A Reply To Metro on Jesus Mythicism

Do some arguments need to stay dead? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. Easter. That time of year when we Christians come together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and the time of year when the media loves to resurrect arguments that died years ago and ask “Can these bones walk again?” Now it’s wanting to bring Jesus mythicism mainstream.

In some ways, it’s odd writing a reply to this because of my stance on the rise of mythicism. I am convinced that those supporting mythicism are doing a great deal of harm to the secular movement in the U.S. and wherever else they go by making internet atheists who are even more ignorant and invincible in their ignorance and that this will allow Christians to win the day years later when we’ve been the ones, you know, actually studying real scholarship instead of just going by what we see in Google. Still, some Christians will see this and be troubled and some will want something to shame the atheists who post mythicist nonsense.

Today’s drivel can be found here. I’d like to start with a rant about the title. The writer wants to speak about things that are not true, but that does not equal a lie. If a student answers a question wrong on a math test, he is not lying. He honestly thinks that’s what the answer is. He is just mistaken. For it to be a lie, the writer would need to demonstrate that the authors of the Gospels knew they were communicating an untruth and chose to communicate it as a truth anyway. Good luck with that one.

So let’s see how this starts.

If you saw somebody flying up into heaven in a cloud of magic sparkles, you’d probably at least Instagram it, right?

So how come 2,000 years ago, no historian seemed to notice when Jesus did the same – despite ‘dozens of eye-witnesses’ seeing him do it?

Not sure where the cloud of magic sparkles came from. We’re not told anything about that. Still, you have dozens of eyewitnesses and naturally, no one could instagram back then, but I think the parallel they get is “Why didn’t anyone write this down?”

Saying something like that assumes a post-Gutenberg version of society. You see, even up until the Industrial Revolution, most people couldn’t read. You want to spread a story? You use word of mouth. Here are the benefits. Word of mouth is free, it’s seen as more reliable, and it can reach everyone who can speak the language. (Yes. I know about Ehrman’s criticisms and have responded.)

Some people get surprised when I tell them writing was expensive. That seems like a cop-out. Not at all, and keep in mind that this is just for writing the original. The copies would have cost a good deal also if only just for equipment since most copies of the NT were made by amateurs.

The cost of writing and rewriting was not free. A secretary charged by the line. Like anyone whose living depended on billing customers, the secretary kept up with how many lines he wrote each time. Although we do not know the exact charges for making drafts and producing a letter, we can make some educated guesses. A rough, and very conservative, estimate of what it would cost in today’s dollars to prepare a letter like 1 Corinthians would be $2100, $700 for Galatians, and $500 for 1 Thessalonians.” Richards, Capes, and Reeves, Rediscovering Paul p. 78

Now suppose you had someone to read the manuscript? Well this would be one person listening to someone else read a manuscript. That sounds a lot like oral tradition and how would these other people tell others? It would still be word of mouth. Of course, those wanting to better understand oral tradition are invited to check a book like The Lost World of Scripture.

Now why would no historian mention this? Well most historians were outside of Judea at the time. Now suppose you’re in a city like Rome and you hear about this rabbi in Judea, which is seen as a more backwaters area, and he is supposedly doing miracles. Chances are, you won’t take this seriously as most of the elite would be skeptical of miracles. Then you hear he was crucified. Okay. Definitely not taking him seriously. No one worthy of a good reputation would be crucified. People didn’t take the claims seriously today for the same reason most people don’t take claims of Benny Hinn seriously. When the Christian movement started, most would not want to dignify it with a response hoping it would just go away. Celsus is one of our first critics and by the time we get to Porphyry, it’s pretty clear Christianity is here to stay, but it’s still combated.

In fact, we know a lot about Messianic claimants who had to have the Roman army called out because these claimants had supporters in the thousand and battles with Rome would take place. These were people worth mentioning. Who all mentions them at the time?

One guy. Just one. Josephus. If we did not have Josephus, we would not have a clue about these people. In fact, let’s look at some other people.

How about Hannibal? He nearly conquered the Roman Empire. He was the great Carthaginian general in the Punic Wars. He slaughtered army after army that came to him and was defeated just before he conquered Rome. This was a great man worth writing about!

Our first mention of him comes about 40-60 years later in Polybius.

How about Arminius who defeated about a tenth of the Roman army in a battle. This great Germanic general would have been a massive hero in his time. This is a man worth writing about!

Wait about a century later and you’ll see mention of him.

What about Queen Boudica? This was another great woman who stood up against the Roman Army. Now surely some would want to write about a woman who was this successful!

Again. No. Wait about the same length.

How about Caius Apuleius Diocles? This guy was the great charioteer of his day and the crowds loved chariots. Sports fanaticism is just as much a thing of the past as it is today. Over a quarter of a million people would watch this guy!

We have one contemporary inscription. That’s it.

But this Jew in Palestine who was crucified. Everyone should have written about him.

I know the objections some of you are raising. We’ll get to them. Let’s get back to the article.

A San Francisco-based atheist writer has argued in a series of controversial essays and books that there’s something distinctly fishy about the whole Jesus story.

Fitzgerald, an atheist activist, says, ‘There is a paradox that Jesus did all these amazing things and taught all these amazing things yet no one heard of him outside his immediate cult for nearly 100 years.

‘Or it means he didn’t do all these things at all…’

Ah yes. David Fitzgerald. Well what a shock because this is what the atheist movement is producing, following the lead of polyamorous prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier. Of course, all Fitzgerald has is an argument from silence and one that completely discounts that we have four Greco-Roman biographies written about this guy within a century’s time, in fact I’d say even by liberal standards 70 years time, and historical references in the Pauline epistles.

Did Jesus do all these amazing things? Well he was said to do them and most people who were outside of the area would not bother to send someone to check them out. You had more important things going on to them all over the world. You see, you can believe Jesus historically existed and did not do miracles. Many atheists do this and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives.

Not people like Fitzgerald. It’s all-or-nothing.

San Francisco-based David Fitzgerald claims that there are no mentions of Jesus – at all – in 125 different accounts of the period.

He says it makes no sense, as Jesus is supposed to have been a famous figure who wrought incredible miracles – but no contemporary writers had heard of him.

So the number is at 125 now? Good to know. We’ve moved a lot past Remsberg’s list. Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us who these historians are. Well if he’s using the list from Michael Paulkovich, which has 126 figures in it, then there are some problems. Even an atheist writer who is unsure if Jesus existed or not can see the problems with it. (I also recommend you read the interaction at the bottom with atheist Tim O’Neill and the others on the blog post.)

What about the resurrection of Jesus and His ascension?

Fitzgerald writes, ‘Of course, the final icing on the Jesus cake is his resurrection and ascension into Heaven in front of many witnesses. It’s strange enough to realize that such a world-altering supernatural event, if true arguably one of the most significant and influential moments in history, seen by scores of eyewitnesses, would not have been an immediate bombshell on the consciousness of the first-century world. But it comes without a trace in the historical record for nearly a century…’

We also don’t have historical accounts of the eruption of Vesuvius that killed 250,000 people at least that are current with the times except for one off-the-cuff remark in an exchange between Pliny the Younger and Tacitus. In fact, it’s not even until we get to Cassius Dio over a century later that we learn that a second city was destroyed in the volcano. Yet somehow, an event that would only be seen by those on a mountaintop who would be said to be of a dubious nature anyway should have been noticed by everyone? (The resurrection was not noticed and again, most who could write would shrug it off. Ancients were especially skeptical of resurrections.)

What about the census?

Fitzgerald writes, ‘Luke (2:1-4) claims Jesus was born in the year of a universal tax census under Augustus Caesar, while Cyrenius (a.k.a. Quirinius) was governor of Syria, But Roman records show the first such universal census didn’t occur until decades after this, during the reign of the emperor Vespasian in 74 CE.’

Unfortunately, this is not a cut and dry case. There are indeed records of other censuses, but it can also depend on how one translates the language in Luke 2. Ben Witherington joined me for the second hour of my program here. He makes the case that the language could indicate that this was a registration that took place before the great census.

At any rate, let’s suppose Luke got a fact wrong. I’m not saying he did, but for the sake of argument, let’s suppose he did. Does this show Jesus didn’t exist? No. At worst, it just shows Inerrancy is false. That’s not enough to show all of the Gospels are false.

What about the slaughter of the infants?

Fitzgerald says, ‘There is absolutely no way anyone would have missed an outrage as big as the massacre of every infant boy in the area around a town just 6 miles from Jerusalem – and yet there is absolutely no corroboration for it in any account – Jewish, Greek or Roman. It’s not even found in any of the other Gospels – only Matthew’s.

There’s also no way anyone would have missed an explosion that killed a quarter of a million people. Oh wait. They didn’t mention it except for an off-the-cuff remark from the time. There’s also this strange game being played that if something is in the Bible, it must be mentioned elsewhere to be corroborated. Do we do this with any other ancient source? I mean, of course it’s nice to have multiple sources, but sometimes we just don’t. That doesn’t mean we throw it out as unhistorical.

But yes, there is a way this would be missed. Bethlehem was a small little hamlet of a town then. The number of boys killed would likely be about a dozen. For a king like Herod, this is par for the course. Of the many wicked things he did, this would not be as intriguing as the more political events he did. Especially since most people outside Christianity would say “Well that Messiah he was fearful of never came so no need to bother with that.”

Fitzgerald says, ‘Most Christians also accept that Jesus’ birth and death were also accompanied by still more phenomenally news-worthy events; like a 3-hour supernatural darkness over “all the land,”. But like the miraculous Star of Bethlehem, no one recorded any such thing at this time. Astronomical marvels like these could never have been ignored by works like Pliny’s Natural History, Seneca’s Natural Questions, Ptolemy’s Almagest, the works of Tacitus or Suetonius.’

And they could never have been ignored because?

Most would look and say “Well that was interesting” but note that nothing happened if they saw it at all. Second, there’s even great debate as to whether it even was a star. Even we Christians debate amongst ourselves what this body was. Some people think it was the aligning of Jupiter and Saturn. Some think it was a comet. Some think it was an angel. Some think a combination of these are something else entirely.

It’s not like we necessarily have exhaustive lists anyway. Fitzgerald would have to show that this was a star and that no one noticed it. None of this has been demonstrated. It’s only been asserted.

As for the darkness, even some evangelicals interpret that as apocalyptic but all the land does not necessitate the entire Roman Empire but could refer to Judea. Even if it meant the Roman Empire, we again do not have an exhaustive list of eclipses and such from the time. Again, the most that is lost is possibly Inerrancy, but if apocalyptic not even that.

In the end, we can simply thank sources like Metro for publishing this. They’re not doing atheism any favors and instead giving a conspiracy theory for atheists. Remember how recently I wrote about how the internet spreads misinformation as much as truth?

Treat Metro’s article as Exhibit A.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Apostles’ Creed: He Ascended Into Heaven

What difference does it make that Jesus ascended? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We can often read about the ascension in the Bible and wonder what difference it makes. I mean, yeah, Jesus is no longer with us, but does it mean anything else for us? Why would Jesus ascend and leave us to do the work?

For one thing, it is important that we do the work and we would not be as able to do it with Jesus always there with us. Discipling is for a reason but there comes a time when the student is to work apart from the disciple. Note even Jesus said it was because He was going away that the Holy Spirit would come, which would be empowering His message and His disciples everywhere. Jesus being physical could only be in one place at one time.

It’s also important to ask why he ascended. Does this point to an ancient view of the universe? While the ancients certainly might have thought that way, Jesus is not making a statement about cosmology or the location of Heaven really.

Instead, let us consider that the sky is the greatest expanse that we know of when we grow up on this Earth. It’s limitless. No matter where you look, you see it. In comparison, when you go to a beach, as I have done many times, including on my honeymoon, you can look on the shore and see the ocean going far out into the distance. Now we all know eventually past that ocean somewhere is land. If you could travel in a straight line from where you are, eventually, you would hit another mass of land, but you cannot see that mass. Your vision goes so far. All you see is ocean.

When we look into the sky, all we see is sky. Now we all know that eventually if we could keep going straight up into the sky, we’d hit something. It could take awhile, but we’d reach another planet or a star or something of that sort, but our vision can only go so far.

That limitlessness is a good idea of how to view God. God is infinite and to see Jesus go up is a way of saying He’s going to something far greater than we are. Had Jesus instead burrowed underground and disappeared that way, we would have a quite different view of God. (Picture the stories going around years ago about claiming to find Hell under Siberia when people were digging.)

Had Jesus also simply vanished, it would mean that we would be wondering where He went to. Could it be that He is still somewhere around here? Having Jesus ascend is a way of saying that Jesus is going to God, who is far greater than we are, and that He is also no longer going to be with us.

Since He is no longer with us, what are we to do then? That’s right. We are to do the work that he meant for us to do. Of course, I do recommend that we disciple people sufficiently before they do the work, but that discipling is also to be done by other people who have already been discipled.

Jesus is now ascended. So what’s He doing? We’ll save that for the next installment in this series.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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