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Popular News Site Claims Jesus Never Existed

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An article titled "5 Reasons to Suspect that Jesus Never Existed" was posted last week at Salon.com and was featured in the Yahoo news feed. The article itself does not contain anything groundbreaking to anyone who follows this debate, but it presents the most common objections.

Below are five reasons author Valerie Tarico gives, and how to answer them.

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.

 
Tarico uses only an extensive quote from skeptical Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman in which he explains that there are no first century non-Jewish, non-Christian sources that mention Jesus. If this is proof that a historical Jesus never existed, then someone needs to tell this to Professor Ehrman.

In his book, Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman argues that a historical Jesus did exist. He explains:

"[N]o Greek or Roman author from the first century mentions Jesus. It would be convenient if they did, but alas, they do not. At the same time, the fact is again a bit irrelevant since these same sources do not mention many millions of people who actually did live. Jesus stands here with the vast majority of living, breathing human beings of earlier ages." (pg. 43)

The fact that there are no non-Christian or Jewish accounts of Jesus seems somewhat irrelevant to me. As a former mythicist, I never found this argument to hold as much weight as some do. It implies that the first century documents contained in the New Testament are unreliable simply because they were written by Christians. But as Ehrman also points out, this would be a bit like “dismissing early American accounts of the Revolutionary War simply because they were written by Americans” (pg.74)

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

 
To make this point, Tarico picks on the fact that St. Paul never mentions certain details about Jesus’ life including his Virgin Birth, the wise men, or a star in the East. She goes on to explain:

"He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!"

The “few cryptic hints he offers” are major points about the life of Jesus. He really existed (Gal. 4:4), was the “Son of God” (Rom. 1:4), was crucified under Pontius Pilate (1 Tim. 6:13), and that he rose from the dead (Rom 1:4).

It’s true that Paul does not give us more specific details about the life of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean he was unaware of them. Claiming that he "virtually refuses" to disclose further details is speculative. He had no reason to rehash the Gospel narrative in any of his letters.

Paul was writing to specific churches as praise for right conduct and adherence to sound doctrine, or as correction to those who had strayed from the Faith. Since his audience was already Christian, he may have assumed they were aware of the details about Jesus and saw no reason to elaborate.

This is true in modern Church documents. When a pope or other clergy member writes a letter to another church, it’s not likely they would feel the need to explain the life of Jesus in every detail to an audience already familiar with the story. They might reference specific details to make a point as Paul did, but letters of praise or correction from one Christian to another are not going to contain a complete retelling of the Gospel narrative. And it would be absurd to expect them to.

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

 
With this objection, Tarico claims that none of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and that the attribution of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not designated until one hundred years or more after Christianity began.

If it was actually the case that author attributions were not chosen until many years after the time of Christ, then it is a curious thing that they did not choose more prominent disciples like Peter or James.

The authors of the Gnostic gospels chose the names of prominent disciples to lend credibility to their writings, but we know these couldn’t have been written by the people they are attributed to because they don’t appear until two or three hundred years later. The overwhelming majority of Biblical scholars, on the other hand, place the authorship of at least three of the Gospels within a generation of Jesus, and all four of them definitely within the first century (Did Jesus Exist?, pg. 75).

My colleague Jimmy Akin argues that Matthew and John were both eyewitnesses of the ministry of Christ, and that a strong case can be made that Mark and Luke both received their information from eyewitnesses. You can read more on that here.

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.

 
Oceans of ink have been spilled on the subject of contradictions in the Bible from both sides of the Christian/non-Christian debate. But the question remains: Do these contradictions indicate that there may not have been a historical Jesus upon which the core of the Gospels are based? I would argue that these contradictions—valid or not—have no bearing on the existence of a historical Jesus.

Tarico points to discrepancies in the Resurrection accounts as an example. Even if we are to concede that these accounts contain details that are impossible to reconcile, it still does nothing to prove that there was no Jesus. At best, it would only prove that one or all of the authors of the Gospels got their facts wrong about the Resurrection, in particular.

The core facts of the Gospels (that Jesus existed, preached and won disciples, and was crucified by Roman authorities) is attested to in the writings of Paul, the early Church Fathers, the Jewish historian Josephus, and several other non-Christian authors. Even the enemies of Christianity never denied the existence of its founder.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.

 
This is probably the weakest of Tarico’s points. If we asked ten people to tell us about the life of a person they knew, and all of their descriptions deviated from one another in very important details, this would not in any way mean the person in question did not exist. Tarico continues her point:

"Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions."

There is a lot to unpack here. Many skeptics have claimed that there are parallels with the pagan religions of the time in the details about the life of Jesus and Christian rituals. In my own research, I have not found these parallels to be compelling (you can read my articles on these kinds of claims here).

What I do find compelling is that the Christian movement managed to spread so quickly. The Jewish historian Josephus confirms that the movement began in Judea, while Tacitus, Seutonius, and Pliny the Younger tell us that it spread all the way to Rome and Bithnya. According to the writings of the early Christians, these new communities were started by apostles who had been sent by the movement’s founder, Jesus. (You can read more on this here.)

Conclusion

 
Certainly there are more sophisticated arguments against the existence of Jesus than what is presented by Tarico. Most of her points are based on arguments made by mythicist author David Fitzgerald in his book Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All.

One of the points that I have heard Fitzgerald make in both his writing and in recorded interviews is that most scholars believe Jesus existed because most of them have been Christian (or formerly Christian). One could argue that all mythicists are atheists, but neither point really addresses the issue.

The Christ myth theory has circulated for nearly 200 years, going in and out of style. I have been criticized by some for paying any attention to it at all, but from my perspective there is a growing number of people who believe Jesus never existed, and thus it is something worth taking seriously.
 
 
(Image credit: Jaroslav74 via Shutterstock))

Jon Sorensen

Written by

Jon Sorensen is the Director of Marketing for Catholic Answers, the largest lay-run apostolate of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the United States. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 3D Animation and Visual Communications in 2004 from Platt College, Ontario. Before coming to Catholic Answers, he worked in the automotive industry producing television commercials and corporate video. He has also produced motion graphics for several feature-length films. Follow Jon through his website, JonSorenson.net.

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  • Gail Finke

    You cannot seriously doubt the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth unless you doubt the historicity of EVERYTHING. There is plenty of evidence for his life, moreso than exists for many other events no one considers to be fabrications. Yes, it's (in theory) possible that all sorts of things historians think happened never happened at all, and occasionally things considered historical turn out not to be. But in general, the kind of knot-twisting required to believe that there is no evidence for the life of Jesus, or that he existed but everything we know about him was invented later, or that no one thought he was divine until Constanine said so (a la "The DaVinci Code") has nothing at all to do with history.

    That is not to say that Christianity can't be questioned. I know very well that Muhammed existed, but I do not think God spoke to him or that Islam is true. I know that Joseph Smith existed but I think it's quite clear that he made his religion up. There actually IS no historical evidence for Smith's claim that Jesus came to America after his resurrection and lived among the Indians, who were Christian for 200 years before a giant war that wiped away all traces of this supposed event.

    These claims -- that of Muhammed, whose existence is obviously real and whose teachings are obviously real but which, thought I have no theory about what motivated them, I reject -- and that of Smith, whose existence is obviously real but whose teachings include claims about supposedly historical events that are demonstrably false and that I also judge to be obvious inventions based on a mish-mash of the Bible, Masonic lore, and his own imagination -- are both historical AND false.

    One can reasonably judge Jesus in a similar way, as a real person but not God. Many people make that judgment without looking at the evidence, which is not a smart way to make a judgment but does not make that judgment, per se, unreasonable. But it's simply not possible to conclude that he never existed and still claim to accept that it's possible to make claims about history. Moreover, these are tiresome old claims that have been debunked many times in the past 100 years -- anyone who makes them now shows himself or herself to be ignorant of the entire subject. That also does not necessarily mean they are wrong, but in general it's a good idea to see what people who know what they're talking about have said about a subject before you make up your mind about it based on a blog post or article in a magazine.

    • jakael02

      The fact that the original article hit mainstream via yahoo doesn't surprise me.

      • Ray Vorkin

        Does not the fact that the article hits mainstream not concern you at all? Is not any message that impacts the majority of people not important?

        • jakael02

          Does not concern me, b/c yahoo is notorious for having a liberal agenda.

          • Ray Vorkin

            slippery comment as usual per catholic

    • Ray Vorkin

      One can reasonably judge Jesus in a similar way, as a real person but
      not God. Many people make that judgment without looking at the evidence,

      Many people can accept the fact that Jesus existed hands down, and still not see him as God, even though they have looked at the "evidence" and found it not to be convincing or compelling, and yet still have no problem seeing him as a historical person upon which his followers founded religious sects.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      You cannot seriously doubt the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth unless you doubt the historicity of EVERYTHING.

      Certainly, I am more certain that Napoleon existed than Jesus. There is a scale to these things. For instance, perhaps it is more likely that Jesus existed than Achilles or King Arthur.

      • Martin Sellers

        So time is the main indication then? More recent events are more credible? So the existence of every historical figure before Jesus lived is less likely to have existed than Jesus?

        • David Nickol

          So the existence of every historical figure before Jesus lived is less likely to have existed than Jesus?

          While I don't doubt the existence of Jesus, certainly one would have to acknowledge that, say, Julius Caesar (July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC, according to Wikipedia) is much more fully documented. We have at most a few words actually spoken by Jesus (in his own language), but we have actual writings of Julius Caesar. We have likenesses of Julius Caesar (although only a few dating to his lifetime) but not even a physical description of Jesus. The existence of Julius Caesar is attested to by countless contemporaneous historical records. This is not the case for Jesus.

          Certainly there is more direct evidence for the existence of many historical figures who preceded Jesus than there is for Jesus himself.

      • Ray Vorkin

        Comment meant for Martin S. sorry.
        I don't think that is what he said.....can you clarify Ignatius?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I meant that there is a continuum. It is not time dependent, but certainly we have more documentation for modern personages. There is more evidence for the historicity of Jesus then say Hercules, Achilles, maybe Buddha, maybe Socrates, King Arthur, perhaps Camillus etc. Certainly, there is more evidence for Julius Ceasar, Marius, Sulla, and any of the Roman Emperors. There is more evidence for Pericles, Aristotle, and Alexander the Great. The list goes on.

          Personally, I approach any claims made by the church with a great deal of incredulity.

          • Ray Vorkin

            As do I...thanks.

    • I don't disagree with you that it is reasonable to conclude he existed, but the certainty you seem to have is inconsistent with the evidence.

      There are no contemporaneous accounts of his life or conduct. The earliest writings are Paul and he never claims to have met the pre-resurrected Jesus. The earliest Gospel is Mark and it is generally believed by historians to have been written a good forty years after the death of Jesus.

      The other Gospels were written later and two of them copy large portions word for word from Mark. All four seem to have very different opinions of the nature of Jesus. We know that things have been added and removed from them and that the authors used at least one other source for their texts.

      Other than these documents we have pretty much just Josephus, he also does not claim to have seen Jesus but mentions the movement. He certainly was not convinced that Jesus was god he never converted.

      That is pretty much it. But you are right to think that that is pretty good for two thousand years ago. But those who doubt it and propose different interpretations of this evidence are not so far out of the mainstream as you might think.

      • Gail Finke

        Brian, I think you are reading my beliefs into my comments, which did not say anything about them. My point was only that to deny that Jesus ever existed at all means that you would have to deny all of history and say that "before I lived (or some other chosen point) there's no way to know what happened, so I'll pick and choose what I'd like to be true."

        • Thanks for the clarification, but you are again falling into hyperbole. I can deny the existence of Jesus because the evidence is weak. I can accept many more historical accounts based on better evidence.

          We do not always have anonymous documents, filled with interpolations and so on. Sometimes we actually have eyewitness accounts that are signed. Sometimes we have writings from the individuals themselves. Sometimes we have photos, videos and their actual gravesite or body.

        • Doug Shaver

          to deny that Jesus ever existed at all means that you would have to deny all of history

          No, it doesn't mean that. I have good reason to believe a lot of what is in the history books. I do not have such good reason to believe Jesus existed.

          • Steven Miller

            No one is denying the existence of Socrates, even though only Plato and Xenophon describe his life or even comment on the fact that he existed. When considering the veracity of an argument you should always consider WHO is propagating it and WHY.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've never heard anyone claim to be certain that Socrates didn't exist, but plenty of people do say that he might not have been a real person. There are those who think it possible that he was a fictional creation of Plato. And, while I don't for a moment dispute the possibility, I also regard it as unlikely.

            If you've never heard of anyone questioning Socrates' existence, it's probably because people who are convinced of his historicity don't go into a conniption every time someone questions it. The only important thing about Socrates is the ideas that were attributed to him. Whether the man himself was real has nothing to do with how we should respond to those ideas.

          • Steven Miller

            But there ARE people, for instance in Feminist Rhetoric, who would like to do away with Socrates' influence within their discipline. In fact, there is a small group of writers who credit a woman named Aspasia for inventing the Socratic method, which Socrates then popularizes through the dialogues of Plato. However, none of these authors go so far as to question the historical existence of Socrates in order to reach their ends. The reason? Because they would be laughed out of their respective English departments! There is currently not an anti-philosophical or anti-Socratic undercurrent in American academia, so they would fail, but there is certainly an anti-Christian one. That is the context for this debate.

            Yet again, we must always ask two questions of any assertion like this one: WHO and WHY?

          • Doug Shaver

            I have my own reasons for what I believe. I will accept no responsibility for what anyone else believes or why they believe it.

      • Steven Miller

        The Gospel of Luke is believed to have been put together from various first hand accounts, Luke interviewing some Apostles and early Christians, including Mary herself, the Mother of God.This whole "Jesus never existed" business is a new argument and akin to Holocaust denial. It serves a very particular purpose and is not rooted in discovering historical accuracy. The entire globe has been revolutionized and reshaped by Christianity, to ignore that fact is to ignore history itself.

        • David Nickol

          The Gospel of Luke is believed to have been put together from various first hand accounts . . . .

          Believed by whom? This is certainly not the consensus of New Testament scholars.

          • Steven Miller

            http://www.usccb.org/bible/luke/0 Here you go, David! I am a Catholic, so when I refer to consensus within the Church, I'm referring to within the Catholic Church, or more specifically scriptural readings put forth by the magisterium of the Church. Sorry for not clarifying that in my post.

            Just so you don't have to read the entire introduction: "Early Christian tradition, from the late second century on, identifies the author of this gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles as Luke, a Syrian from Antioch, who is mentioned in the New Testament in Col 4:14, Phlm 24 and 2 Tm 4:11. The prologue of the gospel makes it clear that Luke is not part of the first generation of Christian disciples but is himself dependent upon the traditions he received from those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Lk 1:2)."

            Then in Luke 1:1-4, he describes how others, "eyewitnesses from the beginning," have set down the story, but he's going to do it as well, indicating that he wasn't an eyewitness from the beginning, but rather a second generation Christian.

            Does that all make sense?

    • Russian,Italian,German,Belgian

      You should study all the facts before making such an absolute statement, Please keep an open mind. It is very possible that Jesus was totally fabricated. We all know about misinformation and rumors that are false. so please don't throw away what may be the truth because your beliefs are so strong.

  • Ray Vorkin

    The Salon article is bigtime sillypants. To claim that Jesus never existed is ridiculous as Bart Ehrman clearly points out! We can argue as to whether or not he is actually God as the religion founded in his name make him out to be, and we can argue about did he actually rise from the dead or not, and all the rest of the stuff, but clearly he did actually exist as a person. Though Richard Carriere tries vainly to convince us he did not, as he tries to drum up sales for his questioning the existence of Jesus.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnybQxIgfPw

    • Michael Murray

      Do you have any reason to accuse Carrier of being more likely to want to "drum up sales" than say Ehrman ? We all need to earn a living.

      Personally I think the efforts of the mythicists are really useful as they force the historicists to hone their arguments and they remind everyone else of how unreliable a lot of what is commonly thought to be fact about Jesus actually is.

      • Some creationist arguments are useful in the same way for the evolutionists.

    • Doug Shaver

      To claim that Jesus never existed is ridiculous as Bart Ehrman clearly points out!

      It's not ridiculous just because Bart Ehrman says it's ridiculous.

      • Steven Miller

        But it IS still ridiculous! Let's not split hairs here, Doug!

        • Doug Shaver

          I don't agree that it's ridiculous, so if you want to prove that it is, you'll have to do better than quote Bart Ehrman.

  • Ray Vorkin

    >b>The question that should be asked on SN...but they seem to be in fear of presenting, is this! Hypothetically.....imagine if atheists can come up with enough evidence to give credence to the "fact" that Jesus did not actually exist historically,enough evidence that would be credible to the average Catholic/Christian or the general public.....that Jesus actually did not exist. What would happen to the world's social/political structure? Would we really be better off in the short or long term? I realize that Catholicism/Christianity has had a long history of evil shortcomings etc.....but also has it has had a lot of good connected with it, regards education,political influence, hospitals medical communities social outreach etc. But really....would we be better off as a species, if we could debunk the Catholic religion once and for all?I don't think so.

  • David Nickol

    Below are five reasons author Valerie Tarico gives, and how to answer them.

    This sentence from Jon Sorensen's post illustrates the problem I have with so-called apologetics. "We provide you with answers to attacks on your faith." I remember reading once someone writing to an apologist-type forum saying, "Some non-Catholic friends of mine are attacking such-and-such a Catholic doctrine. Can you give me some good arguments to respond with?"

    It's kind of like political groups that distribute "talking points."

    • Ray Vorkin

      Below are five reasons author Valerie Tarico gives, and how to answer them.

      Does this response indicate that her article is an "attack" that needs to have a Catholic protective response ? Can a non Catholic not express an opinion without having it construed as an attack? Just curious.

      • Martin Sellers

        I think it depends on the tone of the non-catholic article, the quality of the sources and balance of its arguments. If the article is meant to be sensational in order to gain viewership at the expense of quality- then yes it deserves to be attacked.

        • Ray Vorkin

          I asked does her article need to b construed as an attack?...was not asking if it "deserved to be attacked". In other words does every article that disagrees with Catholicism deserve to be labelled as an attack?Should a Catholic protective response be considered an attack?

  • David Nickol

    It implies that the first century documents contained in the New Testament are unreliable simply because they were written by Christians. But as Ehrman also points out, this would be a bit like “dismissing early American accounts of the Revolutionary War simply because they were written by Americans” (pg.74)

    I personally have no doubt that Jesus existed, but the above made me recall reading The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer. Time and again in reporting events like military campaigns, Bauer deals skeptically with accounts that survive only from one side in the conflict, and notes that when accounts survive from both sides, they often contradict each other. There's the old saying that "history is written by the victors," and in the case of the earliest Christian origins, I think what we have is the account of the victors, with "our" Christianity having won out over other early "Christianities." This does not mean that documents of Christian origin must be discounted. But it does mean they must be assessed with caution (which I think "mainstream" biblical scholars are often careful to do).

    • Ray Vorkin

      history is written by the victors," and in the case of the earliest Christian origins, I think what we have is the account of the victors, with "our" Christianity having won out over other early "Christianities.

      This seems very reasonable to me.

      • Gail Finke

        It sounds reasonable if one does not know anything about the early Christians -- if one assumes that they existed in some sort of vacuum and the "winners" were able to eradicate all traces of the "losers." But that's not how it worked.

        • David Nickol

          It sounds reasonable if one does not know anything about the early Christians -- if one assumes that they existed in some sort of vacuum and the "winners" were able to eradicate all traces of the "losers."

          I do not pretend to be an expert on early Christianity, but certainly it is the case that we know the writings of some of the earliest "heretics" only to the extent that they are quoted by the Fathers of the Church refuting them.

          Here's the promotional copy from Amazon for Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities:

          The early Christian Church was a chaos of contending beliefs. Some groups of Christians claimed that there was not one God but two or twelve or thirty. Some believed that the world had not been created by God but by a lesser, ignorant deity. Certain sects maintained that Jesus was human but not divine, while others said he was divine but not human. In Lost Christianities, Bart D. Ehrman offers a fascinating look at these early forms of Christianity and shows how they came to be suppressed, reformed, or forgotten. All of these groups insisted that they upheld the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, and they all possessed writings that bore out their claims, books reputedly produced by Jesus's own followers. Modern archaeological work has recovered a number of key texts, and as Ehrman shows, these spectacular discoveries reveal religious diversity that says much about the ways in which history gets written by the winners. Ehrman's discussion ranges from considerations of various "lost scriptures"—including forged gospels supposedly written by Simon Peter, Jesus's closest disciple, and Judas Thomas, Jesus's alleged twin brother-to the disparate beliefs of such groups as the Jewish-Christian Ebionites, the anti-Jewish Marcionites, and various "Gnostic" sects. Ehrman examines in depth the battles that raged between "proto-orthodox Christians"—those who eventually compiled the canonical books of the New Testament and standardized Christian belief—and the groups they denounced as heretics and ultimately overcame. Scrupulously researched and lucidly written, Lost Christianities is an eye-opening account of politics, power, and the clash of ideas among Christians in the decades before one group came to see its views prevail.

          Exactly what may be totally lost is impossible to say, but considering that the oldest complete manuscripts of the New Testament are dated no earlier than the mid 4th century, with the oldest (and very small) fragment being from around AD 125, I think it is safe to say that even things the early Church had good reason to preserve have been lost. Certainly "orthodox" Christianity did not take great pains to preserve what was deemed to be heretical.

          And of course the very earliest Christianity was not documented at all. It existed as oral tradition, with the first canonical documents being from Paul beginning about twenty years after the death of Jesus, and telling us very little about the life and teachings of Jesus. (The question of what Paul actually knew—item 2 in the OP—is still to me very uncertain.) The Gospels come even later.

        • Ray Vorkin

          By "winners" I did not mean literal victors in a literal war as in some form of genocide as in wiping out all traces of heretical sects as should have been obvious as to what I meant. I was speaking to the advantage that the predominant Christians had in the silencing of what to them were "heretical" sects.

          I go along with what David Nikol said in his reply to your comment to me.

          • David Nickol

            By "winners" I did not mean literal victors in a literal war as in some form of genocide as in wiping out all traces of heretical sects as should have been obvious as to what I meant.

            I dislike "straw man" accusations, but Gail Finke is attacking a straw man. We can debate the meaning (and the truth) of "History is written by the victors," but one thing I think we can all agree that it does not mean is, "When a situation occurs in a vacuum, and the victors are able to eradicate all traces of the vanquished, then the victors write the history of the situation." Give Winston Churchill (or whomever you want to attribute the quote to) credit for being subtler than that!

    • We do have documents like The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Peter. Would these be considered accounts from the other side of the battle?

      • David Nickol

        We do have documents like The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Peter. Would these be considered accounts from the other side of the battle?

        I did not mean to imply there was necessarily a battle, although of course Christianity began as a movement within Judaism and eventually became entirely Gentile. Early Christian documents (including the Gospels) are considered to reflect the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians, but as far as I know, there are no surviving documents from first-century Judaism that are direct attacks on Christians. Paul, of course, claims to have been a Jew who attacked Christians, but what he did, exactly, I don't think we know. (I do not pretend to be an expert, however.) So I would say that to actually have "the other side" (as in ancient accounts of battles between two warring factions), we would need Jewish anti-Christian documents.

        The Gospels of Thomas and Peter, as far as I know, are too late (second century) to be considered "accounts of the other side of the battle." The question in my mind, to which I do not know the answer, is whether Gnostic beliefs originated in the second century, or whether there were Gnostic strains going back to earlier times, which might be considered "authentic" strains of Christianity that were eclipsed by the strain we know now.

        • I think there was the Council of Jamnia in the late first century that was supposed to be a group of Rabbis trying to deal with the problem of Jews converting to Christianity. Not sure how many documents we have from that. It is most often referenced by Protestants because the Jews declared their canon to exclude the books Protestants want to exclude form the Old Testament. Anyway, it seems like Jewish anti-Christian stuff to me.

          As far as Gnostic strains going back to earlier times, we do see the New Testament seeming to address some form of Gnosticism. That is either seen as evidence that Gnosticism existed in some form in the first century or as evidence that these books must have been written later.

      • Gail Finke

        No, they are much later and are clearly esoteric writings, which are a whole different sort of writing than the gospels. There were a great many esoteric groups with their own writings before, during, and after the time of Christ. Today books such as "A Course in Miracles" are similar. They claim to be about Jesus (or some other figure) and even to have special teachings, etc., but those teachings and stories are understood to have been arrived at either mystically or, as in groups like the Golden Dawn at the turn of the last century, are supposed to have been preserved by a secret society or master without any evidence of this being the case -- because they reflect a romantic, ecstatic sort of belief system.

  • "Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity."

    That is an interesting theory. One that many who believe Jesus was historical would agree with. That is that the Jesus Christians believe in and the one who has impacted the world so much is not real but rather a creation of Christianity.

    The trouble is you need to address the question of what did cause Christianity. St Paul is given a lot of credit. Yet somehow the religion of St Paul and that of St Peter and St John end up being one thing. The only thing they really have in common is a belief in the resurrected Jesus. How does that all work?

    Skepticism is easy. You can always declare that the evidence for X is insufficient. Still if you don't come up with another theory that fits the data better than X then it just amounts to wishing for more evidence. We all do that.

    • Ray Vorkin

      "Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity."

      He could be both in some sense actually, but I lean toward the former....and that the Jesus as portrayed by the church is a creation or invention of Christianity...no doubt. The resurrection is one of the more fantastic claims that have no real credence or compelling evidence for those other than committed Christians.

      Skepticism is easy.

      Yeah....right?....try it after a lifetime of indoctrination in the Catholic Church after your eyes have been opened.

    • I think what caused Christianity was the promise of eternal life. Whether Jesus existed or not, I think it is the option of living for eternity in bliss that had appeal then and now.

      Why did it become so popular? Constantine. The concersion of the Roman emperor and later the Roman Empire was a really big deal. I think these two things go a very long way to explaining the movement.

      The question for you is, two thousand years later, if it is true, how did it fail to convince even half of humanity?

      • "I think what caused Christianity was the promise of eternal life"
        So just a promise with no evidence at all? No resurrection? No miracles? Just grand claims? People would give up their life for that?

        "Why did it become so popular? Constantine."
        I am talking about the first and second century. Why didn't it just die out? Nero made it illegal. He killed Peter and Paul. That should have done it. I can see why because there were many eye witnesses to miracles and many other who had at least talked with eye witnesses of the resurrection and more.

        "The question for you is, two thousand years later, if it is true, how did it fail to convince even half of humanity?"

        Jesus never claimed it would convince everyone. In fact, the book of Revelations predicts a mostly sinful world even to the end times.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I am talking about the first and second century. Why didn't it just die out? Nero made it illegal. He killed Peter and Paul.

          What evidence do you have that Christians were persecuted under Nero?

          http://www.salon.com/2013/02/24/the_myth_of_persecution_early_christians_werent_persecuted/

          • Like I said, skepticism is easy. Just declare any existing evidence to be unconvincing. You can deny the moon landing. You can deny the holocaust. Why not deny Nero outlawed Christianity? Why not deny Nero existed? I find it ironic. People become atheist because they think it is more rational and then they swallow stuff like this.

            The argument seems to distinguish prosecution for persecution. Prosecution is when Christians were accused of breaking a Roman law like denying the divine status of the emperor. Way different from persecution. Persecution is when the Romans didn't official acknowledge anything happened and all we have is the word of the Christians who obviously can't be trusted. Fun game to play. Not a way to arrive at truth but a great way to get attention. Atheists are so easily fooled.

          • Randy,

            You are making a claim that Nero persecuted Christians, you have been asked what your basis for this claim is, you have not provided it. We would like to know where you are getting your information from.

            I am currently reading Moss' Myth of Persecution, she is not, as far as I can tell an atheist, and I am pretty sure Notre Dame is not terribly secular. She recently explained in an interview:

            CANDIDA: There are a number of problems with the Nero myth. One problem is that it makes no sense for Nero to have claimed that Christians were to blame [for the fire where Rome burned]. That term, Christian, isn’t widely known until the end of the first century, long after Nero’s death.

            DAVID: Nero died in 68. The famous claim about Nero and the Christians comes from Tacitus, who was born in 56 and didn’t publish his writing until the end of the first century and the start of the second century. In other words—the Christians hadn’t fully emerged from Judaism as their own widely known religious group until long after Nero.

            CANDIDA: The evidence points to this story of Nero scapegoating the Christians as coming from the second century. How could he have scapegoated “Christians,” when they still were known as Jews at that time in Rome? It is clear that Roman sources condemned Nero for the fire and Nero did try to scapegoat others, but it just doesn’t make sense that he specifically named “Christians.”

          • You are making a claim that Nero persecuted Christians, you have been asked what your basis for this claim is, you have not provided it. We would like to know where you are getting your information from.

            I get it from history books. I don't know all the details of the source documents.

            That term, Christian, isn’t widely known until the end of the first century, long after Nero’s death.

            This is her great evidence? The term Christian is used in the book of Acts. So she is begging the question. Just assert all the documents that contain the word were written later. Then say you are getting your ideas from "the evidence."

            The famous claim about Nero and the Christians comes from Tacitus, who was born in 56 and didn’t publish his writing until the end of the first century and the start of the second century

            That is actually very close to the event. I trust a historian who was alive when it happened more than I trust a modern scholar trying to make a name for herself by defending a radical thesis.

            Like I said. She knows atheists will believe anything. As a group their critical thinking skills are much worse than Christians. They will not only buy it but spend many hours promoting it on the internet.

          • David Nickol

            You say that "skepticism is easy," but when someone asks you for your source on something specific, you answer, "I get it from history books. I don't know all the details of the source documents." It sound to me like not being a skeptic, at least for you, is really quite easy.

            Like I said. She knows atheists will believe anything. As a group their critical thinking skills are much worse than Christians. They will not only buy it but spend many hours promoting it on the internet.

            This is arrogant nonsense. I thought this site was for dialoguing with atheists, not for insulting them to their faces. I think if someone arguing the atheist point of view were to say of some Christian spokesperson, "He knows Christians will believe anything. As a group their critical thinking skills are much worse than those of atheists," there would probably be a reminder from one of the moderators not to gratuitously insult entire groups of people.

            Isn't it one's duty as a Christian to try to win people over to Christianity both by reason and good example? Or is it to smugly pat oneself on the the back and congratulate oneself and ones fellow Christians for being superior to everyone else? "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity . . . ."

            P.S. I do not consider myself an atheist.

          • Great, what history book are you getting it from?

            I think you should refrain from speculating what Dr Moss knows and what atheists will believe. I don't think she is writing for atheists but for other Christians, who keep repeating myths about persecution that are not justified by history.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Just declare any existing evidence to be unconvincing. Like I said, skepticism is easy. Just declare any existing evidence to
            be unconvincing. You can deny the moon landing. You can deny the holocaust. Why not deny Nero outlawed Christianity? Why not deny Nero existed?

            I am asking for evidence. Then we can all make a judgement on it.

            I can visit the concentration camps. AndI can read thousands of eyewitness testimonies to the holocaust. I know Nero existed, because he is featured prominently in the works of his contemporaries.

            Can I say the same about Jesus? Can I say the same about a Nero persecution?

          • Doug Shaver

            You can deny the moon landing. You can deny the holocaust. Why not deny Nero outlawed Christianity?

            I could deny the moon landings or the holocaust, yes, but I don't. And I have good reasons for not denying them. If you say that I have equally good reasons for not denying the Neronian persecution, let's see them. It's your claim. You produce the evidence.

          • Brian already did it below.

            "Nero died in 68. The famous claim about Nero and the Christians comes from Tacitus, who was born in 56 and didn't publish his writing until the end of the first century and the start of the second century."

            This is very convincing to me. If someone was born in 1856 and published a history of the civil war in the early 1900's I would expect him to get it right. That simply is not very distant in time. So there is a lot more reason to believe Tacitus than Moss.

            So it is as I expected. A scholar finding a lame reason to grab a little attention. New evidence casts doubts on Christianity. That headline always means big sales and bad thinking.

          • Doug Shaver

            If someone was born in 1856 and published a history of the civil war in the early 1900's I would expect him to get it right.

            Why, if you knew nothing else about them?

          • I know. Skepticism is easy. Just say the evidence is not enough no matter how strong it is.

            Think about it. Something gets published. That implies effort on their part. That published thing gets preserved to the present day. That implies respect for said published work on the part of probably many people. So yes, I would trust it.

          • David Nickol

            Skepticism is easy.

            Compared to what? Unquestioning acceptance?

          • Skepticism is an unquestioning acceptance of questioning. It is self-refuting. If a skeptic honestly questions how he knows for sure being a skeptic is the best thing then he is done.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is not how I would define skepticism. Skepticism (to me - Doug and David could have different ideas ) is the assumption that one should question beliefs (whether they are fringe beliefs or held by almost everyone) to make sure that one has good grounding for said beliefs. If I questioned skepticism, I could point to times when skepticism led to gains in knowledge by overturning beliefs that were widely held. Furthermore, by questioning true beliefs, I can often get a better grounding for holding said beliefs.

            Roman historians are notoriously biased. Why is Tacitus the only historian that mentions the Neronian persecution?

          • "I could point to times when skepticism led to gains in knowledge by overturning beliefs that were widely held."

            Is that a gain in knowledge? You start by knowing and end up not knowing. So if what you knew was true you have lost. If what you knew was false you gain.

            If a woman trusts her husband and you make her question that. You convince her she really does not know if he is faithful. Is that a gain for her? If her man is faithful she has actually lost. Skepticism does cost.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I would hope that if what I knew was true, my skepticism would lead to better grounding for what I knew. For instance, if I believed that the world is round based on authority, I would have a true belief, but I would have poor grounding. If I treated that belief with skepticism, I could look at the scientific reasons we have for a round world and that belief would have better grounding. If however, I believe something that is true, but my skepticism leads me to believe that my belief lack sufficient grounding, then yes, I lost a "true" belief, but I gained something far more valuable. I gained a belief system with proper grounding. Finally, when a belief is overturned, it can be replaced with a better understanding of the universe, psychology, history etc. It isn't as if every time we are skeptical of a fact, we are cast into epistemic darkness.

            If a woman trusts her husband and you make her question that. You convince her she really does not know if he is faithful. Is that a gain for her? If her man is faithful she has actually lost. Skepticism does cost.

            That is an inappropriate curiosity:

            http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780192806871.001.0001/acref-9780192806871-e-1953

          • "Finally, when a belief is overturned, it can be replaced with a better understanding of the universe, psychology, history etc. It isn't as if every time we are skeptical of a fact, we are cast into epistemic darkness. "

            So how do you avoid this? Nothing is ever proved with absolute certainty. So no better understanding can happen. All you can do is say you don't know.

            "That is an inappropriate curiosity:"

            That link is not that helpful. I am interested because a I wonder if an inappropriate curiosity is a case where you suspend skepticism and choose to trust. Marriage and friendship being such cases. Then I would wonder if you could ever do the same thing with God.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So how do you avoid this? Nothing is ever proved with absolute certainty. So no better understanding can happen. All you can do is say you don't know.

            I can accept that my beliefs may be proven wrong. What is important though, is that my beliefs have good grounding, because then I can hope that I am at least partially correct. For instance, Newtonian Physics was shown to be incorrect (or at least incomplete) in the 20th century. However, it is basically correct for all objects with sufficient mass that are also moving slow. It is correct, for things that Newton observed. I think our best hope for "knowing (or approximating) the truth" is good grounding.

            I also think that certain basic principles are self evident. The axioms of mathematics seem to be largely self evident. Certainly, we could have a discussion about first principles (the things we will assume without proof).

            That link is not that helpful. I am interested because a I wonder if an inappropriate curiosity is a case where you suspend skepticism and choose to trust. Marriage and friendship being such cases. Then I would wonder if you could ever do the same thing with God.

            I was just trying to inject a little levity. It's basically a narrative within Don Quixote, in which a husband wishes to test his wife's faithfulness, by having his friend attempt to seduce his wife. Basically, such curiosities are inappropriate, because they cannot end well (I think partially because women cant resist temptation). It's a funny story and was the first thing I thought of when I read that comment.

            On a serious note, it would seem that if you married someone, it would be unhealthy to suspect them of cheating on you, unless you had cause. Hopefully, one has good reasons for trusting their spouse before they get married. I'm not married, but I do not think I would spend very much time wondering if my wife is faithful, unless evidence began to mount.

          • Doug Shaver

            You start by knowing and end up not knowing.

            No. You start by thinking you know and end up realizing you were mistaken.

            So if what you knew was true you have lost.

            There is always that risk, yes. But there is no epistemological strategy that can make me infallible. Assuming that I can't be wrong certainly isn't going to do it.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me a person seeking truth can, at one extreme, be credulous, and at the other extreme be skeptical. A credulous person would believe without questioning, and a skeptical one would question to the extent that he or she would never believe. Neither extreme would be good. There is a concept of healthy skepticism, which I think describes the characteristic of carefully question truth claims with the intent to discern whether or not they are well supported. I think employing healthy skepticism is not a strategy to avoid accepting some things as true and rejecting others as false.

            Having served on a jury a few months ago, it seems to me that the concept of beyond a reasonable doubt is a helpful one in determining what healthy skepticism is (or ought to be). One could no doubt write a book-length dissertation on what it means to believe something beyond a reasonable doubt, but I think the idea is very helpful and intuitive.

            It would be my personal opinion that it can be concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jesus existed. It would also be my opinion that it cannot be concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jesus rose from the dead. However, that does not mean it is unreasonable to believe in the resurrection. Not every question in life can be answered beyond a reasonable doubt, otherwise we would have to insist that intelligent people of good will all had to agree with one another, and we would not value freedom of though, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. The Catechism says,

            1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.

          • Yes, there are the extremes of credulity and skepticism. I do think many are overly-skeptical when it comes to religious matters. I think they are that way because they mistakenly think it is somehow better or more intelligent or more rational or something.

            My point is that when someone gets in the overly-skeptical mindset then reason breaks down. Demanding absolute proof of every premise is a way to defeat any logical system. It does make dialogue hard when your opponent adopts that stance.

          • Doug Shaver

            Just say the evidence is not enough no matter how strong it is.

            If it's just a matter of saying it, I don't see how it's any easier to say "It's not enough" than to say "It's enough." If my say-so doesn't make it so (and it doesn't), then neither does yours.

            Something gets published. That implies effort on their part. That published thing gets preserved to the present day. That implies respect for said published work on the part of probably many people.So yes, I would trust it.

            So, you wouldn't bother to ask anything about who the author was or where he got his information or, in the case of an ancient writer, how many times his work had to be copied, and by whom, between the original and the oldest extant manuscript? None of those questions has any bearing on the issue of the document's historical reliability, in your opinion?

          • It is not that it does not matter. It is that I know it won't be good enough for you. So why bother? Skepticism is just another form of irrationality. It kills any serious discussion of evidence.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I accept that the Tacitus passage was not a Christian forgery. It gives a very unflattering description of Christianity.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, you wouldn't bother to ask anything about who the author was or where he got his information or, in the case of an ancient writer, how many times his work had to be copied, and by whom, between the original and the oldest extant manuscript? None of those questions has any bearing on the issue of the document's historical reliability, in your opinion?

            It is not that it does not matter. It is that I know it won't be good enough for you.

            You're right. The answers to those questions, if you were to state them honestly, would justify my skepticism about the Neronian persecution.

            Skepticism is just another form of irrationality. It kills any serious discussion of evidence.

            It certainly kills any presuppositions about the infallibility of Christian traditions.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It certainly kills any presuppositions about the infallibility of Christian traditions.

            I think because we have cast serious doubt on "infallible" Christian traditions, we are justified in treating claims made by the Church with large doses of skepticism.

          • You're right. The answers to those questions, if you were to state them honestly, would justify my skepticism about the Neronian persecution.

            Isn't it interesting that we both know that without actually knowing what the answers. are? You need almost nothing to justify your skepticism.

            It certainly kills any presuppositions about the infallibility of Christian traditions.

            It kills all premises. So reason dies.

            You can't legitimately conclude infallibility is false. All you can ever conclude is you don't know for sure. There is really very little actual reason to distrust Christian tradition. Christians value truth highly. They tend to copy old texts accurately. The leaders of Christianity were typically not conspirators trying to dupe the masses but people who really believed the tenets of their faith.

          • Doug Shaver

            Isn't it interesting that we both know that without actually knowing what the answers. are?

            I think I do know the answers. If you don't know them, is it because you haven't looked? And is that because you don't really care?

            [Skepticism] kills all premises. So reason dies.

            Not the skepticism I practice. Now you're arguing against a straw man.

            You can't legitimately conclude infallibility is false.

            I don't need to. I have no reason to believe that anyone is infallible, especially myself.

            All you can ever conclude is you don't know for sure.

            I think it possible for me to be wrong about anything I think I know.

            There is really very little actual reason to distrust Christian tradition.

            You say so. That doesn't make it so.

            Christians value truth highly.

            They say so. Lots of people who disagree with them also say so. Practically anyone you ask will assure you that they value truth highly.

            They tend to copy old texts accurately.

            A tendency to be accurate does not ensure that the result of centuries of copying will result in an accurate reproduction of the original.

            The leaders of Christianity were typically not conspirators trying to dupe the masses

            I never said they were and I have never believed they were. If you were familiar with the skeptical literature, you would know that we tend, by and large, to disbelieve conspiracy theories.

          • Estevao Bel

            Pretty much. Just go look at some holocaust denial websites to see how far playing the skeptical card goes when you are emotionally committed to a position and don't want to consider the evidence against it. Another phenomenon you'll usually see on internet holocaust denial sites is fan-boyism for some obscure (alleged) scholar who supports their position, even if he is not generally recognized as an eminent scholar in the field. Similar to, say, David Irving in Holocaust denial circles, you have a Robert Price in the "skeptical" "free thought" community who gets a lot of attention from people emotionally committed to a fringe position.

          • Michael Murray

            So atheists are like holocaust deniers. Robert Price is like David Irving. You really think this sort of character attack is a useful contribution to the discussion ?

            Attacking persons is fallacious and uncharitable and will not be permitted here.

            https://strangenotions.com/commenting/

          • Estevao Bel

            I don't believe I said atheist, I was referring to Christ Mythers (which is what this article is about, although I admit I wasn't very precise) . Yes I would compare Christ Mythers to holocaust deniers (denialism is a well-documented phenomenon and doesn't just involve the Holocaust, there's deniers of the moon landings, AIDS, etc) And yes I would be very happy to compare David Irving to Robert Price, in that they are both accomplished scholars with many well-regarded books to their name, but you have to go through them with a fine-toothed comb to see where they distort the evidence. If that's attacking a person, I think you're looking a little down on David Irving...you can find his books in most libraries. His personal anti-semitic views don't really come into the conservation if we're just going to talk about him as a historical writer.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't believe I said atheist,

            Well you followed on Randy Gritter's post with his use of "skeptic" as meaning atheist. He said " Atheists are so easily fooled." after talking about how easy scepticism is.

            So I take it your clarification is that you mean sceptic but only Jesus mythers and you meant Robert Price was like David Irving the historian not David Irving the anti-semite.

            Got it.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes I would compare Christ Mythers to holocaust deniers (denialism is a well-documented phenomenon and doesn't just involve the Holocaust, there's deniers of the moon landings, AIDS, etc)

            Can you actually back this up with a reasoned argument though ? One that shows that the evidence we have for Jesus is anything like as reliable as the evidence we have for the Holocaust, moon landings or AIDS ?

          • Estevao Bel

            Here's my points (I could probably make a few more parallels):

            1. Christ Mythicism, like Holocaust denial, is a fringe position with a handful of people who can claim any kind of expertise backing it up (although I suppose Holocaust denial is a little more stupid than Christ mythicism).

            2. Of course it's not the same playing field. One happened 2,000 years ago, with maybe a 15% literacy rate and a handful of historians around (about the same number of Christ Mythers around today lol). One happened 70 years ago with 99% literacy and many many historians around.

            3. There is a clear bias supporting these two fringe positions, one against Jews, the other against Christianity/Christians. Nobody really casts doubt on other genocides like the Holocaust. Nobody really casts doubt on the existence of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, just Jesus.

            4. People can always wave their hands with the evidence presented to them: "There's no hard evidence that Hitler ordered the gassing of any Jews". "There's no pictures of any gassed Jews!". "Some of the survivors stories are contradictory!" Christ mythers make arguments that are similar. If you are emotionally committed to a position, the tortuous logic you will take to defend it is a matter of course.

            5. Both the positions seem to have this "great white hope" for their side: David Irving and Robert Price (although Richard Carrier seems to be more popular amongst the internet crowd as he markets himself well on the web, but I don't think he really compares to Price). Of course the hundreds to thousands of other scholars who totally disagree with them don't seem to faze the Christ Mythers.

            You'd think that if this disconnect between the massive evidence we have for the Holocaust and the comparably paltry evidence we have for Jesus was very convincing, we'd see more Christ Mythers in academia. But we don't (and Christ Mythicism isn't even illegal in 20 or so countries, unlike Holocaust Denial - which is something I don't agree with, the Holocaust Denial bans that is :)) But I think ancient historians recognize that this isn't an impediment to coming to terms with ancient history, it's just the nature of the field.

          • Michael Murray

            Except for here

            2. Of course it's not the same pl aying fi eld. One happened 2,000 years ago, with maybe a 15% literacy rate and a handful of historians around (about the same number of Christ Mythers around today lol). One happened 70 years ago with 99% literacy and many many historians around.

            You don't really address the reliability of the evidence. It isn't only a question of literacy. It's about videos, camera, multiple witnesses, archeology etc, etc. To my mind the evidence for the Holocaust is overwhelming and you would be a nutter to reject it. Also to my mind the evidence for the historicity of Jesus is vastly weaker. Whether it tips the balance for or against I'm not expert enough to judge so I'm pretty agnostic on the topic. Even if the evidence goes towards Jesus being a historic character I don't believe it is anything like as overwhelming as the evidence for the Holocaust. I would think it is more a matter of "on the balance of probability" than "beyond any reasonable doubt". As you say that is the nature of ancient history you are looking for the most plausible interpretation of the facts.

            To put it another way I can't imagine what evidence it would take to convince me that the Holocaust never happened. I can think of lots of evidence that would be sufficient to convince me, by the criteria of ancient historicity, the historicity of Jesus is false.

          • Doug Shaver

            New evidence casts doubts on Christianity. That headline always means big sales and bad thinking.

            I agree that in this particular instance, the headline is quite misleading. It does not follow that the article itself is a pack of irrelevancies.

          • Michael Murray

            If someone was born in 1856 and published a history of the civil war in the early 1900's I would expect him to get it right.

            Communication was a little better in the late 1800s than in the early part of the Common Era.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Military_Telegraph_Corps

            Like Judas said:

            If you'd come today, you would have reached the whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.

          • Darren

            Randy wrote,

            "This is very convincing to me. If someone was born in 1856 and published a history of the civil war in the early 1900's I would expect him to get it right."

            Yes, 9 year-olds make excellent historians.

          • David Nickol

            This is very convincing to me. If someone was born in 1856 and published a history of the civil war in the early 1900's I would expect him to get it right.

            That is setting a remarkably low bar for the credibility of historians. Suppose two historians, one a Democrat and another a Republican, publish histories of the presidency of George W. Bush this year. Would you expect them to both "get it right" and tell the same story?

          • I would not expect them to tell the same story. Yet the basic facts I would expect both to get right. Did Nero blame Christians for the fire and outlaw Christianity? That is like, did George Bush invade Iraq? I would expect all historians to get that much right.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There is not any evidence that Nero outlawed Christianity.

            Why doesn't Suetonius mention Nero blaming the Christians for the fire?

          • No evidence? How can I take you seriously when you make such stupid statements? There is not one single document in the history of mankind that says this?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You claimed that contemporaneous historians would get the basic facts right. In the case of Christians getting blamed for the fire, only Tacitus makes that claim. Isn't Nero blaming Christians an item that all of the historians would agree upon?

            You could just give evidence for Nero outlawing Christianity (which is different from a one time persecution), instead of calling my statements stupid.

          • "Isn't Nero blaming Christians an item that all of the historians would agree upon?"

            There is a difference between not mentioning something and contradicting it. I could see a Republican Bush historian not mentioning hurricane Katrina.

            "You could just give evidence for Nero outlawing Christianity (which is different from a one time persecution), instead of calling my statements stupid."

            No. I think you really need to contemplate how stupid a statement that was. Atheists do it all the time. They say, "There is no evidence for X." That is such an incredibly strong statement. It is almost always false. Yet atheists say it all the time and with such foolish confidence.

            Even the point you concede proves your assertion false. If there is evidence of a one-time persecution then that points to Christianity being made illegal. It would be considered SOME evidence. Even if it is weak evidence that already disproves you assertion of NO evidence.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think we have different definitions of illegal. Let's look at the evidence:

            From Suetonius we know that Claudius expelled some Jews from Rome, and that Nero punished some Christians (unrelated to the fire).

            From Tacitus we have the passage about the persecution after the fire. This persecution was limited to Rome, so Christianity was not illegal throughout the empire, and after the executions Nero did not worry about Christians again.

            The next persecution is in the 2nd century. Pliny executes some Christians, but does not seek them out. This is a local phenomenon and limited in scope.

            Then in the 3rd century, Diocletian insists that all Romans worship the Roman gods. This is the closest we get to Christianity being illegal.

            Shortly after Diocletian, a Christian sympathizer Constantine becomes emperor, and the next emperor makes Christianity the religion of the state. I really do not see how the evidence points to the illegality of Christianity.

        • So God made a creation and knew most of the beings he created would turn out wrong?

          I think you have an exaggerated view of Christianity in the first and second century. I don't think you can actually speak of a single Christianity in these days. And I just don't see it as being terribly popular.

          Again, I think its appeal was eternal life and, you get to keep all your livestock.

          • "So God made a creation and knew most of the beings he created would turn out wrong?"

            Exactly. God asks us to come to heaven on the narrow path. We choose Him not because everyone else is choosing Him. We choose him even when we feel like we are all alone in doing so. That is the response of love.

            "I think you have an exaggerated view of Christianity in the first and second century. I don't think you can actually speak of a single Christianity in these days"

            We can. We look at apostolic succession. There were other groups but they knew who the successors of the apostles were. St Irenaeus claimed to know. Even when they called the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century they knew who should be invited. Apostolic succession existed from the beginning so we know the faith did not get corrupted between the time of the apostles and the 4th century or even up until the present day.

            "And I just don't see it as being terribly popular."

            I was widespread. Just a small percentage of the population but it existed in all the major centers of the empire. That is another way we can tell it was unchanged. Change would be uneven. Some would venerate the relics of saints, some would not. Some would have virgin martyrs, some would not. We don't see this. We see one faith everywhere. It must all come from a common source. That source was the apostles and ultimately Jesus.

            "Again, I think its appeal was eternal life and, you get to keep all your livestock."

            You don't have an answer to my objection. That is that claims of eternal life make sense if there are eye witnesses of the resurrection and miracles ongoing. Absent any such evidence such claims would be just seen as crazy talk.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            "So God made a creation and knew most of the beings he created would turn out wrong?"

            Exactly.

            That would really disturb me, if I believed in such a God.

          • What you are implying about early Christianity is contrary to what I am getting from reputable scholars. Dale Martin at Yale, for example says it is impossible to speak of a single Christianity in these early centuries. This is why a council of nicea was required to unify the religion. This was why Paul needed to write his letters, because people were doing it wrong.

            Obviously Christianity spread, but I see nothing particularly interesting about that. Ideas that connect with people spread, Islam, communism, Bhuddism have all had their influence.

            I'm trying to understand your objection. My initial statement was that none of the accounts claim to be eyewitnesses, you say they must have been eyewitnesses because people believed them? Well most people didn't believe. Most Jews did not believe. The very people God had apparently been preparing for this for centuries. Two hundred years later paganism was still the majority in the Middle East.

          • Unity existed before the Council of Nicaea. They voted on the divinity of Jesus and vote was like 212-2. Even in the second century Ireneaus said lots of people are teaching Gnosticism and many other things but the successors of the apostles are the ones who can be trusted and they teach the one true faith.

            Even today people might say you can't speak of a single Christianity. You can't until you see what God is doing through the offices of bishop and pope. Once you do it is clear as day.

            I'm trying to understand your objection. My initial statement was that none of the accounts claim to be eyewitnesses, you say they must have been eyewitnesses because people believed them?

            John 19:35-35 says, "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."

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

            The synoptic gospels were not simple eye witness testimony. They were likely a grouping together of widely accepted accounts with some added commentary. Sometimes a nod was given to an eyewitness when a character in a story is named. Cleopas in Luke 24:18 would be an example. Luke names him and not the other man because he is the source for Luke's account.

            I do think people would only believe accounts if they thought there were eye witnesses. Might they have been faked? Sure. Yet the apostles and their successors would have known the essence of what Jesus said and did. If Jesus never did a miracle then a miracle story would not get very far.

    • Doug Shaver

      Belief is easy. You can always declare that the evidence for X is sufficient.

      • Steven Miller

        But if you had read an significant amount of Christian theology, you would realize that belief is NOT easy! It is easier to doubt, to give in to hopeless, to decide to sin and NOT take action based upon one's faith. As Flannery O'Connor puts it:

        “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

        Oh so many straw men! I believe your case is well described by G. K. Chesterton: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." Let us know when you have committed your life to a cause and a belief system you are willing to die for, have searched your soul in prayer and wracked your brain in attaining greater understanding of scripture and theology, and have reached out to others to better their lives, all while striving to be a model of Christian love and morality, and THEN we will believe your claim that "belief is easy."

        Reductio ad absurdum, Doug. What is your next claim? I'm more than ready!

        • Doug Shaver

          What is your next claim? I'm more than ready!

          What you seem most ready for is to attribute my lack of belief to moral degeneracy. In that case, you will dismiss as irrelevant any argument I have to offer.

          • Steven Miller

            I never once called you immoral. I believe that's a common atheistic, knee-jerk reaction. There are moral nonbelievers, just as the Catechism says, just as Christ said in the Gospels (as Pope Francis so recently pointed out): http://www.usccb.org/bible/mark/9

            Non belief in God is not an immoral action according to the Catechism. However, that's not what is up for debate here. On the one hand we have millions giving up their lives for their faith and then on the other a handful of people denying that Jesus of Nazareth existed. It is the difference between not following the Torah and denying the Holocaust. The morality is in the intent. I think if you search yourself, you'll discover WHY you're denying Christ, and I highly doubt it is due to your extensive experience with 1st Century papyrus scrolls. "WHY?" Doug. That is the essential question we must all ask ourselves.

            My WHY is that I'm very annoyed by this tactic. It's irrational and close-minded and the people of Salon are calling themselves journalists and leading people astray in order to drum up advertising dollars. They wish Christianity didn't exist, and instead of approaching it rationally, they're just closing their eyes and blocking their ears. It isn't healthy. This all makes me quite angry, and when you've written one sentence rebuttals to everything on this page, it reminds me of that tactic. Can't out-debate Christians? Just laugh at them. Give them a zinger that shows them you've read a few articles. My motive is to discourage you from simple-mindedly shooting down everyone's comments and then leaving with a feeling of justification. I don't know why you hate Christianity so much, but my motivation is to make you examine it.

            What's your motivation, Doug? What's you WHY?

          • Doug Shaver

            I never once called you immoral.

            You associated doubt with deciding to sin. Can a moral person decide to sin?

            My response to the rest of your post will take some time. I'll be back soon.

          • Doug Shaver

            On the one hand we have millions giving up their lives for their faith and then on the other a handful of people denying that Jesus of Nazareth existed. It is the difference between not following the Torah and denying the Holocaust.

            I fail to see the analogy. I am not denying that Christians have died for their faith. I am only claiming that their faith is based on a mistaken belief about the origins of their religion. You do accept, don't you, that countless people have given up their lives for false religions? So do I. I'm not just making an exception for Christianity.

            The morality is in the intent.

            Then you must prove my intent. Merely alleging it won't get you anywhere.

            I think if you search yourself, you'll discover WHY you're denying Christ . . . .

            Think it all you want, but you seem to be presupposing that a sincere quest for truth must reach the same conclusions you have reached.

            and I highly doubt it is due to your extensive experience with 1st Century papyrus scrolls.

            I'm not claiming any personal experience with any scrolls. All I claim to know is what I've gotten by reading lots of stuff written by people who do have that kind of experience.

            This all makes me quite angry, and when you've written one sentence rebuttals to everything on this page, it reminds me of that tactic. Can't out-debate Christians? Just laugh at them. Give them a zinger that shows them you've read a few articles. My motive is to discourage you from simple-mindedly shooting down everyone's comments and then leaving with a feeling of justification. I don't know why you hate Christianity so much, but my motivation is to make you examine it.

            You don't know why I hate Christianity? I'll tell you why you don't know. It's because I don't hate Christianity.

            I am quite capable of holding my own in a serious debate with Christian apologists. I've done it plenty of times on other forums, and I can do it again here when you're ready to get serious. But all I've gotten from you so far is a presumption on your part of bad faith on my part. You are in effect accusing me of rank dishonesty, and you have presented not a shred of evidence for that accusation beyond the mere fact that I disagree with you. That doesn't deserve any more of a response than the sort I've been giving.

          • Steven Miller

            On false religions, the Catholic Church asserts that there is truth in all religions. Therefore, those who are martyred (which is different from those who martyr themselves) for Allah, are recognized by the Church as dying for God. Every civilization in the history of the world has had a concept of God and have sought out an understanding of that God they had experienced. This is why all can be saved by Christ even if they haven't encountered Christianity. Does that make sense?

            As for you intent, I never asserted that I did know your intent. I only asked you what it was it. If you walked into my office, I'd ask, "What can I do for you? Why have you come here?" Saying I've assumed your intention would be like then saying, "You seem to know why I came to your office, otherwise you wouldn't have asked!" My question to you has always been a rhetorical one, and it's one I don't think you're willing to ask yourself.

            Let me reframe it one last time and then I'll let you be, because this is not getting anywhere. I have committed my life to Christ. I was baptized, confirmed, married, received holy Eucharist, and gave confession in the Catholic Church. Each Sunday I recite the Nicene or Apostle's Creed (depending on the priest's mood that Sunday), and have chosen therefore to live a life of evangelization and prayer. I am trying to live a life so that when I meet my maker I can be accepted into his love and life. If this belief is correct, then all the time and effort on earth pales in comparison to the life to come.

            How many hours have we spent just in the last two days writing these posts back and forth? I know why I'm willing to spend so much time defending my faith, but I don't know why you are so willing to waste your own time debating with me? Do you get something out of it in the end? If not, then I'm sorry I've wasted your time.

            If you do respond I'll be sure to read it in my email, but I think I've given this post enough "views" this week.

          • Doug Shaver

            Every civilization in the history of the world has had a concept of God and have sought out an understanding of that God they had experienced. This is why all can be saved by Christ even if they haven't encountered Christianity. Does that make sense?

            It depends on what you mean by making sense. It is consistent with a Christian worldview. The challenge for an apologist is to show how the Christian worldview itself makes sense.

            I never asserted that I did know your intent.

            No, not in so many words. But you did say: "I believe your case is well described by G. K. Chesterton: 'Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.'" You thus accuse me of inquiring in bad faith, which is all about intent.

            I only asked you what it was it.

            You also made it perfectly clear that if my answer did not confirm what you already believed, you were going to call me a liar.

            My question to you has always been a rhetorical one, and it's one I don't think you're willing to ask yourself.

            Other than to make it clear that I don't believe certain things that you do believe, I have given you no reason to think anything at all about what I might have asked myself.

            I know why I'm willing to spend so much time defending my faith, but I don't know why you are so willing to waste your own time debating with me? Do you get something out of it in the end?

            When I debate believers in forums such as this one, I never expect to change my interlocutors' minds. But I don't think that makes my activity here a waste of time.

            I think my time in these forums is well spent for two reasons. One of them is that I actually learn things from my adversaries. I have discovered, on a few occasions, that I was actually wrong about something. That is never a fun thing to discover, but I've managed to live with it, because I've found the alternative of refusing to admit error to be even less fun. But aside from those discoveries, it has always been intuitively obvious to me that it is the purest folly to ignore the admonition "Know your enemy." If I do not know what you actually believe and your actual reasons for believing it, then I truly am wasting my time arguing with you, and I dare not assume antecedently that I know your thinking so well that I can learn nothing more from you yourself.

            The other reason is that I never know who, besides the participants, might be reading these discussions. Public forums always have lurkers, and I'm always writing for their benefit as much as for anyone else's. Whether I change anyone's mind or not, I can always hope to give some lurker something to think about that they haven't thought about before.

            And why should I want to do that? Most of us, whatever our ideology or worldview -- political, religious, philosophical, take your pick -- harbor a suspicion that the world would be a better place if more people were to embrace that ideology or worldview. I'm no exception. I'm here as an advocate, not so much for atheism as for the kind of thinking that made me an atheist. That kind of thinking has shaped my opinions about a great many things besides the existence of God and the origins of Christianity. I just happen to be more personally interested in Christianity than in most of those other things, for certain autobiographical reasons. Otherwise, I might be spending all this time in political forums.

  • On the eyewitnesses issue, I don't see any denial or refutation of the claim. It simply is the case that nowhere in the synoptic gospels or in the writings of Paul does any author claim to have been present to witness any of the events prior to the crucifixion or at the empty tomb.

    The Gospel authors do not identify themselves and I think that it is commonly accepted that we don't really know who wrote them.

    I'm perfectly happy to defer to mainstream historians on this point. The Jesus person probably existed, he was crucified. Sure the evidence is weak, four unattributed, contradictory, non-independant "accounts" likely written decades after the fact. But the claim that a man was crucified by the Romans is not extraordinary and we should not expect reams of evidence for such an event.

    The claims that this man resurrected himself and that the dead rose and walked around out of their graves, that the whole world went dark, and so on are extraordinary and should not to be accepted on this weak evidence.

    Folks interested in some good scholarship on this issue should have a listen to the recent Reasonable Doubts podcast with Bart Ehrman. Not exactly on point but really interesting.

  • Michael Murray

    I really enjoy reading Bart Ehrmann but this analogy is clearly wrong

    "[N]o Greek or Roman author from the first century mentions Jesus. It would be convenient if they did, but alas, they do not. At the same time, the fact is again a bit irrelevant since these same sources do not mention many millions of people who actually did live. Jesus stands here with the vast majority of living, breathing human beings of earlier ages." (pg. 43

    You have to decide how likely you think it is that Jesus would have been mentioned based on what he was supposed to have done during his life. You can't just assume a priori that he is no more likely to be mentioned than anyone else. That's silly. Otherwise you can argue that it's no surprises we have no historical records of King Arthur as millions of ancient Britons never appear in historical records.

  • Steven Miller

    Mikhail Bulgakov, in his novel The Master and the Margarita, also touches on this subject quite humorously, describing the atheist propagandist poets and writers of 1930's Soviet Union whose tactic was simply to deny Jesus ever existed. This is such an exhausted idea that I actually feel a little bad for Salon.com!

    • Doug Shaver

      The fact that some people have used bad arguments does not mean there are no good arguments.

      • Michael Murray

        Pity. That would make it easy to show there are no good arguments for God's existence.

        • Doug Shaver

          Alas, yes, we have to do it the hard way.

  • Greetings -
    The article you critique does not claim that Jesus never existed. It concludes with the following:

    In a soon-to-be-released follow up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:”

    Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.

    We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell.

    • This is not a critique of your arguments. I'm not an historian. I just happen to notice a parallel between your comment here and what the creationist and intelligent design crowd says.

      Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.

      In 1999 Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial, said on CNN: "I think we should teach a lot about evolution. In fact, I think we should teach more than the evolutionary science teachers want the students to know. The problem is what we're getting is a philosophy that's claimed to be scientific fact, a lot of distortion in the textbooks, and all the difficult problems left out, because they don't want people to ask tough questions."

      We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell.

      "If somebody says millions of years ago what's the question you're going to ask them? 'Were you there.'" - Ken Ham

  • If there's overwhelming consensus among experts in a field I'm not part of, it seems reasonable to accept that consensus, especially if I don't want to put in the effort to really learn the field. Especially if the arguments, insofar as I can understand them, make general sense.

    The overwhelming consensus among historians is that Jesus existed. I accept that consensus. Now maybe the mythicists like Richard Carrier are right. If they are, then they can change the tide, break the consensus. Once that happens, once historians are undecided about the existence of Jesus one way or the other, I'll reconsider my own views.

    Especially not based on the word of a psychologist.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      If there's overwhelming consensus among experts in a field I'm not part of, it seems reasonable to accept that consensus, especially if I don't want to put in the effort to really learn the field. Especially if the arguments, insofar as I can understand them, make general sense

      I disagree. Overwhelming consensus of the experts has been wrong time and time again. Historians are biased and we view the history of the early church through over a thousand years of unquestioned Christian bias.

      Furthermore, if I was asked, how do I know there are infinitely many primes I could provide a demonstration. Similarly, if I was asked how do I know that light has both wave and particle properties, I could explain the experiments that led to that conclusion.

      However, if I ask how do I know that Jesus actually existed, the new testament is provided as a reliable source. Its like if I suggested that Zeus actually existed, and made Homer and Virgil my holy books. If anyone denied Zeus' historicity, I would simply point to all those Greeks that wrote books about him. And, if anyone suggested that there was contradictions, I would claim that they are reading the books outside the proper context and that they do not understand the nuances of the holy books. Of course, if anyone suggested that Zeus was not a nice person, I would simply say that their human mind cannot comprehend Zeus' plan.

      The point is that the arguments that Theists use on these matters can justify the historicity of any god, the authenticity of their holy books, and their gods morality.

      • Michael Murray

        The point is that the arguments that Theists use on these matters can justify the historicity of any god, the authenticity of their holy books, and their gods morality.

        Sure but it isn't just theist historians who argue that the biblical Jesus was most likely based on some sort of historical character.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Which atheist historian, do you think makes the most convincing case for the historicity of Jesus?

          • Michael Murray

            I don't have any idea I'm afraid. That wasn't my claim. All I have noticed is that historicity is not only confined to theistic historians. Ehrman for example is agnostic. Although many people tell me his book in defence of historicity is terrible.

            There are also arguments for historicity based not just on it being in the Bible. There is the argument based on embarrassment and the argument from the contortions the writers of the bible seemed to go through that surely could have been avoided if it was entirely fiction.

            There is an ongoing discussion here you might enjoy

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com.au

          • David Nickol

            Which atheist historian, do you think makes the most convincing case for the historicity of Jesus?

            I think it is a mistake in several respects to divide historians—especially contemporary ones—into "theist historians" and "atheist historians." For one thing, I don't think you will find any professional historian, in his or her capacity as a historian, claiming supernatural events occurred, and that would include the virgin birth, choirs of angels, miraculous healings, and rising from the dead. So even a devout Christian who is a professional historian is not going to try to prove God exists by arguing that the Gospels are true and Jesus was God incarnate. My point here is that to whatever extent theist and atheist historians are diligently practicing their craft, they should agree on history. There should be no theist version of history that contradicts an atheist version of history, or vice versa.

            Also, not all theists are Christians. Do you suppose Jewish historians have some kind of vested interest in claiming Jesus existed? One would think Jews, who have suffered at the hands of Christians for almost two millennia, would be the ones to want Jesus never to have existed. While I do not for a second accept the all-too-common Christian argument that the Gospels must be true because when they were "published," people who knew they were not true would have raised a fuss, it is interesting to note that (as far as I know) the idea that Jesus never existed has never been promoted by Jews. And of course Jesus was part of Jewish history. One might imagine that if there was a real possibility that Jesus never existed, Jewish scholars would have been best equipped to investigate it. But they didn't. I am no expert here, so if I am wrong, I hope someone will correct me, but it seems to me the idea that Jesus never existed is a very new one, and in many respects it is an outgrowth of modern biblical scholarship. Some feel the search for the "historical" Jesus is so fruitless that although a person named Jesus probably existed, nothing significant can be said about him, and others just take it a step farther and say he didn't exist.

            I say the following very hesitantly, and it is no more than a personal impression that I can't cite any real evidence for, but it seems to me that some atheist seem to want Jesus not to have existed. It would be totally irrational, admittedly, since billions of people who don't doubt the existence of Jesus nevertheless aren't Christian and don't believe he was God incarnate. (Not to mention the fact that what one wishes about history can't change history.) But I get the feeling that some atheists are so committed to the nonexistence of God that they feel the need not merely to deny that Jesus was God, but to deny he even existed at all. Perhaps I shouldn't go that far, but it does appear that some atheists are emotionally committed to the idea that Jesus didn't exist. Why should an atheist care at all one way or another? I think most atheists would say, "Who cares? It's no skin off my nose whether a historical person named Jesus existed or not." But some people seem to be passionate about the nonexistence of Jesus.

          • "For one thing, I don't think you will find any professional historian, in his or her capacity as a historian, claiming supernatural events occurred, and that would include the virgin birth, choirs of angels, miraculous healings, and rising from the dead."

            Why not? Why should a historian presuppose naturalism? Historians are concerned with history—what actually happened in time. There seems to be no reason why that necessarily precludes supernatural activity.

            It's also remarkably closed-minded. Open-minded historians consider all possible scenarios, including supernatural ones, determining which best explains the available evidence.

          • David Nickol

            Why should a historian presuppose naturalism? Historians are concerned with history—what actually happened in time.

            I think historians should presuppose naturalism for very much the same reason as scientists should presuppose naturalism. Kevin Aldrich has pointed out on several occasions that when the Church seeks to make a judgment about miraculous hearings, it consults doctors, but it does not ask them to offer an opinion as to whether a miracle has occurred. Instead, it asks them to judge whether the alleged cure can be explained by current medical knowledge. If they say it cannot, then it is theologians who make the decision as to whether the Church will affirm a miracle.

            It seems to me that scientists and historians are both attempting to determine how things work according to "laws of nature." Once a historian or a scientist says, "In this case, the laws of nature were violated," it seems to me it opens up the same possibility for every other scientific or historical case.

            It's also remarkably closed-minded. Open-minded historians consider all possible scenarios, including supernatural ones, determining which best explains the available evidence.

            I disagree here. I think open-minded historians neither affirm nor deny miracles, since it is not the business of historians, as historians, to judge whether supernatural events did or did not happen. I think a professional historian would approach the Gospels in exactly the same way he or she would approach any other documents from two thousand years ago. If there is sufficient documentation to suggest that something extraordinary happened, then I think it would be the conclusion of a professional historian that something extraordinary happened. While I think a historian can certainly hold the opinion, in a personal capacity, that Jesus was God incarnate and was raised from the dead three days after being crucified, I think that is a conclusion that a historian in his professional capacity could not and would not make. I have not read more than the most minute fraction of historical accounts of early Christianity, so I can't generalize, but I certainly have never come across a work of history that claimed the miracles of Jesus or his resurrection were actual historical facts.

            One interesting thing that Michael Grant points out in Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, one of the very first books of its kind that I read more than three decades ago, is that regarding the question what "really happened" when an alleged miracle took place

            It would have bee difficult to elicit an answer to this type of question from an ancient Jew. To him, the natural and supernatural spheres, the visible and the invisible, were one and inseparable but equally real, both manifesting in their different ways the divine will. But the supernatural and invisible realm was hard to describe. Abstract argument was no use; this extra-logical, extra-historical dimension could be expressed only figuratively, by means of metaphor and imagery. For what had to be conveyed was not mere statistics but higher, more elusive sort of truth: dry literalness was of no avail she people's imaginations had to be kindled. And these considerations were particularly relevant to Palestine, "where words have never been regarded as necessarily a reflection of fact," but possess a life and vigor of their own. It was a world in which stories were used as freely as we use metaphors—a world in which possibility or impossibility, prosaic truth or untruth often seemed beside the point. . . .

          • Ignatius Reilly

            History is part myth and part fact. The history of Christianity has strong pro-Christian bias. Would a Carthaginian historian written a different account than Livy? I think an atheist would be most likely to check the Christian bias at the door, which is why I asked for an atheist historian, who also believed in the historicity of Jesus. I want to read a book on this subject, and I was hoping to read the very best book.

            It is certainly not true that all academic historians are free from bias. Take Howard Zinn as an example. History is not just about the facts, it is also about the facts that we select, what facts we think are true or false just based on cultural bias, and the interpretations we make of those facts. What was the principal cause of the American Civil War? States rights? Slavery?

            I don't think we can expect any Western thinkers to doubt the historical existence of Jesus, until a significant portion of them doubt the truth of Christianity. Belief in Christianity presupposes a belief in Jesus. There was also a several century period known as the Dark Ages.

            I say the following very hesitantly, and it is no more than a personal impression that I can't cite any real evidence for, but it seems to me that some atheist seem to want Jesus not to have existed. It would be totally irrational, admittedly, since billions of people who don't doubt the existence of Jesus nevertheless aren't Christian and don't believe he was God incarnate. (Not to mention the fact that what one wishes about history can't change history.) But I get the feeling that some atheists are so committed to the nonexistence of God that they feel the need not merely to deny that Jesus was God, but to deny he even existed at all. Perhaps I shouldn't go that far, but it does appear that some atheists are emotionally committed to the idea that Jesus didn't exist. Why should an atheist care at all one way or another? I think most atheists would say, "Who cares? It's no skin off my nose whether a historical person named Jesus existed or not." But some people seem to be passionate about the nonexistence of Jesus.

            It depends on the atheist. There are some atheists/agnostics that believe that religion is a force of positive evil in this world on many levels. I think the passion is understandable.

          • Doug Shaver

            But some people seem to be passionate about the nonexistence of Jesus.

            At least on the internet, most defenders of his existence seem a lot more passionate than I am about his nonexistence.

          • Steven Miller

            If you deny my father ever existed, I'm sure I too would be more upset about the matter than you would, don't you think? And yet, it takes a certain amount of passion to go about publicly denying someone's existence. Yet again, I say, WHY would you deny my father lived? You MUST have a motive and I would be very distrustful of it.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you're claiming that Jesus of Nazareth was your father, you don't want to hear everything I'm prepared to deny about you.

      • I disagree. Overwhelming consensus of the experts has been wrong time and time again. Historians are biased and we view the history of the early church through over a thousand years of unquestioned Christian bias.

        Overwhelming consensus of the experts has been wrong time and time again. Climate scientists are biased and we view global climate change through a comprehensive liberal bias.

        Let's imagine that you can't be an expert in every field. You don't have time to look into the models and evidence for climate change in sufficient detail to answer technical objections. Is it reasonable to appeal to consensus?

        When John Oliver and Bill Nye appeal to consensus in the climate change debate (here, in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg ), are they using bad reasoning? Should they never mention that the majority of scientists accept global climate change, because "overwhelming consensus of the experts has been wrong time and time again"?

        Of course, consensus should never be the only thing. I should have some knowledge of the arguments, and the arguments should be convincing insofar as I am able to understand them. So I have read a book about the position that the experts almost universally agree upon. I've read and listened to a good number of Bart Ehrman's articles, and plan on reading his "Did Jesus exist?" Reading Richard Carrier's book is unnecessary. His position is fringe and I'm not sufficiently interested in the question to devote that much time to it. It's the same reason that I haven't read Stephen Meyer's "Signature in the Cell". I understand the consensus position for evolution and therefore suspect that reading Meyer's book would be a waste of time.

        In that spirit, here's my basic reason why I accept the historicity of Jesus.

        The Gospels and letters of Paul talk about a guy named Jesus. From what they say, it sounds like this guy named Jesus was a Jew who claimed to be a messiah and was executed by the Romans. None of those facts seems all that remarkable. According to the experts, and for reasons I don't entirely understand, the gospels were written close enough to Jesus's life that someone who would have met Jesus could also have read the gospels. So it seems silly to think that they've made up someone (because people in the area would know it was made up).

        That's enough to satisfy my level of interest. I'm not sufficiently interested to learn much more about the subject.

        Of course, if you are sufficiently interested, you should become an expert in the topic, or at least educate yourself in the topic to the extent that you can make up your own mind independently of the experts. If you come up with a view that disagrees with the consensus, you can then work to change the consensus.

        Let me know when the consensus shifts, and I'll reconsider my position.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Overwhelming consensus of the experts has been wrong time and time again. Climate scientists are biased and we view global climate change through a comprehensive liberal bias.

          Cranks always make these sorts of arguments.

          Perhaps, but I can demonstrate that the "cranks" are wrong about evolution with facts from freshman biology. I do not really know a lot about climate change, because I do not think it is as an important issues as say: economic inequality, our foreign policies, or education. I will vote based on climate change, when those policies are resolved or I have new information that suggests that climate change is much worse than we previously thought.

          With that being said, that clip was silly. I will accept that the data shows that the climate rising, but if I was having a discussion with a climate scientist I would ask the following questions:

          1) Isn't that climate change exists trivially true? We can observe climate changes throughout the centuries; what are you claiming that is different from historic climate change.

          2) What data points to climate change? And what assumptions did you have to make to make sense of the data?

          3) Is climate change falsifiable? Is man made climate change falsifiable? We have had climate change in the past (it was warmer in medieval Europe than it is today) why is this climate change more worrisome?

          4) What actions should we take to reign in climate change, and are those actions worth the economic cost.

          I would hope that these questions could be answered reasonably. There are certainly some biases in climate science. Environmentalism functions like a religion - complete with untenable moral claims. Certainly, people who believe in Climate change are more likely to enter the field. If I believed that quantum mechanics was a fraud, I would not become a particle physicist.

          It's the same reason that I haven't read Stephen Meyer's "Signature in the Cell". I understand the consensus position for evolution and therefore suspect that reading Meyer's book would be a waste of time.

          But if I presented one of Meyers' objections, you could certainly provide evidence as to why the objection is false, otherwise I'm not sure that you would have actually understood the consensus position.

          According to the experts, and for reasons I don't entirely understand, the gospels were written close enough to Jesus's life that someone who would have met Jesus could also have read the gospels. So it seems silly to think that they've made up someone (because people in the area would know it was made up).

          We don't have any reason to believe that these people who "would have met Jesus, if he existed" would have written about it or that their writings would have survived.

          • But if I presented one of Meyers' objections, you could certainly provide evidence as to why the objection is false, otherwise I'm not sure that you would have actually understood the consensus position.

            Not at all. Basic understanding of a position does not entail the ability to respond to all possible objections to that position.

            We don't have any reason to believe that these people who "would have met Jesus, if he existed" would have written about it or that their writings would have survived.

            Maybe the eyewitnesses wrote a bunch of stuff about Jesus and none of it survived. But even if no eyewitness wrote about Jesus, the argument seems pretty straight-forward anyway.

            Imagine I live in Jerusalem at AD 90. Someone writes a book about this Jesus who traveled and said all these interesting things, claimed to be a messiah, and got killed by Romans. I've never heard of him myself, and so I ask the author (or one of his friends) whether he met him. The author says no, but he's talked with people who have. I could go and ask those people whether they'd met Jesus. If I had sufficient authority, I could find records of the execution.

            It would be the height of stupidity for someone to make up the existence of a person, when any interested contemporary could easily discover their fabrication.

            But hey, maybe it's possible it was still all made up. Maybe the Gospel authors fabricated these stories about Jesus, people made fun of them for thinking that Jesus existed (and record of their ridicule didn't survive). It's possible. But weigh that against the rather mundane claim: Jesus, a Jew who claimed to be a messiah and got killed by Romans, existed.

  • Ray Vorkin

    One thing that it is interesting is that the site(OutShineTheSun) has more than double the comments referring to the same article as Strange Notions has......what does that indicate?

    http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.ca/2014/09/estranged-notions-popular-news-site.html#disqus_thread

    • picklefactory

      That many of the interesting comments have been banned, and that these comments will be deleted.

  • Ray Vorkin

    <blockquote"Claims Jesus Never Existed
    One would think that the Catholic Church and its' apologists would have some sort of stock answer for this question after all this time, rather than leaving it's faithful out to dry?

  • a_theist

    There is an obvious question attached to any claim that Jesus did not exist; "What is the alternative?"
    Any alternative which fits the historic record would require a conspiracy of great complexity initiated on a whim by individuals who elected to put their lives at risk promoting an interpretation of the scriptures based around a fictitious individual whose existence contemporaries of the conspirators would have been alive to acknowledge or discredit.
    Such a conspiracy would have left its traces in evidence. Yet atheists do not produce any evidence supporting the conspiracy. There are no 1st or 2nd century writers that question the existence of Jesus or discredit the core claims of conspirators in any way. Rather the conspirators are persecuted as followers of Jesus, not as participants in conspiratorial myth seeking what … power? Wealth?. Would the conspirators have submitted to persecution for following a myth they created?
    I challenge the Jesus is a myth voices to deliver any evidence as to the conspiracy that would have to have existed. Of course that evidence would have to 1st century, eye witness and secular – as they require of evidence that Jesus existed. Where are the “I was in Jerusalem at the time and there was no Jesus, no trial, no crucifixion” accounts to discredit the Christian position?

    • Michael Murray

      I take it your challenge is by way of being rhetorical as this is not a Jesus mother website and I don't see many hard core Jesus is completely a myth people posting here. Neither are there many atheists as they have mostly been banned.

      You might get a more interesting reception on a Jesus myther website. I don't know where they are but presumably they exist. Have you tried them ?

      • a_theist

        ”I take it your challenge is by way of being rhetorical as this is not a Jesus mother (sic) website and I don't see many hard core Jesus is completely a myth people posting here” how perceptive, but I can figure out the nature of the site for myself.

        The OP however quotes Jesus myth arguments, so I ask what was the intention if not to invite comment about the Jesus myth position? Did Jon intend to only gather comment that echoed his own views? Hardly in character for him.

        I assume others among your contributors of a non Jesus myth persuasion have considered the point and perhaps one has come across argument/evidence that would set me right. So perhaps my comment may be in the nature of a robust invitation to challenge my argument so that I can present it with confidence, knowing it has passed a peer review.

        Peace

        • Michael Murray

          The OP however quotes Jesus myth
          arguments, so I ask what was the intention if not to invite comment about the Jesus myth position? Did Jon intend to only gather comment that echoed his own views? Hardly in character for him.

          The original post was on his website.

          http://www.jonsorensen.net/tag/historical-jesus/

          I don't know what his intentions where in agreeing to it being reposted here.

          If you want an atheist response try here

          http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

          Personally I don't know enough of the history of the period to be anything but agnostic on the question of Jesus' historicity.

    • Doug Shaver

      Any alternative which fits the historic record would require a conspiracy of great complexity initiated on a whim by individuals who elected to put their lives at risk promoting an interpretation of the scriptures based around a fictitious individual whose existence contemporaries of the conspirators would have been alive to acknowledge or discredit.

      No, it would not.

  • Guest

    One thing that has dawned on me recently is the absurd positions atheists will take when they are moved to do so by theistic arguments and not by any intuition in and of itself. What I mean is that atheists will normally be perfectly fine with saying "everything that begins to exist has a cause", or that "Such and such historical evidence demonstrates that such a person lived and made waves at this point in the past" until these simple ideas are tied to God in any way. Then you get people who start positing the inability to know anything about the past, or thinking that maybe things just pop into existence uncaused out of nothing, or that causation is just an illusion à la Hume. It's an interesting study in psychology to be sure.

  • Eric Breaux

    The very premise that there were no secular writings of Jesus in the first century is false. Thallus, in the 50' A.D., records the darkness at Jesus crucifixion and argues that it was caused by an eclipse.

    • Doug Shaver

      Thallus, in the 50' A.D., records the darkness at Jesus crucifixion

      That is not what Thallus himself said.

      • Eric Breaux

        How do you figure, there are no records suggesting that.

        • Doug Shaver

          If he had said it, I would expect it to be in the records we do have. I think this is a situation in which absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

          • Eric Breaux

            It is, Africanus references it. The original record from Thallus is nowhere to be found. There's nothing to indicate that Africanus would have made up an account just to go through the effort to correct it's mistakes.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not suggesting that anybody made anything up. My point was that we don't have Thallus's own word for it that whatever event he was describing happened on the same day that Jesus was crucified. Africanus apparently thought it did, but we don't know why he thought that because we don't have any context for his reference because his report has also been lost. What we actually have is a quotation of Africanus from several centuries after by George Syncellus. And so the record we actually have is: Syncellus reports that Africanus was recounting the gospel story and, after mentioning the darkness, appended the comment "Thallus said this was an eclipse, but he was wrong."

            What Africanus apparently did not say was that Thallus reported the darkness either occurring during a full moon or lasting for three hours. Considering that an actual ordinary eclipse that would have been visible in Judea did occur in the year 29 CE, I don't see why we shouldn't suppose that Thallus was reporting that eclipse. Of course, it would not have been the same event reported by the gospel authors, but for us who are not biblical inerrantists, that is not a problem.

          • Eric Breaux

            We have Africanus's report saved in a record written by Eusebius (if I'm remembering the correct name) as well. We do know Africanus refers to the crucifixion darkness because he gives the time frame specific to that event, that he would have had no frame of reference for if Thallus didn't give the same details.
            Africanus records "On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the Passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth—manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending of rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer."
            Other evidence that Thallus was talking about the crucifixion darkness is two quotes from Origen that read "Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and no other; it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any eclipse in previous times . . . and this is shown by the historical account of Tiberius Caesar" and "And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place . . .". These are other independent sources talking about the same event, with the same time frame details.

          • Doug Shaver

            We have Africanus's report saved in a record written by Eusebius (if I'm remembering the correct name) as well.

            My memory differs. I've been reading apologetic commentary on Thallus for a long time, and I don't recall any claims that Eusebius mentioned Africanus in connection with Thallus. The earliest citation that any of my sources seem to be aware of is Syncellus's.

            Africanus records . . . .

            Yes, I know the quotation. None of it contradicts anything I have said.

          • Eric Breaux

            It contradicts that he could have been mistaken about what event Thallus was talking about, because the details are specific to the time of the crucifixion.

          • Doug Shaver

            How does it contradict the possibility of error? We don't know anything about what Thallus actually wrote. All we can know at most is that he wrote something about some eclipse. We don't know what he wrote about where it happened or when it happened. We do know, however, that a solar eclipse did occur in 29 CE and was visible in Jerusalem.