A Response To Bob Seidensticker on oral tradition

Were the Gospel stories corrupted before writing them down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently in a discussion on oral tradition I was given a link to an article by Bob Seidensticker. Now this is someone that as soon as I saw the name, I decided to move on at the time. I’ve responded to his stuff before and found it incredibly lacking, but in the interest of being thorough, I’ll take the time now.

Bob asks us to begin with a story about being a merchant and a traveler stops and asks for some lodging. You have him in and tell him about Jesus. He likes the story and asks you to repeat it. You instead ask him to repeat the story. You all go over it a few times and then make any necessary corrections and the next day he’s on his way to share the story himself.

It’s a nice story, but sadly, that’s all it is. A story. Bob has not consulted any works on scholarship to find out if this is how it would come about in the ancient world. There is no looking at the groundbreaking research of Perry and Lord. There is nothing from Bauckham, Bailey, or Dunn. At the least he could have cited Bart Ehrman with Jesus Before the Gospels, but no.

So at the start, I’m wondering why I should take this account seriously. These stories were not told in isolation but in group settings. This is still the way things are done in the Middle East. These stories were told repeatedly and this in a culture where people had far better memories.

We’ll see why this matters soon.

Bob is willing to grant twenty years of history before the Gospels are written down for the sake of argument. He notes that this is a pre-scientific culture. Of course, we’re left wondering what this has to do with the price of tea in China. That a culture does not have science does not say anything about the reliability of oral transmission. We might as well say textual transmission isn’t reliable today because your newspaper can still have the horoscope in it.

He also says the account is about the creator of the universe coming to Earth. Of course, scholars have different responses to the idea of early high Christology, though it is interesting that Bob is probably unknowingly siding with the conservatives. What has to be asked is how this changes the content of the stories or the means of memorization.

Let’s state some aspects that need to be stated.

To begin with, Jesus was an itinerant speaker. I do public speaking. Many people do. If you’re a public speaker, you often tell the same story many many times. If I was asked to speak at a church some Sunday and it was Saturday night, I would go with a stock sermon that I have. Jesus was in many towns and cities and spoke to many different people. Are we to think that every great story He had, He only told once?

Second, many of Jesus’s sayings were aphorisms. These were simple sayings that were easy to remember. Some of them could go on a bumper sticker today. It is better to give than to receive. Turn the other cheek. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

Third, Jesus often told parables. These stories were easy to remember. Many of us could tell the parable of the prodigal son. The stories were not long and had “gotcha” endings many times. We could relate it to how many of us can tell jokes after hearing them just once.

Fourth, Jesus did live in an orally-based culture. In this culture, memorization was taken far more seriously. James Dunn has this in his great work on the topic Jesus Remembered. Jesus sent out his own disciples two by two and they were to pass on His teachings. Obviously, He would make sure that they knew these teachings.

Fifth, many of the events of Jesus’s life would be what we call flashbulb moments, such as are described by Robert McIver. Many of you remember where you were when you first heard about 9/11. Those who are older remember when they first heard that JFK had been shot. This would be the same for if you were suddenly healed of leprosy or paralysis or something like that. There’s a huge gap between giving an encouraging pep talk to a blind man and opening the eyes of a blind man.

Of course, Bob says nothing about any of this. The rule apparently is that if you’re an atheist on the internet, reading on a topic isn’t necessary and definitely you don’t need to read anything that disagrees with you. Just tell a story about how you think it probably was, and that’s enough.

Bob then compares the accounts to Bernadette in 1858 who had visions that were investigated and concluded to be true a year and a half later. One wonders what the parallel here is. I do not know if the accounts are true or not, although I would say an interesting look can be found in the second section of this book.

From there, we have numerous references to Wikipedia and alleged copycats. Wikipedia is, of course, a bastion of scholarly research where the best minds go to for their information. Perhaps Bob should also read The Death of Expertise and learn a little bit about why Wikipedia should not be trusted on something like this.

If it’s not Wikipedia, he refers to only himself. With the copycat claim, he admits in the article that he does not possess the expertise to comment. He also points out that there is a Christian web site that will offer $1,000 to anyone who can prove that the lists of parallel gods is actually true. Obviously, Bob hasn’t cashed in because he doesn’t think it is, but apparently that doesn’t stop him from spreading the claim anyway. Naturally, you won’t see any interaction with scholarly material like this.

The next is about how Paul doesn’t tell the Gospel story, to which the question has to be asked why should he? This would be covered in the oral tradition. Paul wrote to churches to deal with issues in their midst. The truth of the story of Jesus was never an issue. What was an issue was the outworkings of what that meant.

We’re not at all surprised to see that the only real source he has on this is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier. It’s as if skeptics have an allergy so often to anything that disagrees with them. Instead of getting a scholar that actually teaches at an accredited university, they go for Carrier. Carrier is often the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship to a skeptic.

Bob will later say that it is often said that people in the first century had better memories. He says that there is no reason to imagine that this is how it was. Indeed, there isn’t. We should instead consult the best scholars in the field. Apparently, it’s okay for Bob to imagine a just-so story about a merchant, but if you say something different about how things went in the ancient world, well you’re just imagining.

He also brings up the canard of perfect accuracy. Perfect accuracy assumes there is one original story. While there was an original event, the story would be told differently. For the parables and such, there could be variation depending on the audience and setting much like any itinerant speaker today. For a story, ancients were fine with the gist of the story being the same even if some secondary details were a bit different. The problem so often is that many moderns approach the ancients and expect them to tell stories according to modern standards instead of ancient ones.

In the end, we conclude that there is no reason to take Bob seriously on this topic. He has not taken modern scholarship seriously and instead relied on Wikipedia and Richard Carrier. In turn, he is not going to be taken seriously. Why respond to this then? Because sadly some people do take this seriously so it is necessary to have something for them.

Hopefully, Bob will crack open a book next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Unmasking the Jesus Myth

What do I think of Stephen Bedard’s book on Jesus mythicism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Stephen Bedard for sending me his latest book on this topic. Bedard is one Christian who still wants to give time to Jesus mythicism and addressing it. I do as well, but it is becoming less common mainly because when we meet anyone who is a mythicist, we tend to see them as beyond reasonable discussion. The rules of historiography are changed to allow for this.

Bedard has put together a small book that you could read in a couple of hours on the topic so you can be familiar with it. He has put some of the most important information in there such as stories of the pagan gods that Jesus is said to be a copy of. He also points out that this is not a scholarly debate at all. Instead, it is a debate that is largely taking place on the internet. If you meet someone who says academics in the field don’t even know if Jesus existed, you have met someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Of course, at this, someone is going to say “Richard Carrier!” Yes. Bedard talks about him as well and Robert Price as lone exceptions to the rule of scholars in the field. Note that these are exceptions. They also do not teach at accredited universities. There’s a reason for that. Mythicism is just not taken seriously.

Still, since Carrier is mentioned, I do wish Bedard had spent more time talking about Carrier’s hypothesis about Jesus being a cosmic being who was supposedly crucified in outer space and that the accounts eventually became historicized. The dying and rising gods idea is still out there and still needs to be addressed, but this is an approach that a lot of people are not familiar with and can lead to some people being caught off guard.

In fact, this is the real ultimate problem with mythicism. It is not that the arguments are so powerful. It’s that they’re so bizarre. Many would have a hard time answering them for the same reason they’d have a hard time answering objections to the idea that we really landed on the moon. Moon landing conspiracy theorists have outlandish claims that a man on the street will not be familiar with and even if you read scholarly literature you will not be familiar with. Mythicists tend to take this strange ideas and run with them thinking they’re gold. When you listen to a mythicist talk, you will often hear unaccepted claim after unaccepted claim in a sort of shotgun approach. (I was there when Craig Evans debated Richard Carrier. I saw Carrier doing just this.)

Still, Bedard’s book is a good summary of the situation. If you have read extensively on this topic, you won’t really find anything new here, but if you aren’t familiar with it, then Bedard’s book can be a really good place to begin. While it is short, it is indeed filled with important information to help you counter the claims of mythicists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Resurrections on the Internet

What happens to bad ideas when the internet comes around? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christian Vision For Men (CVM) has a video up today on the idea that Jesus is copied from dying and rising gods of the time. The concept isn’t taken seriously by scholars, but you go on the internet and you will find this touted around like it’s an obvious fact. I just did a quick search in fact and didn’t take long to find an example of an image that goes around with this.

Copycat Jesus

This is just one of many.

Will you find scholarly support for this idea? Nope. Well not unless you redefine scholar to mean something like anyone who can write a blog and put forward an argument. If you’re talking about people in the field with actual Ph.D.’s, good luck. I’ve in fact done a show on this topic interviewing Joe Mulvihill. Of course, right along with this goes the idea that Jesus never existed. Frankly, if any atheist wants to say young-earth creationism should be rejected because it goes so against the grain of the scientific community (And I am not a YEC), then they have no grounds for using the Christ Myth theory because it goes even more against the grain of scholarship in the field.

All this goes to demonstrate is that resurrection is certainly a reality on the internet, because ideas that have no basis in reality come up time and time again and they are believed and embraced because, hey, they argue against Christianity.

It’s really hard to take internet atheism seriously when I see the same canards thrown out time and time again.

“The church was anti-science in the Dark Ages!”

“Christians used to believe the Earth was flat!”

“There are X number of denominations out there!” (X has to be used because the number changes in range from 22,000 to 42,000)

“Look at all these writers of the time who never mentioned Jesus!”

“The New Testament was formed at the Council of Nicea!”

These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure many more could be added. Even sadder is the idea that every time statements like this are made up, it’s as if no Christian has ever thought about them before and we’ve never heard of them. At this rate, we could easily make an internet atheist drinking game.

Now let’s be fair also. Christians can be just as gullible sadly. I’ve written on this before with internet quotes and such. I hate to do that because most of my Facebook friends are Christians and sadly, they’re the ones that I usually see spreading misinformation. My own wife could tell you that if she reads something on the internet that I haven’t heard, the first reply I always give is “Source?” Most of us don’t bother to check because the claim goes with what we already believe so surely it must be true.

Debates will be going on and on until the return of Christ I am sure, but we can all seek to do what we can to improve the quality of the debates. One such way is by checking the claims that we come across. If we are not sure of a claim, we dare not share it as fact. This is especially so for Christians who are called to be people of the truth. After all, if people cannot trust us with the mundane things they can easily check, why should they believe us on grander claims, like the resurrection?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/16/2014: Joe Mulvihill

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Imagine being a Christian and being told this by a stranger. “Have you ever heard of this man who lived around 2,000 years ago? He was born of a virgin, did miracles, had 12 disciples, was a good shepherd, had a final meal with his disciples, died, rose again, and was proclaimed as savior of the world?”

“Why yes I have! That’s Jesus Christ!”

“Nope. That’s Mithras.”

Many Christians are caught flat-footed at such a response as few have ever even heard of Mithras. What’s worse, it’s not just Mithras. There’s also Horus, Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, Krishna, Buddha, Zalmoxis, and others.

What’s a Christian to do?

How about talk to an authority on the subject? That’s why I’ve asked Joe Mulvihill to be my guest. Who is he? According to his bio:



Christian Philosopher/Professor Dr. William Lane Craig (Ph.D., University of Birmingham, & Ph.D., University of Munich) on his assistant, Joe Mulvihill – “I hope those in authority understand what a blessing Joe Mulvihill is to any institution to which he renders his services, a great scholar and friend…” (Focus on the Family “True U” Atlanta filming/production)

“I asked Joe to assist me based on an number of factors including but not limited to; his professional vocation as a teacher of theology, logic and  history at a local Christian academy, his thorough familiarity with my published work and thought, and his wide grasp of apologetical and theological issues and figures. I also had the pleasure of attending a few of Joe’s teaching sessions and was duly impressed with his evident preparation, clear articulation of the issues, enthusiasm, and ability to connect with an audience of mature Christians given to critical inquiry. I have been more than pleased with Joe’s performance to date and wholeheartedly trust him with my class. People in the class have been consistently satisfied with Joe’s theological and apologetical acumen and have requested repeatedly for him to teach on various occasions.” (Official Higher Ed. Recommendation from Talbot School of Theology)

Terry Cross, Dean, School of Religion, Lee University (Ph.D., Princeton) – “Joseph possesses a keen mind. He is quick to assess a reading and even quicker to note flaws in argumentation. He has read extensively in philosophy of religion, contemporary theology, biblical studies and patristic literature. Using his background, he is able to make connections between writers and ideas he has previously to those he is reading presently. His analysis and evaluation of other students work was also well informed and constructive in its critique. Over my years of teaching graduate seminars, I cannot think of a more engaging student than Joe Mulvihill…Joe possess a character and personality that is winsome…he has a personality that readily connects with people…I consider Joe to be one of our great successes…Joe is one of the top two or three students that have graduated from our M.A. program in Theology.” (Official Higher Ed. Recommendation from Lee University)

David Tilley, Headmaster, Mount Paran Christian School (Ph.D., University of Tennessee) – “Find one of the most articulate and brightest guys you know with a graduate degree in theology who has a tremendous amount of passion for his calling, and you have Joe Mulvihill.  Add to that a guy who doesn’t have formal training in pedagogical methodology and ask him to teach Bible to high school students.  Is it a fit?  I wasn’t quite sure the answer to that question when I hired Joe last year to teach Bible at Mount Paran Christian School. It only took about two weeks after visiting his classroom and listening to students that I realized that Joe’s passion and intellectual acumen were serving his students well.  He was the talk of the high school.  Joe was connecting with his students in a way that could never have been taught him.  He challenged them at their uninformed core and motivated them to find the reason for their calling and the true defense of the gospel they loved but did not understand. The students can not intellectually nor spiritually fall asleep in his class – his style and energy will not permit it. A truly gifted teacher . . . a high school/college teacher . . . a teacher of God’s truth was born in room 3106 at Mount Paran Christian School.” (Recommendation for Graduate Student Award at Alma Mater)


Masters of Arts in Theological Studies (Magna Cum Laude) Lee University – invited back to give address at 200th Centennial Celebration     

Currently in Ph.D. program in New Testament Studies at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands (scholarship winner)

Spoken on various topics at Ga. Tech (2), Kennesaw State University, Lee University, GA State University.

Spoken on various topics at dozens of churches over the last decade

Ten years teaching experience – two at Lee University, and eight with Juniors and seniors at Mount Paran Christian School – Eagle Award Winner / Excellence in Teaching Award – Interim Department Chair of Bible and Theology

Extensive travel, world experience (10 years)

Wife: Jill Mulvihill

Children: Ethan, Ella, Anna, Magnus


With Joe as my guests, we’ll be going through the pagan copycat theory and discussing the people on the internet who share it the most, such as Acharya S and others. Is there really any credibility to these claims? Listen in and find out!

In Christ,

Nick Peters