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

 

A Reply On Jesus’s Existence To World Future Fund

Is there evidence for Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So yesterday, someone posted on Facebook asking about this article. It was material that they had never come across before. I can sympathize because people who don’t buy into conspiracy theories and such will ever come across Jesus mythicism. If all you read was the best scholarly literature on the historical Jesus, you’d never catch it.

Yes. I know so many atheist fanboys are screaming Richard Carrier, but no. He’s not the best. He doesn’t teach at an accredited university and his book he wanted to have an impact is hardly known anywhere. That’s not meant to be an insult. It’s just reality.

We’re told that the time Jesus lived is one of the most heavily documented in ancient history. That could be debated, but let’s just go with it. What of it? We are told there are no contemporary records. Of course, this is excluding the New Testament because, you know, if it’s in the Bible it’s automatically thrown out, a rule not followed by critical non-Christian scholars of the New Testament, but hey, who cares about consistency?

Unrealized of course is that if you went by this standard, you would have to deny many figures in ancient history such as Hannibal or Queen Boudica or the German Arminius. Are we going to see any Hannibal mythicists who will tell us the Punic Wars were a story made up by Rome to increase their reputation of defeating a great opponent to show how awesome in battle they were? Doubtful, but it would be the consistent outcome.

We’re also told a reign of terror was started when Christianity seized power and Eusebius was asked to write a church history. Little problem. Christianity was only legalized under Constantine. It was over 60 years later before it “seized power” as it were. Naturally, we’re also told Christianity was responsible for the Library of Alexandria being destroyed. Oh! What sources are cited for this? Gibbon is in the sources, but there’s no correspondence above to the note. At any rate, I recommend someone like Tim O’Neill for this.

At this, I suspect some skeptics reading might say I’m referring to another Christian so why bother? Well let’s see what O’Neill says about himself in the article where he takes Gibbon to task.

As an atheist, I’m clearly no fan of fundamentalism – even the 1500 year old variety (though modern manifestations tend to be the ones to watch out for). And as an amateur historian of science I’m more than happy with the idea of a film that gets across the idea that, yes, there was a tradition of scientific thinking before Newton and Galileo. But Amenabar has taken the (actually, fascinating) story of what was going on in Alexandria in Hypatia’s time and turned it into a cartoon, distorting history in the process.

Also, how do these people think we have works from the pagan world at all? Do they want to take a guess who was copying them? Was all of it done secretly by closet pagans for well over a thousand years? Do they not realize it was Christians preserving all these works from being destroyed?

Of course, they don’t.

The next source we get is Josephus.

This brief piece of evidence which supposedly contributed the best “proof” of Jesus’s existence has actually been proven to be a fraud. It has been demonstrated continuously over the centuries that “Testamonium Flavium” was a forgery manufactured by the Catholic Church, and was inserted into Josephus’s works. The Testamonium Flavium account is so thoroughly refuted, that biblical scholars since the 19th century have refused to refer to it, unless to mention its false nature.

Odd. I read Bible scholars regularly and never do I hear them saying that this is a fraud. Note that World Future Fund. I read scholars. I don’t read people on the internet who like to claim to be scholars but aren’t. The Testimonium is no doubt said to have some parts that are interpolation, but much of it still stands as accurate. There is also the second reference to Jesus in Josephus which largely depends on the first. That isn’t even questioned by WFF. My friend James Hannam has looked at several of the scholarly works as well and written an article here.

We continue.

Most written accounts of the life of Jesus did not exist until a couple decades after his purported existence. These accounts were presented by a number of different authors and had somewhat conflicting stories about his existence. These written accounts are known as the Gospels. Also, it is worth knowing that not all of the gospels that were written even made their way into the bible. Only four gospels became the canonical writings for the church. The rest were burned, destroyed or lost. Historians estimate that the first written gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written sometime after 70 C.E, which means that at the earliest, it would have been written 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.

Nothing is said about the epistles which contain our earliest references to the historical Jesus. Naturally, WFF goes with a conspiracy theory of sorts. If they want to know why other Gospels weren’t included, there’s a good reason. For one thing, they didn’t have apostolic authority. A Gospel needed to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle. The early church worked to trace the origins of the Gospels they had and found them to come from those in the Jesus tradition. This wasn’t so with the later Gospels. This is one topic I discussed with biblical scholar Charles Hill here.

As for dating, there’s no links here so we don’t know what scholars are being relied on. Decades later is hardly a problem in the ancient world. As for conflicting accounts, we also have two conflicting accounts on how Hannibal tried to conquer Rome. By the standard of these writers then, Hannibal never existed.

We go on.

There is widespread belief that Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians; however, there are many holes in this theory.

This belief comes from the account of the Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 CE) about how Emperor Nero (37 – 68 CE) blamed the burning of Rome on “those people who were abhorred for their crimes and commonly called Christians.” The passage then states that the fire agitators were followers of “Christus” who “was put to death as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate.” The passage then also states that Christians constituted a “vast multitude at Rome” and goes on to discuss the ghastly ways in which they were persecuted.

However, there are many troubling details about the historical accuracy of this passage. Some critics call into question whether Tacitus wrote this account at all, or if it was yet another forgery. Around the date of Nero’s Fire, 64 AD, there were no “multitude of Christians” in Rome. At this time, there was not even a multitude of Christians in Judea. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that Nero would refer to Christians in this way.

It would be interesting to know who these critics are who say Tacitus is a forgery. Certainly no scholars of Tacitus. The text also speaks of Christians in such abhorrent terms that it’s nothing that the Christians themselves would make up. As for a multitude, the problem is that this is a term that is vague. A multitude does not have to have any set number of people. It just has to have a crowd that is deemed sizable enough to make a difference in some way. Again, this isn’t a problem for scholars in the field.

This is also the only mention of Christians in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes

This is also the only mention of Pontius Pilate in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes. What of it? I’m surprised frankly that Tacitus even mentioned Jesus once.

Also, the supposed persecution of the Christians by Nero is not recorded by any other historian of Nero’s time. If the persecution of Christians were really that widespread, wouldn’t other historians be writing about it?

No. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. was wide-known and killed 250,000 people and destroyed two cities yet for historians writing about it, you need to wait until Cassius Dio in the third century. You have allusions to it elsewhere and an off-the-cuff remark between Pliny and Tacitus, but no. Historians weren’t writing about it. Obviously, it was a myth. The Christians were more of a nuisance group. Why write about them?

In addition to the Testomonium Flavianum, there exists another tenuous piece of evidence that some have tried to use as proof for the existence of Jesus. The Roman Historian, Pliny The Younger (62-113CE), wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan in 110 CE requesting his assistance in the proper punishment of a group of “Christiani” who were causing trouble and would not bow to the image of the emperor. According to Pliny, these Christiani would meet before daylight and sing hymns with responses to “Christ as God.”

However, this letter does not provide concrete evidence for the existence of Jesus as a person since it makes no direct mention of “Jesus of Nazareth,” nor does it refer to his life. Also, there are many critics who have argued that this letter is a forgery.

It should be noted that the most oft given source here is Acharya S.’s Truth Be Known web site. Again, hardly a scholarly source and perhaps one should see the other myths Acharya has embraced before jumping wholeheartedly on the bandwagon. At any rate, there is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Well if the WFF wants to name another Jesus that would seem to match the account in Pliny, they’re welcome to try! Also, I know of no scholar who thinks this letter is a forgery.

And finally,

The last piece of questionable historical evidence we’ll discuss here is the passage in Suetonius’s Life of Claudius, dating around 110 CE. There is a reference in this work to a figure named “Chresto” who caused the Jews to riot in Rome. First of all, if Jesus Christ did exist, it is not possible that he would have been in Rome at this time. Claudius reigned from 41-54 CE, this is at the time of Christ’s alleged crucifixion.

The reference is to Chrestus and some think Suetonius was just confused here. It doesn’t mean that the Chrestus was in Rome (Yes folks. Biblical scholars and historians had never figured out until now that Jesus never went to Rome.), but that the riots were about him. This is one source I would be more hesitant on using, but I still lean towards it being one to Jesus.

Naturally, we saw no scholarly evidence being cited in this reference and instead just speaking of conspiracy theories. Jesus mythicism is a conspiracy theory for atheists. I have to admit honestly I’m a bit thankful for it. The more mythicism spreads, the more Christians can build up real scholarship and corner a future market and the more atheists can destroy their own intellectual credibility. I know many atheists have not jumped on this bandwagon and are more open to evidence, but we see in mythicism that even atheism has a fundamentalism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Beyond The Quest For The Historical Jesus

What do I think of Thomas Brodie’s book published by Sheffield Phoenix? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Thomas Brodie is the rare mythicist who doesn’t refer to Richard Carrier as the Alpha and Omega of Biblical scholarship and doesn’t resort to the dying and rising gods ideology. Still, even by mythicist standards, his work is, well, bizarre. Brodie at times goes to lengths that even Carrier would not go to. I was asked to read this by someone who is at least open to mythicism if not a full-fledged mythicist to get my thoughts on it.

It’s not a shock that Brodie has a really fundamentalist background. Early on page 4, he tells of hearing an older Dominican say that the words in the Gospels are not the exact words of Jesus and how when Brodie heard that, his heart sank. Why? All you’d need to do is compare the exact same story in the Gospels and know we get paraphrases often. It’s moderns who are obsessed with exact terminology. On top of that, Jesus likely spoke in Aramaic so His words are already a translation.

Throughout the book, Brodie gets put in positions by students and others where he has no idea what to say and has to go back and look for some answers. Nothing wrong with looking of course, but it looks like Brodie takes the most simplistic approach he can and there’s not much evidence he really wrestles with both sides of an issue. It could be because he has an exalted view of himself. He writes about how he scores high on intuition on Myers-Briggs and so he intuits these connections in his work that everyone else just misses. It never occurs to Brodie apparently that maybe he intuits nonsense and everyone else can just see it. No. The reason that Brodie’s work gets rejected cannot be him after all.

Brodie’s main idea rests on imitation. He especially clings to the Elijah-Elisha narrative. Brodie says that the stories in the Gospels often look like the Elijah-Elisha narrative or they look like other Old Testament books. So let’s review the chain and we will see it makes perfect sense.

We don’t have the exact words of Jesus.
The stories in the Gospels bear similarities to Old Testament stories, particularly the Elijah-Elisha narrative.
Therefore, Jesus never existed.

Makes perfect sense. Right?

Often times, it’s easy to see that his parallels are contrived and Brodie will do any amount of pushing to force them onto the Gospels. Now someone could say “Well even if he does that with the Gospels, he has to deal with Paul too.” No problem. Paul didn’t exist. Paul is a myth and the opponents he wrote about are also myths and the epistles are all just these letters written for, well, that’s a good question. It’s really unclear in the book why anyone went through with this elaborate scheme.

Dealing with the extra-Biblical references for Jesus doesn’t go much better for Brodie. Early on on page 25, he says that some of these were always recognized as weak. It would be nice to know who always recognized these as weak and why, but Brodie never answers the question for us.

When he gets to why he rejects them, he pretty much only focuses on Josephus and Tacitus and even then, it’s lacking. All he needs to say for Josephus is that Josephus got his information from Scripture somehow and then Tacitus got his from Christians so neither one of these is to be trusted. Even if true, this assumes that Brodie’s prior  hypothesis is true.

What is most odd to me about the whole thing is that instead of admitting the existence of one person, Brodie has to have this school in Judaism that comes together and writes these epistles and Gospels with a story they know is not historically true. The existence of one person is seen as doubtful, but an entire school we have no evidence for is not. Brodie has this school in Judaism that has ideas that are practically New Age about God being in each of us and reaching out to us and somehow, this Jewish school at the time of Jesus embraced all of this.

Note that these Jewish thinkers had to be some of the worst writers in history in pulling this off. After all, it wasn’t until about 1900 years later that someone finally came up with what it was that was really being said. It’s amazing to think that to avoid the historical existence of Jesus, Brodie has to come up with a school we have no evidence for and a plot we have no evidence for and a New Agey school of Judaism that we have no evidence for.

Brodie’s book is really grasping at straws. In Acts 26:24, Festus says to Paul that he’s gone crazy and his learning has driven him out of his mind. After reading this, I think these words would more accurately describe Thomas Brodie.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 7

Who was the historical Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at Asher Norman’s book Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus and today, we come to the cream of the crop. Yes. This is the post I have been wanting to deal with because it’s one of my favorite topics to expose. That is the topic of Jesus mythicism.

Yes. Norman is open entirely to Jesus mythicism. Yes. He uses the exact same arguments that have been debunked time and time again. No. He doesn’t deal with the scholarship on this issue at all save Robert Price. (At least we have a work that doesn’t quote Carrier finally)

Norman tells us that according to Price, Jesus fits an archetype of someone who is supernaturally predicted and conceived, escapes attempts to kill him as an infant, has great wisdom as a child, receives divine commission, defeats demons, wins favor and is treated as a king, loses that favor and is betrayed and executed, normally on a hill, and then is vindicated and taken to heaven.

He lists four figures that fit this. Hercules (Because we all know the great wisdom he had where he killed his teacher and had to do twelve labors), Apollonius of Tyana, (Best devastated by David Marshall in Jesus Is No Myth.) Padma Sambhava (An eighth century figure so good luck saying this was an influence on Jesus) and the Buddha (Who we have no contemporary biographies of but hey, we only need contemporaries when it comes to Jesus).

Naturally, he goes to Remsburg’s list. He wasn’t taken seriously in his own day, but conspiracy theorist skeptics take him as Gospel today. We get the usual list of people who never mentioned Jesus. He also says that they failed to mention Matthew’s raised saints (Because, you know, Romans were all about talking about miraculous events in Judea.) Still, let’s go through this list in the footnote of people who never mentioned Jesus.

Apollonius —- Who is this one? There are a number of people with this name. It needs more context. Without that, then we’re left wondering why we should care about this.

Appian — He was indeed a historian, but his interest was in Roman conquests. Last I checked, Jesus wasn’t involved in any of those. What’s Appian to say “And Caesar went and battled his enemies and yo, there was this dude named Jesus who claimed to do miracles in Judea also!”

Appion of Alexandria — He wrote a history of Rome. Again, it has to be asked, why would he talk about Jesus?

Arrian — His area of interest was Alexander the Great. Last I checked, that bears no connection to Jesus.

Aulus Gellius — He was a lawyer. Big shock that he wrote on law. No need to mention Jesus here.

Columella — Someone who wrote about agriculture was supposed to write about Jesus?

Damis — He wrote about Apollonius of Tyana. No desire to mention the competition in this case.

Dio Chrysostom — He was an orator. He wrote on literature, philosophy, and politics. Jesus made no major waves to Rome in this area, so why bother?

Dion Pruseus — He was also an orator. He wrote on how to speak well. No need to mention Jesus.

Epictetus —- He was a second-century philosopher. His main interest was stoicism. Why would he care about Jesus? Besides that, his writings are not his, but rather those of his students. They want to show him as a great teacher, not Jesus.

Favorinus —- He was a second-century philosopher. He wrote on the subject of rhetoric. Why would he mention Jesus?

Florus Lucius — He was a Roman historian. He wrote about pre-Christian history. Nothing there says he should have talked about Jesus.

Hermogones Silius Italicus — Unclear who this is, though he could be a poet who wrote about the second Punic War. I don’t think that involved Jesus.

Josephus — We will cover this later. Norman says both mentions are forgeries.

Justus of Tiberius — We only have a 9th century work saying this doesn’t mention Jesus, but it was a Jewish work interested in writing about kings. Jesus was not seen as a king by most of the Jews. Why mention a failed crucified Messiah?

Juvenal — He wrote satires. No need to speak of Jesus there.

Lucanus — This guy was the nephew of Seneca. We have a poem he wrote and a work describing the war between Caesar and Pompey. Jesus was not a major combatant in that war.

Lucian —- See next part

Lysias — Who? There was someone who lived with that name, but it was from 400-300 B.C. There’s a good reason they wouldn’t talk about Jesus.

Martial — He wrote poetry and satire. Why should he talk about Jesus?

Paterculus — He wrote a history of Rome. His work was published just when Jesus started His ministry and we have no record of Jesus visiting Rome.

Pausanias — His work is Descriptions of Greece. Remember when Jesus went to Greece? Neither do I.

Persuis — Again, a satirist (How many of these historians are not historians?).

Petronius — Wrote works like The Satyricon. His work was often quite vulgar. Why mention Jesus?

Phaedrus — He wrote fables. Again, why mention Jesus?

Philo-Judeaeus — Philo is at least an understandable figure, but Jesus would be seen as a flash in the pan to him. There were numerous figures being put to death. Philo mentions no other Messianic figures. We go to Josephus for those. More of this can be found in my article on how Jesus is not worth talking about (At least to the ancients).

Phlegon — This one is questionable. It could be he did mention the darkness at the time of Christ.

Pliny the Elder — He wrote Natural History. This dealt with science and morality. There was no need to mention Jesus to make his case.

Pliny the Younger — See next part.

Plutarch — This one is another one that could very well have possibly referred to Jesus. Why didn’t he? I’d chalk it up to a bigotry against people like Jews and Egyptians. He was more interested in Greco-Roman heroes.

Pomponius Mela — This guy was a Roman geographer who came from Spain. A geographer has no need to talk about Jesus.

Ptolemy — He wrote the Almagest. His main area of interest was astronomy. No need to talk about Jesus.

Quintilian — He wrote about Greco-Roman rhetoric. Jesus has no need to be mentioned here.

Quintius Curtius — Jesus was supposed to fit into the history of Alexander the Great? Who knew?!

Seneca — This one could have mentioned Jesus, but he probably would have had no interest in what he would deem superstitious nonsense and was more interested in the philosophy he knew well and trying to save himself from Nero.

Statius — He wrote poetry, a story about the seven against Thebes, and the life of Achilles. Jesus played no role in any of this.

Suetonius — See next section.

Tacitus — See next section.

Theon of Smyrna — His work was on mathematics and astronomy. Why talk about Jesus?

Valerius Flaccus — He wrote about Jason and the Golden Fleece. Was Jesus a part of that voyage?

Valerius Maximus — He wrote anecdotes and just when Jesus was getting started. Again, why mention Him?

As we can see from this list, Norman has not done any checking. He just saw the list and went with it. Norman has just reached the point where he’ll believe any argument provided it argues against Christianity.

So let’s look at the more disputed figures.

Josephus

There is no doubt that Josephus has interpolations in what he said, yet the overwhelming majority of scholars here say partial interpolation. The argument worth mentioning is that Origen says Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, but that does not show that the whole passage did not exist. It just shows the part that says “He was the Messiah” did not exist. There is also no need for the church fathers to mention this passage. The existence of Jesus was not debated. Norman says nothing about the second reference to Jesus which is even more accepted than the first.

Tacitus

Norman really shows his lack of knowledge here. He says Tacitus never mentions Jesus. He just mentions someone named Christus. Here’s my challenge then to Norman. Find another person named Christus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and had a group of people named after him and this group’s teachings had reached Rome by the time of Nero and several of them were put to death by him. Go ahead. Find one other figure.

He also says that this information was probably hearsay. There’s no evidence given for this and even when he received information from Pliny the Younger, his best friend, he still treated it with skepticism. Tacitus as a Senator would have access to records now lost to us.

Norman also says Tacitus spoke of pagan gods as if they really existed, to which we could say this could first off be used to argue against the historicity of anything Tacitus wrote if accurate, but second, Norman gives no examples of this. Without that, we cannot comment. All we can say is the again overwhelming majority of scholars of Tacitus have no problem with this reference.

Suetonius

I could understand this one being more questionable. Norman does say the name Chrestus can refer to the good man. This would be too vague for a Roman historian to write about. What good man? It also doesn’t need to mean that this Chrestus was in Rome. It could just as well mean he was the subject of the debate and this would fit in with the expulsion of the Jews from Rome at the time.

Pliny the Younger

Norman is right that he never mentions Jesus but does mention Christians worshipping Jesus, but this is consistent with all that we have as well.

The Talmud

I am skeptical of this claim since it gets a lot of information about Jesus wrong and hence, I don’t use it.

There is no mention of Lucian here nor is there any of Mara Bar-Serapion.

We also issue this challenge to Norman. If you think this is a convincing argument, show where Gamaliel, Hillel, or Shammai are mentioned by these writers. These are Jews you would no doubt hold to be historical figures. Find them mentioned.

So where does Norman think the idea of Jesus came from? Pagan gods. Norman does get something right in that much of the life of Jesus is patterned after the Old Testament, but this is what we would expect. Great teachers would try to reenact the great figures of the past. It would be seen as honorable to do so.

Still, Norman isn’t satisfied with that. He goes with the mystery religions and what a shock that one of his great sources is Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries.

Norman thinks showing a god dying and coming to life is sufficient, but that does not equal resurrection in the Jewish sense. (Note the irony of having to explain to Norman the Jewish context) Baal would die and rise, if he did at all which can be disputed, with the vegetation cycle.

As for Adonis, the stories about him come from the second century. If any influence was going on, it was Christians influencing the story of Adonis. Norman is free to try to show us the scholarly support. Again, we want scholars, not sensationalists like Freke and Gandy.

We could just as well say that for all of these claims we want to see the scholarship. Attis was born on December 25th? The NT makes no such claim for Jesus, but can Norman show us the dating on this? Can he show an account of the resurrection of Attis that pre-dates Christianity?

For Isis, Horus, and Osiris, we issue this challenge to Norman. Find one living Egyptologist that will think that this idea is on the right path. They could say “Eh. It needs a little bit of tweaking here and there, but it’s generally right.” Find one.

Naturally, we have Mithras on the list. It’s fascinating to hear what Mithras did after death especially since we have no record of his death whatsoever. Mithras was also supposedly born on December 25th which is also supposedly the date of the winter solstice. I challenge Norman to back any of these claims.

For all of these claims, about the only ones that could have some accuracy are the sharing of a meal and the doing of miracles. Miracles would be the work of any deity and meals were common rituals in the ancient world for fellowship. It should also be known that we have no writings of the followers of Mithras and we learn all we do about them from artwork and the writings of the church fathers.

How about Dionysus? We find more of the same in the list. Again, here’s my challenge to Norman. You make the claim. You back it. Where are these events backed by scholars of Dionysus?

Next, Norman goes to Their Hollow Inheritance by Michael Drazin to argue about Jesus, Krishna, and Buddha. Drazin is not a scholar but another anti-missionary. I have ordered his book from the library, but it looks like he relies on the same 19th century works and not modern scholarship.  Mike Licona contacted two specialists on Hinduism and Buddha. I refer you to those here.

Finally, if Jesus did exist, He was likely a zealot. This book was published before Aslan’s work, but Norman again doesn’t make much of a case.

Norman does say Jesus was referred to by titles that implied Kingship. Yes. And? This means that He was a zealot? Where do we see Him actively instigating the conquest of Rome?

Norman also tells us that John the Baptist was likely a zealot also since according to Josephus, Herod put John the Baptist in prison for fear of a military uprising. Strangely enough, we have no record of John’s disciples planning a rescue mission or partaking in any aggression. Ancient kings back then would be wary of anyone being more popular than they.

Paul arrested Christians in Damascus. Obviously, this was for anti-Roman reasons wasn’t it? No. Paul was zealous for Judaism and saw Christianity as a dangerous sect.

It also only makes sense supposedly that the high priest went after Jesus since the high priest had to protect Roman interests. No. It also makes sense if Jesus is gathering honor from the populace and the high priest thinks he’s losing his.

Norman also thinks that Jesus and His disciples, killed fruit trees like the fig tree, plucked corn on the sabbath, and refused to let someone bury their father because they were on the run from Herod. We hope Norman will start writing fiction because he has quite the vivid imagination to think this is a case.

Some of Jesus’s disciples did have nicknames of zealots. Sure. One of them was also a tax collector. Whoops! A zealot would not work with a tax collector would they?

In John’s Gospel, the people want to make Jesus king by force. Of course, it couldn’t be because they had just seen a miracle in their midst and said “This is the Messiah! Let’s make Him king!” One would think a zealot Jesus would welcome that.

Jesus attempted to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. Indeed He did. Yet if Norman accepts this, He needs to accept that Jesus went into Jerusalem expecting not to take it over, but expecting to die.

Was Jesus arrested for being a zealot threat? No. Jesus was arrested for being a threat to the honor of the Jewish leaders.

Norman says the large force the Romans sent to arrest Jesus only makes sense if He was a zealot. No. Jesus was not well-known in Jerusalem and the Romans would have no idea how many He would have or what they would do. Other Messiah figures did require an army and Rome just didn’t want to take chances. It doesn’t mean they were right in their assessment. Note that others seeing Jesus as a zealot is insufficient to say He was one, unless Norman wants to say my opinion is sufficient to show that he has no clue what he’s talking about.

The Romans charged that Jesus was the King of the Jews. We Christians no doubt see irony here, but Pilate would see mockery. He wrote this to humiliate the Jews he didn’t care for.

Jesus was crucified between two brigands. Yes. And?

We have already dealt with the sign on the cross.

When Peter was arrested, he was heavily guarded. Sure. What prisoner wouldn’t be?

Paul was arrested because he was thought to be a zealot ringleader. Supposing this is true, what of it? How does Paul present himself? This might be a shock to Norman, but major figures can be badly misunderstood by the public.

Jesus was preached to be another king by Paul. Of course he was. Yes. Paul did challenge Rome, but he didn’t challenge Rome on a military basis. Someone who was challenging Rome would not write Romans 13. Amazing that Norman says Paul was undercover working for Rome and then says Paul was a zealot against Rome. Which is it?

James was executed in 62 A.D. Surely this was because he was a threat to Rome. It’s difficult to understand any other reason! Well, no it’s not. It’s easy to. James was a more popular figure and a threat to the honor.

The final chapter of this book is how the Torah already provides for Gentiles. I have nothing of interest there. The main work is done.

I really encourage any Jew wanting to learn about Christianity to avoid Norman’s work. It’s full of hideous errors. The reason I engaged with it was for the debate he is having with Michael Brown.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Jesus Is No Myth

What do I think of David Marshall’s book published by Kuai Mu Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

If you’re on the internet and you’re completely unaware of scholarship, you might think mythicism is the next big phase of historical Jesus studies. You’d be completely wrong on that. Mythicism was, is, and will be a joke still. There are three figures that have stolen the spotlight recently and although only one is a mythicist (One is in fact strongly an anti-mythicist), all have had their impact.

Reza Aslan stirred some of the waters by publishing a book called Zealot. In this, he argued that Jesus belonged to the group at the time known as Zealots. Some of you might have even seen him on Fox News. Is Reza Aslan a scholar worth taking seriously?

If you’re a skeptic on the internet, usually you take Richard Carrier as the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship. Why not? He’s a world-renowned philosopher and historian. I know this because hey, Richard Carrier said so. Is Carrier thus shaking the boat seriously and causing scholars to rethink their views on the historical Jesus?

Finally, many already use Bart Ehrman and have done so. Normally, if your skeptic isn’t pointing to Richard Carrier, they’re pointing to Bart Ehrman. He’s definitely not a mythicist, but he is definitely not an evangelical Christian either. He’s made some claims of Jesus being similar to other great figures. Is he right?

Marshall takes on all of these, the group that he calls ACE in this book. The book is a lively and engaging read. Marshall is an unusual mix. He is well-read in ancient literature and knows what was going on in the times of the Bible, but he’s also brought something else interesting, and that’s a knowledge of Chinese and other Far Eastern histories. After all, one can step outside of the world in the Bible to see what other cultures were like for comparison and how history was done in them.

Not only that, he also comes equipped with some great pop culture references. The closest that comes to his style of writing in scholarly works is actually Michael Bird. Marshall manages to make references in his book to Dr. House, epic rap battles, and Pokemon. A reference like this can bring an extra smile of delight and humor. Marshall is heavy on substance, but he brings light humor as well.

Still, let’s focus on the substance, and there’s plenty of it. Marshall takes on all three of these. Aslan is probably the simplest one seeing as he really isn’t a scholarly in the field and makes some simple mistakes that real scholars have corrected him on, but he does serve the purpose of showing us what not to do. Marshall shows how Aslan cherry picks the evidence so that Jesus comes out the way he wants him to.

Carrier is a different story. If you’re like many skeptics on the internet, you think Carrier is everything. Most in the scholarly world really have no idea who he is. That’s right. Not only is he not shaking the boat, he’s not really making any ripples in the water at all. Still, Marshall takes him on, particularly on the point of parallels to the Gospels in older literature. This also includes a great admirer of Carrier, Matthew Ferguson.

Marshall also takes on the mythicism of Carrier and others. For Carrier, there is a look at the whole Rank-Raglan idea and Marshall shows that it just doesn’t apply well. He also pays attention to the claims of the arguments of silence as well as shows that the methodology of Carrier in history would lead to disastrous results and no, ideas like the criterion of embarrassment have not been thrown out.

Dealing with Ehrman means dealing with a lot of parallels. One favorite one to use is Apollonius of Tyana. Marshall goes through this work showing that Apollonius is not a valid parallel to Jesus. This is material quite helpful for anyone encountering this kind of claim.

Another figure he deals with is the Baal Shem Tov. This was a historical Jewish figure that lived in Poland that Ehrman brought up in a debate with Tim McGrew. Unfortunately, Ehrman didn’t get out all the facts about the Baal Shem Tov and if listeners knew what Marshall shares in this book, they never would have taken Ehrman’s claim seriously.

I should also point out that Marshall writes not just with an intellectual blowtorch that burns through the rubbish in bad arguments, but he writes from the perspective of a devout Christian who sees Jesus as far greater than any other figure. That’s another benefit of this book. It allows you to see Jesus as different and how weak the attacks are against Him. If anything, they only make the Christian faith all the stronger.

This is a book I highly recommend you read. Marshall has given us a gift with this excellent work. You owe it to yourself to partake of it and if you are a fan of ACE, you need to consider the arguments in this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Big Think On The Historical Jesus

Are scholars coming to doubt Jesus existed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. We’ve been down this road before. Another website claiming that there’s an increasing number of “scholars” who doubt the existence of a historical Jesus. Of course, as we’ll see, when they use the word scholars, there’s really only one reply to that.

inigomontoya

This time the website is Big Think, which is apparently inappropriately named. The article can be found here. I went through it when someone pointed it out to me just groaning at the massive ignorance of the author named Philip Perry. So what are his major errors? (Other than writing the whole thing?)

To begin with, we have the whole idea that Christmas was copied from the pagans, which is something sadly that many Christians fall for. The author claims that the traditions we celebrate came from Norse mythology and from Saturnalia. His source? Just another website. Most of the material if not all is answerable in my ministry partner’s book, Christmas is Pagan And Other MythsI want to focus more on the main article.

When we start talking about Jesus, we then see what the writer means by scholars. As he says “Today more and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.” Yes. There are bloggers questioning this. There are bloggers also saying 9-11 was an inside job and the moon landing was a hoax. We could say there is a growing number. Will the author start treating them seriously?

The writer of course tells us which sources we shouldn’t accept. We should not accept religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind. Interestingly, the atheist he cites can be found here and lo and behold, his source is Richard Carrier! (That is, Richard Carrier who is teaching at the prestigious university of…..ummmm…..well….okay. He’s not teaching anywhere for a scholar who is supposed to be world-renowned in philosophy and history, but oh well.)  Of course, Carrier is someone many of us don’t take seriously at all and when I hear his name, I just think of his theme song going through my head.

Let’s look at the question about religious scholars. John Dickson addressed this point in the past when he responded to Raphael Lataster, someone I have responded to as well here and here. John Dickson said about Lataster’s idea that Christians shouldn’t get involved in the study of the historical Jesus said that

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality. This is why the methods of history are so important. They are how we assess each other’s work. We don’t fret about other scholars’ private beliefs and doubts. We judge their handling of the acknowledged evidence according to the rules of historical inquiry. Anything else would be zealotry.

When it comes to peer-review, no one gets a pass for being a Christian or an atheist. The methodology is the same. Can you show you handle the scholarship and handle it properly? Would Perry be fine with my saying that no Christian should listen to an atheist on evolutionary biology since they come with a bias?

Perry also finds it interesting that we have Jesus go straight from 12 to 30 with nothing about what happened in-between. This is pretty simple. I challenge Perry to go and read other Greco-Roman biographies of the time and see how much time they devoted to someone’s childhood. Jesus’s biographies are nothing unusual in this regard. They are par for the course.

Perry then goes on to say:

Historians have measures in terms of a burden of proof. If an author for instance is writing about a subject more than 100 years after it occurred, it isn’t considered valid. Another important metric is the validity of authorship. If the author cannot be clearly established, it makes the record far less reliable.

Really? This is a rule? I have never heard about this 100 year rule. This rule would rule out most of ancient history. The huge majority of the lives of Plutarch would be thrown out. Our biographies of Alexander the Great would be out the door. Today, no one could write a book about the Civil War. Only people who have no clue about how to do history would say nonsense like this.

As for the rule about an author being clearly established, it can be helpful to know who the author is, but many times, we don’t know. We hold to Plutarch authorship because his grandson said it later on. I find this whole thing a red herring anyway. Do we really think skeptics of Christianity would keel over and accept it if the opening line of Matthew’s Gospel said “The Gospel according to Matthew?” Not a bit. After all, we have letters claiming to be from Paul and that is not accepted as a good enough reason for granting six of them authorship by Paul to them. Of course, Perry could have looked at what E.P. Sanders said about this.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

Perry then tells us we have sources written several decades after the fact. First off, his source is Raphael Lataster for this information, which isn’t a big shock. Apparently, sound mythicist argumentation is just quoting other people who agree with your views. Second, again, could he show us some history that’s not like that in the ancient world? The overwhelming majority was written several decades after the fact.

Keep all this in mind about decades and the 100 year rule as it will hurt Perry in the end, but Perry says nothing about the Pauline creed in 1 Cor. 15. What do scholars say about it?

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

Perry also says they were written by people who wanted to promote the faith. Yes. Of course. And? This somehow shows they are unreliable? Should we say that Jewish holocaust museums should be viewed with suspicion? Do we not accept the account of a soldier who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked because he could have a bias? In the ancient world, everyone had a bias, just like today. History was to be written with passion after all.

He also says the Gospels contradict on events like the Easter story. Of course, many of us have seen these lists of contradictions, but Perry never tells us what they are. Does he throw out the accounts of Polybius and Livy on Hannibal crossing the Alps because those hopelessly contradict? Perry has created a standard that if there is any disagreement, then we throw it out. Unfortunately for him, Mike Licona has recently shown that this kind of disagreement is common even in the writings of Plutarch. For the part about being anonymous, see E.P. Sanders’s quote above. He then tells us that there’s evidence that the Gospels were heavily edited over the years.

There’s also evidence that Philip Perry climbs on top of his car at night and howls at the moon.

Oh, wait? I need to provide actual evidence and not just make a claim? I just figured I would do exactly what Perry has done. Still, let’s look at the claim. What would someone like Bart Ehrman say about it?

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.

If Perry wants to back his claims that the Gospels are heavily edited, let him. By the way, pointing to Mark 16:9-20 and the pericope of the woman caught in adultery does not show heavily edited. We’ve known about these passages since the time of the early church. If anything, showing that these weren’t in the original manuscripts shows we have a good idea of what was in the original manuscripts.

Perry goes on to say that:

St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man. For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts. And the writings we do have are biased. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time. So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.

As soon as you hear this talk about “Heavenly Jesus” you know where exactly this is coming from. There are a number of things we know about Jesus from Paul, such as His being crucified, having a Passover meal, being descended from David, dying on Passover, being seen after His resurrection, and being born of woman under the law in Galatians 4, which would definitely refer to an earthly existence. Scholars across the board have not taken the heavenly Jesus idea seriously. (By the way Perry, these are real scholars who actually have Ph.Ds and teach at accredited universities and not bloggers.)

Perry also finds it shocking that such an important religious figure wasn’t talked about. Unfortunately, what is really shocking is that Jesus was talked about. Perry is following an anachronism here. It is assuming that because Jesus is all the rage today and everyone talks about Him, that meant everyone was talking about Him in His time. Not at all. As I have in fact argued, in Jesus’s time, He wasn’t worth talking about. He discounts Josephus and Tacitus who wrote a century later. This isn’t accurate anyway. Jesus would have been crucified around 30 A.D. Josephus wrote before the end of the century and Tacitus wrote at the start of the second.

He also claims that their sources are Christian. Unfortunately, this is not demonstrated. Perry can talk all he wants about these accounts being controversial, but this is not according to the scholars of Josephus and Tacitus. The overwhelming majority have no problem with a witness to the historical Jesus being found here.

Next, Perry gives a list of authors who back his thesis supposedly. Let’s look at them.

Reza Aslan in Zealot? Nope. Aslan holds that there is a historical Jesus and that he was a zealot. His claim is wrong, of course, but he is not a mythicist.

Nailed by David Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald has no credentials in the scholarly community. One needs to look at atheist Tim O’Neill taking down Fitzgerald here.

Bart Ehrman with How Jesus Became God? Bart Ehrman has even written the book Did Jesus Exist? taking down the Jesus mythicist movement. He has no patience for these people. Finally of course, we have Richard Carrier with On The Historicity of Jesus. (Carrier to most of scholarship is just someone who happens to have a degree but to most skeptics on the internet, he’s the alpha and omega of scholarship.)

Perry has the quote from Bart Ehrman, but what of it? Ehrman himself doesn’t think that Jesus never existed and if Perry had done just a brief look on Amazon and found Ehrman’s book and read what it’s about, he would have known this. Unfortunately, Perry did not do any real research.

Perry also uses Carrier’s argument of the Rank-Raglan figure to show that Jesus is a mythical figure. Unfortunately, he doesn’t answer the questions like “Why does Carrier use Matthew instead of Mark when Mark is thought to be earlier?” He also doesn’t address the critiques of this position like here and here.

In the first article, I would like to highlight one quote of Ronnblom.

Unfortunately, Carrier subtly changes the criteria to better fit Jesus, and reorders them. Worse still, Carrier does not inform his readers that he has done this. This is amounts to academic dishonesty, since he is clearly misrepresenting his sources

And as McGrath says at the start of his article:

The scale was not designed to determine historicity. Its folklorist users show little or no interest in the attempt to do what historians do, namely peeling back layers of myth in search of underlying history, if there is any. The Rank-Raglan scale does not seem, contrary to Carrier’s claim, to consistently fit figures who were definitely not historical better than ones who certainly were. And so Carrier’s attempt to use the scale to slant his calculations of probability in the direction of the non-historicity of Jesus are at best unpersuasive, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Keep in mind, this is said to be the centerpiece of Carrier’s argument.

It’s also worth pointing out that Carrier has given a talk on the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar and says that all the great historians of the age mention it. Unfortunately, the great historians of the age wrote much later. What happened to that 100-year rule?

Finally, we conclude with Perry bringing up Joseph Atwill. Unfortunately, the media does us a disservice of calling most anyone a Biblical Scholar. This would be like me calling any blogger who critiques evolution a scientist. Atwill’s crazy theory is that the Romans invented the figure of Jesus to control the Jews. Larry Hurtado has taken his own shot at Atwill. Even Carrier said Atwill’s theory was nonsense, but hey, who cares? He made the claim.

We can hope that someday, BigThink will actually follow its own advice and think. Right now, this growing number so far consists of just a small handful of writers. Next story no doubt will be “A number of scientists are seriously questioning evolution”. I will be told that that is inaccurate I am sure, but when it comes to Jesus, you’re allowed to break the rules.

There’s a reason mythicism is rightly seen as nonsense.

In Christ,
Nick Peters