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Three False Christs: The Myth, the Mortal, and the Guru

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Jesus

Albert Schweitzer, in the opening pages of his famous and influential 1906 book The Quest of the Historical Jesus, wrote, "And so each subsequent epoch in theology found its own ideas in Jesus, and could find no other way of bringing him to life. Not only epochs found themselves in him. Each individual recreated him in the image of his own personality."

Examples abound:

  • Many atheists insist that Jesus didn't even exist or that, if he did, he is either lost in the mists of time or misused by Christian zealots.
  • Rationalists tend to depict Jesus as a philosopher of good or questionable abilities and intentions.
  • Socialists often present Jesus as a protoMarxist and liberation leader whose struggle was ultimately political, not religious or spiritual. Other leftists paint a portrait of Jesus the community organizer or community agitator.
  • Denizens of the New Age realm regularly equate Jesus with Buddha and speak of "Christ-consciousness."
  • Some Christians speak of a friendly, all-inclusive Jesus who hardly warrants interest, let alone worship, while others preach a Jesus who is judging and angry and hardly warrants charity, let alone discipleship.

Some of these "Christs" are simply false; some are, more specifically, also heretical. "Every heresy has been an effort to narrow the Church," wrote G. K. Chesterton in St. Francis of Assisi. Likewise, these heresies seek to narrow the person of Jesus Christ. Here, then, are three popular depictions of Jesus Christ that are not only flawed but dangerous to one's intellectual and spiritual health.

Jesus the Myth

The belief that Jesus Christ never even existed but was the creation of early Christians is increasingly common but also increasingly crude and crack-brained. It is summed up well enough by the skeptics at JesusNeverExisted. corn: "Christianity was the ultimate product of religious syncretism in the ancient world. Its emergence owed nothing to a holy carpenter. There were many Jesuses but the fable was a cultural construct."

The claim of syncretism is standard and has found its way into all sorts of popular fiction and entertainment, most notably The Da Vinci Code. The nonfiction The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light, written by former Anglican priest Tom Harpur, is a good example of an attempt at putting a scholarly veneer on the enterprise. Harpur argues that Christianity is almost entirely derived from ancient mystery religions–especially Egyptian–and based around Horus, the son of the goddess Isis. In turn, Harpur often draws upon the work of Gerald Massey, a 19th-century freethinker, who posited that true Christianity was thoroughly Egyptian in origin and Gnostic in theology. Harpur concludes that a human Jesus never existed but was created by a corrupt, power-hungry hierarchy, a recurring theme in such literature.

The roots of this approach go back to the 18th century, when Charles Francois Dupuis (1742-1809) wrote The Origin of All Religious Worship, one of the first attempts to show that all religions, including Christianity, are essentially the same and that Jesus was the mythical creation of early Christians drawing upon pagan myths. This position gained currency in the United States in the late 1800s with the publication of of The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors (or Christianity before Christ), written in 1875 by Kersey Graves (1813-1883). Jesus, the book asserted, was not an actual person but a creation based on earlier stories of deities or god-men saviors who had been crucified and who descended to and ascended from the underworld. Graves, born into a Quaker family, was an atheist who employed spiritualism to gain insights into historical events and personages. His methods and findings have been thoroughly discredited–even by many atheist scholars–but his book continues to attract readers online.

The first part of the loth century was dominated by this tantalizing notion that pagan mystery religions, especially the mythology of "dying-rising" gods, had strongly influenced, or even produced, essential Christian doctrines. The most famous example of this obsession is Sir James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough, a 12-volume study of folklore and religion. But scholars in the mid- and late-20th century, such as the anthropologist (and Anglican cleric) E. O. James (1888-1972) questioned and eventually rejected these assumptions. Rigorous studies demonstrated that the pagan mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world were different in essential ways from those religions of the ancient Far East.

Yet this didn't stop Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) from writing a best-selling book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), and co-hosting a PBS program with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (aired 1988), that drew upon the same dubious streams of thought. Campbell popularized the notion of "monomyth," which refers to a basic pattern of a hero's journey found in many narratives from around the world; this idea, for example, influenced George Lucas in his creation of Star Wars.

More recently, the same mythological shtick was taken up by atheist Christopher Hitchens in his 2007 bestselling book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens denied that the four Gospels have any historical value at all, falsely stated the Gospel authors "cannot agree on anything of importance," wrongly propounded that the "Gnostic gospels" give a "fractionally more credible" account than do the four Gospels, referred disdainfully to the "highly questionable existence of Jesus," said accounts of Jesus' life are "legend," and stated that the "Gospels are most certainly not literal truth." It's not surprising that his book cites the arguments of just one Christian scholar from the past hundred years, the Anglican apologist and author C. S. Lewis.

Hitchens was either unaware or dismissive of the abundance of studies from both Christians and non-Christians that Jesus of Nazareth did exist and that the Gospels do indeed provide information that historians take seriously as providing real accounts of real people doing real things. No reputable modern-day historian of the ancient world denies that Jesus of Nazareth existed, which is why Graham Stanton, in The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford University Press, 2002), wrote, "Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the Gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically." The amount of textual evidence for the existence of Jesus is overwhelming, especially for an ancient historical figure. The more scholars learn about first-century Judaism, the more historically accurate the Gospels show themselves to be. In addition, the thoroughly Jewish character of Jesus' words and actions are further revealed, destroying the tenuous theories linking Jesus to Greek myths or Egyptian gods.

Jesus the Mere Man

That Jesus was merely mortal is now standard fare among those who cannot deny the basic historical evidence but reject the uniqueness of the man from Nazareth. The variations are many: Jesus was just a misguided prophet, a Cynic philosopher, a Jewish rabbi, a political zealot, an itinerant guru, an agitator for social change. This is hardly new. From the beginning, some doubted or mocked Jesus' claim to divinity: "They said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, "I have come down from heaven"?'" (Jn 6:42). Jews, Romans, and other pagans of the early centuries mocked the first Christians for their belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

The role of the Reformation in this approach was significant. How? Anglican Scripture scholar N. T. Wright has noted that Martin Luther and other early Protestants were so intent on "the results" of Jesus' saving work they failed, in his words, to "ask about the theological significance of the ministry of Jesus" and also failed "to treat the Gospels with full seriousness, as they stand, that is, as stories" (Jesus and the Victory of God, 1996). Thus, Jesus was severed from his historical and cultural background as the emphasis was placed upon personal experience. "This is to know Christ, to know his benefits... . Unless one knows why Christ took upon himself human flesh and was crucified," asked Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), Luther's close friend and the first Protestant systematic theologian, "what advantage would accrue from having learned his life's history?"

The lineage from Protestant revolt to Enlightenment-era skepticism is not simple, but it is logical, and it is hardly a coincidence that 18th- and 19th-century German theology and philosophy were at the cutting edge of saying, in short, that Jesus "was just a man."

The philosopher Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768) believed in a deist God who did not intervene in any way in history. Reimarus therefore denied miracles and the Incarnation, arguing that Jesus was "a Jewish reformer who became increasingly fanatical and politicized, and he failed." His work is often cited as the beginning of the division between the "historical Jesus" and the Jesus of faith supposedly created by the early Church. The theologian Christian Baur (1792-1860 rejected all supernatural elements in the Gospels, presenting Jesus as a mere mortal combining Jewish religious beliefs with Greek philosophy. He concocted the influential theory that Peter and Paul led radically opposed wings of early Christianity, neither of which was true to Jesus' higher (but only mortal) consciousness.

In 1835 the precocious and polemical David Strauss. (1808-1874) wrote Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined), the most influential "life of Jesus" of the 19th century. He presented Jesus as a fanatical Jewish preacher with delusions of messianic grandeur and insisted the Gospels were mostly legend and folklore. The influence of his bare-bones story of an itinerate preacher who proclaimed the Kingdom can be seen in the work of the modern-day Jesus Seminar, which has rejected as unhistorical or exaggerated nearly every narrative in the Gospels. Strauss is notable for interpreting Jesus' miracles as "mythical" in character, against rationalists (who found natural explanations for the miracles) and supernaturalists (who believed the miracles really were miracles).

Modern-day variations on this theme are numerous and appear in historical novels presented as well-researched and theologically sophisticated. The rogue historian Leigh Teabing, a main character in The Da Vinci Code, says, "[Jesus was] a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal." He and the novel's hero, Robert Langdon, declare that Jesus was "made" divine at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 and that prior to that time no one–not even Jesus' followers–believed that he was the Son of God. Never mind the obvious evidence to the contrary (see Mt 1:23, 3:16-17; Jn 1:1ff, 5:18, 8:56ff, Jn 20, etc.). A more recent example is found in a novel, The Book of Rachael, written by "academic, ethicist, activist" Leslie Cannold, which depicts a Jesus who died not for man's sins but for his staunch feminist beliefs. Thus, Jesus is again presented as a mere mortal whose wrong-headed disciples attempt to deify him after his tragic death. The cases of Brown and Cannold are ample proof of Schweitzer's statement, "Each individual recreated [Jesus] in the image of his own personality."

The Gospels and New Testament do not depict Jesus as a radical feminist but do clearly present him as being somehow divine. Jesus, to take just one instance, states, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (Jn 8:58)

The Jews arguing with him understood what he meant, for they "took up stones to throw at him." What options exist, then, for the skeptic? C. S. Lewis famously offered the "trilemma" of "liar, Lord, or lunatic," to which Peter Kreeft has added "guru/teacher." And that is the third and final false Christ we will examine.

Jesus the Avatar

Jesus, according to this fallacy, is primary or completely "spiritual" in nature, one of many spiritual guides who have achieved an exalted state of spiritual enlightenment, free of doctrine, dogma, and authority. The ancient roots for this are found in Gnosticism, a broad movement that emerged in the second century against orthodox Christianity and that sought to reshape Christian doctrine by redefining key words and ideas.

"The first heresies," notes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "denied not so much Christ's divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism)" (CCC 465). Docetism (from the Greek word for "appear") was the early Gnostic heresy holding that Jesus only appearedto have a body, whereas he was only spiritual, having attained freedom from the material realm. This essential premise is a constant among those who present Jesus as a spiritual guru, for they have little or no interest in the actions of Jesus in time and space. The "Gnostic scriptures," logically enough, have little or no historical narrative and are fixated instead on secret knowledge and hidden techniques of spiritual enlightenment.

The Jesus of the Gnostic writings is hardly recognizable as a Jewish carpenter, teacher, and prophet dwelling in first-century Palestine; instead, he is described as a phantom-like creature who lectures at length about the deficiency of aeons, the mother, the Arrogant One, and the archons–terms that only the Gnostic elite would comprehend. In some Gnostic texts Jesus and Christ are depicted as two separate beings: Christ coming from above and Jesus, coming from below, merely the bodily vessel that Christ dwelled in for a time on earth.

Something similar can be found in the Christ of the New Age movement, a movement that generally embraces pantheism or monism, the belief that "all is One" and this One is impersonal. An excellent and recent example can be found in the writings of the prolific Deepak Chopra, especially in his best-selling book The Third Jesus (2008; see "Chopra's Christ: The Mythical Creation of a New Age Panthevangelist" for a detailed review and critique). Chopra purposely seeks first to remove Jesus from any historical context and reality then detaches Jesus from theological reflection and doctrinal formulation. The "first Jesus," then, "is historical and we know next to nothing about him." Of course, Chopra goes on to say specific things about the historical Jesus but still insists that he is completely unknowable. Why? "This historical Jesus has been lost, however, swept away by history." Actual historical studies and evidence are not considered or even acknowledged; rather, this anti-historical approach is taken for granted, as something of an act of blind faith. The "second Jesus," says Chopra, is "the Jesus built up over thousands of years by theologians and other scholars." This Jesus, Chopra insists, "never existed" and "doesn't even lay claim to the fleeting substance of the first Jesus." Again, no evidence is offered and there is no engagement at all with the rich theological tradition of the Catholic Church. But this isn't surprising, as Chopra, like most New Age adherents, is anti-theological and anti-metaphysical. He considers theology to be either pointless or propaganda.

The "third Jesus" is Chopra's Christ, the epitome of a subjective savior, although Chopra has no need to be saved from sin and evil. Rather, "Jesus intended to save the world by showing others the path to God-consciousness." This journey to "God-consciousness" happens through "Christ-consciousness," the ambiguity of which can be tweaked and molded as one wishes to one's personal tastes. Christ the "guide" is a spiritually advanced being who helps seekers achieve "spiritual evolution." He is compared to or even joined in some way to Buddha. Chopra–having done away with history and theology–conveniently sees no difference between the two, stating that "the Christian seeker who wants to reach God is no different from the Buddhist. Both are directed into their own consciousness."

Since the emphasis in Gnosticism and in the New Age movement is on elite teaching, the death of Jesus and his Resurrection from the dead are of little or no importance. The result is that a significant part of the Gospels–about a quarter of those texts–is simply ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. Since historical context is of no interest, specific details from the Gospels are either ignored or wildly misinterpreted. Chopra, for example, enjoys interpreting texts about "light" in a most hazy and vague manner, ignoring the fact that references to light in the Gospel of John are in the context of Genesis 1, the Feast of Lights, and the Shekinah glory of God.

Ultimately, this false Christ is part of the tired but popular theme, "Religion is bad, spirituality is good." It is highly individualistic and unrelentingly subjective; it is openly opposed to logic, history, and traditional authority. One might say that it is the result of faith divorced from reason, but only if that "faith" is understood to be, finally, in oneself as a part of an impersonal, cosmic whole.

God, Made in Man's Image

These three false Christs are rooted in three faulty views of God and the world: atheism, deism, and pantheism. Each fails, in essential ways, to take seriously as historical events what is described in the Gospels and proclaimed by the Church. The importance of this is stressed by Pope Benedict XVI in the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth: "For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on earth."

Each false Christ also results from a failure to see the entire picture and take into account all of the historical information. "If you want to understand the Scripture in the spirit in which it is written," wrote Benedict XVI, "you have to attend to the content and to the unity of Scripture as a whole." In addition, each misunderstands or misrepresents the social, religious, political, and cultural context of first-century Palestine. Ignored or overlooked is the Jewish character of Jesus' teaching and how it is nearly impossible to get an accurate sense of who Jesus is without some understanding of the Old Testament and first-century Judaism.

Finally, each of these false Christs relies, to one degree or another, on a subjective or esoteric way of reading and interpreting Scripture. Put another way, each rejects the authority and teaching office of the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ cannot be rightly understood and defended apart from Scripture, and Scripture cannot be rightly read and interpreted outside the Church. Otherwise we simply recreate Christ in the image of our own personality, which is not and cannot be a basis for objective and ultimate truth.
 
 
Originally posted at Ignatius Insight. Used with permission.

Carl Olson

Written by

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

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  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I like this post and agree with its general thrust, but I think it bears noting with some emphasis that many ostensibly orthodox Catholics (myself included, I'm sure) have fallen into this trap as much as anyone else. N.T. Wright has said it very well (italic and bold emphasis at the end is mine):

    Just as the Nazi theologians, Käsemann’s obvious target, had re-invented a non-Jewish Jesus so today people are inventing Jesuses who support all kinds of ideologies. And if we in the Church think we are immune from this, I would urge that we think again. Christians are alas, capable of all kinds of fantasies and anachronisms in reading the Gospels, and to pull the blanket of the canon over our heads and pretend that we are safe in our private, fideistic world is sheer self-delusion. It is demonstrably the case that where the Church has thought itself safe in its canonical world worshipping the ever-present ascended Jesus in prayer and the liturgy, it is capable of massive self-delusion and distortion. Whether or not this reaches Docetism proper, without continuing attention to history we can pull and push the word “Jesus” this way and that and make it serve our own ends. It will not do, again, to sneer that historians always see the reflection of their own faces at the bottom of the well. Those who forswear historical Jesus study will find it impossible, ultimately, to escape seeing the reflection of their own faces in their dogmatic Christs .

    • William Davis

      Good post. Whether we like it or not, part of being human entails the fact that not only is seeing believing, but believing is seeing. Trying to separate ourselves from our own biases is one of the deep problems of studying objective reality, and it is impossible to do completely.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Absolutely! I am amazed by how many people still think they are able to look at reality as detached Cartesian observers. I sometimes think we should send a memo around to let everyone know that the Enlightenment is over.

        • Doug Shaver

          I sometimes think we should send a memo around to let everyone know that the Enlightenment is over.

          Not entirely. Some of us are trying to keep it going, while correcting a few mistakes of the sort Descartes made. Just because they didn't get everything right doesn't mean they weren't on the right track.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sure, I'm on board for that. It's just the pretension of objectivity that some have that doubles me over with laughter. Otherwise, sure, plenty to applaud about the Enlightenment.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yeah, Nearly always, it seems to me, objectivity is just a code for whatever the speaker thinks everybody should agree with.

            The first time I went to college, I was on the staff of the student newspaper. I didn't normally write the editorials, but I happened to get the job for one issue. Coincidentally, this happened while the student government was dragging its feet approving its budget, and so the student treasurer couldn't do anything that he was supposed to do, like pay bills. The treasurer told me he thought the paper should run an editorial about the situation, and it seemed to me like as good a subject as any. So, I wrote something scolding the student government for its petty bickering, or something along those lines. After the paper came out the treasurer found out I was the one who wrote it, and he very warmly complimented me for writing such a "very objective" editorial.

            Of course, the last thing an editorial is supposed to be is objective, but I just said, "Thank you very much."

        • William Davis

          Sure, the enlightenment is over, but we wouldn't see our mental situation so clearly if it were not for the Enlightenment. A little bit ironic isn't it? Luckily we have prescriptions and methodology to help mitigate the problem, though we will never be able to eliminate it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Based on what little I do know about Western intellectual history, I certainly do feel a debt of gratitude to the Enlightenment, and to the Reformation that substantially underwrote it. Martin Luther might have been wrong about some things, but I thank God for him.

            However, while I believe that those broad intellectual and societal trends mitigated certain problems associated with our parochial biases, I don't see our incapacity for objectivity per se as something to be escaped or even mitigated. I think it is not only quixotic, but also undesirable, to "mitigate" our social biases, if by "mitigate" one essentially means "suppress". Rather than suppress social biases, which are fundamental to our humanity, I would prefer to come up with better biases.

            My view is that you have to pick a tribe that has good biases, and then work to make those biases even better. If your tribe has good biases, they should be able to learn to get along with other tribes that have reasonably good biases. The global tribe that Jesus started is the best one I know, so I go with that.

          • William Davis

            I definitely appreciate that point of view. From my explorations, Catholic Christians seem to be much better than the fundamentalists I'm surrounded by. I've been deeply exploring the topic, and it is incredibly frustrating that I can't have an honest conversation with my dad without being called an apostate or somehow being associated with the forces of evil. I'm of the point of view that even if the atheists are right, there is no point in believing that (though I will likely always think that the correct "objective" point of view is agnostic). If there is no divine meaning to the world, then it up to us to give it meaning, and there is not rational argument to do otherwise, as long as the meaning we give it doesn't do more harm than good (and the better strains of Christianity have done much more good than harm, nothing is perfect). Any good religion doesn't have to resort to ad hominem attacks when someone questions it. If I do end up becoming a Christian (I was brought up as a Christian, but the type of fundamentalist Christianity I was exposed to was deeply and hopelessly flawed), it will have to be one of the inherently tolerant strains, focused on the message of Jesus.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          The whole Cartesian idea of doubting all of your beliefs seems like a good intellectual exercise. Just because one cannot be completely objective does not mean one should not try.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Oh, I think it's a fantastic intellectual exercise. I think going courageously and honestly all the way to radical skepticism is the only path to wisdom for some of us in the postmodern world. Only when every last shred of my knowledge was crucified was I able to experience the resurrection.

            Dostoyevsky said it better (of course) than I can ever hope to:

            My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      To get an idea of how this pernicious tendency runs right to (almost) the heart of the tradition, Catholics need only reflect on why certain sections of the Gospel of John are never included in the lectionary. The apparently anti-Jewish language that John uses in some places is potentially so inflammatory that we just leave it out altogether.

      I find this exclusion to be entirely reasonable, perhaps born of a (relatively recent) recognition that even the Gospel authors , writing as they all did in the midst of the Bellum Judaica , had at least an unconscious desire to distance themselves from the obstinate tribe of their founder, that one tribe whose indomitable ideas about God drove the Roman empire to endless rage, frustration, and brutal violence. If even the Gospel authors were prone to paint Jesus with dangerously ahistorical brushstrokes, then we all need to take some care.

      Fortunately, we have the Pauline epistles and much Second Temple research to serve as a corrective. But our journey to truly reconnect with the historical man will never be complete. Correct history is somewhere in the future.

  • The amount of textual evidence for Jesus is not overwhelming. There are many writings, none of which we can confirm date back to the time of his life. None of these documents claim to be eyewitness accounts. There are the four Gospels that appear to be written as truth, but the authors never claim to have witnessed any of the events.

    Other than that, you have the writings of Paul, who also never claims to have witnessed the events of Jesus' life, but to have had a vision of him. We then have many people referencing the Christian religion in their writings, such as Josephus and Tacitus, neither of who were convinced that Jesus was God or converted.

    I would say, and most atheists I talk to agree, that this is still enough to reasonably accept that someone named Jesus existed. We do not think it is enough to accept the supernatural claims related in the Bible, such as the hundreds of people rising from the dead or walking on water.

    Of course, the thousands of Christian sects have different theological views on what texts are cannon and what they mean. Feel free to have these disputes and come up with whatever interpretation you want. These are unlikely to be in any way convincing to non-believers until you can establish that anything supernatural has ever happened.

    Historians and skeptics accept all the time that figures such as Alexander, or Augustus Ceasar existed, while rejecting the supernatural claims about these figures. We are just doing the same with Jesus.

    That said, recently very interesting fringe scholarship is arising questioning the basis for accepting that there ever was a historical Jesus. Above we have a dismissal of 19th century scholarship and Dan Brown, but nothing addressing the arguments of Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald or Robert Price.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      St. John does not claim to be an eyewitness of Christ? St. Paul does not claim there were 500 eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, many of whom were still alive when he didn't make this claim?

      • George

        Who were those 500?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          1 Cor 15:1-11 (AD 53-57)

          1 Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, 2 by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.

          3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

          6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

          8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

          • George

            where is a list of names? other primary sources?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Indeed. Where are the footnotes and annotated bibliography. Why wasn't Paul's letter published in a peer reviewed journal?

          • George

            That couldn't hurt it either!

      • Ignatius Reilly

        The gospel of John was not written by John, but rather a Johannine community. The ancients may have had a different understanding of history and what it means to be an eyewitness than we do. As I understand, the community added to the Gospel at various times, so there are passages that do not completely make sense. For instance John 10. Jesus talks about being the shepherd of sheep, then he talks about being the gate, and then he talks again about being the shepherd. The part about the gate is considered to be a latter addition.

        In the Gospel of John, Jesus's public ministry was 3 years, while in the synoptic gospels his ministry was only one year. Why do these eyewitness get such basic facts wrong?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If you want to be a Biblical scholar, make yourself a real one. Test what you think against every school of New Testament scholarship. Then you can answer your own questions.

          • William Davis

            You're right. All of us fall victim to the fallacy of authority here, it takes an entire life to become a New Testament scholar. We pick authorities that prescribe to our own presuppositions, and go from there. I think in the case of gospels, we can't really be sure who wrote them, but everyone has their guesses.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I'm not sure what my status a biblical scholar has to do with it. The current consensus suggest that John was not written by an eyewitness. There are plenty of scholars who would agree with what I just said, in fact, I took a few classes from them in college.

      • Right, Paul does not claim to have ever met Christ. He claims that hundreds of people say they met a resurrected Jesus. Double hearsay.

        You will have to give me a cite for John.

        But again, these are not overwhelming textual evidence. The are the very thing you are trying to prove. They are not independent and their origins and accuracy are disputed. There is virtually nothing independant corroborating them.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          1 Cor 15

          1 Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, 2 by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.

          3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

          Paul says he met Christ on the road to Damascus. In 1 Corinthians he is reminding his readers of what he previously established to them--in other words, he is summarizing an argument he already made to them. He is not making a claim to us and then backing it up with evidence. It is not hearsay at all.

          John 21:

          20 Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”

          21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”

          22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”

          23 The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

          24 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.

          • David Nickol

            24 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.

            From the New American Bible:

            [21:24] Who…has written them: this does not necessarily mean he wrote them with his own hand. The same expression is used in Jn 19:22 of Pilate, who certainly would not have written the inscription himself. We know: i.e., the Christian community; cf. Jn 1:14, 16.

            Regarding the entire Chapter 21 the NAB says:

            [21:1–23] There are many non-Johannine peculiarities in this chapter, some suggesting Lucan Greek style; yet this passage is closer to John than Jn 7:53–8:11. There are many Johannine features as well. Its closest parallels in the synoptic gospels are found in Lk 5:1–11 and Mt 14:28–31. Perhaps the tradition was ultimately derived from John but preserved by some disciple other than the writer of the rest of the gospel. The appearances narrated seem to be independent of those in Jn 20. Even if a later addition, the chapter was added before publication of the gospel, for it appears in all manuscripts.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sure. John could have used a scribe like Paul sometimes did. Or he could have written down various recollections and had secretaries working with him to put the whole document into shape. And it could have been completed by one or more of his followers under his direction or after his death.

            Don't you love it? "Suggesting . . . perhaps . . . seem . . . appears."

          • David Nickol

            Don't you love it? "Suggesting . . . perhaps . . . seem . . . appears."

            What I love is

            John could have . . .. Or he could have . . . . And it could have . . . .

            A lot of things could have been the case, but what was the case? Nobody really knows. Any good commentary is going to be filled with qualifiers, tentative statements, two or more possible interpretations for many verses, or frank acknowledgements that many questions simply can't be answered at all. It is extraordinarily rare that a quote from the New Testament proves a point. Any good commentary, in addition to answering some questions, is probably going to raise a lot more questions and problems that would never occur to the naive reader in the first place. The weight of scholarly opinion is that John the Apostle did not write the Gospel of John, and that Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John differs significantly from the rest of the Gospel. So to quote a few lines from Chapter 21 as "proof" that the "beloved disciple" wrote the Gospel of John gets the argument almost nowhere. It may be the beginning of an argument that somehow the some of the reminiscences of the "beloved disciple" are included in the Gospel of John, even to the most naive reader, the differences between the synoptics and the Gospel of John raise all kinds of questions about what the authors/compilers of that Gospel are up to.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, at the end of the day for a follower of Christ what matters is the imitation of Christ, and for that, quotes from the NT prove many a point.

          • David Nickol

            Well, at the end of the day for a follower of Christ what matters is the imitation of Christ . . . .

            From Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years:

            . . . . a programme of practical action and organization of one's thoughts and life which was summed up in the title of Kempis's devotional treatise The Imitation of Christ. The idea of imitating Christ was not much older in the Western tradition of Christianity than the twelfth century; it sat uneasily with Augustinian assumptions about fallen humanity. It was also a solvent of that assumption which had developed particularly in the West, that clergy and religious had a better chance of getting to Heaven than the laity.

            It may be taken for granted in the 21st century that one reason for reading the New Testament is to help one imitate Christ, but for more than the first thousand years of Catholicism, that was not what people believed or the Church taught.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You and your celebrated author have made a claim but you have not supported it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The idea of imitating Christ was not much older in the Western tradition of Christianity than the twelfth century;

            Wasn't 1 Corinthians 11:1 written before the twelfth century?

          • David Nickol

            Wasn't 1 Corinthians 11:1 written before the twelfth century?

            As it turns out, the idea of imitating Christ is a huge topic. Here's Thessalonians 1:6 and the footnote to it from the New American Bible:

            6 And you became imitators* of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the holy Spirit, . . . .

            [1:6] Imitators: the Pauline theme of “imitation” (see 1 Thes 2:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; 2 Thes 3:9) is rooted in Paul’s view of solidarity in Christ through sharing in Jesus’ cross and in the Spirit of the risen Lord.

            It would appear that Paul is not talking about studying the life of Jesus from the Gospels (which weren't written yet!) and trying to live as Jesus lived. Also, it hardly seems likely that he is setting up his own life as being equally worth of imitation as the life of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 11:1, after all, says, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." He does not there tell his readers to imitate Christ.) There are also other ways of "imitating" Christ, and in the early Church one of those was to suffer martyrdom.

            If I have ever read The Imitation of Christ, I don't remember it. But my impression from reading about it is that it doesn't really advocate the kind of modern idea of imitating Christ that we have—i.e., asking ourselves "what would Jesus do" (WWJD).

            So it is a very complicated question, and to be honest, I don't quite know what it would mean to imitate Christ in the sense that I assume Kevin is talking about. Who is equipped to imitate Jesus as he is depicted in the gospels? As people here read the Gospels, Jesus is God. How do you imitate God?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for that fair-minded response to my admittedly glib clip.

            You are calling attention to a subtle but (I think) very important distinction between "following" and "imitating". Jesus said "follow me", whereas Paul said "imitate me" (meaning, of course, imitate Paul , a seemingly brazen instruction). My perhaps un-nuanced take on that is that Paul realized that it is not possible to follow Jesus the man now that he is dead. But Paul claimed that he had learned to let Christ live in him, so that if a contemporary of Paul were to imitate Paul, he would thereby be (indirectly) following Christ. Somewhat similarly, we who are not contemporaries of Paul cannot really imitate him, but we can imitate our own contemporaries, some of whom we may perceive to be indirectly patterned after the initial followers of Jesus.

            I agree that this process of imitation began before the Gospels were written. The process of imitation, and not the transmission of information per se , is what lies at the very heart of evangelization. At least, that is what Paul seems to have believed, and that is what I believe.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think Paul said imitate Paul as Paul imitates Christ because that is the economy of salvation. The Father reveals himself through the Son. The Son reveals himself through the Apostles. "He who hears you hears me."

            To imitate Christ in the sense I mean it is to find some attribute of Christ and then to try to live it. Like humility. Like forgiveness. Like service. Like telling the truth. Like self-giving. Like availability. Like joy.

        • Groarrr

          I wonder--if everything was scientifically, undeniably proven to you, would you believe? Wouldn't you find a reason--a scientifically sustained reason--not to? It reminds me of Luke 16:31. If you really think that textual evidence is not "overwhelming", nothing will ever convince you.

          • George

            "If you really think that textual evidence is not "overwhelming", nothing will ever convince you."

            Is your mind made up on that?

    • materetmagistra

      @Brian Green Adams: "I would say, and most atheists I talk to agree, that this is still enough to reasonably accept that someone named Jesus existed. We do not think it is enough to accept the supernatural claims related in the Bible..."

      Seems you fall into the second category - "Jesus the Mere Man," carefully accepting only those claims that have no certain obligations on your behavior/life.

      Question - if Jesus truly existed, what makes him important enough to have been remembered by history (i.e., "mere men" are not worthy of such recognition.)

      You see, when you say, "We do not think it is enough to accept the supernatural claims related in the Bible...," I agree. Those early Christians who accept that Jesus is who he says he is (God) do not accept based on only HIS word, just because he "says so." It is in the teachings and actions of Jesus, in the testimony of those who knew him and those who lived lives according to the teachings, and in the impact of the way Christians' lives were lived and changed that provide such evidence (that Jesus' claims were indeed truthful.)

      To me, it seems as if those who accept only his existence sort through the claims and only accept those which do not obligate them in any way to virtuous living.

      • Krakerjak

        To me, it seems as if those who accept only his existence sort through
        the claims and only accept those which do not obligate them in any way
        to virtuous living.

        That is so shallow....as if Jesus was the only credible figure in religious history to call people or "obligate" them to virtuous living. Not very deep water here.

        • materetmagistra

          Not what I said.

          I said that I think some who accept evidence for Jesus' existence ["I would say, and most atheists I talk to agree, that this is still enough to reasonably accept that someone named Jesus existed..."] are guilty of leaving out certain evidences - namely those things that would obligate them to behave better morally.

      • William Davis

        Mohammed and Siddhartha Gautama (buddha) are two great counter examples. I believe in the example set by Jesus, but also the wisdom expressed by the Buddha. I'm sure there is good in the Koran, but I'm not that familiar with it. I believe these two existed but accept no obligation from them. The fact is that both Jesus and Paul made it clear that God's kingdom was coming in their generation. That failed prophecy alone is sufficient to be clear that nothing supernatural was a work. Christianity is the product of good men trying to relieve the suffering imposed by the forces of evil (Roman empire). Christianity is great as a theory of meaning, and we need theories of meaning. It just doesn't work as a theory of reality, however, at least for someone trained in the sciences. Many scientists still believe in a higher power (51 percent) but if you get to digging many of these don't believe in religion dogmatically at all, and some, like myself, think God may exist, but he is not anything we can comprehend and there is no direct divine revelation. Part of the problem is that science teaches you ways of thinking about theories, when applying those methods to miraculous religious claims, they just don't hold up.

        • materetmagistra

          @William Davis: "Part of the problem is that science teaches you ways of thinking about theories, when applying those methods to miraculous religious claims, they just don't hold up."

          That's not science.....that's logic and philosophy.

          Also, science as a tool for measuring the material does not, by definition, work to measure the immaterial.

          • William Davis

            Since science is a branch of philosophy and based in logic, your comment makes no sense. The mind is immaterial, but psychology has long attempted to measure it, with limited success.

          • Bob

            "The mind is immaterial"...

            Doubtful.

          • William Davis

            Maybe, but the nature of the mind still troubles meta-physics to this day. Sure, the mind is what the brain does, but it many respects it is distinct from the mind. Take the experience of the color red for instance. The experience starts with the emission of a specific frequency of electromagnetic radiation that hits the retina. The retina converts the radiation into an electrical signal that is transmitted and processed by the brain. There is nothing physically red here at all, but to say red doesn't exist flies in the face of human experience. The definition I use for immaterial is "not consisting of matter". You can disagree of course, but it seems that the mind is caused by matter, but is not actually matter itself.

          • Bob

            Is running immaterial?

            Perhaps it is the framing of the question itself that causes the confusion.

          • William Davis

            Is the act of running the same as the experience of running? If so, watching someone else run should feel the same as running yourself, right? I think you missed my point. We can't know how a dog experiences pain because we will never be a dog. We can observe all the brain scans and learn all the neurology we want, but we will never be able to answer, "How does a dog experience pain." Very intelligent people have grappled with the "hard problem of consciousness" and still come up short, this isn't some wacko nonsense. Here's a link from Stanford, it's complicated. Dismissing it out of hand is pretty unimaginative...

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness/

          • Bob

            In fact, I believe that you missed my point. To clarify, running is to legs as mind is to .....

            That subjective experience is inaccessible to outside observation is irrelevant to what the mind, in fact, is. Thus my comment about asking the wrong question.

          • William Davis

            Here's a good link for you to check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_science

            Originally it was called natural philosophy, it was started by Plato and Aristotle, at least the western version that has turned into what we call science today. Science is built on inductive logic. Inductive logic only works in probabilities, unlike deductive logic, which is true if it's premises are true. I enjoy philosophy and metaphysics as well as science. Science by itself has no meaning, we have to have other forms of thought, and I think we need religion. I just can't force something I simply cannot believe, hopefully you understand. I'm sure you can't imagine the world without believing what you do. That said, I appreciate the history and philosophy found in Christianity and the Bible. From Proverbs and Ecclesiastes to Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas, there is a lot of wisdom here.

          • materetmagistra

            @William Davis: "Science by itself has no meaning, we have to have other forms of thought...."

            Exactly.

            @WD: "... I just can't force something I simply cannot believe, hopefully you understand. I'm sure you can't imagine the world without believing what you do."

            Actually, I spent more than half my life blindly believing in atheism. When I actually started defending those beliefs, I would end up at dead-ends. Following the evidence where it led has made all the difference....and changing my behavior based on reasoned belief (that led me to the Catholic Church) has made an incredible difference (along with providing additional evidence of truth.)

      • What makes Jesus so important? The fact that a major religion arose out of the events of his life and death. Same for Bhudda. Sure mere men are worthy of such recognition. There are thousands of mere men remembered in history.

        Well the same could be said for Mohammed. His teachings, legacy are astounding and spawned an enormous movement, this is unconvincing to you presumably that he was the one true prophet of the one true God?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      There are many writings, none of which we can confirm date back to the time of his life.

      Of course, the same is true of Socrates, Hannibal, Thales of Miletus, Lucretius, and any number of ancient persons. It is always convenient to apply a standard in the one case that we ignore in all other cases.

      • Chad Eberhart

        I'm curious, do Socrates, Hannibal, Thales of Miletus or Lucretius have over a billion followers for whom it is required to believe in eternal torment and that those who reject their teachings will suffer eternal perdition? Seems to me that if they did we'd need to require the same standard.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          No, the standards should be the same for any historical figure, and not contingent on what you imagine to be the consequences for accepting their teachings. The question "Did X exist?" does not depend on whether you like what X said or did. It depends only on the evidences.

          • Chad Eberhart

            If there are extraordinary claims and a large contingent of the human population who believe such claims with such egregious and eternal consequences it stands to reason that we should examine those claims with more scrutiny. Not sure why we should equally scrutinize Hannibal and Lucretius when they have relatively no impact on modern society compared to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Might could be; but we're talking about the existence of the person, not the claims he made. That Hannibal and Lucretius did not give us natural science, conscience, law, parliaments, secular states, and all that stuff means we can consider them more objectively than you can consider JC.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That Hannibal and Lucretius did not give us natural science, conscience, law, parliaments, secular states,

            Are you saying that Jesus Christ did?

            It has been thousands of years since anyone killed, persecuted, or judged in the name of Hannibal. The same cannot be said for Christianity. This is why we are a little more concerned about Jesus than these other characters.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No, but that the civilization that emerged from his teachings did.

            We must be always careful in equating the deeds of the Men With Swords with the teachings of a prophet. Human beings are perfectly capable of killing, persecuting, and judging in the name of Race, the Nation, the Party, and who knows what?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Human beings are perfectly capable of killing, persecuting, and judging in the name of Race, the Nation, the Party, and who knows what?

            I don't disagree.
            However, I think religion encourages dogmatic thought systems and a tribalization of society. This combined with the power that religious leaders have over their followers leads to undesirable consequences. I'm sure you disagree, but I do not view religion as a positive influence on society. This is why I pay extra attention to religious claims and comment on why I think they are incorrect or mistaken. The claims have done some harm over the years.

          • Doug Shaver

            Human beings are perfectly capable of killing, persecuting, and judging in the name of Race, the Nation, the Party, and who knows what?

            They are also capable of reading a work of fiction and taking it to be a work of biography or history.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            They are also capable of reading a work of fiction and taking it to be a work of biography or history.

            We see this constantly on the Internet, where people take mythic web-site portrayals of real people -- like Galileo or Hypatia -- to be actual histories. So we know this is true.

            But again, you are making the fundamentalist assumption that the early Christians found this text setting around, said "Gee, I wonder what this book is," and after reading it exclaimed, "Wow! That must have really happened!" In fact, the NT texts were written by people who already had the faith and the ancient Greeks distrusted bare texts, which could not be cross-examined, in favor of "the living word," that is, live testimony by witnesses, who could.

            Realist fiction was a late medieval, early modern invention -- the roman vs. the chanson. There seem to be few if any such works from the Hellenistic/Roman era. Conventions of Greek historie and bioi were clearly distinct from fabulae at the time these things were written. Compare, say, Mark's gospel or Porphyry's Life of Plotinus to Virgil's Aeneid.

          • Doug Shaver

            We see this constantly on the Internet, where people take mythic web-site portrayals of real people -- like Galileo or Hypatia -- to be actual histories

            They make the same mistake with stories about people who were never real.

            There seem to be few if any such works from the Hellenistic/Roman era.

            They don't get talked about much, but a few have survived. There must have been a bunch more that didn't. There have always been storytellers, and whenever they've had the means, they've written those stories.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There have always been storytellers, and whenever they've had the means, they've written those stories.

            But there have not always been story-tellers who used the techniques of modern realism. "Once upon a time..." doesn't make the story mistakable for real. Neither does a tale in which people move through clearly allegorical landscapes during the reigns of kings no one has heard of.

            Cite an example of a Hellenistic tale written in a realist style. I'm sure there may have been some.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have no idea what you mean by a realist style. I would judge a story to be realistic, regardless of the author's particular literary technique, if it portrays believable people doing believable things.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Some useful discussion can be found here:

            Franz H. Bäuml’s Medieval Civilization in Germany 800-1273

          • Doug Shaver

            Does the book include a demonstration that what was true of Medieval German literature was also true of ancient Hellenistic literature?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Duh? All this could be addressed by presenting examples of realistic fiction written in ancient times. There may actually be examples here and there.

          • William Davis

            Natural science goes to Plato/Aristotle
            We all have a conscience, born that way (better on some than other)
            The Romans, pre-Christianity gave us law and the Republic, secular states came as a result of the enlightenment...

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Natural science goes to Plato/Aristotle

            Not quite. Plato was more woo-woo and distrusted sense impressions. Aristotle, while admirably devoted to the empirical, was an outlier. We overestimate his impact precisely because his writings were favored by the Christian translators -- both the Syriacs, who passed them on to the Arabs, and the Latins. No civilization has ever invented natural science that did not first have Aristotle. (China is an example: technology and math, but no natural science.) But having Aristotle was not enough. (The House of Submission is an example: a corporal's guard of faylasuf but no ignition or embedding in the wider culture.) Ibn Rushd might have been an Aquinas for the muslims, except he was stripped of offices and banished precisely because natural philosophy was looked on with disfavor by the establishment.

            And then, the Scientific Revolution was precisely a rejection of Aristotelian physics, which they regarded as a roadblock to "true" science.

            We all have a conscience, born that way

            You say that because you are heir to a Christian civilization and Romans 2:11-16. The idea of conscience did not exist in China or in the House of Submission. The closest word in Arabic (niyya) meant something like "intention." (The old kid's excuse: "I didn't mean it!") The word damir became current only after Napoleon's invasion of Egypt brought Western notions. There is an extended discussion in Toby Huff's The Rise of Early Modern Science and the impact of the Legal Revolution -- that ordinary people could be autonomous actors with responsibility -- on the rise of science.

            The Christian belief is as you have said: that all men are born with conscience (lit. "with-knowledge"); but that does not mean that society recognized it. And if human reason is not capable of reaching true conclusions in moral and natural questions, forget about any science other than as directed (or permitted) by the Emperor.

            The Romans, pre-Christianity gave us law and the Republic

            The Laws were whatever the Emperor said they were; and the Republic -- rule by the Old Men -- became hard to find after it collapsed in gang violence and Caesar's coup. You mustn't confuse the perfection of an existing idea with creation ex nihilo. There were also German tribal practices that entered into the mix that led to the Legal Revolution, not the least fruit of which was for the first time ever the formal training of lawyers via that unique Christian innovation, the "university."

            secular states came as a result of the enlightenment

            No, the Enlightenment gave us absolute divine monarchs who took control of the Church within their borders. Hence, Q.Eliz.II is also head of the Established Church of England. Norway disestablished The Church of Norway only in 2012. Like the Roman Emperors before them, kings and emperors in Western Europe sought always for absolute monarchy. But in the Hildebrandine Revolution, the Church declared its independence of the State, stripping the kings of their religious authority. This is what created the secular state -- i.e., a state concerned only with secular (worldly) matters. Ironically, the Papacy was the first secular state. This ensured that during the Middle Ages, there could be no Total State -- because there was always a second, independent authority to appeal to.

            Not until the Enlightenment did the kings reassert the power to name bishops, to approve enclyclicals, and other matters of church governance. Instead of medieval separation of Church and State, we got the reduction of the Church within national borders to lapdog status.

          • Doug Shaver

            Can people who think a man was God incarnate consider him objectively?

          • Great Silence

            Before they came to think of him as God incarnate, I am sure they did think of him very objectively. After that, maybe not. What would cause them to eventually view him that way?

          • Doug Shaver

            What would cause them to eventually view him that way?

            I don't believe that an itinerant preacher in first-century Palestine could have done anything to make his disciples, who were predominantly if not exclusively Jewish, come to believe within a few years after his death that he was God incarnate.

      • William Davis

        I think we apply the standard evenly. None of these other figures expects us to believe in miracles, or that they were God. History is about probabilities, not provable facts. There are many things about all of these figures that I'm sure we misunderstand because of the imperfection of the information we have. Most of our scientific understanding is the same, "all models are wrong, some are useful." Agnosticism is the wisest default position. To put it in terms of one of the men you mention (obviously Socrates didn't write this but Plato, and it could very well have been messed up in copying over the years, but it's all we have): "To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge." Modern critical thinking teaches the same stance. In my opinion, these may have been some of the wisest words anyone has spoken in history.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants. Suuure, he did. Sounds miraculous to me.

          Besides, again, it is the figure's existence not the truth-value of his claims that are at issue. Idi Amin claimed to be King of Scotland. That does not mean he did not exist. Everyone knows that the True King of Scotland is the Stuart heir.

          Be careful about invoking probabilities. There's no such thing independent of a prior model. E may be improbable under one set of assumptions, but dead certain under another.

          • William Davis

            For the record, I'm pretty certain Jesus the man existed. As for probabilities, they represent how accurate you think your conclusion is, and they are really impossible to represent mathematically using history. You're right about assumptions, and the best way to find truth is to walk in with as few assumptions as possible and evaluate the evidence. The problem is that as soon as we think we have a solution, we start biasing the rest of the information. It interesting how I find myself doing this even though I try to stop it, especially on a complex topic. We have to have some assumptions though, like the world is real and we aren't disembodied minds being fooled by demons. I grant the fact that if I assume miracles can't happen than the probability of Jesus's resurrection goes to zero. If you assume Jesus is God, then the probability goes to 100. I tend to be on the zero side, but history is full of discovery things that were thought to be impossible. If only we had a time machine, or at least a window through a wormhole :)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            True dat. But one can err through radical skepticism, too. That's how we get to the brain-in-a-vat silliness in the first place. Eyewitness testimony is often unreliable -- but that does not mean that it is never reliable. The deeds of men can undergo fabulization, but that only encrusts, it does not remove the man behind the fable. (Consider Roland, count of the Breton Marches, mentioned among the casualties in a Basque ambush of the Carolingian rearguard with the Roland "paladin of Charlemagne" blowing his magic horn and falling heroically before the Saracens.

          • Doug Shaver

            The deeds of men can undergo fabulization, but that only encrusts, it does not remove the man behind the fable.

            That is true of both real and fictional men. We cannot just assume that there is always real history underneath the crust.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Until the invention of the realist "novel" fabulous men were clearly distinct from the real. Compare Ahab in Moby Dick to Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzifal. A useful book in this regard is Jan Vansina's Oral Tradition as History, which serves up examples not only from ancient times but also from early 19th century Congo, late 19th century England, mid-late 19th century Hopi, and so on.

          • Doug Shaver

            Until the invention of the realist "novel" fabulous men were clearly distinct from the real.

            Distinct in what way? Like doing things that real men couldn't do?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            From the genre style of the writing. In what actual time and place was (e.g.) Herakles supposed to have done his thing? Or Parzifal? Or Tristan and Isolde? Characters in a chanson were types: noble king, wise queen, brave traitor, cowardly traitor, and so on. The lands through which they moved were vague and represented allegories for some attitude. The actions they performed were dictated by their type. Siegfried kills the king and takes his gold because that is what his type does, not because of any personal history or motivation.

            OTOH, people like Jesus and Plotinus were clearly pinned down as to when and where they lived. One also will notice the homey details in a bios or historie typically absent from paramythia. Compare, for example, the anecdotes of Plutarch or Tacitus to those of Aesop or Virgil.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, the ancients used one literary style when writing about real men, and an obviously different style when writing about men who weren't real?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Pretty much. Compare Plutarch or Suetonius to Virgil or Aesop.

          • Doug Shaver

            Be careful about invoking probabilities. There's no such thing independent of a prior model. E may be improbable under one set of assumptions, but dead certain under another.

            So, whenever we want to know what some set of evidence might prove, we need to check our assumptions?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think so, yes.

            If we are talking about using probabilities to address ultimate questions, then we end up with a sort of probabilistic analogue of a first mover type argument. Every so-called "prior" probability is really a conditional probability in hiding. After trying to chase that chain of conditioning all the way back, some of us give up and beg for the existence of something "Unconditioned" that is reliable with prior probability one. The only alternative that I see is to declare that the very notion of "prior" probability is ultimately incoherent. Your probabilities have to be grounded in something axiomatic, which means that your foundational axiom(s) cannot be assessed scientifically for their probability content.

            Another way to get at it would be to note that it is silly to compute

            P(The Unconditioned | Data)

            How can there be a conditional probability of that which is unconditioned?

            Better to save yourself some computation, just confess P(The Unconditioned) as either 0 or 1, and be done with it.

          • Doug Shaver

            At some point in our reasoning, we do have to just assume that certain apparent facts are actual facts. We can either assign them a probability of unity, or else just say that the probability is sufficiently close to unity as to make no epistemological difference.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Absolutely. Basic stats. There is no Pr(X) only Pr(X|E+M) where E is the evidences and M is the "I believes" (a/k/a the Model). For example, the probability of a component failure in an assembly "before time t" will depend on whether failures distribute as an exponential distribution, a uniform distribution,or a normal distribution. Most complex assemblies will assume all three during their service lives.

            Homier examples: Suppose you observe a rock stratum in various geographical locations that contains an elevated level of iridium. Is this evidence for a primordial asteroid strike or is it evidence for the eruption of the Deccan Traps?
            Or if you anciently observe marine fossils in the high mountains of Greece, is this evidence for a primordial world-flood? The early Greek philosopher Xenophanes did -- because he knew of no other natural mechanism that would deposit marine life in the high mountains. But centuries later ibn Sinna approached the same evidence with the assumption that bone-to-stone transformations were "alchemy" and he did not believe in alchemy. The "fossils" were simply funny-shaped rocks that only happened to look like shells and fish skeletons. Not until Albert of Saxony suggested uplift, by which seafloor could become mountains over time, was another possibility within the intellectual horizon.
            Or again, every bit of astronomical evidence available in the seventeenth century could be accounted for by both the Copernican and Tychonic models, since they were identical in their mathematics; but the latter accounted for the lack of stellar parallax and the lack of Coriolis effects without making additional assumptions.

            No fact speaks for itself. It's meaning always depends on the theoretical framework from which it is viewed. That is why the same finite set of data can always be explained by more than one theory. As Feynmann once pointed out, physicists will often use more than one theory, since they will differ in the sorts of research questions they will suggest, using the example of light as being a particle or a wave.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is no Pr(X) only Pr(X|E+M) where E is the evidences and M is the "I believes" (a/k/a the Model).

            If your M means what I think it means, I've always seen it referred to as B (aka Background Knowledge). I don't want to argue over terminology, but I would define B as "everything we knew or thought we knew about the universe before we commenced our analysis of the evidence in question." Would you accept that as a definition of what you're calling M?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            M is more specifically the "Model," but sure, why not. The point remains.

          • Doug Shaver

            Then you would agree that when we attempt to calculate Pr(X|E+M), we must be careful not to inadvertently include X in M?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It depends what X is. One of the best howlers of all time was when a conversant here tried to convince me that there was an empirical basis for believing that Bayes Theorem is true.

            I tried to imagine computing :

            P( Bayes Theorem is true | Data )

            but I failed at that task.

            So, and this is just one example, if X = "Bayes Theorem is true", then only a fool would attempt to extricate X from M.

          • Doug Shaver

            One of the best howlers of all time was when a conversant here tried to convince me that there was an empirical basis for believing that Bayes Theorem is true.

            A skeptic, I assume? If so, it's one more bit of evidence -- as if any were needed -- that being a skeptic doesn't keep you being a complete idiot.

            Bayes' Theorem is just mathematics. It is true in the same sense, and for exactly the same kind of reason, that the quadratic equation is true.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But Bayes Theorem isn't just used probabilistically to predict data based on belief. It is used also used inferentially to evaluate belief based on data . That latter (statistical) use of Bayes theorem implies an extra-mathematical connection to reality. We may change our minds as to whether a quadratic equation sufficiently approximates a particular phenomenon, but we will never do anything like that with Bayes Theorem. It is impossible to observe data that would lead us to question Bayes Theorem as a tool for making inferences from data. You either believe that it's a good conceptual tool for interrogating material reality, or you don't, and that's that.

          • Doug Shaver

            The quadratic equation has one independent variable and three constants. If applied to a real-world situation, the constants are determined by theory and initial observation, where the theory is supposed to have a connection with the initial observations. If observations are inconsistent with the equation's prediction, we know either that our observations were in error (e.g. we assigned the wrong values to the constants), or else that we need to revise our theory, or else that we were mistaken to think that the quadratic equation was applicable to the phenomenon in question.

            The Bayes formula has three independent variables (four factors altogether, but one is a function of another) and no constants. As an epistemological tool, it is not supposed to predict anything about empirical reality. It is supposed to, and does, inform us whether we are being consistent in our assessment of certain probabilities in cases where we claim evidential support for a particular belief. It cannot, and is not supposed to, tell us whether we have assessed those probabilities correctly. It can only tell us that if we justifiably believe that H, E|H, and E|~H (all conditioned on background knowledge) have such-and-such probabilities, then we may justifiably believe that H|E has such-and-such a probability conditioned on that same background knowledge. If we nevertheless believe it has some other probability, then our beliefs are inconsistent. We have somehow managed to convince ourselves of at least two things that cannot both be true.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Yes. The Jesus Seminar, for example, excludes from authentic passages in the gospels any passage that supports later Christian liturgical practices, and then concludes that the authentic gospels do not support later Christian liturgical practices. We have seen also here people who assume up front that miracles are impossible and then conclude that such accounts are impossible. If you assume that Darwinian natural selection is true, you can concoct an "adaptation story" to explain "how the elephant got his trunk," but then you mustn't turn around and use this story as evidence to support natural selection. Examples abound.

          • Doug Shaver

            Examples abound.

            They certainly do. And yes, they are just as abundant in atheist writings as they are in apologetic writings.

            If you assume that Darwinian natural selection is true, you can concoct an "adaptation story" to explain "how the elephant got his trunk," but then you mustn't turn around and use this story as evidence to support natural selection.

            Quite so, but I've never seen anyone use such an argument in defense of natural selection. And I have read lots and lots of books defending natural selection.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Evidence for the existence of Hannibal seems greater than the existence of Jesus.

        I am agnostic on Socrates existence. Whether or not he did exist is irrelevant to me - Plato was either correct or incorrect. There are some academics who think that Socrates did not exist.

        Perhaps a better comparison to Jesus would be Lucretia - most likely existed, but details of her life are legendary.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucretia

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Evidence for the existence of Hannibal seems greater

          What evidence?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Polybius and Livy. Archeological findings.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            They were longer after the fact than the gospelers. They were Romans or Roman suck-ups and therefore supported Roman dogma about the Big Bad Hannibal. (See how easy this is?)

            What archeological findings?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Polybius wrote about 50 years after the events, which is around the same time frame as the latter Gospels. I believe that someone named Jesus actually existed. However, I think the Gospels got their facts wrong and embellished things just like Livy did. Very few Christians will admit to any embellishing in the gospels.

            I think a main difference between Jesus and Hannibal is that the former made a very small effect while he existed, while Hannibal's effect was large during his existence.

            I thought there was archeological evidence of Cannae, but as I was searching the web I see I am mistaken.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The problem with that is that evidence for a battle at Cannae is not evidence for the life of Hannibal.

            If the Christians embellished their gospels, why did they do such a poor job of it? Why leave in all that stuff that was so off-putting to others? Why let your leader Peter be portrayed as vacillating and cowardly? Why show the disciples to be such dolts that they never seem to follow the parables of their mentor? The very embellishments they are supposed to have added -- i.e., "things I find personally incredulous" -- are typically those very things that their contemporaries would have found to be stumbling blocks.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            They managed to embellish him into a God. :-)

            Some modern scholars believe that the only event if Jesus's life that Mark thought was important was the Resurrection. That was the greatest miracle and the most important to Christian belief. The rest of the stories were at least partially invented in the style of Daniel/Revelation.

            I'm not sure why the gospel writers portrayed the disciples as rather slow in the head.

            I do not believe that the Gospels (or any of the bible) was inspired by God. My reasons for believing that outweigh my lack of an explanation as to why early Christians would portray their leaders as idiots.

          • Bob

            Re: the portrayal of the apostles in Mark.

            Perhaps Mark was a member of the Pauline community. See Galatians.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why is that important?
            Sorry, I'm just a little confused about what you are getting it.

          • Bob

            Mark seems to mirror, in some ways, Paul's attitude toward those deemed important, whoever they were making no difference to him.

          • Doug Shaver

            If the Christians embellished their gospels, why did they do such a poor job of it?

            Who says they did a poor job? A few billion people nowadays seem to think they did a pretty job.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Poor because, given the literary tropes of the time, any embellisher could have easily eliminated the embarrassing, off-putting parts -- like the awful and degrading manner in which their founder was executed by the State. Or that his dead body was walking around afterward! To the Jews and Greeks of that era, these were serious obstacles to belief. It's hard to imagine a 1st century embellisher saying to himself, "Let's make this more attractive to people in the XX century."

          • Doug Shaver

            How do we know that whoever wrote the gospels would have been embarrassed by the same things that embarrassed the people who decided whether to canonize the gospels?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Because we do know some things about attitudes in the first century Empire.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do we know of any attitudes, relevant to what we should believe about the gospels, that were held by everybody, without exception, throughout the empire?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Certainly. The idea of a dead man rising and walking around was held as absurd by the Greeks and as grotesque by the Jews. Therefore, presenting Christ as risen from the dead put an enormous stumbling block in front of potential converts.

            Among literate Greeks, certain tropes in historiography would have been recognizable. The first person mentioned (other than public, historical figures) would have been the primary source. Secondary characters mentioned by name would have been sources for the anecdote in which they were named. Etc.

            Among literate Jews, various quotes from and references to the scriptures would have carried immediate connotations to them.

            That the world was a cold and hostile place, full of "principalities and powers" was commonly held -- and responsible for the widespread superstition, esp.among the Romans.

            I liked your qualifier "without exception," since the existence of even one contrarian would have been an exception. This goes beyond the claim that "we do know some things about attitudes in the first century Empire." Note: "attitudes" not "the attitude." One way to slough the matter of historiography off is to pretend to a more stringent requirement than that actually suggested.

          • Doug Shaver

            I liked your qualifier "without exception," since the existence of even one contrarian would have been an exception.

            I get it that a single exception would have been irrelevant to your point. However, you are not entitled to a presumption that if there were any exceptions, they would have been too few to matter.

            Therefore, presenting Christ as risen from the dead put an enormous stumbling block in front of potential converts.

            And so, at first, i.e. during the mid-first century, there would not have been many converts. And apparently there weren't. No non-Christian source from that period even mentions Christians or Christianity. And even Christian sources that claim large numbers of converts during that time are, I believe, all from the second century.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Suetonius and Tacitus, both men of the first century, mention the sect. Josephus also states that "the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day," this day being the late 1st century/early 2nd. Josephus was born a few years after the crucifixion and died around AD 100. Tacitus was born a few years before Peter was executed by Nero and died in AD 117. Suetonius was born AD 69 and died AD 122. So all three were roughly contemporaries.

            However, there are all sorts of things that are not mentioned in all sorts of ancient sources. You have to take a realistic and materialistic view of this sort of thing and not make special demands in one case that you do not in others. For example, the survival of manuscripts over time. You are likely to find discrepancies between accounts of the same event in Tacitus and Plutarch because much depends on which eyewitness or eyewitness account each had access to. Roman sources generally do not mention diddly squat about the rubes and rustics in odd corners of the Empire - except insofar as they impact Rome. E.g., the rebellion of the Batavian Gauls under J. Civilis, the Jewish Revolt, etc.

          • Doug Shaver

            Suetonius and Tacitus, both men of the first century, mention the sect.

            When I said "source," I meant "document." Tacitus wrote his reference to Christians during the second century. Suetonius does not mention Christians. He mentions Jews who were being influenced by a man he calls Chrestus.

            However, there are all sorts of things that are not mentioned in all sorts of ancient sources.

            Nonexistent evidence cannot be used to prove anything, regardless of the reason for its nonexistence.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Tacitus wrote his reference to Christians during the second century.
            Tacitus died in AD 117 which, unless he wrote the entire Annals in his last seventeen years of life, can be regarded as an honorary part of the first century. Remember, the clock starts about a third of the way through what we call the first century, so ca. AD30 - ca. AD 130 actually marks the first hundred years after the fact, and young men at the time (say 20 yrs old) would have been 60 by AD 70 and their children would have been 60 by AD100. Time is continuous, and AD 101 is not something utterly different from AD 100 even though people centuries later started grouping years in that manner. Gimme a break.

            a man he calls Chrestus

            Duh? Gimme a second break. The e and i were sometimes switched. One of the texts of Acts and 1Peter also refer to Christians as chrestianos. Even in more modern documents, one finds variant spellings of the same name. By your reasoning, there is no evidence for one of my many-great grandfathers since, in different documents he is referred to as Franz, Josef, Anton, Franz Josef, Josef Anton, and Franz Anton. This does not mean there were six different men at various times married to the same woman and fathering various children with her.

            Nonexistent evidence cannot be used to prove anything

            Precisely. Pointing to the paucity of documents from the first century cannot be used to prove anything.

          • Doug Shaver

            Tacitus died in AD 117 which, unless he wrote the entire Annals in his last seventeen years of life, can be regarded as an honorary part of the first century.

            An honorary part? That's a brand-new one to me.

            A story about John Adams' presidency, if it does not mention the Boston Massacre, is not a witness to the Boston Massacre even if the writer was old enough to have been alive when the massacre happened and even though Adams is known to have defended the soldiers involved in the massacre.

            The e and i were sometimes switched.

            Without evidence that they were switched on this particular occasion, you're not entitled to the assumption that they were switched. My last name has often been misspelled as Shafer, but if you find a document mentioning someone named Doug Shafer, you can't know that it's about me.

            This does not mean there were six different men at various times married to the same woman

            I'm not claiming that the reference couldn't have been to Jesus of Nazareth. I'm rejecting your assumption that it couldn’t have been to anyone else.

          • George

            Why? Maybe because it all makes Jesus look better by comparison.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            By comparison to what?

          • George

            the disciples. jesus wouldn't seem so special if all his followers were just as stoic as him.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What makes stoic better, except to a stoic?

          • George

            My response was to your post where you asked: "Why leave in all that stuff that was so off-putting to others? Why let your leader Peter be portrayed as vacillating and cowardly? Why show the disciples to be such dolts that they never seem to follow the parables of their mentor?"

            Having such grit in the story would help to create a contrast with jesus, the man Christians want us to believe was perfect.That's all I meant. Maybe I should have picked a better word than stoic to distinguish against cowardice. Bravery, decisiveness, loyalty, whatever qualities that you think would not be off-putting to others, we shall we go with instead.

        • materetmagistra

          @Ignatius Reilly: " Whether or not he did exist is irrelevant to me..."

          I think you hit the nail on the head. IF Jesus is who he claims to be, there is direct RELEVANCE, eh?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Whether or not he existed, I could still consider Jesus's teachings and decide whether they are true and/or wise. I also do not need to accept of reject everything in the bible.

            Who did Jesus claim to be? We have only the view of those who believed that Jesus claimed to be God. According to the Scriptures many thought he was just a Rabbi or worse a blasphemer.

            What is the direct relevance?

          • materetmagistra

            @"What is the direct relevance?"

            If he was who he claimed to be, who are you to "decide whether [his teachings] are true and/or wise"??

            Which begs another question: @"I could still consider Jesus's teachings and decide whether they are true and/or wise."

            How would you "decide" such a thing?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If he was who he claimed to be, who are you to "decide whether [his teachings] are true and/or wise"??

            First I would have to believe that it was Jesus who claimed that and not just the Gospel writers. Second I would have to believe that the Gospel writers accurately wrote down what Jesus taught.

            Then I would have to separate what Jesus actually taught from the teachings of Aquinas and the Catholic Church.

            I would of course still wonder why the God of the OT killed so many people with such little cause, and why God could not have been loving and merciful the whole time, instead of giving the Jews a system of laws rife with injustice.

            How would you "decide" such a thing?

            Reason, personal experience, and the lessons of history. It is not fool proof, but it is all we have.

          • materetmagistra

            @"First I would have to believe that it was Jesus who claimed that and not just the Gospel writers."

            Wait, That is not the same as: "Whether or not he existed, I could still consider Jesus's teachings and decide whether they are true and/or wise." Why does it matter WHO said them....that is, if you are only setting about to determine if the sayings are "true and or wise" ??

            @"Second I would have to believe that the Gospel writers accurately wrote down what Jesus taught."

            Again - are you deciding the value and worth of the teachings, or something different?

            @"Then I would have to separate what Jesus actually taught from the teachings of Aquinas and the Catholic Church."

            Why does it matter WHO taught it - if it is "true and wise"??

            @"Reason, personal experience, and the lessons of history. It is not fool proof, but it is all we have."

            I guess my reason does not automatically require me to believe the Gospel writers are making false claims. Why does yours? Why is that the first assumption we must make?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Wait, That is not the same as: "Whether or not he existed, I could still consider Jesus's teachings and decide whether they are true and/or wise." Why does it matter WHO said them....that is, if you are only setting about to determine if the sayings are "true and or wise" ??

            Of course not. You had offered the hypothetical that Jesus was actually God. If he was God, I would put importance on what he said, so I would want to make sure that he actually said it.

            Again - are you deciding the value and worth of the teachings, or something different?

            Something different. I think we can separate Jesus's teachings from the claim that he was God. Jesus could have taught the golden rule, but the whole God thing could have been an invention of his followers.

            Why does it matter WHO taught it - if it is "true and wise"??

            I don't think Aquinas nor the Catholic Church's teachings are always true and wise. Sometimes they are false and foolish.

            I guess my reason does not automatically require me to believe the Gospel writers are making false claims. Why does yours? Why is that the first assumption we must make?

            I was raised Catholic and was Catholic for most of my life. I left my faith a few years ago (I'm not quite 30). When I was losing my faith, I read the bible and could not understand the Bible as an inspired text. The Old Testament God is far to violent. Also, many of the books read (at least to me) as the Jews trying to understand their suffering and triumphs by thinking of themselves as in favor our out of favor with God.

            I do not think that everything that Christ or Paul taught is completely reconcilable with an all-loving God. My issues are more with the old testament than the new, but I think the New Testament does have Jesus saying things that are not the sayings of an all-loving God. I think in general, we usually assume that when people are making wild religious claims that they are usually lying. I made that assumption when I was Catholic.

            I didn't lose my faith because of the bible - I just read it differently when I was having doubts than I did when I was a believer.

          • materetmagistra

            @Ignatius Reilly: "Jesus could have taught the golden rule, but the whole God thing could have been an invention of his followers."

            Hmm. So, you are claiming that the most obvious assumption is that the people drawn to Jesus, those people living out the "golden rule" Jesus taught, living out the Commandments, would intentionally LIE about Jesus being God? That does NOT make sense.

            @Ignatius Reilly: " I think in general, we usually
            assume that when people are making wild religious claims that they are usually lying."

            Ah, a "wild religious claim" such as:
            "[W]hoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all;" or maybe: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through
            Me;" or maybe: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am;" or maybe: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail
            against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall
            be loosed in heaven.”

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Hmm. So, you are claiming that the most obvious assumption is that the people drawn to Jesus, those people living out the "golden rule" Jesus taught, living out the Commandments, would intentionally LIE about Jesus being God? That does NOT make sense.

            It wasn't necessarily a lie. Stories grow are embellished and take on mythical character without anyone lying deliberately.

            I was really thinking more about more modern religious claims like miraculous gloves of Padre Pio (later shown to be fraudulent), some Eucharistic miracles, scientology etc.
            If something is far outside our experience and seemingly unlikely, we usually treat it with a great degree of skepticism.

            I'm not sure exactly what the point is of the scripture quotes you laid out. Are you saying that those are wild claims that are found in the Gospels? What should I make of them? It would seem if somebody claimed to be eternal like God, I would view them as a crank, unless they gave me a absolutely huge amount of evidence otherwise.

          • materetmagistra

            @Ignatius Reilly: " It would seem if somebody claimed to be eternal like God, I would view them as a crank, unless they gave me a absolutely huge amount of evidence otherwise."

            Exactly. Do you think the twelve apostles were any different? Or any of the people who came in contact with Jesus? Is there any evidence that Jesus was considered a "crank"??

          • Ignatius Reilly

            This assumes that Jesus actually claimed that he was God. It is possible that Jesus was a Rabbi, and his followers deified him.

          • materetmagistra

            The Gospels note that Jesus made that very claim - several times. So, I am looking to the written evidence at hand - my assumption being that the writers recorded testimony truthfully.
            What assumption(s) are you making? Well, it would be that the Gospel writers are liars. What historical evidence exists to support such an assumption?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No, I am assuming that by the time the Gospel writers received the story, the story had been embellished. Furthermore, the writer of Mark may have not meant his work to be taken as a historical narrative, but rather an apocalyptic narrative.

          • materetmagistra

            @Ignatius Reilly: "No, I am assuming that by the time the Gospel writers received the story, the story had been embellished."

            What supports this assumption? Wouldn't the first assumption be that the writers were writing down actual history and testimony? What proof is there that they weren't? Besides, if within the first generation after the events testified to is TOO LONG, isn't fifty-plus generations w-a-y t-o-o l-o-n-g?? On what grounds would one trust a twentieth- or twenty-first-century historian over a first-century historian in this case?

            @"Furthermore, the writer of Mark may have not meant his work to be taken as a historical narrative, but rather an apocalyptic narrative."

            Again, what proof exists for this claim? Is it proof from a recent century or from the first centuries? What reasons are there to doubt early Christian writings and traditions regarding Mark....like Papias (in Eusebius) or Irenaeus or Tertullian or Clement of Alexandria? The problem arises just as Carl Olson writes above: "Each [fallacy] fails, in essential ways, to take seriously as historical events what is described in the Gospels and proclaimed by the Church." Historical hypotheses which make the most sense GIVEN a consideration of ALL the evidence are better grounded, wouldn't you agree?

          • Doug Shaver

            Wouldn't the first assumption be that the writers were writing down actual history and testimony?

            I don't make that assumption for any other writer. Why should I make it for them?

          • materetmagistra

            Well, if the default position was that ALL (historical) evidence had to be corroborated with a second source BEFORE we could glean information...we'd have a hard time making progress. I rather think taking the evidence at face value and then analyzing its claims/veracity against other sources (corroboration) is more useful and productive in the search for truth, don't you? After all, you still have to have reasons supporting why you would dismiss certain evidence and not other evidence....

          • Doug Shaver

            Well, if the default position was that ALL (historical) evidence had to be corroborated with a second source BEFORE we could glean information...we'd have a hard time making progress.

            I said nothing about always needing a second source. I'm just objecting to the assumption that we must believe whatever any ancient writer says until we can prove him wrong.

            I rather think taking the evidence at face value and then analyzing its claims/veracity against other sources (corroboration) is more useful and productive in the search for truth, don't you?

            No, I don't, but maybe the phrase "useful and productive" doesn't mean the same to me as it does to you.

            After all, you still have to have reasons supporting why you would dismiss certain evidence and not other evidence....

            I have reasons. That you don't agree with them doesn't mean I don't have any.

          • materetmagistra

            @ Doug Shaver: "I'm just objecting to the assumption that we must believe whatever any ancient writer says until we can prove him wrong."

            My claim was that when a writer claims to be striving to relay truthful testimony, I think you need to begin with the assumption that that is what he was doing. As such, why would one not assume such writing to be generally true until proven otherwise? And, if you never do find a source to discredit the writer, you are left with a piece of evidence that cannot be outright discredited.

            @DS: "No, I don't, but maybe the phrase 'useful and productive' doesn't mean the same to me as it does to you."

            I said: ...useful and productive IN THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH...

            What is it that you seek?

          • Doug Shaver

            My claim was that when a writer claims to be striving to relay truthful testimony, I think you need to begin with the assumption that that is what he was doing.

            That assumption would lead me to think that many works of fiction that I've read were factual histories.

            I said: ...useful and productive IN THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH...

            I was reading too hastily. I apologize for my carelessness.

            What is it that you seek?

            When I read something that purports to be a factual narrative, I seek reasons to believe either that it is a factual narrative or that it is something else, whichever might be the case.

          • Doug Shaver

            My claim was that when a writer claims to be striving to relay truthful testimony, I think you need to begin with the assumption that that is what he was doing.

            Some assumptions are unavoidable, but I think we should do our best to keep them to a bare minimum. I see no reason to include that one as a default.

            What is it that you seek?

            When I read a narrative, I seek a reason to believe that the reported events either probably did happen or probably didn't happen. If I don't find a reason to believe one way or the other, I think the best thing for me to do is withhold judgment.

          • materetmagistra

            @Doug Shaver: "When I read a narrative, I seek a reason to believe that the reported events either probably did happen or probably didn't happen. If I don't find a reason to believe one way or the other..."

            Well, that brings us back to the beginning. There exists historical evidence that the Apostles concluded that Jesus rose from the dead. There exists historical evidence that these Apostles and other Christians were willing to die defending this conclusion. There exists evidence that many who heard, believed. Something certainly "happened." Something radically transformed the world. That seems like a pretty good reason to believe Jesus really did rise from the dead, eh? The alternative conclusion is that a dead Messiah and liars can work miracles......

          • Doug Shaver

            There exists historical evidence that . . . .

            You say so. I've looked for it and haven't found it.

            Something certainly "happened."

            Yes, its did. Sometime in the early first century, a new religion came along in Palestine. Then, about a hundred years later, some members of that religion were telling each other some stories about how the religion got started. You and I disagree about the credibility of those stories.

          • materetmagistra

            You really think they did not discus anything until "about a hundred years later"? I suppose you can't deny that they were indeed discussing Jesus BY THAT TIME (evidence!) However, how reasonable do you think it is that that is when the discussion BEGAN? Especially since the writings of the early church fathers indicate established teaching and tradition? What about the Didache? Certainly there is evidence that much was "discussed" before "a hundred years later."

          • Doug Shaver

            You really think they did not discus anything until "about a hundred years later"?

            I don't claim to know anything about what they were discussing during that time. There is no surviving documentation that reliably attests to those discussions.

            the writings of the early church fathers indicate established teaching and tradition?

            They attest to teachings that were current when they were writing. Anything they said about tradition presupposes the truth of those teachings.

            What about the Didache?

            What about it? When do you think it was written, and why do you think it was written then?

          • materetmagistra

            Development of doctrine and rites and orders does not happen overnight. Common sense would tell you that.

          • Doug Shaver

            Development of doctrine and rites and orders does not happen overnight.

            I have said nothing to the contrary.

          • Doug Shaver

            Development of doctrine and rites and orders does not happen overnight.

            I have said nothing to imply the contrary.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What supports this assumption? Wouldn't the first assumption be that the writers were writing down actual history and testimony? What proof is there that they weren't?

            Ever play telephone when you were a kid or heard a fisherman's story? Oral histories are prone to being embellished, especially when the embellishments make for better tales. Even when we reminisce about things that happened earlier in our lives, some people will embellish a story to make it better. I'm sure there were plenty of embellishers back then, even historians like Livy were embellishers.

            I'm not sure why we would first assume that they were writing down actual history or testimony. Do we do the same with Homer?

            If they were writing down actual history, you would expect them to be relatively free of contradiction. The Synoptic Gospels claim that Jesus's ministry was 1 year, while John claims that Jesus's ministry was 3 years. Why don't the gospels agree on this one essential fact?

            Besides, if within the first generation after the events testified to is TOO LONG, isn't fifty-plus generations w-a-y t-o-o l-o-n-g?? On what grounds would one trust a twentieth- or twenty-first-century historian over a first-century historian in this case?

            I would trust some modern historians over say Livy, who was a known embellisher for the Roman cause. The same could be said about every ancient historian. If the original writers had cause to make false claims, propagandize, or embellish, we will trust the modern unbiased view.

            Again, what proof exists for this claim? Is it proof from a recent century or from the first centuries? What reasons are there to doubt early Christian writings and traditions regarding Mark....like Papias (in Eusebius) or Irenaeus or Tertullian or Clement of Alexandria?

            The gospel uses the literary devices of the apocalyptic genre. Daniel is an apocalyptic narrative, which was not written as history, but rather it was written as a story to console the Israelites who were undergoing persecution. Mark as well could be read as an ahistorical narrative, meant to convey a message to the people who read it. As I remember, the basic message of the apocalyptic narrative is telling God's people to stay strong, because God will take care of them.

            Interestingly, Mark never actually claims that Jesus was God, but rather that he was an apocalyptic prophet who was going to bring God's Kingdom to the Israelites.

            We now know that the early tradition was wrong on the dating of the gospels. It was thought that Mathew was the first gospel to be written, but now the scholarly consensus is that Mark is. Tradition has been wrong, so I don't think we can place complete trust in the early church fathers.

            Also, the church fathers are bringing their own assumptions about the scriptures into their analysis. They viewed Jesus as God. Perhaps they were not aware about the Jewish apocalyptic tradition. I have not read much of what they wrote, so I really can't make a very educated comment.

            The problem arises just as Carl Olson writes above: "Each [fallacy] fails, in essential ways, to take seriously as historical events what is described in the Gospels and proclaimed by the Church." Historical hypotheses which make the most sense GIVEN a consideration of ALL the evidence are better grounded, wouldn't you agree?

            It seems like you are arguing that there are problems with view X on the gospels, therefore the gospels should be taken as history like the moderns would write history. There are also problems with thinking that the gospels are historical.

          • materetmagistra

            @Ignatius Reilly: "Even when we reminisce about things that happened earlier in our lives, some people will embellish a story to make it better."

            Note: "...some..."

            The ancient world RELIED on oral tradition. In many cases it was imperative that the information stayed true and accurate. Guessing that the testimonies about Jesus were happening from the START and were ongoing rather than simply recalled after 50 years...AND because the Apostles stress that they intend to hand on the Faith as it was received, WHY would we assume that there was embellishment? And, wasn't the story ALREADY pretty good - a resurrection?

            @ "I'm not sure why we would first assume that they were writing down actual history or testimony."

            They claim they are. Why wouldn't we believe them?

            @ "Do we do the same with Homer?"

            First, my understanding is that the events the Iliad is based on happened about FIVE centuries before the Iliad was written down. [The Gospels were written much, much, much closer to the events they describe.]

            Second, the Iliad is a different type of writing.

            @ "If they were writing down actual history, you would expect them to be relatively free of contradiction."

            On the contrary. If they were too in line, one would simply expect them to be copies. As such, some variation is a good thing.

            @"....we will trust the modern unbiased view."

            My point being that the closer the writer to the event, the less development of embellishment. Therefore, Gospels written in the first generation after Jesus would be preferable to some twenty-first century writer's interpretation of the events, eh?

            @"Tradition has been wrong, so I don't think we can place complete trust in the early church fathers."

            You cannot dismiss them, either. Besides, today's hypotheses aren't the final word either. And, what may today look "wrong," may one day be proven otherwise.

            @"Also, the church fathers are bringing their own assumptions about the scriptures into their analysis. They viewed Jesus as God."

            Of course everyone has a "view." Those who don't believe Jesus could be God certainly look at the evidence through their own particular assumptions....with a certain bias...

            @"...therefore the gospels should be taken as history like the moderns would write history."

            Not quite. They need to be considered as a product of a certain time and place, for one. And, they need to be considered as historical documents. One simply cannot dismiss them lightly. If the Gospels are to not be believed, one needs to have good reasons to dismiss them, wouldn't you agree?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The ancient world RELIED on oral tradition. In many cases it was imperative that the information stayed true and accurate. Guessing that the testimonies about Jesus were happening from the START and were ongoing rather than simply recalled after 50 years...AND because the Apostles stress that they intend to hand on the Faith as it was received, WHY would we assume that there was embellishment? And, wasn't the story ALREADY pretty good - a resurrection?

            And as the story passed from one person to the next it was embellished. How do we know that the apostle's stressed that they were going to hand on the faith as it was received?

            We assume that it was an embellishment, because embellishments are and were common. In fact, they were probably more common in the ancient world. We also assume that the there is some embellishment, because the things that supposedly happen in the bible no longer happen. In other words, we don't have holy followers of Christ curing the sick or working miracles.

            The resurrection was an embellishment. Or perhaps Mark mean a spiritual resurrection. Mark never mentions that Jesus is God, for Mark, Jesus is simple an apocalyptic prophet.

            @ "I'm not sure why we would first assume that they were writing down actual history or testimony."

            They claim they are. Why wouldn't we believe them?

            Mark wasn't necessarily writing a history. Regardless, the ancients had different ideas about history than we do. Do you assume that the book of Mormon is historical?

            Second, the Iliad is a different type of writing.

            Why do you think the gospels are historical?

            My point being that the closer the writer to the event, the less development of embellishment. Therefore, Gospels written in the first generation after Jesus would be preferable to some twenty-first century writer's interpretation of the events, eh?

            Not at all. Should we trust Livy over a modern historian?

            Not quite. They need to be considered as a product of a certain time and place, for one. And, they need to be considered as historical documents. One simply cannot dismiss them lightly. If the Gospels are to not be believed, one needs to have good reasons to dismiss them, wouldn't you agree?

            I think one needs to have good evidence to accept them. Do you have good reason to dismiss the Koran, the Vedas, the Book of Mormon, or countless other religious texts that we could not also apply to the old and new testament?

            I don't think the Bible is an inspired text. The gospels may have some historical content in them, but the Christian faith requires that I believe that the Bible is inspired. I don't think Jesus was God or that there is any God like the God in the bible. I have plenty of reason to dismiss the tenets of Catholicism. These reasons are not reliant on what the authors of the gospels did or did not intend to mean/say when they wrote the gospels. They could have lied, embellished, or we could be misinterpreting the genre they were writing in. It doesn't affect my contentions regarding Christianity.

          • materetmagistra

            @"And as the story passed from one person to the next it was embellished."

            This is simply an unsupportable premise. Given that the Gospel writers put into writing that which was likely repeated from the time of the event [i.e. not first recalled decades after the event] AND did so while eyewitnesses to the events were still living and able to set straight any discrepancies - I think your premise also unreasonable.

            @"The resurrection was an embellishment."

            Again, where is the support for this? The Apostles most definitely concluded that the resurrection happened. Their conclusion certainly needs to be explained. One explanation - that it really happened. The evidence suggests people were willing to die over that conclusion. Having good experience being a person and living among persons, I notice that people aren't usually willing to die to defend their own lies. Your conclusion - that it was simply one embellishment among many leaves you having to explain the multitudes of people who decided to endure hardships and persecutions unto death....all for something that was "embellishment." To think a few Apostles could fool so many people - especially when living eyewitnesses to the events were at hand - seems quite a stretch. However, a real resurrection provides the best explanation for the events that follow.

            @"Do you have good reason to dismiss the Koran, the Vedas, the Book of Mormon, or countless other religious texts that we could not also apply to the old and new testament?"

            Are you talking about dismissing that such things exist? Or, rather, about the theology, philosophy, and teachings found in each?

            @"I don't think Jesus was God or that there is any God like the God in the bible."

            Obviously you read the Bible, then, with a certain bias, certain assumptions. How have you determined that God cannot be like the God of the Bible?

          • Doug Shaver

            That does NOT make sense.

            It would make even less sense for me to assume that everybody who said something I didn't believe was lying. If I did that, I'd have to say that every last person in the world except me was a liar.

          • Doug Shaver

            IF Jesus is who he claims to be, there is direct RELEVANCE, eh?

            That depends on what he himself claimed, and I don't think we know that. What we know, assuming he existed, is what some second-century Christians said he claimed.

          • materetmagistra

            @Doug Shaver: "That depends on what he himself claimed, and I don't think we know that."

            What are the Gospels?

            @Doug Shaver: "What we know, assuming he existed, is what some second-century Christians said he claimed."

            The evidence that exists point to three Gospels being written within a generation after Jesus, and one being written within the first century. What would be your evidence that such scholarship is in error?

          • Doug Shaver

            What are the Gospels?

            Obviously, what I think they are is different from what you think they are.

            What would be your evidence that such scholarship is in error?

            Other scholarship.

          • materetmagistra

            @Doug Shaver: "Obviously, what I think they [the Gospels] are is different from what you think they are."

            Not quite. What I think they are is what they claim to be. For instance, the Gospel according to Luke begins, "Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received." You had written: "That depends on what he [Jesus] himself claimed, and I don't think we know that." It would seem that Luke's Gospel, claiming to be an investigated report, would be a place to start. What evidence (or scholarship) do you have that the Gospel writers did not accurately relay the teachings of Jesus and are not what they claim to be?

          • Doug Shaver

            What evidence (or scholarship) do you have that the Gospel writers did not accurately relay the teachings of Jesus and are not what they claim to be?

            Scholarship? Just for starters, I've read whole books written by Bart Ehrman, John P. Meier, Robert M. Price, Gerd Ludemann, Burton Mack, Richard Carrier, and a few others whose names I cannot immediately recall.

          • materetmagistra

            Hmm. That is exactly what Carl Olson notes above: "Each [false view of Christ] fails, in essential ways, to take seriously as historical events what is described in the Gospels and proclaimed by the Church."

            People writing 2000 years AFTER the event......versus those writing within a generation or two of the event.... The beliefs and actions and lives of the Apostles and the early Christians STILL have to be dealt with, still need explanation. What reasons would there be to throw out so much historical evidence - to assume it isn't historically significant or trustworthy?

            By the way, I see you left out this work: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham

          • Doug Shaver

            By the way, I see you left out this work: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham

            I assumed you were asking me about scholarship that I've actually read. I have read much commentary on that book, but I don't base my opinions about an author on what other people say about him.

          • materetmagistra

            Merely made a suggestion. You can take it or leave it.

          • Doug Shaver

            Pardon my misunderstanding. Usually, when people tell me "You didn't do X," they not making a suggestion. They're making a complaint.

          • materetmagistra

            From your list I couldn't tell if you had read it or not ["...and a few others whose names I cannot immediately recall"] I wasn't claiming you HADN'T read it yet - just wondering if it was one of the books which helped form your conclusion.

            And, since you apparently did NOT read it, why not? The title indicates that it is completely on topic with the subject matter at hand. (So, as it stands, it is merely a suggestion.)

          • Doug Shaver

            I wasn't claiming you HADN'T read it yet - just wondering if it was one of the books which helped form your conclusion.

            I misunderstood you. My apologies.

            And, since you apparently did NOT read it, why not?

            From what I've read about it so far, there is nothing in it that I have not already heard from other Christian apologists. I like to learn something new when I read, no matter whether I agree with it or not.

          • materetmagistra

            Hmm. That doesn't make sense to me, since you did read books by a host of other authors on seemingly the same topic. ??

          • Doug Shaver

            I cannot possibly read every book on every subject that interests me. If I even tried to, I would never get anything else done. I would also spend so much money buying them that I wouldn't have enough left to pay the mortgage.

          • materetmagistra

            Well, it would seem to me that getting to the truth of this one thing (does God exist; was Jesus God) would be a priority. [P.S. I'll buy the book off you if you don't like it.]

          • Doug Shaver

            I've been pursuing that truth for over 50 years. All I'm asking for is a reason to think he has something to say that I haven't already heard.

          • materetmagistra

            Well, at least it would seem to be a scholarly treatment of the material that results in a conclusion you seem to not currently agree with - so, it is apparent he probably has something to say that you may have not considered.....

          • Doug Shaver

            It is possible that he has an argument that (a) I have never heard from any other apologist and (b) would change my mind if I heard it now. But anyone can say that about any book, on any subject, that I have never read. It's a risk I'll just have to take.

          • materetmagistra

            Uh-huh.
            Wasn't it C. S. Lewis who said you can't be too careful of what you read?

          • Doug Shaver

            He might have said it. I don't remember his making that particular remark, but it's been years since I've read any of his works.

          • Doug Shaver

            I misunderstood you. I apologize.

      • Indeed, but I don't apply a double standard. I do not think that the textual evidence is overwhelming for them either. Certainly not Socrates! I accept that these people lived, but not any supernatural claims attributed to them. I also accept that we are limited about how much we can say of their lives.

      • Doug Shaver

        It is always convenient to apply a standard in the one case that we ignore in all other cases.

        Skepticism isn't always about convenience. I haven't checked the evidence for Hannibal, but I've checked it for Socrates and Thales. I don't think there is anything certain about their existence.

  • stahrwe

    My first encounter with the 'historical Jesus' was when I was a teenager. That was decades ago when I saw a tv listing for a documentary with that title. What I got was a claim that Jesus spent his youth in India learning to be a fakir. What a lot of nonsense. I erred by looking for the historical Jesus discovered by professional historians. The historical Jesus is documented by the historians who wrote the Bible. The world is desperate to confine or deny Jesus as the real Jesus is terrifying to them.

    • stahrwe

      When I see comments like this I wonder two things: 1) what would overwhelming evidence need to look like? & 2) why Ian' t the world more familiar with the evidence from the Talmud?

      To me, the Biblical account of Jesus is more than overwhelming but, ceding that it Isn't, one must deal with the Babylonian Talmud Yoma 9. I will post a link to an article about it separately as I can't switch and copy on kindle.

  • Krakerjak

    The belief that Jesus Christ never even existed but was the creation of early Christians is increasingly common but also increasingly crude and crack-brained.

    Brian Green Adams summed it up nicely...succinctly.and very reasonably.
    I would say, and most atheists I talk to agree, that this is still enough to reasonably accept that someone named Jesus existed. We do not think it is enough to accept the supernatural claims related in the Bible, such as the hundreds of people rising from the dead or walking on water.

    I don't think that there is really much more to be said outside of BGA's general opinion on this, unless one is willing to go out onto speculative limbs that are already weak and shaky to begin with....and of course there will be no dearth of those willing to do that in support of their favorite religious ideology and accompanying indoctrination.

    • materetmagistra

      Krakerjak, what Brian Green Adams writes is that there is evidence to support the belief that Jesus existed, just not evidence to support the belief that he was who he claimed to be - God. This is not the same as saying that Jesus is completely a myth ["Jesus the Myth".]

      Why is it that you believe YOUR claim is true - that Jesus did not exist?

      • William Davis

        For the record, I thinking believing Jesus didn't exist is a very uninformed, irrational position.

        • Bob

          I studied this question for a number of years. Suffice it to say, 50/50 is about as good as it really gets.

          • 50% uninformed and 50% irrational?

          • Bob

            50% wish, 50% prayer...

      • Krakerjak

        Why is it that you believe YOUR claim is true - that Jesus did not exist?

        I made no "claim" that Jesus did not exist.
        Ah...but on the contrary, I do believe that Jesus existed as a historical person. I think you misunderstood my comment.

        • materetmagistra

          @krakerjak: "Ah...but on the contrary, I do believe that Jesus existed as a historical person."

          And.....?

          That early Christians hijacked his person, turning him into someone he was not?

          • No, just that a number of religious sects arose surrounding him. These sects had very different beliefs about who he was, and what he did which is why someone like Paul needed to write to them to try and keep practices consistent. A number of sects believe he was a man, others that he was all God. For hundreds of years these disputes continued, requiring the Roman church eventually to declare divergent views and competing accounts of his life heretical.

            I find this more plausible than the accounts that he really was the creator of the universe who let himself be killed, but didn't stay dead. That hundreds of corpses rose from the dead (but which was unnoticed by the Roman occupiers or Jewish aristocracy.)

            We both accept that such fantastic stories can arise from otherwise uninteresting individuals such as the Bhudda and Mohamed. I see nothing to distinguish this one.

          • materetmagistra

            @briangreenadams:disqus: "We both accept that such fantastic stories can arise from..."

            I agree. Fantastical stories can arise. But, it appears that the "fantastical" and "notable" was there at the start, and not something added later - the Gospels are testimonies from the first generation after Jesus - or at least within the First Century - and are "eyewitness" testimonies. Many were alive that could corroborate the stories - and that many accepted these accounts and trusted them is obvious (many converted.)

            @BGA: "These sects had very different beliefs about who he was, and what he did which is why someone like Paul needed to write to them to try and keep practices consistent."

            Assuming the importance of the message and teaching one had to transmit, wouldn't we assume an attempt to keep it "pure" and free from additions and embellishments? How best to do that? By getting the testimony from as close to the source as possible - from the Apostles themselves. And,

  • Lilith

    I have studied for a long time trying to understand who Jesus was and what he tried to do. I have concluded that study with the understanding that we can never know the answer to that question. I do see that ideas about him were influenced by the Hellenized Roman world with its many gods/emperors born of an earthly mother and a god father. There are many questions for me about the stories about Jesus. One glaring question, why would a Jewish man, following Kosher food laws, ever ask others to drink his blood and eat his body? Why would an all powerful God require bloody human sacrifice to save humans from sin? That God supposedly created humans in its image with the propensity to make bad choices and "sin". Why should humans be blamed for the God's mistakes in creating flawed humans? All gods created by the human mind have performed "miracles". Zeus turned himself into different animals to accomplish his ends, we just don't believe in Zeus anymore so that isn't called a miracle. The Roman Catholic church was simply the group that acquired the power to crush all the other many beliefs about who Jesus was.

    • Jason LaVoy

      Keep studying.

  • Doug Shaver

    Scripture cannot be rightly read and interpreted outside the Church.

    Why should I believe that?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Because it was the Church that assembled and "canon-ized" those scriptures and through a series of debates and discussions at ecumenical councils agreed on their meanings. Every time some Pastor Billy Bob reads and interprets "for himself" we end up with an incoherent mess. That should have been evident when Calvin and Luther, both pointing at the Bible, thundered "It's in the Book!" and came to opposing conclusions.

      In particular, the Church Fathers were closer in time to the texts and spoke Greek as their native tongue. Thus, they were more familiar with the figures and tropes of that milieu, and more able to discount the frous-frous and focus on the essentials.

      • William Davis

        I agree that Pastor Billy Bob makes a mess out of things, but implying non-Catholic scholars can make their own judgments as to the interpretations of books in the Bible is a little offensive to me. The Catholic church will never again control the minds of western society. I realize that isn't what you getting at, but the fact is that the Church horribly abused that authority, at it is lost forever. I don't mean to be offensive, just being honest. Now we are in a competition. It is true that the Bible can read very different depending on which doctrinal presuppositions you read it with. Lately I've been enjoying Bart Ehrman's works, trying to look at each book independently, with its own theology. Since all the books were written by different people at different times (with a few exceptions like Paul) that approach makes more sense to me and I've found a new appreciate for the Bible, especially the old testament and early synoptic gospels.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Much of what you have claimed -- all the books were written by different people at different times and need to be interpreted independently -- is perfectly sound not only in Catholic exegesis, but also in Orthodoxy (which everyone always seems to forget about). However, neither the Catholic nor Orthodox church starts from the Bible like Protestants.

          You seem to think there was a time when the Western Church "controlled the minds" of Latin society. But this sort of mind control was a product of the modern scientific state. Actual history seldom conforms to a grand theory.

          • William Davis

            Both science and religion have been used to control the minds of man. Both have been tools to the dictator, they are not the cause of man's desire to dominate others, evolutionary theory offers a pretty good explanation.
            Didn't the church start with Jesus?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            -- Not just the dictator, but the bureaucracy or the 99%.
            -- Evolutionary explanations tend to be circular or vacuous, but it makes a good fable.
            -- Yes.

          • William Davis

            Like the example set by Christ, I will turn the other cheek at your insult to the use of evolutionary explanations. How many recent books have you read on evolutionary psychology? I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the Christian theory of reality. It fails to explain suffering and evil adequately. Suffering and evil (selfishness) are built right into the evolutionary model as elements resulting from natural selection, but required by the filter that is natural selection. Is it true? No way to be sure. Obviously we have a lot wrong, but it has a tremendous amount of explanatory power especially in light of recent findings in neurology. We could be biasing ourselves into a corner over time, and if the model every becomes useless, I hope we have the guts to abandon it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Other evolutionary biologists have complained about the breezy tendency toward "just so stories." That evolutionary psychology, to the extent that psychology is a science, puts a scientific foundation on original sin cannot be too surprising. The problem is, if humans were kindly and cooperative rather than selfish and suffering, that too could be explained by a suitable "natural selection" story.

          • William Davis

            Lol, that's true. Whatever is, has to be because of whatever you believe caused it. In that way all belief is somewhat circular, especially if you aren't somehow privy to the original cause. Natural selection is better at making sense of all the random, senseless suffering, especially disease. A large part of natural selection does seem to revolve around parasitism and disease. Natural disasters are as much of an accident here as they are with a divine explanation. An all powerful and all-knowing/loving God makes no sense when such disasters abound, at least to me. A deistic God who built the clock we called the universe does. I wish God really was the God of the three omnis, but it doesn't fit to me. The vengeful, jealous God of the Jews makes a little sense, and maybe the God of Job who makes men suffer because he can. I hope that God doesn't exist, and if he does, I refuse to serve him. I will not serve anyone who cannot abide by his/her own rules.

          • William Davis

            Humans are both kindly and cooperative AND selfish. More or less in different people sometimes, but still both. Before better religion like Christianity, that kindness was only shown toward "kin". The word kindness even comes from the same root. This fits evolutionary theory way too neatly for there not to be "some" truth to it. What Christianity did was get believers to consider everyone else in the faith as "brothers and sisters." It extended the tribe. The rule of thumb that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but altruistic groups beat selfish groups seems to play out in history over and over. The Greeks could not get along so they were overtake by the Romans who valued pietas (loyalty). As the Romans lost their cultural identity they fell apart and fell to more cohesive tribes. Running around in hunter gatherer bands for a long time can have that effect. I think, without belief in God, we would still be running around in hunter gather bands. That does not mean God exists, or imply anything about his nature, however. It is the power of belief in the human mind. It is tremendous.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Humans are both kindly and cooperative AND selfish.... This fits evolutionary theory way too neatly for there
            not to be "some" truth to it.

            This is the worm in the apple. A theory that explains everything cannot be falsified. All it means is that "survivors survive" and you can always find a reason for their survival.

            But this drifts away from the topic, which is the way people have of discovering the latest Historical Jesus that just so happens to exemplify the latest intellectual fad.

          • William Davis

            I'll get back on topic, just one paragraph. Every theory of origin we have is unfalsifiable, so we have to rest on predictions (prophecy in the religious world) and explanatory power to compare. It is amazing how much believing is seeing, and I agree that you can get so lost in such theories that you become much like a fish in water that doesn't know he's wet. Human pattern recognition is one of our greatest strengths and weaknesses.
            What we've seen in the sciences and philosophy since the enlightenment has been a continual selection of ideas, much like natural selection. We do the best we can to test and compare ideas. It does not happen in a single mind (we see the flaws in individual minds) but in a collective that values criticism and debate. I hope you see why my hackles rise when one tries to invoke the "authority" of the church. If your idea is good, it will survive criticism, and it is a tough gauntlet. I don't want to demean personal belief, but I think we are all trying to talk about objective reality here. As you can see, I commend you as a person for being willing to spend your time defending your ideas, even though I disagree with many. The ideas you represent are ancient, and only a fool would through them out flippantly, as many atheists do. Personally I want to preserve and understand as much of the wisdom in the Bible as I can, while still maintaining my critical thinking goggles, not the goggles of later doctrines.

            I think believing is seeing when it comes to Jesus. I dislike many pseudo-intellectual explanations of Jesus as well, but when you tell me I must believe church doctrine before I can read the Bible, you are telling me I must read it with your prescription goggles on, i.e. I must believe before I can see. I've had Muslims tell me the same thing. In order to see the truth, I must submit to Allah and proclaim Mohammed as his prophet. I'm sure if I did that, then I would see, by definition.

            Out of curiosity, what do you think of Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet? The evidence here is compelling. The oldest Gospel, Mark, has the first thing Jesus saying as Mark 1:14-15 "
            14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

            You see here, the "gospel" or good news is the Kingdom of God is near, not that Jesus has come to save us from our sins. I appreciate the fact that Mark probably tried to preserve Jesus's words as well as possible. He only gives his interpretation of events in the narration, and in the words of outsiders who didn't know Jesus. It cannot be an accident that the disciples, and Jesus's family (including Mary) did not know who he was.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Every
            theory of origin we have is unfalsifiable, so we have to rest on
            predictions ... and explanatory power to
            compare.

            Which would mean, pace Popper, that origin theories are unscientific? But be careful about the predictions and explanatory power. The Ptolemaic model was very good at that; and the Tychonic model was better. Good predictions do not make the theory true; especially nowadays when statistical "associative" laws are overtaking mathematical "causal" laws and Bacon's old scientific revolution lies on the ash-heap of history.

            I agree that
            you can get so lost in such theories that you become much like a fish in
            water that doesn't know he's wet.

            Ja. Consider the theory that "predicts" the very facts that were used to develop the theory in the first place! You seem to be making predictions, but you are only getting your assumptions back. (And sometimes, assumptions repeated often enough take on the seeming of facts!)

            Human pattern recognition is one of
            our greatest strengths and weaknesses.

            True dat. How many adaptation stories in evolution are simply the human tendency to see a "pattern"? This is certainly the case when people put forth all the "similar instances" for this or that historical event or personage.

            If your idea is good, it will survive criticism, and it is a tough
            gauntlet.

            So if an idea has survived criticism for going on 2000 years.... what?

            I
            commend you as a person for being willing to spend your time defending
            your ideas

            I had thought that so far I was simply pointing out the weaknesses of some criticisms, not defending the positive per se.

            when you tell me I must believe church
            doctrine before I can read the Bible, you are telling me I must read it
            with your prescription goggles on

            No, I am telling you that -- as in the case of all texts -- you must consider them in the light of the meanings they had for the people who actually wrote and/or anthologized them. It's like reading the constitution without reference to the Federalist Papers or the Supreme Court. The Early Modern notion that a text is self-explaining is wrong. Even texts intended to be so always require a con-text. You cannot understand what Newton was getting at in the Principia without the prescription goggles not only of Euclidean geometry but also of the metaphysical commitments of the Galilean-Baconian-Cartesian world-view. (For example, to the "dead" nature of Paley and Dawkins.)

          • William Davis

            No, I am telling you that -- as in the case of all texts -- you must consider them in the light of the meanings they had for the people who actually wrote and/or anthologized them.

            I think Bart Ehrman does a much more objective job than the church in doing just that. No comments on Apocalypticism? Duly noted. His ideas explain the variations in the gospels, the relative consistency in the synoptics, and the later evolution of ideas in the Church that are quite divorced from the texts. Comparing using using Church doctrine to using Euclidean geometry is kind of sad. Greek philosophers were utterly amazed at the fact that everyone, including women, got the same answers when doing math and geometry. Christianity is the polar opposite. What are we up to, 44,0000 denominations now? Of course you think they are all wrong, but they all thing you are wrong. Could you have come up with a worse example? On second thought, perhaps you are helping out, in which case, I thank you ;)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What are
            we up to, 44,0000 denominations now?

            That's what you get when you have do-it-yourself religion. However, approximately 66% of all Christians are members of either the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. That makes two "denominations" (which differ but little in their teachings, though greatly in how they teach them). The third largest group in the Anglican Communion. You only get the mythic 44,000 denominations when you think Pastor Billy Bob of the Backwoods Bible-Thumping Church is as perspicacious a spokesman for Christendom as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

          • William Davis

            Might I ask what a pace Popper is? Lol, never heard that one before.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Pace, the ablative case of pax, is a common literary device used to indicate a disagreement with a source. See also: ibid., c.f., op.cit., etc.

          • William Davis

            I take it back that they are all unfalsifiable, but many are, and others can be very hard to falsify. Evolutionary psychology is debating inside the scientific community, here's a good quote from the conclusion of a paper:
            "Within the protective belt of the metatheory, the development
            of competing middle-level theories is defensible
            to the extent that they are rigorously formulated so
            that they generate clear, testable hypotheses and predictions.
            In evolutionary psychology, as in the rest of science,
            rival theories are evaluated on the basis of their explanatory
            and predictive power: their relative ability to
            provide coherent accounts of known phenomena (including
            apparently anomalous findings) and to generate
            novel predictions that lead to the acquisition of knowledge.
            Loosely formulated models without clear, testable
            consequences represent poor science (whatever
            theirtheoreticalorigins).Well-formulatedevolutionary
            models, anchored by data and grounded in the larger
            metatheoretical research program, rest at the heart of the
            new science of evolutionary psychology."
            here's the link
            http://wordpress.nmsu.edu/ketelaar/files/2013/01/Ketelaar-Ellis-2000.pdf

          • William Davis

            Btw, thanks for the discussion, bed time for me :)

          • Doug Shaver

            Didn't the church start with Jesus?

            The church says so.

          • William Davis

            Isn't there some kind of problem when Christianity seems so divorced from the words of Jesus, especially the words in the earlier Gospels. The historical Jesus seemed to be much more preoccupied with relieving suffering and helping the poor than anything else. Even heaven and hell (let's consider John unhistorical, with good reason) are about helping the less fortunate. Or course, heaven and hell were to be on this earth, in God's Kingdom or outside of it. Mark 25:

            "37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

            40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

            41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

            44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

            45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

            The church telling me I can't understand what Jesus said without their doctrinal presuppositions is a little insulting in my opinion.

          • Doug Shaver

            Isn't there some kind of problem when Christianity seems so divorced from the words of Jesus, especially the words in the earlier Gospels.

            It's a problem, I think, for the orthodox view of how Christianity got started. The earliest Christian writings were produced at least several decades before the earliest gospel, and they don't attribute any teaching at all to Jesus. The only thing Paul says about Jesus is that he was crucified, buried, and resurrected to save us from sin.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > The only thing Paul says about Jesus is that he was crucified, buried, and resurrected to save us from sin.

            Yes, that is central, but have you read the Epistles lately?

            He said some things about the existence of God and the moral law as being known by all. He wrote about receiving the Eucharist worthily. He said some things about the Church as the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. He said it is more blessed to give than to receive. He said the bodies of the baptized are Temple of the Holy Spirit. He said a truckload of things about morality and love. That's just off the top of my head.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, Paul said all that. My point was that he attributed none of it to Jesus. For everything he says, he credits only two sources: personal revelation, and his interpretation of Jewish scripture.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are saying Paul had no interaction with the Apostles or other disciples? And if he did, the subject of Christ never came up?

          • Doug Shaver

            Paul reports interactions he had with people he identifies as apostles. The word "disciple" appears nowhere in his corpus.

            I'm sure the subject of Christ came up. I don't believe that the Christ they were discussing was the man about whom the gospels were written.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It does not matter if Paul did not use the word disciple. That just designates a follower of Christ who is not one of the apostles. Luke uses the word disciple in Acts. Barnabus was a disciple with whom Paul associated closely for years.

            I've actually lost track of what you are arguing for. Is it that the person depicted in the Gospels and other NT writings is not the historical person who actually lived?

          • Doug Shaver

            That just designates a follower of Christ who is not one of the apostles.

            That designation is not attested until years after Paul's time. You're begging the question if you insist that Paul himself testifies to the existence of certain people who were disciples of Jesus. What he testifies to is the existence of certain people who had the same names as people who were, according to a later generation of Christians, among the disciples of Jesus.

            I've actually lost track of what you are arguing for. Is it that the person depicted in the Gospels and other NT writings is not the historical person who actually lived?

            Here is what I believe:

            At least the following is true of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, if he existed: (1) He was an itinerant preacher in early first-century Palestine with a small number of disciples; (2) he was executed by crucifixion on orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea; (3) sometime after his crucifixion, certain of his followers founded a religious movement that evolved into the religion now known as Christianity.

            I believe that, more likely than not, no such man existed. I believe that the original author of the Pauline corpus had no such person in mind when he wrote about the being he called Jesus Christ. I believe that the canonical gospels originated as works of fiction that some Christians, subsequent to their publication, came mistakenly to believe were biographical sketches about their religion's founder.

            I do not argue that this can be proven with certainty. I argue that it is not unreasonable to think it is probably true.

          • Great Silence

            We should also bear in mind the unarguable fact that these letters were not primarily detailed expositions of the developing faith. Paul clearly writes them as ad hoc letters, dealing with matters at hand, assuming that the recipients already know the essence of the faith. They are already functioning and coherent communities. If you read my parish newsletter 2000 years from now you may think that we focused on the birthdays of some really old people.

          • Doug Shaver

            We should also bear in mind the inarguable fact that these letters were not primarily detailed expositions of the developing faith.

            They're all we have that tells us anything about what Christians were thinking before the gospels were written. There could have been other writings that corroborated the gospel accounts, but we can't use them evidence if we don't have them.

            Paul clearly writes them as ad hoc letters, dealing with matters at hand, assuming that the recipients already know the essence of the faith.

            So, he was not assuming that they already knew about Jesus' crucifixion, burial, and resurrection? Or were those things, during his lifetime, not regarded as the essence of the faith?

          • Great Silence

            Isn't that why, outside the Church, we find some 40 000 differing denominations? Are "doctrinal presuppositions" not a clear case of freedom in structure?

          • William Davis

            Actual history seldom conforms to a grand theory.

            Very true of most everything. The universe doesn't even conform to Einstein's theories of relativity, they are just better than Newton's. I should say specifically that the "mind control" I speak of is condemning heresy to the point of killing people. It is a form of mind control because people come to fear even thinking outside what is considered acceptable. Some atheists are doing the same thing, acting as though a belief in God is the cause of the world's problem. Their stance is pretty ridiculous. I understand yours, my mind has just been built around studying math, science, and engineering. These things don't preclude belief in Christianity, but the numbers show it makes a difference, probably the habit of specific assumptions. These atheists have no excuse other than pure arrogance and pride. Obviously I'm not grouping all atheists together, just the militant ones.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            -- Oddly, my own formal training was in mathematics and science.
            -- What "the numbers show" is only an association, not a causal relationship. This gradual replacement of Newtonian-Einsteinian causal laws with mere empirical associations has been gnawing at the roots of science for nigh a century now; perhaps longer.
            -- The Romans believed that the emperor was supreme over religious practice. When the emperors got sprinkled, they did not stop being Roman emperors. The punishment of heretics was an imperial right because the act was tantamount to treason. When the State collapsed in the West there were no executions for heresy; but the successor kings aspired to be just like the Roman emperors and with the Rediscovery of Roman Law, the German Emperor, French king, and others asserted the right and power to prosecute heretics. (These heretics always seemed to have the peculiar characteristic of opposing the king or emperor.) Because the secular arm was notoriously bloodthirsty, the western Church roused itself to assert authority in the matter. This was to address not only royal use of heresy for political purposes, but also the tendency of lynch mobs to go off on people at the slightest pretext. Executions fell and the secular authorities complained about the "customary tender-heartedness of the clerics."

            Do not suppose that the mass of people were in fear of heresy-hunters. They were not moderns. If anything, they were in fear of heretics, and were prone to taking things into their own hands.

          • Doug Shaver

            Some atheists are doing the same thing, acting as though a belief in God is the cause of the world's problem.

            I disagree strongly with those atheists, but at least the ones I know about aren't saying we ought to kill all the theists.

            We all want to influence other people's thinking to some extent, whether it's about religion, politics, or what kinds of cars or computers to buy, or what the schools should be teaching our children. To that end, some people--regardless of which particular ideas they are promoting--are willing to use methods that most of us regard as unacceptable.

      • Doug Shaver

        Every time some Pastor Billy Bob reads and interprets "for himself" we end up with an incoherent mess.

        Maybe that's because the Bible is actually incoherent.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          It is typical of fundamentalists to refer everything to the text.

          • Doug Shaver

            Given that fundamentalists can't agree on anything important, I think that says more about the text than it says about them.

        • William Davis

          Taking the Bible as a whole is incoherent. Taking each book independently, it isn't.

          Take Ecclesiastes 3 for instance:

          18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath[c]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

          Proto-evolutionary/nihilistic/agnostic thinking in the Bible. There's some good stuff here, don't let Christians ruin it. These are literary works, works of art.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You can flip well ahead in the Bible and find even better nihilism: you can even find a God who dies!

  • Papalinton

    "Jesus Christ cannot be rightly understood and defended apart from Scripture, and Scripture cannot be rightly read and interpreted outside the Church."

    This statement exquisitely captures not only the circular nature of Olson's piece above but it captures the very foundation of catholic hermeneutics. Who is to say that the rendition offered by the Magisterium is any less "a subjective or esoteric way of reading and interpreting Scripture."

    The fact that there is still a case for mythicism after two millennia of christian hegemonic thought indicates that whatever evidence there was for a 'real live' Jesus isn't by any stretch a done deal.

    No. I think it fair to say the case for a 'real-live' Jesus has never been made and indeed the Magisterium is no more immune from "recreate[ing] Christ in the image of our own [Magisterial] personality".

    Renowned Irish Catholic biblical scholar and Dominican priest, Fr. Tom Brodie, in HIS BOOK, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus characteriszes the increasing intellectual, academic and genuinely historical interest in how the Jesus character of the New testament was created.

    • William Davis

      Probably reading the gospel of Mark is the closest we will ever get to the real Jesus (make sure you take out the end that was added later).

      • Papalinton

        And even there, the issue of the historicity of the Jesus character is woefully problematic. Much that purports to be historical in Mark's narrative relies unduly on accepting far too broad and diffuse a definition of what constitutes 'historical' in the context of determining when, if ever, a real Jesus was subsumed into the New Testament ubermensch.

        Interestingly, those of the Judaic faith, ie Jews, never for one moment over the past 2,000 years had any evidence that would have had them subscribe to the Jesus mythos as messiah or saviour. In other words, at no time, not even from the time of its conception, were Jews ever convinced of the epistemological basis for the existence of a Jesus messiah or saviour, let alone an elemental entity of the triune godhead. Why? One can only deduce that there was insufficient empirical, historical evidence.

        Equally, even with the benefit of 600 years of hindsight, Islam, the other Abrahamic religion [and having lived through 600 years of Christian religious domination], were never convinced of the veridicality of the Christian mythos.

        It stands to reason, from the historical account, any claim that imagines it is THE one and only true religion is simply perverse.

        • William Davis

          The Jews rejected Jesus because he did not fulfill the Messianic prophecies. If they were making it up, wouldn't they have made the story better?

          • Papalinton

            No. That is not the totality of the Jewish response. Their grounds for rejecting the Christian perspective was, is, significantly wider than that one somewhat apologetical rationale. There simply was no evidence for the assertions Christians made, most particularly the issues asserting the trinity, the issue of Jesus being simultaneously man and God, the concept of Christian salvation through Jesus, among the myriad of other asserted claims mistakenly and misguidedly touted as fact or evidence. The Jews never subscribed to them from the very outset. Why? Because there was no corroborative compelling evidence. Christian assertions were not rejected by some dint of perverse reaction, as if they [Jews] were intellectually and historically blind to what was apparently happening in their own backyard. That narrative might garner a few supporting votes from christophiles but it has never been one for serious consideration by any historian outside Christian apologetical advocacy. Jews never bought into the proposition because even the most astute and intellectually perceptive of their scholars throughout the ages were never convinced there was any substantive underpinning for the Christian claims that could stand without faith.

            And 600 years later, Muslims came to the very same conclusion. they were not convinced nor persuaded by any evidence for the veridicality of the Christian narrative.

            The tendentious nature of the historical evidence, or the paucity of it, despite centuries of apologetical scholarship, is the principal intellectual driver behind the contemporary upsurge in interest in the mythicist case for a non-historical Jesus.

          • William Davis

            The trinity came much later, but you are right there is more to story. To this day, the failure of Jesus to fulfill the messianic prophecies is the primary reason Jews are still Jews, just look at their websites. If he actually were the Messiah, at least the great prophet type, then he could have potentially revealed more truths about the nature of God, at least tentatively. Christians, for the most part completely abandoned Judaism though, it is a different religion that borrowed the Hebrew Bible. I find it funny that Muslims accept the virgin birth, do you know why (I've done little research on Islam, but it came up when researching the virgin birth, another prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) that Christians took out of context, and perhaps misinterpreted the word virgin (we aren't completely sure what the oldest meaning of almah is but there is a word betulah that always means virgin). Why believe that of all things.
            Probably the most troubling thing about Christianity is that it kept the concept of eternal torment. God is all knowing and all loving but he's going to torture you for eternity? Talk about a complete contradiction.
            The trinity is interesting because it makes no sense, and people make sense of it in different ways. It was a great way to get people who didn't agree to agree, anyone can agree to something they don't understand (don't you have to really understand something to agree with it?)
            It's sad that great wisdom books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 3:18-19 "18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath[c]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless." The author of this book was a proto-evolutionist / nihilist, lol. I find it interesting how so many are oblivious to the fact this is in the Bible.

          • Papalinton

            Yes, Ecclesiates is perhaps the most secular of all the OT texts.

          • William Davis

            I'd say for the most part we are in agreement, the details are interesting, but perhaps beside the point. Isn't it nice that we can disagree on the details and not call each other heretics? :P

        • William Davis

          It's clear the author of Mark believe Jesus to be somehow divine or at least a great prophet, but I don't think the author thought it was anything like the trinity. Mark never quotes Jesus as saying he is divine, and the apostle's do not know who he is. The entire theme of Mark is that no one but outsiders (the century, the women) know who Jesus is, those close to him are blind to it. I don't think there was any thought of Jesus's divinity until after his death, then the process of altering memories started (we can get people to do this easily in the lab). The more time that passed, the more later gospels added and changed the story, as is always what happens. I think Bart Ehrman does an excellent job of going through all this. I think, hands down, he knows more about the Bible than any other non-Christian in the world (he deconverted). If there was nothing accurate in Mark, why would they leave failed prophecies like these: Mark 13:28-31
          "28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[d] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."
          Jesus clearly set a time span (so does Paul) for the coming kingdom of God. Christians had to invent heaven and hell to explain the failed prediction, but it is still in the Bible for all to see. If they were making it all up, why would they leave that in there. Why would no one in Mark, including Mary, who supposedly gave birth to Jesus as a virgin, not know who Jesus was? Obviously Jesus isn't divine, but I do think early Christians believed he was someone special. For that reason, I think he was someone special, but still a man.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't follow you about the Jews. From the very beginning until today, individual Jews have come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah that the Jewish Scriptures promised and have converted to Christianity.

          As for Islam, that is a whole different story that I don't think has anything to do with rationally convincing anyone of anything.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Uhh ... Saul of Tarsus? Would you claim that he was not a Jew? Or would you rather argue that he wasn't a big fan of Christianity? How about Saint Peter?

          Perhaps what you mean is that post-Second-Temple Rabbinic Jews have generally not flocked to Christianity.

          Technically, according to Saint Paul (e.g. Galatians 3:29), all Christians are Jews. I don't go around saying that I am a "Roman Catholic Jew" (because I cause enough confusion already with the things that I say, and also because some would find that language offensive), but technically that seems to be the correct Christian way to think about it.

          The fact that Rabbinic Jews and "Roman Catholic Jews" don't agree on whether Jesus was the messiah is sort of just true by definition.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Why? If the real Jesus is who the Catholic and Orthodox churches believe, then the prologue of St. John's Gospel is just as much about the real Jesus as Mark.

        • William Davis

          Mark is the earliest, and mostly agrees with the other two early synoptic gospels. The writers of the gospels perceive Jesus as someone divine, but the message from Jesus's lips is clearly one of an Apocalyptic prophet. For me, the fact that Jesus (and the apostle Paul) are certain God's kingdom will come to earth in their lifetime makes it clear Jesus was divine. I think he was a great man who wanted to do everything in his power to help the weak and the poor, and relieve suffering. The message that help is right around the corner, all we have to do is hold on a little longer was a message of hope to help the downtrodden. It's clear that doctrines of heaven and hell were invented later to explain away the fact that the kingdom never came sadly.

          • Roman

            You misunderstand what is meant by the "Kingdom of God". There are 122 verses in the New Testament that reference the Kingdom of God. The proper understanding of this term must take into account all of these verses. Following are some examples:

            Matthew 12: 25-28: …..But if it is by the Spirit of God that
            I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

            Matthew 10:7: And preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'

            Matthew 5: 3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

            Matthew 16:19: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

            Colossians 1:13:14: He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

            See also the parables in Matthew 13: 18-52. It is clear from these and other verses that the Kingdom of God already existed on earth during the time of the Apostles; that it consists of the body of believers, i.e., the Church, and that Jesus established this kingdom and transferred authority over the Kingdom of God on earth to Peter (Matthew 16:19).

            It's clear that doctrines of heaven and hell were invented later to explain away the fact that the kingdom never came sadly.

            How so? As I showed you above, both the synoptic Gospels and Paul's letters refer to a Kingdom of God already in existence on earth. Also, considering that Hell appears in all 3 synoptic Gospels, 2 Peter, and Revelations, its highly unlikely that the doctrine of heaven and hell were added later.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is still a trope of the apocalyptic genre.

          • William Davis

            I appreciate the view of the Church that the Kingdom of God is the Church, but there are 144 places it is mentioned in the New Testament, so you end up picking a definition and biasing from it. I apologize for the length of my reply, but this topic is very important to me (I'm surrounded by people who think the end is upon us). The problem is the historical context with which it is used, and certain passages like this one from Luke 13:

            28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

            So the prophets are in the Church and I'm thrown out...I'm not gnashing my teeth. It sounds like if I'm not in the kingdom of God, I'm supposed to be in hell, there are other passages like this

            When Jesus refers to the Son of Man, he is probably alluding to the passage in Daniel that we saw earlier, in which “one like a son of man” comes on the clouds of heaven at the time of judgment on the earth. The apocalyptic prophets (there were many) clearly believed the Son of Man had to come to destroy the forces of evil before God's kingdom could be set up. It's clear that the Pharisees already knew what these prophets thought, and kept trying to trap Jesus to admit who he was. Notice Luke 17 (sorry for the long quote, but the context is important, taking things out of context is always a disaster in literature)

            20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”[c]

            22 Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day[d] will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

            26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

            28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

            30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” [36] [e]

            So he tells the pharisees one thing, that the kingdom is in their midst, just to get them off his back. He then told the disciples the real answer to the question, consistent with Jewish Apocalypticism. The pharisees were not worth of the truth. It is no wonder that followers of Christ like the Gnostic would form, believing they had Jesus's secret teaching. He clearly had secret teaching only for the disciples. The idea that Judas revealed he was teaching them that he was the to be the King of the Jews (it was on the cross) is consistent with the idea. Revealing Jesus's location doesn't make sense, he was a public figure, easily found. There is more evidence that Jesus was teaching one thing in public and another in private, books have been written on it, but I hope this suffices.

            Here's another important verse:
            Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the culmination of the age. The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather from his Kingdom every cause of sin and all who do evil, and they will cast them into the furnace of fire. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun, in the Kingdom of their Father. (Matt. 13:40–43)

            There may be some sense that the kingdom of God started in the followers of Jesus, but it by no means is in full force until the coming of the son of Man. Then to the kicker (there's one in each synoptic) I like to use the oldest, in Mark:

            17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world,until now—and never to be equaled again.

            20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

            24 “But in those days, following that distress,

            “‘the sun will be darkened,
            and the moon will not give its light;
            25 the stars will fall from the sky,
            and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[c]

            26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

            28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[d] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

            The Day and Hour Unknown

            32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

            Jesus clearly says no one knows the day or the hour, but he clearly set the time frame as this generation. Paul speaks of Jesus's resurrection as the first fruits of the harvest, the rest of us are coming next, very soon (I can quote verses that show he thought he would live to see it if you wish). Notice the first line about being pregnant. It is thought that this is the basis for the early Christians looking at all sexual intercourse as bad. 1 Corinthians (one of the oldest New testament scriptures we have) 7 makes this clear:

            7 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
            8 Now to the unmarried[a] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry,for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

            It's clear that letting people get married is a concession, no one should be having sex. Since the horror before the coming of the Son of Man was upon us, pregnant women were going to be in for the worst of it, as Jesus said.

            The context of Paul's letter to the Corinthians makes it clear that the church in Corinth did not believe in Christ's physical resurrection nor did they believe that there was to be a general resurrection of the dead. Paul makes it clear this is dead wrong because Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection of the dead, the rest are to follow. In fact his discussion of all of those who had seen Christ after his death is intended to convince them of the resurrection (it's interesting that such an early group of Christians would not believe the resurrection is true, this is before the synoptics. Paul never mentions the empty tomb either, which was later used as a huge evidence of the resurrection. Since Paul did not use this evidence, it is clear he knew nothing about it, very surprising if there actually was an empty tomb). After stating the evidence in 1 Corinthians 15, he explains the significance of the resurrection: "12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." For Paul there is no such thing as heaven, the afterlife is to be a resurrection here on earth.

            For more context about hell, take Daniel 12:1-2
            “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt."

            It's clear for the author of Daniel (scholars think the book was written 700 years after Daniel) the after life would happen after the resurrection, which is after a time of great peril (as Jesus spoke of). I can draw from other prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible if you wish. Whenever Jesus talked about hell, he didn't always mention the resurrection, but it was implied. Here are some verses where Jesus talks about the resurrection. The first shows there was disagreement within the Jews about whether or not the resurrection would occur, Jesus was addressing a sect of Jews who didn't believe in the resurrection, the Sadducees:

            29 Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." 33 And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. (Matthew 22:29-32).

            Because the body is "like" that of angel in heaven, that doesn't mean it will be in heaven, or he would have said that specifically and not invoked "like".

            14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:14)

            In the Gospels the concept begins to get muddled, but that is because it was some 40 years later before we got the first Gospel. Trusting St. Paul, who was much closer, makes more sense historically.
            If you made it all the way through, thanks for reading. This is using historical method to determine what happened. I hope you at least see that this isn't some fringe view, it is well thought out. If you have any links that specifically address this view and attempt a rebuttal, I'd be interested. Slowly concepts of heaven and hell, in the sense the Church teaches, evolved with later books in the new testament. Using them as doctrine, you can read in different meaning. I think these other meaning can be read in because embellishments to the story before they were written down, and the imperfection of people's memory of what Jesus actually said.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Mark's gospel can be viewed as an apocalyptic narrative. Similar to say Daniel.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I don't agree with you that the Catholic reading of the Bible is circular. It is always from the beginning based on the criteria that a given interpretation does or does not correspond to what the Apostles held.

    • Great Silence

      I've always tended to suppose, for some reason, that one would actually be able to marshall quite a case for mythicism, and that is why I recently read Richard Carrier's book (not the Bayesian nonsense). After some 500 pages of it there really is not much of a case to be made for mythicism at all. It is certainly still extremely fringe territory, and after this huge effort I really cannot see the mythicist case improving. Unless, of course, our secular culture chooses to do start accepting it.

      • Doug Shaver

        Secular acceptance will contribute nothing more to the case for mythicism than it contributes to the case for historicity, which is absolutely nothing.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Many atheists insist that Jesus didn't even exist or that, if he did, he is either lost in the mists of time or misused by Christian zealots.

    I would assume that you believe that there are at least some Christian zealots who misuse Jesus.

    Socialists often present Jesus as a protoMarxist and liberation leader whose struggle was ultimately political, not religious or spiritual. Other leftists paint a portrait of Jesus the community organizer or community agitator.

    Exactly what is a leftist? Most Catholics with a liberal persuasion emphasize the "preferential option for the poor", living wages, love of neighbor, and other things found in Catholic teaching and the Scriptures.

    Some of these "Christs" are simply false; some are, more specifically, also heretical. "Every heresy has been an effort to narrow the Church," wrote G. K. Chesterton in St. Francis of Assisi.

    Heretical according to who? I don't think the heresy word is a particularly useful word to bandy about - it is fraught with negative connotations.

    The belief that Jesus Christ never even existed but was the creation of early Christians is increasingly common but also increasingly crude and crack-brained

    Richard Carrier?

    I don't think you made much of an argument as to why we cannot consider Jesus to be merely a man/legend. It seems like you blame the reformation for this idea, but I don't see any reasons as to why the idea is wrong. I don't think attacking the fiction of Brown or the fantasies of Cannold in anyway shows that those of us who view Jesus as a man/legend are in anyway incorrect.

    These three false Christs are rooted in three faulty views of God and the world: atheism, deism, and pantheism. Each fails, in essential ways, to take seriously as historical events what is described in the Gospels and proclaimed by the Church.

    Why should we when the gospel's contradict themselves? Furthermore, the gospel writers themselves did not necessarily believe that they were only recording historical events. I would assume that you don't view the Epic of Gilgamesh as a historical document - the burden is on you to show that we should take the gospel how you want us to take it.

  • Doug Shaver

    Hitchens was either unaware or dismissive of the abundance of studies from both Christians and non-Christians that Jesus of Nazareth did exist and that the Gospels do indeed provide information that historians take seriously as providing real accounts of real people doing real things.

    Those studies rely on circular arguments (when they're not simply appealing to authority). I have seen no analysis of the evidence that purports to prove Jesus's existence that does not presuppose his existence.

    • Bob

      Yup, that is pretty much what one finds when looking into this question.

      • Great Silence

        No, that is not what one finds. Bart Ehrman's book on the topic certainly does not presupposes his existence. Darrel Bloch and Craig Keener's studies carefully avoid such presuppositions, and there are several other studies - details available.
        Or, from a different angle- have a look at Richard Carrier's latest effort and see how utterly unconvincing the mythicist position is, even when spread over 500 pages.

        • Bob

          Yea, no...

          • Great Silence

            Ok, you've read those three - why do you say they presuppose his existence?

          • Bob

            Because that is what they are doing. Again, pick any of them and read carefully. It is pretty obvious.

          • Great Silence

            Well, my first problem is that you have this opinion even before I have identified the specific books by Bloch and Keener. So let's assume that you have not read them at all, but still assist you. Bloch starts by drawing up "rules" by which his study (actually a group of scholars) progresses. They specifically work from available data, with no presuppositions. Keener sets out, over nearly 100 pages, specifically why such presuppositions are not necessary. You are assuming this so-called presupposition, even though it is demonstrably not true. Doug simply indicated that he has not seen such an exposition. Support the mythicist position all you want, but it remains a fringe position, even in atheist circles.

          • Bob

            It really doesn't matter. The best you can do is agnosticism on the specific question itself.

          • Great Silence

            It matters a lot, Bob. But yes, approaching the question in a sloppy and careless manner may very well lead to agnosticism. A more detailed study will lead you to conclude that the mythicist position is untenable.

          • Bob

            I am not arguing one way or another for mythicism, so put that strawman away.

            I am specifically addressing the arguments for historicity and the evidence upon which the arguments are based.

          • Great Silence

            Historicity and mythicism go hand in hand here. Your initial assertion on Jesus' historicity being presupposed has been dealt with. Scholarly studies have been referred to, of which you are clearly ignorant. We have even considered the simple fact that other atheists (eg Dawkins, Loftus) find the arguments for historicity convincing. What remains of your argument?

          • Bob

            No, they do not go hand in hand. That you say this kinda shows your problem though.

          • Great Silence

            You should put wheels on those goalposts.
            I think we have tested your assertions and found a rather vaguely defined negativity based on a woefully inadequate knowledge of the subject. This is no longer a productive discussion. Your argument, such as it is, is however very much representative of the level of discussion that one finds on the internet when it comes to the historicity of Jesus.

          • Bob

            Lots of bluster will not make the evidence any better.

          • David Nickol

            If by "presuppose" the existence of Jesus, you mean begin with the belief that he existed, examine the evidence, and conclude that your original belief was correct, then I suppose Bart Ehrman does "presuppose" Jesus existed. But using that definition of "presuppose" means that anyone who sets out demonstrate why something they believe to be true actual is true "presupposes" their own belief. All of Catholic and Christian apologetics is then based on presupposition. In fact, practically everything is then based on presupposition!

          • Bob

            By presuppose, I mean, precisely, presuppose.

            In other words, their arguments for are circular. It is almost like they forget what exactly they are trying to prove when they begin carting out the chestnuts.

            Answer this, for example.

            Who wrote kata Mark and why did he write it?

            How do you know?

          • David Nickol

            In other words, their arguments for are circular.

            I don't think this is true of Ehrman's work or of James D. G. Dunn's book The Evidence for Jesus. One of the first books I read about the "historical" Jesus was Michael Grant's 1977 book An Historian's Review of the Gospels, a purely nonreligious work by a "secular" historian specializing in ancient history. Dunn's and Grant's books are now available for only a penny each (plus shipping)!

          • Bob

            Read it. Same problem.

            Why didn't you answer my question?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think this is true of Ehrman's work

            I've read several of his books. Most of them don't use circular arguments. The one on Jesus' historicity does.

          • Doug Shaver

            In fact, practically everything is then based on presupposition!

            It is, in the sense that no argument can work without some premises that are simply assumed. A problem occurs only when your assumptions include what you're trying to prove. I don't agree that most of our arguments do that.

            If it happens to be the case that most Christian apologetics do that, then that's just too bad for Christian apologetics.

          • Doug Shaver

            If by "presuppose" the existence of Jesus, you mean begin with the belief that he existed, examine the evidence, and conclude that your original belief was correct, then I suppose Bart Ehrman does "presuppose" Jesus existed.

            That is not what I mean by presupposing. I mean that certain of the key premises of his stated arguments for Jesus' existence are unjustified except on the assumption of Jesus' existence.

        • Doug Shaver

          Bart Ehrman's book on the topic certainly does not presupposes his existence.

          I've read the book. I think I can demonstrate that his alleged evidence for Jesus can't prove a thing unless his existence is assumed beforehand.

          I'm afraid that demonstration would constitute a serious derailment of this thread. However, if Brandon or someone else in charge says it's OK, I'll do it.

  • Pieter Vermeersch

    Science is much closer to knowledge of the existential 'dna' of Jesus than many might imagine: like *cough* nothingness materialising into a body evolved after the big bang. Jesus as divinity IS existence, reality, logic and man itself. He worked His way through the eons to breathe life in every Idea, guided by the Ideals of his Father. Thus Plato was close aswell to the matter. What started a looong time ago converged into human history. In this world, you shouldn't take anything for granted but everything is worth it in the end, that's why it begins with nothing. Oh yeah, this is the only possible and valid reality, others would self-destruct. Don't mix your own incredulity at the painful nature of reality with disbelief of a maker, or - God forbid - His heart. You are not all-knowing, you don't even know what all-knowing means. My take.

  • Happy New Year!

    I came very late to the conversation (I was off for the holidays and not responding much here). I've enjoyed the article and the extensive comments, the small fraction I've read of them.

    I want to request a short and unrepresentative survey of those here.

    Non-Catholics: Which "false Christ" do you accept, if any?

    Catholics: If you had to accept a "false Christ", which one would you accept? Which do you think is most believable?

    For myself, I think the most believable "false Christ" is the guru. Jesus imagined some sort of pantheistic God, so he is God and we will all be God just like he is (something like John 17:20-21). I think it's likely either that or Jesus was a nut case.

    What do you think?

    • Loreen Lee

      I'll go with the Guru, but with the qualification that 'if only this could be'. I read a scripture where Jesus says something like, (poor memory here), that if we told them all the 'secrets' I have told you, then they wouldn't need us, or something like that. Sorry I can't quote chapter and verse. But for me, such a thought is significant in the relation of the legalism of the church to the followers of same. Unlike Buddhism for instance, where there has developed a 'method' of internal self-examination, the church merely offers the 'examination of conscience'. In this respect I see an emphasis on 'externals', rather than 'internals'. The example of Christ deals primarily with his relationship with members of the community, deed, over thought and word, if I may put it that way. In contrast, Buddhism, and the guru Buddha place an emphasis on being aware of the continuity of the thought process. Each I think could use a bit of the other. What? A Jesus guru, and a Buddha 'evangelist? grin grin' .

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I think what makes many a "false Jesus" false is that the proposed description is just too limiting. Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was a mystic. He was social agitator and practitioner of open-table fellowship. It's just that we wasn't only those things. For the same reason, any one-liner about Jesus is going to be at least a little bit misleading. (The same is of course true for any human being.) Ironically, even the statement "Jesus is God" can be, practically speaking (depending on the audience) too limiting these days, because too many people imagine either a God who is totally transcendent or a God who is totally immanent. The transcendent-immanent and hidden-revealed God of Israel is no longer connoted by the word "God" for many people.

      If I'm allowed to "order off the menu", my favorite "false" Jesus is Jesus the messiah. I say that this is false only in the pragmatic sense that none of us has a perfect sense of what messiahship means. We have to enter into the history of Israel to understand what it means. And even then, even if we had a time machine to take us to the Second Temple, we would presumably find shifting and incomplete meanings of "messiah". In that sense, our understanding of "messiah" can never be 100% correct, so "Jesus is messiah" is pragmatically somewhat false (more or less so, depending on the audience).

      However, "Jesus is messiah", precisely because it forces most of us out of our modern lexicon is, in my view, "less false" than saying "Jesus is God" (again, depending on the audience). I think we need a word that throws us a little bit off balance and draws us into history in order to say something approximately correct about Jesus. Only once we begin to perceive Jesus as messiah can we start to correctly understand him as "God". Or, so says me, in any case.

  • Stephen Sponsler

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Autobiography_of_a_Yogi/Chapter_33

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavatar_Babaji

    And many more if you follow these links around and hop from one guru to another