Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 27

Did Jesus exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with his book¬†Evidence Considered. We are done with the science section, but he still has some more things to say about science. I choose to forego commenting on those. I have said enough and again, science is not my main area. We’re getting into the stuff I do enjoy, the history.

Let’s start with the really good news. This chapter is on if Jesus existed and looks at the work of Paul Maier. Good news here is also that Jelbert is not a mythicist. He does agree that Jesus existed.

So that’s the end of the review of this chapter. Right? We can all go home. Jelbert and I agree. Let’s move on to 28.

Not quite. There are a few arguments on the way I find problematic. There are also ways of doing the research I question.

Maier argues that the real debate is not did Jesus exist, but who was He? Jelbert says to say He was God is an extraordinary claim and requires unassailable evidence. If that is not given, it is rational to assume it is not true until otherwise shown. The problems are many with this.

For one thing, extraordinary claims are subjective. I consider atheism an extraordinary claim. Could I go to Jelbert and then say, “Unless you present unassailable evidence of atheism, then theism is true?” I could, but that would not be a valid argument at all.

Keep in mind I am not saying that Jesus is the Son of God in the Christian sense is a mundane claim. It is not. It is a serious claim that needs evidence, but it needs sufficient evidence to be believed. Without a standard as to what counts as extraordinary, then too often it becomes “That which is extraordinary to an atheist.” Many a creationist would say life from non-life is an extraordinary claim and until it can be shown how that happened we are all justified in believing in creationism.

Jelbert also says the atheist position says that other religions present equally unconvincing evidence would be agreed by Christians, but it isn’t. We think Christianity does have the unique evidence of history. We would give a religion like Judaism much more credibility since it’s essential to us. This also doesn’t answer the evidence for Christianity, which I am sure we will get into in these chapters.

Jelbert does say that Paul is silent on many biographical events in the life of Jesus. Of course, he is. He’s not writing a biography. He’s writing to deal with situational events that knowledge of the life of Jesus, which would be background knowledge for his audience, would not help. The Corinthian church has to deal with meat offered to idols. How does saying Jesus performed miracles help answer the questions?

Jelbert is also willing to concede the Gospels may be attempts to historically write the life of Jesus. He presents us with a version of the telephone game. There is no looking at how stories are told in ancient societies. Such could be found in a work like The Lost World of Scripture. The stories would be told in groups. A few would be gatekeepers of knowledge as it were to make sure the story was told accurately. There could be variation on minor details, but the whole thrust of the message had to get through.

Two events in Matthew are worth mentioning. The first is the slaughter of the infants. There is no outside mention of this in Josephus or anywhere else. Josephus would likely be the only one to record this, but we have no reason to think Josephus is exhaustive in everything that Herod did. Second, this would be a minor event. At most, about a dozen children would die. This would be par for the course for Herod. It’s also strange that the Bible seems to be the only work I know of that if something doesn’t show up outside of it, it must be seen as suspect.

The second is the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Jelbert says no such prophecy exist. My answer is that this is the only time Matthew speaks about a fulfillment of the prophets, plural. I think he’s saying the general message of prophecy is that the Messiah would grow up in a humble and shameful state.

There’s also nothing he says about a census as in Luke. Jelbert presents nothing on the other side that acts as positive evidence. I point the reader to the interview I did with Ben Witherington especially.

Jelbert also asks if both birth narratives could be cobbled together to form a unit. He doesn’t see how with any integrity. Let’s stop there. The problem is this is the same kind of thinking he accuses IDists of. “Could this organism come about through purely naturalistic processes? I don’t see how.”

Second, he says the only reason you would do this is because you think the Bible is the Word of God which presupposes God exists. Not necessarily. Now suppose I do think Jesus rose from the dead on other grounds and I think the Bible is the Word of God and I have good arguments for God’s existence. Is it reasonable to think there’s an explanation even if I don’t know one? Yes. Just like it’s reasonable for the atheist to think there’s a way life came from non-life even if it is not known now.

But besides that, couldn’t some people want to resolve these accounts because they want to try to figure out what happened and if a way exists, go with it? That is the nature of historical investigation. We can look at differing accounts and try to reconcile them.

I could just as easily turn this on Jelbert too. Why doesn’t he want to investigate to see if the accounts can be reconciled? Because he is an atheist and he doesn’t want the Bible to be the Word of God and for Jesus to have risen from the dead. Is that true? I can’t say. Could it be plausible to some? Yep. This is why pointing to motives is really kind of pointless.

In the end, Jelbert and I agree on the conclusion, which is refreshing. He does say this doesn’t give evidence for God, which is true, but this is also a cumulative case. It’s hard to have Christianity if Jesus never existed after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

What do I think of Kostenberger, Bock, and Chatraw’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Bart Ehrman is described in this book as the rising rock star of the New Testament world. While more and more Christians are learning about him, too many are not, and sadly, the first time they often hear of him, they are unprepared for what he has to say. The tragedy is best described by the way Chatraw sums it up.

Later I was a bit surprised when I had a similar discussion with a couple of well-respected pastors in my community. These conversations helped me see once again that most people, even pastors, don’t know much about what’s going on in the world of biblical scholarship. The other authors of this book have had similar discussions.

In fact, just recently I was sharing some detail concerning the last 12 verses of Mark and a good Christian friend was concerned I might have caused some doubt for some. I understood that concern well and shared some information on textual criticism to help deal with it, but it’s a shame that that which is common knowledge is seen as detrimental to the faith of some simply because the pastors have shielded them from the academy. In fact, pastors are usually the worst culprits.

Thankfully, the lay people do have friends in the authors of this book. These authors have done the service of taking Ehrman’s popular works seriously and addressing the main concerns that are raised in some of the most well-known ones. The reader who goes through this book and learns it well will be much more equipped to survive a class from Ehrman or someone like him.

If you are familiar with the arguments, you won’t find much here that is new, but that’s okay. This is written for those who are not really familiar with Ehrman and his arguments yet. If you are familiar with them, you will find that you still have a good resource where the major arguments can be found listed together.

One important insight that the book has that I agree with and have noticed myself is that Ehrman most often is quite good at giving you one side of the argument. He ignores that which is against his hypothesis. They consider his latest book “How Jesus Became God” as a for instance. In this book, Richard Bauckham is not mentioned once. He mentions Hurtado but does not interact with his main claims. He does not interact seriously with the Shema. I’d also add that in his section on miracles, brief as it may be, there is no mention whatsoever of Keener.

Ehrman has been undermining the Christian faith of many for a long time and unfortunately he’s probably right that too many are just closing their ears and humming so they don’t have to hear what he has to say. This should not be the Christian answer. If you want to get the Christian answer, an excellent gateway to that destination can be found in this book. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Did Jesus Exist?

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’ve had this one sitting for awhile meaning to read it but some of you may know how it is. You find one more book that you want to order at the library and you do so and that becomes another and then another and then another and those books you have at home that you’re meaning to read never seem to get there. Encouragement from others on this book finally got me to sit down and go through it and I do agree, it is a good book.

A great advantage that we have in this book is that this is someone that normally the atheist community respects, although there has been quite a backlash against Ehrman since he wrote it. It is quite amazing that atheists who often say Christians go against all of scholarship in being against evolution can often themselves do the same in going against all of scholarship in being Christ-mythers and yet they think that this is a respectable position. It is not. It never has been. It never will be.

Not only this, Ehrman gives plenty of evidences that the Christian can use in dating the evidences. For instance, Ehrman says within a couple of decades of Jesus’s death, we have numerous accounts of his life in a wide geographical area. He notes that there are at least eleven sources. (82-83) He makes it clear that there are possibly more. On page 108 we read “The Other is that the Acts account gives clear evidence of being very early and Palestinian in origin.”

Also, Ehrman does not hold back when he speaks about people like Acharya S. and Freke and Gandy in “The Jesus Mysteries.” He repeats a number of statements that he refers to as howlers that can be found in them. He will also throughout the book deal with other Mythicists like Richard Carrier, G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty, and Robert Price. I do know Price has recently responded to Ehrman’s appearance on Unbelievable? talking about this and Carrier was quite vehement in his reply to Ehrman.

Ehrman also includes a basic historiography and tells us about how we can establish someone’s existence in the ancient world. He lays myth to the idea that the Romans kept excessive records and points out that there is hardly mention of many people whose existence we do not doubt in the ancient sources. Josephus is not mentioned for instance. Ehrman also thinks it’s implausible to point out that Caesar is mentioned, as if the person who rules the Roman Empire could be compared with any person living in the Empire. (Nevertheless, Jesus does get an impressive number of mentions)

I do think his responses to why Jesus isn’t mentioned in other sources are weak. I would answer that the reason Jesus isn’t mentioned is the same as it would be today. Suppose you hear about someone halfway around the world who is working miracles. Are you really going to investigate it? Even if you get on your computer, you’ll find one site that explains it away and that can be enough. Most of us don’t take that claim seriously, even if we believe in miracles!

Now transplant that to the Roman Empire. Suppose you’re in Rome. You hear about this Jewish rabbi in the backwater area of Palestine who is doing miracles. What are you going to say? Simple. “What a bunch of ignorant superstitious people.” You’re not going to bother because you’re predisposed to be against miracles, especially if you hear about a resurrection. After all, who wants to come back to life anyway? Finally, if you hear he has been crucified, well that clinches it. No great ruler would be crucified.

In fact, this is something Ehrman states repeatedly with regards to crucifixion. Jesus’s crucifixion is not something the early Christians would have made up. They would have done anything to avoid it, but the reason that they preached it is that they could not avoid it. It was an undeniable fact and they not only had to share it, but they even saw the basis for it in the Scriptures. If this was the wisdom of God, they were to find it.

Also, Ehrman does a number on the position that because something is in the Bible, we should not accept it as evidence. Ehrman believes the atheist is as wrong as the fundamentalist Christian. It is neither fair nor scholarly. Something does not fall outside the realm of historical inquiry just because the word “Scripture” is given to it. He also says there is no God-given hermeneutic for reading them and they are human and historical. Christians can agree by and large. While we think there is a divine origin, it is also through human authors.

In looking at a response to Mythicist themselves, Ehrman repeatedly points out that the whole of scholarship is in disagreement. The book gives an impression of one Ehrman is disappointed he has to write. The idea is that this theory is so absurd that it does not even, as he says, get a toe-hold in the academy. This also includes even the claim that Nazareth didn’t exist of Rene Salm and Ehrman frequently quotes scholars on the subject, seeing as archaeology is not his area, who make it clear how shoddy they think Salm’s approach is.

He also goes after Kersey Graves, who is a regular source for mythicists, and says that not one of his claims is footnoted with any scholarly evidence. Where does Graves get his information from? We don’t know. We do know that numerous mythicists online are still quick to point to his material about 16 crucified saviors. It is always important to ask people who make the claims about Jesus being a copycat Messiah to back their claims with primary sources.

When it comes to those pagan beliefs, Ehrman says that they did not have a foothold in Palestine and that while there are similiarities, there is no basis to say copying was going on. This brings up a point some readers might wonder about. What do I think about this book in comparison with J.P. Holding’s “Shattering the Christ-Myth.” After all, Holding spends much more time on the matter of copycats then Ehrman.

Overall, I do think Holding’s work is more thorough and better at dealing with the copycat theory and every other aspect. This could also be because Holding’s material is written by a group of individuals. One wonders how long one could write individually on the Christ-myth before one thinks they were repeating themselves. One can find much more in Holding’s book on Mithras, the Testimonium Flavianum, and Remsberg’s list. (I don’t think Remsberg is even mentioned in Ehrman’s.)

Many Christians find disappointment with Ehrman’s book at the end when he describes Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet. Coming from a Preterist perspective, I did not find this section disappointing but rather confirming. After all, I see Ehrman as reading the predictions of Jesus with the same fundamentalist thinking he condemns elsewhere. I can easily look at the text and say “Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and He was right!”

While I do think Holding’s material is superior for the reasons given, I still think this is an important one as the skeptic is more prone to listen to someone like Ehrman. I will still be including links to both resources.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Shattering the Christ Myth can be found [url=http://www.amazon.com/Shattering-Christ-James-Patrick-Holding/dp/1606472712/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347303077&sr=1-1&keywords=shattering+the+christ+myth]here[/url]

Did Jesus Exist? can be found [url=http://www.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062204602/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347303116&sr=1-1&keywords=did+jesus+exist]here[/url]