Fear Of Whales

Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

Did Jesus Exist Part II

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In the last article I introduced the new problem of defending the historicity of Jesus the man. And spent time “setting the goalposts” in such a way that there will be no room for wiggling away from what the evidence shows.

When last we left our heroes I suggested that the case should be so fragile when robbed of it’s precious ambiguity that it would almost fall on it’s own weight, and I proposed in this article to blow it out of the park.

Since evidence abounds, I won’t bore you by defending all of it, only some of my favorite early, non-christian  extra-biblical sources. But just to give us all a sense of the mountain I’m mining from, let’s briefly list off what sources I won’t be using:

The 13 Cannonical Pauline Epistles (Romans, Ephesians…) the Non-Canonical Pauline Epistles (0 Corinthians, the Harsh Letter…) The Cannonical Non-Pauline Epistles (1,2,3 John, 1,2 Peter…) The 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) The Apocryphal Gospels (Thomas, Judas, Mary) The Q Document, The Acts of The Apostles, The Ancient Christian Creeds, Early Church Fathers (Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome…) And everything medieval, no matter how reluctant the source (Toletoth Jesu…)

For our purposes, we will assume that all of these documents, or more accurately, all of these groups of documents are inadmissible. We’ll assume that they are either a part of, or a result of, the most elaborate and ridiculously unnecessary prank in the history of pranks that every early christian was in on, and willing to be martyred to protect.

What else have we got?

Well for starters, There’s Mara Bar Serapion:

For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land. Nay, Socrates did “not” die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the Wise King, because of the new laws which he enacted.

This was written before the year 200 and possibly as early as 73, predating even some biblical books. To my knowledge no scholar anywhere denies the authenticity of the text, but some claim that it does not necessarily refer to Jesus and might refer to some other wise Jewish king murdered just before the decline of Judea…

Well there were of course no kings during that time considering the Romans were occupying them. but just to be super safe let’s do another one. How about Tacitus, the roman historian who between AD 56 and 117 wrote the following:

Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontious Pilatious, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Even Bart Ehrman, counts this passage as confirmation that Jesus existed, and suffered under Pilate. (Ehrman, is probably the worlds leading scholar on the new testament, and disagrees strongly with the claims of Christianity)

Here’s what’s even more interesting. Do you see that little typo up there? The original text had the word Chrestions instead of Christians, as the name of the followers of Christus (the Latin version of the Greek word “Christ”) it appears to have been corrected on the page but the original “e” is visible under ultraviolet light

Now consider this passage from The Twelve Caesars:

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome”

Worthless without Tacitus, This now provides valuable corroboration to the claim that Christ existed, and his followers interacted with Rome in the first century. Both major roman historians of the period confirm it!

Is that all?

No, That’s not all, but that’s enough.

During this time in history, experts predict that there were probably hundreds of claims to messiahship in Jerusalem, among the people who didn’t believe Jesus was the real deal, he would hardly have been considered notable, and yet he apparently is…

It’s almost like something was going on here…

Wouldn’t you like to learn what?

Written by RyanGaffney

January 11th, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Did Jesus Even Exist?

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The answer is “Of course he did, don’t be silly”

Nonetheless it’s become popular for semi-learned skeptics to deny even the historical existence of Jesus, just for fun.

I say “just for fun” because it’s not important in their mind that Jesus didn’t exist. They don’t care, what’s important to them is that you can’t prove that Jesus existed, and that’s ridiculous, so you are obviously an ignorant brainwashed religious fool… It’s a sort of a test, you see.

And armchair apologists play right into it when they memorize proofs verbatim from Lee Strobel about things like the reliability of scripture and the Case for Miracles while holding very few cards on the obvious things because nobody in their right mind would deny something like that.

The good news though is that if you can defend the historical existence of Jesus, you have the opportunity to impress a skeptic who’s not at all expecting you to meet their challenge. Often these people will have read one website about how Jesus may not ever have existed, and how the silly xtians can’t even prove that much, and then walked away satisfied that Christianity had been thoroughly debunked, without bothering to learn that they could challenge us to prove some much harder things if they wanted to.

So let’s do that shall we? Let’s get a good defense going for the historical Jesus, so we don’t end up embarrassing ourselves when the time comes.

There are 3 base assumptions of the critics that I want to address first, to help us have a nice clean discussion and don’t  end up subtly misunderstanding one another. All of these statements are trueish And in order to speak accurately we need to be able to parse the truth from the fiction, and agree with clarification.

There are no contemporary records of Jesus’ life

This is technically true, The historians who wrote about Jesus did so in retrospect, after his death. There are no newspapers from 31 AD recording the Wedding at Cana or anything. But it’s also misleading. I’d much prefer to say “No contemporary records of Jesus’ life have been preserved.” usually the skeptic will make it sound very problematic by saying something like “I’m supposed to believe that this guy was running around performing miracles and nobody wrote anything about it until almost a century later?” and you want to correct them by saying something like “I’m sure lots of people wrote stuff about it, but none of what they said was copied over and over and preserved in monasteries for 2000 years, or hidden in airtight jars, or carved into stone, so we don’t have it anymore. What we do have is good  historical evidence just like any other character in antiquity.”

There’s another implicit assumption hidden within this statement: that contemporary evidence is something we should expect from someone who lived 2000 years ago. That’s not the case. We learn about Socrates from Plato, about Alexander the Great from Plutarch, about Julius Caesar from Suetonius. All of them writing after the deaths of their topic people.

This is how it is done.

…Of course most of us believe there were some surviving documents written by eye-witnesses, the problem is just that those eye witnesses converted and their writings were included in the bible. Which brings us to our second assumption

You can’t use the Bible, that’s circular reasoning!

Once again, like Santa Clause, this is true and not true. many Christians, when confronted with this or any issue for the first time will start spouting the first defense that comes to their mind, and often those defenses are biblical and circular. Since most articulate atheists have heard and seen this happen over and over, they are used to responding to the word “Bible” with a knee jerk reaction of “Circular Reasoning!” because 99% of the time they’re right.

However, since the bible is old, even if it were not reliable as the word of God it would be useful to teach us about the time in which it was written, just as the Qur’an, Bhagavat Gita, And Enûma Eliš are.

It’s important to understand the subtle of the difference between using the New Testament as a inerrant text to prove itself true, versus using it as a series of documents from the 1st century which give us historical clues. It will be critical when the time comes to defend something hard (like the resurrection)

In this case however, you can knock this one fairly out of the park without ever mentioning the Bible, And you might as well since it’ll score you brownie points and save your argument from appearing circular (even if it isn’t) When you do, you’ll no doubt run head first into assumption #3

The Historical Jesus is different from the Jesus of the Bible

This is true of course, In the sense that proving Jesus was a man that existed is very different from proving that Jesus died for your sins. But it’s very false and unfair to take for granted out the outset of the argument that the Jesus that existed is not the one that died for sins. He might be, he might not be, you think he was, they think he wasn’t, that’s the argument!

Like I said earlier it’s not important to most skeptics that Jesus didn’t exist, only that you can’t prove he did. It’s already pretty obvious from the fact that Christianity began in the first place that there is some human person upon whom the legend is based. Peter James and John hung out with somebody before they became radicals, certainty.

So when backed into a corner they’ll often grant this for you, and then explain that “what they really meant” was that you can’t prove the Historical Jesus is anything like the Biblical Jesus. You can’t prove he turned water into wine, or preached the sermon on the mount, or anything!

The Historical Jesus may or may have been named Jesus, he may or may not have been from Nazereth, he may or may not have died on the cross. And you’re going to have to prove each of these things individually from extra-biblical contemporary sources or else admit to them that “You can’t prove that your Jesus even existed”

This is of course not, in any way shape or form what they “really meant” to start with. So to avoid this, you’ll need to establish very clearly at the outset what it is they do mean. Set the goalposts before you kick or you’ll find them moving on you.

And if they say at the beginning “What I mean by Jesus existed is that he existed as described in the Bible, and did everything the Bible said he did” then you should humbly admit “You’re right, I can’t prove that everything in the Bible is true, You need to believe the Bible before you believe the healing of the lepers. What I can prove was that Jesus was a guy. And then later, we can move on to his claims being true, and the resurrection, and eventually come back around to the Bible”

More probably though, if you ask them as the beginning “What do you mean by ‘Jesus never existed'” They’ll say something like “You can’t prove Paul didn’t just make the whole thing up” Which is a much fairer thesis. Or if I were to put it in my terms “There was actually a person upon whom the gospels were based”

Once you’ve clarified those things, and done so winsomely and articulately, you should find that the problem is ready to crumble all on it’s own. You could blow on the case for the historicity of Jesus and it would fall over in your favor.

So let’s drop a train on it shall we?

Stay tuned for the next article

Written by RyanGaffney

January 8th, 2011 at 12:16 am