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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Doubting Stephen

Stephen Law lectures in Philosophy at Heythrop (University of London) and has been causing a bit of a blog stir, on his blog, by doubting the existence of Jesus (I noted this thanks to Doug C). Given Heythrop has lots of theology and philosophy, it could be an interesting place for him to be! Anyhow, I’m not so interested in getting involved in the debates over whether Jesus existed. Given what I've written on this blog and in publications I obviously think he did (and I think I’m relatively conservative concerning the synoptic tradition). This is based largely on the argument that there is much in the synoptic tradition that puts Jesus as a fairly typical Jewish teacher and lacks serious ‘Christianising’ (coupled with independent attestation and various historical Jesus criteria). But I’m not really so interested in all that. I’m more interested in having some wholesome fun with Stephen Law's arguments. It looks like the debate it getting pretty heated (though not initially so it would seem) so I just want to cool it down with some non-polemical interaction with Law’s arguments.

But first, one point of interest, a kind of Interesting Fact for the Day and a rare kindred spirit (cf. the WL Craig debate): Law was asked to debate Gary Habermas on the historicity, or not, of the resurrection.

Stephen Law writes:
First off, I am not sure whether Jesus existed, or if he did, what he did and said. Remember, we have four documents, written decades after Jesus lived, by true believers, saying there was this person and he did these things. None of the authors was an eyewitness, it seems. It's all second-, third- or fourth- hand testimony… why should we lend much credence to four documents produced by four somewhat anonymous true believers, who weren't even eyewitnesses themselves, decades after the alleged events, in the case of Jesus?

The problem is that on all sides (see some of the comments) too much is being claimed about what we do not know with any great certainty. I do not think any of the gospel authors were eyewitnesses but this should be qualified. I am open to the idea that a lot of material (e.g. certain early legal material with little ‘Christianising’ influence) is extremely early (as I’ve argued elsewhere). I’m even open to the idea of eyewitness reporting in the tradition. But then I really don’t know on the eyewitnesses other than educated guesses and even then there is the very real possibility of eyewitnesses embellishing and making things up. We may have to entertain a very chaotic model concerning historicity. Whether material is second, third or fourth hand testimony could well depend on what passage we take but it is almost impossible to say with anything close to certainty. Some of us don’t even think at least one gospel was decades (plural) after the event. As for ‘somewhat anonymous’, if Law is implying that the canonical gospels were originally anonymous he might be right. But they may be pseudonymous. I’m highly doubtful, but some clever people do argue that they were written by Mark et al. Maybe they are right. Even if we don’t accept that they are right, it still leaves things a bit too uncertain. Again, I’m not sure how much this is of use in terms of whether Jesus existed because all these authorial practices were known in the ancient world (and let’s not forget things like multiple authorship) and who knows whether anonymous or pseudonymous authors were close in the tradition to Jesus or fourth hand? If we accept an eyewitness author who knows how much they made up (in the case of John if there was an eyewitness author that person invented fantastical amounts!)?

Stephen Law adds:
There were, in addition, many other gospels that the Church later suppressed. These gospels contradict the "official" four on many points (in some, Jesus does not even die). Even if we can put them to one side as "later" and "unreliable" (as the Church did), the fact is they illustrate that, at that time, the faithful were not at all shy about adding their own embellishments to the story, and indeed, just making stuff up. But then how can we be sure the four official Gospels don't involve a lot of made up stuff?

I’m sure the four do make stuff up (those good old favourites on this blog – and I’m very glad to see Law uses them too – namely Matthew’s resurrected saints remain as good an example as any). But here I think Stephen Law’s argument needs some cultural contextualisation when he claims:
I could go on, but this is all small beer compared to the real evidential deficit, which is this.
If two friends tell me that a man called Bert visited them at home last night, I have every reason to believe them. That's evidence enough.
But if they then tell me that Bert flew around the room, then dropped dead, and them came back to life again, before turning the sofa into a donkey, well then that's no longer nearly good enough evidence that they are telling the truth, is it?
In fact, not only am I justified in rejecting their testimony about the miracles, I would now also be wise to suspend judgement on whether any such person as Bert even exists, let alone did the things they claim.

In terms of the Bert example, modern people may well be wise to suspend judgment on whether such a person exists but in the ancient world concepts of truth were different. To embellish and invent grand stories about heroes was common enough and respectable enough in a way that many of us now would not accept. This is, I think, an important distinction. It does not ‘prove’ Jesus existed, of course, but it makes the gospel tradition *not quite* as susceptible to suspending judgment in the full Bertian sense. Given the amount of material that looks relatively ‘ordinary’, at least in the sense that it would not be much of a surprise for one of many Jewish teachers to have said at the time of Jesus, and even material where Jesus was not so hot (e.g. Mark 6.1-6), then this subtle point may even take on extra significance because it shows that there were traditions not always hyped up.

Stephen Law adds:
The moral is pretty obvious, I think. No one claims Socrates performed extraordinary miracles in front of audiences of thousands. The gospels claim Jesus did. That is why we need rather better evidence for his existence than just the say so of four rather inconsistent documents written by the faithful decades after the event.
There implication here is that inconsistencies are not helpful in establishing the existence of Jesus – is that a fair reading of Law? If this is what Law is suggesting, then it is worth pointing out that it might actually be better evidence for the existence of Jesus: the ‘more primitive’ seeming (e.g. Jesus not being able to do mighty deeds versus the rewriting of Mark 6) would point more in the direction of existence than not, right…?

One final reflection on this: if we follow Law and doubt Jesus’ existence on the basis of a lack of sufficient evidence, then would we not have to start doubting the existence of the majority of famous and famous-ish figures in the ancient world? After all, the evidence is no better for many ancient figures, right? Would this not even be raising the possibility of re-writing masses of the narrative history of the ancient world? I stress this is not a counter argument to Law but more an observation on the implication of Law’s argument.

Just as a treat, here’s a dig at biblical scholars:
I have read books by University-based Biblical scholars that demonstrate an extraordinary level of gullibility. I have also talked to University-based religious folk who have told me, with a straight face, that Josephus provides good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. This leads me to think that much that goes by the name of “biblical scholarship” ain’t exactly rigorous… P.S. The fact that some of the small minority of atheists who are Biblical scholars believe there was an historical Jesus doesn't cut much ice with me, I'm afraid, given the dominant Christian culture in which they were educated.

Fair??? I’ll let you decide on that one…

Well, just one aside that doesn’t have so much to do with Law’s arguments…My background in pre-university education was extremely a-Christian and a-religious (and even though I did a theology degrees and PhD I didn’t really think of it as being an overly Christianised context, though that may be more to do with my associations and things have certainly swung in the Christianising direction since those days). The past few years has made me think that this could be quite unusual for biblical studies, at least in British biblical studies. Would it be fair to say that most, many, some or few have been educated in contexts where the dominant Christian culture is evident? Just idle thoughts…

43 Comments:

Anonymous steph said...

I don't think you could say that a dominant Christian culture exists down under (ANZ). I had an a-Christian education living in an a-Christian environment. It is interesting though that the pockets of Christian culture tend to do religion and theology down under resulting in predominantly conservative Christian scholars ... which is why I go to the UK to do biblical studies.

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger anticant said...

So what you're saying is that there may or not have been a Jewish preacher named Jesus wandering around what is now Palestine about the time the gospel stories are supposed to have happened, but the 'supernatural' bits - born of virgin, divine claims, miracles, resurrection etc, - were probably later embellishments?

Doesn't do your 'case' much good, IMHO.

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger Leon said...

The problem with arguments like those of Stephen Law is that they are a hodge-podge and do not get specific enough. Sure, there could be some fiction in the Gospels. The fact that there may be some supernatural elements in the Gospels does not mean the rest of it tells a very unbelievable story. I am quite willing to put the miracles to one side. But look at how much in the Gospels has absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural. Most of it!

To really understand what is going on there, you have to break it down into particulars and ask of each story if this could be a fictional story or is historicity a much more logical explanation of it. If you do this with the story of Judas and with the alleged Jewish trial of Jesus, it is easy to see that fiction is an implausible explanation. I'll just use Judas as an example.

And one other point first, a crucial one: You have to keep in mind that fiction is a rather large claim and would need a lot of evidence to justify it. I am chagrined to see any intellectual like Law forget what scientific method is. Science accepts all the data as valid unless you have extremely good reason/evidence to doubt it. Science is minimal reconstruction of the data. What is the simplest explanation of the data we have? Fiction is a big leap. It's not a small claim. And you have to come up with big evidence to substantiate it. It's not enough to just assert it or to throw out a few bits of evidence.

The point will be more obvious with Judas and I will focus on Mark. Mark is missing every single detail you would expect to find in a story of betrayal. He gives Judas no motive, no conflict with Jesus or other disciples, and no denunciations from others after the supposedly dirty deed is done. It is also well-known that he does not even use the Greek word for betray, "prodidomi", but a neutral word instead, "paradidomi". This cannot possibly be a story of betrayal. In fact not only could Judas not have been a real traitor, it is even more unlikely that he was a fictional traitor because a fictional story should have at least one element of a story of treachery, shouldn't it? (By the way, even if betray is a possible secondary meaning of "paradidomi", you would have to justify this translation and none of the evidence justifies why we should go with the secondary meaning. Nothing backs up using betray.)

If you examine Gospel stories in detail like this, it is clear that fiction does not fit what is going on. It is an extremely bad hypothesis to describe the evidence we have. Mark is certainly not telling the story of a traitor. He is doing something very different.

I should also note this: Mark does not even have one unequivocally negative piece of information about Judas. We read Judas' evil and betrayal into the text. But reading it into the text does not prove it is there. What is really there is a story where every single detail is ambiguous and that can be demonstrated with each element of the story. Why does Mark tell such an ambiguous story? No first century person listening to Mark's Gospel out loud would ever have concluded that Judas was a bad person.

It is possible to do this with the alleged Jewish trial of Jesus and so many other parts of the NT and demonstrate not only a connection to historical context, but also that fiction is a wild hypothesis that does not explain the pattern of evidence. And if the elements of Jesus' story are not fictional, then it is unlikely that he is a fiction. The claim of fiction is such fuzzy thinking that it should make any scientific scholar ashamed to entertain it.

Leon Zitzer

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Did the Jesus who ascended into the sky exist?

Did the George Washington who cut down the cherry tree exist?

If you went to Bethlehem in 4 BC would you see the Jesus of the Gospels being born?

What does 'Jesus existed' even mean?

Did the Jesus exist who was the spiritual rock with the Israelites in the desert?

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

As always Saint Paul puts things in perspective.

2 Corinthians 11
4For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

Christians were preaching about different Jesus's.

If the Jesus's being taught about were different, there is a good chance that not all these Jesus's had existed.

Perhaps the Jesus of the Gospels was one of these fake non-existent Jesus's that Paul claimed was being preached about.

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger N T Wrong said...

Steven Carr asked, with some rhetorical flourish:
Did the Jesus who ascended into the sky exist?

N. T. Wrong:
Good point. As St. Philip of Wales wrote a couple of years ago, there's not really as much difference between maximalists and minimalists as is made out. Even the maximalists end up with the conclusion that the Old Testament stories are a bunch of legends attached to the occasional name of an historical person (say, 'Hezekiah'). The same goes for Jesus and the Gospel legends, even though the scholars tend to get more uptight and conservative when it cuts closer to the bone.

August 28, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

actually what I said wasn't true. I go to the UK for a better quality of scholarship (and the WLE in ASNT).

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

An alternative hypothesis is to consider that there were once some completely Jewish prophetic documents that were converted to their present form by those who created the Jesus cult. The documents show all the signs of creative editing.

An alternative prophet prophet best in-line is one Judas, later turned into a traitor by the editors. Judas had two sons James and Simon. Certainly Judas is the character who is the focus of the writings attributed to Josephus. But of course Law is unlikely to hear about alternative hypotheses from most biblical scholars who want to keep the existence of their breadwinner Jesus.

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Hello Anticant. My 'case' was explicitly *not* about the existence of Jesus (though I except he did live and die). I was simply engaging with Law's argument's. But just for the record, there was no may or may not, just a definite yes to his existence. I didn't mention the 'supernatural bits' but I do reject them in terms of historicity (the divine claims I reject but even the most hardcore naturalistic explanation could theoretically accept that a person could make such claims - I don't accept but that's another argument). Additionally I have argued that lots of other bits are embellishments, not just the supernatural bits.

Why this does my 'case' harm I do not know. You've only stated your opinion and given no argument. I've mentioned in passing arguments for the existence of Jesus (based on conventional historical Jesus criteria and collective weight e.g. cultural plausibility, multiple attestation etc). In the ancient world, as I said (including figures like Alexander the Great incidentally), people had no problem embellishing. It might be fair to say it was the norm with heroic figures. That interferes with contemporary analogies.

I would add that if a fictitious teacher was required, then why not do what everyone else did, i.e. go for an Enoch or something - there are plenty of examples around. Given the amount of fairly conventional stuff in the synoptic tradition (see Leon's point), I have no idea why someone would have invented Jesus. I've no remote desire to protect the historical existence of Jesus but this kind of evidence seems pretty solid, at least in terms of ancient figures. But I've repeated and added. You've only said an opinion so you'll have to give an actual argument if you are going to convince me.

Stephen, by existence, all I mean is that a man called Jesus recorded in the gospels was a living man who lived and died. Yes, people preached different Jesuses but this only means people preached different Jesuses not that there was no Jesuses. Most movements have factions. Marxism has had enough factions and some Marxisms bear little resemblance to Marx but Marx existed, right?

NT Wrong, oh yes, I agree and it is good to see that, like the saints of Matthew's gospel, you have returned from the dead.

Steph, you know much more than me on the NZ v UK scene. I bow to superior knowledge!

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

How many clear examples are there of fabricated Pauline interpolations related Jesus? I keep coming across them. How many Pauline interpolations are related to the mission to Gentiles? A key to understanding the earliest 'christianity' is that there was no mission to Gentiles in the original NT. Much of the extant fabrication is related to the retrospective creation of such a mission. The original documents were entirely Jewish and prophetic. The Pauline editors re-wrote the history. No mission to Gentiles implies a considerable effect on the extant Gospels and what the supposed Jesus is supposed to have said and done in relation to Gentiles. I have no doubt that the Gospel of Mark is the nearest to any original history.

The creation of the benign Jesus and his cult together with rabbinnic Judaism must have suited the Flavian rulers who were no doubt glad to see the back of strife between prophets and messianic priests - priests who had more than likely assassinated Agrippa I and Agrippa II (the coin data looks extremely interesting on these two, as do the accounts in the writings attributed to Josephus). This was motivation enough for the fiction of Jesus.

August 28, 2008

 
Blogger Quixie said...

Hi James;

Crossley: "I would add that if a fictitious teacher was required, then why not do what everyone else did, i.e. go for an Enoch or something ..."

What if they DID use a pre-existing model?
The Joshua archetype was alive and well in the Hebraic culture. Joshua, the liberator/savior was so popular at the time that it was one of the top five names for boys.
Maybe Joshua wasn't "invented," but merely coopted and reframed to better fit the new gentile setting which became its new transplanted soil. My first introduction to the mythicist position was the work of a Scandinavian gentleman named Alvar Ellegård. I recommend his book, "Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ"

As far as there being lots of "ordinary" data in the texts—and that that somehow reflects historicity . . . just a couple of brief comments:

It reminds me of the feeling I had while reading Bauckham's chapter (in "Eyewitnesses")in which he uses Tal Ilan's exhaustive catalogue of all the Judaic names in use in that period. Bauckham was trying to show how the fact that the names used in the gospel narratives were all appropriate to that time and place somehow reinforces the probability that the stories are true.
To me that seemed a little funny.

Let's say I was writing a story, set in the deep South, in which a pair of renegade redneck brothers more often than not are on the run from the county sheriff in their souped-up muscle car (let's call the car the General Lee, shall we? :) . . . I would hope to be smart enough to choose names that are appropriate to the story I'm telling (Bo, Roscoe, Cooter, Daisy, etc) . . . . no?
It says nothing about the veracity of the tale.

Spiderman doesn't exist, even though the people of New York City in the stories of him lead normal lives and fall in love and do ordinary things like mourn their loved ones and attend high school graduations and evade laser grenades from psychotic green-clad mad inventors . . . .

o_Ó

(okay . . . I was kidding on that last bit—kinda ;)

peace

Ó

August 29, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Leon, I agree that Judas didn't betray anyone. Perhaps the key is that Judas 'watched' (Mk.14:10), a word that had some significance for prophets I believe. And strangely, the prophet's instruction to the others had been to 'watch'. (Mk.13:37). What do you think they might have been watching for, and where? And what time of year could it have been? Did Judas tell the chief priests that he was in the sanctuary watching for the Lord, I wonder? What do you think, Leon?

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

It's interesting Leon, that paradidomi can mean:

to deliver verbally commands, rites, or to deliver by narrating, to report.

So was Judas delivering a message to the high priests. Was he in fact proclaiming the coming of the Spirit of the Lord to them? Somehow I think this would have angered the high priests, not pleased them. But then I would say that was just one of those typical Pauline reversals of the original. Judas went to the high priests to deliver some sort of prophetic message that displeased them - just the sort of thing the prophets had done for centuries.

A friend of mine is very interested in those two Greek words you mentioned, Leon.

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Is this correct James? In Hebrew, the term for watchers is 'Irin' "wakeful ones".

The prophet told the others to watch and pray, and to keep watch (stay awake?). (Mk.14:34,38)

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Roland said...

Steph,

You obviously haven't looked long or hard enough in the land of Oz ... especially outside those stuffy theological colleges

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

So "Behold I come like a thief. Blessed is he who stays awake (watches). (Rev.16.15) "If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch! (stay awake!)" (Mk.13:36,37) "An Enoch" might just fit the bill James. The prophet no doubt saw himself and the others as good watchers. Having told his followers to 'watch', he then went to the chief priests to deliver the same command to them. (Mk.14:10). Mk.14:1-9 is Pauline fabrication.

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Stephen Law said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Stephen Law said...

Hi there

You say:

"Law was asked to debate Gary Habermas on the historicity, or not, of the resurrection."

I was invited to get involved in a debate with Habermas, with the subject to be worked out. Habermas wanted to talk about historicity. I said that was not my area of expertise (it's not, as I keep on stressing - I am currently undecided on the historicity issue, and am asking for those who know more to give the evidence that should convince me), but would talk about it if I could also raise more general objections to Christian belief. Habermas refused to accept that. I suppose they got someone else who would agree to play entirely by Habermas' rules.

I would be very keen to get into a public debate with Habermas on the truth of Christianity. If anyone can arrange it - I'll do it!

The above comment will lead many to conclude I'd be scared of debating Habermas. Actually, I'd be keen.

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Leon said...

Geoff,

The word "paradidomi" can mean several things. It can also mean surrender. The one thing it does not mean is betray, though a few scholars might argue betray is a possible secondary meaning. The very conservative Raymond Brown insisted (his word) that it cannot mean betray. Only William Klassen was willing to think about this. My point is that "paradidomi" alone proves nothing, but it is part of a larger pattern of evidence that proves a lot. It's the whole pattern that counts, not one word.

Your other question about keeping watch, I cannot asnwer here because it would take too long to give the background of the explanation. I'm not sure you would like my answer, as you seem to have a penchant for rewriting the evidence and inserting your own ideas. I do the scientific thing, which is to assume all the data is valid (unless there are any pieces that can be ruled out for good reason, not merely on the basis of speculation) and then ask what is the simplest explanation for the evidence we have. I give the full answer in my book. My point is that there is one simple explanation for why a neutral word like "paradidomi" is used, why Mark is missing every single element of a story of betrayal, why Jesus asks them to keep watch, why he is surprised at the show of force to arrest him, why he utters seemingly ambiguous words to Judas in Matthew "Friend, that for which you are here", and so much more. There is one simple thing that happened in history and one simple elucidation of it. It all depends on using a rational, scientific approach. Scholars instead have always assumed their conclusion (Judas betrayed) and then brilliantly used the assumption to prove their version. What a little rational thought will do!

Leon Zitzer

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Leon said...

James,

The persistence of ideas such as "Jesus did not exist" is rather amazing when you consider that no one has ever given a rational argument for it and so much evidence contradicts it. Don't you think? (Rather like the persistence of the belief that Jewish leaders conspired against Jesus which has never been rationally argued for based on the available evidence and which has a lot of evidence to contradict it.)

After all, most of the elements of Jesus' story are clearly not fictional. Judas' story does not follow the contours of a fictional story. Neither does the meeting of Jewish leaders with Jesus. I live in NYC. If I wanted to make up a story of officials going after someone and giving him a trial (rigged or otherwise), I could easily make up a story that would follow what we know about trials in NYC. It's not hard to do. If the Gospel writers were fictionalizing, they could easily have made up something that would resemble a Jewish trial. Yet none of the 4 Gospels do that. Take it element by element and it is easy to prove beyond all doubt that fiction is an irrational explanation for the concrete evidence.

The more interesting question is why do such ideas persist in face of their obvious nonsensical status? One answer would be that people just like to be provocative. But I would give a deeper answer that lays the blame on historical Jesus scholars themselves. They have long encouraged this field to be nothing more than opinion tennis. It's a very easy game to play. All you have to do is shoot your mouth off and shoot down reason. And voilà! You are in the game.

There is also a terrible irony here. Most scholars (correctly) accept the historicity of Jesus, but then do everything they can to suppress any historical knowledge about him. Yes, he is historical, but we do not actually want to know anything historical about him with any specificity. It is possible to explain very carefully based on the evidence what is Jewish about him and to demonstrate with precision what happened to him. But scholars have long undermined any scientific reasoning about this. They assume their conclusions, they promote theories as false facts, they do not observe rules like the bigger your claim, the more evidence you need, and more. How many people observe that the claim of fiction is a big claim, not a small one, and needs a lot of evidence to substantiate it? These rules have long ago been thrown to the wind.

Anyway, I have no idea why I do what I do. I should have given up a long time ago. It is bizarre trying to argue for sanity in an insane world. I really should just go away.

Leon Zitzer

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

I have seen a video on a debate between Habermas and Flewn, never having heard of Habermas before his mention here.

I feel sorry for Habermas and the way he qotes scripture as facts, just like Leon who takes his so-called "scientific" route that accepts the extant data as evidence without logical, literary and historical criticism. Debating with Habermas will be an utter waste of time.

Habermas relies heavily on the extant Pauline epistles and the historicity of Paul to support his views on the historicity of Jesus and the resurrection. For me that reliance poses some immediate problems, the most obvious of which are the obvious later Pauline interpolations about Jesus. Paul is a fabricated character. Most of the extant Pauline epistles were originally prophetic documents sent from Rome to prophets in Jerusalem.

The book of Acts is a book of reversals - the journey by ship in Acts 27,28 from Palestine to Rome by the fictitious Paul in 60 CE was obviously in the opposite direction from Rome to Palestine. That opposite journey was by James who was executed by the high priest Ananus in 62. Acts 1 was originally about the establishment of a Jewish prophetic movement in Rome by James and others who had been exiled by the high priests from Judea - the house where they met was clearly the type of large tenemented house to be found in Rome for workers. Confrontations with high priests from Jerusalem were in a synagogue in Rome.

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

I was quite stunned to hear and watch Habermas speak on the video with Flew. My immediate thoughts were ones of incredulity: Has someone turned the clock back? Is Habermas really saying what I am hearing?

August 30, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Hello Stephen,

just for the record, I only pointed out the debate because I 'feel your pain', so to speak. I debated with WL Craig on the resurrection and felt it made us more on the same side (I've been overtly secular here and in print). I certainly didn't want to imply you were afraid of anything!! If so apologies. But it was meant as a comment of interest because I didn't expect others to be in on these debates: I thought I was the one of the only non-believing whipping boys left.

August 30, 2008

 
Anonymous Richard said...

James,

Sorry for being completely off topic here but do you have an idea when the "Jesus in an Age of Terror" book's coming out?

I've just read the survey and it looks great.

August 31, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The video of your debate with WLG is availble on-line

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=WJpeJJlCK-U

So far I have heard a little of WLG's 20 minutes.

WLGs debates are listed here

http://www.websitetoolbox.com/tool/post/rfforum/show_single_post?pid=26017286&postcount=1

August 31, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

Roland: I have never been inside those stuffy theological colleges. I did my undergraduate studies at the only very secular religious studies department in NZ of Victoria University before the current HOD and his staff.

August 31, 2008

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

JAMES
Stephen, by existence, all I mean is that a man called Jesus recorded in the gospels was a living man who lived and died. Yes, people preached different Jesuses but this only means people preached different Jesuses not that there was no Jesuses.

CARR
'Recorded in the Gospels'?

What does that mean?

Did the Gospels record the birth of Jesus?

If the Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, was not born as recorded in the Gospels, then how did the Jesus as recorded in the Gospels exist?

You have to be born before you can exist, and was the 'Jesus as recorded in the Gospels' born as recorded in the Gospels?

Paul talks about different Jesus's.

Were all these different Jesus's the same person?

It is begging the question to claim that they were all the same person, rather than that some Christians were preaching a Jesus who did not exist.

And perhaps the Jesus who never existed was the one in the Gospels.

Let us not forget the sheer abscence of the person they worshipped from the lives of these early Christians.

Paul laments the lack of a preacher sent to Israel so that Israel could be saved.

Paul never mentions any healings, or claims that Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God.

And Paul reassures Christians that the Roman Empire does not hurt innocent people.

All the letter of James says about Jesus is that they are followers of him.

And there is the amazing passage

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

For an example of patience in the face of suffering, this early Christian takes the example of JOB.

And not Jesus!

How the hell can the example of Jesus patience in the face of suffering not have leaped from the pen of the person who worshipped Jesus?

How can he not single out his Lord and Saviour as an example to be followed, rather than refer his fellow believers in Jesus to the 'prophets' who spoke in the name of the Lord?


The answer is obvious.


There was no Jesus who set an example of patience in the face of suffering.

James could not remind his fellow Christians of the example of Jesus.

Because there WAS no example of Jesus to use as an example.

So the author of James uses Job as the example for his Jesus-worshippers to follow.

August 31, 2008

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Romans 13
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Paul was a follower of somebody allegedy crucified by Pilate although an innocent man.

And Paul wrote that!

And people claim the crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman Empire is an established fact....

When Paul writes stuff like that?

What is going on here?

How can supporters of an historical Jesus be unshaken when they read Paul say that rulers hold no terror for those who do right, when the person Paul worshipped was allegedly flogged , mocked, spat on, beaten and crucified by soldiers of Pilate and Herod?

August 31, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Steven. The Pauline editor was fearful that his version of the fictitious Jesus (or his version of the gospel for that matter) could be undermined. (2Cor. 11:4)But his idea for his obvious interpolation about other fictitious Jesus's (or gospels) was inspired by the original entirely Jewish prophetic text which warned against receiving unlean spirits when the readers had received the Spirit of God. No doubt there were competing ideas about Jesus at the time the Pauline editor was reworking the original text.

Romans 13:3 about rulers holding no terror for those who do right is again the work of the Pauline editor wishing to ingratiate himself with the Flavian rulers. Again the editor got his inspiration from the original prophetic text. It was NOT a question of rulers holding no terror for those who do right, but it was originally about the Spirit of God holding no terror for those who obey his commands. Nor was it a question of being free from the fear of the one in authority, but it was about being free from fear of judgement - and there were none so free as the Essenes (prophets) as Philo testifies. "Then do what is right and he will commend you" was probably "Then obey his commands and he will cleanse you", meaning obey the Spirit of God.

And Romans 13:4 following was probably: "For he is God's Spirit (not servant) to cleanse you (not do you good). But if you disobey (not do wrong), be afraid, for he is God's sword (not does not bear the sword for nothing), an agent of wrath to bring judgement (not punishment) on the disobedient (not wrongdoer). The Spirit of God was God's sword. Of course the editor turned this into the sword of the rulers.

August 31, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Original 'Romans' was written to Jewish prophets in Judea from Rome.

August 31, 2008

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Geoff Hudson just makes things up....

September 01, 2008

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

What is clear is that nonspecialists will tend to gravitate to extreme positions. I am sure that each of us holds extreme positions on our areas of nonspecialism, which can easily be shot down by the specialists.

Even when it was fashionable to doubt everything in the 1970s, the best Jesus-existence sceptic that could be found was G.A. Wells a prof of (wait for it) German.

What I don't get is this: We all know that the vast majority of people are well inclined to 'believe' what they want to believe. Given that there are many with a vested interest in Jesus not existing, the surprise should be that more people are not claiming that he didn't.

September 01, 2008

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

Would you like to 'shoot down' Paul's claim by pointing out that rulers DID hold terror for those who did no wrong?

I remind you of Paul's claim that the rulers would not flog, crucify , beat and spit on an innocent person.

Romans 13
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

September 01, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Steven, have a look at Hebrews 4.12and decide for yourself whether or not it should be: "The Spirit of God is sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to the heart." The extant text: "The word of God is living and active" is a Pauline imaginative interpolation. In a Jewish context, living things have spirits and are animated by spirits.

I suggest that Eph 6:17 was originally "take the sword of the Spirit". The extant "which is the word of God" is again Pauline interpolation. The armour was originally armour of the Spirit - the helmet of the Spirit, the breastplate of the Spirit etc. After urging his readers to put on the armour of the Spirit, the final thing the writer explicitly requested was that they should pray in the Spirit. (6:18) I have no doubt that the original epistle was written to prophets in Judea, not Gentiles in Ephesus.

September 01, 2008

 
Blogger Quixie said...

Chris Shell: "Given that there are many with a vested interest in Jesus not existing, the surprise should be that more people are not claiming that he didn't.

I'm curious. How many people? . . . . More importantly, what exactly is this "vested interest" you claim that people have in this matter?

September 01, 2008

 
Blogger Quixie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 01, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Christopher, the opposite applies -there are plenty with a vested interest in a real Jesus.
They include most biblical scholars, Christian or Jewish or neutral. The reason more people don't claim that he didn't exist is because either they are not interested, or if they are, they like Flew, Stephen Law and others are incapable of taking on the biblical scholars on their ground, particularly in relation to theology and the received history. The result of any debate is folk simply talking past each other. Craig and Habermas are simply allowed get away with promoting well-rehearsed old-fashioned views together with their books on what is probably a lucrative, all expenses paid, professional circuit. That's what I would call having a vested interest in the existence of Jesus.

September 01, 2008

 
Blogger Leon said...

The discussion going on here is an excellent example of the success of historical Jesus studies in quelling all rational research into the NT and particularly the Gospels. Opinion tennis has become the substitute for rational discussion.

If you are going to claim that something or someone is a fiction, you have to demonstrate the fictional purposes of the story — I mean, demonstrate it in detail. And if someone like myself comes along and demonstrates that several aspects of the story cannot possibly be fiction because they do not follow the contours that a ficitonal story would follow, then you have a really uphill battle to counter that. As I pointed out above, the story of Judas and the meeting of Jewish leaders with Jesus do not do what a fictional story would do. And while so many scholars identify each Gospel as having a theological purpose, there is not one Gospel that consistently follows the theology assigned to it. They all depart from theology quite frequently.

To prove fiction, you have to do a lot more than say "Look at this stupid verse here and that one there, so surely this must be fiction." To prove fiction, you have to have a very airtight argument based on a large pattern of evidence, and no one has that. Science asks one simple question above all others, "Given all this data, is there one simple, rational explanation that explains the evidence we have?" That is science. Science is not rewriting the evidence and making things up. Science is not creating your own world of fancy. To just make up your own ideas and your own evidence is mysticism. But historical Jesus studies made sure long ago that nobody would pay attention to the actual evidence we have.

To express it all in one example: The story of Judas contradicts everything a fictional story would have done. No one who insists on the Gospels as fiction has a rational answer for that. But that does not bother anyone who is more interested in mysticism than rational, scientific study.

Leon Zitzer

September 02, 2008

 
Blogger Steven Carr said...

LEON
To prove fiction, you have to have a very airtight argument based on a large pattern of evidence, and no one has that

CARR
No sooner said than done Miracles and the Book of Mormon

Enjoy...

September 02, 2008

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Geoff-
It is not an either/or. There are people with vested interests in Jesus existing just as there are those with vested interesst in him not existing. One of them must be right, one must be wrong.

There are two obvious groups of people with vested interests in his not having existed: (1) those who want to avoid his challenge; (2) those whom he [unintentionally] makes feel guilty. Among 1-2 are many secularists. Few national secualr society members have looked into the question of his existence, but most are happy to conclude that he may well never have existed. And we wonder why people say that there is a highly suspicious correlation between what people *claim* to believe and what they *want* to believe.

September 02, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Leon, I have previously just about answered your little problem about Judas' visit to the high priests (Mk.14:10). But there's none so blind as those who don't want to see. The prophet's command was: watch! (Mk.13:36). Leon, what do you make of the words "if he comes suddenly"? Who do you think "he" was? Who was the "owner of the house"? (Mk.13:35) Was the "owner of the house" going to come in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn? "You do not know", said the prophet. Now you have to be an idiot if you do not realise who the prophet was referring to, who he was expecting very soon, and who "the owner of the house" was, and what "the house" was.

That was why the prophet Judas went to the chief priests to tell or command them to watch out for the coming of "the owner of the house". It was in the Autumn, the time of "the Feast" (Mk.14:1), a term reserved for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles or booths, not the editors interpolated Feast of Unleavened Bread, or Passover. During the Feast, eyes would be directed heavenwards to the stars while they lay in their booths made of branches.

Then we have that nice little interlude (an editor's creative interpolation) of Mk.14:3-9 about a woman pouring perfume on Jesus to prepare for his burial when he wasn't even dead.

Clearly the theme of watching (staying awake) was originally continuous with no break from Mk.14:10 to Mk.13:36, and the text in between is Markan fabrication about the fictitious Jesus.

September 02, 2008

 
Anonymous Roland said...

I'm not sure if people on this almost endless debate are aware of this, or in fact whether it's been mentioned and I missed it, but Rook Hawkins is editing a volume called “Is this not the Carpenter's son?” An Examination of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus. Title's pretty obvious, but it does seek to extend some of the so-called minimalist positions from Hebrew Bible scholarship into this debate. (My piece for it is called 'The German Pestilence'.)

September 02, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

"Carpenter's son"! Since when did a Jewish carpenter have a son?

September 02, 2008

 

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