-Catholic sentiment in England at the time, and he’s widely dismissed by authorities, including the Catholic Encyclopedia.

          Go back to Hippolytus for a source closer to the action, and he reports that 5 apostles died natural deaths (though he was still 150 years or so removed). I don’t know of a better source. Let me know if you do.

          • Bob, if you trust Hippolytus as the best possible source on how the apostles died then I'm assuming you agree with his claim that at least seven of the apostles (Andrew, Bartholomew, Peter, James, Philip, James the Lesser, and Thomas) were martyred for their faith in the first century. Would you agree with that?

          • Brandon: No. Hippolytus wrote roughly 150 years after the events, which makes him not much of a source. Of course, if all we're saying is that 7 guys got killed, sure, that's not that big a deal.

            But let's pursue the "who would die for a lie?" thing. (And please correct me if that's not what you're saying!) This assumes that the condemned were given a chance to recant.

            Then what charges are we talking about here? It's like Andrew was charged with sedition or treason or some other capital offense, and he says at the last minute, "OK, OK! Jesus wasn't the son of the living God! I recant." And then the judge says, "Well, now, that wasn't so hard, was it? Right, off you go."

        • Andrew G.

          In brief because I'm not sure if I have time for an extended response right now:

          Yes, I have read the book. I mentioned the first century because after that, the issue of eyewitnesses becomes moot.

          The accounts in Acts are themselves part of the Christian martyrdom tradition and therefore unreliable as evidence. In brief, if the Christians were constructing a persecution narrative for themselves, then their own writings do not count as evidence (since they'd be about equally probable to exist on the hypothesis of an actual persecution vs. that of a constructed narrative). The way to distinguish the two cases is to find evidence from the side of the supposed persecutors, and this is what is lacking.

          I don't believe the James reference in Josephus AJ 20.200 is referring to anything related to Christianity, that's an interpolation (probably not a deliberate one). See Carrier's article in JECS. (The idea that Josephus would throw in an offhand reference like that without explanation has always struck me as dubious.)

          Others have addressed the "11 of 12" claim.

        • Candida was my professor at ND!

          She was great, but I think the book was a little disingenuous.

    • Randy:

      You are asserting the historical Jesus is very, very different from the Jesus the apostles presented.

      Do you even understand the post? The idea was to hypothesize naysayers and see if the idea holds up. My conclusion: no, it doesn’t. And that an actual naysayer (who knew Jesus as just the ordinary dude down the street) wouldn’t stand up to object to the Jesus miracle claims. Why should he? He wouldn’t make the connection.

      that is why it should be rejected as completely implausible.

      So we agree then. Gimme a hug!

      Why would the charismatic Rabbi story be lost without a trace?

      What charismatic rabbi story? Show me that Jesus was historical and we’ll have something to talk about.

      Why would Peter and John and the Blessed Virgin and so many others not be bothered by the switch?

      Why would the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion and so many others not object to errors told about Dorothy?

      I mean changing Jesus from man to God is a pretty big switch in a very small time frame.

      Are you saying that oral history can’t turn into religion? I wonder then how you explain the hundreds of other religions in world history.

      But what about when the sensational can get you killed?

      Is this the “why would they die for a lie?” idea? I respond to that here.

      Most have some truth in them and most are anything but supernatural.

      Yes, most aren’t supernatural. Shouldn’t we be especially skeptical of the supernatural claims?

  • Randy Gritter

    #8. Sure people tell true supernatural stories. If you saw or experiences a miracle could you keep it quiet? What is your point.

    Joseph Smith is a really good example of a story that is inherently less credible than the New Testament stories. He is the only witness to the allegedly supernatural revelation that took place. Nobody made up eye witness accounts of a bunch of miracles. Nobody says he gave sight to a man born blind and a formal investigation of it was launched like we see in John 9. Nobody says he raised someone from the dead and people came from far and wide to see this guy like we see in John 11. These claims were not made because they would have been easy to falsify. Mormonism does make other claims that can be falsified and have been falsified. Again unlike Christianity.

    #9. This is another topic. It gets into interpretation. Sure some will reject the content of the New Testament based on some of the difficult sayings of Jesus. This is one.

    #10. Christianity grew in a hostile environment. We still have the critiques of Christianity that Romans did make. That they sacrificed babies and such, the church never eliminated writings from other belief systems the way some imagine. Some dies from lack of interest but many survived. Again Jewish and Roman enemies of Christianity had real resource back then. They could have made naysayer testimony widely known.

    • Randy:

      Wow, you’re the Little Engine that Could today, aren’t you? I applaud your thoroughness.

      If you saw or experiences a miracle could you keep it quiet?

      Probably not. What is your point? Show me that miracles happened, and then we can talk about a miracle story spreading.

      Joseph Smith is a really good example of a story that is inherently less credible than the New Testament stories.

      Oh? Written in modern English (unlike the gospels); no cultural gulf to cross (unlike the gospels); no period of oral history (unlike the gospels); original documents rather than copies from centuries later (unlike the gospels); eyewitness accounts (unlike the gospels); and very thoroughly documented by newspapers, letters, and diaries (unlike the gospels).

      I think the Joseph Smith claim spanks your claim. And it’s still false.

      Nobody says he gave sight to a man born blind and a formal investigation of it was launched like we see in John 9.

      So if you read it, it must be true?

      Nobody says he raised someone from the dead and people came from far and wide to see this guy like we see in John 11.

      If that’s the kind of claim you like, let’s bring out the big guns. Do you know of Sathya Sai Baba? This guy had millions of followers when he died a few years ago. And, yes, raised from the dead. And could make things appear. And could be in two places at once.

      Mormonism does make other claims that can be falsified and have been falsified. Again unlike Christianity.

      So Christianity is more believable because it’s less testable? That’s not a good tradeoff, IMO.

      Christianity grew in a hostile environment.

      And Christianity was itself hostile. You probably know about the many variants on Christianity (Ebionites, Marcionites, Gnostics) in the early days. There was a lot of book burning going on, and any naysayer documentation could’ve wound up being deliberately burned.

      the church never eliminated writings from other belief systems the way some imagine.

      The Nag Hammadi library was buried, perhaps to keep it safe from other Christians.

      • Randy Gritter

        Unfortunately my little engine is getting busy so I need to be brief.

        The Joseph Smith story is closer in time and space to us. That is not the point. The question is credibility. Is the claim based on one person or many? Would the person or persons in question gain or lose by making this up? Does he or they have a reputation for good moral character? Are there other events witnessed by by other people that fit in well with this testimony?

        Now this data are easier to assess in the Mormon case. The problem is the answer in the Mormon case is always the wrong one. That is the one that shows the Mormon story to be not credible. The answer in the Christian case is the opposite. So the contrast is stark. This is what a false religion looks like. This is what a true religion looks like.

        Now you point out the data source is not that reliable. That is true. The trouble with writing off the claim that way is that the impact of the claim was historically quite large. You have to pretend it didn't happen. You have to just stop history at the Roman Empire and pick it up again in the enlightenment. You can't make sense of the intervening centuries because to do so you would have to make sense of Jesus.

        • Randy:

          Would the person or persons in question gain or lose by making this up? Does he or they have a reputation for good moral character? Are there other events witnessed by by other people that fit in well with this testimony?

          Interesting questions, but you’re evaluating a story. I think first you need to show that you’re evaluating history and then pose these questions.

          No one (except Christian apologists) imagine that the Jesus story is a deliberate invention. That it evolved over the decades before being written down (and then was modified further as bits of the canon were accepted or rejected or tweaked) explains the facts best, IMO.

          Now this data are easier to assess in the Mormon case.

          I agree. The Mormon story is easier to disprove because it’s closer and makes specific claims. So I assume you’re saying that the conventional Christianity is more reliable because its claims are less easy to test and verify? Not much of an argument, I’m afraid.

          The trouble with writing off the claim that way is that the impact of the claim was historically quite large.

          Yes, Christianity has had a huge impact. So what’s your point—it’s the biggest religion so it must be true?

          Or are you saying that because it exists it must have at least a kernel of supernatural validity? In that case, I wonder how you deal with other religions’ supernatural claims.

          • Randy Gritter

            Interesting questions, but you’re evaluating a story. I think first you need to show that you’re evaluating history and then pose these questions.

            We are evaluating history. That is the point you keep missing. Christianity is historical. It happened. If the central story of Christianity was made up then we need to explain how so many people came to believe it so strongly.

            That it evolved over the decades before being written down (and then was modified further as bits of the canon were accepted or rejected or tweaked) explains the facts best, IMO.

            Actually that does not fit the facts at all. This would create many different stories and many different versions of Christianity all over the place. Instead we have Christians all over the Roman empire telling the same story and teaching the same teachings.

            They describe their faith as apostolic. That is it goes back to the apostles and ultimately to Jesus. That fits the data. The idea that everyone just made stuff up as they went along does not fit the data at all.

            It also does not fit what we know about human behavior. People don't just accept claims of the supernatural over and above the plethora of pagan supernatural claims without some reason. Christianity in your view would be just another pagan religion. It would not have a remarkable story. It would not have miracles. The only difference is Christianity could get you killed while the other religions were legal.

          • Andrew G.

            The fact that their central story was made up didn't seem to stop the Mormons, no?

            As for many different versions of Christianity, that's pretty much what did happen...

          • Randy:

            Christianity is historical. It happened.

            Yes, Christianity happened. Lots of religions happened. Now we have to figure out if the stories on which they’re built are history—a very different question.

            then we need to explain how so many people came to believe it so strongly.

            Take a hundred random religions in which you don’t believe. Study them and figure out why so many people came to believe so strongly. You’ll probably have your answer.

            This would create many different stories and many different versions of Christianity all over the place.

            Bingo. Gnostics, Ebionites, Marcionites, to name the big divisions of Christianity that didn’t make it. Take the myriad heresies that were stamped out by the many church councils (docetism, Arianism, and so on). You’re exactly right—many different versions of Christianity.

            The idea that everyone just made stuff up as they went along does not fir the data but also does not fit what we know about human behavior.

            Since no one but Christian apologists raise the idea that Christianity was invented, let’s just drop it. You appreciate that legends do happen, right? The Jesus story was just one of those.

          • Randy:

            Christianity is historical. It happened.

            Yes, Christianity happened. Lots of religions happened. Now we have to figure out if the stories on which they’re built are history—a very different question.

            then we need to explain how so many people came to believe it so strongly.

            Take a hundred random religions in which you don’t believe. Study them and figure out why so many people came to believe so strongly. You’ll probably have your answer.

            This would create many different stories and many different versions of Christianity all over the place.

            Bingo. Gnostics, Ebionites, Marcionites, to name the big divisions of Christianity that didn’t make it. Take the myriad heresies that were stamped out by the many church councils (docetism, Arianism, and so on). You’re exactly right—many different versions of Christianity.

            The idea that everyone just made stuff up as they went along does not fir the data but also does not fit what we know about human behavior.

            Since no one but Christian apologists raise the idea that Christianity was invented, let’s just drop it. You appreciate that legends do happen, right? The Jesus story was just one of those.

    • physicistdave

      Randy Smith wrote:

      >He [Joseph Smith] is the only witness to the allegedly supernatural revelation that took place.

      Wrong again, Randy! There are signed affidavits from other men who saw the magic thingamabobs.

      Check out Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon.

      To be sure, even though there is much more evidence for Joe Smith's revelations than for the New Testament revelations, Persuitte does untangle the evidence and show that Smith was really just a liar.

      Personally, I think the Gospels were just meant to be edifying fanfic designed to entertain and amuse the faithful, and that the Evangelists would be shocked to hear that guys like you cannot see that the Gospels are fiction!

      Dave

      • Randy Gritter

        Personally, I think the Gospels were just meant to be edifying fanfic designed to entertain and amuse the faithful, and that the Evangelists would be shocked to hear that guys like you cannot see that the Gospels are fiction!

        Compare that with John 19:31-17:

        Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of him shall be broken.” And again another scripture says, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.”

        • physicistdave

          Compare that to the Harry Potter books. More detailed than the Gospels.

        • Randy: Isn't it odd that John says the crucifixion was on the Day of Preparation, while the synoptics have it the next day? You'd think that they could get that important fact straight.

        • Randy: Isn't it odd that John says the crucifixion was on the Day of Preparation, while the synoptics have it the next day? You'd think that they could get that important fact straight.

  • Ben

    This seems like an odd choice for your very first post putting the atheist position
    after dozens of Catholic posts.

    It's not bad, but it's tackling a rather weak point of apologetics. If I were setting out to refute Catholicism, I'd start with a rather higher-stakes point than this.

    The "naysayer" argument seems to divide into two points:

    1. The Gospels couldn't have survived orally to be written down in the face of *any* scepticism in the population.

    2. We would have historical records of rebuttals if any had ever existed.

    These are both strange arguments.

    On 1. Maybe most of the population was unconvinced, but unable to talk the minority of Jesus fans out of their belief in his miracles. Try talking a Scientologist out of their belief that L Ron Hubbard was a great man, or convincing a Derren Brown fan that the guy uses cheap trickery rather than masterful psychological insights.

    On 2. Most of the extremely limited written accounts of the period come down to us through a chain of copying done by Christian monks. There *is* independent historical information about Jesus's life from Flavius Josephus, and scholars say it was tampered with, sorry "interpolated", by Christians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus#Testimonium_Flavianum

    Maybe somebody did write a counter-Gospels explaining how Jesus did all his tricks with mirrors, etc, but it wouldn't have been copied. It would probably have been burned as heretical.

  • #11 Naysayers were actively edited out of written history (by the winners) together with the Gnostics and all others considered heretics.

    • Randy Gritter

      So this would happen in the 4th century? What do you mean by "actively?" Is there a decree that you are thinking of that says all such documents must be destroyed? Did the church really destroy all the writings of the Gnostics and other heretics? I am actually amazed at how much we still have from opponents of the church. We quickly assume a modern totalitarian society where information flow is aggressively controlled. There is just no evidence that they were able to do that or that they really tried.

      • I would have thought it began in the second century around the time of the excommunication of Marcion. We have had to try to reconstruct the writings of the so called heretics of the era by looking at the criticisms of them by the winners, such as Tertullian. As time went on more purges of dissent continued. It is only by extreme luck that we found the hidden treasure of suppressed documents at Nag Hammadi.

        In later centuries we see changes to the scripture being made by scribes to support the unity of the message (I recommend you watch this very detailed lecture by Biblical Studies Prof. Bart Ehrman on that subject). No "decree" was needed for that to happen, people probably thought they were inspired to do so from their own "faith." For that earlier time, we don't have things like the "Q" original, so we don't know how much naysaying was redacted.

        You can't rule out what you don't know was thrown out. The bottom line is that a positive argument can't be constructed out of what we don't know. The so called "lack of naysaying" is just such.

      • Ben

        Q. Quine knows a lot more about this topic than I do, and I recommend his excellent comment, but I would just like to add that the 4th century Easter letter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_letter shows the church condemning certain books as not "Bible canon", as the fanfic writers would put it. If there was an insider, whistle-blowing account of how Jesus did his tricks, I find it plausible that it would have been purged and burned earlier than that.

      • Randy:

        I am actually amazed at how much we still have from opponents of the church.

        Well ... we have some rebuttals written by "orthodox" Christians (Contra Celsum comes to mind, but there are better examples). They would be same because they preached the party line. But the early church (not surprisingly) had no interest in preserving the writings of the other guy.

      • physicistdave

        Randy,

        Manuscripts get lost and physically disintegrate. No need for active and intentional destruction.

        We have, for example, none of the original manuscripts of any of the New Testament books.

        All that is needed for texts to disappear is for them to not be copied.

        Pagans obviously had little incentive to copy books about Christianity.

        And, once one group, the so-called "Orthodox," got a stranglehold on the Christian movement, they had little incentive to copy non-Orthodox writings.

        Check out the accidents by which, for example, the Nag Hammadi manuscripts were preserved and discovered and you will see why most ancient manuscripts have been lost.

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

      • Doug Shaver

        I am actually amazed at how much we still have from opponents of the church.

        We have excerpts that the church's defender's thought worth quoting. Can you tell me where to find a manuscript copy of a document that was written by any of Christianity's adversaries?

  • I think there were a very large number of "naysayers"—the Jews who did not become followers of Jesus, which is almost all of the Jews alive at the time. And remember it was to "the lost sheep of Israel" that Jesus explicitly devoted his entire public career. The mission of Jesus to fellow Jews was a failure. One does not need to be an atheist to argue that it is a rather foolish argument that the Gospels must be true, otherwise the people of the time would have objected to them and debunked them. Obviously anyone who is not a Christian and who takes a serious look at the Gospels and the rise of Christianity must come up with an alternate explanation for the claims of the Gospels.

    By the way, in explaining why so few Jews accepted Jesus, I hope anti-Semitism can be avoided.

    • Ben

      I just want to add that I'm open-minded about all the explanations for why the Jews didn't accept Jesus, including the anti-Semitic ones, as long as they're convincing. I don't want Randy Gritter to think I'm one of those sceptics who thinks that not everything written down is true.

      • Ben, perhaps that rejection by the Jews is a form of the naysaying that is the subject of the OP. Remember, these are Jews who supposedly saw their dead friends and relatives as zombies walking the streets of Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. Seems like the zombies could have given them the straight scoop on Jesus. (Matthew 27:51-53)

    • David, I am interested in following that line of inquiry. My understanding is that the early Jesus following groups in Jerusalem were considered a cult branch of Jewish tradition and did not get the numbers of followers that were forming the churches in the Greek speaking world inspired by Saul of Tarsus (Paul). Is that also your position, and if so, can you point me at historical papers for that?

      • I think this is all within the realm of standard history of the early Church. It is clear from reading the Gospels (and Acts of the Apostles) that the Apostles themselves considered themselves Jews and observed Jewish Law. Even Paul did, although he set about to convert Gentiles to "Christianity."

        We tend to forget that Jesus was an observant Jew who made it clear his mission was to preach to the Jews. He said clearly that he did not come to abolish the Law. One of the ironies of the Gospels being definitive sources for Christians is that Jesus frequently makes pronouncements on Jewish Law, which Christians consider no longer relevant.

        In any case, Acts 15 tells of the so-called Council of Jerusalem, where a decision was made that Gentile converts did not have to be circumcised or keep Jewish Law. This is usually dated around 50 A.D., well before the first Gospel was written. I did come across a paper title How many Jews became Christians in the first century? The failure of the Christian mission to the Jews, in which the author estimates that the number of Jews who became followers of Jesus probably never exceed 1000 by the end of the century. I would say that in researching this, I found huge differences in various estimates. But it is certainly clear that Christianity "took off" by seeking Gentile converts, not by convincing Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. And it did not take long for the observant Jews who were followers of Jesus to become a minority and die out, while the Gentile Church rapidly expanded, although I do believe small groups of Jewish-Christians still existed for hundreds of years.

        • Thanks, David, that matches most of what I have also found. The Jews were very insular and never did get a big inflow of converts (I don't know if they even brought any back from Babylon.) The circumcision was a big blockage to conversion, and when Saul of Tarsus (Paul) found himself completely surrounded by the Greek speaking community it must have been hard for him to even bring up the subject. I don't know if it "made" the new religion, but if he had not invented non-circumcision conversion (over the objections of those in Jerusalem) and dropped the Jewish dietary restrictions, I believe that the new religion would have died out with the scores of other cults that had arisen in the religio-politico vacuum that occurred when the Romans put down the first century revolt and destroyed the temple system.

  • Meta-N

    The whole premise of this blog post strikes me as worthless mental masturbation. The fact that there are few if any witnesses (for or against the events) outside of the sacred scripture, despite the wealth of historical texts from this time in history all point to a more logical conclusion that nothing ever happened. It was all in Paul's head (revealed truth) and the scripture of the day (of which nothing remains that I know of).

    I highly recommend the reader review the links I posted earlier today. The Carrier talks are excellent regardless of the conclusion you reach on the historicity of Jesus.

    I can tell you as a person raised since childhood sans religion, its always been a myth (historical Jesus or not) to me.

    • Meta-N: I'm a big fan of Richard Carrier. I recommend him to any Christian who's interested in engaging with the best arguments by an atheist.

  • Ben

    Well, I have to say that even though I thought this was a slightly tangential topic on which to begin the great experiment of allowing atheists to contribute to the self-proclaimed "central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists", I am very impressed by the level of Biblical scholarship displayed by the atheist side, and I don't think even the most pro-Catholic observer can pretend that the "Naysayer hypothesis" hasn't been thoroughly destroyed.

    • Ben: Many thanks. I believe there's a Catholic response coming tomorrow, so we'll have to see that critique of my argument.

      • gwen saul

        Although I will probably read the Catholic response to your post tomorrow, I find it telling that the first post by an atheist here is immediately followed by a Catholic response. One wonders where the atheist responses to other Catholic posts around here are hiding.

  • Meta-N

    With all due respect to Bob Seidensticker, the whole premise of this blog post strikes me as worthless mental gymnastics. The fact that there are few if any witnesses (for or against the events) outside of the sacred scripture, despite the wealth of historical texts from this time in history all point to a more logical conclusion that nothing ever happened. It was all in Paul's head (revealed truth) and the scripture of the day (of which nothing remains that I know of).

    I highly recommend the reader review the links I posted earlier today. The Carrier talks are excellent regardless of the conclusion you reach on the historicity of Jesus.

    I can tell you as a person raised since childhood sans religion, its always been a myth (historical Jesus or not) to me.

  • physicistdave

    Bob,

    One possibility that you do not mention is that perhaps the authors of the Gospels did not ever intend the Gospel stories to be taken as literal fact, but merely as edifying tales to inspire and entertain the faithful. Obviously, there would be no reason for anyone to refute stories that everyone knew to be fictional.

    There is some evidence of this even within the Gospels: consider Satan taking Jesus to a mountain from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. There is of course no such mountain. This does not seem to bother even fundamentalists: obviously, this passage is somehow a parable, merely symbolic, simply allegorical, or whatever.

    So, why not suppose the loaves-and-fishes story was also once meant and understood as allegorical (i.e., illustrating that “Jesus is the bread of life”). This could be true even of the physical Resurrection stories: maybe it all started with the thought that Jesus is risen to Heaven, and someone later came up with the entertaining storyline of telling fantasies about his appearances here on earth before he rose to Heaven, not thinking these tales would ever be taken literally.

    We do know with absolute certainty that Christians of the early centuries eventually did produce writings that were clearly the ancient equivalent of “fanfic,” not intended to be taken seriously but merely to serve as edifying entertainment:

    The tale of the humongous walking, talking Cross in the Gospel of Peter was surely not meant to be taken literally.

    And, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is clearly in the same genre as the “Smallville” TV show, which showed the adventures of Superman as a boy. No one today thinks of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas as anything but the ancient equivalent of “fanfic,” and it is easy to believe that it was always viewed that way.

    Odd to think that all of Christianity as we know it could be due to simply misunderstanding the literary genre of the Gospels! But, it does seem plausible that the original “Jesus religion” focused on a Lord who was risen in only a “spiritual sense” and who was only encountered in his post-Resurrection form in the same way in which Paul himself encountered Jesus – visions, dreams, hallucinations of a spirit who had risen to Heaven.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • Dave:

      One possibility that you do not mention is that perhaps the authors of the Gospels did not ever intend the Gospel stories to be taken as literal fact, but merely as edifying tales to inspire and entertain the faithful.

      Yes, that’s possible. The reason I ignore it is because the proponents of the naysayer hypothesis also ignore it.

      consider Satan taking Jesus to a mountain from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. There is of course no such mountain.

      You’re right that there is no such mountain, but the better explanation of this IMO is that the author simply didn’t know that (not that he was using a literary device).

      not thinking these tales would ever be taken literally.

      Perhaps the authors saw their work as a fiction that points to the truth.

      The tale of the humongous walking, talking Cross in the Gospel of Peter was surely not meant to be taken literally.

      I’m not sure about the “surely,” but I think we’re largely on the same page.

      it does seem plausible that the original “Jesus religion” focused on a Lord who was risen in only a “spiritual sense” and who was only encountered in his post-Resurrection form in the same way in which Paul himself encountered Jesus

      And if you distill out of his epistles the “Gospel of Paul,” you get a brief paragraph of the biography of Jesus.

  • Carson Weber

    By the way, if you haven't read it yet, Protestant Biblical scholar Dr. Richard Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" is absolutely breathtaking regarding the historicity of the Gospels => Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2008)

    • Ben

      What does he say about the zombie plague in Matthew that nobody else mentioned?

    • Carson: I've read much on that subject but not that book. Anything in particular stand out for you? I'm guessing that there's not much that I haven't heard before, but I'd be interested if you have any especially relevant takeaways.

      • Michael Murray

        Hi Bob, Amazon says

        This fresh book argues that the four Gospels are closely based on eyewitness testimony of those who knew Jesus. Noted New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham challenges the prevailing assumption that the accounts of Jesus circulated as "anonymous community traditions" instead asserting that they were transmitted in the name of the original eyewitness.

        To drive home this controversial point, Bauckham draws on internal literary evidence, study of personal names in the first century, and recent developments in the understanding of oral traditions. "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" also taps into the rich resources of modern study of memory and cognitive psychology, refuting the conclusions of the form critics and calling New Testament scholarship to make a clean break with this long-dominant tradition. Finally, Bauckham challenges readers to end the classic division between the "historical Jesus" and the "Christ of faith" proposing the "Jesus of testimony" that is actually presented by Gospels.

        Sure to ignite heated debate on the precise character of the testimony about Jesus, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" will be valued by scholars, students and all who seek to understand the origins of the Gospels.

        • Michael: Thanks for the input on the book.

          The apologists have a very high bar of evidence to clear when arguing that the gospels are history. Having read some papers on this kind of thing (though admittedly not this book), my guess is that the conclusion of this book would be basically, "Well, the gospels might've been written by eyewitnesses" or "The gospels could be history."

          Given the monumental supernatural claims, I would need more than this.

          • Bob, it has been my experience that very few believers know much about the non-scriptural history of their own religion (and its texts). It gets taught reasonably well in seminary, but little gets passed on to the laity. Perhaps this site will help that.

          • Q: That's a nice thought. I hope that it does.

      • Bob, yes. Here's a quick summary by the author himself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=292NTf1cCNw

        He argues that the Gospels were written within the living memory of the eye-witnesses who saw Jesus & marshalls powerful support from patristic sources that the early Christians resisted such creative tendencies in the transmission of the Jesus tradition as the the old form-critical theories claim.

        The review at http://www.amazon.com/review/R25T0NEKE7QTJY/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B004U7QKKS&nodeID=283155 does a good job summarizing some of the poignant arguments that Bauckham lays out.

    • Carson: I've read much on that subject but not that book. Anything in particular stand out for you? I'm guessing that there's not much that I haven't heard before, but I'd be interested if you have any especially relevant takeaways.

  • Hey, everyone:

    You may have read Dwight's response to this post here:
    https://strangenotions.com/naysayer-response

    I've responded here:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2013/05/response-to-attack-on-my-naysayer-argument

  • enness

    "Jesus said that the end would come within the lifetime of many within his hearing."

    A thought. I know it's risky appealing to private revelation, but what of this?: http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com/2013/04/gods-warning-for-humanity-has-been.html

    • Jesus said the end of *the age* would come within the lifetime of many within His hearing.

      It did.

      September 20, AD 70.

      The Temple was burned by Titus and his legions.

      And by the time the gold of that Temple had melted, and run down into the cracks and crevices, and the scavengers had sought it out, not one stone was left atop another.

      As Jesus said.

      It is an excellent idea to believe what He says.

      • Rick: Jesus said that the stars would fall from the sky (Mark 13). Didn't happen. They're still there.

        Why believe that the gospels even correctly record what Jesus said, let alone believe what he said? You don't believe the other guy's religious books.

        • "Thus it was that the wretched people were deluded at that time by charlatans and pretended messengers of the deity; while they neither heeded nor believed in the manifest portents that foretold the coming desolation, but, as if thunderstruck and bereft of eyes and mind, disregarded the plain warnings of God. So it was when a star, resembling a sword, stood over the city, and a comet which continued for a year." (Jospehus, War 6.5.4 288-289)

          Just as the end of the age was foretold, along with the destruction of the Temple, so the Temple is a microcosm of the cosmos- judgement begins at Jerusalem, and the signs foretold by Christ concerning the destruction of the microcosm (Temple) have their application also to the destruction by fire of the cosmos at the end of history.

          • rationalobservations?

            "Thus it was that the wretched people were deluded at that time by charlatans and pretended messengers of the deity.."

            Did you ever think that you and the charlatans you listen to and believe are the deluded ones?

            There are hundreds of "creator gods and goddesses" to be found among the many thousands of gods, goddesses and God-men/"messiahs" "revealed" in most ancient and ignorant cultures.

            Here's reminder of one that was "known to exist" by the whole population of Egypt and beyond even more comprehensively that the gods of today:

            "HAIL to thee, Amun-Ra, Lord of the thrones of the earth, the oldest existence, ancient of heaven, support of all things;
            Chief of the gods, lord of truth; father of the gods, maker of men and beasts and herbs; maker of all things above and below;
            Deliverer of the sufferer and oppressed, judging the poor;
            Lord of wisdom, lord of mercy; most loving, opener of every eye, source of joy, in whose goodness the gods rejoice, thou whose name is hidden.
            Thou art the one, maker of all that is, the one; the only one; maker of gods and men; giving food to all.
            Hail to thee, thou one with many heads; sleepless when all others sleep, adoration to thee.
            Hail to thee from all creatures from every land, from the height of heaven, from the depth of the sea.
            The spirits thou hast made extol thee, saying, welcome to thee, father of the fathers of the gods; we worship thy spirit which is in us."

            Do you "admit" that this Amun-Ra, Lord of the thrones of the earth "creator god" exists?
            If not - why not? That god has as much credibility as the originally Canaanite god "Yahweh" or the Roman's god-man "Jesus"..

            Of course - there is no need for (or evidence of) magical "creation" and the concept of a magical invisible and undetectable supernatural man merely wishing the infinite universe into existence FROM NOTHING is beyond impossible and ridiculous.

            Surely you don't actually believe such impossible fictional garbage?

            It is, of course, easy to "foretell" events if you write about them centuries after they occured and merely "back date" and set you fiction in an earlier time - as is the case wit all the diverse and different, confused and contradictory NT bibles that can be traced back to originating in the 4th century (reference Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) but no earlier.

            The oldest NT bibles appeared after the Roman religion they called "christianity" was cobbled together from mostly pagan components and exclusively pagan feast days and festivals in the 4th century CE.
            There are many thousands of gods, goddesses and god-men / "messiahs" and no evidence of (or reason for) the existence of any of them.

            The burden of proof and the onus of convincing the rest of us of the validity of the proof is all upon the religionists and the rest of the rapidly declining membership of fraudulent religions.

            There is no evidence of Jesus or any of the centuries later written legends of Jesus that originates from within the 1st century.

            No text.
            No artifact.
            No inscription.
            No cross used as a symbol of a messianic cult.
            No archaeological inscription.
            Not even a trace of a 1st century "City of Nazareth" in any map or text or beneath the modern Jesus theme park town of "Nazareth" that was founded in the 4th century.

            The world's oldest (4th century founded) politico-corporate institution of the Roman religion they called "christianity" agree.
            "Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origins of Christianity and its earliest development are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures, the authenticity of which we must, to a great extent, take for granted."
            (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. iii, p. 712)
            The Church makes extraordinary admissions about its New Testament. For example, when discussing the origin of those writings, ".. the most distinguished body of academic opinion ever assembled" (Catholic Encyclopedias, Preface) admits that the Gospels "..do not go back to the first century of the Christian era"
            (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. vi, p. 137, pp. 655-6).
            This statement conflicts with priesthood and religionist assertions that the earliest Gospels were progressively written during the decades following the death of the Gospel Jesus Christ.
            In a remarkable aside, "the church" further admits that, "the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD"
            (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).
            There is not one single shred of original, authentic, 1st century originated evidence supporting the centuries later written legends of "Jesus" in any library, museum, christian institution or university. Or at least - my decades long search has revealed none.

            Pascal's wager is based upon the possible existence (or probable non-existence) of only one hypothetical "god". If compared to the many thousands of gods that have been believed to exist by whole populations in the past - the chances of picking the right one renders the odds of that so vastly against the wager. Always assuming that blind faith is an option or "choice" for any moderately sentient human. (Try "choosing" to believe in Amun-Ra or Zeus by an act of will and you will know how ridiculous Pascal's wager is and how the rest of us feel about your hypothetical Canaanite god "Yahweh" and historically unsupported legends of a Roman god-man named "Jesus".)

            There appears to be nothing unique or original within the Urban Myths at the root Judaeo/christian religion - but be assured that the rapidly growing and third largest "religious" cohort (the non-religious) treat all the thousands of apparently imaginary gods, goddesses and god-men/"messiahs" with exactly fair and equal skepticism.

    • enness: I'm curious: why think this is compelling? Maybe I didn't read thoroughly enough, but it didn't do much for me.

  • FMHJ

    If the Gospels are false, and naysayers were stifled at best, then why did the writers of the gospels include things that would seem to be against their own message, (such as Jesus being unable to work any miracles in some places because of lack of faith on the part of the people there, people leaving Jesus because some of the message was too difficult for them (unless you eat my Body and drink my Blood, you will not have life within you), the apostles running away when Jesus was arrested, Peter denying Christ, the disciples hiding after Jesus' death)? Seems to me if they were making it up, they'd avoid stories that put Jesus or themselves in a bad light.

    • Michael Murray

      There is an enormous chasm though between the gospels being made up and the gospels being literally true. You can't get from "the gospels weren't made up" to "therefore the gospels are true" in one leap.

      I think the predominant view amongst biblical scholars is that there was someone called jesus about whom a bunch of stories accreted. The argument that convinces me is basically the one you have given. But that doesn't mean everything in the gospels accredited to Jesus had to happen anymore than every story starting "Einstein once said ..." is a direct literal quote from Einstein.

    • FMHJ: Michael has some good points. I'll add that the gospels are probably a hodgepodge of traditions and ideas.

      Why is there a feeding of the 5000 and a feeding of the 4000 in the same gospel? Maybe those stories were slightly different and had to be both included to satisfy the various factions who cared about their particular version.

      Why is Peter shown denying Christ? It's actually not so embarrassing if you don't much like Peter (as with the Pauline faction).

      Why did the disciples hide and then become brave? Because it's a flippin' story that shouldn't be treated as actual history.

      And so on. A scholar could provide plausible routes for others of the curious passages in the New Testament. But the point is, as Michael noted, just because the Bible has odd things doesn't mean that its supernatural stories must've actually happened.

      • There is a difference between a "flippin' story" and a "hodgepodge of traditions and ideas." The fact that Peter's denial of Jesus is in all four Gospels would indicate that there is something behind it, and I have never heard or read anyone suggest that the incident is recounted by partisans of Paul who "don't much like Peter." Few contemporary biblical scholars would claim the Gospels are historical accounts and that everything recounted in the Gospels happened, or happened in the way that it is recounted in the Gospels. But I think few contemporary biblical scholars (or historians) would dismiss the denial of Peter as a "flippin' story" that was invented out of whole cloth by "the Pauline faction." In judging the historicity of the Gospels, you don't get to make up your own flippin' stories about why a particular incident is included.

        • David:

          The fact that Peter's denial of Jesus is in all four Gospels would indicate that there is something behind it

          That it was a popular element of the story, sure. It’s when you try to build a foundation on which supernatural stories can stand that this foundation looks problematic.

          I have never heard or read anyone suggest that the incident is recounted by partisans of Paul who "don't much like Peter."

          I guess we run in different circles.

          I’m sure you know of the friction. Paul documents it in Galatians. The point is that the criterion of embarrassment is applicable only when it’s embarrassing.

          Few contemporary biblical scholars would claim the Gospels are historical accounts

          OK. Lots of lay Christians need to get the memo, and it’s them that I’m more focused on.

          a "flippin' story" that was invented out of whole cloth by "the Pauline faction."

          Whoa, whoa, whoa. I never said that it was deliberately invented. I’ve never heard anyone (except Christian apologists) suggest this. Legends just happen; no one plans them.

  • Sample1

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Today we share our first atheist guest post

    Publishing dates would be helpful on all articles.

    Mike

  • objectivefactsmatter

    Bob is an angry loser.

    • You've got a lot of energy for apologetics. Next time, I suggest you focus it on clearly identifying bad arguments, giving new ideas or evidence, or in some other way contributing to the conversation. Insults and petulance just waste everyone's time.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        Your crowd would not even let me build on what I wrote. If you were serious about investigating things as they exist in reality you would have seen that.

        • You posted, what, more than a hundred comments? I think you had lots of chances (and second chances) to make a point. All I remember from your tsunami of comments is condescending one-liners and smug observations of our actions confirming your "research."

          You've got a lot of energy. Imagine what you could do if you devoted that to raising valid objections or bringing new evidence to our attention.

          • objectivefactsmatter

            Again demonstrating that you're incapable of synthesizing what I wrote, deliberately ignoring that the "tsunami" was in response to your agitprop troll cult.

          • objectivefactsmatter

            Most "debates" and conversations between people that disagree fail because of lack of consensus on terms and fundamental assumptions.

            You have done some software programming, at least according to your bio. Imagine if team of "programmers" met to debate the best approach for building an app and each one just assumed that his own development environment and parameters was "the reality." It would be confusing. Obviously.

            So when this happens in ordinary human discourses, leaders sometimes recognize that and seek to come to terms on which assumptions are valid before moving on to developing more specific agreements or debating the controversies in a clearer discourse.

            That's the difference between working on projects for profit, where everyone already knows more or less what the overall objective is, and informal (and very often formal) debates. When you have these worldview clashes and culture wars that occur beyond what most people perceive consciously, they end up Gaslighting themselves by clinging to their cultural bubbles as defenders of "reality" and refuse to engage in any level of self-examination. (IOW, maybe I'm a hack that's just spewing silly talking points sometimes?) Even when more self-examination would be best for everyone.

            Which is not to say that I get to set the agenda. The point is that I only nudged people to open their minds. All they did was spew neo-Manichean agitprop, snark, and Photoshop memes building on themes positing that they are the Brights and the Supers just can't understand them because that's the order of the world.

            And I didn't even come to your site with this agenda. I followed an abusive troll that has exhibited these same behaviors while disrupting conversations pertaining to the US Constitution and the implications of Progressive power consolidation on separations of power and States' rights. Because it's getting so severe I decided to follow one of the worse chronic abusers and found your blog. What I found is that your little cult is quite a bit worse. I now fully understand why those trolls behave that way and why they remain so incorrigible and arrogant even after someone patiently explains how absurd their assertions really are.

            It's your blog and your life. And if you're as successful as you want to be, that's your business. But your spew is, at best, pedestrian. Probably because you are as closed minded as your cult. The only difference is that you're abusive when you think it won't bite you back but also have a "polished" front to conceal your anger. Those poor trolls are not even careful enough to muster a polished image when someone smart comes along to challenge them.

            And that is why the debates are so stale. Wow.

            No, I don't ordinarily spend my time on theistic "apologetics" because it's so discouraging to see how arrogant these ignorant people can be. It's willful blindness. People that care about productive discourse know that they can ask me questions and I take it from there. I didn't come to your site (or any other atheist sites) to engage with atheists per se. I wanted to know more about the incubators for some of these deranged atheist trolls. I now understand a lot better than before. I was starting to suspect that they were being paid by the same people that fund these student uprising movements. I now know these really are just cultural schisms and bubbles created willingly. And defended impulsively. Willful blindness. Intuitive blindness. A worldview defined largely by fallacies. And that is what you accuse theists of.

            Which is not to say that theists don't do those same things. But you're not the answer. Building atheistic cults to replace everyone else will not work. You're not that Bright.

          • Right. Like I said.

          • objectivefactsmatter

            Partly true. You're still proudly incorrigible.

            Good luck.