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

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/22/2018: Tim O’Neill

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Atheists often pride themselves on being people of reason. They only believe something based on evidence and they’re not gullible enough to buy into myths. Unfortunately, gullibility is part of human nature and one doesn’t get a free pass because they’re an atheist. Atheists many times do fall for myths and two of the greatest ones they fall for are the ideas that Jesus never even existed and that the so-called Dark Ages was a science stopper.

Sadly, a lot of atheists have a tendency to do what many Christians also sadly do, and that’s to not inform themselves of arguments on the other side. If that is the case, how can we convince them that these are great myths? Perhaps we could do it by having one of their own speak to them.

Thankfully, one atheist is on a mission to do just that. One atheist is out there standing tall against the wave of bad history coming from internet atheists and saying that while he agrees with them on the question of God and the resurrection of Jesus, they are wrong here and they need to acknowledge that. He has gone so far with this that he has created a website of history for atheists. In a Deeper Waters first, I’m hosting this atheist on my show this Saturday. His name is Tim O’Neill.

So who is he?

I am an atheist, sceptic and rationalist who is a subscribing member of the Atheist Foundation of Australia and a former state president of the Australian Skeptics. I have contributed to many atheism and scepticism fora over the years and have a posting record as a rationalist that goes back to at least 1992. I have a Bachelors Degree with Honours in English and History and a research Masters Degree from the University of Tasmania, with a specialisation in historicist analysis of medieval literature.

As a rationalist, I believe strongly that people should do all they can to put emotion, wishful thinking and ideology aside when examining any subject and that they should acquaint themselves as thoroughly as possible with the relevant scholarship and take account of any consensus of experts in any field before taking a position. Which is why I began this blog in October 2015. After over ten years of seeing supposed “rationalists”, most of them with no background in or even knowledge of history, using patent pseudo history as the basis for arguments against and attacks on religion, I felt someone needed to start correcting the popular misconceptions about history which are rife among many vocal atheist activists. I also felt there needed to be some push-back by a fellow unbeliever against several fringe theories and hopelessly outdated ideas which have no credibility among professional scholars and specialists, but which seem to be accepted almost without question by many or even most anti-theistic atheists. “History for Atheists” has grown out of these convictions. In the years since I began this blog I have won a number of fans and supporters, but also gained a few detractors and hecklers. That’s the nature of the rough and tumble of the internet. If this is your first visit here I would ask you to try to put assumptions, a priori positions, and emotional preferences to one side and look objectively at the evidence and arguments I present. If we preach objectivity and dispassionate, well-informed rational analysis to others, we need to be prepared to practice these things ourselves. And remember that it’s usually only by discovering we have been mistaken about something that we can learn something new.

I hope you’ll be listening as we hear an atheist come on and talk about what his fellow atheists are getting wrong in history. Tim and I differ on several things after all, but we are united in this and I have turned to his site many times as a reference for atheists. Please also consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheist Manifesto Part 3

What does Onfray have to say about Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s clear we have no reason to be surprised by Onfray at this point. It is said that the ignorance in the atheist community has got to the point not where I am surprised, but where I expect it. I am most often surprised when I meet the atheist who does know what he’s talking about. He is sadly the exception.

Onfray is not one who knows what he’s talking about. He starts with the statement of course that Jesus never existed. Yeah. We all saw this one coming. No contemporary documentation and no archaeological proof. Somehow, the Pauline epistles and the Gospels within a generation and in the time of eyewitnesses don’t really count. Were we to go with this rule, we would rule out figures like Hannibal, for instance, from the historical record.

But what about Josephus and Tacitus and others? Intellectual forgeries! A monk copying them saw there was no mention of his story and so he decided to put one in without any shame whatsoever. Therefore, Onfray says “Nothing of what remains can be trusted.” One wonders if Onfray is ready to throw out all history copied down by Christians just to uphold his mythicism.

Keep this in mind because in the very next section Onfray tells us about a number of madmen at the time. Judas the Galilean, Theudas, Judas’s sons Jacob and Simon, and Menahem. Then he tells us about the Jewish war in the 70’s.

Little problem here.

What would be his source? Well, we have one source for Messiah claimants other than Jesus. Just one.

Josephus.

You know, that guy whose writings can’t be trusted.

Onfray points as well to Bible contradictions and improbabilities. Naturally, there’s no bothering to look at any commentaries on the topic to see what they have to say. Nah! Too much of a hassle! Again, the problem is that Onfray also has no bibliography so there’s no way of knowing where he gets his bogus information from.

Onfray does say the crucifixion is improbable since the crime Jesus did would involve stoning. Not only that, Pontius Pilate would not likely bother to get involved with someone like Jesus. This is all shown to be nonsense when one realizes that it was the Passover time and Jesus had done two remarkable events, namely the Triumphant Entry and the cleansing of the temple, and stoning would not be enough as the Jews wanted to make a mockery out of Him and shame Him so they would have Him stoned. Pilate would get involved because you don’t want a would-be king rising up at the time of Passover when the city has a huge population of faithful Jews.

He also says the burial account is unlikely. After all, no cleansing is mentioned, but does it really need to be spelled out? The main point is the tomb. Onfray also says the name Arimathea means “After death.” Odd. Carrier has said it means “Best disciple town.” Can these guys get their story straight?

From here Onfray turns to Paul. Paul is a raving hysteric forcing his neuroses on the world. Onfray goes to the thorn in the flesh and how everything has been suggested for this. Then he says, except sexual problems. No doubt, he has not done any real reading on this. When I saw him going there, my first thought was he would say something about Paul secretly wrestling against homosexual temptation, which I hear all too often.

He also says one sign of Paul having a deep-seated pathology is that he fails to acknowledge it. Well, this is interesting then. I surmise that Onfray has a deep emotional wound that causes him to have an intense hatred of anything Christian whatsoever and the best way to deal with his neuroses is to force them on the rest of the world by writing a book like this and getting everyone to agree with him. My great evidence of this is that nowhere in this book does Onfray acnkowledge any deep-seated pathologies!

From there we go on to Constantine waging war on pagans and such. That part I really have no interest in and want to leave for those familiar with church history more than I am. For now, I will just say I am suspicious entirely of his history based on what I’ve seen thus far.

We will continue another time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheist Manifesto Part 1

What do I think of Michel Onfray’s book published by Arcade Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ever since the new atheists, atheism has been going downhill. It looks like each time someone has to write to try to come up with something even more ridiculous than the last guy. On the internet, one deals with the internet atheist, a special breed of atheist that seems to believe anything provided it argues against Christianity. For those who call themselves, free-thinkers, they all seem to think alike. Well free-thinker, you get what you pay for.

Popular also among internet atheists is the meme. Now I enjoy a meme as a humorous illustration of an argument, but sometimes they are meant to convey something so profound, and it kind of is. It’s profoundly dumb. Such is the case when I saw shared a meme quoting a book that has to be one of the most ridiculous quotes I have ever read.

Yes. I find this hilarious as a man who makes it a point to use reason everyday and tries to be as sound in my thinking as possible and a lover of the mind sitting among books aplenty. I am a great lover of freedom and as for a hatred of sexuality, women, and pleasure, well, I am a happily married man so go ahead and draw out your own conclusions.

I could go through the meme more and more but you get the idea. Onfray is someone who has not really interacted with great Christian thinkers. I got his book and sadly, the quote is indeed very real. As I started going through it, I figured I’d check the bibliography to see what works he cited.

Problem there.

He has none.

Oh he will mention books throughout his own book, but he won’t give page numbers or anything like that. He will make claims just floating in the air. The vast majority of them are completely bogus. The book really reads as if it’s a childish rant.

So let’s look some at part 1. We’re going to start near the end because if everything was documented, the response would be as long as the book itself. I’d like to highlight a few areas.

Let’s go to page 50.

Onfray says we would not consider locking someone up who has a brain tumor, which is no more of a choice than a pedophilic fixation. One can dispute that pedophilia is a fixation that one has no choice over, but let’s suppose for the sake of argument that it is. If I know someone who has a brain tumor and that brain tumor causes them to act violently toward people around them, then yes, I think they need to be locked up in some way.

In the same sense, someone who is a pedophile and is going to actively be a threat to small children needs to be dealt with in a way that he won’t harm people around them. It is amazing that Onfray treats this as if it is something just as innocuous as a brain tumor. Perhaps he should speak to many of the people who have been damaged by pedophiles. (And we can expect he will make no remark about Catholics either!)

On 52-53, Onfray speaks about the ignorance of many Christians. While this is true, it says nothing about the truth of Christianity. He says believers will listen to Saint Paul but have never heard of Gregory of Nazianze. Well, strike one here. He says they set up the infant creche, but they know nothing of the founding quarrels of Arianism or the council on iconophila. Strike Two. He talks about communion, but papal infallability is unheard of. Strike three. I do know about these, so what then?

Onfray goes on to get worse. He says that believers attend Christmas mass but don’t know that the church picked this date to coincide with the winter solstice and Sol Invictus. No source is given for this claim. The winter solstice would have never fallen on December 25th anyway. He also says death by stoning was the standard punishment for what Jesus was charged with. Stoning, however, was not really to be done by the Jewish populace at the time and crucifixion was done to shame the person more. Jesus was meant to be a public example.

He then says you can talk to a Christian about the neglect of the work of taking care of the poor. The Christian will ask about liberation theology. Not this one. This one will accept that the church is not perfect and will point to ways we need to improve but will still show that Christians are giving more to the poor and doing more charity work. I have no wish to endorse liberation theology.

He goes on to say that Paul decries the pleasures of the flesh and despises women. Onfray thinks you will hear that mystical ecstasy is a higher pleasure. No. Hear you will be told what passages you have in mind and then let’s discuss them.

He then says that if you mention the massacre of indians you will be told about Bartolome de Las Casas. Again, not here. I will ask for your historical sources and if the Christians are in the wrong, that’s something horrible and we need to own up to it, but it doesn’t change that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s a shame that Onfray did not go out and dialogue with real Christians or look at real Christian writings on the topic.

On page 60, we get much of what is predicted. He has earlier said in the book that there is no evidence Jesus existed and now we can know when he was forged with certainty. You have to wonder what’s with all these people thinking like this? Creationists are often mocked for going against the overwhelming consensus in science, and perhaps rightly so, but atheists definitely go against it.

By the way, he also talks some about the tree of knowledge in the book. The idea is apparently that Christians hate knowledge and the great sin was getting knowledge. No. The sin was the knowledge of good and evil in which what is really meant was trying to usurp divine wisdom. It was trying to rule on one’s own what they had really been given to rule. It was a defiance.

When we return, we will look at what he has to say about monotheisms.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Defense of the Gospels

What do I think of John Stewart’s book published by Intelligent Faith Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Stewart is a lawyer who works with Ratio Christi and has written a book on defending the Gospels. Stewart goes through several questions very thoroughly and point by point. He also introduces you to many methodologies and explains why he accepts the answers that he accepts.

He starts off with asking when the Gospels were written. He establishes reasons for His dates but points out that often even on the worst case scenario of a date, the date could still be within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. He points out that this is important and compares this to other works of history as well.

Stewart goes on to use similar methodologies on other questions such as if the Gospels are anonymous or if they’ve been changed or if they’re biased. Many of the objections dealt with are the ones that most people will encounter when they engage with internet atheists. If you are often involved or know someone who is involved with those debates and wants an extra resource, this would be a good one.

The work is also short and easy to understand without using technical language. It can be read in a short time and would be ideal for college students on campuses. No doubt, this is because of years that Stewart has spent with Ratio Christi.

There’s also a brief section on Jesus Mythicism in one of the chapters. This will be helpful for those who regularly encounter this crazy idea that seems to keep popping up its head. While the material there is basic, it is enough to help you out with the average mythicist.

I also like the argument dealing with the question of if the Gospels are anonymous. This is a common one that shows up on the internet, but it is one I do not see professional scholars dealing with, mainly because most scholars don’t use “The Gospels are anonymous” as a reason to think that they are automatically untrustworthy. Stewart rightly points out that it does help us if we can have good reasons to name an eyewitness behind a Gospel, but it is not a necessity to know if the Gospel is reliable or not.

If there were some criticisms I would give, the first one is that the book does need an editor. There would occasionally be seen typos that were distracting. One in particular was to hear about how to respond to Bark Ehrman. This is a slip of the keyboard of course, but it can damage one’s reputation.

I also would have liked to have seen a lot more specifics on ideas that have been overturned in the past 100 years about the Gospels due to archaeology. Mythicism was addressed, but that has never been a reigning theory among scholars. There have been very few isolated individuals who have held that position, although the number today could be greater due to the rise of the internet and the fast spread of false information.

Still, there is much to commend in Stewart’s book. It is a good opening defense one can have in the case of the Gospels and the author does make sure to focus there. He does have a short section on the Pauline epistles, but that is not what the book is about so he does rightly stick with the Gospels. I recommend this one for your college student, especially one who wants to better defend the Gospels.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Yes. Mythicism Is Still A Joke

Should Mythicism be treated as a serious idea? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over at New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog, for some reason, Dr. Hurtado began writing about mythicism. I was curious to see what was said because NT scholars rarely say anything about mythicism for the same reason geologists would rarely say anything about Flat Earthers. The idea is simply considered a joke.

There’s good and bad sides to this. The good is that NT scholars do have much more important things to do than to get involved in internet squabbles. One can understand them not wanting to take their time to deal with an idea that they do not think should be taken seriously, and they’re right. The bad is that sadly, people are uninformed and they do take it seriously. This is the kind of idea that spreads on college campuses and on the internet among people who don’t know how to do history.

Naturally, posting like this soon reaches the ears of prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, the rare person who has a Ph.D. in a relevant field and holds to mythicism. Carrier takes the time to say that he wasn’t going to engage one day because it was his birthday recently and there were orgies to be had. Others had responded, but it was time for him to take on Hurtado.

“Surely you’re joking! You wouldn’t write a serious piece interacting with a highly established NT scholar and talk about having orgies would you?”

Well, Richard Carrier would.

Carrier also showed up on Hurtado’s blog, to which Hurtado didn’t even blink at it, but simply pointed out that his reading was highly off. That was last night and I have seen nothing new today about it and Hurtado has said that he has much more important interests to deal with. Who can blame him?

As I said, the theory of mythicism is popular on the internet, but I think Hurtado could be right in that this is a last hurrah for mythicism, at least for now. While Carrier is the best the mythicist case has, it’s not really saying much. Others in the field, both Christian and non-Christian, are looking and aren’t really impressed. The only people that seem to be impressed are those who are already mythicists and atheists who want to hear what they already think.

Such it is with conspiracy theorists. You can see conservative and liberal Facebook pages that will show claims that are easily shown to be false, but many people on each side want to believe what they already believe. Mythicism is just that. It’s a conspiracy theory for atheists. The evidence can sound convincing and persuasive if you don’t understand history, but once you do, the whole thing falls and we all see that the emperor has no clothes.

An interesting twist is that mythicism can be to history what solipsism is to philosophy. It’s usually thought that when you get to solipsism in your philosophy, you’ve made a mistake somewhere. Mythicism can show us how history should be done by showing us how bad history is done. Perhaps this will further refine our criteria of history which I don’t doubt will put Jesus in an even better light historically. After all, death could not defeat Him 2,000 years ago. There is no reason to think the historical method will today.

There have been stories of soldiers of Japan who were unaware that the war had ended decades earlier. So it is that we have many mythicists fighting a battle today unaware that the war is already over and that the historicity of Jesus is solid bedrock. Hopefully, more will see before too long that the battle is already done, but my concern is that there will still be eternal casualties with those who do not know realize the facade that they’ve been sold.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

NYC Terrorism And Gospel Reliability

Can we really know what happened? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

On Halloween afternoon and early evening, there was a news story broke about a radical Islamic terrorist that killed multiple people in New York. My wife and I go to Celebrate Recovery on Tuesday nights at our church, so we only got to hear bits and pieces, yet as it turns out, I did hear different things. That evening on the news, I had heard that he got shot in the abdomen. Another report said he got shot in the stomach. Still, another said he got shot in the buttocks.

Yesterday, my wife and I had the news on and heard even more different stories. This time, we heard that he had been shot in the leg and then it was more specifically, the thigh. We could say that this is a later story that is more clear, but as an outsider, I can’t really know. I could hypothetically go to the hospital and see for myself, but that’s not really an option right now.

So what do I gather from all of this? If we were in the area of New Testament studies, there are some things that some people would conclude. For instance, there are some who would be consistent and conclude that there never was a shooting or even that there never was a terrorist. After all, shouldn’t there be agreement?

Some will point to the idea of eyewitness testimony being unreliable. To an extent, it can be, but there are cases where it isn’t. In a time of chaos when people are dying around you and you could be looking out to save your own life, you might not remember everything that happens well. There will be some things you would not be at all mistaken about. You would not be mistaken about being at the scene or seeing a terrorist mowing down people in a vehicle and you would likely remember the peace that came when he was taken down.

I also often think that if we want to see how reliable testimony is over time, we need to check with people whose lives were significantly impacted by the event in question. Consider 9/11. Who is more likely to remember and relive the events in their mind over and over? Is it someone who was a passerby on the street and knew no one who worked in the towers, or is it someone who lost a spouse on that day? I don’t know of any such study like this, but it would be good to see it done.

When we compare this to the Gospels, there can be times that there are supposed contradictions that do differ on minor details. I am not saying all differences are like this, but many are. These are differences much like the shooting of the terrorist. It might be unclear to those of us on the outside without direct proof to know where the terrorist was shot, but we all know that he was. (Well, aside from perhaps some fringe conspiracy theorists who are no doubt convinced this was all staged, but then that is an apt comparison with the mythicist community.)

Minor differences do not do anything to change the fact of the major events. Someone might be tempted to say that it’s different when we talk about the New Testament. It’s supposed to be the Word of God isn’t it? At this point then, one is treating the New Testament with an entirely different standard. You’re not doing history so much as you’re doing religion. There is no reason to have a position where either all of it is true or none of it is true.

Instead, one can approach it much like any other document. Sure, there might be a few differences, but does that detract from the major points? Note I am not saying you have to sacrifice Inerrancy at all. I am saying you do not have to make it everything.

So what happened in NYC? A radical Muslim terrorist killed several people and was stopped when he was shot. Do I know the minor details beyond that? No. Do I have any reason to believe the major ones are false? No. Do I have justification to believe they are true? Yes.

When we come to the New Testament, we need to do the same. Let’s first see what the major outline of the story is. Then we can work on the minor details. Maybe we won’t even resolve them all, but we can still trust the major points.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/4/2017: J.P. Holding

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Conspiracies. We all know that there are real ones out there. Real people do work to commit crimes secretly. Unfortunately, in an urge to find cover-ups, plenty of other cover-ups are suspected. We can see numerous ideas presented about secret messages and plots that have been afoot, sometimes for centuries.

Some of these are historical. One can easily think of Alexander Hislop’s work The Two Babylons where pretty much everything that has ever been has been tied to Nimrod in the Bible somehow. While the argument is bogus, it is still consistently shared today. Another example, though not the focus of this show, would be Jesus mythicism.

A lot of these Christians buy into. What about the Illuminati? What about the possibility of a New World Order? There are claims that when anything happens, it’s a government conspiracy. There are people who think the government was controlling hurricanes Harvey and Irma and others. Some think that the shootings at places like Sandy Hook were fake. How far do these go?

To talk about these, I decided to have a Christian come on who has looked in-depth at these kinds of conspiracy theories. Not only has he looked at them, he’s more than capable of equipping Christians to answer them and research them themselves. He’s my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics, and he’ll be joining us this Saturday.

So who is he?

James Patrick Holding is President of Tekton Apologetics Ministries. He holds a Masters degree in Library Science and has written articles for the Christian Research Journal and the Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal.

How should Christians handle charges about a New World Order and other such things? What do you say when someone says that the Illuminati is behind what is going on in the world today? Is there any historical truth behind any of this?

If you are not sure of a conspiracy theory, then what do you do? What are some of the places you can go to research a claim? What are some things that you should be looking for to see if something is bogus or if something could possibly be genuine?

What also is the harm anyway? Even if you do get something wrong, does it really make a difference? How does it impact Christian witness if you share something that is untrue? When we see Christians who are sharing things like conspiracy theories, what can we do? What steps should we take in order to change the mindset of people in the church today and handle the way that we approach information claims?

I hope you’ll be watching for this next episode. I have a great concern when I see Christians sharing conspiracy theories, which includes a lot of people caught up in last days madness talking about New World Order and Illuminati specifically. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Jim Walker of NoBeliefs On Mythicism

What happens when we again examine the historicity of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The internet is a wonderful place where a skilled researcher can uncover treasures of knowledge and benefit greatly from it. The internet is also a dangerous place where someone unskilled can go and think they’re finding treasure when they really have fools’ gold. Such is the case of mythicism.

Mythicism is this theory that does not stand a chance in the academy and has died every time it has been presented, but on the internet, it’s seen as a serious theory among scholars, although this is by people who never read the scholars themselves. I refer to it as a conspiracy theory for atheists. The problem is most anyone on the internet can be seen as a scholar today just because they have a website or can make videos.

“Well you have a website and videos.”

Right you are! I’m also not a scholar! I’d say I have greater expertise, but I have no Ph.D. or peer-reviewed work. Look at my writings and go back to the real scholars who have that and compare.

Last night, someone sent me an article. The article is long and so I asked for select parts he wanted to be addressed. Note also that it comes from NoBeliefs which is one of the worst websites to go to for information on this topic. Still, let’s see what these parts are that are puzzling to this person.

The first is right at the start.

No one has the slightest physical evidence to support a historical Jesus; no artifacts, dwelling, works of carpentry, or self-written manuscripts. All claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people. There occurs no contemporary Roman record that shows Pontius Pilate executing a man named Jesus. Devastating to historians, there occurs not a single contemporary writing that mentions Jesus. All documents about Jesus came well after the life of the alleged Jesus from either: unknown authors, people who had never met an earthly Jesus, or from fraudulent, mythical or allegorical writings. Although one can argue that many of these writings come from fraud or interpolations, I will use the information and dates to show that even if these sources did not come from interpolations, they could still not serve as reliable evidence for a historical Jesus, simply because all sources about Jesus derive from hearsay accounts.

Hearsay means information derived from other people rather than on a witness’ own knowledge.

Courts of law do not generally allow hearsay as testimony, and nor does honest modern scholarship. Hearsay does not provide good evidence, and therefore, we should dismiss it.

With the first part, if this was our standard, we would have to say 99% of people in the ancient world never existed. Do we have this of Socrates for instance? What of other Jewish sages like Gamaliel, Hillel, and others? Most teachers did not do any writing themselves, but rather they left it to their students to pass on their teachings.

As for contemporary writings, this assumes that the Gospels and the epistles are not contemporary, but we have no contemporary writings of Alexander the Great. Our writings of him come from about 400 years later. We have no contemporaries of Queen Boudica, General Arminius, or Hannibal. These were people also who did, in the eyes of historians of the time, a lot more noteworthy accomplishments than did Jesus. For the ancients, Jesus was not worth talking about.

What about the claim that the Gospels did not come from eyewitnesses? This can also be contested. Nowhere do we see interaction with anything like Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. This statement is just thrown out with no backing at all. Are we to believe that a church in Ephesus one day received a scroll and had no idea who it came from and said “Well, this looks like a good Gospel. Let’s use it!”

The writer not being named in a work does not mean the authorship was unknown. Most writers would not do such. Interestingly, when we have that in some of the Pauline epistles, they’re still viewed as forgeries so I have no reason to think that a name on the Gospel of Matthew explicitly would convince such skeptics.

Still, has Jim looked at any cases for authorship? Has he looked at why the church said Matthew, Mark, and Luke especially? Matthew was a tax collector. Mark was a Mama’s boy who ran back home early and caused a split between the church’s first great missionaries. Luke was a gentile only named in some Pauline epistles. If the church was making up figures as authors, why make up these? I could go on with cases for each, but those who are interested in the evidence, which I am convinced Jim is not, can go and look for themselves at this point.

What about hearsay? Unlike Jim, I did something that I guess would be a bit taboo here. I actually talked to a lawyer about it. Jim first off assumes that this is hearsay and second, documents connected to the events would be allowed to be used in a court of law. Still, I would dispute that the Gospels especially are hearsay and the material in 1 Cor. 15 definitely goes back to the apostles, the eyewitnesses, themselves.

Let’s move to the next part.

Epistles of Paul: Paul’s biblical letters (epistles) serve as the oldest surviving Christian texts, written probably around 60 C.E. Most scholars have little reason to doubt that Paul wrote some of them himself. Of the thirteen epistles, bible scholars think he wrote only eight of them, and even here, there occurs interpolations. Not a single instance in any of Paul’s writings claims that he ever meets or sees an earthly Jesus, nor does Paul give any reference to Jesus’ life on earth (except for a few well known interpolations). Therefore, all accounts about a Jesus could only have come from other believers or his imagination. Hearsay.

Epistle to the Galatians: In this letter Paul describes a meeting with Peter and James, the Lord’s brother (Gal: 1:18-20). The problem here involves the meaning of “Lord’s brother.” Some scholars think this means the biological brother of the Lord while others think it means brother in a communal spiritual sense, as all Christians are the Lord’s brothers and sisters. Note, never does any epistle refer to the brother of Jesus. In all cases, Paul uses the word “Lord,” consistent with the spiritual sense. In any case, even if this phrase did mean a biological brother, Paul could not have known that James had a brother. At best he could only have believed it because his information could only have come from another person, most likely James himself. That makes this letter hearsay.

Epistle of James: Although the epistle identifies a James as the letter writer, but which James? Many claim him as the gospel disciple but the gospels mention several different James. Which one? Or maybe this James has nothing to do with any of the gospel James. Perhaps this writer comes from any one of innumerable James outside the gospels. James served as a common name in the first centuries and Biblical scholars simply have no way to tell who this James refers to. More to the point, the Epistle of James mentions Jesus only once as an introduction to his belief. Nowhere does the epistle reference a historical Jesus and this alone eliminates it from a historical account. [1]

Epistles of John: Scholars tell us the epistles of John, the Gospel of John, and Revelation appear so different in style and content that they could hardly have the same author. Some suggest that these writings of John come from the work of a group of scholars in Asia Minor who followed a “John” or they came from the work of church fathers who aimed to further the interests of the Church. Or they could have simply come from people also named John (a very common name). No one knows. Also note that nowhere in the body of the three epistles of “John” does it mention a John. In any case, the epistles of John say nothing about seeing an earthly Jesus. Not only do we not know who wrote these epistles, they can only serve as hearsay accounts. [2]

Epistles of Peter: Many scholars question the authorship of Peter of the epistles. Even within the first epistle, it says in 5:12 that Silvanus wrote it. Most scholars consider the second epistle as unreliable or an outright forgery (for some examples, see the introduction to 2 Peter in the full edition of The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985). The unknown authors of the epistles of Peter wrote long after the life of the traditional Peter. Moreover, Peter lived (if he ever lived at all) as an ignorant and illiterate peasant (even Acts 4:13 attests to this). In short, no one has any way of determining whether the epistles of Peter come from fraud, an author claiming himself to know what Peter said (hearsay), or from someone trying to further the aims of the Church. Encyclopedias usually describe a tradition that Saint Peter wrote them. However, whenever you see the word “tradition” it refers to a belief passed down within a society. In other words: hearsay. [3], [4]

Epistle of Jude: Even early Christians argued about its authenticity. It quotes an apocryphal book called Enoch as if it represented authorized Scripture. Biblical scholars do not think it possible for the alleged disciple Jude to have written it because whoever wrote it had to have written it during a period when the churches had long existed. Like the other alleged disciples, Jude would have lived as an illiterate peasant and unable to write (much less in Greek) but the author of Jude wrote in fluent high quality Greek.

So let’s go through one by one.

First off, the author has it wrong. Seven of the Pauline epistles are definitely seen as authentic. Second, some do think Paul could have met Jesus, which would make sense since Paul can reasonably go to Jerusalem for Passover and encounter Jesus. Still, if this is the standard that Jim wants, then we can throw out Hannibal and Queen Boudica and Arminius and others since we have no eyewitness testimony of them.

Second, I do not know of any scholars who see the claims about the historical Jesus to be interpolations. If Jim thinks so, he needs to produce them, and no, YouTube personalities do not count as scholars. Robert Price has argued that the 1 Cor. 15 creed is an interpolation, but the case has not convinced scholars and there is zero textual evidence of this. Furthermore, this is the material that would not be interpolated. No early opponent of Christianity was disputing the basic historicity of Jesus.

With Galatians, I would like to see these scholars who think this is someone other than the actual brother of Jesus. Even Catholics who would hold to perpetual virginity would not interpret the passage this way. It would also not be hearsay. It would be from Paul’s own eyewitness testimony himself of meeting James. As even Bart Ehrman has said, “If Jesus never existed, His brother would probably know it.” The only reason to view this with suspicion is you have a prior commitment you wish to show.

We can agree with James that it’s not meant to show a historical Jesus, but neither is it supposed to. Still, many scholars do in fact think that James is getting much of his information from the Sermon on the Mount. It is quite bizarre to think Matthew would make up a whole sermon later on just to agree with James’s epistle.

The Johannine epistles get pretty much the same treatment. Unfortunately, all of his sources are wikipedia or theopedia. (You know, the place where great scholars go for research.) Still, there’s no reason to think that these are written to tell us that Jesus existed, but that they showed up does show that a movement had started and what was it based on?

For Peter, Jim makes much out of saying that Silvanus wrote the letter. Yes, and Romans 16 points out that Paul used a scribe as well, but no one doubts Paul wrote Romans. Even a literate person back then used a scribe so this is not a problem. Also, Acts 4:13 does not mean that Jesus was illiterate and ignorant. It meant that he had not been formally schooled. Either Peter learned how to write Greek well after becoming an apostle, or else he used a scribe. Both of those still hold on to Petrine authorship.

The same can be said for Jude. It is a wonder why quoting Enoch means that Jude did not write it. No doubt then since Paul in authentic letters quoted pagan poets, he thought that those were Scripture too. Jude just took a point he thought was true and used it. Also, there is no reason the church needed to be around a long time. It would have been nice for Jim to engage with some scholars, but alas, he did not.

The next section is on lying for the church.

LYING FOR THE CHURCH

The editing and formation of the Bible came from members of the early Christian Church. Since the fathers of the Church possessed the scriptoria and determined what would appear in the Bible, there occurred plenty of opportunity and motive to change, modify, or create texts that might bolster the position of the Church or the members of the Church themselves.

The orthodox Church also fought against competing Christian cults. Irenaeus, who determined the inclusion of the four (now canonical) gospels, wrote his infamous book, “Against the Heresies.” According to Romer, “Irenaeus’ great book not only became the yardstick of major heresies and their refutations, the starting-point of later inquisitions, but simply by saying what Christianity was not it also, in a curious inverted way, became a definition of the orthodox faith.” [Romer] If a Jesus did exist, perhaps eyewitness writings got burnt along with them because of their heretical nature. We will never know.

In attempting to salvage the Bible the respected revisionist and scholar, Bruce Metzger has written extensively on the problems of the New Testament. In his book, “The Text of the New Testament– Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, Metzger addresses: Errors arising from faulty eyesight; Errors arising from faulty hearing; Errors of the mind; Errors of judgment; Clearing up historical and geographical difficulties; and Alterations made because of doctrinal considerations. [Metzger]

The Church had such power over people, that to question the Church could result in death. Regardless of what the Church claimed, most people simply believed what their priests told them.

In letter LII To Nepotian, Jerome writes about his teacher, Gregory of Nazianzus when he asked him to explain a phrase in Luke, Nazianzus evaded his request by saying “I will tell you about it in church, and there, when all the people applaud me, you will be forced against your will to know what you do not know at all. For, if you alone remain silent, every one will put you down for a fool.” Jerome responds with, “There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation.”

In the 5th century, John Chrysostom in his “Treatise on the Priesthood, Book 1,” wrote, “And often it is necessary to deceive, and to do the greatest benefits by means of this device, whereas he who has gone by a straight course has done great mischief to the person whom he has not deceived.”

Ignatius Loyola of the 16th century wrote in his Spiritual Exercises: “To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it.”

Martin Luther opined: “What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.”

With such admission to accepting lies, the burning of heretical texts, Bible errors and alterations, how could any honest scholar take any book from the New Testament as absolute, much less using extraneous texts that support a Church’s intransigent and biased position, as reliable evidence?

To begin with at the start, it would need to be shown that the text of the New Testament has been heavily edited and changed. Let’s go with a scholar of textual criticism on this. How about Bart Ehrman, who is definitely not a Christian? What does he say?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

I’m also highly skeptical of this idea that the early Christians were killing those in their midst who disagreed. Perhaps Jim could give us some examples. Also, did some people just believe the priests? Sure. That’s still a problem today. It’s also just like some internet atheists write articles where they just believe what they read on Wikipedia.

Many of these quotes are also not what they seem. For instance, Chrysostom does not paint an absolute picture. One could compare what he did to telling the Nazis that there were no Jews underneath the floorboards of the house. The quote about Luther isn’t even listed in the source Jim gives. (This is another reason you don’t use Wikipedia boys and girls. It’s subject to change at any time. Go back to the original sources.)

What appears most revealing of all, comes not from what people later wrote about Jesus but what people did not write about him. Consider that not a single historian, philosopher, scribe or follower who lived before or during the alleged time of Jesus ever mentions him!

If, indeed, the Gospels portray a historical look at the life of Jesus, then the one feature that stands out prominently within the stories shows that people claimed to know Jesus far and wide, not only by a great multitude of followers but by the great priests, the Roman governor Pilate, and Herod who claims that he had heard “of the fame of Jesus” (Matt 14:1)”. One need only read Matt: 4:25 where it claims that “there followed him [Jesus] great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan.” The gospels mention, countless times, the great multitude that followed Jesus and crowds of people who congregated to hear him. So crowded had some of these gatherings grown, that Luke 12:1 alleges that an “innumerable multitude of people… trode one upon another.” Luke 5:15 says that there grew “a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear…” The persecution of Jesus in Jerusalem drew so much attention that all the chief priests and scribes, including the high priest Caiaphas, not only knew about him but helped in his alleged crucifixion. (see Matt 21:15-23, 26:3, Luke 19:47, 23:13). The multitude of people thought of Jesus, not only as a teacher and a miracle healer, but a prophet (see Matt:14:5).

 

So here we have the gospels portraying Jesus as famous far and wide, a prophet and healer, with great multitudes of people who knew about him, including the greatest Jewish high priests and the Roman authorities of the area, and not one person records his existence during his lifetime? If the poor, the rich, the rulers, the highest priests, and the scribes knew about Jesus, who would not have heard of him?

For this, I refer the reader to my earlier article on how Jesus is not worth talking about. What amazes me is not how few people talked about Jesus, but that anyone really did at all.

Some apologists attempt to dig themselves out of this problem by claiming that there lived no capable historians during that period, or due to the lack of education of the people with a writing capacity, or even sillier, the scarcity of paper gave reason why no one recorded their “savior.” But the area in and surrounding Jerusalem served, in fact, as the center of education and record keeping for the Jewish people. The Romans, of course, also kept many records. Moreover, the gospels mention scribes many times, not only as followers of Jesus but the scribes connected with the high priests. And as for historians, there lived plenty at the time who had the capacity and capability to record, not only insignificant gossip, but significant events, especially from a religious sect who drew so much popular attention through an allegedly famous and infamous Jesus.

Take, for example, the works of Philo Judaeus (also known as Philo of Alexander) whose birth occurred in 20 B.C.E. and died 50 C.E. He lived as the greatest Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher and historian of the time and lived in the area of Jerusalem during the alleged life of Jesus. He wrote detailed accounts of the Jewish events that occurred in the surrounding area. Yet not once, in all of his volumes of writings, do we read a single account of a Jesus* “the Christ.” Nor do we find any mention of Jesus in Seneca’s (4? B.C.E. – 65 C.E.) writings, nor from the historian Pliny the Elder (23? – 79 C.E.).

* Note, Philo did write about a pre-Christian celestial “Jesus,” but this had nothing to do with the Christian Jesus (unless Christians “stole” Philo’s ideas). See Philo’s On the Confusion of Tongues (62-63, 146-147)

If, indeed, such a well known Jesus existed, as the gospels allege, does any reader here think it reasonable that, at the very least, the fame of Jesus would not have reached the ears of one of these men?

Amazingly, we have not one Jewish, Greek, or Roman writer, even those who lived in the Middle East, much less anywhere else on the earth, who ever mention him during his supposed life time. This appears quite extraordinary, and you will find few Christian apologists who dare mention this embarrassing fact.

To illustrate this extraordinary absence of Jesus Christ literature, just imagine going through nineteenth century literature looking for an Abraham Lincoln but unable to find a single mention of him in any writing on earth until the 20th century. Yet straight-faced Christian apologists and historians want you to buy a factual Jesus out of a dearth void of evidence, and rely on nothing but hearsay written well after his purported life. Considering that most Christians believe that Jesus lived as God on earth, the Almighty gives an embarrassing example for explaining his existence. You’d think a Creator might at least have the ability to bark up some good solid evidence.

Again, this is dealt with in my above article on how Jesus is not worth talking about. As for the confusion of tongues passage, I refer to an atheist on this one. Yes. Even atheists are rightly going after Carrier’s nonsense.

For example, in Matt 4:8, the author describes the devil taking Jesus into an exceedingly high mountain to show him all the kingdoms of the world. Since there exists no spot on the spheroid earth to view “all the kingdoms,” we know that the Bible errs here.

John 12:21 says, “The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee. . . .” Bethsaida resided in Gaulonitis (Golan region), east of the Jordan river, not Galilee, which resided west of the river.

John 3:23 says, “John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim. . . .” Critics agree that no such place as Aenon exists near Salim.

No one has evidence for a city named Nazareth at the time of the alleged Jesus. [Gauvin] Nazareth does not appear in the Old Testament, nor does it appear in the volumes of Josephus’s writings (even though he provides a list of cities in Galilee). Oddly, none of the New Testament epistle writers ever mentions Nazareth or a Jesus of Nazareth even though most of the epistles appeared before the gospels. In fact no one mentions Nazareth until the Gospels, where the first one didn’t come into existence until about 40 years after the alleged death of Jesus. If a city named Nazareth existed during the 1st century, then we need at least one contemporary piece of evidence for the name, otherwise we cannot refer to it as established history.  According to John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, “The only epigraphic evidence for Nazareth comes from a Jewish synagogue inscription, written in Hebrew.  A small dark gray marble fragment from a third, or fourth century C.E. synagogue plaque was discovered at Caesarea Maritima in 1962, containing the earliest occurrence of the name Nazareth in a non-Christian source. This fragment and two others unearthed with it preserve a list of the traditional locations where Jewish priests resettled after the Roman emperor Hadrian banned all Jews from Jerusalem in 135 C.E.” [Grossan, 2001] And given the past history of made up objects for Jesus, even this might turn out as a forgery.

Some historians do not agree with this of course. Some think Nazareth existed, some don’t think it existed, and some remain skeptical, but the fact that historians still debate it should tell you that that we should not use this as a certainty. Moreover, some scholars think it as a moot point because they believe “Nazareth” refers to a Christian movement, not a city. For one example, Acts 24:5 refers to a sect of the Nazarenes. The Gospel writers then might have confused the term to mean the city (which by the time they wrote the gospels, a city did exist with that name). We have a lot of educated guesses by scholars, but no certainty.

For Matthew 4, who else would have known not all the kingdoms of the world can be seen from the top of a mountain? No one but everyone. What’s going on? Jesus is being taken to a high position not for the sake of seeing things per se, but for the sake of experiencing being in an honorable position and the kingdoms would be shown in a visionary way.

For John 12, Bethsaida was in the region of Galilee. Pliny the Elder even says the same thing. Also, many places were named Bethsaida and John can easily say this to specify the one he has in mind.

For John 3, the place is not attested elsewhere. So what? Why should we think every city should be attested? There is no great mythology or reputation tied to the town. Why should it have been mentioned?

For Nazareth, again, even Bart Ehrman has dealt with this one. The main one arguing it didn’t exist is Rene Salm who has no experience in arhcaeology at all. It is mythicists who are pushing this. The case is not one seriously discussed in scholarship.

So again, we leave another mythicist article convinced mythicists don’t know how to do history. It is a conspiracy theory for atheists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Dear Mythicist

What do I think when I meet a mythicist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. I get it. You’re skeptical of the Bible. You know what? That’s understandable. There are a lot of strong claims that the Bible makes. It’s not simple to believe that a man rose from the dead and that man happened to be both fully God and fully man. Those positions should be evidenced. I get that. I agree.

There is such a thing as reasonable doubt. There is also such a thing as unreasonable doubt. Your case is the latter. Let’s suppose you came to this question not knowing anything about history. What if I then told you that there is not a single professor of ancient history or New Testament or classical history teaching at an accredited university that doubts Jesus existed.

“But those are Christians so they’re biased!”

You do know that these topics are taught at secular universities? Right? Do you think that all these secular universities are hiring evangelical Christians only to teach these topics? There are more than enough non-Christian scholars in the field to teach this stuff and they don’t doubt that Jesus existed at all. In fact, if you read the scholarly literature, this kind of idea is lucky to get a footnote.

“But I do read the scholars. I especially read Richard Carrier!”

Yeah. I get it. You trot out the name Richard Carrier like I’m either supposed to be quaking in my boots or holding immediate respect. Neither is the case. Carrier doesn’t teach at an accredited university and has even been banned from Skepticon. There’s a reason I refer to him as the prominent polyamorous internet blogger. For a guy with a Ph.D., that’s pretty much all he’s doing these days.

Oh? He wrote a book on Jesus mythicism. Yeah. I read it. Hardly any scholars even bothered to review it. No doubt, it was hoped to make a big splash, but it would be interesting to know if it barely made a ripple. It just wasn’t noticed. The academy has still gone on its way. Mythicism is still a joke.

In fact, I often tell Christians we should thank God for Richard Carrier. Richard Carrier is doing so much to undermine atheism and build up Christianity. You see, he’s lowering the standards of his fellow atheists because he’s so caught up in his own perceived greatness that he thinks what he writes on any subject must be excellent. His followers have bought into that idea and have helped prolong it so lo and behold, if Carrier upholds mythicism, so will they. I know of Christians who have donated to his patreon because they want to see this keep going.

Besides, it seems rather odd that here you have the overwhelming majority of scholars on both sides of the Christian fence not doubting at all that Jesus existed and here you have a lone wolf saying otherwise. Yes. There are an isolated number of others like Robert Price, but the number of mythicist scholars are minimal and their work is not garnering attention. If you have all of that, as an outsider, what is the best route to take?

Let’s use another example. I am a heliocentrist, but I could not begin to make to you a defense of heliocentrism. That’s not because I’m anti-science. It’s just not an area I’m interested in. We do this in most every field. If you were going to court, you would hire a lawyer, but your need of one is not because you’re anti-law. You just haven’t studied it. You will likely go to your doctor if you’re sick and take whatever he tells you. You don’t know what to do on your own not because you’re anti-medicine, but just because you haven’t studied it and while you can question your doctor, if you don’t have the skill and knowledge, it would be pretty ridiculous to argue with him that he’s wrong.

So let’s suppose I come across the work of Gerry Bouw. Gerry Bouw does have a Ph.D. in astronomy and he is a geocentrist. Should I consider this a sign that heliocentrism is to be overturned? No. If Bouw is right, he will need some really good evidence, but as an outsider, when I see the academy of astronomy not paying attention to the idea, I deem it wise that I shouldn’t either.

Amusingly, this is like evolution. I get that the majority of you are atheists and have no problem with evolution. In all honesty, I don’t either. I just choose to not argue for or against it because like I said, I’m not a scientist. I could not mount a scientific defense of and I could not present an accurate scientific critique. Therefore, I will just grant it for the sake of argument.

If I jump on the internet, it looks like there’s a lot of debate on evolution. You can even go to a site like TalkOrigins and see this being debated regularly. What am I to conclude from this? Does this mean that the academy is debating evolution? Well, they are in one sense. They’re debating theories about it, but they are not debating if evolution is true or not.

You see, this is the danger of the internet. Anyone can put up an idea and have it seem smart. After all, if you make a presentation that draws people with a fascinating web site or an interesting YouTube video and you can cite names of people who agree with you, then it sure looks like you’re an informed person. You can also write a book on the topic and well, that surely means it’s a serious idea. Right?

But again, let’s go to the evolution example. You can find plenty of people doing just this with evolution. In fact, I can find some Ph.D.s in science that dissent from Darwin. Again, I am not agreeing or disagreeing with them here. I’m just acknowledging their existence. If you say “Yeah, but those are the outliers” then I say “As is the case with mythicism.” In fact, if you think we need to take mythicism seriously, then I, in turn, would say based on that standard you need to take young-earth creationism seriously, and no, I am not a young-earth creationist. By the standards you have set, young-earth creationism should be considered a serious worldview. I know many of you consider that a horrendous thought, but that’s just the way it is.

Of course, let’s not leave out the best part of the presentation. The memes! Once again, you have people like myself who read books written by scholars and yet we see a meme and we’re supposed to topple over immediately. Not at all. The memes often convince me further you don’t know what you’re talking about. The arguments are just hideous.

Now you could say a lot of scholars don’t answer the arguments. You could be right there. It’s also the same reason a lot of scientists don’t answer arguments for young-earth creationism. They’re not serious ideas to the scientists and the scientists want to engage with serious ideas. In fact, many specialists in the field would have a hard time with YEC arguments not because they think they’re so powerful, but because they’re so unusual. These deal with isolated claims and such that most scholars don’t bother to study.

Nevertheless, let’s look at some of the claims. We’re often told for instance that Jesus was supposed to be God in the flesh who did the most important event in human history and no one wrote about it. Does that not sound strange?

Not at all.

I could tell you right now that there are claims of people being healed at places like Lourdes. There are people who are absolutely certain the Virgin Mary is appearing to them. There are people who are convinced that they have been healed at a Benny Hinn Crusade. Question. Are you going to go and start investigating all these claims immediately?

Odds are no. You’re just going to discount them. Note that I’m not saying all these claims are valid. Still, you are a skeptic and the possibility doesn’t seem like a real option to your worldview, so you discount it. This is something we all tend to have. We all think skepticism really means being skeptical of that which disagrees with our worldview. Anything that agrees normally gets a free pass. If you are a true skeptic, you are skeptical of arguments against your worldview AND for your worldview.

You see, I am a political conservative. I’m sure many of you disagree with that, but it doesn’t matter here. The point I want to make is that during the Obama presidency, when someone shared something that was false about Obama, I made sure to correct it if I found out. Why? Because I wanted to take him down, but not with lies. You can see the same thing here in my response to Reclaim America with them misrepresenting a Muslim scholar. My point is I try to be skeptical of arguments for or against.

So let’s get back to Jesus. If you’re a Roman writer in the first century, you’re among the educated elite. You hear a story about a man claiming to be God who died and rose again and it’s all the way in this area called Judea. You think the people already have strange beliefs. I mean, they don’t even honor the gods! Now you hear also that this man was crucified. Well that settles it. The gods would not be with someone who was crucified. No person worthy of being considered a deity or a king or anything like that would be crucified. Do you investigate the claims? Not at all. This group is a marginal sect and they will disappear. In the long run, for them, Jesus is not worth talking about.

You should also know this, the argument from silence is really the weakest of the arguments. It’s sadly the biggest one that mythicists have. It’s expected that everyone should have been talking about Jesus and when they weren’t, well that just proves it.

Let’s also talk about this whole thing about contemporary eyewitnesses. Let’s consider it with another man. This guy is Hannibal. No. I don’t mean the guy from The Silence of the Lambs. I mean the ancient general of Carthage. This is a man who was their greatest general. He was the hero of heroes. Kids would have pictures of him on their lunchboxes. If movies had existed back then, you would see movies about Hannibal in Carthage. This guy defeated Roman army after Roman army. Keep in mind the Roman army was the most powerful empire the world had seen. In fact, he nearly conquered Rome itself. He was defeated, but he got the closest for his time. This was someone all the world would have known about.

What contemporary eyewitness do we have of him?

None. Not a one. Nothing.

Now I could play the mythicist game. You see, it’s obvious that what happened is that Rome had got into a sense of complacency and people thought that Rome wasn’t all that great. I mean, they’re only where they were because of luck. It’s not like they had to strive to get there. So what happened? Roman officials decided to create a figure that in the past beyond the time of eyewitnesses decided to go after Rome and nearly won, but Rome defeated him. Therefore, Rome overcame great odds to be where it was and we should not grow lax in our military in case another Hannibal shows up.

Do I think that’s likely? Not at all. It’s preposterous. The simple thing to do is realize that Hannibal existed despite lack of eyewitness testimony.

In fact, in my debate with Ken Humphreys, I caught him in such a contradiction. I asked him if he was certain that Josephus existed. I was told he was absolutely certain Josephus existed. I then asked if we have any first century testimony to Josephus. This caught him flatfooted. We don’t.

Now some of my fellow Christians are saying “We do have contemporary evidence of Jesus. It’s the Gospels and Paul!” To this, the mythicist likes to respond that this source is biased and can’t be trusted! I really hate to have to tell you this, but every source is biased. The only exceptions would be people writing about something they care nothing about, but then if they don’t care about it, why write about it?

The reality is you’re treating the Bible like the fundamentalist you condemn. The Christian fundamentalist will say the Bible stands on its own. God said it and you believe it! There’s no need for all this apologetics stuff. You just trust the Bible! The Bible is in a special category immune to historical research.

How is your response different? Only in the conclusion. The Bible says it and therefore we should be hyper skeptical of it. All of this apologetics stuff is bunk. You just question the Bible! The Bible is not open to historical research because all the authors were biased!

For Christians like myself, our request is simple. Treat the Bible like any other book in the ancient world. We’re not asking you to treat it like the inerrant Word of God. If you conclude that that is what it is, act accordingly. Until then, treat it like any other book from the ancient world claiming to give a historical account.

Let’s also say a word about Paul. Paul apparently doesn’t say much about the life of Jesus. Indeed. Why should he? His letters were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific circumstances in the life of the church. Issues that told stories about the life of Jesus were apparently not necessary.

In fact, if you were to visit Facebook and see me and my friends, you would find we often make a big deal about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Why do I do this? Because of this argument about the silence of Paul. If you want to see how that works, just consider this post on why I affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

In the long run, if anyone wants to convince me that they’re absolutely clueless on ancient history, there’s an easy way to do it. Just affirm mythicism. I will sometimes answer you for a little while, but I honestly consider it like pushing a slinky down the stairs. It seems kind of fun at first, but after awhile it’s the same old stuff. It’s nothing new.

What do I recommend you do? Pick up some more scholarship than what you’re doing. Use sources other than Wikipedia. If you think mythicism is a serious option, just pick up books on the historical Jesus, even books by non-Christians, and see how seriously they treat mythicism if they do at all.

Then wake up and join reality. Jesus existed. You can believe He existed without believing He’s the Son of God or rose from the dead or did miracles. In fact, as I often say, many atheists admit a historical Jesus existed and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives.

Be one of them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters