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Did Jesus Really Exist?


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#1    UM-Debate-Bot

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Posted 16 November 2008 - 12:11 AM

Tiggs vs Paranoid Android

This is a formal 1 vs 1 debate, full details on how the debate system works can be found in our Debates FAQ. The debate will begin with an introductory opening post from each participant followed by 5 body posts and finally a conclusion.

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Tiggs is arguing against the existance of a HIstorical Jesus

Paranoid Android is arguing in favour of the existance of a Historical Jesus

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#2    Paranoid Android

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Posted 17 November 2008 - 03:47 AM

Introduction

Did Jesus really exist?  It has become popular in modern society to question the historicity of the man we call Jesus.  It is somewhat expected that as soon as someone mentions the Bible or Jesus or the gospels, people start asking the questions of who wrote the gospels, how long after Jesus were they written, who decided what went into the Bible and what didn’t, how do we know the story hasn’t changed over the years, did anyone else in Jesus’ day write about him, and many more.
  
In this debate, I intend to address some of these points and show beyond any doubt that Yeshua ben Yoseph (Jesus, son of Joseph) must have been an historical figure who lived, breathed, and walked the area of Palestine in the First Century AD.  In particular, over the next five posts I shall be addressing these five broad questions, as well as addressing my opponent’s arguments throughout.
    1 – Jesus in ancient pagan writings.

    2 – Jesus in ancient Jewish writings.

    3 – Jesus in New Testament writings.

    4 – Other background information on Jesus.

    5 – Why were the gospels written so soon after Jesus?
First let me be clear on exactly what I am not arguing though.  It is not my intention in this debate to prove Jesus performed miracles, rose from the dead, or other such thing.  I am not here as an apologist to prove to you that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour and you must repent and follow him.  My goal is simply to show how historians know what they know about Jesus.   Historians treat Jesus far more seriously than most in our modern world probably realise.  However, most of what historians write never reaches us because it does not grab the headlines.  It is a sad fact of our society that we seek sensationalism at the expense of quality research.  For example, the headline “Jesus overturned ancient dining customs” is not going to get newspapers interested, though it is based on solid evidence.  By contrast, “Jesus was Gay” has caused media storms over recent years, despite being based on a lack of evidence.  What we see in the popular media then is generally not representative of the feelings of most historians.  Far from being sceptical of Jesus, when we look at all the evidence for Jesus’ existence, we are left to arrive at the same conclusion most historians arrive at – Jesus did exist.

In my next post, I shall discuss the first area of interest for our historical study of Jesus - the ancient pagan sources.  In the meantime, I'll turn the floor over to Tiggs to provide his opening Introduction.  I wish you the best in this debate and look forward to this discussion.  Good luck thumbsup.gif

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#3    Tiggs

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Posted 17 November 2008 - 10:17 PM

Introduction

Did Jesus really exist? Answering that question "No" at any time before the start of the 17th century would have most likely resulted in your death. It is unsurprising, therefore, that it is only in recent times that people have begun to investigate for themselves the question that the Church had successfully suppressed for over a millennia:
What if the story of Jesus is just a story?
In the course of this debate, I will take you on a journey back through History, where we will discover the unmistakeable threads of forgery woven into the story of Jesus. Together we will unpick these, one by one, until we lay bare the truth - that the entire case for Jesus' historicity is based on evidence which appears only after his alleged death, and that forgery has been used to try and create that missing evidence.

In addition to addressing my opponent's arguments, for the body of this debate, I will be focusing on the following five topics:

   1. History is always written by the Winner
   2. The Letters and childhood of Jesus
   3. The curious story of Q
   4. Doubting Thomas
   5. The missing History of Jesus

In my next post, I will start by examining how Winners dictate history. For now, however, I will return the floor to PA, in order to allow him to present his first main post.  I wish you all the very best for this debate, PA - I, too, am very much looking forward to this discussion. thumbsup.gif


"What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" - Tiggs vs PA - Did Jesus Really exist? - The Formal Debate:
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#4    Paranoid Android

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 11:24 AM

1 – Jesus in ancient Pagan writings!

Over the next two posts as I unpack the earliest non-Christian sources we have for Jesus you will notice two recurring issues that Tiggs addressed in his opening statement.  First, Tiggs argues that anyone who suggested Jesus did not exist was likely to be put to death.  As you will see through these earliest sources, this is clearly not the case.  Many of the ancient sources are highly critical of Jesus.  In Christianity’s early years, it had no such power to dictate who lived or died.  Even when Christianity existed solely as a minor Jewish cult, not a single critic of the belief ever doubted the existence of Jesus.  If there were to be an historical case for the non-existence of Jesus, it is to these earliest critics we should look for guidance.   While these early critics are often scathing of the beliefs of Christians and launched attacks against the claims of Christ, no one ever launched an attack against the existence of Christ.  That was left to the 18th Century AD, which according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica  (©1994-2001) was done so on “inadequate grounds”.

The second issue that Tiggs raised was that of the dating of the earliest sources being after Jesus had died.  On this issue, he is absolutely right.  All the details we have come after Jesus died.  However, as you will see over this debate, this gap between the existence of Jesus and the earliest writings of Jesus is far from uncommon, and completely acceptable to ancient historians – the length of time between his life and the writings of his life is actually quite short for a society based on oral tradition.  I shall be discussing this particular point in detail later in the debate (Section 5).  As such, I do not wish to discuss the issue too deeply now lest I risk having nothing further to add in my later argument, but rest assured it will be dealt with as this debate progresses.  For now, just remember that a 40-70 year gap in writing is very short for ancient societies that relied far more heavily on oral tradition than the written form.

With that said, what follows is a detailed list of the pagan (Greco-Roman) texts mentioning Jesus:

Thallos – circa AD 55 – Thallos (also spelled "Thallus"), a pagan historian, in the third volume of his “Histories” mentions a darkness that coincided with the crucifixion of Jesus.  However, Thallos attributes this darkness to a natural eclipse as opposed to a supernatural event lasting three hours.  No copies of Thallos’ work remains in the modern day, but much like Celsus is quoted by Origen, so Thallos is quoted in the 2nd Century work “History of the World” by Julius Sextus Africanus (which in itself was quoted by Syncellus in his ninth century text, "Chronicle").  

Without evidence to suggest otherwise then, this reference to Thallos presents a very early link to the biblical account of Jesus’ death and the darkness that came over the land during this time.  However, this of course does not mean that there actually WAS an eclipse during Jesus’ death.  But it does indicate the REPORT of this death was significantly well known as early as AD 55, enough at least to warrant mention by a pagan historian.  

Mara bar Serapion – shortly after August, AD 70 – A letter written shortly after the sacking of the Temple at Jerusalem in AD 70 brings another pagan mention of Jesus.  It was a piece of private correspondence written in Syriac.  In this correspondence (the letter can be found in the British Museum), Serapion, who is writing to his son from prison, points out that when the authorities persecute wise men, they usually suffer disaster:

What advantage did the Athenians gain by murdering Socrates, for which they were repaid with famine and pestilence?  Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because their country was completely covered in sand in just one hour?  What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King?... But Socrates did not die altogether; he lived on in the teaching of Plato, Pythagoras did not die altogether; he lived on in the statue of Hera.  Nor did the wise king die altogether; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.

Serapion never mentions the “wise king” by name, but considering the complete lack of other Jewish figures fitting the description given, the majority of scholars and historians believe this to be a reference to Jesus.

Tacitus – circa AD 110 – Ancient Rome’s greatest historian.  In his text, “Annals” 15.44 Tacitus mentions both the death of Jesus and the growth of the movement he inspired.  It is distinctly anti-Christian in nature and clearly shows that being a critic of Christianity was not a death-sentence in the early years:

Christians derived their name from a man called Christ, who, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate.  The deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, broke out afresh not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City of Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular

For a full account of Annals volume 15, see here


Tacitus was actively anti-Christian in his sentiments, yet managed to write his Annals without ever being executed for his beliefs.  In the process he managed to corroborate where Jesus lived, the title given to him as “Christ”, and the fact that he was executed by Pilate.

Pliny the Younger – circa AD 110 – Pliny wrote many official and semi-official letters throughout his career, which were subsequently published in a series of volumes.  In AD 110, Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan asking how to deal with the new sect of Christians (Book 10, Letter 96).  He states:

The sum total of their guilt or error was no more than the following. They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as to a god.  They also took an oath not for any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery and adultery, and not to break any promise.

For a full account of Book this Book, see here for further reading


Pliny confirms here how early Christianity acted towards their founder in devotion “as to a god”.  

Suetonius – circa AD 120 – Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus wrote in his “Life of Claudius” 25.4 that, “Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because of the riots they were causing at the instigation of Chrestus”.  While some have chosen to see this reference as a mistake and not really related to Jesus at all, the opinion of most scholars and historians suggest that Suetonius has confused the slave name “Chrestus” with the Jewish title “Christ”.  If we run with the view of most historians then, this account details the Roman Jews discomfort concerning the claims that Jesus was their Messiah.  

As an interesting point to consider, backing this reference up is a virtually identical account in Acts 18:2, which refers to a man named Aquilla who left with his wife to depart Italy because “Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome” (full source here).  For this reason, the majority of scholars and historians versed on the subject consider “Chrestus” simply a misunderstanding of the term “Christ”.  

Lucian of Samosata – AD 115-200 – Lucian was a Greek satirist and lecturer, and in his text “The Death of Perigrinus” 11-13 he addresses a meeting with the Christians, describing their founder as:  

The one whom they still worship today, the man in Palestine who was crucified... Moreover, that first lawgiver of theirs persuaded them that they are all brothers the moment they transgress and deny the Greek gods and begin worshipping that crucified sophist and living by his laws.

For full account, see here


Again, we have an ancient source criticising Jesus – in this case through satire – in referring to Jesus as a “crucified sophist”

Celsus – circa AD 175 – Possibly the most scathing of early pagan critics, Celsus wrote in his book “True Doctrine” (quoted in full by Origen in his Third-Century work, “Against Celsus”) that Jesus was the illegitimate child of Mary and a Roman centurion named Pantera (or Panthera), while also attributing the miracles of Jesus to Egyptian sorcery.

Being a late-2nd century document, the reliability of Celsus as historical support for Jesus is questionable.  At the very least, it does in many ways bear resemblance to the early Jewish criticisms, and is therefore useful in understanding how Jesus was viewed by the early critics of Christianity.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For further information on these sources, a good guide is Robert van Voorst's text, "Jesus Outside the New Testament:  An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence" (Eerdmans, 2000).

Following on from this post, the next part of my debate will discuss the other half of ancient non-Christian sources documenting Jesus – the Jewish sources.  At this point, I would hope you have seen the saturation of early references to Jesus from multiple independent pagan sources.  In analysing ancient texts, having the same story (or similar story) originating from many independent sources is one key way to ascertain the reliability of a text.  As you will see over the next few posts, the many independent sources show with conclusive accuracy that Jesus must have been a real person, even when those who wrote about him strongly disagreed with the claims made by Christians.  As noted, many questioned his birth, death, miracles and more.  None questioned his existence.  

I pass the issue now onto Tiggs to open up his side of the debate.  Thank you,


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#5    Tiggs

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 09:05 AM

History is written by...

Thank you, PA.

For my first post, I'd like to talk a little bit about History.

Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime PM, famously said "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it", and indeed, History has been. Churchill knew the truth - that, above all else, "History is written by the Victors".

In the case of Christianity, History was, quite literally, written by the victors. Long before the invention of the printing press in the mid 15th century, letters, scrolls and books were created by painstakingly writing each and every copy by hand. In these days, a single Bible would take a single Monk 20 years to create.

The Christian Scribes not only copied Bibles. Let's take one of PA's previous examples at random - Tacitus. The earliest two surviving copies of Tacitus come from the German abbey of Fulda (850 AD) and the mountaintop monastery of Monte Cassin (1038 AD). From these two copies, all of the surviving versions of Tactitus were subsequently made. In fact - many of the sources that PA has quoted owe their existence today to the copies made by Christian scribes.

Not only did Christianity produce these sources of History by hand - they were also famously responsible for burning all of the History and literature that they did not agree with - a topic that we will discuss in depth during my later posts.

For now, however, I'd like to briefly turn your attention to PA's various claims. As you do so, please remember that PA has already confessed that he has no evidence of anything having been written about Jesus during his lifetime.

As such, all of PA's examples miss the point. This debate is not called "Did Christianity exist", mostly because it's rather obvious that it does, and no-one is contending otherwise. This debate is called "Did Jesus Really Exist?". These are two entirely different things. Merely proving that Christianity exists is not the same as proving that Jesus actually physically existed.

Even so, it's rather telling that the earliest evidence that PA has managed to produce is a third hand report, written a full eight centuries after the alleged Death of Christ.

PA, however, claims that this was based on writings that were written in 55 AD, a date with which I disagree. As the claim is his, and in this particular instance, the accuracy of these dates are quite paramount, I'd like to give him the opportunity to publically reveal the chain of evidence that leads him to believe this date is accurate or to formally withdraw his dating claim.

Putting aside the dating issue, however - let's take a look at the text itself:

Quote

This event followed each of his deeds, and healings of body and soul, and knowledge of hidden things, and his resurrection from the dead, all sufficiently proven to the disciples before us and to his apostles: after the most dreadful darkness fell over the whole world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake and much of Judaea and the rest of the land was torn down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. For....how are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun?


Note that Thallus is only referenced with regard to an event that he describes as an eclipse, which is unsurprising, given that the book that Africanus is referring to was a World History. Nowhere in the text is there an indication that Thallus was referring to the crucifixion event , and the fact that this text is not mentioned anywhere else, by any other of the early church fathers (who were desperate to find undeniable historical evidence relating to Jesus) indicates that, beyond reasonable doubt, he was referring solely to an eclipse event at a time in history close to the proximity of what Africanus believed to to be the date of the crucifixion.

Moving on to the letter of Mara Bar Serapion, which PA has claimed is dated at 70 AD - again - there is discrepancy in the date, which various historians judge to be anywhere between 70 AD and 200 AD. Unsurprisingly, PA has opted for the earliest possible date, even though, interestingly, the source he has quoted as being good for further reading, Robert Van Voorst, accepts the likely date of this letter to be sometime during the second century.

Regardless of the date - as the letter does not refer to Jesus by name, and, in context with both Socrates, who lived in the 5th century B. C. and Pythagoras in the 6th, is far more likely to refer to the Jewish King Amon, murdered prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem - then it, too, provides no proof whatsoever of Jesus having physically existed.

Since the remainder of PA's examples have dates which are too late for anyone that might have been alive during the alleged lifetime of Christ, I fail to see their relevance to this debate, and therefore, see no particular necessity to discuss them.

I will quickly mention, however, that I do intend to discuss in great detail PA's claim that "a 40-70 year gap in writing is very short for ancient societies that relied far more heavily on oral tradition than the written form" almost exclusively within my fifth post. For now, however - I would just ask you to remember that, as witnessed by PA's examples, these so-called ancient societies were prolific with Historians, Poets and Playwrights.

All of which takes us back rather neatly to our industrious Christian Scribes, devoting years of their lives to producing bibles and copies of historical documents within monasteries and abbeys.

Now, on occasion, these scribes had moments of what at best could be called religious indulgence, and at worst, outright Forgery, as illustrated beautifully within the following title of the 32nd Chapter of the 12th Book of Evangelical Preparation, written by of one of the early Church Fathers, Eusebius:

Quote

"How it may be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood as a Medicine, and for the Benefit of those who Want to be Deceived."


But don't just take my word for it. Let's ask a 5th Century Bishop, St Faustus what he thinks:

Quote

Many things have been inserted by our ancestors in the speeches of our Lord which, though put forth under his name, agree not with his faith; especially since – as already it has been often proved – these things were written not by Christ, nor [by] his apostles, but a long while after their assumption, by I know not what sort of half Jews, not even agreeing with themselves, who made up their tale out of reports and opinions merely, and yet, fathering the whole upon the names of the apostles of the Lord or on those who were supposed to follow the apostles, they maliciously pretended that they had written their lies and conceits according to them.


I'll let that sink in for a while, and give you the opportunity to re-read it, if you wish. If that's the first time you've seen that quote, you may be rather stunned by both it's honesty and it's content.

In this post, we've been talking about History. We've discussed how History was, quite literally, written by the Church. We've also briefly touched on how the Church controlled History, by burning the History it disagreed with, and in some cases, by creating it's own. History is written by the Victors.

In my next post, we'll be continuing with these themes by examining in much greater depth the various pieces of evidence produced over the centuries for the existence of Jesus as a historical figure. As we do, you'll notice a single common thread running through all of them - they are all, without doubt, universally accepted forgeries.

For now, however - the floor is yours, PA.


"What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" - Tiggs vs PA - Did Jesus Really exist? - The Formal Debate:
HERE
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#6    Paranoid Android

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 12:40 PM

2 – Ancient Jewish sources for Jesus

Thank you for a most informative post, Tiggs.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much value to place on this information you have provided.  On the surface, the overall intention of your post seems solid, but scratching the surface reveals some disturbing matters.  If I understood the main thrust of your post correctly, you are casting doubt on the existence of Jesus on the basis that Christianity became the largest system of belief (the “winners” as you suggest).  And while I appreciate the general sentiment, it is an impossible position to hold in reality.  To hold this view would require that we, by necessity, disregard all of recorded history.  Throw away all that you learned in High School history because it was written by the winners, and that means it can’t be trusted.  

I realise this is taking matters to the extreme, but is it so different for Jesus?  As I pointed out in my previous post, and as I shall continue to do so in this post, even the earliest critics of Christianity did not doubt the existence of Jesus.  History is written by the winners, but there is still enough ancient near-contemporary sources from the earliest critics of Christianity to prove without a doubt that a real figure named Jesus was responsible for the Christian movement.  Despite Tiggs’ reassertion that I have ”already confessed that he has no evidence of anything having been written about Jesus during his lifetime”, the point is rather moot.  I concede this point totally and utterly, but I do so with the clear knowledge that this is not a big issue, historically speaking.  Tiggs attempts to correlate this to an argument of “Did Christianity exist” rather than specifically Jesus, but the sources do indeed show that Jesus did exist.  If he did not, it is logical to assume that there would be writings from the period stating as such (after all, writings exist from critics arguing against many other aspects of Christianity).

As is, there is no reason to expect contemporary writings of Jesus – considering the size of Christianity today, it might be surprising to many to realise exactly how insignificant Jesus’ role in the early 1st Century was.  It is a happy coincidence that Jesus rates a mention at all in ancient writing – it is a testament to the array of historians and writers during this period that he would even be discussed at all.

As I mentioned before though, this will be fully dealt with in my fifth post, so please bear with me until this time.  In the meantime, there are some other issues that Tiggs has questioned me on that needs a response:    
  

Tiggs on Nov 21 2008, 08:05 PM, said:

The Christian Scribes not only copied Bibles. Let's take one of PA's previous examples at random - Tacitus. The earliest two surviving copies of Tacitus come from the German abbey of Fulda (850 AD) and the mountaintop monastery of Monte Cassin (1038 AD). From these two copies, all of the surviving versions of Tactitus were subsequently made. In fact - many of the sources that PA has quoted owe their existence today to the copies made by Christian scribes.
It is not unsurprising that ancient texts only exist in small numbers.  Many ancient texts don’t survive at all, and others only survive in a few copies.  Tacitus is one such example, but he is not alone in ancient writings.  Stanford University agrees with this assessment, with their academic staff pointing out that:  ” we have lost so many texts that many of the secondary (and primary, for that matter) have not survived.”  - Source.  It is an illogical line of reasoning to argue that we discount Tacitus on this basis.  If we do so, we must also discount Aristotle, Plato, Thucydides , Aristophanes, Herodotus, and others besides.  No historian would ever discount a text on this basis.

Tiggs on Nov 21 2008, 08:05 PM, said:

Even so, it's rather telling that the earliest evidence that PA has managed to produce is a third hand report, written a full eight centuries after the alleged Death of Christ.

PA, however, claims that this was based on writings that were written in 55 AD, a date with which I disagree. As the claim is his, and in this particular instance, the accuracy of these dates are quite paramount, I'd like to give him the opportunity to publically reveal the chain of evidence that leads him to believe this date is accurate or to formally withdraw his dating claim.
I would be happy to show my reasoning here:  Most historians put Thallos as writing in mid-1st Century AD.  Even infidels.org lists such a fact HERE, though the author does in fact disagree with mainstream understanding on the topic – ”Virtually every scholar to date has opted for the latter (dating Thallos to 1st Century) and made efforts to conjecture the original date—“.

No writings of Thallos survived, but this was quoted in the 2nd Century AD by Julius Sextus Africanus.  To add to the mystery though, nothing of Africanus survived either but he in turn is quoted in Syncellus in the 9th Century.  This might seem dodgy, but historians disagree.  As the Stanford University agrees, it is not uncommon for this to happen and we reconstruct history as best we can with the details we have.

With that said then, unless there is reason to consider this a suspect source (and I don’t see how it can be so), I can't see why the traditionally accepted view cannot be the correct one - it is the majority view held by the majority of scholars.    

Tiggs on Nov 21 2008, 08:05 PM, said:

Note that Thallus is only referenced with regard to an event that he describes as an eclipse, which is unsurprising, given that the book that Africanus is referring to was a World History. Nowhere in the text is there an indication that Thallus was referring to the crucifixion event , and the fact that this text is not mentioned anywhere else, by any other of the early church fathers (who were desperate to find undeniable historical evidence relating to Jesus) indicates that, beyond reasonable doubt, he was referring solely to an eclipse event at a time in history close to the proximity of what Africanus believed to to be the date of the crucifixion.
Thallos DOES however refer to his resurrection from the dead.  To quote the same text Tiggs quoted from Thallos:  

”This event followed each of his deeds, and healings of body and soul, and knowledge of hidden things, and his resurrection from the dead, all sufficiently proven to the disciples before us and to his apostles”

However, I will agree with the rest of Tiggs’ statement – it cannot have been an eclipse, due to the impossibility of such an event taking place during a Passover.  I was not quoting Thallos to prove that these events happened!  I was quoting Thallos to prove that REPORTS of the eclipse had spread to pagan historians as early as the mid-1st Century.  Christians believe that this darkness was supernatural in origin, not a natural eclipse at all.  But whether they are right or not is beside the point.  As I said in my opening statement, I am not here to try and prove to you that Jesus performed miracles.  There is a difference between saying something is “historical” and saying that something is “provable”.  It cannot be proven through history that Jesus performed miracles.  However, it can be validated that a real figure did exist on whom such stories (fanciful or truthful – I believe truthful) were based.  

Tiggs on Nov 21 2008, 08:05 PM, said:

Moving on to the letter of Mara Bar Serapion, which PA has claimed is dated at 70 AD - again - there is discrepancy in the date, which various historians judge to be anywhere between 70 AD and 200 AD. Unsurprisingly, PA has opted for the earliest possible date, even though, interestingly, the source he has quoted as being good for further reading, Robert Van Voorst, accepts the likely date of this letter to be sometime during the second century.

Regardless of the date - as the letter does not refer to Jesus by name, and, in context with both Socrates, who lived in the 5th century B. C. and Pythagoras in the 6th, is far more likely to refer to the Jewish King Amon, murdered prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem - then it, too, provides no proof whatsoever of Jesus having physically existed.
On the 70 AD dating, you are right that it is possibly later.  I actually missed van Voorst’s comments about its likelihood – he just seems a reliable source from what I have read so far.  But regardless, it is possible that the text was written shortly after AD 70 – even van Voorst agrees with that possibility.  

Even if it is mid-2nd Century, that still does not invalidate the text!  It still provides a very important insight into the early believers of Christianity, and shows that even here no one discounted the existence of Jesus.

You are right though that Jesus is not mentioned by name!  Your hypothesis on King Amon is interesting, though still just an hypothesis.  An hypothesis not taken by many historians, I might add.  Interesting how you bring in all these “maybe’s” with my texts, and yet your hypotheses about Jesus being invented by the winners of history is being portrayed as solid – just thought I’d point that out.  

Tiggs on Nov 21 2008, 08:05 PM, said:

Since the remainder of PA's examples have dates which are too late for anyone that might have been alive during the alleged lifetime of Christ, I fail to see their relevance to this debate, and therefore, see no particular necessity to discuss them.
The point is that these stories and accounts came from somewhere!  It shows that the near-contemporary pagans never doubted Jesus.  If Jesus had been invented, why is there not even a single reference from anyone on this?  Instead, it is left 1800 years in the future to question this for the first time – not based on new evidence, as other discoveries have been, but on the same evidence as people have always had at their disposal.

Surely the relevance is clear – near-contemporary sources all discussing Jesus as a real person; if Jesus did not exist, there must have been a point in time that someone (or multiple someone’s) invented him.  If so, a group of people would suddenly pop into existence proclaiming the death and resurrection of this saviour.  Where were the army of critics to point out that no one had heard of him?  Someone must have written something down to that effect.

But alas, no such writing exists.  Instead there are critics challenging every other aspect of Jesus’ existence... except his existence, which is taken as fact.

QUOTE (Tiggs @ Nov 21 2008, 08:05 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
All of which takes us back rather neatly to our industrious Christian Scribes, devoting years of their lives to producing bibles and copies of historical documents within monasteries and abbeys.

Now, on occasion, these scribes had moments of what at best could be called religious indulgence, and at worst, outright Forgery, as illustrated beautifully within the following title of the 32nd Chapter of the 12th Book of Evangelical Preparation, written by of one of the early Church Fathers, Eusebius:

But don't just take my word for it. Let's ask a 5th Century Bishop, St Faustus what he thinks:

I'll let that sink in for a while, and give you the opportunity to re-read it, if you wish. If that's the first time you've seen that quote, you may be rather stunned by both it's honesty and it's content.
I can’t say I have seen this specific quote, but the reporting of some scribes is well known to be forgeries.  What does this prove, except that scribes have occasionally become over-zealous in their writings.  The same can be leveled at many writers through ancient history – Christians are not immune.  However, one must ask how it is that St Faustus came to these conclusions about such embellishments?  The answer is clear in most cases – there are many corroborating texts to show where the scribes became overzealous.  Eusebius is one example of an overzealous scribe.          

But with that said, I’m glad you brought him up.  Eusebius makes a nice segue into my argument on the Jewish sources, particularly that of Josephus and the highly controversial “Testimonium” attributed to him.

Josephus (Antiquities 18.63-64) - Even Christians acknowledge the forgeries Eusebius (or some scribe – many attribute it to Eusebius) has made about Jesus, but the question is how extensive such forgeries are in ancient scholarship.  The Testimonium, for example, is acknowledged as a forgery because of the distinct difference in writing style compared to the rest of Josephus’ works.  At other times, we know there are forgeries because of the large quantities of other texts that prove something was or was not in the original.  We have many ways of checking and cross-checking to see if a text has been manipulated.  Historians and scholars apply such techniques all the time to ancient sources.

Concerning this passage, much has been written about this comment, some supporting and some criticising it.  It does show evidence of Christian tampering.  The language is not consistent with that of an observant Jew.  But the question remains as to how much was tampered with?  Was it entirely invented by a scribe, or was there an actual reference to Jesus here which was embellished by a scribe to appear more flattering?  Most scholars, regardless of belief, agree with the latter – there was a reference to Jesus, but this was added to.  Below is a copy of the passage, with the questionable sections in brackets and italics.  Try reading through the passage while ignoring these sections for a better outline of what might originally have been written:

QUOTE (Flavius Josephus)
At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man (if indeed one ought to refer to him as a man).  For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure.  And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin.  (He was the Messiah-Christ).  And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so.  (For on the third day he appeared to them again alive, just as the divine prophets had spoken about these and countless other marvelous things about him).  And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.


Removing the italicised section shows a much more impartial view of Jesus.  It is the most accepted view among the vast majority of scholars.  Very few believe it was entirely forged.  Some have taken the view that it has only partially been changed.  There is one Arabic manuscript that changes the words slightly to read “he was perhaps the Messiah-Christ”, and “they reported that he had appeared to them”.  It can be argued that the scribe simply removed the bolded words to make the text appear more certain.  However, this is not the majority view.  But then, neither is the view that it is entirely forged.  The majority take the view already discussed.  

If we take the majority view as accurate then, Josephus provides us with independent testimony to Jesus’ fame as a teacher, his miraculous actions, and his martyrdom during the reign of Pontius Pilate.  

Josephus (Antiquities 20.200) – Josephus again mentions Jesus a couple of sections later in his Antiquities.  However, unlike the first reference, there is absolutely no evidence of tampering.  Even if we completely disregard the first section (and I’m not suggesting we should do so) we cannot disregard this.  Concerning this second section, Josephus is speaking of James, the brother of Jesus:

QUOTE (Flavius Josephus)
But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent... He assembled the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Messiah-Christ, whose name was James, and some others.  When he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them over to be stoned to death.
The use of the term “so-called Messiah-Christ” lends credence to the earlier mentioned possibility that the first reference should read “he was perhaps the Messiah-Christ”.  It reads as if Josephus is referring to a character he had already addressed by this title.  But that is neither here nor there.  What this passage does do is corroborate the biblical account of Jesus as being the brother of James (Mark 6:3).  What it also does is provides some information not provided in the gospels – the martyrdom of James thirty years after Jesus had been killed.  

Talmud (baraitha Sanhedrin 43a-b) – These final two Jewish references come from the Talmud, which expounds on Jewish Law).  In the baraitha Sanhedrin, dated around 100-200AD, the text outlines Jesus trial:

QUOTE (Talmud)
On the eve of Passover Jesus was hanged (on a cross).  For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray...” since nothing was brought forward in his favour, he was hanged on the eve of Passover.
In the eyes of most historians, the forty-day notice appears to be questionable, an addition made to emphasise Jesus’ culpability.  But regardless, much of this corroborates what we already know of Jesus – his fame as a wonder-worker (a “sorcerer”, suggested by this source), and also his death near the Passover.  It also corroborates the biblical account of the Sanhedrin’s involvement in the death (the Talmud being an account of the functioning of the Sanhedrin) though the gospels also highlight the role of the Roman authorities on this matter – the Sanhedrin never had the authority to execute their criminals.

Talmud (baraitha Shabbat 104b) – In this account, we again hear the rumour that Jesus was the product of an illegitimate union between Mary and a Roman soldier named Panthera (or Pantera):

QUOTE (Talmud)
Ben Stada is Ben Pentera.  The husband was Stada, the lover was Pantera.  The mother was Mary the dresser of women’s hair.  She has been false to her husband
This is a very late reference to Jesus (at the very least dated in the 3rd Century), but it does provide an interesting corroboration with the writings of Celsus (see my first post for details).  We can derive from Celsus and the Talmud here that Jesus’ birth was in question, which fits the biblical accounts that claim a miraculous birth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

These four accounts combine to provide a general consensus of how ancient Jews viewed Jesus.  As with the pagan sources, not a single one argues the non-existence of Jesus!  What they (and the pagan sources) corroborate, even if sketchy are:
    ~ The name “Jesus”
    ~ The place and time-frame of his public ministry (Palestine during the reign of Pontius Pilate)
    ~ His mother’s name
    ~ The ambiguous/questionable nature of his birth
    ~ His brother’s name (James)
    ~ His fame as a teacher
    ~ His fame as a miracle-worker/sorcerer
    ~ The attribution of the title “Messiah-Christ” to him
    ~ Some saw him as a king
    ~ The time and manner of his execution
    ~ The involvement of the Sanhedrin in his death
    ~ The darkness at his death
    ~ The possible appearance to his followers after his death (if we accept the lesser-held view of the rendering of the first Josephus quote)
    ~ The flourishing of a movement that worshipped Jesus.
  

Though to be honest, these sources listed in this post only provide the antagonistic Jewish views of Jesus.  Though Christianity has become historically separated from Judaism, the earliest believers were Jews.  As such, much of the New Testament writing of Jesus was written by Jews.  These sources are the focus of my next post!  In the meantime, the floor is now free for Tiggs to continue his side of the debate original.gif

Edited by Paranoid Android, 23 November 2008 - 12:49 PM.

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#7    Tiggs

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 10:07 AM

The Letters and Childhood of Jesus

Thank you, PA.

For my second post, I'd like to talk about some of the forgeries that have been produced over the years which Christians have claimed as being undeniable proof of the existence of Jesus as an actual historical figure.

Let's start with a letter from Jesus himself, written in response to a letter from the King of Edessa. Jesus' response is rather short, so I'll include it here in full:

Quote

ABGARUS, you are happy, forasmuch as you have believed on me, whom you have not seen.
For it is written concerning me, that those who have seen me should not believe on me, that they who have not seen might believe and live.
As to that part of your letter, which relates to my giving you a visit, I must inform you, that I must fulfil all the ends of my mission in this country, and after that be received up again to him who sent me.
But after my ascension I will send one of my disciples, who will cure your disease, and give life to you, and all that are with you.


The text of this letter first appeared in "Historia Ecclesiastica" 325 AD, written by a certain "How it may be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood as a Medicine, and for the Benefit of those who Want to be Deceived" Eusebius.

Over time, the legend grew. As well as a letter, a portrait of Christ began to be mentioned. Initially, the portrait - the Mandylion - was alleged to be made by the King's court archivist Hannan. Later, this portrait was said to be divinely wrought. The Eastern Orthodox Church took this concept and then formed the idea that Jesus had pressed his face into a cloth, and his visage stayed upon the cloth.

At the end of the 5th century, the Pope Gelasius I ruled that these letters were Apocryphal. However, this did not stop the popularity of the letter, a copy of which, in the middle ages, was often seen in Christian households, a practise which continued late into the 18th century.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term Apocryphal - in Biblical terms, it means that the text is ruled to be outside of the Canon. In other words, it is rejected or doubted by the "mainstream" Church. However - before it's rejection (and as I've shown - in some cases afterwards), it was used by the Christians of the day as undeniable proof of Jesus' existence.

The equally Apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, for example, describes Jesus' early life - for example, Jesus at the age of 5:

Quote

After that again he went through the village, and a child ran and dashed against his shoulder. And Jesus was provoked and said unto him: Thou shalt not finish thy course. And immediately he fell down and died. But certain when they saw what was done said: Whence was this young child born, for that every word of his is an accomplished work? And the parents of him that was dead came unto Joseph, and blamed him, saying: Thou that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village: or do thou teach him to bless and not to curse: for he slayeth our children.


This gospel was declared Apocryphal during the canonisation of what we now refer to as the New Testament.

Many other Apocryphal texts also exist, such as the letters from Pontius Pilate to Rome, which we will examine shortly, but for now, I will turn my attention to responding to PA's previous post.

I will start by clarifying the thrust of my argument, as it appears I have been misunderstood. Simply put, my argument is this:

1. There are no documented independent witnesses who have ever seen Jesus, or have ever spoken to anyone that did see Jesus. None.

2.  The Church has been caught several times creating it's own version of History to prove Jesus' existence and has repeatedly destroyed any source of history that disagrees with their viewpoint.

I am not asking you to throw away all the History that you have ever learned. However - when the only source for the verification of X comes from someone who has a marked interest in X being true, and has an established history of lying and destroying any opposing evidence - then you should treat X with an appropriate level of suspicion.

In some cases, however, even when the opposing sources have been methodically destroyed, we sometimes chance upon evidence that has survived.  

Such is the case for Josephus.

Even though there are no non-Christian extant copies of Josephus which now exist - we have evidence preserved in the writing of Gerald of Wales, that informs us of the discovery that the Hebrew versions of Josephus' Jewish History, which was commonplace amongst Jews during the 12th century, contained neither of those verses about Jesus that PA has cited.

Shortly afterwards, by Papal decree, the world witnessed over three centuries of Hebrew Book burning on a scale that almost destroyed every single piece of Jewish literature ever written.

Three hundred and fifty years. Four thousand two hundred months.  One hundred and twenty seven thousand, seven hundred and fifty full days of burning Jewish Texts.

Not a single copy of Josephus' Jewish History in Hebrew survived. Not one.

History is written by the Victors.


Quote

"in the absence of any other supporting evidence from the first century that in fact the Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the Gospels clearly existed, Josephus becomes the slender thread by which such an assumption hangs. And the sound and fury and desperate manoeuverings which surround the dissection of those two little passages becomes a din of astonishing proportions. The obsessive focus on this one uncertain record is necessitated by the fact that the rest of the evidence is so dismal, so contrary to the orthodox picture. If almost everything outside Josephus points in a different direction, to the essential fiction of the Gospel picture and its central figure, how can Josephus be made to bear on his shoulders, through two passages whose reliability has thus far remained unsettled, the counterweight to all this other negative evidence?"

Earl Doherty.

Concerning the quotes from the Talmud - once again, they are written far too late, and thus, I see no reason to discuss them further. Again - Proof of Christianity's existence is not the same as proof of a Historical Jesus.

In regards to PA's discussion of Thallos, however - Let us begin by establishing that Tertiary Sources are generally not used as Historical evidence, but as starting points for further research.

Quote

Tertiary Sources – Books and articles based exclusively on secondary sources – i.e., on the research of others. Tertiary sources are usually synthetic in nature – i.e., they pull together a number of separate but related accounts of a particular event, issue, body of scholarship, etc. Tertiary sources are good starting points for research projects, as they help distill large amounts of information.


In regards to the Crucifixion - The only mention of the Crucifixion within the text is made by Africanus. Not Thallus. It does not say "The Crucifixion mentioned by Thallus", however much some may want it to.

In short - in order to have been valid evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, this passage would have needed two things. Firstly, it would have needed to have had a cast iron date attached to it, and secondly, it would have needed a reference being made by Thallus directly to something about the Crucifixion other than a secondary phenomena which would be reasonable for any given Historian to document independent of any other event.

As it had neither - and is, to boot, a Tertiary source that has passed through a period of time referred to as "The Golden Age of Christian Forgery" before being noted upon - it fails in each and every possible aspect.

With that all said, let us return to the story of the letters of Pontius Pilate.

The first letter of Pontius Pilate to appear in Christian writings during the 4th Century was addressed to the Roman Emperor Claudius, as follows:

Quote

Pontius Pilate unto Claudius, greeting.

There befell of late a matter which I myself brought to light (or, made trial of): for the Jews through envy have punished themselves and their posterity with fearful judgements of their own fault; for whereas their fathers had promises (al. had announced unto them) that their God would send them out of heaven his holy one who should of right be called their king, and did promise that he would send him upon earth by a virgin; he then (or this God of the Hebrews, then) came when I was governor of Judea, and they beheld him enlightening the blind, cleansing lepers, healing the palsied, driving devils out of men, raising the dead, rebuking the winds, walking upon the waves of the sea dry-shod, and doing many other wonders, and all the people of the Jews calling him the Son of God: the chief priests therefore, moved with envy against him, took him and delivered him unto me and brought against him one false accusation after another, saying that he was a sorcerer and did things contrary to law.

But I, believing that these things were so, having scourged him, delivered him unto their will: and they crucified him, and when he was buried they set guards upon him. But while my soldiers watched him he rose again on the third day: yet so much was the malice of the Jews kindled that they gave money to the soldiers, saying: Say ye that his disciples stole away his body. But they, though they took the money, were not able to keep silence concerning that which had come to pass, for they also have testified that they saw him arisen and that they received money from the Jews. And these things have I reported (unto thy mightiness) for this cause, lest some other should lie unto thee (Lat. lest any lie otherwise) and though shouldest deem right to believe the false tales of the Jews.


Unsurprisingly, it didn't take people too long to realise that Claudius was not the Emperor at the time of Christ's Death. Before long, a revised letter from Pontious Pilate to Tiberius began appearing within Christian Texts.

QUOTE
Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar the emperor, greeting.[1]

Upon Jesus Christ, whose case I had clearly set forth to thee in my last, at length by the will of the people a bitter punishment has been inflicted, myself being in a sort unwilling and rather afraid.  A man, by Hercules, so pious and strict, no age has ever had nor will have.  But wonderful were the efforts of the people themselves, and the unanimity of all the scribes and chief men and elders, to crucify this ambassador of truth, notwithstanding that their own prophets, and after our manner the sibyls, warned them against it:  and supernatural signs appeared while he was hanging, and, in the opinion of philosophers, threatened destruction to the whole world.  His disciples are flourishing, in their work and the regulation of their lives not belying their master; yea, in his name most beneficent.  Had I not been afraid of the rising of a sedition among the people, who were just on the point of breaking out, perhaps this man would still have been alive to us; although, urged more by fidelity to thy dignity than induced by my own wishes, I did not according to my strength resist that innocent blood free from the whole charge brought against it, but unjustly, through the malignity of men, should be sold and suffer, yet, as the Scriptures signify, to their own destruction.  Farewell.  28th March.


Thus started a whole range of Pilate Literature, including the Acts of Pilate, upon which Pilate's merits were such that he was declared a saint within the Sixth Century by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This range of literature was, again, very popular in the middle ages.

Before we finish this section, I'd like to provide you with a more up-to-date example of the way that the church works - the Canonization of Juan Diego, in 2002.

QUOTE
"When the pope canonizes Juan Diego, he will have elevated to sainthood the hero of a religious work of fiction," argues David Brading, an expert on Mexican history at Cambridge University who has written a book disputing the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Even devotees of Juan Diego dispute his origins, with some saying he was a poor Chichimeca Indian peasant and others that he was the grandson of an Aztec noble.

Fueling doubts, the man given the task in 1947 of restoring Juan Diego's cloak, on which the now famous image of the Virgin appeared, revealed for the first time this week that the image was not the result of a miracle. Instead, he said the image had clearly been painted by human hand.

This only confirmed a 1999 study by archaeological microbiologist Leoncio Garza-Valdes from the University of Texas at San Antonio. After examining the cloak, supposedly made of sacklike cloth, he discovered it was a much finer material with three superimposed paintings. The principal work is believed to have been done by an indigenous artist, Marcos Aquino, in 1556 -- 25 years after Juan Diego's alleged vision -- and is a copy of the Virgin of Extremadura, brought from Spain by conquistadors.

"For the Vatican Juan Diego is not an end in himself," said Jorge Erdely, a Mexican theologian and editor of a religious magazine. "The problem is this: If Juan Diego didn't exist then the miracle of Tepeyac didn't happen," he said, referring to the hill where Our Lady of Guadalupe is said to have appeared before Juan Diego.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is crucial to the Vatican's efforts to hold back the Protestant tide, as well as extend the church's message to an estimated 20-million Mexicans living in the United States.

The pope, a devotee of Guadalupe, declared her to be the church's official "Patron of Americas" in a ceremony to announce a new era of evangelization during his last visit to Mexico in 1999.

The Basilica of Tepeyac, where her image on Juan Diego's cloak hangs over the altar, is the second most visited Catholic shrine after St. Peter's in Rome.

"The Virgin of Guadalupe is part of a strategy to revive symbols of popular fervor in the Americas," Erdely said. "It's basically a marketing tool."


During this post, we've discussed how the Church has forged evidence to backfill the Jesus story and create the Illusion that Christ physically existed. We've also discussed just one of the many occasions in which they've destroyed evidence which disagrees with their side of the story.

We've also seen that they have absolutely no intention of stopping.

In my next post, we will step back into history once again, visiting the very origins of Christianity and examining in detail some of the early writings which directly challenge Jesus' physical existence.

For now, however - the floor is once again yours, PA.


"What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" - Tiggs vs PA - Did Jesus Really exist? - The Formal Debate:
HERE
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#8    Paranoid Android

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 01:22 PM

3 – Authorship of the New Testament

Thanks for the response, Tiggs.  And my apologies for taking so long to respond.  I’ve been quite busy the past two or three days and haven’t really been online.  However, on the plus side I found your post most interesting to mull over during my time away from here.  For the second time in this debate in as many body-posts, Tiggs has argued that “evidence of Christianity is not evidence of Jesus”.  I do agree to an extent with this comment, yet the issue that comes to mind when reading this is that many of the sources I have quoted have been about Jesus, not about Christianity.  However, I will concede that some of my sources are about the followers of Christianity and their actions.  What this does serve to show is that even in the mid-1st Century, there were people who followed a person called Jesus.  As I noted earlier, I will be dealing with this in later posts.  In the meantime, I ask again the same question I have in the past – why is there not a single ancient critic who doubted the existence of Jesus?  There are very-near contemporary writings making all kinds of criticisms against Jesus and Christians, and yet none doubt Jesus’ existence.  Why is this?  

And again in this debate Tiggs has dismissed information on the basis of being written too late to be accurate (the Talmud this time).  On this, I would ask Tiggs exactly what he defines as “too late”?  I get the impression that what he means is “within the lifetime of those who might have met Jesus”.  Taking this view is treating ancient sources as you would a modern newspaper article – if it’s not current, it’s not relevant.  As an oral society, life didn’t work that way in ancient Palestine.  The time delay experienced in the Jesus narratives is not too dissimilar to other ancient events.  Historians are not against this as a general rule.  But as with my previous paragraph, this is again a topic for later in this debate.

Before I actually discuss the biblical sources for Jesus, there are three small issues I would like to address with Tiggs’ last post.  The first of these is the quote from Eusebius.  Once again Tiggs has quoted Eusebius.  I guess on some level I can understand his level of reliance on such a figure in history.  Eusebius certainly had ideas about how history should be written, and the unscrupulous nature to carry it out.  He is not alone through history, though he is one of the most documented and well known.  However, the question I continually am forced to ask is whether Eusebius should be considered representative of early Christian scholarship or of Christianity as a whole?  We know Eusebius forged documents and added to the histories he was writing!  But I would submit that it is highly unrealistic to pen Eusebius as representative of the whole.  Shall we throw out Buddhism because there are Buddhist forgeries that have made it into their holy texts (such as the Sutra on the Weighty Grace of ParentsSource)?  Ancient history is filled with forgeries.  Does this mean that events never happened?  Of course not!  Though what it does show is that often during a forgery there is a paper trail to follow that ends with the proof that it is a forgery.  Unlike Eusebius and unlike the Sutra mentioned above, no such paper trail leads back to Jesus being  forgery!

Tiggs has tried to distance himself from such arguments as this by pointing out that he does not dismiss all history, but rather that:

Tiggs on Nov 26 2008, 09:07 PM, said:

I am not asking you to throw away all the History that you have ever learned. However - when the only source for the verification of X comes from someone who has a marked interest in X being true, and has an established history of lying and destroying any opposing evidence - then you should treat X with an appropriate level of suspicion/
I do not dispute this as a general principle.  However, he is treating Christianity as a unified set of beliefs with everyone in accord and supporting the forgeries of Eusebius.  We cannot through the available evidence make a case for an “established history of lying and destroying any opposing evidence”, though we can find individuals who have carried this out, and occasionally short time periods when this has happened.  

The second issue I wanted to deal with was the destruction of ancient writings by early Christians that Tiggs referred to.  While I agree with that it is sad that this has happened, the fact is that criticisms still survive from ancient opponents of Christianity.  Many of these criticisms deal with the controversial issues of Jesus’ life.  His birth, his miracles, his death and resurrection!  But NEVER his existence.  I could be wrong in understanding the exact reasons for Tiggs bringing this up, but are we to assume that the criticisms of Jesus’ non-existence were destroyed by early Christians?  No one (least of all myself) is arguing the deplorable actions of Christians throughout history.  But to turn the argument around on Tiggs – evidence of Christian destruction of texts is not evidence for non-existence.  There are many reasons why Christians involved themselves in such book-burning.  The most obvious that comes to mind is to restrict what people read about other beliefs and books.  Many Christians today want to burn Harry Potter novels.  I don’t agree with the actions of these people, and do not support them in any way.  But if we look at this book burning, are we to assume that Christians are doing it in order to suppress the existence of Harry Potter?  It does not logically follow that destruction of early texts by association means a cover-up to hide the truth, especially when many texts criticising Jesus continue to exist, arguing against many aspects of Jesus and of Christianity, but never about Jesus’ existence.  

My final question revolves around the criticisms of Josephus, and in particular Tiggs’ assertion that both references are forgeries.  I have read through his claims about Gerald of Wales’ and these Hebrew copies of Josephus including neither text and have attempted to search for this information myself.  I have yet to find any support for this view, and ask that Tiggs provide further reference material for this.  To the best of my knowledge, it is universally agreed on by the vast majority of historians and scholars that only one was a forgery (and even then, the majority only claim part forgery – see my previous post for further details).  If you have come across information that I have not (and that historians have not come across, for that matter), I would very much like to see it.  After all, I can only argue what I have seen, and I have not seen this evidence yet.

That said, all these sources that I have mentioned and discussed not only here in this refutation but throughout my previous two posts are not the primary source material that historians and scholars go to for their information on Jesus.  Historians go to the Bible for that information – for example, a standard peer-reviewed paper on this issue might contain ten pages on non-biblical sources and 250 page discussing the New Testament Bible.  

At this stage, readers of this debate are probably thinking that you cannot use the Bible because of the author’s religious bias.  But I would ask whether a religious agenda would disqualify a text as an historical source document?  Historians do not believe so.  Certainly there is an agenda, and historians take this into consideration when using the text to discuss the New Testament.  Just as they take imperial bias into account when analysing Tacitus or take Jewish bias into account when reading Josephus.  Religious texts are not lumped into a special category simply because they are religious in nature.  It is simplistic and unscholarly to dismiss a text because of religious bias.

Certainly scholars do not approach the New Testament as the “word of God” as Christians would.  But they do give it the status it deserves – as a valuable historical text that is useful in understanding the historical Jesus (and this applies regardless of the historian’s religious views).  

The word “Bible” comes from the Latin word biblios, which literally means “a collection of works”.  An encyclopaedia therefore is a “bible” in that it is a collection of common works.  The modern Christian Bible is not just one text, as many attempt to imply in discussions about the Bible, but rather a collection of independent sources with a similar theme.  Historians view the Bible in this manner, and when it comes to Jesus they don’t see one source as many of us often do.  They see a set of independent sources with common convictions.  The Bible as we know it today did not exist in early Christianity.  They were all individual letters and scrolls, independent and separate, though compilations of gospels and letters that closely match our modern Bible existed probably as early as the Second Century.  

The Bible as we know it today was decided through a series of conferences in the 4th Century.  The texts already existed, and most groups already had similar views on what books were authoritative and what books were forgeries.  The Councils met together to decide on what definitely was written by the first generation of Jesus’ disciples.  I shall be addressing the issue of these Councils a little further in later posts, particularly to better understand their methods of choosing what was left in, so again to avoid stealing thunder, I will leave this particular point until then.

What is important for this section of the debate is to acknowledge that  the New Testament is not just one text but multiple texts written independently from each other, with no collusion between many of the authors.  It is universally accepted, for example, that the author of Mark never met Paul and never read his letters, and vice versa – Paul never had read Mark’s gospel.  Historians thus treat both sources as separate and distinct.  Likewise the author of John’s gospel never had access to the gospel attributed to Matthew, so again these are considered separate.  The epistle of James was written before all of these and thus represents another independent source.

The fact that all these authors wrote independently of each other is significant for historians.  It is what is referred to in history as the criterion of multiple attestation.  When multiple people who had no access to each other or their respective writings, and all say similar things about a topic, it is given more credence than if it were one standalone source.  Because we know the authors cannot have copied from each other, it must be the case that the information they present is both early and widely known.

There are six (possibly seven) independent New Testament sources that mainstream historians draw upon to reach their conclusions about Jesus.  I shall discuss these six (possibly seven) sources here.

The letters of Paul (circa AD 48-64)

Most readers of this debate will know who Paul was – a one-time Pharisee and persecutor of the Christian movement who converted to become one of the earliest and most influential figures in the Christian movement.  Throughout his letters, he records many of the themes and topics common to Christianity, not as new themes but only in passing, as if the audience was already well versed in those concepts (such as the details of the Last Supper, Jesus’ betrayal, execution, resurrection, his status as Messiah-Christ, and more besides).  This familiarity implies that the concepts were well known and did not need further explanation.  

Of particular and special importance to scholars is one passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, where he states:

Quote

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:  that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

~ 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
Most mainstream scholars view this short creed as coming from a fixed set of beliefs learned through oral tradition composed sometime before AD 35 – as you may have noted, this is only a few short years after the death of Jesus.  What was eventually written down in the gospels and the writings of Paul and James was already being preached as of importance and being committed to memory by the followers so soon after Jesus.  This is the clear understanding of mainstream historical scholarship.

This in itself provides the single earliest reference to Jesus, through oral tradition very shortly after the events of Jesus’ life, and has been preserved through Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians.

James (circa AD 50-62)

Yes, this is the same brother of Jesus mentioned elsewhere, the early leader of the church in Jerusalem – a task that ultimately led to his martyrdom in AD 62.  Though there has been in the past some speculation over the authenticity of this book, agreement has grown that this was indeed the leader of the early church and brother of the focus of that movement (Jesus).  This book contains more sayings and allusions to sayings of Jesus than any New Testament book (apart from the gospels, that is).

Gospel attributed to Mark (circa AD 65-75)

This provides our second independent source of Jesus.  There is debate whether the author of Mark actually saw Jesus.  There are two common historical views on the matter.  The first is that Mark was a young boy who followed Jesus around and was indeed the boy described in Mark 14:51-52 who fled the arrest of Jesus naked.  It was often a convention of early biographical writing for the author to anonymously insert themselves into the story at a part they were witness to.  This view fits the passage perfectly.  The second view is that the author never knew Jesus but was a consort of the apostle Peter acting as a scribe.  Though I lean towards the first explanation, most historians disagree and apply the second view.  Either way, the consensus is the same - that Jesus was a real figure.

Mark also forms the basis of much of Matthew and Luke’s gospel.  About 80% of Mark can be found almost word-for-word in Matthew’s gospel and about 60% of Mark’s writings is found in Luke.  In the ancient world, this was quite common and was not seen as plagiarism, but rather reliance on an earlier authoritative source.  And quite aside from this, there is much of Matthew and Luke that bears similarity to each other (but not to Mark).  This leads scholars to the possibility that Matthew or Luke had access to the other’s writings and so copied.  However, this is rejected on account of there being too many differences for one to have copied the other.  This leaves the majority to conclude an independent source that both had access to.  This source is the fourth independent source used by historians.

The lost Q Gospel (circa AD 40-70)

I noticed in Tiggs’ introduction that his next post is also dealing to some degree with this mysterious gospel.  I’m not entirely sure what level of information he is intending to provide with his post, but scholars view this as another independent source for Jesus.  As mentioned in the source information on Mark, the authors of Matthew and Luke relied heavily on this source to construct their text as well as Mark himself.  

But what exactly is Q?  It is essentially understood to be an early collection of written sayings of Jesus, akin to a quote book.  As such, some refer to it as the “Sayings Gospel” or “Sayings source”.  These sayings provide an important written account of what was passed down through oral tradition before this date.  Oral tradition played an important role in ancient cultures and is not uncommon throughout other ancient religious beliefs.  But again this is one focus of my next post.

The “L” Gospel (circa AD 40-70)

It is agreed by scholars that the gospel attributed to Luke was completed and in circulation sometime between 70-80 AD.  As mentioned above, this source was compiled using the gospel of Mark and the lost Q gospel.  However, there is also evidence of a third independent source used.  Scholars refer to this source as “L” which stands for “Luke’s special source”.  When scholars speak of L, they do not refer to Luke’s personal contributions to the text.  These sections simply display Luke’s own distinct style and focus (such as his fascination with the miracles of healing – not unexpected from one who it is often attributed as being a doctor).  L does not refer to these but rather to the distinct sections of Luke that do not show his trademark style and indicate a third source.  

According to scholars, L covers approximately one third of the gospel of Luke and focuses on the friendship and relationship Jesus has/had with “sinners”.

The “M” Gospel (circa AD 40-80)

Like L, this gospel refers to “Matthew’s special source” and would cover some of the parables and judgements found in Matthew.  However, it is only theoretical (hence my reference earlier concerning a “possible seven” sources).  The case for M is not nearly as strong as the case put forward for L.  It could be that this source does not exist and that all the material not found in Mark or Q is entirely Matthew’s own addition.  Scholars debate the issue, and it is likely true to suggest the majority do not hold to a special M source.  Nevertheless, the source does have many supporters in mainstream scholarship.  

Signs source (circa AD 70)

The final independent source used by historians is what is known as the Signs source and forms the basis of the Gospel of John.  It is widely held that the author of John never actually knew Jesus.  Unlike my position held on the gospel of Mark, on this one I agree.  John was completed approximately 100 AD (though some argue as late as 125 AD and some as early as 80 AD) and is thus far too late to be considered an eye-witness account.  However, it does show evidence of an earlier source, focusing on the signs and miracles portraying Jesus’ status as the Messiah.  As such, historians have titled this source the “Signs Source” (SQ for short) and date it to approximately AD 70.  Signs and miracles such as the water-to-wine event come from this Signs source.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

These independent sources for the New Testament demand a deeper look, deeper than can be discussed in such a limited debate as this.  I would like to acknowledge at this point John Dickson’s book “The Christ Files”, which has been invaluable to me in constructing this particular post.  For anyone interested in the origins of the historical Jesus, I would highly recommend this book.  He covers similar themes but does so in far more detail and eloquence than I ever could.  Nevertheless, I hope that the short outline of these independent sources has given you something to consider.  When historians weigh the importance of the New Testament texts, they employ what I referred to earlier as the "criterion of multiple attestation".  When many independent sources exist to attest to the same basic portrait of an event or person, historians give the account a greater level of plausibility.  These six (possibly seven) independent sources verify what historians universally agree - that Jesus did indeed exist as an historical figure.

My next body post will deal with the final set of sources that historians consider of value in understanding the historical Jesus.  In the meantime, I pass this over to Tiggs and look forward to his reply.

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#9    Tiggs

Tiggs

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 06:25 PM

The Curious Story of Q

Thank you, PA.

Firstly I'd like to apologise for the length of time taken to post this reply as I've had an amazingly hectic few weeks, details of which I'll post about shortly in my Blog. I'd also like to apologise in advance for the length of the reply itself, as it is somewhat longer than usual.

This post is composed of three parts. The first part, as promised, examines the early writings which directly challenge Jesus' physical existence. The second part is the investigation into the rather curious story of Q, which will provide us with a deeper insight into the composition of the three earliest Gospels. Finally, we will examine the claims put forward within PA's last post.

Let us begin, then, with the challenges to Jesus' physical existence.

As I've mentioned earlier, the vast majority of non-Christian literature, and especially any literature that argued against Christianity, was methodically destroyed by the Christians, so the only evidence available to us is that found within the surviving texts of the Christian fathers themselves.

Even with today's modern ability to effortlessly cut and paste quotes, it should be obvious that it is impossible to recreate my entire argument from PA's posts alone. It is entirely possible that the early Church Father's did not refute such claims within their texts simply because they had no way with which to refute them.

In 238 AD, in St Gregory's Twelve topics on the faith, which was a list of twelve things that could result in excommunication from the Church, the very first item on that list is:

Quote

If any one says that the body of Christ is uncreated, and refuses to acknowledge that He, being the uncreated Word (God) of God, took the flesh of created humanity and appeared incarnate, even as it is written, let him be anathema.


It should be obvious then, that Jesus' physical existence was indeed questioned during early Christianity, and that doing so would result in excommunication.

As a quick aside, it should also be noted that even within Christianity itself, one of the fiercest battles raged amongst the various early Christian sects was whether or not Christ even had a physical body. These early Christian sects were collectively called Gnostics. The belief that Christ had no physical body was called Doceticism.

As an example, let's take a quick look at an excerpt from St Irenaeus' Against Heresies, an attempt to rebut the Gnostic beliefs, written at approx AD 180:

Quote

He shall also judge those who describe Christ as [having become man] only in [human] opinion. For how can they imagine that they do themselves carry on a real discussion, when their Master was a mere imaginary being? Or how can they receive anything steadfast from Him, if He was a merely imagined being, and not a verity? And how can these men really be partaken of salvation, if He in whom they profess to believe, manifested Himself as a merely imaginary being?


St Gregory, however, is not referring to the Gnostic's belief that the body of Christ was purely spiritual, as the last point on his list reads:

Quote

If any one says that Christ was manifested in the world only in semblance, and refuses to acknowledge that He came actually in the flesh, let him be anathema.

which is an explicit refutation of the Gnostic beliefs.

In addition, it should also be mentioned that Christian missionaries received a rough ride from the pagans of the day, so much so that Christianity became the source of new words and ridicule. The French Pagans derided Christians as idiots, hence the word cretin, descended from Chretien, the French for Christian. German Pagans invented the term bigot, from bei Gott, an expression that was constantly used by the Christian monks. Given such hostility, it is obvious that such a basic argument against Christianity would have been used. As St Anthanaius (4th Century AD) himself said:

Quote

WE come now to the unbelief of the Gentiles ; and this is indeed a matter for complete astonishment, for They laugh at that which is no fit subject for mockery, yet fail to see the shame and ridiculousness of their own idols. But the arguments on our side do not lack weight, so we will confute them too on reasonable grounds, chiefly from what we ourselves also see.

First of all, what is there in our belief that is unfitting or ridiculous? Is it only that we say that the Word has been manifested in a body?


Given these examples, some of you might think it strange, then, that "the Majority of Historians" believe that there is no evidence that early writings exist that challenge Jesus' physical existence. "The Majority of Historians", however, have a tendency to see things in a rather... unique... way, as I'm sure you'll see as we explore the curious story of Q together.

Let us start at the beginning. Within biblical studies there exists a rather thorny problem. This problem is formally called the synoptic problem. It can be summarised thus:

linked-image

In other words, the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, far from being independently written accounts gathered from eyewitnesses, borrow heavily upon one another's text.

There are several potential solutions to the Synoptic problem. The mainstream ones, however, are summarised within the following diagram:
linked-image

Figure 1. illustrates three possible solutions:

Firstly, from top to bottom, Markian Priority, also known as the two source hypothesis - the idea that Matthew and Luke copied from Mark and an additional unknown source, Q.
Secondly - the Farrer Hypothesis - Mark was first, Matthew used Mark, Luke used Mark and Matthew.
Thirdly - The Griesbach Hypothesis - Matthew First, used by Luke, Mark used Matthew and Luke.

Figure 2. illustrates two possible solutions:

Firstly - Matthean priority (also known as the Augustine Hypothesis) - the idea that Matthew wrote the original, then Mark worked from Matthew and Luke worked from Matthew and Mark.
Secondly - Lukian priority - the Idea that Luke wrote the original, then Mark worked from Luke and Matthew worked from both Mark and Luke.

In short, we have five possible mainstream solutions, and only one involving the mysterious Q.

As you can see, there is some considerable difference of opinion as to whom plagiarised who. As such, let's look at what the writings of the Early Church Fathers tell us.

Origen, as quoted by Eusibius -  "As to the four Gospels, which alone are indisputable in the Church of God under heaven, I learned from tradition that the first to have been written was that of Matthew,"

Eusibius, again - "In the same volumes Clement has found room for a tradition of the primitive authorities of the Church regarding the order of the gospels. It is this. He used to say that the earliest gospels were those containing the genealogies [Matthew, Luke], while Mark's originated as follows: When, at Rome, Peter had openly preached the word and by the Spirit had proclaimed the gospel, the large audience urged Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been said, to write it all down. This he did, making his gospel available to all who wanted it. When Peter heard about this, he made no objection and gave no special encouragement. Last of all, aware that the physical facts had been recorded in the gospels, encouraged by his pupils and irresistibly moved by the Spirit, John wrote a spiritual gospel."

Augustine of Hippo - "Now, those four evangelists whose names have gained the most remarkable circulation over the whole world, and whose number has been fixed as four, …are believed to have written in the order which follows: first Matthew, then Mark, thirdly Luke, lastly John."

Augustine, again - "Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek. And however they may appear to have kept each of them a certain order of narration proper to himself, this certainly is not to be taken as if each individual writer chose to write in ignorance of what his predecessor had done…"

In short - there's a slight difference of opinion between the Church fathers. Eusibius believes that Matthew or Luke was written first, followed by Mark, whilst Augustine believes it to be Matthew, Mark then Luke.

Neither of them (and in fact - no Early church father) believed that Mark was the first gospel written. Every single Church Father believed that Matthew was written first.

Given this historical evidence, you would assume that either the Augustine Hypothesis (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or the Grisebach Hypothesis (Mattthew, Luke, Mark) would be the two that most historians would debate between. As PA however has shown us by listing Q as one of his historical sources, this is not the case.

The question is, then - given the historical evidence and the fact that Matthean priority is, indeed, absolutely logically possible - why do "The majority of Historians" side with the Q hypothesis, with Mark being the first Gospel written?

What proof is there of Q having existed? Not a single copy of the alleged Q gospel exists. Not a single scrap of parchment bears witness to it. Nor do any of the Church Fathers mourn a missing gospel within any of their writings. Ever.

In short - there is absolutely no historical evidence for Q, in any way, shape or form, whatsoever.

The answer, however, is quite simple. To quote PA:

"scholars view this as another independent source for Jesus"

The curious story of Q, in and of itself, will tell you absolutely everything you need to know about "The majority of Historians"  and their ability to selectively ignore historical evidence when given the choice to instead create evidence that supports a historical Jesus.

While that information sinks in,  I will answer PA's previous post. As a start, I have been asked to provide references for Gerald of Wales, the relevant text of which is as follows:

Quote

"even the testimony of their historian, whose books they have in Hebrew and consider authentic, they will not accept about Christ. But Master Robert, the Prior of St Frideswide at Oxford, whom we have seen and was old and trustworthy ... was skilled in the scriptures and knew Hebrew. He sent to diverse towns and cities of England in which Jews have dwellings, from whom he collected many Josephuses written in Hebrew ... and in two of them he found this testimony about Christ written fully and at length, but as if recently scratched out; but in all the rest removed earlier, as if never there. And when this was shown to the Jews of Oxford summoned for that purpose, they were convicted, and confused at this fraudulent malice and bad faith towards Christ"


Works of Geraldis Cambrensis, Edited by J. S. Brewer, 1861-1891, Volume 8, p. 65, as quoted by Paul Johnson (1987) within A History of the Jews, pp. 206-207.

The knowledge that versions of Josephus existed without either of these passages has been known for centuries by Historians, due to it's absence within the writings of the early church father's quoting Josephus whilst arguing for Christ. As I'm sure that PA is acutely aware, for several textual reasons, both Josephus passages have been considered debunked since the 19th century as a Eusibian forgery by Christian Historians. As I pointed out in my last post - the reason that Josephus has regathered popularity amongst Christian historians lately, as has the Q hypothesis, is that they realise that they are utterly sunk without them, such is the absence of evidence for an historical Jesus.

I have said twice now that proof of Christianity is not proof of Jesus' historical existence. Equally, I would submit that proof of worship of Zeus is not proof of Zeus' historical existence.

PA claims that he has provided evidence concerning Jesus, rather than Christianity. My response is, as before, that  any mention of Christ occurs after a period of time after which it is impossible for the writing to have been influenced by any direct eye-witness of Christ. A direct eye-witness would be considered a primary source. Somebody that spoke to that eye-witness would be considered a secondary source. All that remains are a list of Tertiary sources - claims which are as equally distant from the original source as those made by worshipers of Zeus claiming that Zeus lived on Mount Olympus.

In short, there are no historical witnesses who have seen Jesus, nor spoken to anyone that actually has.

PA argues that the New Testament itself is historical evidence for Jesus' existence, so let us now turn our attention to the historical evidence given within the Gospels.

As such, we will concentrate on the two singularities within the story of Christ - his birth and death. The reason for doing this is simple. If, for example, I were to point out the various inconsistencies between the Gospels, such as the sermon on the mount vs the sermon on the plain, the much over-used "they were two different sermons...where Jesus just happened to feed the 10,000 with fishes and loaves twice" would be used as a defense. It is much harder to argue, however, that accounts of Jesus' birth or crucifixion refer to two different events, and, as such, it is here that we will concentrate our attention.

Let us begin with the timing of Jesus' birth.

QUOTE
Matthew 1

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"[d]—which means, "God with us."
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Continued in Matthew 2

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
   for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


Luke 2

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.


Mark has no mention of Christ' birth, at all. Neither does John. The sole accounts of Jesus' birth are these two passages of text.

It should be noted that there are strikingly obvious differences between the two accounts. In Matthew, Joseph and Mary are married. In Luke, they are only pledged to be married. In Matthew, Joseph and Mary return to their home in Bethlehem where Jesus is born. In Luke, they are forced to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem due to a census. In Matthew, the Magi visit Jesus in a house. In Luke, there are no Magi, but instead, shepherds that visit him in a Stable and find him in a Manger. In Matthew, we are told of the virgin conception, whilst Luke mentions no such thing.

Let us examine the timing of Jesus' birth. Luke gives us a very accurate time period - the first Census that took place whilst Quirinius was governor of Syria. Matthew merely tells us that Jesus was born in the time of King Herod.

Unfortunately, from a historical perspective - these two things are incompatible. From Josephus, we know that Herod was dead (4BC) by the time that this Census took place, in 6CE.

In short - we have two completely different accounts of Jesus' birth, in two different time frames which are historically impossible.

Let us now examine the Crucifixion, starting with the betrayal of Jesus.

QUOTE
Matthew 26:

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."
37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
38 Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter.
41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
42 He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.
44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him."
49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for."


Mark 14:

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."
33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
34 "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."
35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.
36 "Abba,[e] Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?
38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.
40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
41 Returning the third time, he said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
43 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard."
45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him.


Luke 22:

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.
40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."
41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,
42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
46 "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him,
48 but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"


John 18:

1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
3 So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?"
5 "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied.


Note that Matthew and Mark are near mirror images of the account, with Jesus praying three times. In Luke, Jesus prays once and an angel appears to strengthen him. John doesn't mention any prayer at all. Skipping briefly past the logical flaw that no-one but Jesus would have seen the angel (or indeed have been able to record what he said) due to the rest of the disciples being asleep, take a look at what happened when Judas arrived.

The Matthew/Mark accounts have Judas approaching Jesus, greeting him as a Rabbi before kissing him. The Luke account has Jesus stopping Judas before being kissed. The John account has no mention of kissing whatsoever. Which of these accounts is the correct one?

Let's continue on to the Crucifixion itself:

QUOTE
Matthew 27:

45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah."
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
49 The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.
52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.
56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.


Mark 15:

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah."
36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.
41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.


Luke 23:

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,
45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man."
48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.
49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.


John 19:

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son,"
27 and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."
29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips.
30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.


In Matthew, we have three hours of darkness, earthquakes, rocks splitting, the Temple curtain torn in two and the Dead being resurrected back to Life again. In Mark, we have the darkness and the Temple curtain torn in two. In Luke, we have the same.

In John, we have no supernatural occurrences whatsoever. Just the recording of a conversation between Jesus and an unnamed disciple about his Mother. Note also in John the difference between the location of the women in comparison to the other Gospels.

Note the differences between the last recorded words of Jesus.

So it is with the entirety of the four gospels. While the words of Jesus are mostly in accord between the four, the actual details of any of the accounts of what Jesus physically did are always muddled.

Having dealt with the Gospels and Q, we are left with two sources - Paul and the Gospel of James.

I will be covering Paul thoroughly within my next post. In the meantime, however - perhaps PA would be so kind as to reveal the scriptures that predict Christ rising on the third day, as per the excerpt from 1 Corinthians he has supplied suggest exists.

The Gospel of James is Apocryphal, and is not included within the Bible. The consensus is that it was written around 150 AD or so. The name Gospel of James is somewhat misleading, as it covers the story of Mary, up until the birth of Jesus - which follows the Matthean Herod tradition, with the main difference being that Mary gave birth in a cave.  Quite frankly, I'm surprised to find it in a list of sources as historical evidence for Jesus - unless PA is referring to another Gospel of James that I'm unaware of?

I'd like to finish answering PA's last post with a quick discussion about Eusibius. Eusibius is, without doubt, a Forger of the first degree. Was he alone in these forgeries? Let's ask the Catholic Encyclopedia:
QUOTE
"When, therefore, enterprising spirits responded to this natural craving by pretended Gospels full of romantic fables and fantastic and striking details, their fabrications were eagerly read and largely accepted as true by common folk who were devoid of any critical faculty and who were predisposed to believe what so luxuriously fed their pious curiosity. Both Catholics and Gnostics were concerned in writing these fictions. The former had no other motive than that of a pious fraud, being sometimes moved by a real though misguided zeal, as witness the author of the Pseudo-Matthew: Amor Christi est cui satisfecimus. But the heretical apocryphists, while gratifying curiosity, composed spurious Gospels in order to trace backward their beliefs and peculiarities to Christ Himself."


In this post, we've discussed the evidence that shows that Christ's existence was questioned within early Christendom. We've examined the evidence for Q and, in doing so, discovered that "The majority of Historians" have an interesting habit of ignoring history. We've also examined the gospels and shown that they are historically unreliable documents.

In my next post, we'll explore the various factions within Early Christianity and it's impact on the books of the New Testament.  

Until then, however, the floor is once again yours, PA.


"What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" - Tiggs vs PA - Did Jesus Really exist? - The Formal Debate:
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#10    Paranoid Android

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 06:23 AM

4- Assorted background information on Jesus

*my apologies for the delay with this response.  As you can see, there was a mountain of information to sift through and edit down to something that was more manageable.  My next post will be nowhere near as long as this.  In the meantime, I hope for Tiggs (and for those reading along) that the wait was worth it.*

Thank you for your response, Tiggs.  So far over the course of the debate you and the readers have endured from my side of the discussion dry material of texts and dates of compilation.  In my fourth addition to the debate, I shall be moving slightly away from the texts themselves and look at other elements in history that impacted on the story of Jesus.  Some of it directly relates to Jesus.  Some of it refers to the culture which Jesus would have lived in, and thus give a better understanding of Jesus’ place in that culture – and make no mistake about it, Jesus was a real figure, accepted by the earliest critics of Christianity, accepted by the majority of scholars today, regardless of their religious beliefs.

However, before I begin, there are a few issues I would like to address in the most recent responses that Tiggs has provided us.  

I must say I was surprised at some of it.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his angle on the Q gospel, considering the provocative title of his Debate Post – “The curious story of Q” as he put it.  I know it is pure speculation on my part, but I would have though the curious story of Q would have been… well, curious!  Instead of curious, Q is only addressed on its most superficial level and then contrasted with five other theories on the origins of the gospels, none of which carry much weight in scholarship.  Contrary to the assertions that Tiggs makes, Q is not simply accepted because of a need to invent sources – this implies a bias by these scholars to prove themselves right (more on this later).  Rather, based on the available evidence, it is the most likely answer we have.  To post a detailed critique of each view goes beyond the scope of this debate.  I had originally written a brief critique of each view, but for the sake of space (this is a long debate entry, and I apologise in advance for its length) I felt it unnecessary.  The two-source hypothesis (that is, the one I suggested originally) appears to be the consensus of the scholarly mainstream – not the apologists minority, I might add; they would argue each gospel is a source unto its own, written separately by the direct followers of Jesus.

I decided not to critique each view because ultimately it is not important which theory is correct – what I mean by that is that even if the majority of scholars are wrong, we are still left with multiple sources for Jesus, which was and is the point of relevance to be discussed.  Tiggs suggests these alternative theories as to how the gospels came into existence, but he overlooked the primary point – there were independent sources for Jesus.  Aside from the gospels we have the writings of Paul and the book of James.  The exact order of which gospel came first is overshadowed by the greater issue that they were written independently with no collusion between the authors.

While on the subject of the writings of James, I am sure Tiggs will blush with embarrassment when he reads this, but I was indeed thinking of a different James to the book he critiqued in his previous debate entry.  He referred to the Gospel of James, and quite rightly wondered why it would be considered a primary source by historians.  This probably fuelled his preconceived hypothesis that historians are not interested in the historical Jesus.  I agree with Tiggs – the Gospel of James IS NOT a valid source for Jesus, having been written far too late to be of any real use.  However, the Book of James, found nestled between Hebrews and 1 Peter in our current biblical canon dates to the first century AD, and was written by the brother of the person called Jesus.  It was to this text that I was referring in my last debate entry.  I won’t hold this mistake against him though.

But back to the point, there are two sources – Paul and James – that refer to Jesus, plus a number of other gospel accounts.  Which gospel came first and who used which source is ultimately irrelevant.  Whether we take the Augustinian hypothesis or the Two-source hypothesis, or something in between, we have several independent sources that reference Jesus.  Whichever one is correct, and as noted the Two-source hypothesis (that is, Q Gospel) is the most widely accepted by experts, this is overshadowed by the fact that there are writings about Jesus that come from distinct and separate sources.  Whichever theory is correct, they meet the historian’s criterion of multiple attestations.  It is not the only criterion they use, but it is one of them, and the evidence, whichever theory you believe about Q, shows that there are separate and distinct sources.  I will discuss the historical criterion later in this debate post.    

As a quick aside, I find it interesting that Tiggs uses Eusebius to support his comments on the supposed primacy of Matthew’s gospel.  I would remind Tiggs that this is the same Eusebius he labeled as the “liar for God” because of his forgery of Josephus.  Now, however, it appears Eusebius is a reliable and truthful reporter of history and should be believed as right on this issue – Tiggs quotes him twice to support his views on Matthew.  Strange how views on credibility can change when the author agrees with him.  Though for fear of turning this into a straw man (attacking Eusebius’ character and hoping to discredit his views for that) which is not my intent, I will say that it is true that Eusebius (and other early Christian believers) thought Matthew was the first gospel written.  However, as historians and archaeologists found more sources and more information, it became clear that the early church made a mistake on the primacy of Matthew.  Matthean priority has been dismissed, with Markan priority given almost universal credit.  

With that said, I will admit it was a brilliant strategy of Tiggs to cast aspersions onto the scholars themselves.  Trying to turn my own words against me by arguing that they “invented” Q in order that they could *to quote Tiggs*, “view this as another independent source for Jesus" seemed a common strategy in much of his post.  Two examples of note being (emphases in bold):

Tiggs on Jan 1 2009, 05:25 AM, said:

The curious story of Q, in and of itself, will tell you absolutely everything you need to know about "The majority of Historians" and their ability to selectively ignore historical evidence when given the choice to instead create evidence that supports a historical Jesus.


Tiggs on Jan 1 2009, 05:25 AM, said:

Given these examples, some of you might think it strange, then, that "the Majority of Historians" believe that there is no evidence that early writings exist that challenge Jesus' physical existence. "The Majority of Historians", however, have a tendency to see things in a rather... unique... way, as I'm sure you'll see as we explore the curious story of Q together.


I’m not entirely certain what Tiggs is aiming at with his quotation marks around the phrase, “the majority of historians”.  He uses this tactic regularly throughout his post.  I cannot tell if he is using them sarcastically (as if this is not the view of the majority of historians), or if he is using it condescendingly (as if this is the view of the majority, but he believes the majority is wrong).  Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that this is what the majority of historians agree.  As you will see shortly in this post, historians do not have an agenda to prove the Bible right.  This is an invention of Tiggs, a clever ruse to make it appear that they are ignoring evidence or twisting evidence or inventing evidence to suit their agenda.  When it comes to historical study of the texts, it is not the intention of historians to prove that Jesus was the Messiah or that Jesus did all these miracles.  This is left to the realm of theology and Faith.  Historians simply show what they can realistically know about the life of Jesus – which they universally agree to be an historical figure (though as noted earlier, not all believe he was the Messiah or did miracles and such).

And while we are talking of theology and Faith, I would like to quickly address two issues.  My first comment will be quick and simply address the scriptures that predicted that Jesus would die on the third day (Tiggs asked for this scripture in his last debate post).  To this, I point to the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Both portray Jesus as rebutting the crowds request for a sign with a comment that the only sign they would receive would be the “sign of Jonah”.  Jonah, as most know, was inside the belly of a great fish for three days and nights.  Jesus was likewise in the ground for three days and nights before rising again.  Christians believe that Jesus is God, and so the words of Jesus are also “scripture”.  In stating that this happened “in accordance with scripture”, the general view is that we are referring to Jesus’ own prophecy when he was alive concerning what was to happen when he died and was resurrected.  I was not referring to the Tanakh (Old Testament) in stating my comment on scripture.  Hope that clarifies the meaning.

The other issue of theology and Faith that I wanted to address was the apparent contradictions that Tiggs lists in his post concerning the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke.  Below is his commentary on those two passages:

Tiggs on Jan 1 2009, 05:25 AM, said:

It should be noted that there are strikingly obvious differences between the two accounts. In Matthew, Joseph and Mary are married. In Luke, they are only pledged to be married. In Matthew, Joseph and Mary return to their home in Bethlehem where Jesus is born. In Luke, they are forced to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem due to a census. In Matthew, the Magi visit Jesus in a house. In Luke, there are no Magi, but instead, shepherds that visit him in a Stable and find him in a Manger. In Matthew, we are told of the virgin conception, whilst Luke mentions no such thing.
Tiggs makes the following assertions:
    *Matthew – Joseph and Mary are married; Luke – they are only pledged to be married.
    *Matthew – they return to their home in Bethlehem where Jesus is born; Luke – they travel to Bethlehem, their home is in Nazareth.
    *Matthew – Magi visit Jesus in a house; Luke – shepherds visit him in a stable.
    *Matthew – we are told of a virgin conception; Luke – we are not told of a virgin conception.
In addition to this, Tiggs mentions a discrepancy in the historical events – in particular Luke’s comment that Jesus was born when Quirinius was Governor of Syria (6-9 AD), while Matthew mentions that he was born in the reign of Herod (died in 4 BC).  Obviously the two dates are incompatible.  More on this later.  In the meantime, I will address the four other issues raised in sequential order and show that Tiggs has obviously not read the texts carefully:

Issue 1 – were Joseph and Mary married or pledged to be married? – I shall let the passages speak for themselves:

~ Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
(Matthew 1:18-19)

~ In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.
(Luke 1:26-27)


As you can see from the two accounts, both accounts declare that Mary and Joseph are only pledged to be married.  Tiggs has made a big mistake and should read the passage more carefully before making such an assertion.  I would guess that Tiggs made this mistake on the basis of Matthew 1:19, which I quoted above.  The passage states that Joseph wanted to “divorce” Mary.  This is because of the societal conventions of ancient Hebrews.  In modern terms, a betrothal (or engagement, we might call it) is not as binding as marriage.  It is simply a pledge before the ceremony that truly makes one married.  A “divorce” then is not needed if they are only engaged.  In ancient Jewish culture, however, a betrothal means much more!  A betrothal was as binding as marriage.  It was not the same as marriage, but it had many of the same binding principles, including a divorce for those who wished to separate.

My guess on why Tiggs made such an elementary mistake is, of course, conjecture.  I could be wrong and Tiggs might have a completely different reason for thinking that Matthew declared the two were married.  Nevertheless, both the texts attributed to Matthew and Luke both show that Joseph and Mary were only pledged to be married!  

Issue 2 – Did Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem or Nazareth? – Again I think it most appropriate if I let the texts speak for themselves.

~ Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king… And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth
(Matthew 2:1, 23)

~ And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
(Luke 2:3-5)


I guess I can see how one might see the first as referring to Bethlehem as home.  However, you will not find those words anywhere in Matthew.  It simply says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  No mention is made of where Joseph and Mary actually live.  A full twenty-two verses are skipped between the first mention of Bethlehem and the reference to Nazareth (I only quoted verse 1 and verse 23, for the sake of brevity – you can read the full passage for yourself if you like).  

Since no mention is made of the census, it is well within probability that the author of Matthew simply did not have access to that information – for those keeping up with the debate, this is yet another reason why historians see Matthew and Luke as having access to different sources.  While Luke has knowledge of a census, Matthew does not have such knowledge.  On this basis (and many other textual differences) they are viewed as independent sources, under the criterion of multiple attestation.  

Issue 3 – do Magi visit Jesus in a house, or do shepherds visit him in a stable? – to this I would make a suggestion; why not both?  Neither account has much in common.  The account in Matthew has an elaborate story of Magi being led by a star in the sky, approaching Herod, and giving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child (just as a few examples).  Luke has no such events.  The shepherds receive a vision from an angel that a baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem, and the angel identifies this baby as the promised Messiah.  The shepherds then go to Bethlehem and find the baby, recognising it on account of the swaddling it was wrapped in.  They were not led by a star, they did not give gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and they were not summoned to Herod to give an account of their travels to meet Jesus.

Such vast differences in the text suggest they are two separate and distinct events.  There is virtually nothing in common with the two accounts except for the fact that they both visited Jesus.

Issue 4 – did both mention a virgin conception or only Matthew? – On this last issue, I was startled (to put it mildly) that Tiggs could overlook what is clearly obvious in the text.  Again I shall let the text speak for itself:

~ Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.  
(Matthew 1:18-25)

~ And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"  And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.
(Luke 1:30-35)

          
As you can see from these two accounts, both Matthew and Luke clearly address the virgin birth.  I speculate as to how Tiggs could have missed this.  He states that the account in Luke makes no mention of a virgin birth.  Clearly this is not the case.  As noted at the beginning, Tiggs has not carefully read the two accounts, as evidenced by missing such clear and obvious references.

With that said and done, and the four issues dealt with and shown to be not contradictions at all (with the possible exception of Issue 2, which is at best ambiguous), I move to the earlier mentioned problem of Herod and Quirinius.  Historians have known this problem for quite some time.  The majority believe that Luke simply made a mistake about Quirinius.  It is important to note that the author of Luke also places Jesus’ birth at the time of Herod (Luke 1:5) and then the census at the time of Quirinius (Luke 2:2).  Since the timelines of the gospels generally follow the same narrative, the conclusion is that Luke made a mistake about Quirinius.  

In my introduction to this debate, I mentioned that it was not my purpose to prove Jesus was the Messiah, or to prove that Jesus performed miracles.  It was also never my intention to prove biblical inerrancy.  Historians do not consider the gospels or any other part of the Bible to be “inerrant” (that is, free from error).  Historians are not in the business of trying to prove inerrancy.  This is left to the realm of theology.  Whether the Bible is inerrant or not is irrelevant to whether Jesus existed or not!  For historians, Luke making a mistake on the dating of Quirinius is not a big issue – in fact, many other ancient historians make errors in timelines and events; no historian discounts those writers on the basis of an error in their dating.  The consensus view is that the author of Luke made a minor error in Quirinius.  As noted, Luke still puts the birth in the time of Herod, so with the exception of this small temporal error, the timelines between Matthew and Luke do reconcile.

Judging by Tiggs’ comments so far, it seems that he views the “majority of historians” as Christian apologists who have a vested interest in showing the Bible to be true, reliable, and inerrant.  This is not so.  As is shown through the problem of Quirinius, this is not so.  For historians, biblical inerrancy is not something they see as important, or even relevant, to the issue.

With that said though, many Christians do believe in biblical inerrancy (myself among them).  There is an explanation for Christians, but there is absolutely zero historical evidence beyond the gospel of Luke to back up that view.  We have enough gaps in our knowledge of Quirinius between 6-4 BC (the time of Jesus’ birth) to suggest that it is possible Quirinius had a governorship during this time.  However, such a reign is historically improbable and relies on 100% Faith in the inerrancy of Luke to arrive at this view.  There is no evidence to support a reign during this time, but there is also no evidence to contradict such a possibility either.      

But as noted earlier, for historians, such issues are not of any concern and do not impact their views on the text.  Historians have no problem accepting that the New Testament contains errors.  To them, the New Testament is simply a set of texts written about a person named Jesus.  Inerrancy is not a requirement, nor is inerrancy in any way historically verifiable, even if a text is declared “inerrant”.  That historians generally agree that Luke made a mistake about Quirinius simply shows again how historians do not see the Bible as the “word of God”, nor do they have a vested interest in proving everything within the text right and true.  Historians who study the texts do so solely from an historical perspective, to find out what they can and cannot know about Jesus.  And from all the biblical texts, and writings outside of the Bible, the majority of historians have come to the conclusion that Jesus did exist.  

Moving on to other points from your last post, I would like to quickly thank you for your link on Gerald of Wales.  It was most helpful.  After reading the link, may I suggest an alternative explanation to why these texts did not have those sections of Josephus in their pages?  The Jews did not believe Jesus to be their Messiah.  In Josephus’ work, written by one of the most important Jewish scholars in ancient times, one who took it upon himself to chronicle the history of Judaism, in this is written two references to the one whom they rejected as the Messiah.  Rather than keep such a reference in, some Jewish scribes chose to remove the two references.  By the time Gerald of Wales reached these texts (in the 12th or 13th century), most were omitted by scribes, with only a single copy remaining with those lines of texts scribbled out, to be omitted in the next transmission of the text.

Selective copying and editing of texts was not confined to the realm of Christianity.  Almost every culture with the ability to copy texts has their share of controversies.  The Jews are not exempt from this, and many of their ancient texts show evidence of some scribes getting a little overzealous with their copying of the text.  

This is why it is important to find the earliest and most reliable copies of ancient texts to find what passages should and should not be included in the original text.  To use an example, if Aunty Betty gives her famous recipe for chocolate cookies to 25 friends, if 23 of their friends say that the cookies require 1/4 cup of cocoa, one asks for 1/2 a cup, and one asked for 1/4 cup of coco-pops instead, it is clear which of the people got Aunty Betty’s recipe wrong (or chose to modify the recipe – perhaps someone decided coco-pops made a better ingredient than simply cocoa).  While this is a very simplistic example, it does show the process that historians use to gauge the relative merits of ancient texts.  On the issue of Josephus, Gerald of Wales stumbled upon one isolated set of texts, possibly from the same copyist, who did not like the references to Jesus.  Meanwhile, many other texts have the original writings of Josephus, complete with the Christian-ised version with the added lines proclaiming the Messiah.  

By comparing the ancient texts and comparing it to the author’s own style of writing, it is generally easy to spot where forgeries and additions in writing lie.  And as noted many times over, whether you take the first quote from Josephus as entirely forged, or only partly forged (and historians are not all in agreement on this one), the second quote shows no evidence of tampering.  Going by the evidence, the copies found in this isolated incident do show evidence of tampering – however, this tampering was done by unscrupulous Jewish scribes to remove Jesus from their historian, Josephus.  Gerald of Wales found the figurative 1/4 cup of Coco-Pops (to borrow from my earlier Aunty Betty analogy), nothing more.

Keeping on the topic of Josephus, and  moving again quickly back a little about the Q Gospel, Tiggs has had a tendency throughout this debate (particularly in your last post) to suggest that these two sources are having a “renaissance” in Christianity because we are desperately searching for something to back up our claims.  I wonder on what basis you make these assertions.  From experience, I can say that most Christians have never even heard of Q, and most of those who have pay absolutely zero attention to it.  Most are happy to believe that the four gospels are independent accounts from those who personally walked and talked with Jesus.

This is not the scholarly view.  Most historians and scholars all agree that none of the authors of the gospels were eye-witnesses.  On these issues the Christian community and the scholarly community diverge radically.  Christians look to Faith in the texts and are not so interested in the origins of those texts (generally speaking), while scholars simply read the texts to see what they can find to be historically reliable.  Tiggs would have us believe that scholars who study these texts have a vested interest in proving they are real (presumably to validate their own Faith).  This is clearly not the case – most scholars don’t believe in biblical inerrancy (most Christians do); most scholars don’t believe the gospels are eye-witness accounts (most Christians do); most scholars take Q seriously (most Christians do not).  

Scholars have no interest in proving the New Testament correct.  Most simply get to the task of looking at the text and related material in the same way that they would view any other ancient text.  It has been said before, but the existence of Jesus has been verified to be historically reliable.  Whether you believe the specific miracles attributed to this figure is a different question and boils down to Faith, but there is no Faith needed in ascertaining Jesus was a real figure in history.  It is fact!  

My apologies for such a long dissection of the previous post, but I have one further issue to address before moving into the primary point of this fourth post.  To illustrate my comment (which applies to various points raised by Tiggs), I would like to quote one further section of Tiggs’ post:

Tiggs on Jan 1 2009, 05:25 AM, said:

As I've mentioned earlier, the vast majority of non-Christian literature, and especially any literature that argued against Christianity, was methodically destroyed by the Christians, so the only evidence available to us is that found within the surviving texts of the Christian fathers themselves.
Tiggs once again points out what I have admitted since the very start of this debate – texts were destroyed.  It is true that we do not know the content of these destroyed texts, but the logic should be simple – there IS plenty of evidence from critics of Christianity that critique much of his life.  This evidence continually casts doubt on the miracles and divinity of Jesus.  No matter how hard the early church tried, they did not destroy the texts completely because they were too far widespread and known to too many people.  It is for this reason then that we have today such ancient sources that attempt to discredit Jesus on many points of doctrine.  And yet there is not a single critic who asks the question, “Who is this Jesus person anyway”?    

Surely if texts exist claiming he was an illegitimate child of a Roman Centurion, there should be texts claiming he did not exist.  Surely if texts exist claiming he was a charlatan, there should be texts questioning his existence.  Surely if texts exist ridiculing his miracles, there should be texts that put to doubt his existence.  Surely this should be so.  But it is not!  The only logical conclusion one can possibly arrive at is the position that no such text existed.  The earliest critics of Christianity never doubted Jesus’ existence.

Tiggs can continue to make this comment for the remainder of the debate if he so chooses – this is the third or fourth time he has brought up the destruction of texts (I lost count to the exact number of times), but nothing can remove the facts noted above – texts exist that criticise Jesus, yet none question his existence.  His original comment in his opening post that anyone who questioned Jesus would be executed has already been proven false simply by the array of early critics that do just that.   Hypothetical possibilities that there might be a destroyed text that questions his existence carries little weight when this is taken into consideration.  

With that all said and done, we can now move on to the other assorted historical information on Jesus and Jewish culture.  So far in this debate we have discussed direct sources that mention Jesus or Christians.  But this is not where historians leave their study.  By now in this debate, it should be clear beyond doubt that Jesus was an historical figure.  Whether you believe the miracles attributed to him, the sheer weight of information from even the harshest critic of Christianity shows with no doubt that he was an historical figure.  Historians thus look into these background sources of the history, culture, and archaeology of ancient Palestine to help understand Jesus’ actions in the context of the society in which he lived, assessing what teachings and what actions are historically plausible, and what can be left to the Theologians realm of “Faith”.  As such, the following sources generally tell us nothing directly about Jesus, but the commentary on society helps us better understand how Jesus’ actions and teachings might have come across to his contemporaries.

The Historical Criterion – these criterion are used by scholars to ascertain the reliability of various sources.  We have already looked at the criterion of multiple attestations.  Whichever theory we take on the compilation of the gospels, there are multiple independent sources that say similar things about Jesus.  The logic is simple – with multiple independent sources saying the same thing, they are more likely to reflect the actual event.  To use a modern analogy, it would be similar to hearing startling news from a friend.  If it is not news you believe, but three or four friends tell you the same thing, and you know that they did not collude with each other, you are more likely to believe what they say is true.  

However, this does not simply mean that historians accept everything that more than one person says, nor does it mean they reject everything found only in one source.  That would be far too simplistic.  Historical study is far more complex.  The criterion of multiple attestation is only one aspect that historians look at, and must be taken in context with the other criterion:

The criterion of coherence – When an event or teaching fits well with what we already confidently know, it is generally deemed more plausible.  Take Jesus’ frequent clashes with the Jewish religious hierarchy (the Pharisees, for example) as just one example.  How serious do scholars take these clashes?  Scholars are confident that Jesus was executed by the Romans at the request of the Jewish authorities (many sources, both Christians and non-Christian, attest to this).  As such, these clashes with the Jewish authorities are deemed likely to have happened.  Indeed it provides one reason why the authorities requested the execution in the first place.  Events such as this take on greater plausibility if they fit with what we know about events or people.  

The criterion of dissimilarity – this criterion suggests that if an event or teaching does not fit well with the teaching of either Judaism or the early Church, the teaching was unlikely to have been invented.  Jesus’ condemnation of taking oaths in Matthew 5 is one example when considering how anathema such a teaching would have been to the society.  

The criterion of archaic style – The gospels were written in Greek, and yet we know Jesus spoke in Aramaic.  Therefore, events or teachings which are framed in stylistic conventions closer to Aramaic are considered to be more reliable than those solely of Greek.  The Lord’s Prayer (Our Father in heaven….) for example, displays several “Aramaisms” (see Joseph Fitzmyer’s, “The Semitic Background of the New Testament” for a further reading of this concept).  

The criterion of embarrassment – Events or teachings that would have caused embarrassment to the early Christians are weighted more heavily than those events that are “expected”.  Jesus’ crucifixion is perhaps the most obvious of these, but Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, and the role of women in the resurrection (as just two further examples) are all considered under this criterion.

The criterion of memorability – In my next debate entry, I will be looking further at the use of Oral Tradition in the transmission of the gospels.  For now though, I will stick to a shorter point and comment that historians consider a quote that is more “memorable” to be more likely transmitted accurately.  Remember that historians are not interested in infallibility and accept that there might be errors in transmission.  The criterion of memorability essentially states that a memorable quote will more likely be passed accurately and better reflect the teachings of the original source.

The criterion of date – sayings and events recorded in earlier sources are given more weight than those written later.  The rationale is that the closer a source is to the event, the more likely it is to contain truth.  Thus historians do not view the gospels of Mark and John as equally truthful.  Mark is considered more reliable by most historians than John because of the date of writing.  Mark and John are not considered “equal” or “equally truthful”.  Christians consider them equal, but historians do not place the same value on all texts.  

As you can see, these factors are not considered individually – a memorable saying is not accepted as truthful simply because it fulfills the “criterion of memorability”.  Neither will an embarrassing event be considered truthful simply because it fulfills the “criterion of embarrassment”.  This would again be making historical research simplistic.  I am simply outlining some of the questions that historians ask themselves when they look at these texts.    

The Tanakh – this is what Christians call the Old Testament, and is the most obvious background source in understanding Jesus.  Christians see the Tanakh as of vital importance for two reasons:  1- they believe Jesus fulfilled (or will fulfill) the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah, and 2- Jesus’ teachings were heavily based on the teachings of the Tanakh.  Historians do not look at the Tanakh in the way Christians do when it comes to the prophecies about the Messiah.  For lack of a better way to put it, historians are “agnostic” on the issue.  It is of no importance to historians whether Jesus really did fulfill the prophecies or not.  Most historians do not have a vested interest in proving Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Tanakh.  This is not the job of historians, and as much as Tiggs would like to convince us otherwise, historians that study the life of Jesus do not have a hidden and sinister agenda to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.  

But that aside, historians do look at the Tanakh as a key background source to ascertain an accurate understanding of Jesus’ message and behaviour.  One example that most readers would have heard of is the “Last Supper” and the eve of the Passover Festival.  Passover is a traditional Jewish festival in which the Jews celebrate their liberation from Egypt, particularly the night of the tenth plague when the Angel of Death came through the town killing the firstborn of all households.  The Israelites were spared by spreading the blood of a lamb over the door posts, hence when the Angel saw these doors with the blood, the angel then “passed over” the house and spared those inside.

This piece of Jewish history in the Tanakh is vital for historians (and for Christians) in understanding Jesus’ actions on the night of the last supper.  The night before his crucifixion, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples.  Like most Passover meals, it would have included cooked lamb, unleavened bread, prayers, and singing.  But Jesus adds an interesting and unusual element to the festivities when he took the bread and wine and gave them a new meaning.  Matthew 26 recounts the story of Jesus  breaking the bread and wine and tweaking the symbolic nature of this event to refer to his own blood being that which will save.  Without the Tanakh, the actions of Jesus make no sense.  Since Jesus was a practicing Jew, historians compare the teachings of the Tanakh with Jesus to assess where his actions are typical of a Jewish man living in ancient Palestine, and where his actions diverge or extend the Teachings of the Tanakh, and thus see what impact these views would have on Jesus’ followers, and on his critics.  

The Dead Sea Scrolls – The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of texts that were found in eleven caves between 1947 and 1956, in the region surrounding the Dead Sea.  In total, approximately 800 different documents were discovered.  The texts were dated sometime between 200 BC and AD 70.  Most scholars believe the scrolls were written by a group belonging to an ancient Jewish movement known as the Essenes.  The scrolls, among other things, speak of a confrontation between the “Teacher of Righteousness” and “the Wicked Priest”.  One scholar, Barbara Thiering, suggested that the Wicked Priest was none other than Jesus.  Her work, however, was dismissed as worse than useless by all experts in the field, whether Christian or Jewish or Atheist or anything between.  Historians are more interested in the truth than wild fantasies, no matter how it might support their religious world view.  Most identify the Wicked Priest with the Religious hierarchy of Jerusalem and the Teacher of Righteousness with a rogue priest who left Jerusalem around 150 BC.    

Nevertheless, there are some interesting insights into the beliefs and practices of people in Ancient Palestine in the years immediately before and contemporary to Jesus.  For the Essenes, a big part of life was a desire to remain “pure”.  This is borne out in the Dead Sea Scrolls in many places, but none so more clearly than a scroll that has been dubbed the “Temple Scroll” and lists the type of people who are to be shut out of God’s presence because of their impurities.  This included the blind and the leprous.  The Essenes avoided eating with “sinners”, avoided touching sick people, just to list a few, and all this in the name of Purity.  

In contrast to this view, Jesus’ actions can often be seen as in direct opposition to the teachings of the Essenes.  Jesus constantly ate with sinners, welcomed and touched the sick, and specifically taught that God’s family was inclusive, especially to the outcast and sick, rather than the exclusive views of the Essenes.  The contrast to the Essene Movement and the Christian movement shows a direct historical link to the views that many in society would have held during Jesus’ life.

The Mishnah – The Mishnah is a set of Teachings from approximately 150 Rabbi’s, dated from 50 BC-200 AD.  Until 200 AD it was passed along by strict Jewish oral tradition before finally being written down.  Today it is revered by Jews as second only to the Tanakh as a Holy Text.  For historians though, it provides great insight into the teachings of other mainstream Rabbi’s contemporary or near contemporary to Jesus.  The Rabbi Hillel, for example, who taught a few years before Jesus, shares some similar sayings with what Jesus preached to his followers.  In other ways though, Jesus’ teachings directly contradict the mainstream teachings of ancient Jews.  The Mishnah sets out a detailed liturgical ritual to correctly wash your hands.  It states:

The hands are susceptible to spiritual uncleanness and are rendered clean up to the wrist.  How so?  If one poured the first water up to the wrist, and the second beyond the wriest and it went back to the hand – it is clean.  If he poured out the first and the second pouring of water beyond the wrist and it went back to the hand, it is unclean.  If he poured out the first water onto one hand, and was reminded and poured out the second water on to both hands, they are unclean.  If he poured out the first water on to both hands and was reminded and poured out the second water onto one hand, his hand which has been washed twice is clean.  If he poured out water on to one hand and rubbed it on the other, it is unclean.
(Mishnah, Yadayim 2:3).


The laws were very strict on ritual hand-washing, and Jesus riled against such views, describing them as “man-made traditions”, which obscure worship of God.  In light of the earlier quoted Mishnah, the contrast in Jesus’ teaching is striking:

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?"  And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."
(Mark 7:5-8)


These examples highlight the importance of the Mishnah for historians, who use it as a vital source in understanding the teachings of Jesus in context with the contemporary and near-contemporary mainstream Jewish Rabbi’s.

Josephus – Josephus has already been mentioned in relation to his quotes on the life and times of Jesus.  But to historians, these quotes are not what make Antiquities significant, but rather that the text tell much about Jewish politics and life under Roman rule.  Josephus’ commentary on the resistance fighters who often fought against Roman rule of their “Holy Land” is vital.  These guerilla fighters often had Messianic hopes and believed they were the one to establish God’s kingdom on Earth.  

The teachings of Jesus promoted love and pacifism, turning the cheek, loving your enemy and walking the extra mile.  These teachings make an interesting backdrop to the many Jews that Josephus writes of that took military action to press their agenda.  

Pseudepigrapha – this is a modern term that is used to refer to the collection of ancient Jewish writings that were not included in the Tanakh.  These texts all claim to be attributed by important figures in the Tanakh, but in reality are written by various Jews sometime between 200 BC and 200 AD.  The Pseudepigrapha is consulted for almost identical reasons to these other sources listed in this section of the debate – it provides valuable insight into what Jews in contemporary times to Jesus would have believed, felt, thought, and wanted.  One example in this set of texts, written shortly after the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, cries out for deliverance by the Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government and set the Jews as rulers over their kingdom (Psalms of Solomon, 17).  

This insight into what early Jews expected of their Messiah provides insight into what we already know of Jesus.  This public perception of the Messiah as a Warrior-King who would lead the Jews to freedom sets the backdrop to Jesus’ life on earth.  Jesus’ teachings of peace and non-violence contrast significantly with public perception, and perhaps explain one reason why Jesus was reluctant to publicly name himself Messiah until it became clear he had no military agenda.

Greco-Roman writers – Jewish writings are not the only texts used by historians to understand Jesus.  The writings of Pliny, Cicero, Seneca, and many others detail the economic and political life of people under Roman rule.  While I do not lay claim to be an expert in these texts (or the texts of the Pseudepigrapha) they do generally provide information on the extent of Roman power, and give insight into the life and culture in which Jesus’ ministry took place.  To use one example, these writings give detailed descriptions of Roman crucifixion.  We know from these texts the different types of crucifixes used.  We know that crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals, and we know that Roman citizens were officially exempt from this punishment.  We know that a person sentenced to crucifixion was often flogged and stripped naked to increase public shame – both of these are recorded as happening to Jesus.

This is just one example of how the Greco-Roman writers are useful to historians, and I will leave this point alone by quoting the Roman philosopher, Annaeus Seneca Lucius (4 BC-65 AD).  As you read, consider two points:  1- what historians can learn about the manner of Jesus’ death, and 2- consider the dilemma facing Christians in the first century as they went to convince the Roman world that the person they preach as their saviour suffered this grisly fate:

Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all?  Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long-drawn-out agony?  He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross!  
(Seneca, “To Lucilius”, Epistle 101)


Archaeology – Beyond the literary sources used by historians lie several archaeological discoveries to help better understand Jesus.  One such discovery was made in the 1950’s, as a series of digs uncovered the location of the 1st Century town of Nazareth.  Outside the New Testament, no text records the existence of such a town.  Josephus, for example, mentions 45 towns and cities of Jewish province but never refers to Nazareth.  This has led some to the belief that Nazareth never existed.  

Archaeology here has found what literary sources ignored.  The village of Nazareth was quite small, and catered to probably fewer than 2000 people.  This is probably one reason why Nazareth failed to rate a mention by Josephus or anyone else – it was just too small to demand any relevant mention.

Archaeology (part II) – Finding Nazareth was not the only archaeological discovery.  As excavations continue throughout the region of ancient Galilee, archaeologists are discovering the area was deeply Jewish.  It has been said at times that Jesus was influenced more by pagan beliefs than his own Jewish heritage.  Archaeology is dispelling this view.  Architecture is often Jewish, and the larger cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias are Roman in architecture only – the cultures found inside are shown as greatly Jewish.  Mainstream Judaism is present everywhere.  The bowls and containers found are made of chalk or soft limestone, which are important for Jewish purity.  Numerous Jewish ritual baths have been discovered.  The burial practices that have been uncovered are Jewish.  Pig bones are conspicuous by their absence – the inhabitants of ancient Galilee clearly followed strict Jewish Kosher eating laws.

These findings are similar to the town of Nazareth that was uncovered, with the town of Nazareth featuring tombs designed in a distinctive Jewish style.

Secret Gospels/Gnostic texts – the final piece of background sources add very little to our understanding of the historical Jesus, but do provide some insight into the culture and views of early Chrsitianity.  Various theories have floated around that suggest the compilers of the New Testament, for their own political reasons, ignored certain “secret gospels” to promote only the view of Jesus that they wanted.  This is not the case.  The four canonical gospels all date to the first century AD (John possibly dates in the early part of the second).  These gospels became well known and understood by all Christian groups.  They are alluded to by many early church leaders and orally transmitted for all to hear and experience.  

However, this popularity instigated a new “gospel industry” (for lack of a better phrase).  At least 50 years after the oldest of the canonical gospels were written (I base this 50-year gap on the most liberal dating available to avoid the claim of bias – more conservative dating could push this closer to a century between the dating of John and the earliest of the Gnostic texts) new gospels were suddenly “discovered” periodically by various splinter groups of Christianity.  In other words, the canonical gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had existed in oral tradition and church transmission for more than 50-100 years when suddenly a group or individual steps up claiming to have discovered a book written by Thomas/Judas/Mary/etc.  Keeping this in mind, it is not too difficult to understand why the gospels were not accepted by most Christians, particularly when two factors are taken into consideration:  1- the newly-discovered gospel strangely and suspiciously resembled the teaching of the group and person that “found” the text, and 2- the views contrasted wildly with what was known from the earliest gospels and oral tradition.

Oral tradition played a key role in early transmission of the gospels.  While this is discussed in greater detail in my next post, I will quickly address the point here before I conclude this post.  Because oral tradition played such a key role in early Christianity, the “gospels” were in circulation far earlier than the written version of said texts.  This is why these secret gospels and Gnostic texts held little weight for the majority of early Christians.  While these gospels might provide information on early Christianity, they do not provide great insight into the historical Jesus.  With this in mind then, it is not too difficult to understand why the four biblical gospels were the ones “canonised”.        

One of the very very few notable scholars to take these texts seriously is John Dominic Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar (and Crossan only looks at the earliest of the Gnostic texts – Thomas and Peter).  While Crossan’s work in other areas is highly acclaimed, in this respect his scholarly peers “routinely criticise him for his quite idiosyncratic use of these sources.” (John Dickson, “The Christ Files”, Blue Bottle Books, 2005).

The Gospel of Thomas, by virtue of oral tradition, has perhaps 5 verses that might be attributed to the historical Jesus.  However it is the canonical gospels that provide historians with the best understanding of Jesus.  They are the most reliable, the earliest, and most plentiful accounts of Jesus’ biography available to us.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In my final body post, I will be addressing the question as to why it took 40 years before the earliest gospel was written.  What took them so long to put the accounts to paper and how much value should thus be placed on them is the key focus.  In the meantime, I will again affirm my pledge that my next post will not be so time-consuming, and hand the microphone back to Tiggs.

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#11    Tiggs

Tiggs

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Posted 06 May 2009 - 07:54 PM

Doubting Thomas

Thank you, PA.

Firstly - an apology for the length of time that this post took to assemble. As well as having a huge pile of data to sift through, I also had PA's rather mountainous fourth post to respond to. Hopefully, we'll both be able to keep these down to a more reasonable size for our last post and conclusions.

In this section of the debate, we will be exploring the various factions within Early Christianity and their effect on the creation of the New Testament – the story of the life of Christ.

Before we begin, however, we should examine PA’s claims concerning “The majority of Historians”.

“The majority of Historians”

Firstly, it should be noted that the vast majority of Historians have absolutely no opinion on whether Jesus lived or not, simply because it’s not relevant to their field of study. In truth, the vast majority of Historians are much more interested in time periods outside the rather narrow 40 year window or so of Christ’s alleged existence.

The rather narrow subset of Historians that actually do have an opinion on Jesus’ existence tend to describe themselves as Biblical scholars.

The majority of Biblical scholars also happen to be Christian. Unsurprisingly, devoting your entire life to studying the History of Christianity is most appealing to someone who is... a Christian.

In short – throughout this debate PA has appealed to “The majority of historians” to try and infer some sort of appeal to authority, when the truth is that it should come as no surprise to anyone that “The majority of Christians” believe that Jesus existed.

In truth, it would be a little sad if they came to any other conclusion.

It is true, however, that “The majority of Historians” do see the History of Christ and the Gospels in a different light from mainstream Christians. Christian Biblical scholars, other than Theologians, are Rationalists by definition, and as such, have to concede many points of faith that mainstream Christianity generally leaves completely unquestioned.

There are, however, some places that concessions cannot be made without having to give up the historicity of Christ altogether – which brings me rather neatly around to answering PA’s question - on what basis do I make the assertion that both Q and Josephus are having a “renaissance” amongst “the majority of Historians”?

Simply put – the basis for this assertion is History - the History of Biblical criticism itself.

Josephus

In my third post, I mentioned that “the Josephus passages have been considered debunked since the 19th century as a Eusebian forgery by Christian Historians” which I will now illustrate with a selection of relevant quotes:
  • 1762: Bishop Warburton of Gloucester declared the Testimonium -"a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too"
  • 1788: Edward Gibbon - "The passage concerning Jesus Christ, which was inserted into the text of Josephus, between the time of Origen and that of Eusebius, may furnish an example of no vulgar forgery".

For the next 100 years, many Theologians weighed in to the debate;  Dr. Alexander Campbell,  Dr. Thomas Chalmers,  Mitchell Logan,  Theodor Keim, etc. – all of whom declared the Testimonium to be wholly fraudulent – a recurrent theme that continued until the end of the 19th century, where, as can be seen, the dismissal of the Testimonium was almost universal.
  • 1874: Cannon Farrar –“There are, however, two reasons which are alone sufficient to prove that the whole passage is spurious-- one that it was unknown to Origen and the earlier fathers, and the other that its place in the text is uncertain"
  • 1877: The Rev. Dr. Giles (Church of England) – “Those who are best acquainted with the character of Josephus, and the style of his writings, have no hesitation in condemning this passage as a forgery, interpolated in the text during the third century by some pious Christian, who was scandalized that so famous a writer as Josephus should have taken no notice of the gospels, or of Christ, their subject.”
  • 1878: A published letter in the New York Times summarises the position nicely: “To adduce evidence in support of the assertion that Josephus never wrote the passage attributed to him would hardly be necessary when so many Christian Theologians, Bishops and University Professors pronounce it a forgery”.
  • 1888: Rev. S. Baring-Gould – “One may be, perhaps, accused of killing dead birds, if one examines and discredits this passage”
  • 1889: Rev. Dr. Hooykaas - "certainly spurious, inserted by a later Christian hand."
  • 1889: Thomas de Quincey - "this passage has long been given up as a forgery by all men not lunatic."
  • 1897: Jakob Burckhardt "Eusebius was the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity"

And then, in the early twentieth century, something very interesting happened. A survey conducted by Louis H. Feldman on the relevant literature from 1937 to 1980 in his book "Josephus and Modern Scholarship." notes that
  • 4 scholars regarded the Testimonium Flavianum as entirely genuine
  • 6 as mostly genuine
  • 20 accept it with some interpolations
  • 9 with several interpolations
  • 13 regard it as being totally an interpolation

Continuing into modern scholarship, Peter Kirby states that “In my own reading of thirteen books since 1980 that touch upon the passage, ten out of thirteen argue the Testimonium to be partly genuine, while the other three maintain it to be entirely spurious.”

The reason why this Josephus “renaissance” is happening is succinctly explained by Herbert Cutler in his book “Jesus: An examination of the Evidence”:

“How any reader of this passage, knowing that Josephus was a Jew and proud of his race, could imagine he had written it, is one of the most mysterious puzzles related to the Jesus problem. The whole paragraph shrieks forgery; it aroused the most scathing contempt from Gibbon, and most Christian theologians, thoroughly ashamed of its unmitigated imposture, have denounced it in no unmeasured terms. They did so because in their day the question of the existence of Jesus was never seriously raised; the Gospels were historical documents with the additional advantage of being “inspired”. So there was no need of the testimony of Josephus....But the importance of this passage came to be recognized more and more as the controversy regarding Jesus became more acute. And this was particularly the case when so many Rationalists who had given up Jesus as a God, decided to fight to the death to keep him as a Man. Every effort was made – and is still being made – either to show that Josephus wrote the passage as it stands, or that he wrote some similar passages, or that it has only been “interpolated”.

As I have previously stated – Josephus and Q is the line that “the majority of Historians" absolutely refuse to cross, for once past that line, there is absolutely no evidence for a historical Jesus left whatsoever.

The history behind the story of Q follows similar lines.

The Myth of Q

In 1832, the German theologian Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher made the proposal that Matthew had composed a sayings source, which would have been available to the other Gospel authors, using the following text from Papias as his evidence:

“Matthew was said to have put together “the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.”

This proposal was taken up in earnest by a later German Theologian – Christian Hermann Weisse – who, in 1838, together with the idea of Markan priority formed what is now referred to as the “two-source hypothesis”.

In 1863, Heinrich Julius Holtzmann wrote his opus work, Die synoptischen Evangelien, ihr Ursprung und geschichtlicher Charakter (The Synoptic Gospels: Their Origin and Historical Character), which propelled Weisse’s idea of Matthew’s Oracles into the mainstream of Theology.

However, objections were soon formulated as regards Papias’s testimony – not the least being that it appears purely as a quotation within Eusebius’ writings, whom, as I’m sure you’ll remember from my earlier posts, had a reputation for the odd “pious forgery” or two. As such, a quick modification was made, and the collection of writing formally known as the Logia (Greek for Oracles) was referred to from that point forward as Q (short for “Quelle” – German for Source).

And thus, it was that the concept of Q was unleashed on the world, completely devoid of any actual historical basis.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, a dozen or so attempts at constructing Q were made. However, each such attempt was so different from one another that none of them had even a single line of Matthew in common.

As such, theologians neglected Q almost completely for the next 40 years or so, until in 1960, the Gospel of Thomas was discovered, bringing about Q’s resurrection from scholarly death.

The Gospel of Thomas was a collection of sayings (albeit apocryphal) that were attributed to Jesus. Theologians proudly held the Gospel skyward, declaring that it was proof that a pure sayings Gospel such as Q was likely to have existed (and, in doing so, conveniently glossing over the fact that large parts of Jesus’ life story are also part of the Synoptic problem, and thus, would also have to be found within Q.)

After having this rather inconvenient fact pointed out to them, in modern times, Q specialists have been frequently forced into adopting the position that Q was written in three distinct stages – namely the sayings of Jesus, judgmental sayings aimed at the Generation of Jesus and the Story of Jesus’ life itself.

Bruce Griffin rather neatly summarises their attempt thusly:

“This division of Q has received extensive support from some scholars specializing in Q. But it has received serious criticism from others, and outside the circle of Q specialists it has frequently been seen as evidence that some Q specialists have lost touch with essential scholarly rigor. The idea that we can reconstruct the history of a text which does not exist, and that must itself be reconstructed from Matthew and Luke, comes across as something other than cautious scholarship.”

Without Q, the illusion of multiple independent witnesses collapses entirely. Instead, all we are left with is the puzzle of who plagiarised who.

In order to examine that puzzle a little deeper, as well as explore the various forms of ancient Christianity, we are going to take a look at the Catholic Church’s most dangerous heretic – Marcion.

Marcion

Marcion was the founder of the Marcionite church, which grew extremely rapidly and was the Catholic Church’s main opposition during the time of early Christianity.

Marcionite beliefs were very different to the Christian beliefs that we’re familiar with today. Marcion believed that Paul was the only apostle who had truly understood Jesus’ message.

Marcion also believed that the God of the Old Testament and the God that Jesus talked about were two completely distinct entities. He also believed that Jesus was merely a Man, whom the spirit of Christ had descended into, which had left Jesus at the point of his crucifixion. For Marcion, the resurrection of Christ was a spiritual resurrection, not a physical one.

In order to promote those beliefs, Marcion assembled the first recorded Canon, which consisted of a single Gospel, entitled the Gospel of the Lord, which he claimed was the Gospel that Paul used and ten of Paul’s letters – the first recorded collection.

In addition, Marcion produced a further volume, called the Antethesis, which was filled with illustrations of how the God of the Old Testament was the complete opposite of the God that Jesus had taught about. For Marcion, the God of the Old Testament was a God of material things, whom he called the Creator God whilst the God that Jesus talked about Marcion named the Alien God. Alien, because, before Jesus, he was completely unknown to everyone – including the Creator God himself.

Justin Martyr, writing circa 150AD, in his first apology described Marcion thus:

“And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. And he, by the aid of devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe, and to assert that some other being, greater than He, has done greater works. All who take these opinions from these men are, as we before said, called Christian”

The various polemics from the Catholic Church Fathers which were ranged against Marcion’s Gospel accused Marcion of corrupting the Gospel of Luke, by removing elements that tied Jesus to the Jewish Old Testament.

Marcion, however, claimed that the Gospel of the Lord had been corrupted by the Catholics, with text added to make Jesus look like a God and fit the Jewish Messianic prophecies.

The Marcionites were not the only group of Early Christians to claim that the Gospels had been corrupted by the Catholic Church. The Ebonite’s also accused them of doing exactly the same thing with the Gospel of Matthew.

The Ebionites believed that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. In contrast to the Catholics, however, they also believed that Jewish law should be maintained, and that Jesus was just a man.

Today, no copies of Marcion’s gospel exist. However, Marcionism was so popular and the Gospel of the Lord itself deemed so dangerous that various Catholic Church Fathers wrote several books in an attempt to argue against it’s heresies, quoting large portions of it’s text and comparing it to their own scriptures. These polemics, some written centuries after it’s production, have survived to modern day, and from them, we are able to reconstruct a large part of the text of Marcion’s Gospel.

Various critical scholars, upon examining the two texts, have come to the conclusion that Marcion’s gospel was the original, and that the Gospel of Luke was, indeed, a corruption of Marcion’s Gospel. In addition, many of those scholars believe that Acts was written in order to subjugate the Marcionite Paul to the disciples of Jesus, of whom, from Peter, the Catholic Church took its authority.

This position is obviously not one supported by “The majority of Historians”. The standard riposte is to say that as Luke obviously wrote both Luke and Acts, then it is impossible that Marcion’s Gospel could be anything other than a redaction of Luke’s Gospel.

The basis for Luke/Acts being written by the same author has been largely thought by “The majority of Historians” to be a foregone conclusion. In short, there are three reasons for such a conclusion to be made.
  • Both Luke and Acts have a written introduction, addressed to the same person, Theophilus.
  • Luke was attributed to writing both the Gospel of Luke and Acts by Irenaeus in the late second century.
  • They claim that both gospels share the same writing style.

However – this third claim has been shown to be only partially correct. Various recent statistical analysis of both Luke and Acts, for example – the one conducted by Patricia Walters - shows that the prose used within them both "differ beyond reasonable doubt".

In fact – the only areas where the Gospel of Luke does seem to share a similar writing style with the Author of Acts, as Joseph B Tyson points out in his book: Marcion and Luke-Acts, is Luke 1,2 and 24 – the virgin birth and the resurrection - all of which are missing from Marcion’s Gospel of the Lord.

What's really interesting is that those two areas are also amongst those that the Ebionites claimed that the Catholics had added to the Gospel of Matthew.

In historical studies, few things are ever definitively proven. However, we have multiple attestations that the Gospels were altered by the Catholic Church in order to support their particular viewpoint, namely, the virgin birth of Jesus and his post resurrection appearances. We also have statistical textual evidence which supports the position that Luke/Acts was not written by the same author.

Thus, it’s reasonable to believe that the original gospels of Luke and Matthew started and ended at the same place as the Gospel of Mark – with the baptism of Jesus and the empty tomb.

An attempt was also made to add an alternate ending for Mark, detailing the appearance of Jesus to the disciples, which later would be ratified by the Catholics during the 16th century Council of Trent. Today, however, the evidence is so overwhelming that the ending was added at a later date (due to the various earlier manuscripts from which it is missing)  that Catholics are no longer required to recognise it as scripture.

For the first few hundred years, the New Testament took part in what we’d call in Internet terms today “An edit war”, with the scriptures being changed and added to by the various sects of early Christianity in order to reflect their own beliefs. For example - both the Marcionite and Ebionites claimed that Vegetarianism and abstinence from Wine were part of the original Gospel, and that the Catholic Church had redacted in meat and wine to make the gospel more...palatable... for their Roman audience.

By the time of the First council of Nicea, the Ebionite numbers had dwindled, facing pressure from Christians as they were too Jewish in their beliefs and Jews as they were too Christian in their beliefs.

The Marcionites, however, had grown in number and were a strong rival to the Catholic Church. At the council of Nicea, (where the Nicean creed was agreed upon, in order to to label the Marcionites as Heretics) Constantine absolutely forbade Marcionite’s meeting for worship in public or private buildings. Their churches were given to the Catholics and any private houses used for Marcionite worship were confiscated.

So dangerous was Marcion’s Gospel, that every single copy of it was destroyed by the Catholic Church, after it’s ascendency to power. Not a single copy survived.

History is written by the Victors.

Previously...

While that information sinks in, I’ll address the rather hostile points raised within PA’s previous post.

Starting with the Epistle of James –it is widely considered amongst critical scholars to be a pseudo-graphical work, likely written in the early to mid-second century. The evidence for this is from Higher Criticism of the text itself – James’ Greek is far too polished for a Jerusalemite Jew, and he makes no mention at all of Jewish ritual requirements. As such, PA’s upper bound consequently vanishes and instead is limited to the first time the epistle of James is mentioned, which is by Origen, c 200 AD.  The earliest Papyri of the epistle of James, which are p20 and p23, are dated to the early third century. Whether in Epistle or Gospel form – James is of no use as a witness to the historicity or otherwise of Jesus.

Secondly - I appear to have been accused of employing double standards by using Eusebius in support of the Primacy of Matthew’s Gospel, which is a rather interesting tactic, given that my post is still available for everyone to plainly read, and that I neither believe in or support the primacy of Matthew's Gospel.

As it’s absolutely clear that I was raising the point of double standards being used by “The majority of Historians” by their selective ignoring of Eusebius and Augustine, rather than using Eusebius to argue my case for primacy, PA's accusation is merely a mistargeted repeat of mine.

The Birth narrative

Moving on now to the five issues that I raised with regards to the Birth narrative, starting with the rather amusing accusation that” Tiggs has made a big mistake and should read the passage more carefully before making such an assertion”, with regard to Joseph and Mary being married within Matthew and only Betrothed within Luke.

While it is true that a Divorce was needed to remove a betrothal in those times, it is also true that during the betrothal period both Husband and Wife were separated and the wedding took place immediately on the return to the Husband’s home – as documented in Matthew 1:24

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. “

I think you'll find that the word "Wife" rather decisively settles the issue.

Next, PA has attempted to confuse the issue of where Mary and Joseph lived prior to the birth of Jesus – mostly, I suspect, as there is no other reasonable defence. In Matthew 1:24 (see above), it clearly states that Joseph returned home with Mary.  

There is no mention of any journey for the birth, and as PA has himself pointed out – Joseph first moves to Egypt to hide from Herod and then goes to live in Nazareth after a warning from an Angel as he is scared to return to Judea. That would be Judea as in, Bethlehem, Judea.

Moving onward, PA’s suggestion that Joseph and Mary’s house is the same venue as an Innkeeper’s stable – (or perhaps they willingly hopped between both?), in order to be visited by Magi and shepherds alike, rather than accept that at least one of those events did not happen, is a perfect illustration of the extraordinary level of Apologetics that is necessary in order to try and maintain the illusion that both accounts are inerrant, for which I'll award points for creativity, if not believability.

On now, to the virgin conception, of which, apparently, PA is “startled (to put it mildly)” that I “could overlook what is clearly obvious in the text”. Apparently, I have “not carefully read the two accounts” by “missing such clear and obvious references”.

Luke tells us of the visit of the Angel to Mary where the Angel tells Mary that she will become filled with the Holy Spirit and become pregnant. However - nowhere in Luke does it say that she actually did conceive through the Holy Spirit, or that she was a virgin whilst pregnant.

In Matthew, however, we are given the story of Joseph, where it is implicitly stated that “she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit”.

As I originally stated – “In Matthew, we are told of the virgin conception, whilst Luke mentions no such thing”. It is, in fact, left to the reader to assume that the conception occurred as the Angel declared - with Mary still a virgin.

Finally, we find ourselves with the issue of Herod and Quirinus. While there is indeed a gap in knowledge of Quirinius’s whereabouts between 6 and 4 BC, there is no such gap in the knowledge of the Governors during the time of Herod.

Add to that the fact that no recorded Roman Census has ever required people to return to their ancestral home, and the whole premise of Luke’s nativity falls to historical pieces.

In short – I believe that all five of my original points still stand. The Gospels do contradict each other. You’ll note that PA has so far been unable to even attempt countering the other differences between the Gospel accounts which I have highlighted.

Regardless of what PA has stated - Biblical inerrancy is very much the issue when we’re discussing the historical events of Jesus’ life. In brief – either the biblical accounts are witness to historical events, or they are not. As I’ve aptly illustrated – they have no common historical value whatsoever.

Josephus

As regards to Gerard of Wales – the text says:

"even the testimony of their historian, whose books they have in Hebrew and consider authentic, they will not accept about Christ. But Master Robert, the Prior of St Frideswide at Oxford, whom we have seen and was old and trustworthy ... was skilled in the scriptures and knew Hebrew. He sent to diverse towns and cities of England in which Jews have dwellings, from whom he collected many Josephuses written in Hebrew ... and in two of them he found this testimony about Christ written fully and at length, but as if recently scratched out; but in all the rest removed earlier, as if never there. And when this was shown to the Jews of Oxford summoned for that purpose, they were convicted, and confused at this fraudulent malice and bad faith towards Christ"

Now, for most people, sending out to “diverse towns and cities of England” and “collected many Josephuses written in Hebrew” would imply that many Josephuses written in Hebrew were collected from diverse towns and cities of England. This is quite obviously not one isolated set of texts from the same copyist, as PA claims.

Also, there were far more Josephuses available in Greek than there were Hebrew. It’s completely reasonable to believe that the two texts with the testimony of Christ within them were the result of direct translations from the Greek text, with subsequent correction.

Regardless, as I predicted earlier, Josephus is far too important to PA and “The majority of Historians” case for Jesus’ historicity for them to concede, even though "this passage has long been given up as a forgery by all men not lunatic".

  • Regardless that it was not mentioned by Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria or Origen.
  • Regardless that Origen explicitly states that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ.
  • Regardless that it was first quoted by Eusebius in the fourth century.
  • Regardless that Josephus was a proud Jew.
  • Regardless that a man who is more than a man and rose from the grave after being dead for three days, not to mention the Christ, is summarily skipped over and dealt with in a very short paragraph.
  • Regardless that it’s the only mention of Christianity in its entirety within Josephus.
  • Regardless that the passage makes absolutely no sense in the context within which it is placed.
  • Regardless that Chrysotom in the 5th century does not mention the passage even though he quotes Josephus extensively.
  • Regardless that Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th Century in his three articles on Josephus completely fails to mention the passage.


Regardless of all of this – as is plain for all to see, it is the only piece of contemporary admissible evidence that PA has to offer. On this, and this alone, does his one slender thread of hope for proving the historicity of Christ hang.

PA claims, however, that “there IS evidence from critics of Christianity that critique much of his life”, resurrecting the rather tired argument that “No one doubted Jesus’ existence”:

“Surely if texts exist claiming he was an illegitimate child of a Roman Centurion, there should be texts claiming he did not exist. Surely if texts exist claiming he was a charlatan, there should be texts questioning his existence. Surely if texts exist ridiculing his miracles, there should be texts that put to doubt his existence. Surely this should be so. But it is not! The only logical conclusion one can possibly arrive at is the position that no such text existed. The earliest critics of Christianity never doubted Jesus’ existence.”

This, however, is a complete logical impossibility, cute exclamation marks notwithstanding.

The facts are that it is impossible to tell which texts did or did not exist because the vast majority of texts were burnt due to censorship.

As such, it is impossible to arrive at any logical conclusion purely from the position of the remaining texts.

I’m really not sure how much more obvious that could be.

What we do know, is that no criticisms of Christ, in any way, shape or form whatsoever appear before the middle of the second century, which is far too late for anyone alive to call into question his physical existence, on the basis that he would have been supposedly dead for over 100 years by then. Not to mention that in the time in-between, the Jewish/Roman wars had taken place, involving two massacres of the Jewish people, namely:
  • The destruction of the temple in 70 AD, where over 1 million were killed, mostly by crucifixion, with 'no room for crosses and no crosses for the bodies' and almost 100,000 captured and enslaved and the wholesale destruction of most of Jerusalem.
  • The Bar Kokhba revolt in 132 AD, where 580,000 Jews were killed, 50 fortified towns and 985 villages completely razed to the ground – according to Cassius Dio - “Thus nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate”.

In short, the number of surviving relatives to possible witnesses who would have been able to provide testimony to Christ’s physical existence either way would have been extremely limited / non-existent.

It should also be noted that other than the Jewish texts (which, and lets be fair about this - the Christians did try their best to completely destroy) – the only remaining criticisms are fragments found in the text of Christian apologists.

Obviously, PA is perfectly free to prove otherwise, though I’m absolutely confident that he will be unable to do so.

You should also note that PA has absolutely no response to St Gregory's Twelve topics on the faith, a list of reasons for excommunication, whose very first line states that the Denial of Jesus’ existence is an excommunicable offence.

As regards the remainder of PA’s post – I see no reason to debate the methods used in Biblical criticism,  as even he agrees that none of it pertains to evidence that Jesus historically existed, nor enhances his case in any way, shape or form whatsoever.

In passing, however, I believe that the following quote from David Noel Freedman, the editor of the Anchor Bible Series sums up the overall position adequately:

"We have to accept somewhat looser standards. In the legal profession, to convict the defendant of a crime, you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient. When dealing with the Bible or any ancient source, we have to loosen up a little; otherwise, we can't really say anything."

Finally - In my last post, I asked PA to furnish the scriptures that predicted that Jesus would die on the third day, as referred to within 1 Corinthians. As a response, he has provided both Matthew and Luke. However – since both of these sources had not been written by the time that 1 Corinthians was supposed to have been written - I once again ask him to name the relevant scriptures.

Doubting Thomas

To finish, we are going to briefly examine the story of Doubting Thomas, which we can find at the end of John’s Gospel.

The story is as follows:

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
       But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"
27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

The interesting thing about the story of doubting Thomas is that it appears to be specifically anti-gnostic in nature, especially given that the Gnostics held Tomas as the foremost apostle. John's portrayal of Thomas in general is particularly unflattering.

The Gnostics, another branch of early Christianity, held similar views to the Marcionites. They believed that humans were divine souls, trapped in a material world created by the Demiurge (an imperfect God). They believed that a revelation of knowledge would equip them with the ability to escape the material world into a spiritual one. Some of the Gnostics believed that Jesus had come to Earth to reveal that knowledge, whilst others regarded him as a false messiah.

One of the core Gnostic beliefs, however, was that Jesus did not have a material body. Thus, the story of Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds is distinctly anti-gnostic.

The reason why this is so interesting is that Gnosticism did not begin until the mid second century, allegedly decades after the date that they believe that John had been written - over 70 years, if you take PA's earliest date of 70AD.

We, therefore, have a puzzle that looks something like this:
  1. John prophesised that the Gnostics would appear, and that, of all the disciples, they would hold Thomas to be the foremost and so wrote the passage accordingly.
  2. The passage about Jesus’ reappearance was added at a later date.
  3. John was written after the appearance of Gnosticism.


The first option seems very unlikely. Of the remaining two, either John was written as a response to the appearance of Gnostics or the passage was later added to the end of the Gospel.

Either way - we can see that part or all of John's Gospel was written as a response to a previous belief.

Summary

In summary – we have examined the reasons for the appearance of the early Gospels. We have seen that there is evidence that the Gospel of Luke and Acts are an anti-Marcionite response to Marcion’s Gospel of the Lord, and that there are reasons to believe that today's Gospel of Matthew is a corrupted version of the earlier Ebionite Hebrew Matthew. We have seen that the Gospel of Mark was altered to have a longer ending which included the resurrection, and that there is a reasonable possibility that the same thing happened to John’s Gospel (or John's Gospel was written in it's entirety as an anti-gnostic response).

In short, we have shown that the Gospels we have today are historically unreliable in regard to the details of Jesus’ birth (and especially resurrection). Not only do they materially disagree with each other textually, but there is good evidence to suggest that they were added at a later date, in order to give authenticity to Catholic beliefs, rather than having been part of the original gospel.

Sadly, I still haven’t found space to cover Paul in any detail within this response, but I will endeavour to do so within my final post of this debate - The missing history of Jesus.

Until then, however - for the final round of this debate - The floor is once again yours, PA.





Edited by Tiggs, 08 May 2009 - 02:30 PM.
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"What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" - Tiggs vs PA - Did Jesus Really exist? - The Formal Debate:
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